During Day 2 of San Diego Comic-Con, following the FLCL Panel, I was invited to attend a Press Room event where I was able to talk to some of the creators of the new seasons of FLCL, including Jason DeMarco (producer and creator of Toonami), Kari Wahlgren (the voice of Haruko), Maki Tereshima-Furuta (Production IG USA president), and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa (CEO and President of Production IG).
With several other news outlets wanting to talk with them, the four were split up, with Jason and Kari talking to press as one group, while Maki and Ishikawa-san talked to press as another group, with Maki also acting as Ishikawa-san’s interpreter. The officials at Adult Swim made sure the crew was able to talk to every press outlet, though time constraints limited the amount of questions we were allowed to ask, especially towards the end.
I will also have interviews with Megan Taylor Harvey and Steve Blum, as well as reports from Comic-Con and Anime Expo posted within the coming days once i have the time to finish them. Let us know what you think of the interview in the comments below.
Edit 9/13/18 @ 9:20 am PDT: Changed Mitsuhisa Ishikawa’s position from “Founder of Production IG” to his more accurate position: “CEO and President of Production IG” by request of the interviewees. Apologies for the mixup.
You did great!
— KING ATOMSK DEMARCO (@Clarknova1) July 20, 2018
Daniel: Hey, guys, I’m Daniel Limjoco with ToonamiFaithful.com and @ToonamiNews, and I’m with Jason DeMarco and Kari Wahlgren. First interview I’m ever doing, so I’m real nervous right now.
Jason: No, no. It’s going great already. You got the Toonami T-Shirt and I’m happy. [I was wearing a Toonami T-shirt during the interview].
There has been a lot of talk about FLCL’s performance in the Nielsen ratings, but of course what matters most is how the executives at Turner and Production IG feel about its performance. How have they been feeling?
Jason: Very happy. Turner has been very happy. FLCL has won its time slot against our competition [during its run of season 2]. We measure our success against a certain set of competitors, and FLCL has won its timeslot every single night it has aired handily by more than double our nearest competition. So we’re very happy. The streaming numbers have been good, it’s been on the iTunes charts pretty high. We never wanted or expected it to be the size of a Dragon Ball Super[-esque] hit, comparing FLCL to Dragon Ball Super is like saying “it’s McDonalds, everyone goes there, every likes it”. And FLCL is more of like a small bodega meal, you know it’s like “Not everyone goes there, but the people that go there love it.” And that’s all we wanted and we’ve achieved that. So we’re really happy so far, and I hope Alternative is successful as well.
Of course, you’ve mentioned that you’re producing more original productions, but how has FLCL’s success helped out that argument for more Toonami originals?
Jason: It has helped that argument, it’s basically confirmed that we were smart, as far as my bosses are concerned, that we were smart to start doing this and that we want to do more things like more original productions that we can take part in from the beginning instead of just licensing it.
How have you both felt about the general social media buzz from the new seasons?
Jason: We’ll I’ll let Kari answer this.
Kari: The general buzz has been great, you know I was really kind of prepping myself for all sorts of different kinds of reactions because the first one was so beloved that sometimes you feel like you just can’t win, and everyone was so invested in this project, everyone was really doing their best work. But we just didn’t know how people were going to respond to it and at least from what I’ve heard on social media and stuff like that, people have loved it so far.
Kari: Yeah, so it’s been really great, because working on it, I can definitely say that everyone has been bringing their A game and really really trying to do the best work that they can possibly can.
It’s very hard to create a sequel that can live up to the same critical acclaim to the original, but how have you guys been able, for lack of a better term, make it the best you can?
Jason: So obviously animation, the entire industry of Japanese animation from how people start learning, how people get involved in it, to the production process itself. Going from analog to digital to apprenticeship models changing. The entire industry has changed and how animation has changed so it is very challenging to maintain those standards that the original FLCL had in terms of just sheer level of animation. But we did our best to get there by giving them total freedom, giving them plenty of time, and giving them exactly a lot of money. So those are the elements that make a show look good, and even then, the way animation works now, so many different scenes are outsourced, it can still be hard to have an overall quality level, so what we did is sort of tell them “Remember, people are going to be looking at the original” and just reminding the production teams of the pressure because in Japan, FLCL is not as big of a deal as it is here, and [while] it’s certainly beloved and known among [anime] creators, but it’s not at the level it is in the US. So part of our job is reminding them “Remember, you have a lot to live up to” and making sure they were pouring everything they had into it. And they did, they really stepped up.
You [Jason] and Mike Lazzo have pretty much said that FLCL is the best anime of all time. In your best words, tell us why do you think this is so?
Jason: I think because it diverges from so many common themes in anime. First of all, it takes on sexuality without just being sexual. Which I think is a huge thing because in anime usually when there’s sex, there’s just nudity and boobs, and it’s immediately like. And it takes on a deeper thing about how we all feel about sex, from how icky and uncomfortable it is.
Kari: The confusion of it all.
Jason: Yeah, the whole thing. And then also, the fact that the story doesn’t really try to make sense. To me, that’s just wonderful. It’s just like “Look at this gorgeous animation art” and how the music is different. So I think that’s how it stands out.
Jinyu has been a popular character among the fans, and @Sketch1984 has asked: “What are the chances for a Jinyu spinoff?”
Jason: Haha. Jinyu is very popular character. She is a character that “popped” and I was surprised that she popped so much. And I just say “never say never.” Jinyu is a part of Haruko, so to me, Jinyu and Haruko and their struggle was a very interesting part of Progressive that I would be totally be into seeing more of.
@Nerd_Drummer92 asks: Was there a reason why we didn’t see Naota besides the ending credits for FLCL Progressive?
Jason: Because we wanted to tell a new story, and Naota is so much representative of who Kazuya Tsurumaki (the original creator) was, that if we’re bringing Naota back, it’s going to be Tsurumaki directing it and leading the whole way. And Tsurumaki himself said: “Right now, I feel like Naota’s story has been told.”
While the reception to FLCL 2 has been pretty good from what I’ve seen, many of the so-called “weeaboos” have been very resistant to co-productions with western companies, insisting that anime is sorely made by the Japanese, for the Japanese, and exclusively for the Japanese, and that western audiences are largely irrelevant from the conversation of anime’s overall success, among other things. Why do you think there is such a resistance to western influence in anime and growing the anime fan base outside of Japanese audiences?
Jason: I think because a lot of people find their identity in anime and the fact that it’s a culture export from another country and there’s so many different things about it that can almost be a lifestyle, and I think the idea of that lifestyle getting “invaded” by people who aren’t as respectful as they are is something they want to avoid, but that’s the same issue that exists for any like hardcore fan base thing, that’s fandom. So you’re going to have the people at the end of the fandom who don’t want to let other people in, who just want a gated community where it’s only the people they want. And then there are people that want everyone to come in the fandom, and like it or not, I’m one of those [people]. [I’m here] To expose anime to as many people as possible.
Daniel: Well, you made me a fan [of anime].
Jason: Nice, and if that makes people mad, oh well.
Critics have complained about Hidomi’s character being a “cut and pasted” protagonist from a generic slice-of-life moe, for lack of a better term, and that Kana and her pals being the personification of “cute girls doing cute things.” Is the “genericness” intentional, or is there a hidden character to these girls that fans and critics aren’t seeing?
Jason: I think if you’ve watched Progressive and you’ve felt that Hidomi wasn’t as much of a character, but you’ve watched and felt that Naota was, then you are missing something. Because they both have multiple facets to each of their personalities, they both have clear journeys, they both have relationships that change over the course of the show, and certainly in Alternative, all four of those girls, to me saying that they’re “generic characters from a slice-of-life anime” tells me that you watched it on the surface, and the vibe, and that’s what you took from it and you walked away, but you didn’t really think about it.
Daniel: Wish I can talk to you a bit more, but they’re telling me I got to cut it short, so maybe another time. Thanks for meeting with me.
Jason and Kari: Thank You.
Following that interview, I waited for Maki Tereshima-Furuta and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa to be available.
Daniel: Hey, guys, I’m Daniel Limjoco with ToonamiFaithful.com and @ToonamiNews, and I’m back again with Maki and Ishikawa-san.
We’ve been hearing a lot about the ratings and performance of FLCL, but of course what matters most is how the executives at Turner and Production IG feeling about its performance. How have the executives at IG been feeling?
Maki: I’m personally very happy with how everything came out and I have been reading a lot of nice and reviews and nice comments and positive reviews on FLCL 2. FLCL 3 hasn’t been released yet, so I don’t know what they will think of that one, but I know there’s always hateful comments, and you know like, people aren’t quite happy with the sequel, but making sequels is always a very very difficult thing because especially when there’s so much of a fanbase for the original one because their love for the original is so strong, they don’t want anything changing, they don’t want any sequel to be jeopardizing to the original. So you know again, there’s like hate, hate, hateful comments to like anything, but overall I’m very very happy with how the fans are reacting to season 2, and I can’t wait for how fans react to season 3. And then, for the Japan side…
[Maki translates the question for Ishikawa-san]
Ishikawa: So in Japan, season 3 is going to be released in theaters first and that’s going to be on September 7, followed by season 2 which is going to be released on September 28. So nothing has been shown in Japan yet, so I don’t know how that audience will react yet.
Why did you guys decide to do feature films for FLCL 2 and 3 for the Japanese audience?
Ishikawa: So Toho is our distribution partner in Japan, and they are one of the largest theatrical distributors in Japan, so they know how to properly market the property better than anybody else. We also wanted to prove to the audience that FLCL 2 and 3 are both theatrical level quality, so that’s why we decided to release it in theaters.
Where else would you like the FLCL franchise? For instance, @AtelierLucina asks: “Any thoughts on a FLCL video game in the future? A visual novel or action game?”
Ishikawa: It really depends on the fans react to these new sequels, but the original FLCL had both a manga and novel release, so maybe depending on how fans like these new seasons, there may be a game.
Daniel: Interesting. We’ll, I wish I can talk to you a bit more, but they’re telling me I got to cut it short, so all I can say is you guys are doing a good job and I’m looking forward to season 3.
Maki: Thank you. Did you like season 2?
Maki: Oh, good.
Daniel: Alright, see you guys around.