Thanks to our partners at Kodansha, we’ve got a special interview with Fire Force producer Kensuke Tateishi to share with you!
As the series ramps up its second season and Special Fire Force Company 8 returns, we figured it’d be a great time to look back at Season 1 and the development of Fire Force.
Take a look below as Tateishi discusses the series, his experiences after working on Attack on Titan and so much more.
At what stage of the original manga did the Fire Force anime start moving forward?
Tateishi: As soon as the first chapter was published in Weekly Shonen Magazine. When we first heard from the editorial board that Ohkubo-sensei’s serialization was starting, our goal was to make it into an anime. That is how appealing an author he is.
That being said, of course, it also depended on the content, and we would make our decision after it started running, but after reading the first chapter, we were relieved and became very excited. We knew that this would be good, and proceeded to get our production partnership started.
We first had to establish our business relationship to a certain degree, and looking back on my emails, we first started looking for a production company at the beginning of 2016. It’s been four years since the first chapter came out. That’s a long time (laughs).
Did you have any established concepts in mind when creating the anime?
Tateishi: In a nutshell, we were going for a cutting-edge film. After speaking with Ohkubo-sensei, our idea was to create an innovative anime production to some extent, while preserving the Weekly Shonen Magazine feel that it had.
That usually gets expressed in terms of the use of color and the animation. In addition to the appeal of the story and characters, we wanted Fire Force to be a showcase for action scenes. On the other hand, regardless of what I want, I can’t do anything without the strength of the production company involved, so I have nothing but gratitude for David Production for taking on the work of producing the animation.
In your position representing the publisher’s Rights Department and as a producer, please tell us your responsibilities in creating the anime, as well as what you consider most important.
Tateishi: My responsibilities would go on for a while, but the easiest way to find out what my job is like in the Rights Department would be to read Hitman, by Koji Seo-sensei, which is now running in Weekly Shonen Magazine! I appear in it under my real name (laughs).
Actually, I haven’t especially been resourced for that series, but Seo-sensei and I have worked together a number of times, so I think he writes me in based on those memories. I’m awestruck that he remembers details so well, and the way he skillfully blends fiction with nonfiction is so good that I can’t help but call it impressive.
Ah, I kind of got us a little off track. What I consider most important can be distilled down into the expression “creator first.” I want to produce something that the original author will be satisfied with, and that is something that is important to Kodansha, as well. Also, I like to create an environment in which the production company can fully show off what they can do.
Additionally, of course, it is also very important to allow the production committee’s business to succeed. It is often said that creating an anime version only makes money for the publisher, but that is not so (laughs); I perform various fine-tuning to see that the entire production committee sees a profit.
In the case of an original author’s work, we are already starting from the fact that there is a degree of name recognition from the outset, so it is easier to envision greater proceeds than there would be from an original production. From a business standpoint, Fire Force has also been an extremely first-rate production. As far as it goes, it has been a tremendous success.
What about the series had the most impact, including feedback from the first season?
Tateishi: The opening would be a prime example. David Production declared that it would be amazingly energetic, but after I looked at the storyboards for it, they were so incredible, I inadvertently asked, “Are they really going to do this?” (Laughs.) When I saw the finished product, it looked even more incredible. If you hit pause while watching it, no matter where you pause it, the animation is meticulous. To make it look like that, when things are moving around as fast as they are, would be impossible if they were not taking great pains with their work.
In fact, when we first met with Motoki Omori of Mrs. GREEN APPLE for the theme, he said he had already read the Fire Force manga, and had brought with him a simple demo tape that they had developed from their own conception, and that became the “Inferno” we now have.
At these first meetings, we usually go over what our concept is with each other, and then take it from there. But to skip that entirely and have a demo ready to go is quite extraordinary. In the past, that has only happened with two other productions with which I have participated. Linked Horizon’s “Guren no Yumiya” for Attack on Titan and UNISON SQUARE GARDEN’s “kid, I like quartet” for Yozakura Quartet.
When a creator needs no explanation from us and produces music after their own interpretation, it usually ends up being wonderful. In that sense, I can say that Fire Force‘s opening turned out in the best possible way.
We noticed a strong focus on the sound, including the background music, too.
Tateishi: We contacted Kenichiro Suehiro to do the background music, and he said he definitely would like to work on the anime version of Fire Force. Very often, production companies make these decisions based on recommendations from the directors and the record companies, but when it came to choosing Mr. Suehiro, we’re the ones who made the request of David Production.
For my part, it was the first time I had ever been that assertive, so I wasn’t sure how it would go over, but I took it on blind faith that Mr. Suehiro would be a perfect match for this production (laughs).
As it turns out, he produced some fantastic background music. Additionally, we assembled an outstanding staff, including our sound director and effects people, and I think the distinctive sound that came out of that turned out very well.
What is your favorite scene from the first season?
Tateishi: You should definitely have Animation Producer Kosuke Matsunaga answer this question instead of me! I think there are many different areas that we were particular about. If I had to pick one of them, there are fine details in the animation at a level you would ordinarily never notice.
For example, in the scene where Captain Hibana of Special Fire Force Company 5 produces her flaming “Sakura,” each one of the petals has its own flames. Since they are cherry blossoms, they are pink overall, but the wisps of red that also appear on them is the color of the flame at the middle of the petals. I thought, no way, no one will ever notice that, but that is the completeness of the volume of animation that went into making it, which relates to how much there is to see.
There are so many parts that provide that sensory “Oh, cool!” sensation that are brought together in the volume of animation.
Tateishi: There is a scene in Episode 4 that only lasts for a few seconds in which the former Fire Soldier Miyamoto has turned Infernal, and Maki launches her flaming “Sputter Comet” at him, but he repels it. The sequence of action in that scene is so terrific, I personally wish people would watch it one frame at a time.
The precise feel of the drawings offered up by David Production in each scene, which looks so natural in its movement, shows the fineness of production that I don’t think you can see in other anime.
Do you feel that you are making the most of your work experience?
My experience with Attack on Titan has carried through. For Season 3 of Attack on Titan, our broadcast network switched to NHK. We wanted to get more people watching, so we approached NHK. Having more households viewing the show ended up with us also having remarkably more views over streaming services. We thought that with more places being able to watch the show on TV, there would be fewer views through streaming services, but in fact, it was the opposite. It became painfully aware to me how important exposure was.
In addition to Fire Force being aired terrestrially and streamed over the net, we have been streaming it for free over services like GYAO! and TVer. When we did, we saw that its views on paid streaming sites also increased. As we kept increasing the number of avenues available to viewers, it was demonstrated that even on paid streaming services, our viewership was also increasing.
Lately, overseas streaming services have also been delivering more.
That’s true. We have been conscious of Fire Force‘s performance overseas from the beginning. For example, typically, the main visuals for Japanese anime have been framed vertically, under the assumption that they would be used as posters. However, overseas, horizontal framing is more the norm, so we had visuals for Fire Force produced to match both vertical and horizontal formats.
Also, by speeding up the delivery of our product, we have realized broadcasts of an American dubbed version that coincides with the Japanese release. It is shown on the Toonami block of [Adult Swim], a channel which specializes in animated shows, further dramatically increasing our viewership.
Having advanced screenings at Anime Expo, an American anime convention, is another outlet. The venue at Anime Expo is huge. It’s hard to keep up with subtitles when viewed from far away. However, since they were able to have a dubbed version, the screening and the promotion both went smoothly. I think that being that prepared in advance is a rare case in contemporary Japanese anime. We have the production team of David Production to thank for that.
As with other shows overseas, including Attack on Titan, there has been a spontaneous surge of popularity. Being so earnestly aware of the overseas development from the early production stage has been a first for me during Fire Force. I’ve been told that, overseas in particular, its popularity has been ever increasing right up to the last episode. I believe this is in part due to the preparations that were made in advance. As a producer thinking in terms of business strategy, I feel that it is high time we started paying more attention to this.
The second season is scheduled to begin this year. Has it always been planned this way?
I wouldn’t say it was “always” planned this way, exactly. However, it was decided on before the first season went to air. That is to say, as I mentioned earlier, we were already thinking of Fire Force‘s expansion overseas, so we moved forward at a fairly accelerated schedule.
We have a number of interested parties with whom we conduct sales prior to airing, and we already had quite a bit of material ready to show off at that time. It was extremely well received. As such, we ended up deciding in the middle of production that we could move forward with a second season.
Our production committee is a worldwide committee, including BiliBili and Funimation. We received requests from everyone that they wanted the series to be an extended one, so from a business angle, it all worked out. It was asking a lot of David Production, but we decided to have them continue creating the series. Since it was arranged at a fairly early stage, we are able to bring the second season to air in the summer of this year. I think the show is tremendously fortunate.
And so, the second season of Fire Force had safely been committed to air. Please tell us any changes from the first season or other things to watch out for.
From a business standpoint, the changes include the broadcast regions and airtimes in some cases. This is because they were already locked down when the second season was green-lighted, so it was out of our hands. However, as with the first season, we intend to continue making it available to view as much as possible through streaming services and the like. We are trying to make it available to catch it again on TV right away if you happen to miss it, so by all means, please continue to watch the show through to the end.
Production-wise, a big difference is that the director has changed. When the director changes, the look and feel that appears on film may also change. However, Mr. Minamikawa, who is taking over this season, is an extremely accomplished director, so I am not worried about a thing. I have great trust in Director Minamikawa and Mr. Matsunaga at David Production, and leave everything in their hands, so all I do is have faith and pray (laughs).
I believe that whatever David Production creates will likely top what they did in the first season, so I am also looking forward to what that might be. I hope all of you will be looking forward to it as well!
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