Note: these aren't totally word-for-word, but I did my best.
I Q: What got you into becoming an anime director?
I wanted to be an animator, honestly, but I can't draw. So what do you do in anime when you can't draw? Direct!
Q: How'd you get into the Tonari no 801-chan project?
The title had its share of difficulties, as some of you may know, but the creator approached me and asked if I'd be interested in doing the show. In spite of everything, I figured since the job came to me, maybe I was destined to do it.
Q: What are your strengths as a director, and what unique things do you bring to the titles you direct? (It feels like a job interview...)
I don't consider myself to have any strong points-- I've said this in other interviews. I'm an orthodox director who does orthodox stories that hopefully people like. I definitely don't consider dancing to be my strong point!
Q: Can you talk about why you got kicked off of Lucky star?
Well, in regards to that question, and in the answer, there's actually a documentary book available on it in Japan. As for me answering the question...I can't do that. So please ask Kyoto Animation and Kadokawa Shoten. Thank you!
Q: Yamamoto-sensei has already surpassed the realm of a director, and is like a god. There were reports of you not liking Akiyuki Shinbo's works. Why?
Shinbo, who does Zetsubou-sensei with Shaft, right? I might have said something unkind, but I've never come out and said I don't like the man. We both worked on Zetsubou-sensei and in my opinion it was one of the top five shows of 2007. But I felt that some of his methodology kind of overlapped mine, but he did it first, so I might have been a little bit jealous. But I have met and respect the man, so if there was any sort of misunderstanding I apologize, but that's the situation.
Q: You're both a director and a critic. How is it working on both the creation and criticism side of things?
My job isn't to be a critic, it's to be a director. At the same time I feel that there needs to be a venue where creators can be honest with one another. "That was good," "that wasn't very good." If there was a place for us to be honest with one another and making suggestions...I think working as a critic is a stepping stone to making that happen. That's why I do work as a critic.
Q: You became a director because you couldn't draw-- did you find inspiration in Isao Takahata at Studio Ghibli, who is also a director who can't draw?
Takahata is one of the two directors I respect greatly. Without Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki would not have the name he has today, is my opinion. Without his participation, Miyazaki's works wouldn't be as well-known as they are now. Takahata's work Anne of Green Gables is the textbook of what a director should do with a show. It has everything a director needs.
Q: Do you think making anime is different now than it was in the '90s?
I think that the biggest change is that the people who go really crazy and wild are old now, and the young people are a bit more tame. Before you had Miyazaki, Takahata, Anno, Oshii, Tomino. Not only did they create shows that were full of expression, they themselves are very expressive people. But in the late half of the '90s and early '00s, what Japan calls the "zero" generation, people have become more tame...more proper, like a 4.0 student kind of person. I think that's caused a change in the trend of anime titles coming out. In order to change this I'm being a big-mouth, to try and bring back some of the old ways of making anime. I may rock the boat but it's because that's what I think the industry needs.
Q: What was your favorite series to direct?
(Translator Toshifumi Yoshida: "Isn't that like asking who's your favorite child?" "Sou desu ne!") I love all my children! But anyone with a lot of children understand-- some children are good, some are a little hard to control, some are depressive and closed in...if I had to say, as a parent, which child I had the most trouble with? It would be Haruhi Suzumiya. (My note: Shocking!)
Q: A similar question: out of all the projects you've worked on, do you have a favorite episode or two that stands out?
Episode, ne? Ones that stick to my memory most...as a director I always used to feel that you should never put yourself in your work until you get emotional, but there are two times in my career that I've broken into tears over watching my own work. Haruhi's Live Alive and the final episode of Kannagi.
Q: What particular shows that you watched as a kid inspired you most?
The one title that I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today without is Hayao Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle in the Sky. If it wasn't for that work, I wouldn't be here today.
Q: I'm a freshman going into college. You went to Kyoto University, right? (Yes) How did that atmosphere influence your anime direction?
A lot of people in this work go to art schools, but I felt that at a regular 4-year university you could look at anime from a different point of view-- not just artistic or technical ways, but more philisophical ways. Miyazaki has said this before...but actually going to Kyoto University made me realize that it's true.
Q: You said earlier you don't find dancing in anime to be one of your great strengths...why not? Can you personally do any of the dances?
I've only done it three times! (Haruhi, Lucky Star, and Kannagi) Perhaps I shouldn't have done it one after the other...all the movements in Haruhi, I came up with standing up on my futon in my little apartment. So if I was told that I needed to do them, I can. But in the case of Kannagi I actually got a choreographer to come up with the movements so it doesn't count.
Q: Did you have any idea how popular those dance routines were going to become?
No, not at all. As a pro, I probably shouldn't say this, but I wanted to...I thought to myself, I'm not the pioneer in doing these. There are many examples of anime characters dancing in openings and endings. But then I thought, why not make the girls do the kinds of moves that idols do? Wouldn't that be considered really "moe"? I think that's why everyone likes it so much.
Q: You mentioned that Isao Takahata is one of two directors you respect highly. Who's the other?
Um...I will keep that to myself. Sorry!
Q: When Haruhi was becoming really popular, the phrase " sekai kei" became really popular. Do you think it really applies to Haruhi?
I don't want to get into the whole definition of sekai kei. But the original creator of Haruhi, Tanigawa-sensei, feels that it's not. The five members of the SOS Brigade reject the "sekai kei" concept. The SOS-dan stands right in the middle of that mindset, which adds to the uniqueness of Haruhi. Haruhi is not seikai kei.
Q: How much do you think it's a director's job to stay true to a work versus making it your own?
Since the media is different, creating an animated show out of another work, there are always some things you can't translate directly. So you respect the original as much as possible, but those things just don't translate, and you do want to throw in some of your own originality. I've butted heads with Tanigawa about Haruhi and pushed my ideas over his original concepts...but I feel that it's sometimes necessary in order for an original work to come out in animated form. But to further what I said, I felt that once the show was done, I was able to go to Tanigawa and say, "this is Haruhi. This is the way it worked out best."
Q: It's clear that you've worked with moe a lot. What does moe mean to you, and what's your opinion of it?
I think you're categorizing me unfairly, but...I feel that whether it's a robot show or any other show, be it Gurren Lagann or K-On!, if you're into it, it's moe to you. Isn't that enough explanation?
Q: Your shows are always very detailed in a unique way. What details do you specifically categorize you as the most important to express your message?
Without getting into whole ideologies and theories of film-making, I feel that so many series don't do this well enough: characters, and the characters staying IN character. Their motivations, what they think, what they do. I think characters are the single most important thing to creating a show.
Q: Have you worked with or encountered any promising future directors we should watch for?
If I say there isn't I might get written up badly online again!...but...there were very expressive people in the past and I feel like I'm just being a clown dancing around in front of everybody. But there's one creator that I think might surpass me if he hasn't already: Wataru Takahashi. He does a lot of choreography and series direction work for Doraemon and such. So I'd watch out for him.
Q: Do you think Haruhi changed fandom in Japan?
I think the fandom did change after Haruhi came out-- the festival contents lets us be rowdy and get out there, the dancing in groups and things that came out of it. I think it's one way of enjoying a show, but as creators, we want you to enjoy the show...not the rowdy festival that comes from it. To combat that or to come up with something new, well, I'm in the process of coming up with that.
Q: Your work covers a wide range of types of works, like Lucky Star comedy, more serious stuff like Air and Kanon, etc. Is your approach different for each type?
It might not be the best description of what I like to do, but as long as people are being like people, I like working on it.
Q: Last year there was this shitstorm about whether Nagi-sama from Kannagi is a virgin. What are your thoughts?
Uh...that's...um...hm. Difficult! Well, at this point, yay or nay has not been made clear. But I feel that in the original works and in the sequel it might be made clear, so...please follow that. (Translator: When Rumiko Takahashi came to the States, at a dinner a friend asked if Ranma-chan can get prengant? Takahashi smiled and said, "You know, I try not to think about that, and neither should you." Yamamoto: "Sou desu ne.")
LAST Q: In the TV broadcast of Haruhi, the episodes were broadcast out of order, which made some parts feel more interesting. Touka Gettan did the show backwards, and now Haruhi's broadcast the same episode five or six episodes now...do you think this is a bad trend?
Well, I can't answer for what series I'm not working on are doing, but...basically what *I* wanted to do was have the final story of the original Haruhi novel to be the last episode. In order to make that work we sat down and it was pretty impossible, the only way to do it was to shuffle the episode order. What the fans took it to mean or how I did it for the fans was secondary. I just wanted that to be the last episode, so that's how we did it.