Interviews

Interview with Urusei Yatsura composer/arranger Fumitaka Anzai

This interview was conducted in 2002 and appeared on RocketBaby, the video game and anime music journal. With their permission we're posting this interview on Tomobiki-cho for UY fans to read. Obviously I'm a huge fan of Mr. Anzai's work. As one of the composers and arrangers for the TV show and first movie, he was responsible for a large number of those lively and wonderfully bizarre BGM that have become the show's trademark. Even years after Urusei Yatsura had amassed an increadibly versatile and virtuosic library of music by several talented composers, Anzai's music remained some of the most recognized pieces in the show. In this interview he talks about his working experience with Urusei Yatsura and his life since those early days.

Thanks again to RocketBaby for letting us use the interview. To catch more great music interviews and reviews head on over to RocketBaby. Now without further ado...


Fumitaka Anzai

Born:
November 16, 1958 Yokohama,Japan

Education:
Began learning classic piano from age of 4. After leaving [He wrote "dropping out of"] Salesio School, studied musical theory and grammar from late Koujiro Kobune and Reiko Arima, and jazz theory from late Kazuo Yashiro and Aiko Tsukahara.

Favorite Drink:
Green Tea, Root Beer

Favorite Food:
Chili, Natto [Fermented Soybeans], Spaghetti, Subway Sandwiches

Favorite Music:
Movie Soundtracks, Progressive Rocks of the 80's, Fusion (From the time Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock began using electronic musical instruments).

Favorite Movie:
Star Trek

Favorite TV:
Star Trek (The original, Deep Space 9, Next Generation, Voyager), Mission Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., It Takes a Thief, Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Land of the Giant, Suddenly Susan, Murphy Brown, Bewitched, I Love Lucy

Favorite Book:
"Truth of Life" and "How to Analyze and Overcome Your Fears" [Could not find out by whom these are written by... I think they are translated from the Japanese title by him]

Hobbies:
Music, Tweaking with machines, Playing old Apple II computer game

Influences:
Lalo Shifrin, Jerry Goldsmith, Dave Grusin, John Barry, Tomita, ELP, Yes, King Crimson, Kate Bush

Studio Gear:
Moog-IIIC, Minimoog, Arp Odyssey, Solina, Roland SYstem-700, 100M, SH-3, SH-5, SH-7, etc. Over 100 analog synthethizers and over 100 MIDI sound systems

Sound Tools:
Protools-III

Credits: click here


RocketBaby: When did you first become interested to music?

Fumitake Anzai : The first piece of music that got me interested was one for NHK's [Nihon Housou Kyoukai - or Japan Broadcasting Foundation, I think...; station that is equivalent of US' PBS] TV program for children called "Uchuujin Pipi" [Pipi from outer space].

I was interested in music very early in my childhood, as my father was a studio violinist. Later I began having interest in electronic sounds through people like Outer Limits.

As a composer, I composed for the first time at age of 17, when I created a piece for electronic music instrument manufacturer Roland for the demonstration event of their MC-8 instrument.

RB: How did you get the job for Urusai Yatsura?

FA: The director (Mr. Hayakawa) of the hard progressive rock band "Cross Wind" that I was involved in when I was around 20, was assigned as the music director for Urusai Yatsura. I was then a fan of Urusai Yatsura, so I asked him to allow me to compose music for it. This was the beginning of my work on Urusai Yatsura, and I composed for its TV series during its first one and half years, and have since then also created pieces intermittently for works such as Music Calendar.

So overall I was responsible for its music until the 1990s, though it was not fully continuous. If I combine the number of pieces from TV 1, 2, Only You, Music Calendar and others, the total would be somewhere between 120 and 150.

RB: Who was your favorite Urusai Yatsura character to write music for?

FA: Although the instruments used for it was very primitive and thus it sounded inferior, I liked the theme for "Ten-chan Toujou" [in English, maybe "Ten-chan's Entry"].

RB: What are some of your favorite memories working on Urusai Yatsura?

FA: Back then synthesizer-made BGM for TV program was regarded as taboo, for it dissolves in with sound effects. So when I introduced the techno sound to the anime ignoring this belief it was well accepted, I was truly thrilled. We did not expect to sell at all with our first record for Urusai Yatsura, so I was completely caught off guard when the record company phoned me on its release date, telling me it is selling at rocket speed!

The biggest trouble came during production of Only You. There were three composers working for Only You, Masamichi Amano, Izumi Kobayashi and I. In order to share the newest equipment Fairlight (the ancestor of sampler, which costed 12 million yen back then) we tried dividing a day in three eight hours period, each in which one of us would work on Fairlight, another in studio with an instrument and another taking a rest. However, Masamichi Amano alone went overtime, and the schedule became completely in mess. We all ended up with sleep deprivation. After this he was nicknamed "Panic Amano".

[NOTE: This episode is shown on his Japanese webpage too; It says: "After finishing work with Fairlight, I took back the completed tape to the studio, only to find Mr. Amano shaking his hairs, his eyes bloodshot and looking as if dying, recording his flute. However, he was never successful! After so many tries, he exclaimed "Ah! No wonder this flute doesn't make the right sound; there's a hole in the middle of its tube leaking air!"

I cannot convey the humorous tone in which he says this...]

RB: How did the Urusai Yatsura's TV music differ from the Urusai Yatsura's movie music?

FA: In the early Urusai Yatsura TV series, I and Shinsuke Kazato were responsible for its music; Mr. Kazato worked with instruments and I was using synthesizers. Nevertheless I often accompanied him with the synthesizer part too. The responsibilities were similar in TV's Urusai Yatsura 2, but we began using the newly introduced Fairlight and composed more instrumental music rather than just background music as before.

As I wrote above, Kobayashi, Amano and I, all in their
20s, were assigned to the music for the movie. Fairlight was the central piece of musical production here. In the TV series, the music was not created in accord with the animation, but for the movie we composed it following the script to match the timing with the video.

RB: Your favorite Urusai Yatsura song

FA: Kagefumi No Walz (from Only You) [Maybe "Shadow-stepping Waltz"?]

RB: Why do you create music and what inspires your music?

FA: Music echoes inside our brain. It floats around like electromagnetic wave, and the composer transforms that into real world sound using the filter of musical theory he/she has acquired. In my case, the music doesn't gradually forms its shape in my head, rather it appears at an instant. I record that in real world time frame onto a score or computer data.

RB: Please take us through the steps of your process to create music

FA: The basic steps are summarized above. As soon as the image of the whole piece appears, before it escapes I jot it down on a memo or create a MIDI data. After core part is completed, the rest is processing technical issue (For example, expression of the strings or its depth) scientifically. It depends. For things like TV which has deadlines, I might complete about 50 pieces within a month period. However, I create one album by approximately 6 month to 18 month term. Since Kyrie was the first album, it involved lots of experimentation (and many change of equipment), it took about 3 years. I hope to continue creating one new album per year


"Don't fantasize about female fantasy novel writers!"
-
Fumitaka Anzai Spring 2002


RB: How was it working on CB Chara Wars and working withHow was it to work with Go Nagai?

FA: I have kept in touch with Nagai-san since working with him on the anime "Shuten-douji." CB Chara Wars is a SNES game, a comical shooting game that features all characters created by him. I created music for the game in MIDI, and passed it on to the programmer to turn it into actual soundtrack. Most of the pieces had humorous tune to it, since the producer told me to correct it after I wrote it in serious style. When I took my music to the meeting with Banpresto, the company that was in charge of its sales, the personnel [He did not specify what this person's job post was...] at first listened to them and said "This comic tune won't work. Please change it to more serious ones," and so I responded "That's not what I was told. If that is so, then I won't work on this anymore!". However, the producer later came by, listened to the songs and commented "I think it's perfect; this comical feel of it..." And so things were settled that way. I laughedin my heart at how ashamed Banpresto personnel looked then!

RB: Please share some of your thoughts on the following.

Bomber Man Anime: I really enjoyed this work. The anime was enjoyable by adults too, and its style of humor was similar to that of Urusai Yatsura. Originally, the music for the series was written by the person who wrote the ones for the Bomberman game. However, the producer did not like music she turned in, and about a month before it aired he called me up and told me "I'd like to replace the whole soundtrack, so I want you to create pieces as early as possible." Since the actual work for the first episode was to end two weeks ahead of its actual airing, as you can expect I could not complete it for the first episode, and the actual switch took place after the fourteenth episode. I was also working on Legend of Basara at the same time, and I was often confused between the comical tunes of B-Bidaman and serious ones of Basara. It turns out that the SFX director for the series was Mr. Tsuruoka, with whom I worked for the anime movie "Odin" 12 years prior to this job. Despite being aired at early time of 7:30 in the morning, the show had good ratings.(I played the game Bomberman quite often with the staff at the record company)

[NOTE: Actual title was "B Bidaman Bakugaiden". The first "B" stood for Bomberman, but the actual anime was loosely based on a comic that had a bit different background. Bidama is glass marble balls -- "Vidro" is the word for glass in Portuguese (who first brought glass to Japan), combined with "tama" - balls - with modified pronunciation. The product was a collectible marble-like toy that could be played by some customized rule. Unlike the game which was made independently, (I think) the comic and anime was made as part of marketing for this product.]

B'tX Neo: This was a job for Columbia. In the beginning the series was broadcast on TV, but in the middle it was switched to be released on video only. My father performed violin for the TV series, and his picture can be found on the TV series soundtrack CD. It was around this time that the deep sound generated by mixing the use of a synthesizer and a sampler was becoming popular, and I used this technique in B'tX Neo. At the same time I was working for comedy radio drama "Metameta Gakuen Academinyan" (Written by Satoru Akahori) too, so the schedule was really tight.

From the recording for this series I added more sampler, namely Roland S-770 and Akai S-3000. Thanks to these I could use many more orchestra sounds simultaneously.

Between our recording, I checked out the recording for voice by the voice actor/actresses, and got envious of them having so many girls. The music director and I agreed "Soundtrack recording involving only guys is dull!" So we decided to include one new song with a female vocal. For this job we selected Aki Hata that I got to know via the net. (This is aside, but she drinks a lot!)

Kuro no Shishi: This is the second job with Go Nagai. It included many combat scenes, so I often had hard time making contrast between different pieces. The ending theme is my favorite. In the future I plan to record my favorite works again and release it, and I wish to include this ending theme along with Bt'X Neo theme. The series was originally supposed to reach 3 to 4 volumes, but the recession began in Japan and it ended with only 1 volume due to lack of funding.

Itihasa: The soundtrack includes a vocal song, but the lyrics are in made-up language (Like Adiemus' lyrics). The chorus was performed by Mami Kikuchi, who I often work with, by repeatedly recording over the previous ones. All the parts were formed using Fairlight III's sequencer. The last track was made using a Macintosh program called Music Mouse; this program generates a sound within the specified scale when you move the mouse, and so you can easily make minimalist music with it. Along its melody I added the percussion sound of Kurzweil 250 by hand.

During the recording process, my body began aching badly due to hard schedule. So I tried acupuncture treatment before going to studio, but that delayed my arrival more than 3 hours; the staff really frowned on me for this.

Near the end of mixing down the computer system malfunctioned, and caused a mayhem by automatically triggering auto fader. Finally after it was done I tried to go back home in Yokohama, but it was snowing heavily and I was forced to stay in Tokyo workroom for several days.

Juma/Densetsu: The first job at Columbia. In addition to Itihasa, this was also written by Waka Mizuki. Originally, Masamichi Amano and I was supposed to collaborate for this job, but somehow I ended up working on my own.

Masamichi Amano attended the first meeting with Waka Mizuki. At that time, I was working at a FM radio station nearby, on a live program with the band Cross Wind. Later, I remember asking the director from Columbia about the meeting, and he responded, exclaiming "Waka Mizuki is beautiful! She is the best looking manga artist!"

The album was the first Japanese record ever to use the Fairlight dominantly. Part of the work was written during the flight to Hokkaido I was on for a job. I intended it to be in 6/8 meter, but I was confused due to severe turbulence and when I looked over the score after leaving the plane, I found it instead in 3/4. Juma's theme is based on a piece that I was thinking of including in my solo album.

Legend of BASARA: This was animated version of a long comic series. The soundtrack is written by I and Toshiyuki Omori, whom I have met in a college student band, but hadn't seen for 20 years till then. [(Implied?) Just like the series,] Most of its music has a grand mood to it, and as in B'tX Neo there are many pieces that I like. I became a big fan of the story after reading through the comic, and the images for the music emerged very quickly. So despite really tight schedule, I was able to write with ease. The theme for Basara was written with an image of the main character in a desert at sunset. Unfortunately, the anime was broadcast only for 3 months and the story terminated abruptly. I really hope that the sequel could be made.

On the last day of mix down, I became ill. I was on blink of falling unconscious from the fever around midnight. The members of staff began discussing that there's some noise in the songs but due to the illness my hearing was failing and I could not identify it at all. Finally they told me "Anzai-san, you are of no use!" and so I was left with no choice but to go home.

RB: What was your experience working on Bakuen Campus Guardress?

FA: Guardress was originally published in V-Jump, an offshoot game magazine from the major manga magazine "Shonen Jump". It was written by Satoru Akahori and in total 4 video volumes and 5 CDs were released. I wrote both the progressive rock and farcical music. For its soundtrack album, I wrote music for two songs sung by voice actors. They both had very outrageous lyrics: one for gay fighter character and the other for a slave character that was tormented by a sadist queen. The director actually called up record company to reassure that the lyrics do not violate broadcast laws. The director was originally supposed to play the slave, but he chickened out and instead it was done by the synthesizer programmer that happened to be there. The voice actress for the queen, Rei Sakuma, at that time was performing the voice for a main character of a NHK's program for children. To the studio where its recording was going on, someone sent the script that included phrases like "Call me Lady Queen! (Insert whipping sound)", and the staff there were not amused. The song for the gay fighter includes in middle a scene where he destroys the keyboard and guitar; this is parody of Keith Emerson in the band The Nice as he destroys an organ. We mimicked such effect by turning the keyboard on and off rapidly while jamming it. While we were doing this the
maintenance staff for the organ (Specifically, Hammond B3, a very expensive vintage organ) was there, and it seemed that if we treated it harshly we would be charged extra cost, so we used few short moments he was away to do that performance.

The video volumes were released every 3 months, so the whole project took about an year. During this year I built the studio in my home. Thus the music in the video was recorded in Tokyo studio, but the same piece in the CD was mixed in [Implied?: my home] Yokohama studio. This was the first job done at Yokohama studio, when the smell of the paint was yet not gone. So during it I often had to open soundproof door for ventilation to avoid becoming sick.

The soundtrack CD had few more tracks with vocal, and these were done by Megumi Maruo, who had played side keyboard in Cross Wind which I used to be in.

As the worst memory, I would name the party after the completion of the project. The people who attended it included Satoru Akahori and all animators, but since the animators were poor we decided to hold it at very cheap Yakiniku [Korean/Japanese style BBQ; the word itself is Japanese] restaurant. The director had told us beforehand "It is cheap [so the animators can eat a lot of meat], but the food is really bad" and it was indeed horrible Yakiniku restaurant; probably the worst I've ever been to. If I took cooked meat off the grill and then settled down I could actually see the meat discoloring real-time. I felt sick for a while after eating there.

RB: Tell us about your fascination with analog synthesizers?

FA: The best of all, I love the analog synthesizers' many volume controls and indicator lamps, which give it very science-fiction look! Besides, the sound can be controlled freely and it is really fun to create sound with it. There are many digital models which simulate analog features, but it is not the same. Digital synthesizers sound disjoint, but analog synthesizers' sound feels continuous. When I was child, analog synthesizer was introduced as a dream musical instrument by TV and books, so I feel it is the basis of my musical experience.

The one that I feel most proud of and like the best is recently
acquired large sized synthesizer called Moog IIIc. The stability of its pitch is horrible but its sound is very rich. Under any setting its sound is bold, and I can easily make sounds of ELP, Yes, Tangerine Dream or Isao Tomita that I got absorbed in during junior high period. Just sitting in front of the machine can make me very excited.

Each analog synthesizer has its own distinct characteristics, so there is no particular dislike. If a machine's sound is thin, it becomes important when such sound is wanted.

RB: What are the pros and cons comparing analog to digital?

FA: Digital synthesizer sure has pitch stability and quality of the tune that far surpasses analog ones. If a work has to be created in short period of time, it is very effective. However, DSP is not always perfect. For example, if 8 voices were combined into unison with their pitch shifted differently, and if I try adjusting such filters by controllers, the tone change often cannot catch up with rapid movement of the controllers. These problems still need improvement. In addition, depending on DSP the timing of the sound differs bit, and together with the delay from MIDI, it is not possible to make very tight rhythm.

But if digital and analog synthesizer were considered different
instrument, that brings another way to look at them. Rather than using them as replacement for analog synthesizer, if digital synthesizers were utilized in sound creation as "digital synthesizer" I believe it would lead to new concepts.

RB: How did you come up with the idea for "Kyrie?"

FA: From the album Kyrie I stopped creating TV anime music, and began seeking ways to work as solo artist. There is reason for this; my ex-wife is the author of very famous novel, which was made into anime and video series. In the beginning I was creating all of its music, and consumed large part of the 90s writing for her works. But as her income increased she began behaving strangely. Eventually she began to have an affair and left me, insisting that it was all my fault. So we ended up divorcing, but because the whole course of event was just so horrible, I sued her. In the trial, however, she stated that "I was the one who actually gave work to Fumitaka Anzai when he was jobless during the 90s." This completely shocked me; it was she who pleaded to me with tears, to write music for her.

Through this trial I had come to realize, that it doesn't matter who writes the music for an anime; the opinion of the original author is the top priority and that of the composer has no importance. Disillusioned, I decided to restart my music life from zero, pressing "Reset" button on my life. I personally really like movie soundtracks like Star Trek's. But I felt that if I kept working for anime, I would always be stuck there and never move on to such jobs that I want to do.

Kyrie is an album which I put together the concept that I had been building in the past; I had always contemplated what would be appropriate subject for my first solo album. I attended mission school since junior high, and in the school chapel had always played organ. The Gregorian chant that I heard during the first mass (1971) after entering the school astounded me, and through playing the organ the classic theory of figured bass became natural concept to me. Later I had formal education of classic music theory, and then I was able to realize what kind of logic was behind the organ score that I played in the church.

Taking in such background, Kyrie was made by combining two elements of my musical basis, analog synthesizer and church music. I was actually creating some demos between my work from early 90s, but at that time the studio in my Yokohama home did not exist, so the sound quality was inferior. The original and the completed version differs completely in its tune, and that was due to introduction of Protools. Kyrie
utilized very many sounds with analog synthesizer as its centerpiece, so regular recording console could not do satisfactory mixing, and it was also limited to 24 tracks. Using Protools, I could record 48 tracks and automate all effects, which finally enabled me to create the sounds the way I wanted.

I did work for few TV programs' music while producing Kyrie, but those became my last job for anime. Maybe if one of the director whom I know well asked me to write again, I might compose anime music, but since I declared to them also "I won't do any more anime music," so far I have not done any such job.

Ironically, the copyright of past works on anime is still paying for my life support, at time when Kyrie and my solo other albums are not selling much.

[Note: I do not know for sure about this and could not confirm this, but considering the anime series he has written music for, I think he is talking about Mishio Fukasawa's "Fortune Quest" series... Indeed this was very famous fantasy novel series for teens during early 90s, and he did write music for it. This is not mentioned anywhere on his webpage (as you can expect)... so this is purely my speculation]

RB: How did you create "Exclusive Sequences?"

FA: I have been interested in music centered around ostinato for a long time. For example, I included such element in Juma/Densetsu. Therefore I thought of making this the theme of the solo album. Ostinato-centered music is pretty common in today's techno scenes, but most are not melodic. So in Exclusive Sequences I created melodic ostinato music. Main theme is titled "Sad Sequences"; this was named for the agony during the trial against the ex-wife. In particular, Interlude and Epilogue were composed during the time of desperation, when I lost the parental right for my children to my ex-wife, and attempted to escape from its pain through work.

I wanted to use acoustic piano for the piano ostinato, but because there were no grand piano in my home studio, I used MIDI piano sound. In attempt to give atmosphere of real performance, I did not apply quantization and programmed it in such way to leave the "hand-played" feel.

The title "Exclusive Sequences" also included implication that I was becoming "exclusive" to life.

RB: Please tell us about your upcoming "Mission Asteroid."

FA: I am making Mission Asteroid from my interest on what kind of output I would be able to come up with if I used digital synthesizers rather than analog synthesizers to make trance music. Therefore the synthesizers used are primarily Emu Xtream Lead, Roland JP-8080, and so on. However, even though it is trance, I found out that if I compose it, the music turns orchestral. So I named these "orchestral trance music." Originally it was planned to be out for sale in Sept 2001, but at the end of its production, (just the recording of the narration and the mix down is needed to complete) I decided to work with Annie Haslam from British progressive group "Renaissance," and the last step is not yet completed.

The title "Mission Asteroid" is taken from the game for Apple-II made during the 1970s. The game was the ancestor of adventure game sold in early 80s, and I remember getting absorbed in playing it.

RB: What advice would you give to those who want to create music?

FA: As in the answer to previous question, I think the study in music enriches one's skill of using own "filter" to select from infinite sounds that one hears and turning them into music. So it would definitely help to learn basic classical and jazz theory. However, after reaching the point when one has an idea of what he/she wants to do, it is necessary to destroy them. Thus, the study in music is for destroying the existing musical concepts.

This is similar to destroying an old building and replacing it with a new one. After placing explosives at appropriate locations and demolishing the building, new building can then be built there. Of course, it is possible to destroy the building with one hammer, but that is not realistic. Besides, if one used explosive without knowing well how the building was constructed, it could end up blowing self. The study gives the technique on how well one could destroy existent things.

There is one phrase that I really remember well from my music theory course; I still recall it when I stumble: When I was learning counterpoint (The theory for music as in Bach's Fugue where melody lines sounds as if "chasing" each other), the teacher told me "Listen at those two birds chirping outside. The theory of counterpoint is a method to represent the message and responses they send each other as music."

RB: Any final thoughts?

FA: After releasing the 3rd album Mission Asteroid and the collaboration album with Annie Haslam (Planned to be called under project name "Haslam/Anzai"; Scheduled to be released July 2002), I plan on making 2 silly sounding pops albums. These will be based on the sorry sounds of Moog album that came out in early 70s, and as far as sound goes, the best way to describe it would be "The song made by the group Moog Cookbook turned into my original." It will not bear my name, rather "Electric Holiday Orchestra." The first disc will be original pieces, and I plan to make the second Christmas album.

Further on, I am thinking of making a "healing" music album featuring female chorus that sounds as if floating above very thin rhythm.

Kyrie, Exclusive Sequences and others of my solo albums can be purchased outside Japan through CD Baby and CD Street! Please take a look at it!

Lastly, some words of wisdom to everyone:
1. Marrying an original author of anime will result in fiasco!!!
2. It is better to be dead than to marry selfish woman!!!
3. No matter how the person tries to remedy it, if everyone around the person doesn't have good image of him/her, that person is bad.

Translation by Shinsuke Fukada

RocketBaby would like to thank Mr. Anzai for chatting with us.

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