This weekend I had the honor of attending Anime Central, one of the largest anime conventions in the Midwest, as a press representative for APGNation. While this was my first time acting as press at a convention, everyone involved in ACEN’s Press Department was incredibly kind, and everything went extremely smoothly. However, I will speak more about that in my recap of the con. Today I’d like to talk about one of the guests of honor: Ryukishi07, founding member of 07th Expansion and the author of popular visual novels like Umineko, Higurashi, and Rose Gun Days.
Some of readers may remember the first interview with Ryukishi07 back in January, where he revealed that the Umineko manga was his absolute answer to the series’ various mysteries. I was able to get an interview with Ryukishi07 again, but I’ll get to that in a bit; first we’ll cover some new information that the author presented in two ACEN panels.
At Ryukishi07’s first panel, titled “The World of Ryukishi07”, he recalled the days leading up to the release of 07th Expansion’s first visual novel, Higurashi: When They Cry. Before heading a development circle for visual novels, the author was first inspired to draw game art from his love of a card game called Leaf Fight.
This worked out well for Ryukishi07’s group which included his brother and his friend BT, and in 2001 the release of Type-Moon’s visual novel Tsukihime furthered Ryukishi07’s ambitions to try his hand at writing a similar effort. Having written a stage play before, Ryukishi07 was no stranger to the world of the written word, but in retrospect he admitted that he was reckless and expected to get through all of Higurashi, a total of eight episodes, in a single year. This would be impossible, of course, and it would actually take more than six months for Ryukishi07 to write each episode of Higurashi; the fourth episode took nearly a year.
As an aside, Ryukishi07’s pen name also has an interesting origin story. When he had first gotten into the doujinshi scene, his friend BT called up the young author and told him he needed to come up with a pen name to publish his works. The author then asked if he absolutely had to come up with something on the spot, and his friend insisted he did. Ryukishi recalled that at the time he loved the Final Fantasy series of games. So, drawing from that he combined the terms ryukishi (Dragon Knight), the Japanese name of the Dragoon class from Final Fantasy IV, and Final Fantasy V‘s character Reina, which can be written in Japanese as the numbers zero and seven to form his new nickname. Similarly, when naming his doujin circle, Ryukishi07 thought that since the group was an extension of his work, they should be called 07th Expansion, referring to the group’s card game days. The lesson here, Ryukishi laughed, was that if asked to come up with a name on the spot, insist on taking some time to do so that you don’t get stuck with something silly.
By the time Higurashi‘s first few episodes had been written and released, the game’s popularity led 07th Expansion to contemplate releasing a demo version of the game on the Internet. When this did finally come to fruition, the demo version consisted of a free copy of the first episode of Higurashi and the data for the second and third episodes dummied out, with the intent that they would be inaccessible under normal circumstances. Of course, the demo was eventually hacked. This unintentional oversight actually raised interest for Higurashi online, and in an amazing twist of fate actually helped to bolster the sales of the game’s fourth episode.
It was around this time that Ryukishi07 went into great detail about his life outside of 07th Expansion at the time. For nearly a decade, the author worked as a government worker and had varied success balancing his writing and work. But around the release of Higurashi‘s fourth episode, his work load suddenly exploded, dragging production to nearly a year, compared to the sixth months it typically took for him to write an episode.
Ryukishi also mentioned to aspiring authors in the audience that, if possible, it is best to try and have both a day job and a writing job going at the same time. By having a job where you encounter many people on a daily basis, you can use these interactions as fodder for your writing. For example, at the time of the fourth episodes writing, his boss’s character inspired him to write some of the horrible things that happened in Higurashi, and also made it all that much easier to put in his resignation when his first visual novel really began to take off. (He also mentioned that he’d sometimes write parts of Higurashi at work by hiding a Word document behind an Excel spreadsheet and alt-tabbing back and forth, writing in a font-size 35% smaller than average to avoid being reprimanded.)
Due to its popularity, offers soon began rolling in from companies to adapt Higurashi into a live action-movie. Ryukishi recounted the importance of retaining creative control of your works when they are adapted because if you don’t, the adoption might not truly embody the spirit of the original work; this advice he received directly from Takashi Takeuchi and Kinko Nasu, the artist and writer for Type-Moon, respectively. To this end, Ryukishi07 said that during the filming of the Higurashi live-action, he was often present just off screen, sitting in a box, making sure that each scene was true the spirit of the visual novel. He would also go on to recount that all of the members of 07th Expansion was present during each and every recording session during the production the Higurashi anime for similar reasons.
At this point the panel came to an end, and had nearly gone overtime as Ryukishi07 loved talking to his fans. But before he left, Ryukishi07 briefly stopped to mention the release of Higurashi Hou, an enhanced release of the original visual novel, and he was also nice enough to answer a few questions from the audience. The first was how Dai, one of 07th Expansion’s composer, came to join the team: when Higurashi was first released, it featured a soundtrack consisting almost entirely of public domain music. This spurred Dai to e-mail the team saying that while the game’s sound track was decent, it felt to noisy and busy. To this end, he sent samples of his work along with the email. When Ryukishi07 then asked what he should do with Dai, the rest of 07th Expansion answered that he should be hired immediately.
After leaving the panel and talking to some fellow 07th Expansion fans for a bit, I headed over to the other side of the Rosemont Convention center to get Ryukishi07’s autograph. In the surprisingly short line, other fans had brought all sorts of things to be signed by the author, including original CD copies of Higurashi and Umineko, DVDs of the anime adaptations, and more. I brought along a figure of Rika, a character from Higurashi, for Ryukishi to sign, which elicited a response: “Ahh, Rika-chan!”
Ryukishi’s second panel focused on his writing style and unique brand of storytelling. This panel was less packed with information than the former, but still provided a unique look into the creative process of one of the visual novel industry’s most well-known authors.
Ryukishi07 talked about how he would sometimes write a story without knowing where his plot would go. This “organic” style of writing, he said, is more fun for him because it was like reading a story for himself. He would often be surprised where a story would go as he wrote it on the fly. Specifically, he mentioned that the fight scene between Rena and Keiichi in episode six of Higurashi was something he went into writing not knowing what the outcome would be. He admitted that he later tried writing in a more traditional style, complete with an outline and clear direction for the plot, but in the end felt that having a clear goal in mind made the plot of a work feel more rigid and thus less fun to write, because he knew everything that would happen ahead of time.
When constructing a story, Ryukishi mentioned that he sees fiction as a game between him and his readers, especially when he was writing a mystery such as Umineko. To this end, he would often go on the Internet while writing and look up what his fans were saying about his work, and then use this feedback to adjust the direction of later installments in a series. This would sometimes lead to changing the course of his writing entirely, as was the case of the second episode of Umineko. When fans complained about the second episode was far too difficult to solve, he scrapped his original plans for the third episode, which would have been an even more devious mystery, and instead wrote an entirely new scenario to replace it. In this new version of episode three, he introduced the character of Virgilia, a good witch who acted as a guide to help the player to solve the game’s mystery. Interestingly, Ryukishi also mentioned that Virgilia was originally a completely different character, who would have been been far more devious and tricky than the witch who appeared in the final game. The design and personality of this prototype character would later form the basis of the young detective Erika Furudo, who would later be introduced in episode five of Umineko.
When constructing his stories, Ryukishi also mentioned that one of the best ways to see if you are on the right track with a story is to have a friend read your work. In Ryukishi07’s case, he often would look for a disgusted or scared face when another person, often BT or his brother, would go through a script he was writing. As his goal is often to scare or gross out his audience, this is exactly the sort of reaction he looks for in another reader. This revelation led to an interesting reaction from the audience, as one person yelled, “He’s a witch!” referencing the fact that the witches in Umineko, who are often very cruel and devious, seek much the same reaction from the game’s protagonist, Battler Ushiromiya.
Finally, Ryukishi mentioned that one of the keys to any good story is to have well-rounded characters with multiple sides to their personality. He mentioned that among his characters, Rika from Higurashi was a stellar example: when she is with her friends she is a typical bubbly and cute little girl, but when she is alone she displays a far different personality. That makes the player question just how old she really is and the mystery that goes along with that question. Ryukishi would then proceed to mention the opposite can also be true to trick the reader. The character of Mion likes to play tricks and seems like she should know something about story’s mystery, but in the end does not.
Ryukishi once more set aside a bit of time for questions from his fans. The most interesting revelation among these questions was the fact that Ryukishi’s attempts to trick and horrify his readers only applied to his mystery works, which include Umineko and Higurashi, while his other more traditional stories, such as Rose Gun Days, did not include this element.
Before moving on the interview, I’d like to talk for a moment a bit about the panels in general. One thing I noticed when interviewing Ryukishi07 is just how energetic he is when speaking. His words were often accompanied by quite a bit of gesturing and laughter that was fun to watch as he described not only his work, but also how much he appreciated his fans. It is rare for a creator to be so connected to his fanbase, so it was refreshing to see Ryukishi mention how much he cared about the opinions and theories of the people who read his work, and even went so far as to go on the Internet and research what was being said about his works. Also, in the second of the two panels I attended, he mentioned that he views each of his stories as a game played between himself and his readers. While at every turn he would try to put forth a mystery, he would then call for his readers to solve it. This back-and-forth is a theme that came up many times over the course of both panels and my interview and marked Ryukishi07 as someone who is more connected with the people who enjoy his work.
After the panel, I went to my first ever press junket with voice actor Richard Epicar, the voice behind such famous characters as Batou from Ghost in the Shell and The Joker. You can find a write-up of that interview, and a video of the entire junket, in my other ACEN wrap up. But what is important for this article is my second interview with Ryukishi07. I arrived at the small press room about 10 minutes before the interview was to begin, and sat for a moment charging my phone. While I sat messing with my phone for a minute, Ryukishi07 and the rest of 07th Expansion that had been in attendance at the convention arrived and stood a few feet from where I was sitting. Naturally, I was incredibly excited just to be anywhere near one of my favorite authors. But from there things just exploded. When I arrived in the press room, I was the only reporter who had bothered to show up. Which meant that I was able to sit in the front row, right in front of Ryukishi07 himself, and ask as many questions as I wanted.
My first question was why Ryukishi07 used witches as the main antagonists of Umineko. Ryukishi then replied by say that, when compared to humans, witches live for a very long time. This means that when compared to mortals, who generally act on the straight and narrow to try and live a good and productive life, immortal witches have all the time in the world and can sometimes grow bored of life and try cruel and evil things for the sake of experiencing something new. He would then go on to compared a witch’s existence to playing the game Skyrim for a second time. While the first time you may try and complete the main quest and be the best hero you can be, the second time through you might decide to be an evil person for the sake of experiencing the game in a different way.
I then would go on to ask about the fan theory that the character of Rosa Ushiromiya and Beatrice in Umineko are, in fact, the same person. Ryukishi explained that he was aware of this particular theory, and would go on to admit that he sometimes showed references to false theories, such as this one, to throw off and trick his readers. What exactly this means for the validity of the Rosatrice theory I will leave to the fans.
After some questions for the moderator of the panel, who asked the difference between a visual novel and a sound novel, what it felt like when Ryukishi07 got his first fanmail from the United States, and what it felt like to have his works adapted into an anime, I followed up the prior question with another topic that has been hotly debated in the 07th Expansion fandom as of late.
We discussed the topic of the character of Sayo Yasuda from Umineko in our last interview with Ryukishi07 back in January, but this time I asked the author in particular, since many fans see Sayo as a transgendered character, if any themes related to that topic went into her creation. This question took Ryukishi sometime to answer, and he commented it was a difficult question to answer, but a good one. What did eventually come back was that he desired to keep some parts of Umineko a mystery and to leave it to the fans to come to conclusions of their own regarding the subject.
Further questioning included such topics such as the connection between the characters of Erika Furudo and Bernkastel from Umineko and Rika from Higurashi. Ryukishi sees his characters as actors and compared using the above characters in Umineko as being similar to Harrison Ford playing both Han Solo and Indiana Jones, in that the person behind the role is the same, bu the character they are playing in each movie, or in this case game, is very different. He would then go on to mention that Higurashi and Umineko take place in worlds that are very distant from each from each other, yet still connected.
Finally, I asked Ryukishi07 about his time doing artwork for the card game Leaf Fight. The amusing answer: at one time, while 07th Expansion was still working on card games, when people would order cards from them, Ryukishi07 would sometimes package a free copy of Higurashi with the cards as a form of promotion of the then-new visual novel.
With that, my interview came to an end. After thanking Ryukishi07 several times, each with a brief bow, I took a picture of the author for posterity and left the room in a bit of a haze. My head was swimming at that point, I honestly couldn’t believe that I had interviewed one of my favorite authors. But it did happen, and I have the video to prove it, and will likely remain one of the best experiences I’ve had since I began writing for APGNation almost one year ago.
In all, I had a fantastic time at Anime Central and am truly honored that Ryukishi07 took the time sit down for an interview with me. Before I go, I’d like to thank the awesome people at ACEN’s press department for giving me a press pass, the rest of the crew at APGNation for letting me write for such a great website, and of course, Ryukishi07 and the rest of 07th Expansion for not only all of the awesome panels and interview over the weekend, but also for being so great to their fans for all these years.