Wit Studio made a major splash at Anime Expo 2019 and made a surprise world premiere of their upcoming TV anime project, Great Pretender. Slated for 2020 on Ultra+ and Netflix, the original anime centers around con games. We had the opportunity to sit down with director Hiro Kaburagi, screenwriter Ryota Kosawa, president George Wada, and character designer Yoshiyuki Sadomoto in a joint interview with MyAnimeList.
Anime Trending (AT): Since the Great Pretender is an anime original, how is the pitch process different or not different from a pitch of an adaptation of a source material like a manga or a light novel?
Hiro Kaburagi: This is more on a personal note but light novels and manga, they have the original to go off of, so length of time is always sort of tricky to format because you have to take that original material and fit it into a 20 minute episode sort of thing. So, we’re always thinking about what to squeeze in and what’s most important, but there’s also the fact that these original materials already have fans, so we approach that differently, because we need to make sure that the original fans enjoy the material but also bring in new fans by making something really cool.
On the other hand, like this piece, anime original, there are no fans, so it’s actually the starting point that is much tougher and the hurdle is higher. If it’s not interesting, then people just aren’t going to watch it. There aren’t any fans that are going to watch it no matter what. There’s that difference, and there’s also the fact that we can create it however we want, because we don’t have to be tied down by what the original is. But if the original is boring, and the characters aren’t unique and if the story isn’t really great, then people aren’t going to relate to it. The key is how to make those strong characters and great story arcs so that people can really get into it, and that really just
Myanimelist (MAL): What real-life element or part of the world did you include in “GREAT PRETENDER” that you are most proud of?
All Guests: Traffic.
(Episode 1 featured Los Angeles freeway traffic).
AT: The opening scene with Edamura hanging upside down from the Hollywood Sign is an ingenious way to starting a first episode of a series. Where and how did you come up with that opening scene?
Ryota Kosawa: Since this is the first scene of the series, we really wanted to grab the hearts of the audience, and since we’re setting this in LA, we wanted to make it an internationally recognizable place. This really symbolizes LA, so that’s why we used it. Our director actually went there as well, as close as he could get. He wasn’t hung upside down.
MAL: What particular type of audience would you like to watch this anime?
Yoshiyuki Sadomoto: So I’ve been in the industry for a very long time, and I’ve done a lot of fantasy type anime and I’ve also done a lot of more realistic anime. On the fantasy there’s Evangelion and that sort of thing, and Mamoru Hosoda on the realistic side as well. There’s quite a range. This series is more on the realistic side, and people who enjoy these types of more realistic anime are sort of our target, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not trying to appeal to the people who like fantasy as well. When I was little, there was no word “otaku” or word for anime lovers like that, so I think the people we’re really making this for me when I was in high school and middle school. I really loved Lupin the Third, and Ootsuka was the anime director for that,He was like my great teacher, so I wouldn’t say it’s just for anime fans but more for a big wide audience.
AT: Since the Great Pretender is going to take place all over the world, what aspects in the character designs, Sadamoto-san, did you pay attention to in trying to convey people from all around the world?
Sadamoto: So this is really a story about con men, essentially about bad guys, but they aren’t like dark heroes or anything. They’re very human and have a human side, so I think they’re very lovable characters, I hope. I think we did a good job of portraying that, so I hope that people will like the characters.
MAL: In Great Pretender, the “good” guys are actually con men (confidence men). How did you want the audience to feel about the morality of the main characters’ actions, even when they are swindling the “bad” guys?
Ryota Kosawa: They are con men, but each character I think is very cute and lovable in their own way, and they really don’t trick good people. They’re out for the bad, rich people, so I think it’ll feel really good as the audience watch this and feel this great catharsis.
AT: The art style for Great Pretender stood out a lot when the first episode premiered. In particular, I noticed the usage of bright colors that really stylized and accentuated the characters and locations. What is the thought process in this particular choice, and was it more difficult for the anime to be made because of this unique choice in style not usually seen in anime series today?
Kaburagi: The style sort of came in the storyboard phase. We bought a bunch of work from this artist, Brian Cox—who is maybe not a super well known artist— and showed to a young artist in Japan who does storyboard. His name is Shogo and he drew the storyboards. Then there’s an art direction company called Bamboo in Japan, and the head of this company, Mr. Takeda, really sort of opened up the world creation by creating a bunch of examples via trial and error.
So we created a unique look, and we wanted it to be a unique, different look, There’s also a really experienced lady in our company, Kobari-san, who created the animation. I think she did a great job. In the first episode, I think this art style is just getting ironed out, so it’s not perfectly balanced yet, but I think for the continued episodes it’ll look even better.
MAL: Will there be any romance in this anime?
Kosawa: The answer is it’s not really a main element of this story, but sure, there’s definitely that sort of thing. There’s that London section, where it’s all about the lovers, and there’s lots of cities around the world that these characters travel to. In some areas there’s more sort of romance and relationships that come into play.
AT: As noted in the panel, Great Pretender is different from many other anime series produced by Wit Studio as it is taking place in a much more familiar world/reality. What was different and/or exciting about producing an anime that is more realistic in that sense?
Kaburagi: At Wit Studio, you’re right, it is very rare. Because we’re all based in Japan, we don’t have a very clear image of what these foreign countries are like that come out in the stories, so the research was a lot of work and quite tough. I think our image still is somewhat hazy of these foreign countries, but it’s a really fun story, and if you kind of look away from some of the not quite accurate parts, then you can really enjoy the series. I think it’s very entertaining.
MAL: Were there any American or international TV shows or movies that you took inspiration from for particular parts of the anime? Follow up: If so, which ones are they?
Sadamoto: Sting is one. The whole thing. Not any particular scene. So in terms of the idea of having it be like a bad guy as the main character, this sort of guilty but lovable character, Breaking Bad definitely comes to mind as a sort of feel we thought of as we were working on this.
Kaburagi: So in terms of overall, there wasn’t much of a reference for me, but a lot of small scenes, and especially some of the jokes and things, especially in LA, since it’s the town of movies, there’s many and everyone’s trying to ask me which ones, but just look for them because they’re very obvious. It’ll be fun to find them.
Special thanks to WIT Studio’s George Wada, Hiro Kaburagi, Ryota Kosawa, Yoshiyuki Sadomoto and Anime Expo for the amazing opportunity.