Home Interview: Tonbo! Executive Producer Masakazu Kubo on Anime Production and Tonbo – the ‘Shohei Ohtani of Golf'

Interview: Tonbo! Executive Producer Masakazu Kubo on Anime Production and Tonbo – the ‘Shohei Ohtani of Golf'

Tonbo! joins the rising trend in golf anime over the last few years, with its anime announcement particularly catching my eye after Hunter x Hunter creator Yoshihiro Togashi named it among his recommended manga of 2023. We caught up with the series executive producer, Masakazu Kubo to discuss this trend of golf anime, the series’ production, and how it can stand out to overseas audiences given its lack of official translations.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and relevance.

Q: With Oi! Tonbo, Birdie Wing, Sorairo Utility, and Rising Impact after its manga was serialized 20 years ago, what do you believe is with the current resurgence in golf anime?

A: Not only golf anime, but also many sports anime are emerging. It is difficult to make a sports anime without finding a program sponsor, but with the recent increase in the number of companies using athletes in their commercials, it is likely that sports anime is on the rise. “Tonbo” is sponsored by companies from various industries such as Softbank, TAISHO Pharmaceutical, Fujiya, KOSE, and ECC.

Q: Oi! Tonbo‘s main character is a child filled with wonder. One might argue that many of the characters that Mr. Kubo has worked heavily on – Tenma Matsukaze (Inazuma Eleven GO), Keita (Yo-Kai Watch), and Ash (Pokémon) – share many of these traits. How would you say Tonbo differs from the above characters? What makes her a unique character?

A: The unique storyline of the original manga and the fact that the series has been a long seller for 10 years make it a work with great potential. It has not been adapted into an anime, so I was eager to promote it.
The main character, Tonbo is an attractive character who is well-liked by elementary school students, based on my experience as an editor of a children’s magazine.

Tonbo! trailer

Q: Do you see any parallels between your production approach – having been involved in constantly reinventing long-running series – and how Oi! Tonbo‘s author and artist have ensured the story stays fresh and has continued to reinvent itself?

A: The main focus of the story, which will be released in its 50th volume on May 1, 2024, is not the main character “Tombo,” but Igarashi. The spotlight on sub-characters and the building up of new storylines are similar to creating new works in anime.

Q: You’ve actually been referred to as one of the people “most enthusiastic” about Oi! Tonbo anime. You’ve also been involved in other sports anime such as Kenichi with 50 episodes, and Inazuma Eleven and Pokémon with hundreds of episodes. The Oi! Tonbo manga is currently one of the longest ongoing series, nearing 500 chapters. As an executive producer, is there an appetite for the series to become a similarly long-running anime?

A: The three years of the story are depicted in 50 volumes, as the main character Tonbo grows from junior high school student to high school student as the volumes progress. The story is very dense and has the potential to become a long-lived work.

Q: One of the major developments in anime seems to be the growing internationalization of anime viewers and anime production: Crunchyroll’s CEO recently spoke about how they pitched Solo Leveling to Aniplex, for example, based on signals they were getting from a global audience. This was rather than Japan being the main audience. Do you fear that a trend of anime being created specifically for overseas fans may result in a loss of Japanese storytelling and Japanese influence on anime?

A: We are not concerned. Japanese animation is being rediscovered overseas, and we feel that there is still a lot of scope for challenges.

Q: The Oi! Tonbo manga wasn’t licensed abroad. So, in many senses, it’s like an anime original to overseas viewers, especially when compared to popular sports adaptations like Blue Lock, and popular adaptations more generally. How can you compete for the attention given that fans will have known these other series for years in advance?

A: I am not aware of other titles because the fan base differs depending on the title.

Because of the strong originality of the title, I feel that there are no rivals.

Q: Naturally, Oi! Tonbo isn’t actually an anime original. It’s adapted from a manga. Were there any difficulties in adapting the manga to an anime? Was there anything you think the staff struggled with?

A: There are many advantages to using manga as animation. The manga series was designed with a “pull” in mind, which is similar to and compatible with the 30-minute animation technique. I believe it is important for the staff to have a spirit of exploration to create something good. In this sense, I think it can be said that any work is a struggle.

Q: Jin-Gu Oh is directing Oi! Tonbo. Both of you have worked on similar franchises such as Beyblade and Inazuma Eleven, albeit sometimes at different times. How did he join the series and what are you confident in bringing him into the series?

Director Jin Gu Oh

A: Although he had little experience as a director, his personality matched the title. Since the theme of the animation is sports, explanations are often given through actions, so there is no need to worry about the language barrier that may cause differences in expression or intention.

Q: How was the dynamic between Mr. Oh and scriptwriter Mitsutaka Hirota, as well as the culture of staff on the production generally?

A: Both are inexperienced golfers and often have trouble expressing their enjoyment/explanation of golf, but they work well as a team.

Q: Recently, some anime industry figures said that producers should be front and foremost. After all, producers seem to be involved in most/all aspects of the anime. They’re a big part of the success and also the failure of a series. How would you describe your day-to-day role, and how is it integral to the success of an anime series?

A: I am involved in all aspects of the work, including planning and production, reading scenarios, communicating with the original side, participating in postrecording, negotiating with sponsors, and being involved in music-related matters such as theme songs.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about producers?

A: Producers tend to think that the scope of their work is only the money and rights part, but in reality, they are involved in all aspects of the work.

Q: Do you have any plans for the future, regarding yourself or the series that you’ve worked on? You’ve previously worked on titles such as History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi, which is approaching 10 years since the end of the manga and final OVA episode.

A: In fact, I am currently writing a script for an original work, which I hope to release around 2027, so please look forward to it!

Q: Ahead of Oi! Tonbo‘s broadcast, what’s your message to fans?

A: This work is the story of a girl living on an isolated island who challenges the world. It breaks down conventional concepts and depicts a new image of a golf player. We think of her like the Shohei Ohtani of the golf world, so please take a look and enjoy.

©Ken Kawasaki & You Furusawa/Tonbo Project
©Ken Kawasaki & You Furusawa/Golf Digest Sha

The Tonbo! anime is streaming on Amazon Prime, It’s Anime, ADN (Germany, France), AKIBA PASS TV (Germany), aniverse (Germany. within Amazon channel), Jonu Play (Spain), Anime Generation (Italy, within Amazon Channel), Spacetoon (Middle East). Bilibili (Brunei, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia), Wavve (Korea), Tving (Korea), Watcha (Korea), Naver Serieson (Korea), Bflix (Korea), iQIYI (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Timor-Leste), CubMu (Indonesia), MyVideo (Taiwan), KKTV (Taiwan), HamiVideo (Taiwan), LiTV (Taiwan), Line TV (Taiwan)

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