That Anime Whose Name I Can’t Say: Norihiko Hibino Talks Blassreiter

July 14, 2008 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook That Anime Whose Name I Can’t Say: Norihiko Hibino Talks Blassreiteron Twitter

Photo ©2008 GONZO・Nitroplus / Blassreiter Project

I wanted to grab your attention with a picture of the girl from the anime. Did it work?

Well, Norihiko Hibino is one cool cat. We’ve been talking about him a lot lately, but I bet you didn’t know he was working on a big anime produced by Gonzo, did you? It’s called Blassreiter (which I can’t say for the life of me), and it’s about a bleak future where zombies have invaded Germany. A unique premise, I know, but the music is great, and spans many different styles including jazz, electronic, and orchestral.

Hibino was actually in bright and sunny San Diego recently, and I was able to sit down with him and pick his brain about the music in the series. He even lets it slip that there’s going to be a Blassreiter film in the future.

Hit the jump for the full transcript of the interview as well as a picture of some cool cats. Anyone going to check out the series based on what he has to say?

OSV: Alright we’re here with Norihiko Hibino of GEM Impact.

Hibino: Hey, Hello!

OSV: And I’m sure many of the readers already know that we’re big fans of these guys. We’ve been running all kinds of stuff about Metal Gear Solid, Etrian Odyssey II, The Outer Rim, and all these different things that you can read about on the site. You probably didn’t know, but Hibino-san and the people at GEM Impact are also working on an anime from Gonzo called BlassreiterBlassreiter?

Hibino: Yeah, Blassreiter.

OSV: Yeah, it’s German, so I apologize if I’m butchering it! So we wanted to talk a little bit about the anime, Hibino-san’s inspirations, influences, how he goes about composing, what he’s told before scoring the episodes, and what we can expect from the future of the series, so I’ll go ahead and start.

You know, the first episode of the anime starts with… and I’m going to get into a scene thing here, but it’s the intro sequence and they’re racing around the track…

Hibino: I know what you’re talking about.

OSV: It’s a pumping rock track, and you’re known as a jazz artist and a very talented saxophonist.

Hibino: Oh, thank you

OSV: Well, I was just kind of curious, like, wow, you come right out with a rock track.

Hibino: Actually, you know what? That track is by Takahiro Izutani.

OSV: Okay! I had a feeling.

Hibino: Yeah, it was written under my name, but basically he’s one of the composers under GEM Impact, and he’s really talented with that style of music.

OSV:So what went into the decision to have your name in the credits as opposed to GEM Impact?

Hibino: Actually, it’s a political thing more than anything.

OSV: Alright, as usual. Okay, we won’t dig too much into that.

Hibino: I’d like to add his name on there, but you know.

OSV: Then they feel they have to pay somebody else with two composers. We won’t get into all of that because I know there are political issues and we don’t want to bring that all up, but I thought it was an interesting opener to the series to hear rock music from the name Hibino.

Hibino: Yeah, it’s kicking. It’s a good track.

OSV: It is a good track, and you know, one thing I’ve noticed about the series is that there are so many different styles of music. There’s rock at one moment, then a loungey jazz piece which is exactly what I’d expect out of you, then you have this espionage/orchestral electronic track that is cool and hip. How’d you get involved with this project first of all?

Hibino: Actually, I got a call from the director of the project, his name is Itano-san, he’s famous for his work as design director for the Gundam series. He really liked some of my jazz stuff and so he called me up. He wanted to have two different types of music. One kind of like Metal Gear, with that big… you know…

OSV: Like the big orchestral Hollywood sound.

Hibino: Yeah. And also he wanted the music to have a human touch, more like jazz-oriented stuff to accent the character’s feelings. And even though the anime starts with a lot of action scenes and looks like an action anime, by the end it becomes a human drama, so he wanted to have that contrast.

OSV: Ah, I see. So I imagine he became aware of your work through Metal Gear?

Hibino: Yeah, of course, yeah.

OSV: Okay. Then he requested you. That’s very cool. It must be really exciting to branch out into a new form of media. I know you’ve worked as a solo musician then went into the gaming thing. Is this your first anime project?

Hibino: Well, actually, I’ve done a couple small ones, but this one is the biggest.

OSV: And you know, they’re actually translating this weekly and broadcasting it on YouTube in the US. So you know, all the readers out there who want to hear some of this music can always head over to YouTube and check out the anime. It’s actually pretty interesting. I’ve been watching it myself. The music’s great and the show itself is really interesting. Actually, just talking about it, I want to get back to watching it, because I kind of stopped right in the middle of the episode. You kind of want to just get to that next episode to see what happens.

Hibino: Yeah.

OSV: You know, one of the next tracks to come in is a loungey jazz piece while they’re exploring a warehouse, and it has this really prominent jazz bass.

Hibino: Yes, yes.

OSV: And some guitars, and it has a rugged percussion sound. I was wondering, was this all live?

Hibino: Yeah, it’s a live recording.

OSV: And it’s the GEM Impact team that’s performing or are you bringing in session artists?

Hibino: Actually, I’m working with artists from Vanilla Mood which is live venue I have in Roppongi, and we have young cats playing there every night and I can find very good, talented musicians there and I call them up to the studio to do some recording.

OSV: And I bet they love it. I mean you got these young guys at the prime of their musical talents and they get called up to work on a project that will be broadcasted to millions of people.

Hibino: Yeah, they love it!

OSV: So on one hand you’re doing Hollywood orchestral Metal Gear stuff and on the other hand it’s a kind of natural, more emotional sound. So when you’re writing the music for this stuff, what’s the direction? Do you watch the episode beforehand, or how does that work?

Hibino: Actually, I only have a vague idea of the whole story. I don’t really have the whole story line. All I knew was that he wanted the contrast between the Metal Gear thing and the humanistic side. For the Metal Gear side, I have good composers in-house that can handle this. I just give them the main melody and the main structure and let them compose. For the acoustic side, that’s something I need to take care of, so I go to the studio and I’m in there recording.

OSV: Very interesting. So you’re not scoring to a picture. You’re just given an idea of what’s going on in that scene and based on the emotional content you’re creating music. I know in the US that’s not very ideal. It’s not what they’re used to. They have to have the picture to know what’s going on.

Hibino: When I composed this, there was no footage ready. So.

OSV: So that means that you’re not… how far in advance are you creating the music for each episode? Are you creating it all in advance? What’s the time table?

Hibino: Actually, I prepared all the music in advance. Let’s say like 45 songs at two minutes each. We’re about 2-3 months ahead of the broadcasting. There’s another guy who puts the music over the footage.

OSV: What’s the broadcasting schedule if I may ask? Is it weekly or monthly?

Hibino: It’s weekly.

OSV: So are you creating music every week?

Hibino: Actually, I’ve composed everything already. Some other guy just puts the music on for broadcasting.

OSV: Ah, so that means you know the plot details that will be coming up in the future!

Hibino: ‘Eh! I almost know, but I never know which music will be in which episode.

OSV: Do you ever get the chance to go back and watch the anime and say, “Oh, that’s how they used that. That’s interesting!”

Hibino: Yeah!

OSV: So do you think they usually tend to do a good job?

Hibino: Yeah, they do a good job.

OSV: There’s never any of those moments where you’re like, “Wow, I didn’t know they were going to do that with that piece.”

Hibino: Well, actually the music print guy… I’d say music editor, he does a very good job. I don’t like a score with overwhelming music. I need silence. He knows this and picks the best moments and puts the music into the right place, so it’s good.

OSV: So it’s very collaborative. You trust them to do right by your music and they trust you to create music that fits their series without even seeing the pictures. That sounds like a very interesting collaborative working experience.

Hibino: Yeah.

OSV: So the fact is that the music is almost all already written. And you’ve got about 45 tracks?

Hibino: Actually, it’s more like 60?

OSV: And are you able to say how many minutes of music that is?

Hibino: Well, they’re each about two minutes, so that’s two hours.

OSV: So I imagine in the future, I don’t know who would publish it, but maybe we’ll see a soundtrack album?

Hibino: Yeah, we wish we could publish it on our label, GEM Factory, but there’s actually a company Lantis and they take care of all the music things including the opening and closing themes. I think they’re taking care of the soundtrack.

OSV: That’s the next thing I wanted to mention. The opening theme is kind of another rocking track, and it sounds like a commercial artist. Does GEM Impact have anything to do with that?

Hibino: We have nothing to do with that music.

OSV: You know, it strangely kind of fits in with the rock track we were talking about earlier. I actually kind of dug it and hoped you guys had done some kind of production on it.

Hibino: Yeah, we wish we could, but we don’t have any control over it. It’s also a more political kind of thing.

OSV: Yeah, and the ending theme is a female vocalist with some pop music with guitars. That’s another instance where they plugged another track in there not from GEM Impact?

Hibino: Yeah, it’s for promotion.

OSV: I noticed that, and in previous conversations you’ve told me it’s the main theme, but they show it during the “Next time on Blassreiter,” and they have this seductive saxophone track with some mellow pads in the background. It’s very minimalstic. Is that indeed the main theme?

Hibino: Yeah. Actually, I was supposed to write a more rhythmic-based main theme, but the director wanted a humanistic main theme, so I decided to use only saxophone and pads, it’s really simple but it describes the feeling of the show.

OSV: So was that something where he asked you for something minimalistic or you created it and showed it to him and he liked it?

Hibino: Actually, he asked me and I showed it to him. He asked me for something like a taxi driver.

OSV: Ah, really? [laughs]

Hibino: Yeah. [laughs] So that’s the idea. Saxophone and ambiance.

OSV: Can you tell us about the recording and production of that track? What went into the recording and what tools were used?

Hibino: Well, for the Metal Gear kind of tracks they use Logic and different things. For the acoustic stuff, we just rent a studio and get everyone together and record 13 songs in one day.

OSV: Wow.

Hibino: Yeah, it’s settled really fast.

OSV: It’s amazing you’re able to create such a high quality of music so quickly.

Hibino: Yeah, and we wrap those up in the studio and do the final mix in 5.1. Now the TV broadcasting, and even for the home TV, they can use a 5.1 format, so that’s what we make.

OSV: Yeah, eventually you’ll have to get into 7.1 with all the new technology.

Hibino: Yeah.

OSV: So for that main theme with you on saxopohone, I imagine, right?

Hibino: Yeah, it was me.

OSV: How long did it take you to write that?

Hibino: Yeah, it was very quick. I think I spent two days finishing those 13 acoustic songs.

OSV: Well, very interesting. I noticed that there were some other tracks in the Metal Gear style with the heavy bass and and clicky percussion. Who handles that stuff typically at GEM Impact?

Hibino: Yeah, usually Takahiro Izutani or Yoshitaka Suzuki. Those two guys are so talented and can easily handle the Metal Gear stuff.

OSV: Ah, very interesting. In the interview we just published with you about Metal Gear Solid 4, you mentioned that they worked on Portable Ops. So they do have the experience, but it’s funny that you avoid that situation of too many chefs in the kitchen. It’s like they can speak the same musical language as you and you guys mesh together so well.

Hibino: Yeah, because we have a lot of meetings. We have weekly meetings where we share how to build up a track and how optimize the sound in order to get it in 5.1. We also share skills. So even though we have 3-4 composers working on a project at the same time, our sound comes out in the same quality.

OSV: It’s cohesive. I was kind of curious about the meetings. Do you guys all pull up couches in a meeting room or something?

Hibino: It’s more like a small office, but yeah.

OSV: Do you guys have instruments in there? Do you come up with musical ideas?

Hibino: No, it’s mostly just technical stuff.

OSV: Ah, so there’s not really tossing around music ideas? Like, “Hey! I just came up with this idea.”

Hibino: Oh, for that, we do file transferring a lot.

OSV: Ah, so you guys are always shooting stuff over to one another, “Look what I just did!” That sounds like a lot of fun. Well, there’s a track in episode four, and I know you have the cue sheet here. I think it was the first song in the episode, and I wrote in my notes that it had this heavy beating percussion and these belltones. It’s very cool. It has some electronic piano chords in it, and it was one of my favorite pieces I’ve heard so far. What can you tell me about this cool track?

Hibino: This one is also by Izutani-san.

OSV: I think maybe I just like his style! I don’t know!

Hibino: Yeah, he’s really into this kind of, how can I say, like a trip-hop kind of thing. So yeah!

OSV: I don’t know, I like belltones. Anything that has belltones in it. And it has that jazzy thing going with the electric piano chords. Then at the end of episode four they have a melancholy guitar that is sort of sad…

Hibino: Yeah, this is also Izutani-san’s track. [laughs]

OSV: [laughs]

Hibino: Yeah, he’s quite a guy!

OSV: Alright, and the last one I wrote down was from episode 5. At the beginning there’s a techno track that might not even be yours. It has vocals.

Hibino: Yeah, it’s not ours.

OSV: So you guys wrote two hours of music, so do you know how much music is being added from outside?

Hibino: From the outside, it’s like the opening and the ending and maybe one or two songs added in by Lantis. But other than that, all the music is made by us.

OSV: I’ve noticed that in the series in general there’s a lot of silence. Looking at this, there are only two or three songs per episode. These are 20 minute episodes and the songs are about two minutes, it seems there’s a lot of silence in the show. There’s talking and sound effects. The music comes in during the battle or contemplative scenes.

So I imagine they told you ahead of time that there’d be lots of silence. How did that factor into the music?

Hibino: So we did expect a lot of silence. The only thing we need to create the music was the building of some emotion. In other words, it has to be something extreme. It has to catch the feeling of the moment, or it has to drive you, either way, it has to be extreme, otherwise you don’t need to put any music there.

OSV: You mentioned earlier you worked with somebody at Gonzo who implements your tracks into the show. How involved is GEM with the implementation? Are you guys just turning over audio files and letting them take care of the rest? Are you telling them that there are certain loops points here or there?

Hibino: Yeah, we just have a song list saying action 1, action 2, ambient 1, ambient 2 and we never know where it’s used.

OSV: So you turn in a final product. If there’s a fade-out, do you do that or do they handle that?

Hibino: Yeah, again, we don’t have any control over that.

OSV: So it sounds like they’re completely in control. So it sounds like you’ve created all the music. I don’t know if you can say or not, but will they be requesting more music from you in the future? Will there be another season?

Hibino: Well, actually, I think they’re going to make a movie version of Blassreiter, and I think they’ll ask us to work on it.

OSV: And it’s likely stuff you can’t talk about, but will it be an encapsulated version of the series or will it be a continuation?

Hibino: Well, actually I don’t even know. But I know the director really loves our music, so it’s really up to him.

OSV: And that’s cool that you have that relationship. And when he does something in the future, he’ll come back to GEM Impact. And hopefully other people in the industry will hear what you’ve done and say, “Hey we gotta get these guys!”

Hibino: Yeah, I hope that happens.

OSV: So, as your biggest anime project to date, and with a lot of viewers in the United States and Japan. What does this project mean to the team?

Hibino: Yeah, it’s really exciting. And I know some anime is put together just to sell. This is not. They’re really putting a lot of money into Blassreiter, and we really think it’s an important project for us.

OSV: Yeah, and it’s really exciting. And I have to go back to this one more time, going back to all the J-pop and rock tracks that they put in around the music you provided. You mentioned in our Metal Gear Solid interview that Izutani-san is a talented J-pop producer. And he’s very in demand, he’s worked for…

Hibino: Ayumi Hamasaki.

OSV: Yeah, and that’s a huge deal.

Hibino: Yeah!

OSV: Why aren’t these guys hiring GEM Impact to put together some of these tracks knowing that Izutani-san has this reputation and that he put together something amazing?

Hibino: Yeah, well, that’s actually a political thing, but eventually we’d like to do that. For now, Lantis, who is doing the opening song and closing theme, they’re paying a lot of money, so they have control of that. But you never know in the future.

OSV: Okay, so now I wonder, your name is so synonymous with Metal Gear Solid. Do you worry that if you keep doing these kinds of projects, people will say, “I want the Metal Gear sound, I’m going to GEM Impact to get Hibino-san to work on this because I want it to sound like Metal Gear.” Do you worry about getting stuck in a certain style then not getting jobs to do different styles? Is that a concern for you?

Hibino: Not really. At first, creating the Metal Gear sound, we have good composers in-house. I don’t need to compose that kind of music all the time. We also get lots of different offers. So it’s alright if we’re associated with that style, but I think we’ll get to try something new every time.

OSV: How would they ever find out about your J-pop style or the rock style that you’re capable of if you get stuck doing all these Metal Gear projects though?

Hibino: Ahhh…. Yeah. Well that’s something where I need your help! [laughs]

OSV: [laughs] Yeah, well, we’ll do our best. You know we’ve been writing about you a lot you guys, we’re big fans, and I hope that our readers become fans by reading about you and following the site.

That’s actually all I have. It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you down here in San Diego. We’re looking forward to the rest of the series. We’re on episode 13 and I have no idea how many they’re going to go through, but maybe I can do the math with how much music you provided and approximately how many they’re putting in, but yeah, it’s been a great pleasure, we’ll look forward to whatever comes up with the movie. Great talking to you Hibino-san!

Hibino: Thank you very much!

Cool Cats in action. Can you guess who’s who?:

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