Aces at War 2011: Talk Dog Fight R03

Update: May 15th, 2020

Original Post: September 9th, 2019

The last of three interviews found in Aces at War 2011, an Ace Combat art and canon information book released as part of the Japan-exclusive Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Special Edition (2011). 

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What are the truths of war and the true face of aces that the creators of the Usean Continent’s history unraveled…?

The Continental War (began in 2003) that Mobius 1 took part in. And the Circum-Pacific War (began in 2010) which saw a shift in history due to the “Demons of Razgriz.”--- The two individuals who created the history and world of these two wars are Sunao Katabuchi and Kazutoki Kono. What circumstances lead to the birth and establishment of this world? The previously untold truth is finally revealed.

Kazutoki Kono

Bandai Namco Games Manager/Chief Producer


Born September 20, 1971

Started his career as a graphic designer and absorbed knowledge on many fronts while working on numerous games. Mr. Kazutoki was the one who invited Mr. Katabuchi in the creation of the PS2 titles Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies and Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War by way of his position as art director of the PS game Ridge Racer Type4, and worked in a central role in the world building of the Continental War and Circum-Pacific War in both titles.

In the PS3/X360 title Ace Combat Assault Horizon, he is both producer and director and supervised its development.

Sunao Katabuchi

Animated Movie Director, Screenwriter
Lecturer in the Cinema Department at the Nihon University College of Art


Born August 10, 1960

Previous works include the script for the TV anime “Sherlock Holmes,” director of anime movies “Princess Arete,” “Mai Mai Miracle,” and director/screenwriter for the TV OVA anime “Black Lagoon.”

Also is a researcher of aviation history and is knowledgeable on the history of aerial warfare and aircraft manufacturers.

Was involved in the world building, scenarios, and in-mission radio dialogue for the PS2 titles Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies and Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War.

These are the paths taken by the 2 key people responsible for the history of the Usean Continent and how they met
 

Kono: There’s one thing that I’ve been meaning to ask you about. You and I have been creating the history of the Usean Continent for a while now, but since when did you become interested in doing this kind of work, Katabuchi-san?

Katabuchi:  My grandfather on my mother’s side ran a movie theater, and I often watched animated movies due to that. It influenced me a lot since my oldest memory was when I watched the Toei animated movie “The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon” (released 1963) when I was 2 years and 7 months old. Later on I entered elementary school, but the school was far away and took me 20-30 minutes one-way back then. So on the way home I would daydream and think about stories or stage settings in my head. From that time, I was already thinking about things like “A single isolated aircraft carrier would be fighting the enemy...”

Kono: Isn’t that just the aircraft carrier Kestrel from the Circum-Pacific War?

Katabuchi: That’s exactly right. The Circum-Pacific War is mostly unchanged from the mental image I pictured when I was in fourth grade. The characters [in the game] may have been in my heart this whole time and likely didn’t appear out of nowhere. Of course I saw many other movies after that and added new ideas that came up.

Kono: That’s the first time I heard about it. I was the kind of person that arbitrarily started planning things during school art festivals and say “Let’s do a play!” To be honest, those ideas were too absurd. At the time, there was a police drama on TV that was popular called “Seibu Keisatsu” (began airing 1979) and I thought we should do that, but there was no way children could pull that off. (laughs) In the end, we couldn’t make it happen and it flopped.

Katabuchi: You just planned it and threw it out there? That’s so youthful. (laughs)

Kono: Did you not say “let’s do an aircraft carrier!” during elementary school art festivals and write scripts for that?

Katabuchi: I never did that. (laughs) When I became a professional I was immediately told to write scenarios for stories, but I never did things like that before. I didn’t realize that this kind of work would influence people at the time, and I felt that I was rather bad at doing work regarding scenarios.

Kono: Then what motivated you to write scenarios?

Katabuchi: I spent a lot of time thinking about absurd things in elementary school, but in high school, the feeling of wanting to create animated movies that I was so engrossed in during my childhood returned. It was right around when Hayao Miyazaki made his name known. After advancing to college, I was able to meet Miyazaki-san since a teacher knew him, and that connection got me to be able to write scenarios for TV anime series. At the time, Miyazaki-san wanted to do a ”serious work” while I wrote scenarios that were suited to animated movies, and made it into a little less serious anime. That was “Sherlock Holmes” (began airing 1984).

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Kono: In college, I was studying design, and thought about going into the advertising industry. But when I saw the game industry, which didn’t have as high of design quality at the time, I thought “even I could create a stir!” and jumped in. It’s probably my personality, but I just can’t help giving my opinions regarding music, scenarios, or things when I’m working. Then I arbitrarily took the title of art director, and started saying “I’m going to make comprehensive decisions on the art, so bring every piece of artwork to me.” Then I gradually kept adding roles, saying “I could take a look at scenarios too” or “let me listen to the music” and kind of took on the role of a director. Doing all these things, I was then put in charge of drawing up the world that the Continental War would take place in, so I called Katabuchi-san since I wanted his help.

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Katabuchi: I always had a world drawn up inside me with certain events that I wanted to explore, and believed that one day I’ll be able to achieve it in the industry that I happened to get myself into. But as I gained experience, I began to feel that this would be virtually impossible and to be honest, I had lots of frustrations. Then, thinking maybe I can make a movie that would allow me to overcome these frustrations, I went to Studio 4°C and created the anime movie “Princess Arete” (released 2001), searching for something to support my mental state. Then I felt as if this work was resurrecting my frustrated and fading body. And during this time when I was feeling relatively good, I accepted this job from Kono-san with good timing.

Kono: As part of the game development group that would draw up the events of the Continental War, we were to create missions from the point of view of Mobius 1.

Katabuchi: If I remember, I was requested in the first place by you, Kono-san, to create cutscenes from the point of view of Mobius 1’s enemy, the Erusean military. Except you specified that you wanted still art for the cutscenes, and when you said that you wanted it to be like Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (released 1998), I was like “whaat!?” (laughs)

Kono: In the end, we were able to include narration and were able to depict the flow of war and mental state of the characters. Hmmm, thinking about it again, it was quite the unconventional work.

Katabuchi: After hearing the specifics I realized “Oh, so the core of the story will be the ace pilot, so if that’s the case, we’ll do this.” 

When the 2 unraveling histories meet, a conflict called “fusion” begins

Katabuchi: The outline of the story is completed all at once, but after that we have to put the parts that we each created together and make things consistent. This was the most important and toughest part of development.

Kono: Yes. My team, basically the game development side that created the missions, and Katabuchi-san’s side which created the story, actually work and progress simultaneously instead of one team having precedence over another. From my standpoint, I’m not going to match the work entirely to the story. First and foremost, we need the user to play the game and have them say, “It’s fun!” In order to make that happen, let’s say an idea to have “a mission where you escort friendly units that are being attacked by the enemy” comes up. Then we have to report that “this kind of mission will be included” to Katabuchi-san, and we have to put these things together with the story that goes with the mission.

Katabuchi: On the other hand, I might want to include a part that involves the liberation of a capital in a scenario. Then we need an uprising by the resistance in the previous mission, and I remember going back and forth asking “about this mission, could we have lights that turn on in a city that’s under blackout?”

Kono: For the Continental War we would go about like this and made the game while entrusting all of the events of the story to Katabuchi-san. I learned a lot from this experience, so when it was decided to depict the Circum-Pacific War in the next game, we decided “let’s create the story or world together instead of doing it separately.”

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”I received over a thousand emails from the back-and-forth we had over our work” - Kono

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Katabuchi: And that joint effort became a huge problem. (laughs)

Kono: Yes (laughing). We emailed ideas to each other and how to make things consistent, but the amount of Katabuchi-san’s requests were no joke. I actually had myself and another staff look through and reply to Katabuchi-san’s emails. If we didn’t do that, I would never have caught up. I still save all emails from Katabuchi-san, and when I recounted them for the sake of this discussion, I found about one thousand emails.

Katabuchi: Wait, really? Did I send that many? (laughs)

Kono: You did. And when I was looking through these again, I remember one in particular where I was scolded for my habit of getting ahead of myself. I proposed how the end would unfold out of nowhere, saying “I want to make the end of the Circum-Pacific War more exciting, so let’s have a 3-way conflict with the Osean Federation, Union of Yuktobanian Republics, and the Principality of Belka.” Then I got scolded with the message saying “You haven’t established any reasons or a sequence why it becomes a 3-way conflict. You’re too hasty!” Only then did I really begin thinking hard about how it would lead to that outcome. But I was unable to put them together by myself so in the end, I got the idea that “the Principality of Belka would acquire nukes” from Katabuchi-san, and was able to lead to the 3-way conflict. I guess I haven’t progressed from my elementary school art festival days. (wry laugh)

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”And those late night back-and-forth conversations refined our sensitivity.” - Katabuchi

Katabuchi: My style is that I must have everything in order and set at each junction. That’s why I told Kono-san not to rush too far. But from the point of view of creating the story, there were many more things I had problems with. For example in the Circum-Pacific War, Bartlett goes missing in the beginning right? I thought, “wait a minute, how is he going to get back?” and had no idea, even though I’m the one creating the story. (laughs) While I was pondering over this problem, Kono-san sends me an email saying “we want to make a mission where an allied car is running from the enemy and attacker aircraft crush barricades along the way, supporting the escape.” Then I thought “ah, Bartlett can [finally] return!” and was relieved.

Kono: Remembering things now, it was nerve-racking, and the building of the story felt like we were on a tightrope. 

Katabuchi: Yes, it really was nerve-racking. And if we didn’t tackle each problem one step at a time, I wouldn’t know what to do. That’s why saying “let’s have the end be a 3-way conflict!” results in me going “What? What?” since it goes five steps ahead. You can’t catch up to it.

Kono: And by going back-and-forth through these things, I was able to learn a valuable lesson. One time, I refused Katabuchi-san’s proposal and said, “That can’t be done game system-wise. 

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With this schedule, that kind of presentation is impossible.” Then I got scolded with “if we can’t do it, it’s a problem.” What this means is that I had to really keep in mind “whether the essence is maintained properly in the work” when I’m creating something in a director’s position. This includes times when the presentation is lacking and when the presentation is done too well.

Katabuchi: Mhm, I think that’s a really important thing.

Kono: For example, if my own staff creates something with amazing quality but it doesn’t capture the true essence [of what we’re going for], I have to tell them, “this is no good.” On the other hand, if we don’t have enough days in the schedule or are lacking expression but the essence is not lost, we can determine that it’s OK. I am now able to persist and say “this is what I really want to do, and the essence I want to communicate is this!” Katabuchi-san’s email from that time is a favorite motto of mine, and I keep it posted on my PC’s desktop even now.

Katabuchi: Wait really? That’s a little embarrassing, but I’m honored.

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The models used for the aces and unveiling the secrets to moving people’s hearts

Kono: You’re well versed on stories of ace pilots from all places and time periods right Katabuchi-san? When you make a new character, do you model them after a specific ace pilot? For example, the ace of the Erusean military in the Continental War, Yellow 13.

Katabuchi: The name “Yellow 13” is something I borrowed from ace pilot Hans-Joachim Marseille of the German Air Force in World War 2. Marseille had a yellow 14 painted on his aircraft. The reason I changed it by one is because I had the image that the number 13, a bad omen, suited the Erusean ace. It’s just that, perhaps the similarities were too pronounced, but Marseille got all the attention. Personally, I was trying to include people like Erich Hartmann of the same German Air Force, Hiroyoshi Nishizawa of the Japanese Military during World War 2, and stories of fighter pilots after the war (WW2), trying to incorporate the impressions I had of as many ace pilots that I could think of.

Kono: There was the story of when the little boy saw Yellow 13 generating contrails when he turned, and the boy could infer his incredible skill. Was this inspired by anything?

Katabuchi: In some famous stories about Marseille, there are similar instances. If multiple planes are turning the same way in formation, but only one drew contrails, they would seem really powerful. That’s what I thought when I was writing.

Kono: Yellow 13 was also an expert on the guitar, and the scene where he plays a song with the little boy on the harmonica is still very memorable.

Katabuchi: I didn’t have a particular ace pilot in mind in that scene. I used a lot of music in “Princess Arete” that could be played with only a guitar, but I realized “the sound of a guitar is rather good at elevating emotions” and really liked it. In wars in the past, there were some people who put guitars in their Zero fighters (Mitsubishi A6M) and brought it with them to the southern islands. Something like a trumpet would have worked too, but I thought if he were to play something, a guitar would suit him best.

Kono: The depiction of him as “a man who prides himself in always bringing wingmen back home rather than his own kill count” is really cool too.

Katabuchi: Pilots like Hartmann or Saburo Sakai are the same, and there are lots of people like that among ace pilots. I guess Sadaaki Akamatsu is also the same. What I felt from remembering stories of ace pilots is that pilots that are really respected actually do make sure their wingmen return home. No matter how many enemy planes they shoot down, you couldn’t trust someone who would leave their subordinates to die, right?


Kono: Indeed, you would think that no matter how many they shoot down, if they can’t protect their wingmen, they’re no good. It’s the same way in the workplace as well, not just the battlefield. That’s really deep!

Katabuchi: Switching topics just a bit, but in my work, I start by stockpiling knowledge related to the subject in question. But when work actually begins, I don’t read the books that are relevant to the subject since they influence me in a bad way. So what I did when I made the anime movie “Princess Arete” was that I collected all of Akira Kurosawa’s works, which were unrelated by the way, and read them. Then, quotes by the main character Sanjuro from that director’s movie, “Yojimbo” (released 1961) started seeping into my mind. Then in my head, all of Bartlett’s quotes in the Circum-Pacific War were written in the manner of Toshiro Mifune, the actor who played Sanjuro.

Kono: I thought the word choice was really distinctive, but I didn’t know that was the secret!

Katabuchi: That’s because I thought while writing, “if Sanjuro was about to chide a youngster, he would say this.” And that resulted in quotes like “the only thang across this ocean ‘ere is them Yuke’s Murska Air Base.” Then strangely, it developed into a great character and I really started enjoying it, teasing Chopper and things like that.

Kono: This isn’t limited to war stories, but there are times when you appreciate stories or situations and get goosebumps, or get really emotionally invested and it really hits the feels. Like the scene when the aforementioned Chopper is killed in battle. I used to think that scenes like this are something that creators target on purpose. However as I looked at Katabuchi-san’s work, there’s no sign that he’s doing it consciously, but the depictions [he creates] often moves me emotionally. Do you have a technique or something that you use when creating these scenes?

Left: Mr. Kono, hungrily searching for what is required to make a better game. Even during the discussion, his eyes were shining in hopes of learning something new.

Below: A papercraft model of the super-massive surface-to-air railgun Stonehenge, which served as the genesis to the Continental War, listens in on the two’s conversation.

Right: Mr. Katabuchi, giving deep comments with a calm tone. His abundant experience and stockpile of knowledge on many things give his unique doctrine a certain dignity. Words cannot describe his sharp, observant eye.

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Katabuchi: Hmm, I don’t know if this will be an answer to your question, but strange things happen when I’m creating my works. I have made lots of storyboards for my work in anime. It’s like a script layout for the footage, and I write down, “This scene will turn out like this. This line will be added.” As a director, I always write in these “stage directions” on the storyboards as supplementary explanations. For example, let’s say a character will feel a certain way in a scene. We have the completed animation for the footage, and the things we want to say is expressed through the voiceover, but the stage directions themselves will be gone [in the final clip]. But then, viewers who saw the completed work would write me letters like “I could feel the character’s state of mind and was deeply moved!” and described the things that I noted on the stage directions exactly. And this happened many times.

Kono: Is it that they could read between the lines?

Katabuchi: I feel something deeper than that, like a telepathic connection I achieve through my works. And thinking back on these experiences, you have to remember in each case how much you, the creator, was trembling or was inspired. I think that’s what is important.

Kono: I learned something new once again. I see, it’s not just about whether or not the dialogue is good or bad. In the process of putting finishing touches on missions, I receive materials like the radio dialogue, music, events [that take place during the mission], etc. that were completed separately. Then I actually play the mission, look at the fine timing of everything, and put it together as I go through it. So should the evaluation criteria be set so that if I feel something like “wow, I felt some goosebumps there” when I play the mission, it’s OK?

Katabuchi: Yes. The real proper way of determining things is supposed to be like that.

Kono: Listening to this, there is something that comes to mind. When I’m spending long hours making a mission, I feel like our senses get refined. 

When that happens, I intuitively feel “wait, this feels off!” during the final phases of development and there are times where I slide in and say “put this line of dialogue in!” and even force it in if need be. Then strangely enough, these parts are often praised highly by those who bought the game, saying “that line was really good.” I always wondered “why is that the case?” but I feel like I got the answer today.

A page in their life story and history of combat comes to an end, and a new light shines in…!

Katabuchi: We created the stories of the Continental War and Circum-Pacific War in this manner, but there are times I feel we made the history too wide and presented it so that the pieces of the world feels torn and disconnected. There are also stories that we weren’t able to tell as well. For example, Captain Andersen is a man who never won a battle, but has continued to survive. I personally want to see how he was like in his younger years and what his fighting style was. I guess I would like to see Bartlett’s story too. “Heartbreak One’s” story of love or something like that.

Kono: Wait a minute, I really want to know that! But do you have an idea for the story?

Katabuchi: Faintly, but I can think up something. But it’s like the aircraft carrier from my elementary school days, and is just something that I toy around with in my heart right now. But my playmate inside my heart from my elementary school years was also able to meet Kono-san and was able to be put inside a game in the real world. In time, there might come a day where I would be able to properly reveal all of the unknown stories of the Usean Continent and release them as short stories or something.

Japanese to English Translation

TaskForce 23

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