Interview with Full Metal Panic! Creator Shoji Gatoh and Illustrator Shiki Douji

Full Metal Panic! originated as a light novel in 1998, and in the past 20 years, it branched into all different kinds of media. After several manga series, an OVA, and several anime seasons, FMP! will return for another anime season in 2018. Both the creator, Shouji Gatoh, and the original designer, Shiki Douji, attended this year’s Anime Expo through Funimation. Without missing a beat, the duo fondly reflected on the long history of FMP! and gave insight into their experiences as veterans in the industry.

APA: It’s been almost been 20 years since the original release of Full Metal Panic! What are some of the changes you’ve seen in the industry?

Shoji Gatoh: There’s been a lot of change, especially with my values and worldview. Over the years, I’ve had kids and I’m not as into gun fights or suffering as I was in my younger days. But, it is fun to write about it. I think there has been a slight shift in my values though.

APA: What do you think of the international fanbase in comparison to the Japanese fanbase?

Gatoh: I feel like it’s not too different. I get the same mood and same vibe with the fans in America, Taiwan, and Japan.

APA: As a light novel writer and a scenarist for other series such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, what’s your opinion on the new wave of light novel series that have been adapted for anime?

Gatoh: I would say that they’re all light novels, but the genres are completely different. They’re all fun in their own respect.

APA: What did you think of the reactions from the fans who saw the 2018 anime trailer?

Gatoh: It certainly seemed like people are satisfied with the characters they saw. It’s hard to comment on the story because nothing has been revealed yet, so stay tuned.

APA: How closely did you both work together to create the illustrations for the light novels?

Gatoh: Basically none. I gave Shiki Douji the whole project.

Shiki Douji: In terms of the character design, Mr. Gatoh gave me a lot of creative freedom. When I originally read the novel, Sousuke had a military cut which is similar to what Mr. Gatoh has now. He also had no scar and those are things that I added because I felt he didn’t have any traits.

Gatoh: Same with Leonard. I gave her the whole project. I thought she could come up with something and l could trust it.

Douji: That being said, with the older gentlemen characters, Mr. Gatoh would be more specific and send me references. Kalinin and Mardukas were certainly designed that way. In creating Kurama, the man with the glasses that you see in the trailer, Mr. Gatoh had simply said, “John Lennon.”

APA: As the designer, why did you choose for Chidori’s hair to be teal? I feel like that color wasn’t as utilized during that time, so it made her stand out.

Douji: I felt like there were a lot of different shades of blue in games and anime. I would argue that the colors were more vibrant in the 90s compared to now. Economically, Japan was better off and had more energy and force behind expressing different forms. In more recent anime and manga, the colors have been more conservative. Maybe I should’ve made her hair color brown instead. 20 years ago, I felt like there was a lot of exploration into the shape and color of hair, and it was almost acceptable when the literature didn’t match the character design. Now, I don’t think they would be willing to accept that.

Gatoh: It’s easy to change the sentence to match where I can hit backspace to change black to blue. But for this particular novel, it would have been weird to describe her hair as blue so we left it the way it was.Douji: In Japan, there’s something called midori no kurokami, which means greenish black hair. Hair that is black by all angles, except when the light hits it at just the right angle where it has this green tone to it. There are lots of different ways of expressing colors in Japanese.

APA: What was the process behind creating a character like Chidori? She’s one of the earliest examples of a strong female character in anime.

Gatoh: I didn’t want to create a female lead who was always being protected. I really wanted to create a character who didn’t just protect herself but also supported the main character. There are scenes where she tells Sousuke to get up or to get himself together in order to motivate him. That’s a character that I thought would be interesting to portray. Though, I never saw her picking up a gun alongside him because it might feel really fake.

APA: There’s a dynamic between Chidori and Sousuke that is different from the leads we see now. For example, she’s the one protecting him while he’s the more reserved one of the two.

Gatoh and Douji: It didn’t really feel like too much of a stretch. There’s something called manzai, which is a Japanese traditional style of stand-up comedy where one person plays the funny man (boke) and the other person plays the straight man (tsukkomi) who reels them back in. The male-female format of manzai would have the female being the tsukkomi and saying something like “Well, that’s dumb.” In that regard, their relationship from a Japanese point of view isn’t that different from what you would expect to see.

APA: Since Tomokazu Seki, the Japanese voice actor of Sousuke, is also attending Anime Expo this year, I wanted to take some time to talk about your thoughts on the original voice acting cast.

Gatoh: I genuinely think he was the only person for the role.

Douji: He can really do serious and comedy at the same time.

Gatoh: My initial commentary for when I heard him was gero uma, which means he was so good I could puke. I don’t think there’s an equivalent phrase in English. With that said, I really like the dub too and sometimes I watch that. It really fits Chidori and Sousuke’s characters, so there wasn’t that much of a transition for me.

APA: Do you both have any messages for your fans?

Douji: I also love Los Angeles. I think everyone, especially the fashion, feels more fun and free than in Japan. It’s a great environment to be around. I wasn’t very involved in the anime, so I can’t comment on that.

Gatoh: The fourth season is heavy in development, so stay tuned. Anime Expo has been really fun. I love Los Angeles and I’ll be back. We’ll see you guys again soon.

Kalai Chik

Pop culture writer focusing on animation, music, and games. Los Angeles native, USC alumni, and contributor for Asia Pacific Arts since 2015. Follow me on Twitter, @kalai_chik.

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