Thanks to our partners at Kodansha, we’ve got another special interview for you, this time with Weekly Shonen Magazine Series Managing Editor, Megumu Tsuchiya!
We’re just a few episodes into Fire Force Season 2, but we’re already taking a look back at the series’ initial success, from its manga debut to its anime premiere.
Take a look below at Tsuchiya’s experience with Fire Force, when he knew it would be a success, and much, much more.
Please start off by telling us about the process by which the original manga came about. What kind of exchange was there with Ohkubo-sensei to get to the story and characters that currently make up Fire Force?
Tsuchiya: At about the same time his previous series Soul Eater came to an end, I contacted Ohkubo-sensei and was able to meet with him. By that time, he had already established the foundations for the overview and setting of the Fire Force world. It all started when Ohkubo-sensei told me about his ideas, and I guess you could say it proceeded at a rapid pace from there. As an editor, it was a very extravagant story (laughs).
The key elements, such as spontaneous human combustion, were already settled on?
Tsuchiya: Yes. The setup of having firefighters battling to uncover the mystery behind human combustion, the idea for Infernals, the idea of having a church intertwined with the state, and of having a tale of intrigue were already in place. I offered some of my own questions and simple requests, and after we had some more detailed discussions to apply those items to the manga was when I believe the preliminary work was completed.
That being said, he had quick answers for everything I asked him. It was a period that allowed me to check out everything, most of which came from Ohkubo-sensei.
Was there anything from these exchanges that stand out in your memory?
Tsuchiya: When I heard him mention one thing, I had this image inside my head that just blew my mind. It was when he told me, “In the story, the firefighters have to kill the people who catch fire by spontaneous combustion, but these people are also victims of the fires they’re in. So in order to appease their souls, the fire companies in this world have Sisters that come along with them.”
While thinking to myself, “There’s no doubt that the readers will find this world to be fascinating,” I remember being impressed at the richness of imagery and close attention to detail that Ohkubo-sensei has when creating a fantasy world.
The imagery of his worldview really does come across, huh?
Tsuchiya: It sure does. The setting is well-defined, of course, but on the other hand, he is also someone who pays attention to design, from the imagery of the thickset turnout coats to Shinra’s outward appearance that uses a devilish motif that also appears in his work, so the discussions about the main visuals also went very smoothly.
And so, as we continued to make our arrangements, Ohkubo-sensei was careful to keep the level of the average Shonen Magazine reader in mind as he put together the world-building and storyline for the first chapter. He incorporated a number of other elements into his outline, such as, “The setting of this world is dark, so I need to inject some comedy,” and, “I’m going to make Shinra’s motivation that he’s doing this for his family, to make him a relatable guy that the readers can identify with.”
I also remember him asking about Weekly Shonen Magazine‘s readership, since this was new territory for him. I thought to myself, what an amazing author this man is, who combines such steadfast story ideas with a flexible style of expression. The girls that Ohkubo-sensei draws are so terribly cute that I also seem to remember making requests for some fan service scenes, where I was mixing both business and pleasure (laughs).
You mentioned earlier that Weekly Shonen Magazine was a new field for him to challenge. Do you think that there’s an essential element when it comes to a shounen magazine?
Tsuchiya: I don’t think there’s any special condition demanding that it has to be like such-and-such or it doesn’t fit the “magazine” label. The important thing is that it has to be entertaining as a manga, and as long as it is, anything goes. My thought is that I’d like Weekly Shonen Magazine readers, as well as those who aren’t currently readers, to read even more.
However, if there were some essential element, it would probably be that even if there are plenty of great characters, at its core, the story continues to be about its protagonist. The hero works toward some goal, runs into obstacles, and endures hardships, but never gives up. I think that a story that repeats that sort of structure is one of the rules of success for a shounen manga.
Indeed, we can see Shinra fitting right in!
Tsuchiya: Shinra is a great character who keeps fighting like crazy! Go main character!
One other element that we haven’t seen included very much in series from Ohkubo-sensei before is that he told me he’d like to incorporate puzzle-solving and suspense. There are other series featured on the Weekly Shonen Magazine field with that sort of writing which possess a deeply rooted popularity, so I agreed with him without any hesitation.
As a result, we gained support from our readers, and the series as a whole has had lots of references and scenes where they are pursuing the riddle of human combustion scattered throughout it.
As his editor, has anything stood out in your discussions as the serialization has progressed?
Tsuchiya: The worldview and characters in Ohkubo-sensei’s works are all very well constructed, so I put more focus on what can be done to make his work easier for the readers to follow, and more enjoyable for them in our discussions.
For example, there have been times when I examined from the readers’ point of view what they wanted to see, such as when there was a popular development or character depiction, and requested that a character appear again. The readers respond well whenever Arthur’s stupidity goes on display, and if you get the feeling that his dimwittedness has been spurred on, that may be why (laughs). Then again, his stupidity might not have known any bounds from the very start (laughs).
I value the readers’ perception of the story progress and the mystery. When we think the readers are caught up at this point, we’ll unveil the next part of the mystery, and if maybe things are starting to get a little hard to understand, we’ll do something to recap the information the reader needs to know.
I think that Ohkubo-sensei constantly has in mind trying to keep his work easy to understand first, and then making it interesting for the reader. I do my best to stay as close to the readers’ viewpoint as I can.
As Ohkubo-sensei’s editor, what do you feel is the reason behind the appeal of his series?
Tsuchiya: First of all, the moment you open up the page, it’s wonderful how the allure of his artwork leaps up into your eyes. His drawing ability, his compositions, his sense of design, the way the page is divided up—they all come together to create a tremendous artistic force. All flattery aside, I think Ohkubo-sensei is the shonen mangaka who draws the coolest pictures around right now.
Moreover, there’s the way his characters are depicted so adorably, no matter where they come from. The cuteness that his girls have is great, too. I feel like Ohkubo-sensei’s works also have a lot of really cool adults. Also, the somewhat surreal way that he draws gag scenes has a special flavor unique to Ohkubo-sensei’s works. Moreover, it’s noteworthy how the good guys and bad guys don’t just take turns slugging each other; the dynamic flow of his iconic battle depictions lend a convincingness and sense of reality to his fantasy worlds.
Lastly, his outstanding pace and strict adherence to deadlines carries a great deal of appeal to me, as his editor! Sensei, thank you so much! The editor-in-chief sends his compliments, as well!
As the anime was moving forward, did you have any demands for the production team?
Tsuchiya: No. They put so much quality into their work that we basically leave them to it. If there is one thing, during the early production stage, I think I may have said, after taking into account balancing the show as a whole, that “I sure would love it if you made the action and battle scenes look really cool,” and “I hope you won’t cut short the funny character scenes.”
When I actually watched the finished show, I could sum everything up by simply saying, “So cool!!!!!” And please, go heavy on the exclamation marks here (laughs).
The first season gained a great deal of popularity. Were there any moments, scenes, or episodes that you really felt an impact from?
Tsuchiya: The very first home run they hit was, it goes without saying, how truly great the opening theme video was. When I saw the finished video with Mrs. GREEN APPLE’s “Inferno” playing over it, I got so excited, and said “this rocks.” When it actually aired, the moment the opening started playing, the reaction from the viewers was extremely good, so I was happy about that.
Other than that, there’s the scene where Benimaru puts an Infernal to rest, the battle between Hinawa and Arrow in the Nether, and the fight in Episode 21 where Shinra and Sho face off. I was struck by how cool all the battle scenes were. The dialogue between characters was a lot of fun, and I think the comedic chit-chat the members of Company 8 engage in when between shifts turned out very nicely. The production team went so far beyond anything I requested, and I am truly blown away.
Incidentally, are there any scenes in the first season that didn’t get a lot of attention at the time, but that you liked, or anything you would like people to re-watch?
Tsuchiya: There are many fine details animated in, so I would be thrilled if people would watch the “dramatic effects.” For example, when pyrokinetics use their abilities, their eyes glow. Though I think a lot of people have caught on to that one.
For another, the use of lit objects in the way that eyes, flames, and the blue stripes on their uniforms glow, especially in Asakusa and the Nether, places where they are fighting in the dark, had the coolest, sexiest charm about the way they were animated. I think that bit is yet another highlight!
Also, Wone Wone Nyine appears in the anime whenever they have a chance, more often than they do in the original manga, so I hope you’ll seek them out as the mascots of the show (laughs).
Finally, from the position of your work, please tell those viewers who are going to be watching Fire Force Season 2 what they should be watching for.
Tsuchiya: The action, music, use of colors, and other things that are uniquely a part of the anime have been produced so well, and they draw out the charm of the original manga. For both those who watch the anime after the manga, and those who read the manga after the anime, there is no disparity between either group, in a good way, and the appeal of the series will grow even more. I believe that the world of Fire Force is becoming an anime that everyone can enjoy through even more channels.
In the second season in particular, spontaneous human combustion and the mysteries of the Evangelist will be revealed, and the story that leaves you wondering what happens next continues. The cast of characters grows, and their free-wheeling action will win your hearts. The script, the design, and the setting have all been overseen by Ohkubo-sensei, and everyone involved is giving it their full effort, so we would be very pleased if you all watch it!
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