Ahead of EX-ARM‘s premiere, director Yoshikatsu Kimura and voice actor Sōma Saitō give fans insight on their experience working on the series and tease what fans can look forward to. Director Yoshikatsu Kimura, whose previous works include the live-action adaptation of Ajin, makes his anime directorial debut with EX-ARM. Sōma Saitō, known for his roles as Ten Kujou from IDOLiSH7 and Doppio from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, stars as EX-ARM‘s protagonist Akira Natsume.
The upcoming 3DCG anime follows Akira Natsume whose untimely death led to his role as an advanced AI superweapon. The unusual sci-fi cyberpunk series was originally slated to premiere this summer in Japan but has now been pushed to January 2021. So far, fans have been teased with a short trailer and a handful of images with the main cast, however most details have been under wraps. Voice actor Sōma Saitō and director Yoshikatsu Kimura joined forces to reveal more details on the anime project they’ve been working through.
After a quick plot summary by Crunchyroll host, Siobhan Sullivan, Sōma Saitō began the panel with an introduction of his character, Akira. Interestingly, as a fan of manga himself, Saitō originally picked up the manga to prepare for his audition but ended up so engrossed that he read the entire series.
Going behind the scenes for production, director Kimura explained that the staff wanted a live-action director to handle the CG anime because they would be best person to understand action in a 3D atmosphere. He was interested in the project and admits he didn’t have a lot of experience in anime. But he had experience in that space as he was a live-action movie director for Production I.G His approach was similar to how he would prepare his staff for a live-action movie, and specifically asked to be able to treat this like a live-action film rather than making special preparations for an anime.
Of course, most anime adaptations will involve the original writer and illustrator. Director Kimura promised HiRock and Shinya Komi that the anime would be faithful to the source material, however he asked for their blessing to reveal and create something that had not been included in the original story. Thankfully he did receive their approval, so even for manga fans there will be original content to see in the anime.
On a similar note, Kimura had always wanted to work on an anime since he’d directed other works in live-action, so this anime provided opportunities that were both new but familiar for him. One of his goals included bringing in action scenes that had never been seen in anime through different production techniques. An aspect that is different from live-action and animation is the freedom away from gravity. Whereas in live-action, it may seem silly to talk or fight midair, it’s
perfectly normal in the reality of anime. A potential challenge of EX-ARM was that Akira has no physical body, which would be difficult to portray if this were a live-action, but it’s easily adaptable in an anime setting.
In regard to his work on the action scenes, Kimura’s goal was to have the audience feel as if they’re a part of that scene because it’s more exciting. He teases that there are intricate action scenes that aren’t commonly seen in anime. This includes movements such as the physical contact between two people when disarming someone with a gun or the intricacies of how an EX-ARM would be released and fired.
Bouncing back to Saitō, the voice actor talked through Akira’s relationship with his friends and the bizarre situation he’s found himself in. Much like a usual anime protagonist, he’s a relatable teenager but is forced to be in a situation of extraordinary circumstance. Since all Akira is only a brain very early on in the story, he can’t really do physical actions like turn his head but will do so “mentally.” Saitō said he found himself including those movements during recording, and was left with a new, refreshing feeling after the sessions.
When asked about their respective relationships with technology, Saitō joked that he probably emits electromagnetic waves because he doesn’t seem to have any luck with machines, much like Akira. The saddest portion of his story had to be when he came home one day to a dead Roomba. Nevertheless, he doesn’t let any of his misfortunes with machinery stop him from appreciating electronic devices. He thoroughly enjoys anything with a sci-fi setting and is really excited to be part of the EX-ARM series.
On the other hand, Kimura approaches technology with a practical outlook: to keep up with modern technology, one must be involved with it. There are many machines in EX-ARM that don’t exist in real life, and as such, creative challenges such as how should a certain sound effect sound arise. Or how the main character communicates with other beings without having a physical body in the year 2030.
Interview with Sōma Saitō
Are you a fan of the original manga series and if so, what were your thoughts when you found out
it would be adapted as an anime?
SŌMA SAITŌ: When I auditioned for the role, I wasn’t very familiar with it. But after I got the role, I started reading it and it was just so interesting that I ended up reading all of it. The world looked so grand but there were still very well-paced comedic scenes and most of all, the battle scenes were so cool that I just got sucked in. Those battle scenes should look even more amazing in the anime, so please look forward to that.
Were you able to draw similarities between Akira and any other previous roles?
SŌMA SAITŌ:I don’t usually compare one character to another to find their similarities. That’s because I feel that every character is different. They have different backgrounds and characteristics, so I want to understand them all as individuals. If I were put in the difficult situation he’s facing, I would probably choose to run away. And because of that, I think he’s very admirable.
What drew you to this character?
SŌMA SAITŌ:He actually believes that he’s just someone who was scared of electronics and lived a very mundane life, but he’s very courageous and quick-witted. On top of that, he never gets too full of himself. He’s basically a standard protagonist. I also think he’s blessed with having good friends and comrades around him (though they do get him in quite a bit of trouble). I don’t usually get to voice very many characters that are so straightforward, so playing his role was something fresh and new.
What did you specifically pay attention to while auditioning for Akira?
SŌMA SAITŌ:I auditioned after reading the manga. I didn’t have many lines during the audition, so I thought about how to do variations. I also had lines where I’m psychically connected with Alma, and I remember thinking, “If I get the role, I may need to do the voice for Alma when I’m inside her.”
What is the most challenging part of voicing Akira?
SŌMA SAITŌ: He’s just a normal high school student, so in the beginning, I tried to make sure he didn’t sound too cool, like he was responsible for the fate of the whole world. Also, this wasn’t actually difficult on my end, but in the story, there were parts where Akira would synchronize with Alma and we’d speak together and I was very impressed at how much of a pro Kito Akari-san was and how well she pulled this off.
What are Akira’s three best qualities?
SŌMA SAITŌ:The fact that he has the courage to help those in need, he’s kind enough to be there for others, and he’s great at cooking. Despite being a very plain main character, Akira can be surprisingly heroic and brave.
What can your fans, who have heard you in other roles and may not be familiar with “EX-ARM”, expect from
your voice as Akira?
SŌMA SAITŌ: Akira sees himself as a normal high school student, but once the story starts he becomes more like a protagonist, one who can proactively protect and help people. I hope the fans enjoy Akira being cool as he’s fighting, or when he’s giant and talking to Minami.
If you were suddenly dropped into the world of “EX-ARM”, what would you do differently compared to Akira?
SOMA SAITO:I may not try to save the world like he does…It is the future, so I think I’ll try using all the latest tech. The world may have technology so advanced from where we are now that it would be like using magic.
Who is his greatest enemy?
SŌMA SAITŌ:That’s a difficult question. This goes for people who are familiar with the series, but I’d also like people who are discovering the series through the anime to first immerse themselves into the world of “EX-ARM” and then think about who or what his greatest enemy might be. We’re also looking forward to seeing the completed footage ourselves. Let’s all enjoy “EX-ARM” together! Please look forward to it!
Interview with director Yoshikatsu Kimura
The “EX-ARM” anime, a Crunchyroll Original, will be your first anime directorial debut. How did you come to work on the anime adaptation?
YOSHIKATSU KIMURA: The anime is done in 3D, and live-action directors normally deal with a three-dimensional space. Because I was a fit for this kind of production and my expertise with action sequences, I was asked to be director.
Given that the anime has been delayed from its original release date, how did you and the staff adapt to the difficulties brought on by COVID-19?
YOSHIKATSU KIMURA: We started with work that can be done solo, such as cuts and storyboarding. Once we established a system of remote work, we had virtual meetings with each production team, and moved forward the production making what we could.
Your other work includes live action movies such as High-Kick Girl and Laughing Under the Clouds. Did you draw upon your experience working on action movies to this science fiction anime?
YOSHIKATSU KIMURA: Yes, I did draw on my experiences. To produce the action for this work, I brought an action director and team onto the staff who would storyboard action scenes like they would during live-action works. The 3D anime was produced based on the resulting film. I’m proud of how realistic the action scenes came out.
Compared to your previous work, what are some of the challenges working as an anime director? Do you find adapting an anime to be more challenging than a live action series?
YOSHIKATSU KIMURA: I can’t make comparisons on which of the two mediums are more difficult since they have different foundations. In live-action, you take a situation that’s happening before your eyes, or stage a situation, and capture it on film. As such the results are greatly affected by what’s actually happening in the situation. We don’t have that worry with animation. When we first started animation work, we were perplexed by how we had to figure out the exact length of each cut at the storyboarding stage. Since this work mixes 2D in with the 3D, it wouldn’t work if the length of every cut wasn’t utterly exact. As I said earlier, live-action is dependent on the situation, so we can determine the exact lengths after filming. For me, this workflow proved to be a barrier for me. So for scenes where I couldn’t express the camerawork through drawn storyboards, I created live-action storyboards, got the exact lengths, and provided the information to the staff. I utilized the production techniques I’ve learned from live-action throughout the series, and I hope they make the series distinct.
What drew you to cast Sōma Saitō as Akira? What is it like to work with him and the other cast members as voice actors?
YOSHIKATSU KIMURA: The series protagonist, Akira Natsume, doesn’t have a physical body. Rather, he’s a machine locked away in a titanium brain. Since the character appears in various forms, I wanted the voice to have an ever-present feeling of justice and passion, which is why I chose Sōma Saitō. Sōma Saitō related to the situation Akira Natsume finds himself in, at times crying during his performance. I don’t think anyone else would have been able to pull off such a difficult role where humanity must be expressed even if said character has no body.
As for expressing humanity, Mikako Komatsu, who plays officer Minami Uezono, stretched herself the most. I could feel Mikako’s own humanity in the character as she overcomes her own sorrow to help the protagonist with her sense of justice and positivity. It felt like flowers were blooming every time in the recording booth, and I think people will get some pep when they watch the anime.
I also gave some difficult requests to Akari Kitō. She plays Alma, the android who slowly learns to be human. As I said before, Akira appears in many forms, but his mind also enters Alma’s body at times. For these, I asked Akari to play Akira, but as Alma. And this was for many scenes, not just one or two lines! I couldn’t have attempted this without Akari Kitō‘s expert understanding of roles and skills. I’m grateful to the voice cast who breathed life into each character.
For fans of the manga, what would you hope they take away from the anime?
YOSHIKATSU KIMURA: I think it would be seeing the movements and visuals we imagined in our minds play out on-screen. One highlight would be when “EX-ARM” activates its abilities. The second highlight would be the action-filled battle scenes. The third highlight would be Akira, Minami, Alma, and the other characters the voice cast breathed life into. We’ve also used some secret lore that wasn’t revealed in the manga in the anime. We filled all 12 episodes with the interesting elements from the manga! Look forward to the “EX-ARM” anime!