Translations Archive

ITmedia Business Online (06 December 2019)

Unite Tokyo: Dragon Ball Video Game Development Interview Part 3

“The essence of a game producer,” as revealed by the legendary editor-in-chief formerly in charge of Dragon Ball

On the 26th of September 2019, Unite Tokyo 2019 was held at Grand Nikkō Tokyo, organized by the Unite Tokyo 2019 management. One of its sessions was 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”. We’ve previously published its first part, titled “Jump‘s Legendary Editor-in-Chief Breaks ‘the Vicious Cycle That Creates Lousy Games’ During Development of a Dragon Ball Game Adaptation“, and its second part, titled “‘Sorry, but would you mind throwing this away?’ – The truth about the merciless rejection given by a legendary Jump editor-in-chief to a Dragon Ball game project where hundreds of millions of yen had already been spent“, on this website.

Besides Mr. Kazuhiko Torishima (also known as “Dr. Mashirito”)1, who was the editor in charge of Dragon Ball, a manga series popular throughout the entirety of Japan, and also the legendary editor-in-chief of Weekly Shōnen Jump and the current chairman of the Hakusensha board of directors, we also had Mr. Daisuke Uchiyama, member of the Bandai Namco Entertainment board of directors, and Mr. Shin Unozawa, advisor at Bandai Namco Holdings’ Strategic IP Headquarters, taking the stage. Moderating the discussion, we had the manager of gaming website Den Faminico Gamer, the president and CEO of Mare Corporation, Mr. Shin’ichi Taira.

For this third and final part, we’ll be reporting on the press conference held after the session itself, where the same four people are once again interviewed and asked about what’s important to take into account when adapting a comic into an animated series or video game.

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 slowness in realizing that games, just like animated series, are “works of art”

When turning a comic into a video game, what are the concrete things you pay attention to?
Mr. Torishima: Just like Uchiyama-san said on stage during the session, we at the Editorial Department focus on the characters. This is something that doesn’t apply to just games, but animated series as well: if you fail to translate the characters correctly, the final result will be a fake. This is something that we really don’t want them to get wrong.

On the other hand, when the animated series is starting off, one thing they do is to have the characters and the world meticulously vetted by the original author (since it’s important that it matches the original comic). As long as there aren’t any deviations there, even if there are slight differences, it will be a faithful adaptation. This is why we pay particular importance to it.

Which elements do you expect a video game to add?
Mr. Torishima: Unlike other merchandise, games have a story, right? You can relive the story of the original comic. Not to mention you can control the characters. This is an incredibly important peculiarity. With the animated series, while you can watch it, you cannot experience it for yourself. The real pleasure of games is to be able to turn yourself into Goku (the protagonist of Dragon Ball) and fight enemies, and it’s a big one.
This is a question for Uchiyama-san: what’s the most important thing for you when adapting a comic into a video game?
Mr. Uchiyama: Just like Torishima-san said, I think video games are a little bit different from other character-based merchandise. Because they have motion just like the animated series, they have a story just like the original comic, there’s dialogue and sounds and you can also touch them. This experience is a bit different from other merchandise like figures and conventional toys.

And that’s precisely why it’s important to think about features like having a wide variety of things that our customers, the children, might want to do in the game world and how to implement a range of options for our users to choose from. They select and choose everything by themselves, like for instance, to go on an adventure to Planet Namek, from Dragon Ball.

Mr. Torishima: Exactly. In a game, you can be both Goku and Vegeta.

Dragon Ball Z for the PlayStation 2: a fighting game that lets you enjoy a reenactment of the battles of the Dragon Ball Z story. The game was released for the PlayStation 2 in February of 2003 and for the Gamecube in November of that same year8. Due to its good reception, it became a series and got two sequels, Dragon Ball Z 2 and Dragon Ball Z 3 (image: Sony website)

It’s necessary to think that games, too, need to be made in partnership with the publisher of the original work

Now I wanted to ask you, Unozawa-san, since you are now a little bit more detached, about the current relationship between animated series and video games.
Mr. Unozawa: From a technical perspective, we started with pixel art, then transitioned into 3D graphics, and now in the era of the PlayStation 4, I mean, the visuals are pretty much equal to the ones we see in animated series, right? That’s why games are fundamentally secondary sources, just like the anime. The original work is the primary source and the animated series are the secondary source, but the video games aren’t a tertiary source, they are now secondary sources, just like the anime. We were slow to realize that games are just as much works of art as animated series.

From the point of view of a toy maker, as long as things are approved by the original publisher, then it can be sold to consumers. But if you look at video games as being works of art, then you also need to have input from the original publisher when you’re making them. We need to think that we’re doing a work of art in partnership with the original publisher, just like we do with animated series.

Torishima-san knows how things were back when I was still working at Bandai Visual, that is to say, back when I was still an anime producer, so he listened to me. I told him that my job is a little bit different from the managers of the Bandai of old, when you just went to the rightsholders for mere supervision. I don’t know if they just trusted us or something like that, but that is the reason why at least the visuals of the Bandai games from that era improved as time went on.

Unozawa-san served as producer for the Mobile Police Patlabor animated TV series (image from Mobile Police Patlabor: The TV series retrieved from the Bandai website)

If you show it to the original author, it gets out of hand

Mr. Torishima: During the conference, you mentioned the story about how I approved the One Piece game with the super deformed characters, but even before that, Bandai took Mobile Suit Gundam and made SD (Super Deformed) Gundam, right? Back then, I asked “why did you make SD Gundam?” and I saw how it looked. Even with heads twice the size of their bodies, the world around them did not change at all and you got to reintroduce the characters in a new way that made them easy to like. When I saw it, I felt comfortable approving the idea.

One Piece: Grand Battle! (picture from Amazon)

Is the reason why it’s the editor and not the original author supervising products like video games to avoid confusion, given that the editor is the one dealing with and consolidating everything, just like you said on stage?
Mr. Torishima: That, and because if you show it to the original author, they’ll want to correct things themselves. If that happened, it would become even more problematic. Because they have free reign to change every little thing about the game.
So that’s why the editor supervises it for them, but what are the advantages to that?
Mr. Torishima: I also said this before, but you really have to look at it from a child’s point of view. That’s why making decisions based solely on first impressions is important.
How did you all learn to have this child-like mindset?
Mr. Torishima: I cultivate it every day at work. They (the children) come in on field trips and I also have frequent reports on their preferences, and so, I change my approach based on what I gather from that.
Mr. Unozawa: I gauge their reactions at events. That’s our actual target demographic and their reactions are 100% genuine, so you can really feel what they are excited about.
Mr. Torishima: You really can.

The roles of the editor are “manager”, “director”, and “producer”

Torishima-san, you previously said in another interview that “I don’t have the talent to do it myself, so I thought about becoming an editor”, but what about the others… is that also the reason why you became producers or editors and not creators?
Mr. Unozawa: There’s also quite a lot to being a producer. Both me and Uchiyama are producers on the publishing side. If you write it in katakana, the job is called “producer”, but if you write it in kanji, it’s called “shrewd businessman”.2 And by “shrewd businessman”, that doesn’t mean we just earn money. We take the money we earned and make it grow. And in that way, everyone can be happy together. That is why if something is acceptable, we’ll accept it, but if it’s bad, then we’ll say it’s bad.
Mr. Torishima: Editors actually have three jobs: manager, director, and producer.

We are managers because we do things like finding a room for the new manga authors to rent and managing their deadlines and stuff. We are directors because we judge if the work we are looking at is interesting or not and think about how to improve it.

And we are producers because we try to imagine which shape the author will take three or five years from now. The rest is about figuring out the right talent to pair them with so that the author won’t lose a drop of their own talent. You have to think about a lot of things. So that’s why we’re producers. If you mix all three of these jobs, you get an editor. I think being a producer is a matter of having a long-term perspective.

Mr. Uchiyama: Personally, the truth is that I wanted to be a creator. I even went to a technical school for game design. And since there were job offers for Bandai posted on the school walls, I applied and got accepted, but when I got there, there was no actual game development going on in the company itself. (laughs) The only jobs inside the company were for producers, the actual game development itself was outsourced.
Mr. Unozawa: Do some proper research first and then apply. (laughs)
Mr. Uchiyama: In the end, I got assigned to the gaming department and that is how I became a producer.
Mr. Taira: This is particularly true of Torishima-san, but I think there is a little creator hiding inside every successful producer. Unozawa-san was also involved in the planning stages of series such as Mobile Police Patlabor when he worked as an anime producer, and Uchiyama-san did the same with series such as .hack, right?

The .hack series is a multimedia project that depicts the events that occur in a fictional MMORPG called The World. There were four games released for the PlayStation 2 between 2002 and 2003, and an animated series was also airing on television during that time. The series later expanded with the development of sequels, remasters and an animated theatrical film.

By grasping the players’ reactions with their “gut feeling”, a producer can make a hit.

Mr. Unozawa: .hack was actually the only Bandai-original title to have succeeded. Despite people telling me that an original would never make it.
Mr. Torishima: You were doing some great stuff.
Mr. Taira: That’s the thing, I think that a producer having a good “gut feeling”, or “sixth sense”, like Unozawa-san was saying before, can play a big part in determining whether that producer can make a big hit or not.
Mr. Torishima: Exactly, your “gut”. The ability to decide things on the spot.
Mr. Unozawa: Based just on first impressions, right? I can’t draw, but I can look at the pictures and hear the pitch, and if it sounds interesting, I’ll approve it. Then, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to get funding and what style to use.
Mr. Torishima: It all depends on whether you’re able to instantly think “this is interesting, isn’t it?” or “I think this could work”.
How exactly can someone gain that level of intuitiveness?
Mr. Torishima: You just look at a lot of different things every day.
Mr. Taira: In Unozawa-san‘s case, it’s because he has regular talks with people like Mamoru Oshii-san (famous for the film Ghost in the Shell, among others) before looking at proposals.
Mr. Unozawa: We gather the top players in their respective fields and talk about a lot of different things.
Mr. Torishima: It really is a huge gathering, isn’t it?
Mr. Unozawa: That might be why I can quickly calculate whether something can succeed or not with just my first impression.
Mr. Torishima: After that, and I think this applies to Unozawa-san as well, when you hear the pitch and think it’s interesting, you then feel like giving that person’s project all the backup it can get and release it onto the world.
Mr. Unozawa: You feel like saying “I was the one who discovered them”. (laughs) Because you want them to say “Torishima-san helped me out a lot back then.”

Fundamentally, people are creatures that just want to be praised, right? Because they have a need for the approval of others. If games, manga, anime and music didn’t exist, you wouldn’t exactly die. But you do these things because you want to move people to tears, or for them to tell you that they were really touched.

The following translator notes are included for the benefit of the reader as supplemental information.

1 “Mashirito” (マシリト) is an anagram of “Torishima” (鳥嶋); Akira Toriyama’s original editor at Shueisha, who served as the inspirational basis for Dr. Mashirito as well as Demon King Piccolo.
2 プロデューサー vs. 商売人
English Translation: Zénpai