Interview: BLAME!’s Hiroyuki Seshita and Tadahiro Yoshihira

The movie adaptation of Tsutomu Nihei’s BLAME! premieres worldwide on Netflix today and there’s just one thing that its co-directors want you to know: That this is a reboot of the original manga, scripted and storyboarded by Nihei himself.

Don’t take that as a means of deflecting, um, blame, should the reception be poor. Rather, it comes from a position of gratitude and awe. Everyone involved in the movie’s production are huge fans of the manga, and Nihei – who also gave us Knights of Sidonia and Ajin: Demi-Human – was very much an enthusiastic team member right from the start.

We had the opportunity to speak with director Hiroyuki Seshita and co-director/CG supervisor Tadahiro “Tady” Yoshihira in a roundtable organized by Netflix. Unfortunately, each outlet only had time for three questions, which is a shame as we would have loved to hear the duo’s thoughts on CG in anime. In any case, here’s what you need to know.

The manga is a cyberpunk classic beloved around the world

BLAME! (pronounced “Blam/Buramu”) is a cyberpunk manga released in 1998, the debut work of Tsutomu Nihei. It quickly gained a reputation for being vastly different in terms of story and scale, with panel after panel dedicated to the protagonist’s silent journey through an unimaginably large, and growing, city. Yet this isn’t a sci-fi metropolis bustling with activity; it’s a cold, bleak, and derelict maze where humans, or what’s left of them, are no longer welcome. In short, humans have lost the ability to interface and control the city’s AI, and are thus exterminated as illegal residents – except that was generations ago.

That time difference is what separates BLAME! from other renowned cyberpunk manga, such as Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell.

Ghost in the Shell is a great classic and we have lots of respect towards it ourselves but we think of it as a very different setting,” said Seshita. They explained that where GitS is set in the near-future, BLAME! is so unimaginably distant that it blurs the line between future and past (think Horizon Zero Dawn). Despite it all, the basic human elements of love, friendship, and survival – the theme of Nihei’s work – persist, and that’s what they tried to capture in the movie.

This is an original reboot by Tsutomu Nihei

As mentioned earlier, the creator of BLAME! has been a central member of the team since pre-production, meaning this movie isn’t an interpretation but original work. Unsurprisingly, their biggest challenge was figuring out which part of the story to adapt into a two-hour movie. Whatever they picked also had to appeal to fans and newcomers alike, some of whom may never even have heard of the series before.

Yashihiro said: “It was important for us to create something that would appeal to both [audiences]. We are not just taking a classic and recreating the same, we need to restructure and give it a new life.”

The two joked about how the staff each had their own idea for BLAME!’s direction, quoting lines such as “No, this is not my version” or “No, this is not what I think BLAME! should be” as examples.

As for Nihei, they described his involvement as being more collaborative than directive.

“He’s very detailed,” explained Seshita. “Not to the point where he’ll instruct each edit or cut but he was [much more involved] than you would imagine.”

“He wasn’t someone who would say ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘I approve’ from the outside, he was much more like one of us,” agreed Yoshihira.

Seshita went on to describe how Nihei would bring in plenty of concept drawings and sketches while they were busy working, so much so that he thought it could have filled a book. It has, and if you were to look through its pages, they said it’ll be clear how much of Nihei’s vision managed to translate to film.

“It was very fun to work with him and we enjoyed it a lot.”

Killy isn’t the protagonist

The solution to the story dilemma lay in shifting perspectives. The events of the movie are largely seen from the point-of-view of the Electro-Fishers, a group of human villagers who crosses path with Killy during an expedition. By contrast, it was Killy who carried the story in the manga.

“This was very much Nihei’s wish and what we intended to do with the movie as well,” began Seshita. “In the original manga, the story was quite complex and intricate. It was hard to understand sometimes. What we wanted to do with the movie this time was to make it more accessible and easier for people to understand and follow the story.”

Pipes make The City

Given the architectural marvel that is The City, we asked what their biggest challenge in recreating it was.

“The pipes,” Seshita laughed.

“The pipes have great importance in what Nihei depicted in the original manga. There are an infinite number of pipes that spread all over the world and pipes can be a very mechanical thing, but in the [sci-fi] world, it can also be a metaphor for many different things.”

Those metaphors have a pattern to them too, it seems. One way of looking at it is as a network of blood veins or neural pathways, or to see it as a massive forest full of trees. Either way, it’s about humans moving within huge, organic systems, and we reckon it parallels the city being alive – it’s constantly expanding, after all.

“From a CG point of view, we basically tried to create this [endless] thing that reaches out to the horizon,” said Yoshihira. “We really enjoyed the process.”

Other fun snippets

These aren’t exactly on a need-to-know basis but the roundtable interview did offer some other fun bits of information.

On the directors working with each other again:

“[…] Yoshihira understands my vision,” said Seshita. “Since he’s also the CG supervisor, he makes sure to bring out the talents of [our artists]. I think he did a very good job at that.”

“This was the second time for me to work with director Seshita,” said Yoshihira. “I was a little bit more relaxed and was able to think about “He’s going to like this” or “I’m going to surprise him with this” or “He’ll be the first viewer to see this piece of work.”

On working with Takahiro Sakurai, Killy’s voice actor, once again:

“We loved his work in Knights of Sidonia,” said Seshita. “It was Sakurai who played the role of Killy [in the short teaser] so we made him an offer [for] the movie as well.”

“Obviously, it was a choice made based on his great talent, his acting skills, and his wide range of expressions. And also the fact that that we wanted to hear the character Killy with that very low tone of voice that’s uniquely [Sakurai’s],” said Yoshihira.

“We also want to apologize to him. Although he’s the lead character, [he doesn’t get a lot lines].”

On their first encounter with the manga:

“[…] I was actually working on the Final Fantasy film [The Spirits Within] as an art director at the time. I was in Honolulu,” recalled Seshita. “[It] was all of my fellow workers, artists, and creators that were saying, ‘Oh my goodness there’s this hugely original piece of work that came out’ and everyone was talking about it.”

“I was 20-years-old when it first came out,” added Yoshihira. “It was a time when I was inspired by a lot of these cool things that were coming out, and [BLAME!’s] aesthetic was very stylish to me. It had a big influence on what I wanted to do in the future.”

On fan theories that Knights of Sidonia and BLAME! share the same universe:

“When you have a very iconic creator, people look for links between different volumes of work,“ suggested Seshita.

“In terms of whether the story is related between the two, we have not clearly stated that there is a definite link there,” chimed in Yoshihira. “There may be – there are essences or hints that are scattered around in the movie, so it’s something that the people who watch can imagine and enjoy, we think. Obviously, things like Toha Heavy Industries and the Gravitational Beam Emitter, things like that, those appear in both stories. It’s a part of the huge world that Nihei created.”

Catch BLAME! exclusively on Netflix.

Ade Putra

Ade thinks there's nothing quite like a good game and a snug headcrab. He grew up with HIDEO KOJIMA's Metal Gear Solid, lives for RPGs, and is waiting for light guns to make their comeback.