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Geek It! Anime Spotlight: Interview with Erased/Sword Art Online’s Director Tomohiko Ito

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From the director behind Silver Spoon, Sword Art Online and Erased, TOMOHIKO ITO is one of today’s renowned directors in the Japanese animation industry. Talking all things animation, Erased and Sword Art Online, CtrlGeekPod recently sat down with Ito-san at Madman Anime Festival 2016. Check out our interview below!

* * * * * * * *

CGP: Welcome to Madfest, Ito-san! To kick things off, when did you develop an interest in animation and filmmaking?

Ito: It all began when I watched a lot of anime as a kid. For instance, one of the shows was Evangelion in which features one of Madfest’s other guests, Yuko Miyamura, who did the voice of Asuka Langley.

CGP: How did you get involved in the anime industry?

Ito: In Japan, when you graduate from high school and/or university, you apply for a job like anyone else by sending in your resume. I applied for a job at one of the big animation companies ‘Madhouse’, and Madhouse asked me as to when I could start. I informed them that it would have to be the following year after I finished my studies, and that is how I got into the industry.

CGP: You must have been very talented when you finished school!

Ito: [laughs] I actually did not study anything in relations to the animation industry at all. It was by chance that I decided to apply at the company and I was accepted. Most people tend to quit the industry after a short period of time, but I managed to stay on and simply kept going. As a result, it has led me to where I am now.

CGP: Erased was one of the biggest shows of 2016. Were you surprised by the response from fans?

Ito: I am very thankful by the response from fans who have watched the show. Erased is quite a fairly dark story, and when you compare the show to something like Sword Art Online, Erased is visually not as amazing. In Erased, it is evident that there were some issues, and I often find myself asking, “Should I show this…or should I not?” Nevertheless, I am very grateful and pleased by how the series was received by the public.

CGP: You may say that Erased is visually not on the same scale as Sword Art Online but your vision and directorial skills in Erased was spot on.

Ito: I feel bad because there are so many people out there who are more talented than me. I believe this is a ‘chance’ thing that has happened to me so I must disagree [laughs].

CGP: From your point of view, what makes a suspenseful story like Erased unique?

Ito: One of the things that I tried to implement into the show was putting a cliffhanger at the end of each episode. And also, it is the characters that make the story rather unique. We wanted to create a character that the audience could support. With Satoru Fujinuma’s character, you can’t hate him or fault him. We wanted to create a character like Satoru in which the audience could push him along to make sure his character succeeds.

From Left to Right: SAO Character Designer Adachi Shingo, Madman Entertainment's representative Jessica, SAO Director Tomohiko Ito and A1 Pictures' Producer Atsushi Kaneko

From Left to Right: SAO Character Designer Adachi Shingo, Madman Entertainment’s representative Jessica, SAO Director Tomohiko Ito and A1 Pictures’ Producer Atsushi Kaneko (©Madman Entertainment)

GGP: The Erased manga and anime took place almost at the same time. While you were directing Erased, were you influenced by the manga’s direction along the way, vice versa?

Ito: While I was working on Erased the anime, I was working with the original author. We often communicated with one another as to what will eventually happen in the story. However, we made a clear decision to make the anime end differently from the manga. While we needed to make sure that the anime has the same story, we wanted the two mediums (manga and anime adaptation) to be unique in their own way.

CGP: From your directing experience, what do you feel is the most important thing that you must keep in mind when adapting popular titles such as Sword Art Online?

Ito: When adapting manga and/or light novels, I try my best to keep the essential parts of the original story and then we experiment with the rest. Fans are very passionate about these sort of things and I don’t like to disappoint fans. As I adapt these series into a show, I end up becoming a fan of the series myself. And because of this, I also do not want to disappoint myself and that’s one of the things that I keep in mind.

CGP: From Death Note to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, you have a very impressive portfolio. If you could choose one, what is your most favourite film/series to work on, and why?

Ito: There are a lot of series that I’ve been very proud of, and happy to be involved with. However, Occult Academy was one of the very first works that people asked me to direct so it holds a special place in my heart. During this period, I learnt a lot of things for the first time, and from there, I began picking up a lot of skills right until this day.

In addition to this, Erased and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time also holds a special place in my heart. With Erased, it is one of the series that I have always wanted to work on. When I went around asking for the anime series to be done, I was very thankful to the people who approved the series, and to those who worked on the project with me.

CGP: And last of all, is there a particular genre that you would like to experiment with in the near future?

Ito: Not necessarily a genre…However, I would like to work on 3D animation in the near future.

CGP: Thank you Ito-san for taking the time to talk with us. It has been a pleasure meeting you.

Ito: Thank you very much!

— ENDS —


Special thanks to Madman Entertainment for arranging this interview with Director Ito! 

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