INTERVIEW: The Rising of the Shield Hero ft. Composer Kevin Penkin & Producer Junichiro Tamura

Anime Trending had the amazing opportunity to interview some staff behind the TV anime series The Rising of the Shield Hero. Music composer Kevin Penkin and producer Tamura Junichiro were at Crunchyroll Expo 2018 and we had an opportunity to sit down with them and talk about the show.

Question (Q): A lot of people are familiar with your score in Made in Abyss and Tamura-san with Prisma Illya. Though, people may not be familiar with your works.

Kevin Penkin (K): I am an Australian living in London sitting at a table in San Jose at Crunchyroll Expo! I’ve been doing music professionally since 2011 starting with games and moving to anime in 2014, 2015 doing a title called Under the Dog which was a Kickstarter. Subsequently with the same company Kinema Citrus, I did Norn9 and then Made in Abyss. Now we’re discussing The Rising of the Shield Hero!

Junichiro Tamura (T): I’m Junichiro Tamura from KADOKAWA. I am from head of the 1st division anime department. We mostly work on KADOKAWA IPs. We mainly source from our own light novels and and mangas. I make anime happen.

Anime Trending (AT): We’ve just seen the premiere of the 1st episode. We noticed there were some minor details that were different from the light novel. Could you tell us some of the reasons behind the changes between the anime and light novel?

T: There are differences between light novel and anime due to format differences. What we changed mostly was Naofumi’s personality to be more adult like so it doesn’t change too much.

Q: You mentioned you were given some of the source material while writing the soundtrack. Was there anything else that inspired you to write the soundtrack?

K: In the case with Shield Hero, I focused a lot on a few different areas where I could get some inspiration from. First off, the core emotions Naofumi is going to be feeling throughout the series, such as rage, loneliness, desperation and dark negative feelings, and trying to, in their rawest form, translate that into music. When I was watching the first episode just now, it’s very interesting to see how the music has been placed to perfectly match up with where he starts going into that darkness, that loneliness, when he’s first accused… of something which we will keep secret for the spoilers.

Looking at those core emotions, but then also aesthetically speaking there is a lot of quasi-religioso elements in The Rising of the Shield Hero that I found quite interesting.

So working, sometimes, with church instruments, or melodies or harmonies that you would find more commonly associated with church music or baroque music, that was something I wanted to explore with this. Also, the setting is sort of described in the show as a sort of a  Mediterranean place, and so the idea came from the director, Abo-san, to try to put in some Spanish influences as well, which was quite an interesting challenge. There was a lot of conversations and then also looking at a lot of the background art and then of course also looking into the characters’ story and seeing what I could derive from that which could be expressed correctly in music.

Q: For Tamura-san, when did you first hear a sample of Kevin’s work and does that have any influence on you working on together on The Rising of the Shield Hero. For Kevin, what can fans who have read the light novel, or fans who haven’t even touched it expect, considering the release is coming up soon?

T: So Kevin’s music is a little different from normal anime music and supposedly he gets told that quite a bit. 

K: A little bit!

T: But, he has a lot of different expressions he uses in his music: melodies, different types of rhythms. They are mostly things that stick in your head and especially with Made in Abyss, it really melded together with the actual content very well.  So it made for an even more compelling story with the music.

K: So one of the goals that we had with the soundtrack of The Rising of the Shield Hero was to create quite a lot of variation in the tracks.  It’s a bigger soundtrack than Abyss, so there is a lot of music that had to be written and it was intended to cover a very wide scope.  Whereas something like Abyss is a very focused expedition, excuse the pun. With something like Abyss you are trying to express a very specific things. With Shield Hero, it is very different because we are trying to show a much wider range of emotions, scenarios, and in a way it is very similar to how you would approach writing for a JRPG or RPG game.

Where you are covering not just one person’s condition, but you are seeing sometimes towns, you are seeing different settings and so trying to make sure that we still hit all the emotional spots that we need to while also trying to cover different environments has been a fun challenge. I think anyone going into The Rising of the Shield Hero, whether they know it or not, it’s going to take a while to sink in ‘cause it is an ongoing series. It’s a big series and it should be pretty interesting. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how, not just the anime, but the light novel itself as it progresses.

But when it comes to the music, we’re looking to cover a lot of bases, in a way, then also occasionally gut-punch you with some emotion.


AT: In the panel and in the interview, you talked about the Spanish inspired music, you mentioned Flamenco Guitar, during the panel. Did you take an opportunity to try out new things that you hadn’t done, but had wanted to write, a style that you wanted to use or an instrument that you wanted to use? 

K: Yeah. When it comes to soundtracks, sometimes I don’t know that I want to write something the way I do, or I didn’t know that I was able to write something the way I did before it’s actually presented to me,. I’ll use two examples: one being Abyss, one being Shield Hero, to sort of articulate my point.

Something like Abyss, because the nature of the music is experimental, I never thought I’d actually be able to do that in a commercial product. The fact it was able to be done in the first place, and I was able to use sort of a bit more sort of contemporary classical or electro-acoustic influences in that was kind of crazy.  

With the Shield Hero… I’m not a guitarist, so working with some really solid musicians, who understand their instrument and can sort of take the ideas that I have, that I’ve composed, and make sure that it works and to get a very authentic and sort of genuine sound from those instruments was really, really important.

Then, the other thing is Shield Hero sort of leads back to the variation thing, but trying out different things with rock band versus symphonic orchestra versus Spanish guitar and everything in between. Electronics as well, also do come in.  Seeing how each instrument group could each represent a different part of this Shield Hero world was sort of an interesting challenge. I hope that answered your question.   


AT: Tamura-san, you said that a lot of the anime you produce come from KADOKAWA’s catalogue of manga and light novels. Are there any time where you see something that isn’t something that KADOKAWA publishes and say, “I want to produce that anime” and if there is that, how do you go about getting all that set up?

T: Of course there are projects from other publishers that I would like to work on, but there are priorities. I have to work on KADOKAWA titles first.  But it’s not like it’s never happened before. There are quite a few titles that KADOKAWA does produce that are from other publishers. If there is an opening, I’ll go for it. I start talking to the publishers and try to start getting it done.  


Q: We at J-pop rocks, are more of a music media company that promotes artists, and we focus very much on the works of you guys, for example. If you were to recommend a series or title as a representation of your work to J-pop rocks fans, what would it be? 

K: That’s very easy because I haven’t done that many, so Made in Abyss. It’s the one that’s out, and it the one that’s had the biggest impact so far. So I would be all, “go check it out in Spotify”.  

T: Bungo Stray Dogs would be my choice. The opening and endings are pretty cool. But sadly, a lot of guys don’t watch it in Japan, so I would like it if a lot more guys would watch Bungo Stray Dogs


AT: At Anime Trending, we do rankings and popularity contests for shows and characters and soundtracks. So in a similar vein, who is your favorite character from The Rising of the Shield Hero?

T: I like the Blacksmith!

K: I’ve been trying to explore the Naofumi Iwatani character for a while now, trying to get inside his head, and trying to write music to him. So, he certainly does has a lot of depth, even though it takes a long time to get at.  And I also kind of relate to him because we all have those time where we get really pissed off, and we’re just like, angry, broody lil… I was about to swear!

We’re broody teens. We’re all broody teens at times and so seeing how he is transforming, I can relate to that as young man growing up as well. It’s cool to see that progression and to write to it. That probably why I’d pick Naofumi.  

AT:  Thank you both so much for being here. We’re really grateful to talk to you.

Special thanks to Crunchyroll Expo for the fantastic opportunity. Crunchyroll Expo is returning to San Jose in 2019. Tickets are now on sale

The Rising of the Shield Hero is now simulcasting on Crunchyroll. 

*Interview conducted by Diyo 

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