Every now and then, an anime series will make waves not just in Japan, but also everywhere else in the world. These past few months, that honour has fallen upon Studio Trigger’s Kill la Kill, a fast-paced action show that is as absurd as it is funny, but on the rare occasion, also manages to be touching in a meaningful way.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Kill la Kill is “mainstream”—it isn’t as widely recognized as, say, Durarara!! or Attack on Titan—but it certainly has gotten the collective attention of the anime fanbase, and it’s being released by Aniplex in North America this July.
Aniplex is promoting the show as a project “from the creators of Gurren Lagann,” but there’s more to Studio Trigger than their history with that show. When Trigger CEO Masahiko Otsuka founded Trigger in 2011, he stated that there was a “paradigm shift” taking place within Japan’s animation industry. Siliconera got in touch with Otsuka to find out just what he meant by this.
“The method of watching animation is gradually shifting from buying the content on Blu-Ray or DVD to watching it on the Internet via streaming,” Otsuka replied. “In addition, anime is no longer TV-exclusive content either. Viewers have a wider selection of platforms such as PC, smartphones, and so on. It is only natural that the method of doing business has shifted [in line] with these modern changes.”
Otsuka, who—along with Trigger co-founder Hiroyuki Imaishi—worked at Gurren Lagann studio Gainax, says that the goal that shapes the Studio Trigger is the ability to take risks. “Freedom of creativity is probably the greatest environment an animator or creator can wish for,” Otsuka said to Siliconera. “However, we felt that we were becoming insensitive to taking risks.”
“We were afraid to become too ‘dependent’ on the particular studio,” Otsuka explained. “In order to secure a permanent and stable environment that allows our freedom, [the decision] was to go independent and take responsibility for ourselves. We value what the director demands the most. Or, say, what the staff wants to create. The initiative lays with the staff more than what studio demands for.”
Little Witch Academia 2 director Yoshinari Yoh.
This focus on taking creative risks, combined with the relatively small size of the studio, is probably why Trigger can pursue avenues like Kickstarter in order to create what they want. If Kickstarter has proven anything of late, it’s that fans love when famous content creators go independent. Case in point: Trigger asked for $150,000 to produce Little Witch Academia 2, and ended up with $625,518 instead. A lot of those contributions came from fans in the west, too.
“I personally feel that the rift between Japanese and western tastes is slowly disappearing,” Otsuka theorizes. “It feels as though overseas users crave that ‘Japanese’ style found in animation. However, a good portion of the information released is still oriented toward viewers within Japan. I feel that the animation industry should be more productive in promoting our contents overseas.”
Trigger’s laser-like focus on taking creative risks is why being part of a larger holdings company is a smart idea. When Trigger was formed in 2011, the studio—along with others like Liden films, Sanzigen and Ordet—formed a holdings company named Ultra Super Pictures, which would manage their licenses collectively.
“While we had the skills to create animation, that was not the fact in managing business,” Otsuka shared with us. “None of our starting members had such experience or knowledge. The establishment of Trigger was mostly by trial and error. We often looked for advice from other studio managers.”
With that in mind, Ultra Super Pictures serves exactly the right purpose—it can handle part of the legal work for the studio. “While [the studios] do cooperate with each other, our relationship when working on a project does not differ so much from working with another studio outside of the group,” Otsuka explained. “The grouping is more oriented towards unifying the merchandise and copyrights procedure.”
Otsuka doesn’t see Kickstarter as a radical change to how Trigger handles its projects either. “The method of production does not really change from the traditional method,” he said, when I brought up Kickstarter. “While the process of collecting the necessary funds for [Little Witch Academia 2] was indeed a unique method, I believe it is still just an ‘example’ of the possibilities. Whether this method will become mainstream or not is still debatable.”
In the meantime, Trigger will continue to focus on being a studio “that can’t be predicted,” Otsuka says—and they’re open to ideas from fans, too.
“For example, our reasoning in trying out the Kickstarter project was due to a fan asking us if we were going to start a Kickstarter project,” he said. “If any of you have an interesting idea, please send it over to Trigger! Lastly, any form of encouragement, even if they are short comments via social networks, do surely boost the morale of our staffs. Please do send any form of comments to us as well.”
Kill la Kill will be available in North America on July 15th, via Blu-Ray and DVD. Prior to its release, Aniplex are holding a Kill la Kill event at Anime Expo in Los Angeles, featuring the show’s production staff and Japanese voice-actors. Meanwhile, Little Witch Academia 2 is currently in production at Trigger to be released in 2015.
Yoshinari Yoh image courtesy Kickstarter.