The BanG Dream! (Bandori) franchise started taking flight in 2015 as a media mix project centered around the theme of all-girl bands. The main appeal of the franchise is that all the voice actresses of the characters forming the band Poppin’ Party (Popipa), which serve as the backbone of the story, are capable of actually performing the songs live with incredible quality.
Following the release of the television anime series in January 2017, the mobile game based on the franchise titled BanG Dream! Girls Band Party! (Garupa) was released in March 2017 while Popipa performed at the famous Nippon Budoukan for the first time in August the same year. In this interview, we delve into the mind of Takaaki Kidani, the man behind the creation of the BanG Dream! Project, as we talk about what lies ahead for the franchise.
This is the second part of the three-part interview; click the following links below to read Part 1 and Part 3.
Originally published in Real Sound on November 6, 2018.
The Factors of BanG Dream’s Success
—I think from the fan’s perspective, it seemed like the members were slowly being assembled with each subsequent live show.
Kidani: That was our way of matching it with the manga. But, despite the slight difference, the anime also had this aspect of the members gradually coming together… I like that kind of development. Just like the one featured in manga related to sports or manga depicting the friendship between men, I really love stories about growth in which there is this aspect of new friends slowly joining the group. Also, I think BanG Dream!’s story is a pretty easy to digest because it doesn’t have too much of a twist in it. It started from the moment they were gathering members, and progressed into having the goal of performing in a live house. Once that goal came into fruition, “I want to perform in a bigger venue!” “I want to perform with my friends!”… Their motivations are clearly defined. With the elements of friendship and bond mixed in, I think it’s quite orthodox in terms of the story.
Those elements are also present in Love Live!, but the notion of school idols isn’t something that actually exists in the real life, and so it’s difficult to give the characters a motivation strongly grounded in reality. But in the case of a band, they can naturally go through the course of realistic steps which I’ve just mentioned. I think that’s the great thing about it. In addition, the way Kasumi lost her voice during the later parts of the anime was actually happened in the real life at first. Aimi once lost her voice when she was being so focused on playing the guitar. (Note: This refers to the incident which happened at the BanG_Dream! 1st Live, 2015.)
—That moment when one felt like their vocal chord got stuck.
Kidani: Yes. And when she realized her voice wasn’t coming out, that single moment got into her mind and triggered a chain of mistakes. We incorporated things which actually happened in real life like that incident as—in a way—themes in the story.
—Was there ever a moment which you felt was a sign for the project’s breakthrough?
Kidani: Uh… So to put it in order, the anime was generally well-anticipated before it started airing. However, when I looked at the audience’s responses right after the first episode aired, I honestly thought, “this is awful.” “I guess this level of quality just won’t cut it, huh.” The series was also getting bashed a lot for that “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” moment in episode 3… To that end, I completely concentrated the promotion into the game instead and pushed Garupa’s pre-registration really hard.
Meanwhile, the live shows were going pretty stable. The third live held on February 5, 2017 (3rd☆LIVE Sparklin’ PARTY 2017!) was successful, and bundling the priority ballot tickets for the Budoukan live with the anime’s Blu-ray volume 1 was enough to boost sales. And then, when Garupa was released, everything just went through the roof… That’s why, while there are a lot of people who thought, “Wait, how did this thing become a hit when the anime was that bad?”, I think it’s all because of the game’s level of polish and the live shows. We accomplished something that didn’t seem possible, after all. Also, it was great that Roselia made a surprise appearance in the third live. I don’t think the audience expected them to sing and perform there.
—While they were unveiled at last year’s Game Show, there wasn’t any talk about live performances, after all.
Kidani: That’s right. There was no indication that they were going to perform live. Also, the song “BLACK SHOUT” itself is a very good song, and I think having them start with “Tamashi no Refrain” (“Soul’s Refrain”) was the right choice. In addition, with the way Roselia’s had some of its members being replaced, doesn’t it feel like the band’s realistically developing a “drama” as a band?
—The bassist Yurika Endou (VA of Lisa Imai) graduated in June, being replaced by Yuki Nakashima. Following that, the keyboardist Satomi Akesaka (VA of Rinko Shirokane) also graduated during the Fan Meeting held in September, with the role of Rinko being auditioned at the moment.* And so at the moment, the structure of the band has also changed.
Kidani: For that reason, when we announced, “These four people will perform next live!”—and we did bundle the priority ballot tickets with the Monthly Bushiroad magazine—the responses were overwhelming… I believe the fans really want to see this kind of dramatic development. I think the story of Popipa working their way up to Nippon Budoukan was dramatic in itself, but because Popipa had its developments rooted in the anime, they couldn’t stray from that image too far. However, I believe that there’s going to be a new kind of dramatic development born within Popipa next year.
*This interview was done before Kanon Shizaki was cast as Satomi Akesaka’s replacement.
—Surely, with the second and third season of the anime coming up.
Kidani: Yes. The first season had an orthodox approach to it, but we are going all out with the second season from the start. Even the first episode’s already amazing, I’m telling you.
—The second season will be created using CG, isn’t it?
Kidani: That’s right. We are planning to announce them on December 12 during the BanG Dream! 2nd Season Project Announcement event, and there’s going to be a lot of surprises there. Also, the members of BanG Dream! Garupa☆Pico will be appearing in movie manner videos in cinemas as a collaboration with Aeon Cinema. The current one is the Pastel*Palettes version. This collaboration is planned for a whole year with the featured band being rotated after certain periods of time. This isn’t related to the collaboration match (with Pacific League) mentioned earlier, but we’d like to appeal more to the general audience and increase the number of female fans.
The Difficulty of Creating a Female-oriented Content, According to Kidani
—It does feel like there still aren’t a lot of female fans.
Kidani: There were times when we opened the Garupa Cafe during which 60% of the customers were girls, so I think there should be a lot of female fans. However, when it comes to attending live shows, the hurdle does get higher for some people, so I want to try creating a separate girls-only performance day for BanG Dream! live shows just like Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight’s stage plays. We also announced the boy band project “Argonavis” in May, but I guess when it comes down to it, creating a female-oriented content is difficult.
—What aspect do you think makes it difficult?
Kidani: In most mobile games nowadays, you’re basically buying pictures through gacha. That’s why we’d easily run into the problem of “Would a guy even buy pictures of a male character?” There are a lot of female users who prefer cute girls than boys too, after all. Therefore, when you create a franchise featuring a lot of cute girls, there shouldn’t be any problem drawing in female fans as long as there isn’t a sense of unnecessarily appealing to men. I don’t really enjoy works which unnecessarily appeal to men myself. They make me think, “There’s no way a girl’s gonna fall from the sky! Put in some effort and get one yourself!” (laughs)
—I think your earlier point about “naturally going through the course of realistic steps” also hold a similar meaning.
Kidani: I guess so. Starting from there, I’ve recently been thinking, “Wouldn’t it be better to stop creating male characters altogether?” Nowadays, even movies are getting shorter and shorter, and there is also the necessity to make them easy to comprehend. With that end, if one were to try telling a love story with another underlying theme in parallel, it gets difficult to properly draw the line.
Let’s take “Titanic” for an example. If you try writing a story about romance and history with the same amount of focus, the main theme will get blurred, so there is no other choice but to make the story longer. Thus, for a series with only 12-13 episodes, it’s impossible to write it properly if you cram a lot of different themes in it.
—So that’s why BanG Dream!’s first season took the orthodox approach with its story.
Kidani: That’s right. It’s the theme of “gathering friends and overcoming a challenge”. With moments of failure in between… That’s why I don’t think there are going to be more male characters appearing in the second and third season.
—Garupa was one of the factors you mentioned which helped the franchise gain traction and achieve a breakthrough, but what do you think was the key for success aside from the promotion?
Kidani: The concept of Garupa is conceived by Craft Egg, while the songs are handled by Elements Garden headed by (Noriyasu) Agematsu-sensei, so I think the key was teamwork. There is also the addition of cover songs which set it apart from other similar contents; I think that’s a pretty deciding factor.
—Certainly. Was [the addition of cover songs] decided from the start?
Kidani: Yes. At the first live in April 2015, the staff reported to me, “There are too few songs, we can’t have a live show like this!” And so I told them, “What are you talking about? It’s a band, so just throw in some cover songs.” It was well received by the fans. Then, Craft Egg approached me after the live ended and asked, “Can we add cover songs to the game?”, and I said, “With pleasure. I definitely agree.” However, I think this style’s pretty similar with our company’s “Weiss Schwarz” trading card game. Even when we experienced drops in momentum, the addition of popular titles will bring it back up. In these ten years, as we have experienced moments when old titles are reinvigorated through being re-released, I think adding cover songs is the right move. Another reason is the population.
Kidani: Around 940,000 children were born last year. But during the second baby boom, two million children were born every year. The reason why Neon Genesis Evangelion’s “Zankoku na Tenshi no Tēze” (“Cruel Angel’s Thesis”) is often being sung in karaokes is because it was stuck in the head of the baby boom juniors. One would never forget the songs they learned at that age. Of course the largest population is dominated by the baby boomers (of the first Japan baby boom), but since most of them are currently over 70 years old, it’s important to target the baby boom junior generation as the second-highest population. I think there is a possibility that the age of cover songs is coming.