Kids on the Slope/Shinichirō Watanabe Panel at MCM London Comic Con 2013

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Shinichirō Watanabe is a powerhouse in the anime world. The mastermind behind such iconic shows as Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, Watanabe is a name known and adored by many. Most recently he has worked on Kids on the Slope, an adaptation of the manga of the same name by Yuki Kodama. The show is much different to a lot of Watanabe’s previous output, for he has been more known for his original works.

At the MCM Comic Con in London, fans of Watanabe were greeted by a wonderful montage of his work all the way up to the present day. Cheers and applause echoed through the stage as iconic clips and music from the various anime shows flashed across the screen. Once the montage was over, attendees were treated to a screening of one of the episodes from Kids on the Slope – a coming-of-stage story of a group of Japanese teenagers and their love of music.

Kids on the SlopeMuch more slower-paced than the anime Watanabe has worked on before, such as Cowboy Bebop, the episode of Kids on the Slope that was screened was a slow burn, yet beautifully rose to a musical climax that made the entire experience worth it. Music is very much a character of its own in Watanabe’s works, and it takes more of an active role with Kids on the Slope, with the main characters living and performing the range of music in the episodes.

After the episode finished, Watanabe took to the stage with great fanfare, the anime giant taking his place beside his interpreter for a Q&A session with the audience. The types of questions asked spanned the entire length of his career, not just on Kids on the Slope but also on Cowboy Bebop and Watanabe’s general body of work.

Kids on the Slope was the focus of one of the first questions, where he was asked about his choice of project, itself being an adaptation for a change as opposed to an original creation. He explained that Kids on the Slope was his first real venture towards working on an adaptation, and how it worked well with his intention to work on a coming of age story, something he had wanted to do for a long time in his career.

Music was probably the hugest topic that was focused on during the Q&A. Asked about how it played a central part to Kids on the Slope, and the way it was depicted, Watanabe explained his love for the entire jazz aspect of the series, and as a huge music freak he wanted to depict it properly in the animation.

He went on to reveal that there were several ways of animating the performance of music, and ultimately he decided on filming real musicians and using that footage as reference. Watanabe explained that he wanted to give the anime a strong sense of reality, and the way he found best to do that was going for hand-drawn animation based on live-action reference.

For the live-action reference footage, Watanabe searched through all manner of Japanese musicians, mainly focusing on piano and drum players around the same age as the characters. Ultimately he decided on a 19 year-old and a 26 year-old musician that were filmed and used them as a base in order to help push the realistic aspect of the animation. In fact, Watanabe described that some of the animated musical performance scenes are some of the longest of their kind in anime, explaining that it’s very hard to animate live performed music to the realism he wanted.

One audience member asked him about other anime he hadn’t worked on but wished he could have worked on. He answered by saying that the first series of Lupin III was probably the most influential series for him. He added by saying that he only liked the first series of Lupin III, which was the only incarnation for him.

Visiting the technical process behind the creation of the anime, Watanabe explained that music actually came first most of the time, and this was because animation is a process that takes so long, leading to the pictures actually being animated to the music ready to go. Sometimes he himself chooses the music he wants, but other times his composer comes to him with something that actually inspires him to write even more scenes. It is a very symbiotic relationship in a way.

cowboy_bebop_xlgA few following questions focused on Cowboy Bebop, but Watanabe was gleefully tight-lipped with his answers. The first involved the infamous and fan-favourite episode Mushroom Samba, and the question involved him being asked what the episode actually meant. After laughing at the question for a moment, he just said that mushrooms (of a certain sort) were illegal in Japan, and he just left it up to our interpretation.

The second question was one that he probably receives many a time: whether he’d consider continuing the story of Cowboy Bebop, having left the series at a relative ambiguous ending. Watanabe just said that he couldn’t answer one way or another, but he did say that if he ever did revisit that world, he was sure that the rest of the original team that worked on it would follow suit.

One of the most interesting answers to a question he gave was in response to an inquiry about working on original anime works vs. adaptations. Watanabe gave a brilliant analogy that compared the craft to music, where with an original work he was given complete creative freedom – much like a solo album – while working on an adaptation was very much more like a collaboration such as with Kids on the Slope – which he described as a collaboration album.

As the Q&A started to wind down to a close, one of the final questions had him being asked what actually got him into anime in the first place. He explained that he was a huge fan of both anime and live-action movies in high school and he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to work on creating anime or films for a long amount of time, though ultimately he decided that anime was the right path for him. And rightly so, for that choice led to Watanabe having a wonderful career that contributed greatly to the world of anime, from Cowboy Bebop to Samurai Champloo to Kids on the Slope and beyond. What’s for certain is that Watanabe shows no signs of stopping, and you just know that whatever he works on next is going to have another amazing soundtrack.

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