Jump‘s Legendary Editor-in-Chief Breaks “the Vicious Cycle That Creates Lousy Games” During Development of a Dragon Ball Game Adaptation
On the 26th of September, Unite Tokyo 2019 was held at Grand Nikkō Tokyo, organized by the Unite Tokyo 2019 management. Today, we’ll be bringing you one of its sessions, titled “Why don’t publishing houses and game development companies see eye-to-eye? The story of how a Dragon Ball game adaptation became a huge pain in the… I mean, a great learning opportunity.”
Unite Tokyo 2019 is the biggest conference event in the country, and it is directed at users of the game engine Unity, which can be used to make various kinds of software, from smartphone apps to console games. Fundamentally, it focuses on meetings and lectures directed at software and game developers, but there are also other lectures that can be enjoyed by the average layman. The session presented below is one of those.
The main star of this lecture is the legendary Weekly Shōnen Jump editor and chairman of Hakusensha, Mr. Kazuhiko Torishima, also known as “Dr. Mashirito”. Mr. Torishima, who was the editor in charge of the ultra-popular manga Dragon Ball1, is said to have once told the producer of a video game adaptation of that property, which was in development at Bandai (currently Bandai Namco Entertainment) at the time, such harsh criticism about the game that it caused the suspension of a project with a budget of several hundred million yen. Why was that? And where did the viewpoints of the game developer and the publishing house diverge? In this lecture, we plan to once again look back on these matters with the people involved.
In addition to the perpetrator of such harsh criticism, Mr. Torishima, coming to the stage today will be the victims of that harsh criticism, Bandai Namco Entertainment board of directors member, Mr. Daisuke Uchiyama, and Bandai Namco Holdings Strategic IP Headquarters advisor, Mr. Shin Unozawa. In addition to Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball Z 2, and Dragon Ball Z 32, Mr. Uchiyama is known for also having been the producer of huge hits such as the .hack and Narultimate Hero3 series. Mr. Unozawa is known as the producer of the TV animated series Mobile Police Patlabor and also for his tenure as CEO of Bandai Namco Games.
Moderating the discussion will be the manager of gaming website Den Faminico Gamer and CEO of Mare Corporation, Mr. Shin’ichi Taira.
We hereby inform that we have split the contents of this lecture into two parts, but there will also be a third part consisting of the interviews conducted with its speakers after the lecture itself. We would be honored if you could read all of them.
This is not the story of your normal game production. It’s a tale about the correct attitude to have when dealing with another company’s products and intellectual property. A tale about what to pay attention to when conducting business dealings. An incident that is highly likely to happen in our day-to-day work environments.
Kazuhiko Torishima is the chairman of the Hakusensha board of directors. He joined Shūeisha in 1976 and was assigned to the editorial department. As an editor, he nurtured a lot of manga artists such as Akira Toriyama and Masakazu Katsura. He was in charge of projects such as the Jump Broadcasting Station4 and Famicom Shinken5, and founded V-Jump in 1993. Famed as “The Demon Editor” who would mercilessly reject drafts, he would often be referenced as a model for characters appearing in Jump serializations, such as Dr. Slump‘s Dr. Mashirito and Tottemo! Luckyman’s Torishiman. (Photo by: Hiroki Yamamoto)
Shin Unozawa is an advisor at Bandai Namco Holdings’ Strategic IP Headquarters. He is also a former CEO of Bandai Namco Games (currently Bandai Namco Entertainment). He entered Bandai in 1981 and was involved with the planning and sales of toys such as Xabungle and Gunpla6 in the Hobby department. In 1983, he entered the Frontier division, and ever since then, he has been working as a producer for a number of movies and animated television series, such as the Mobile Police Patlabor franchise (television series and OVAs).
Daisuke Uchiyama is a member of the Bandai Namco Entertainment board of directors and Senior Executive Manager at the Computer Entertainment division. As a video game producer, in addition to games based on existing properties such as Dragon Ball and Naruto, he also took part in the planning of several other video games. He created the cross-media project .hack and served as the first producer in charge of the series. He is currently serving as manager of Consumer Projects and consolidates the entirety of its operations.
The deadline problem that gives rise to lousy games and the “myths of the forbidden”.
This chronological table spans about five pages, but Dragon Ball started its serialization in Weekly Shōnen Jump in 1984, and the animated series began two years later, in 1986. And the Famicom games started being developed right around that time. And by looking at the table, it becomes quite clear how close the relationship was between Dragon Ball and game development, and how it was almost always Bandai or Bandai Namco handling these adaptations. They’ve been very closely connected. Well then, Torishima-san, please tell us the details of how Dragon Ball first came to be turned into a video game.
However, right before Hashimoto-san said that, the advertising agency told us that Bandai wanted to drop the sponsorship for the anime. So I refused Hashimoto-san immediately. I said that Bandai could not develop it. And when he asked why, I said “because they want to cancel the sponsorship.” When I told them that only sponsors have preferential rights with regards to merchandise, he went back with a pale face, and one week later, Bandai renewed its sponsorship and they later produced the second game, Dragon Ball: Daimaō Fukkatsu. So there was this story behind all of it. (laughs)
There really is a need to be the sponsor. We often get asked “why does Bandai have the merchandising rights?” Well, that’s because we’re a sponsor for the TV programs. Because when the animated series are airing, we pay about 30 million or 50 million yen per month over a period of one or two years. And it’s not limited to times when the series are on the air, either. If it’s a popular enough show, we can maintain our sponsorship for 20 years. But on the other hand, that means we can get the toy and game adaptation licenses.
And there’s no contract involved, either. There’s no contract between Bandai Namco and Shueisha stipulating “you can make Dragon Ball games for XX years”. It’s a bit of a mystery, isn’t it? (laughs)
The “Class-A war Criminal” that made Bandai take a loss of 26.8 billion yen
And so, Uchiyama-san, when was it that you first became involved with Dragon Ball games?
Back then, the Bandai gaming department was located in Nakano-Sakaue and had about 16 managers.
“Mashirito”, the man who created the industry standards in his twenties
Before, I used to be an anime producer at Bandai Visual, so I knew a thing or two about actually making something. So the first thing I can do, as the manager, the one responsible for delivering things on time, is to bear that burden and tell the team to do things properly and to give it their all.
And then there are a lot of mysterious legends, like the “myths of the forbidden”. For instance, back then, people were saying that “you can’t post videos of Gundam games online”. But I know the president of the studio that produces Gundam very well, so when I went and asked who originally said that, he replied “I never said that”.
There are a lot of “myths of the forbidden” like that regarding Jump. Because Jump is pretty scary. I mean, of course it would be, when you have this person (Mr.Torishima) at the helm. (laughs)
But I thought the super deformed characters looked cute and we never actually met anyone from the Shueisha editorial department. Meaning, we got the rights from Toei Animation. It was an adaptation of the animated series. Because we weren’t able to arrange a meeting with any of the editors or the boss-man over here (Mr. Torishima).
That is to say, if you substitute “myths of the forbidden” with “know-how” and then add “you don’t even know that?”, you would get an accurate description of Bandai’s gaming department at the time.
Would we have had more good games if we never had these “myths of the forbidden”…? Well, we also need to take into account everyone’s opinions, and sometimes, I would just look at something and say “this is awful”. But by removing these limitations, we got a rapid increase in sales with the same members. And over a span of around six years, I managed to recoup that 26.8 billion yen loss with our video game projects. (applause from the audience)
The editors grasp and consolidate the information
However, as the years went on and there began to be more and more people on the game development side, there were a lot more decisions that needed to be made, and slowly, those decisions became rules that must be abided by. And after a while, people started to forget why those rules were even made in the first place and they became hurdles that were extremely difficult to overcome. That’s why it becomes quite a problem if the people change but the rules stay the same.
So the editor in charge consolidates everything coming from the outside, makes a decision based on what he’s heard and doesn’t just pass on every single little detail to the author. They work on a principle of good faith. Since there are many people involved, if the author listened to the information from each and every one of them, there are bound to be misunderstandings. That’s why it’s important for the editor in charge to handle all that information by himself. It is also why it’s necessary for him to have a firm grip on the author’s way of thinking and to know what they consider to be important.
I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but for example, in One Piece, the more supervisors replaced one another, the more problematic it became, extremely so.12 Because inevitably, no matter what kind of communication came from the Editorial Department, discrepancies were bound to appear. It’s very bad when that happens. And if you were to ask why, the people on-site would probably tell you they were just “distributing the burden,” but I think that it just slows down decision-making. And people whose work is slow start coming up with excuses and cutting corners. At least that’s what I think.
If you think about “purely adult things,” your decision-making becomes dull
And regarding the making of the games themselves, the circumstances have changed greatly since the times when we only had to think about the Famicom. So when you are required to make those difficult decisions, I think you really need to divide the work and decide each person’s role.