Yuru Camp (Laid-Back Camp) – Interview with Director Yoshiaki Kyougoku

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This time, I’ll be providing a translation of an interview with Yoshiaki Kyougoku, the director of Winter 2018’s comfiest show, Yuru Camp (Laid-Back Camp, ゆるキャン△). In this interview, he talks about the charm of the original work and things to note when adapting the series.

Originally published in Akiba Souken on January 8, 2018.

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I did location scouting at the same place and in the same season as the original work.

—Please tell me about the projects you have been involved with up until now.

I originally started my career as an animator at Production I.G. I got interested in directing along the way and had the chance to work on a lot of works, but the one I was involved in the most was “Kuroko no Basket”. I became a freelancer after that and worked on shows such as “Owari no Seraph” and “Star-Myu” with C-Station, the same studio in charge of my current work.

—And your current work would be your directorial debut. What kind of circumstances led to your appointment as the director?

At the time Shunsuke Tada-san, the director of Kuroko no Basket and Star-Myu, was directing Star-Myu at C-Station, I was introduced to this work’s producer by the company president Maru-san. It seems they thought I have a good compatibility with Yuru Camp. C-Station is a really nice company, so I was happy being able to become a director there. Normally I would have given my response after I have read the original work, but I quickly said “I will do it!” twice. (laughs) Looking back, I guess it was a pretty rude thing to do.

—What are your thoughts after reading the original work?

Well, it was good. The original work was really interesting, and I was really glad that this is my debut work as a director. There is no huge drama happening in the story, but all the characters are very charming and cute. The characters crafted by Afro-sensei are natural and don’t feel like being made up at all. As illustrated by the relationship between Nadeshiko and Rin, the moderate sense of distance between them which doesn’t get too close or too distant feels very natural and real.

…But since I don’t really have any real chance of interacting with high school girls, I can’t really say whether it’s real or not. (laughs)

—One would normally think that the two will enter the same club after they met, but the two are unexpectedly depicted camping on their own.

In most stories, “Rin who had always been camping alone meets Nadeshiko, gathers more members, and aims to go on a camping together” would have happened, but it isn’t the case here. She goes on a group camping trip sometimes, but she also camps alone. I think it’s the “both are fine” aspect that makes it really appealing. I also feel that the way it is all loosely connected through Nadeshiko is something novel.

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—Please tell us about the points you focus on when animating a work with such a charm.

Camping is definitely one of the other charms of this work. Reading the original work makes one want to go camping and try the camping food that Nadeshiko and her friends eat. In order to bring out those feelings in the anime, I thought that it would be impossible without actually doing it, so we did location scouting beforehand. I and the main staff went to all the camping sites used as the model.

—So you started working on the production after experiencing the original work’s atmosphere.

Afro-sensei drew the places he visited by himself the way they are, so one will definitely be able to find the same scenery if they come to those places. That’s why, as I read the original work and said “that scene happened in here”, I ended up staying overnight around ten times when doing location scouting. I also wanted to match the feeling of the season, so I mostly did location scouting in last year’s fall and winter, but it was really cold and tough. It wasn’t laid back at all despite being a “Laid-Back Camp”. (laughs)

But that is yet another interesting aspect of this work; Rin who enjoys camping quietly prefers camping in fall and winter. Because one thought camping had this image of summer and was more of a group kind of thing, a quiet camping site without anyone else present was refreshing. This feeling is something that someone won’t be able to understand unless they go and experience it themselves.

—Did you make the camping food yourself too?

I made all of them. Afro-sensei’s choices are really great, whatever I made turned out really delicious. Eating outside also doubled the deliciousness.

—What was the most delicious among them?

I’d say the gyoza nabe hotpot. The taste of the soup is really exceptional when eaten in the cold.

—The depiction of the food is something to anticipate in the anime too.

I am doing my best. But anyway, drawing food in anime is really hard. (laughs) I used to draw them when I was an animator, but I couldn’t do it properly… I thought it would have been great if I could portray the deliciousness properly.

—Did you receive any request from Afro-sensei beforehand?

For the most part, nothing. He was always present every week for the storyboard meeting, but he never said something like “please don’t do this”. In fact, since everyone involved in the storyboard meeting was a fan of the original work, it actually felt like a group of fans surrounding him. (laughs) There were also times when we tried imagining some places that were yet to be drawn and he chose to incorporate those places. He was very helpful.

I am also being particular about the music and the eating sound effects.

—In regards to the story, with the work being adapted into an anime, are there going to be original stories?

K: There are some original scenes here and there, but the flow of the story is fundamentally in line with the original work. The flow of time in this work is very slow and dense. Even if I tried to add some original scenes and new characters, I simply couldn’t. (laughs) I had consulted with Sensei about the parts I wanted to add no matter what, so the original scenes were done very naturally.

—In the original work, the effective usage of spread pages to portray the landscapes is really impressive.

Indeed. All the places I went to which were drawn in spread pages had really amazing sceneries. I’m going to put in my best effort so people will be able to feel the charm of the sceneries through the anime too.

—How about the music?

The biggest difference with the manga is the addition of music, so I was being rather particular in making sure that the music is able to properly convey the right atmosphere. Specifically, while I would normally match the music to the character’s feelings and the scene’s atmosphere in other anime, I specifically ordered to have the music attached to a specific scenery rather than the characters in mind.

Akiyuki Tateyama-san also created really great music and themes for each camping site. Since each camping site has its own characteristic, I explained them to Tateyama-san by using photographs. It ended up becoming pretty extravagant, as a camping site’s theme is to be played only on that specific location.

—It really makes one want to listen to it on the real camping site, doesn’t it?

By all means, feel free to. I think it managed to portray the feeling that each camping site has a different atmosphere pretty well.

—The voice acting is yet another thing exclusive to the anime; was the main cast decided through an audition?

Yes. This is a bit of an embarrassing story; I didn’t really know a lot of voice actresses since I had only been working on shows which only featured boys, but since I was able to find the people who would fit the characters without any prejudice, I was really satisfied.

—I would like to ask you more specifically about the two heroines, Nadeshiko and Rin. Firstly, about Nadeshiko.

For Nadeshiko, I was looking for the sort of cheerfulness with an “innocent” and “wild-flavoured” image, so Yumiri Hanamori-san’s voice was a perfect fit. Her fresh and ticklish voice is really attractive.

—I do think “being able to eat in the way that makes it looks so delicious” is Nadeshiko’s big appeal, but how was Hanamori-san’s eating performance?

This the part where I did a lot of retakes. Since I really had to make it look like “a kid who was eating so hungrily”, while I thought it would be hard for Hanamori-san, I was really hung up on it and asked her to do the retakes. Thanks to that, I managed to really capture the feeling of Nadeshiko eating. Right after doing the retakes for the cup noodles scene in episode 1, Hanamori-san herself even said “I am hungry”. (laughs)

—The eating scenes in the original work also used a lot of panels, and I felt a lot of attention to details from the slight change in the expressions.

I think that in the case of cooking, instead of simply drawing the food beautifully, showing the reactions after eating it would allow people to feel the deliciousness. That’s why, I strongly emphasized not only the voice but also the art, in order to portray how happily the character eats.

I think “the moment of discovering happiness in everyday life” that Afro-sensei wants to draw is also included in the eating expressions. The sense of wonder, if I may put it; since it’s a work brimming with refreshing charms in which the characters look like they are having fun just by going around the camping sites, so I am going to do my best for the eating scenes too.

—How about Rin?

Rin is a solo camper, but it doesn’t mean she has no friends or any trouble communicating with people. She simply likes being alone. Furthermore, since she is originally a girl who doesn’t show her emotion all that much and has a lot of monologues, I thought it would be difficult and held the audition. Nao Toyama-san was someone able to accurately express Rin’s detailed expressions in really short words, so I was glad about that.

—So there wasn’t really much of a directive?

After taking her time getting into the character in episode 1, I felt that she has really grasped the character.

—Then, please tell us about the points you looked out for or had any difficulty with when portraying the characters.

Generally speaking, I was being particularly careful with the relationship’s moderate sense of distance that I mentioned earlier.

In regards to individual characters, I’d say Nadeshiko is pretty difficult. Rin has a lot of monologues, and I think there are many people who can empathize with her feelings. However, while Nadeshiko is an innocent girl, it’s not that she doesn’t think about anything; she is a girl who properly cares for other people. Although she often forcefully closes her distance, she will show consideration when the other person doesn’t like it. Since it’s not the kind of “anime-patterned” innocence, finding the right way to portray it is very difficult.

—With her impression of a main character, I thought she was going to step right in, but I was wrong.

Afro-sensei’s characters are slightly straying away from the stereotypes. The characters are deep and life-like, if I were to put it. That’s why I had to carefully look out for that as I was drawing the characters.

—By the way, who is your personal favorite character?

I like everyone, but if I have to pick one, it’s Saitou-san.

—Saitou-san really seems to be quite involved with the members of the Outdoor Activites Circle, isn’t she?

Yes. Although she started out as just another friend, she actually held an important position of getting Nadeshiko and Rin closer. Since everyone in the storyboard meeting has their own favorites, there were people who would try to increase their favorite character’s screentime when there was a chance, so we made the adjustments while fighting. (laughs)

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Sceneries, cooking, tools, dogs, hot springs… All the charms from the original work is going to appear.

—I would like to ask you more about the staff’s formation. The one in charge of the series composition is Hitoshi Tanaka.

This is my first time working with Hitoshi-san , but he really understood the charm of the original work and managed to put down the delicate bits which would not have made into the screen firmly in the script. Although the original scenes were prone to stray away from Yuru Camp’s worldview, he was able to write them in the way that fits really well. I think Tanaka-san is really good at doing series composition.

—Character design is also important in constructing the worldview, isn’t it?

Mutsumi Sasaki-san is really skillful. Afro-sensei’s drawings are amazing, even when viewed as original concepts.

—The way he is utilizing the lines feels very distinct.

Even though it reads so smoothly, there are actually some parts densely condensed with information. It was pretty hard for Sasaki-san to properly turn the characters from the original work into the anime’s characters. It took a considerable amount of time to draw the five main characters, but I think it turned out to be a great design. It gets harder the more one looks at Afro-sensei’s drawings, so it was really difficult to turn them into designs that the animators would be able to draw.

—I think this is Afro-sensei’s personal quirk, but the original work has a lot of dogs appearing in it. Is it the same case for the anime?

As is the case with Saitou-san’s Chikuwa, there is always a dog somewhere. When I asked, it turned out that Afro-sensei seems to like dogs and motorcycles, and so the screentime for the dogs are secured just like the original. (laughs) Since Sasaki-san also likes dogs by chance, he gave his best drawing them. The drawings for Chikuwa’s character settings are so impressive that there are so many points to note just for Chikuwa. For Yuru Camp, a dog is truly an indispensable existence.

—It feels like everything is packed without lacking the original work’s charm.

I wanted it to be that way. The camping tools are drawn with actual tools owned by Afro-sensei as the models, so we bought a set of camping tools that Rin has for the time being and used those as a reference. (laughs) When I read the original work, it felt like the camping tools rekindled the child inside me and made me want to tinker around with them. I did exactly that when I actually bought them, and just putting them together was so much fun already. I am going to work hard to make the viewers feel that too.

This is a work filled with charms; not only in its characters and stories, but also the sceneries, cooking, tools, and dogs. Afro-sensei’s really got amazing tricks up his sleeve, laying all the interesting bits here and there so you will never get tired reading it over and over again. I am aiming to achieve that with the anime too.

—By the way, the original work has four volumes released. What was it like, adapting four volumes worth of content in one cour?

Most anime would usually adapt five to six volumes in one cour. Therefore, it may seem like the original content is lacking, but it’s actually so dense that I struggled to fit it in. Afro-sensei is really skillful in making some parts brief as to keep the reading experience smooth, but it takes a lot of time to be able to accomplish the same thing with the anime. Since things wouldn’t work like manga panels when they were turned into footages, there were certain parts that couldn’t be fitted in and got cut in the process.

—I will be asking on behalf of the male fans. Is there going to be a hot spring scene?

There is. (laughs) Since it’s also one of the charms of camping, I want to draw it in the way that makes people want to go camping and enter a hot spring. But, this is not really a work with lots of fanservice shots, so I am doing it with the same casual feeling as the original work.

—I was relieved to hear that. (laughs)

I entered a hot spring when doing location scouting too, but I couldn’t get enough of entering an outdoor bath while looking at Mount Fuji. I want to keep on camping and enter a hot spring without making anime, I said at that time. (laughs)

—It makes me want to go just from listening to it.

By all means, please feel free to do so. We also did this, but if you go to the original spot and then read the original work again, it would feel many times as fun. One of the charms of camping in fall and winter is that the air is clear, so you will be able see far away clearly. Warm foods are also delicious. However, it’s going to be really cold, so please make a preparation properly.

—Finally, as this is your directorial debut, I would like to ask about your foundation. What kind of works have you been influenced by?

I really like the works of Hayao Miyazaki-san ever since I was little, and I grew up while being influenced by Moro. I am not really familiar with any other anime.

—The natural drawing style is one of the charms of Miyazaki’s anime, so it really matches this work too.

That’s true. As the producer said, my animation drawing style is more of the “visual” or “realistic” kind, so it seems he thought that I would be the right person for this work. On the contrary, I haven’t really done much of the “anime” animation kind of work, and since I’m not so resourceful in that deparment, I’m glad this wasn’t that kind of show. (laughs) It was originally my preference to depict an everyday life in detail, and it feels really rewarding to be able to work on a show which focuses on portraying the actions of camping and eating attractively.

—It’s definitely an anime that could have only been drawn by such a director, isn’t it?

I will do my best! I don’t really want to raise the hurdle too much, though. (laughs)

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