At AnimeNYC, Asian Crush had a thrilling opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with Masaki Tachibana, the director of the hit anime Princess Principal.
In the words of its creators:
Princess Principal is a spy action story starring girls battling it out in London, which has been split into East and West sides!
At the end of the 19th century, London, the capital of the Kingdom of Albion has been split into East and West sides by a giant wall. Five girls attend Queen’s Mayfaire, a conventional and prestigious school. Under the guise of regular high school girls, they act as spies under cover. Disguise, reconnaissance, infiltration, car chases… Each girl uses their own set of special skills to dart around the world of shadow.
“What are we?”
“We’re spies. We live to lie.”
Otter: How did the creative team first dream up Princess Principal? It combines so many different elements from different genres like espionage, fantasy, and noir, all in a period piece.
Masaki Tachibana: The beginning of it started with producer Yukawa-san and our researchers Seiichi Shirato-San and Rasenjin Hayami-san. We started out with the keywords “teenage girls” and “spies,” and we went from there in thinking “what else can we add to this concept?”
Otter: How is it similar and different from your previous work?
Masaki Tachibana: With regards to similarities and differences, I would say that it is actually not that different from my previous work. As far as process goes, it was about how we imagined the characters reacting in cases or certain situations. We put that in perspective of what would happen. In that sense, the process itself was not too different form our past productions.
What inspired Albion, the fictional reimagining of London where the series is set? Why London as opposed to another nation and its capital?
Masaki Tachibana: With regards to “Why London?”
It pretty much started off with the keywords that I mentioned earlier: Teenage girls and spies, and then Yukawa-san said to us, “Why don’t we add another element to it? We want something…. A bit more.” And then came the steampunk element.
Yukawa-san then asked me “Tachibana-san, can you do steampunk?” And I answered “I can do steampunk, but would it be okay if I did it Victorian?’
I liked the stylistic point of the Victorian era as well as all the fancy embossing that was around then, so that in a sense was my little thing that I wanted to add: the Victorian Era.
Otter: Was there anything in the series inspired by historic or real-world events?
Masaki Tachibana: As I mentioned, we did have the idea of making it a Victorian steampunk thing, but steampunk is essentially a fashion and we needed to get deeper into it. I began to think that we needed another element or reality to the world inside the anime, but not something from the real world because what’s real in the anime is not what’s real in our world. There isn’t exactly something specific that we referenced. Rather, we chose to make the anime London discreet and its own entity.
Otter: The darkness and intricacy of the plot is a deep contrast to the cuteness of the characters. Did you find it difficult to balance the complexity and violence of the story with its young, female protagonists?
Masaki Tachibana: The main point of Princess Principal is that the story is realistic in the sense that it is dark and hardboiled, but we also wanted to have elements of comedy. The main characters are teenage girls, so they need to be doing something that real teenage girls would do. At the same time, we wanted to make it realistic in the sense that while they do go through many hardships to do their jobs, they have both tough times as well as fun things. It’s really about the reactions that they have to what happens that makes it real to us. If it was only a dark and noir kind of story plot, it wouldn’t be as enjoyable or as real.
Otter: Were there any episodes or scenes that took a lot more time or effort than others?
Masaki Tachibana: Episode 1 definitely took the most time as it needed to have the world and the settings that we go through clearly illustrated, as well as the characters’ styles established too.
Otter: How did you set up the mysteries and lies in each episode? What goes into both deceiving the audience but also lying out clues they can discover?
Masaki Tachibana: So with regards to the mysteries and lies, this was something that was originally there in the plans with Yukawa-san and the producers as we wanted to make something that is anime-wise “high literacy.” We weren’t going to spell everything out for the viewers and we wanted things they could imagine on their own and make connections to. We trusted that our viewers would be able to catch those little clues and truths that are hidden in there. I hope that has increased everyone’s interest in Princess Principal.
Otter: What would you say the overarching themes are for Princess Principal? What do you hope your audience takes away from watching it?
Masaki Tachibana: The story is about the five girls being forced into many struggles and challenges that they never wanted. To be honest, none of the girls probably wanted to become spies. It’s just that situations kind of led them into that line of work. They face many hardships but they don’t lose hope, and they persevere, and live on. I wanted to convey the mentality of not giving up and not losing hope.
Otter: Were there any fan or viewer reactions that surprised you?
Masaki Tachibana: As we talked about with the mysteries we placed in there, the goal was to not to tell the audience and trust that the audience would make their own conclusions, mystery solutions, and answers. So, while we did expect that many would have their own ideas and speculations on what each of the mysteries meant, the amount of thought that some people put into their solutions as well as the amount of people who came to correct answers was very surprising. There were a few mysteries that we put in there, thinking “Ooh, not too many people are going to catch this one,” but no, there were some people who got to the answers, and frankly, we were very surprised.
Thank you, Tachibana-san, for letting us hold this interview.