trapped in revamp hell
- Nov 1, 2009
Famitsu, Dengeki and 4Gamer have conducted interviews with Creative Producer & Character Designer Tetsuya Nomura, Character Designers Gen Kobayashi and Miki Yamashita, and Producer Tomohiko Hirano to discuss the characters and designs of NEO: The World Ends With You!
―In NEO: The World Ends With You, battles are now fought with teams and many new characters appear. It's truly a work that consists of many faces. Yamashita-san is a new addition to the Character Design team, but how did you decide what kind of character to design and who would be responsible for them?
Kobayashi: We took a look at the plot and thought about what kind of characters we'd need. Since the characters that Nomura-san would be in charge of were decided from the beginning, Yamashita-san and I divided the rest based simply on what we wanted to draw or what we thought we'd be good at. We decided that having a different person handle the returning characters would give them a different flavor, so Yamashita-san took the lead for that. However, because I was also responsible for all the illustrations used in the game's 2D events, I had to ask Yamashita-san to take care of most of the character designs.
List of Character Designers
- Tetsuya Nomura: Rindo, Kubo, Shoka, Tsugumi
- Gen Kobayashi: Fret, Shiba, Motoi, Susukichi, Hishima
- Miki Yamashita: Nagi, Minamimoto*, Ayano, Kaie, Kariya*, Yashiro*, Fuya, Kanon, Coco*
*Nomura designed the original Minamimoto, Kariya and Yashiro, while Kobayashi designed Coco.
―I can't help but think that characters designed by Nomura-san are very important (laughs).
Nomura: That is usually the case, isn't it? But how do you feel this time?
―It was a surprise to see that you were responsible for Kubo.
Nomura: He actually wasn't in the scenario at first, but I wanted to add a character with strong vices and personally suggested it.
―As was the case with the original game, all the characters seem to have some pretty strong quirks. By the way, there was another new character at the end of the final trailer. Was he designed by...?
―Of course (laughs).
Nomura: I can't say anything about this character, so please forget about him for a while (laughs).
―Alright then (laughs). Also, I don't think you can talk about this in detail, but the character presumed to be Neku at the end of the release date announcement trailer was...
Nomura: He was designed by Kobayashi, right?
Kobayashi: Yes. I can't say much about him either...
―There sure are a lot of mysterious characters this time around (laughs). Now then, could you please tell us about the concepts behind the character designs of the Wicked Twisters, the team formed by the protagonist Rindo and his friends? I've already asked you about Rindo in a previous interview, so please tell us about Fret and Nagi.
(The concept behind Rindo: Rindo was set up as the type of character who prefers to not to express himself directly, but through SNS. Like Neku's headphones, the mask he wears is a symbol of his distance from others. Thanks to Fret's influence, Rindo does speak up on occasion, even though he doesn't say what's on his mind and tends to leave decisions to others.)
Kobayashi: Fret's design was based on the image of him as Rindo's friend and companion, with a light-hearted and flirtatious personality. Since he and Rindo talk a lot and are often seen side by side, I tried to make the difference between them very clear by giving Fret permed, wavy hair and clothes with flashy patterns to convey that light-hearted attitude.
Yamashita: Nagi is a girl who is "overly devoted to her fave" (laughs), so I thought it would be a good idea to swing in the direction of an otaku. The result is a design that best boils down the image of an otaku in my mind.
―She's wearing a t-shirt that says "My fave is precious" in big letters and even has a mascot of him as well, so it's definitely a boiled down design that's easy to understand (laughs).
(TN: "My fave is precious" is a common saying among otakus about their favorite characters. In the west they're more commonly referred to as waifus or husbandos.)
Yamashita: Her backpack has a lot of pins of her favorite character, so please check it out in battle.
―Yamashita-san also designed returning characters like Minamimoto. What was the direction you took for them?
Yamashita: Minamimoto was the first character I was assigned when I joined the Character Design team for NTWEWY. I was very conscious of keeping him quintessentially Minamimoto and Shibuya so it was a very confusing process. In the end, Nomura-san provided me with a document explaining what sort of image Minamimoto would have in this game, and I was able to use it as a reference.
―The scaley pattern on Minamimoto's coat reminds me of Megumi Kitaniji (the conductor of Shibuya's Reapers' Game in the original TWEWY).
Nomura: That was my instruction. I wanted it to have the same kind of impact as Kitaniji. However, Kitaniji had a python pattern while Minamimoto has a crocodile pattern so there's no connection between the two, but it is an homage to Kitaniji.
―The demo that's currently available has revealed the full names of the characters: Rindo Kanade, Tosai Furesawa, and Shoka Sakurane, among many others. As far as we know, it seems to be a common trend for characters in this game to have the names of flowers within their own. Is this because the image of those flowers are reflected in the characters?
Nomura: The truth is... in spite of my appearance, I really do like flowers.
―That's not surprising, but I don't believe that's the case here. (laughs)
Nomura: Of course, that's not the only reason. We have other rules for naming characters besides using the names of flowers. There are some characters that I came up with the name for, such as Rindo, but most of the names are decided by the scenario writers based on these rules.
―Other rules... The Shibuya Reapers had the twelve signs of the zodiac in their names. Are there any rules for the Shinjuku Reapers?
Nomura: Not just the Shinjuku Reapers, but all of the new charcters in this game, including the partipants, are named according to one common rule.
―By the way, are the names of the flowers reflected in the character designs and personalities?
Nomura: I don't think so. However, I knew it'd be strange if the characters' names were too far removed from their image, so I did some research on flower language.
―I'm also interested in the fact that Shoka Sakurane, whose character you designed, contains the names of not one but two flowers: cherry blossom and hydrangea.
Nomura: Actually, "Sakurane" was the name I had in mind about 10 years ago, for the protagonist of the next TWEWY. The reason for this is because it sounds similar to Neku's "Sakuraba", who was the protagonist of the original game. In the end, I decided that "Kanade" sounded better when accompanied with Rindo, so I gave the surname "Sakurane" to Shoka instead.
―The Shinjuku Reapers don't have wings, unlike the Shibuya Reapers. Why is that so?
Kobayashi: This was established in the previous game, but the higher a Reaper's ranking, the smaller their wings.
―So the Shinjuku Reapers are all high ranking? There's also the matter of Shoka's hood and the stuffed animal that Tsugumi of the Ruinbringers carries around; it seems that one of the highlights of this title is the arrival of various items with a Mr. Mew motif.
Nomura: You'll just have to play the game to learn more about Tsugumi and Mr. Mew. I can't comment on them at this time.
―Coco seems to have changed a lot since the "A NEW DAY" scenario that was added to TWEWY -Final Remix-. What was the concept behind this design?
Yamashita: I was asked to revamp Coco's design for this title. In prior works, this character embodied Harajuku-style from head to toe, but for this game, I decided to make her wear what I thought would be cute by modern standards. I wasn't sure what kind of outfit that might be so I tried to draw clothes that I often see in the city, but after considering the impact, I wound up with a princess-style look. It's hard to tell, but her hair has an inner color and gradient.
―Okay, I'll be sure to keep an eye out for that. Are there any other design points or particulars that might be difficult to convey?
Nomura: We made Fret and Rindo wear similar sneakers to give the impression that they're good friends (laughs).
Kobayashi: I'm sure some people may have noticed it in the demo, but when you look at Fret during battle, you'll see that he's got a hat tucked into his pants. It makes you think "Maybe he normally wears a hat!"
―I noticed that in the Final Trailer, the store of real life apparel brand "BLACK HONEY CHILI COOKIE" appeared.
Nomura: I've been friends with Kei Takahara-san since he was a designer at ROEN. He also designed some goods for KINGDOM HEARTS PERFECT BOOK. We'd discussed another opportunity to work together, so I asked him to do this since NTWEWY has a strong affinity with fashion.
―The word "modern" was mentioned earlier, but Shibuya has changed a lot since the original game. Did you have to do a lot of research into shops and fashion trends?
Kobayashi: I visited the area several times for this reason.
Nomura: Kobayashi was actually in Osaka for the original game.
―You were with SE's Osaka development team?
Kobayashi: Yes. Now that I'm in Tokyo, I thought it would be more convenient to go to Shibuya whenever I wanted to do research. I didn't anticipate on coronavirus making it more difficult instead...
―TWEWY is unique because it perfectly captures the Shibuya of today. Even if you play the original game again, you can still feel the atmosphere of 14 years ago...
―The casting of Natsuki Hanae, who often plays the role of a boy, as Susukichi came as a big surprise.
Nomura: Hanae-san asked me about that as well (wry smile). See, when I saw Kobayashi's Susukichi design, I imagined him as having a very high-pitched voice.
―I see. It makes sense, there are people whose voices may not necessarily line up with their appearances.
Nomura: Right. I imagined Susukichi as one such person, so when I watched Hanae-san's Let's Play on his Youtube channel, I realized, "This is Susukichi's voice!" When I watch voice actors' LP videos, I'd often think "Maybe this voice would work..." That being said, I do watch a lot of LPs, not just from VAs.
―So it's not because you watched the anime that was a big hit last year* or anything like that, but because of his Let's Play? Certainly makes me feel behind the times (laughs).
(*TN: Referring to Demon Slayer)
Nomura: I thought we'd have to do a bit of work to figure things out, but Hanae-san read the script carefully and prepared for the role before we started recording. He proceeded with this vibe from the beginning, so I immediately thought "This is it!"
―How did you go about casting the Wicked Twisters?
Nomura: When it came to TWEWY, I thought about casting people who weren't already involved in my other works. I've been considering Yuma Uchida for a long time, so I felt that he would be a good fit for Rindo as the protagonist of NTWEWY since his voice is similar to Neku's. Please check it out in the full story.
Chiharu Sawashiro, who plays Fret, is someone I've had my eye on since Idol Fantasy (mobile game that is no longer in service), which Kobayashi and I were also involved with. I've also seen him on various livestreams, and wanted to ask him to be a main character if I ever had the chance.
Mina Katahira, who plays Nagi, was recommended to me by Shimizu-san (Hiroshi Shimizu, Sound Director affiliated with Tohokushinsha) who has been working as the Sound Director on my other titles for a long time. When I told him about the character of Nagi, he suggested Katahira-san. She was a perfect fit.
Takayuki Fujimoto, who plays Minamimoto, has loved the character since the original game and anime, so I knew I could rely on him.
―Finally, I'd like to ask producer Hirano-san to give us some comments about NEO: The World Ends With You's release.
Hirano: There are many unique characters in this game. A lot of them don't appear in the demo, so I hope you'll buy the full version to see for yourself.
―Nomura-san and Kobayashi-san have been with The World Ends With You since the original game, but this is Yamashita-san's first time working on this series. What other projects were you involved in?
Yamashita: Since joining Square Enix, I've been involved with various social games in the Kingdom Hearts series. More specifically, I was in charge of avatar design in KH χ, KH Unchained χ, and KH Union χ[Cross].
―So you came to be involved with this work through that connection?
Yamashita: That's right. I made a strong appeal to Kando (Tatsuya Kando, TWEWY Series Director), who was the art director on those games, and he let me join the team for NTWEWY.
Nomura: Yamashita had been recommended by the team for a long time, so we knew we wanted to bring her to the forefront sooner or later. The characters she designed have been very well received, and I'm glad to see her flap her wings safely.
―Having three character designers on this project means the number of characters has increased considerably since the original game, hasn't it?
Kobayashi: Yes, it has. When you compare the total number of characters, you'll find that that number has risen greatly.
―Did the three of you hold a meeting before you started the actual design work?
Kobayashi: Nomura and I had a meeting first. It'd been a while since we last worked on TWEWY, so we had to discuss the general directions for the designs and later shared it with Yamashita.
We then started our own work based on the character info and plot points that we received from the Planning Team. The designs that Yamashita and I created were later reviewed and adjusted by Nomura.
―If you watch the official trailer, you can see that there are still quite a few characters...
Nomura: I think the final trailer gives you a glimpse of a few of them. Some of the characters I designed haven't been revealed yet, but I can't discuss it because it'd be a spoiler.
As Kobayashi said, I supervised the work that he and Yamashita submitted. It was relatively easy because Kobayashi handles everything that appears in the game. If there's ever anything that catches my attention, I can simply ask him and he'll take care of it.
―Please tell us about each member of the Wicked Twisters, and the key points of their designs. Let's start with Nomura-san's Rindo.
Nomura: Neku, the protagonist of the original game, had been the representative of TWEWY for 14 years, so designing Rindo to succeed him was difficult; he had big shoes to fill. But after much worrying, I wound up with the Rindo you see before you.
―You mentioned in a previous interview that Rindo's trademark is his mask, like Neku's headphones were to him.
Nomura: That's right, but there's actually something else to it. There is an in-game brand called "Jupiter of the Monkey" whose clothes are popular with both Neku and Rindo. When it comes to monkeys, there is a famous saying, "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."
―Oh! So that's what Neku's headphones and Rindo's mask mean!
Nomura: Something like that. When I'm designing, I usually try to sneak in little nods like that.
―Now then, please tell us about Kobayashi-san's Fret.
Kobayashi: I designed Fret to be the protagonist's best friend and companion, with a light-hearted personality. He is naturally seen in contrast to Rindo, so I tried to distinguish between the two of them by giving Fret wavy hair and colorful clothes with patterns. I also referenced real life Shibuya fashion, such as earrings, while drawing.
Another important point was to aim for a type of character that wasn't already in the original game.
―At first glance, I got the imrpession that Fret is the most fashion-conscious member of the Wicked Twisters.
Kobayashi: It's true that Fret is someone who cares about his appearance, so I'm glad this was successfully conveyed.
―What about Nagi, the character that Yamashita-san was in charge of?
Yamashita: I was very impressed by Nagi's description in the first character document I received, which referred to her as "an otaku girl who is overly devoted to her fave." Her initial design was actually much more low-key, but I thought it would be better to go in a more unique direction for this character, so I drew her with a lot of otaku paraphernalia.
―Naturally, the text on her shirt, which says "My fave is precious", will remain the same even in the overseas version. It was inspired by those typical otaku shirts printed with Japanese characters which, even if they're poorly localized, would still look cool.
Nomura: In some ways, Nagi is similar to Yamashita herself. When I heard that she would be joining the team this time, I asked, "What kind of person is Yamashita like?" Everyone said, "She's like Nagi."
―(laughs). Are you aware of this, Yamashita-san?
Yamashita: Well, it's true that part of me may give the impression that "if you push me, I'll become Nagi"...
―I'm looking forward to seeing Nagi in the final version. Now, please tell us about Minamimoto.
Yamashita: Minamimoto was the first character I started working on after I joined the team. The process was very difficult because I couldn't get his design approved no matter how many times I tried. In the end, Nomura provided me with a document laying out key points such as Minamimoto's hood, coat and 3/4 length pants, and I was able to put things together based on that.
―Yamashita-san was also in charge of characters that were originally designed by Nomura-san and Kobayashi-san. What did you keep in mind while creating their new designs?
Yamashita: Of course, I wanted to keep the vibe of the original designs intact while updating them to fit the sequel. The characters created by Nomura and Kobayashi are very popular, so I was nervous about giving them a new look.
―Coco sure has changed a lot since her last appearance, hasn't she?
Yamashita: I was asked to revamp her look, so I just went for it.
Nomura: There aren't many girls these days who dress like Coco did previously.
Yamashita: I'm sure Coco is the type of girl who chooses the cutest clothes at any given time, so I opted for a princess-style this time around.
―In addition to the main characters, there are also NPCs like Eiji Oji and Eiru. Who was responsible for these characters?
Kobayashi: They were assigned to Yamashita and myself, but most of them were handled by Yamashita. She's also the one who designed Eiji Oji and Eiru.
Yamashita: Kobayashi had his hands full with the illustrations, so I took point on the character designs.
Nomura: Nearly all of the illustrations you see in the game were done by Kobayashi, so the amount of work he had to do was extraordinary.
Kobayashi: I had to do different facial expressions and poses for each character, as well as additional touch-ups to make sure everything was uniform. It was quite a challenge.
―Is there any character you've designed that you have a particularly strong attachment to?
Kobayashi: Shiba, the leader of the Shinjuku Reapers, is one of my favorites because of his soft demeanor. I'm also fond of Motoi, the leader of the Purehearts, because he has a human touch.
Yamashita: I like Kanon. When I was designing her, I hollowed out the fabric on her shoulders to achieve a more balanced look, which ended up matching Kobayashi's character illustrations quite well. When she strikes various mocking poses, the bare shoulders accentuate her sexiness, and I think it really brings out her charm.
―Kubo, a character designed by Nomura-san, had a very strong presence in the demo.
Nomura: Kubo is a character that wasn't in the original scenario. Around the middle of development, I requested that a character like him be included, and that's how he came to be. To tell you the truth, I wanted to add two characters, but the scenario writer had a troubled look on their face, so I decided Kubo would be enough.
The reason I wanted to add Kubo is because last time, we had a strong villain like Kitaniji among the Reapers. This time there was no one like that, and the characters were all very clean-cut, so I asked them to include a character with strong vices like Kubo.
Even though I forced him into the game, Kubo still wound up with a surprisingly large role. When I asked the staff about it later, they seemed pretty excited about writing the scenario.
―The demo reveals the full names of some of the characters. Did these names have any influence on their designs?
Nomura: I chose the names of some of the characters I designed myself, so that wasn't the case here. This time, most of the names were given by the scenario writers, but we did have to make some changes to match the characters' appearances. I wonder what Rindo's name was at first...
Hirano: At first, Rindo was given a tentative name. After Nomura completed his design, he was asked to come up with an official name.
Nomura: In the original game, we had a rule that the Reapers' names incorporate the signs of the zodiac. This time, the names also follow a particular scheme.
Hirano: And not just the Shinjuku Reapers, but all of the main characters' names follow some sort of rule.
Nomura: Most of the names were given by Ishibashi (NTWEWY Scenario Writer, Akiko Ishibashi) and are based on real names. I was actually surprised when I first saw Fret's surname, "Furesawa," but it turns out that it too is a real name.
―Finally, please give us a message for fans looking forward to the game.
Kobayashi: The number of characters has significantly increased since the last game, and the event scenes are something to behold. Each character has a wide variety of facial expressions, so I hope everyone will pay attention to them. Please enjoy the next iteration of TWEWY, the first in 14 years!
Yamashita: We created a lot of characters and illustrations and packed them all into the game. I think it's rare to find a game filled with so many 2D images in this day and age, so I hope you'll enjoy playing the game while looking at the designs from every corner.
Nomura: This time, three of us were involved with character designs, and we were able to create a wide array from three distinct personalities. I'm sure there is at least one character who will pull at your heartstrings, so please find your favorite character while playing the game.
―Thank you for your time today. I'd like to ask you about the character designs of NEO: The World Ends With You. First off, please tell us about the general concept behind the character designs for this title.
Nomura: The concept is to create a "modern Shibuya". The real city of Shibuya, where this game takes place, has changed considerably since the original game, and the characters who reside there are, in a sense, "raw".
―In other words, there's a different vibe going on with these designs compared to that of its predecessor.
Nomura: Back then, I simply felt that the characters were "young people in modern Japan." But now the graphics are in 3D, the world has a more realistic feel, and the overall content has increased, so we had to create characters that were "young people who could easily be found in the Shibuya of modern Japan".
―Each character has their own unique concept. What was your process in creating Rindo, the protagonist?
Nomura: Neku, the protagonist of the original game, had made a very strong impression, and the idea that "TWEWY=Neku" had taken root over the past 14 years. If this title had been released sooner, I don't think the bar would have been so high. I didn't want people to say, "I don't like this character because they're not Neku," so I thought about it long and hard before finally arriving at this conclusion.
―What were you trying to achieve with Rindo in order for him to overcome the obstacle that is Neku?
Nomura: I didn't want to make him too eccentric. The more eccentric a design, the more limited a character's potential, so I tried to create a design that would appeal to a wide audience.
―Not just in his appearance, but also his personality. Rindo is a lot more sensible than the people around him.
Nomura: Yes, that's right. In a way, he's the protagonist because he's "normal" while everyone else is more unique. But it's difficult to find the right balance between being normal and being appealing.
―At what stage in development were the characters created?
Nomura: These days, we usually start working on the scenario first, then requests are made and production begins. In the past, it'd sometimes be the opposite and I'd start with the characters instead. That was the case with the original game; I began by drawing Neku and Shiki and then said, "We'll go with this protagonist and heroine." Now the story and settings are established first, and characters are created accordingly.
―How did you decide which characters each of you would be responsible for?
Nomura: If I tell you about all the ones I'm in charge of, it'd be a spoiler. That's usually how it is for my characters (laughs).
Yamashita: Some of the characters were designed with Kobayashi doing the original concept, and then I'd handle the outfits.
Each character has their own tastes and preferences, so I thought about designing outfits and accessories that would expand on their personalities according to that.
―Kobayashi-san and Yamashita-san, what did you pay attention to when designing the characters for this game?
Kobayashi: I tried to be conscious about conveying each characters' inviduality within the setting. The Planning Team would share the character lineups with us first, then I'd research brands and accessories that'd fit them. I think I was able to give each character their own unique personality.
Yamashita: It's the same for me. I wanted to make sure that the characters' personalities were expressed well through their outfits and tried to incorporate elements that would give them a "modern" feel, such as by using oversized clothing and implementing non-binary designs.
Kobayashi: Although they weren't used much in the original game, I also incorporated some K-POP style designs, which have become quite popular these days. This game may be set 3 years after the original TWEWY, but in reality, 14 years have passed, so we tried to be as conscious as possible of the current fashion trends in Shibuya.
―Who is your favorite character?
Kobayashi: It'd have to be Fret, a character I designed myself. There's also Nagi, someone who is impactful, expressive and just a joy to watch. She's a breath of fresh air.
Yamashita: Nagi was the first character I designed for the main party, so I'm quite fond of her. And when it comes to appearances, Shoka is right up my alley. I love her black-haired bangs with the cat ear hoodie (laughs).
Nomura: All of the characters are unique, but I think Nagi really knocks it out of the park. I was present during the voice recording, and there was a scene where Nagi speaks very fast. I quite like that aspect of her personality.
Personally speaking, I also like Minamimoto, but I don't want to comment on him too much because it'd spoil the story (laughs).
―I understand (laughs). But it does seem that Nagic is very popular, isn't she?
Nomura: She was a big hit with overseas fans as well.
Judging by the reaction we got from the demo, it seems Fret is also very well liked. I think we wound up with a great character as Rindo's companion.
―The overall design of TWEWY is very unique. Was there any aspect of the game that proved to be difficult because of it?
Kobayashi: TWEWY has very distinct characteristics so it's been pretty rough.
Nomura: The reason for that was because I didn't want to go in the same direction as Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts, so I opted for more deformed designs. I just did the original concepts though; Kobayashi created the final look.
This was the first time I'd asked Kobayashi to draw TWEWY in 14 years, but the work he'd done during that time period had greatly influenced his style, and the designs changed. I asked him to start with rehabilitation to return to his original style (laughs).
Kobayashi: If you don't keep drawing, your style will change. On the other hand, if you get too used to drawing TWEWY, you might not be able to draw anything else.
―What criteria did you use when choosing the voice actors?
Nomura: I chose them myself. The characters all have strong personalities, so I chose actors who would be able to match them. More than anything, I tried to cast people who were not already involved in my other projects.
There was some talk about this when the demo released, but Natsuki Hanae's casting as Susukichi did cause a fair bit of confusion. However, he showed up for the recording session after preparing for the role accordingly, so I knew he was the right person for the job.
―I was also impressed by the conversation between Rindo and Fret in the demo. They talk in such a way that feels so... normal.
Nomura: It's rare for us to record dialogue like that (laughs). I think that feeling of normalcy is one of the things that's typical for TWEWY.
―Finally, can you give us some words about the game?
Nomura: Thanks to Yamashita joining myself and Kobayashi, I think we've made a significant improvement in terms of the designs. This is the first time we tried to divide the main party members among three designers, and doing so has made each character's personality stand out, so I hope you'll be able to find someone that clicks with you. I'm looking forward to seeing which character will be the most popular.
―Thank you very much.