The 12 December 2019 issue of Weekly Famitsu features an interview with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim director/writer/mecha designer George Kamitani, character animator Maenou Kouichi, character designer Hirai Yukiko, and producer Yamamoto Akiyasu to commemorate the game’s Japanese release, in which they discuss how the game was created.
Also see: Review- 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
The interview begins with them being asked how exactly 13 Sentinels came about, and Kamitani says that he had the idea for a story with multiple points of view told out of chronological order for a long time, and that before they decided on using giant robots it involved superpowers.
The game was first shown when he drew a key visual for Vanillaware’s new year greeting card for 2013, at which point the involvement of giant robots and the title of the game had been settled upon. He says that he had originally thought of having 7-8 characters, but changed it to 13 because it was 2013. The “Aegis Rim” part of the title came from how it would be a tower defence game. Maenou points out that Kamitani has a tendency to decide on the title first, and Kamitani says that this is to make sure that they stick to games’ core concepts.
The original idea was to have characters with superpowers like the 1992 Fuji TV sci-fi drama Night Head, but Kamitani thought that this would be too simple and unpopular, and aside from that he also wanted to put in far more sci-fi elements, one of which was the robots. And with the robots, he says he wanted to have a Robot Jox type aesthetic: Not the sort of slim, agile, stylish robot which flies around commonly seen in contemporary anime, but heavy, industrial-like ones.
This further led to him having the idea of constrasting them with a world that looks more delicate, like those seen in manga for girls. Kamitani says that in middle school he was a fan Kagami Akira. Though Kagami was mainly a shoujo manga artist, she had previously worked with Ishimori Pro and had ties to Kawamori Shouji, which resulted in her also working on the mecha design in Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, and Kamitani calls her a pioneer of the “girls and mecha” genre.
Kamitani says that while 13 Sentinels was a project that would have potential for side content such as anime and model kits, he wanted to keep it on a small scale as the worldwide release of Dragon’s Crown gave them a lot of trouble. In the end, though, they were told that 13 Sentinels would have a global release, changing things greatly.
The interviewer next asks why the game is set mostly in the 80’s, and Kamitani says that this is because he did not feel confident in being able to write modern children due to his age. The use of 1984-1985 is because that was when he was still a youth himself, and he thought that this would give the story a nostalgic feel to it. This was also a period of time where robot anime was at its peak in popularity, and he says that 13 Sentinels was inspired by the anime Megazone 23, and especially a line spoken by its heroine: “This is such a good age”.
Next, Maenou and Hirai are asked how Kamitani explained the idea to them. Maenou says that he first heard about it in 2015, and recalls being asked for advice on how to get adventure and simulation parts to fit together. He says that Kamitani had the plot of the game put together at this point, but that when it was explained to him it was too complex and he did not understand it at all.
Hirai says her experience was mostly the same, and that all that she can recall is that Kamitani kept repeating the phrase “robots and shoujo manga”. The interviewer asks if the entire story revolved around this basic concept, and Kamitani says that he actually started with the final scene in the game, and that he worked on it with a timeline leading up to that scene.
They next discuss the characters in the game. Kamitani says that at the early stages of the project, they tried to base some of it on Jules Vernes’ Two Years’ Vacation, and that Gouto was named after Gordon, while Yakushiji’s precursor, Kurosu, was named after Cross. Maenou says that Kamitani also said that he wanted to put numbers into characters’ names, and Hirai says that she recalls him saying at one point that he wanted 100 main characters. To this, Kamitani laughs and says that he said so many things that he cannot recall them all.
Hirai says that in the early stages, Kamitani gave her only vague instructions for the character designs, mostly simple profiles indicating their time period and general personality. She would draw designs based on these profiles and send them to Kamitani, who would then give her further instructions.
The interviewer asks if Kamitani had ideas of what the characters should look like to begin with, and he says he actually got many ideas from Hirai’s art: For example, he came up with the idea to connect Morimura to the story in the way that he did after seeing her design, and the cat was only added to the cast after Hirai drew Yakushiji with one.
Hirai notes that the designs for Yakushiji and Shinonome were actually swapped during production, and that after the designs had already been finalised Kamitani came back the next day saying that he wanted Yakushiji to have straight black hair to contrast with Fuyusaka’s. Kamitani says this decision was inspired by the 1974 anime Majokko Megu-chan, where the heroine and her rival share a similar contrast, and Hirai points out that they ended up with similar contrasts with other characters, such as Okino and Hijiyama.
Some of the designs were handled by Vanillaware’s Kida Emika, who also worked on Dragon’s Crown. She was told to draw designs and Kamitani would choose the ones that he liked, and Takamiya’s design was created in such a way. Takamiya did not initially start off as a “Sukeban Deka” type character, however: She was originally supposed to be a quiet girl of high upbringing whose parents ran a Buddhist temple (Japanese Buddhist monks do marry), but this changed because having to make a background for the temple was too difficult.
Similarly, Minami and Ogata are supposed to be childhood friends and neighbours, and Kamitani had planned a scene where Minami in her room clad in pajamas looks out of the window to see Ogata peeping at her from his own room, but this was not implemented because it would require a lot of work to make the materials required just for this scene.
The interviewer points out how the designs for the three characters on the 2013 new year greeting card have not changed much, and Hirai says she felt that they should not stray too far from it, as it served as the game’s concept art. They put elements from the three characters into all 13 of the protagonists, and the original three designs turned into Yakushiji, Fuyusaka and Minami.
Kamitani is asked if the girls in 13 Sentinels are influenced by his tastes, and he says that while this would apply to their profiles, he left the designs entirely to Hirai. That being said, Hirai did do her best to give shape to his words, and Hirai says that the scene with Minami changing was a request from Kamitani. Due to the shoujo manga concept of the game, the girls are the focus of the story, but Kamitani does note that aside from exceptions like Fuyusaka who is more klutzy than her art might suggest, he found it easier to make funny scenes for the boys than for the girls.