Fantasy work Made in Abyss, based on a web comic by manga artist Tsukushi Akihito. Produced by Kinema Citrus and directed by Masayuki Kojima (MONSTER, Black Bullet, etc.), the thrilling storyline set in the unexplored Abyss and the beautiful artwork created by top-class staff such as character designer Kazuya Kise and art director Osamu Masuyama attracted attention in summer 2017. The series attracted a lot of attention as a hot work of the summer 2017 cool season.
The anime’s original soundtrack will then be released on 27 September. The soundtrack was composed by Australian composer Kevin Penkin, whose music, a fusion of orchestration and synthesiser, is original and fits in well with the hard fantasy world, making it an excellent soundtrack piece. We interviewed Hiromitsu Iijima, director of his music production company IRMA LA DOUCE and music producer of Made in Abyss. We asked him to talk about the commitment he put into the music.
How I got involved with Made in Abyss.
Iijima I had been working with Mr Ogasawara (Kinema Citrus representative) for some time, and I had heard about the work he was focusing on for the 10th anniversary from the stage when the production of Made in Abyss had not yet been concretely finalised. That was about two years ago, and when we were finally able to start production, we received another offer.
-Why did you appoint Kevin Penkin?
Iijima Actually, Kevin and I were introduced by Ogasawara-san. Kevin is from Australia and now lives in London, but when I first met him two years ago, he had just finished his postgraduate studies and didn’t have much experience as a working adult.If you are involved in Japanese content, there are language issues, so they entrusted me to be the person who could support them in that area. From there, I became a member of IRMA LA DOUCE, which is my company.
–I see. You two also worked on the TV animation Norn+Nonet (2016), also produced by Kinema Citrus.
Iijima That film was the first feature-length animation work that Kevin and I did together. Kevin was originally from the video game field and was connected to Nobuo Uematsu and the people around him who worked on the Final Fantasy series. Kevin was also in charge of the music for the original Norn+Nonette game under a double name with Uematsu-san, so that’s how we ended up working on the music for the TV series. That was the first time we worked together as director and writer, and that’s how we built our partnership.
Tell us about the music in Made in Abyss
Iijima Yes. Kevin and I also composed the music for an OVA called Under The Dog (2016), and he came to Japan in August last year to coincide with the completion of that, so that’s when we had our first meeting for Made in Abyss.We were told that Kinema Citrus wanted to keep something unique in the music, so the tension was high from the start and we had plenty of time for production, so we were able to work on it carefully.
Under the Dog, which raised funds on the US crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in 2014 and became a hot topic, raising the highest amount of money ever raised at the time.
What image do you have of the work Made in Abyss itself?
Iijima The original manga is very readable as a fantasy. As Kevin mentioned, I was attracted to the part with very visual colour.The story itself took a slightly different stance and the atmosphere of the scenario changed rapidly from the first half to the second half, which surprised me with such strong authorship and at the same time I found it interesting.
-How did you go about creating the music for such a anime?
Iijima This work was an opportunity to do something challenging musically, so before the first meeting, Kevin and I discussed it and came up with a certain concept for the two of us to present. The concepts were ‘minimalistic’ and ‘tribal’, and in my mind, this is what Made in Abyss should be about! I had a strange kind of confidence in the concept (laugh).
By ‘minimalistic’ do you mean minimalist music derived from the context of so-called classical music?
IijimaNo, I am originally from the dance music field, so when I thought of minimal music, I originally had an image of tech-house. I have an image of music made with so-called techno sequences, but there is a lot of classical music that incorporates these elements in post-classical and contemporary music, for example. When I translated the style and image of Made in Abyss into music, that was the genre that came to mind.
-What about ‘tribal’ music?
Iijima The word “tribal” may have an Asian or African image, but what I’m thinking of is techno and house with these elements incorporated into UK and European dance music. I think that the weirdness of the instruments used in tribal techno matches the darker side of ‘Made in Abyss’. I also thought of something like ‘environmental music’. It’s just my own image, but doesn’t the atmosphere of the background (of “Made in Abyss”) look like environmental music? Kevin shared those three motifs, and we expanded the sound from there.
It was surprising to hear that it was born out of a dance music idea, but it makes sense now that you tell us about it.
Iijima Minimalistic techno is very core, and there are parts where you ask yourself questions while listening to it, and it’s a serious, dark sound that is different from acid. It’s a self-serving complication that I think Made in Abyss has something to do with that (laugh). Of course, we also consciously include songs with beautiful melodies in the variations.
-These themes were digested in Kevin’s own way and the result was this accompaniment.
Iijima Kevin hasn’t been through that much dance music. He originally studied classical music and has a solid foundation, so he has no problem making basic music with a really great sound. The rest is a matter of how to take on new challenges, so I discuss with him, ‘How about this? I discussed with him how he would like to try new things, and we built up the balance of the music as we went along.
-It was a fresh way for Kevin to make it.
Iijima Another theme of this project was analogue synths. Kevin has a lot of analogue synths, but one day he showed me a website called Folktek and said that the analogue equipment they produce here is good.It was the Garten (Luminist Garden) equipment that Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails used to make the soundtrack for Gone Girl (2012 film).I also thought this was very Abyss, so I immediately got that equipment and actually used it in various places in a detailed and experimental way.
-And also the fact that you recorded at a studio in Vienna (Synchron Stage Vienna) is a big topic this time.Is there a reason why you chose the recording location?
Iijima It’s always the same, but you can’t expand unless you get involved with someone, and Kevin is still young, so I wanted to do something interesting to help him take the next step.So I asked him what kind of sound he wanted the orchestra to have? I asked him and he said he wanted to do it with his teacher in a studio where he had done a workshop before. That was the studio in Vienna.
-I see. How was it actually recording in Vienna?
Iijima: First of all, from a personal point of view, I thought it was totally different from recording in the USA, for example. For example, in LA, which is a city of entertainment, you get the impression that the performers are all going for a very crisp sound, but in Vienna it’s not like that. It’s very classical, and in a way it’s a sad sound. It’s more like something emotional and warm. Well, Kevin doesn’t really think so, he says it’s very solid playing, but that’s difficult because everyone has a different opinion.
-What episodes were memorable for you during the recording process?
Iijima This was Kevin’s first time as a conductor , and he was very nervous on the first day, and you could hear it in the sound.So there was a lot of trial and error on the spot.Also, the sound was much more delicate than I had expected, with an image of a thin line. At first I was very surprised and a little worried about it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful sound that was achieved during the mixing stage.Maybe there are differences in miking or something, but I thought this was the way to record a classic.
-The first song, “Underground River,” which was used as the main theme in the first episode, features Raj Ramayya, who is known for his participation in the song of WOLF’S RAIN (2003).
Iijima The director told me that he wanted a song that would be the main theme for the first episode, and while we were trying to come up with a song, Kevin sent me a song that he had sung himself. I didn’t mention singing on my order sheet, so this was a nice surprise for me. Kevin had also sent me a song he had sung for “Norn+Nonet” that was not on the order sheet, and I thought, “Why not? He said, “Why not? Yoko Kanno does that too” (laugh). I really thought that was true, and I wanted to take care of what he wanted to do, so we decided to do a song.
IijimaThis didn’t come to fruition, but at first you asked me to create a SE-like voice for the Abyss. Because the dungeon in “Made in Abyss” itself seems to be alive, and in the manga, there is a sound like the scream of a hole, so I thought it would be possible to express that with a voice.We had talked about this, so I had an image from the beginning that if I wanted to add a voice to the accompaniment, it would be a male, neutral voice.As for “Underground River,” Kevin sang so well that I thought it would be fine if he stayed with Kevin, but he said he wanted to collaborate with someone. I asked him who he would like to collaborate with, and he said he would like to collaborate with Mr. Laje.He has been a fan of Mr. Laje since he got to know him through WOLF’S RAIN when he was in junior high school. I thought it would be a great story, so I contacted Mr. Laje and made it happen.
Wolfs Rain OST – Strangers Ft. Raj Ramayya
-I see. How did you decide on the other song, “Hanezeve Caradhina”?
Iijima There was another song that Kevin sang in the chorus, but I wanted a more neutral male singer to sing it. I am from Sapporo, Hokkaido, and I was in a band in my teens and twenties, and I knew a guy named Ko Saito (SNARECOVER) who was a very good singer.I had always wanted to work with them someday, and I also wanted someone from the north to sing this song for some reason (laugh), so I contacted them for the first time in about 10 years.
Hanezeve Caradhina Ko Saito
Indeed, this song has a Scandinavian feel to it, or perhaps it has an atmosphere similar to that of Sigur Ros (an Icelandic band).
Iijima That is exactly the image I have. I think people from colder regions like Iceland and Sweden tend to make more introverted music, and I think Mr. Saito is a case in point.At first Kevin was like, “Who is this Saito-san? But as soon as he heard Saito-san’s high tones in the session, he immediately thought he was amazing!
-I’m also curious about the lyrics….
Iijima: Mr. Saito cannot sing in English, and I wanted to avoid using Japanese songs as accompaniment for the play, so I asked him to sing in the so-called Hanamogera language, which I thought was a composite of Icelandic and German (laugh). I hoped it would have an Abyssal atmosphere, but it turned out to be more traditional than the usual “la-la-la-la” singing.
-It was a language that did not exist, including the name of the song (laugh). This song is used in the scene where the sun rises in the first episode and in the last scene of the eighth episode, so it leaves a strong impression in the work.
Iijima: I didn’t think so at first, but the director seemed to like it and used it. I think it has a great effect on the work. The first version had a rather normal ending, but I wanted to make it more shoegaze-like, and added some beats to make it more exciting.
All of the songs match the worldview of “Made in Abyss,” and even if you take the music alone, it’s a wonderful piece of theatrical accompaniment.Lastly, I have a question. You have been involved in the production of various types of music besides animation, such as commercials, etc. What do you find attractive about animation music?
Iijima I have the impression that animation is interesting because it stirs the subjective imagination, or rather, the more one imagines, the more interesting it is. Unlike live-action films, which have visuals in advance, in the case of animation, the only source material is the storyboard, so we can only imagine the pictures and movements. So, as I said earlier, there is a certain amount of fun in deciding what music to use for this picture, and I think that in the initial stages, you can create with a high degree of freedom. It is the same whether it is a human drama or a fantasy, and I enjoy making music starting from that part of the story, and I think Kevin probably feels the same way.
Thank you for watching. See you soon.
Made in Abyss (World’s largest number of translations)