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XFLAG×SCANDAL: An interview about the original animated short "XPICE" | The themes of "courage and understanding" and "battling together" expressed in music × video

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview H3BreUF

"XPICE," the original animated short sent out via the collaboration between XFLAG and all-girl band SCANDAL, is out on YouTube.

It features the star hero Red Pepper and rookie hero Wasabi. Wasabi, who possesses a healing ability but has lost confidence due to the gap between herself and the image of a hero she has in her head, takes action when her comrade's in trouble――That is the rough outline of "XPICE."

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview HcCovpD

With the themes of "courage and understanding" and "battling together," this animation that depicts the success and growth of the heroes features no spoken dialogue but the fusion of music and video makes it a moving work.

We held a discussion between SCANDAL, the band in charge of the music, and "XPICE" producer Hiroaki Kato.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview SHmUU36


What are the themes of "XPICE"? And the reason for offering the job to SCANDAL...


――Please tell us how this project began.

Hiroaki Kato: My company's main content is the mobile game "Monster Strike," and this project began as a result of wanting to create new content that could be delivered to the world in a different way. We first decided to start with something short, and we thought about doing a 4-5 minute animated short with no dialogue.

We realized that the power of music is indispensible for expressing what you want to convey, and after talking it over with the director and team we thought that it'd be better to express it in a form that resembled a music video.

――Is that when SCANDAL became a candidate?

Kato: Though we're borrowing the power of music, we knew exactly what we wanted to draw and express, and that was "courage and understanding" and "battling together." SCANDAL was the first band that came to mind when we thought about how it'd be great to work with an artist who understands and expresses those themes, so we immediately made them an offer.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview QPt0IhU

――You were a SCANDAL fan to begin with, right?

Kato: Yes. I've been been as a fan since their 5th album STANDARD (released in 2013). Also, when I listened to their 6th album HELLO WORLD (released in 2014), I was quite shocked.

This album features solo songs with each member writing their own music + lyrics and doing lead vocals for. I was fascinated by this individuality and how wide their range of expression is.

I've been listening to them since then, and last year I saw them live at Victor Rock Matsuri 2019. When I heard "Masterpiece," it made me realize how they keep evolving and that they'd fit the theme of this short.

――While each member has their own distinct personality, they produce a great power when they come together as a band, and that certainly matches the project. SCANDAL, what did you think when you received the offer?

HARUNA: Just like what was just mentioned, he presented us with a very passionate offer.

He knew our songs and told us that our individual strengths would match this project.

We were happy that, on top of knowing our personalities, he gave us this offer. Also, above all we were happy that he named SCANDAL [as the band to go with].

――You certainly didn't have a reason to decline it.

HARUNA: Not at all. At the initial meeting they showed us the storyboard and the character profiles in detail, which also made it easy to imagine how it'd turn out.

TOMOMI: When we were shown the storyboard, we knew what it would be about and that it'd be perfect for our current era.

Although they're heroes, they aren't overwhelmingly strong but instead carry their own complexes. We sympathized with how they're battling enemies while grappling with their inferiority complexes. In this current era we must live our lives while acknowledging a wide variety of things such as racial discrimination, so it was exactly what we wanted to see right now.

That's why it really rang true for us, and why at the meeting we considered it to be an honor to be able to do this together.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview 4vASzo4

――MAMI wrote the music for "SPICE" while RINA wrote the lyrics.

MAMI: Like what HARUNA said, I first and foremost was happy that they chose us.

During the meeting I already had the image of the song in my head, so that was also very easy to understand. I was able to write it smoothly since the song that they mentioned as a reference was also a tune we're good at doing.

RINA: There was a clear message I wanted to convey when we heard about the story during the meeting, so I thought it'd be great if the lyrics could play a role in this story of an animated short with no dialogue.

But because of the animation, I think I was able to put the message directly into words. It was very rewarding due to how exciting it was; the people on the "XPICE" team were enthusiastic and warm-hearted; and above all, I was happy that they sought out our music. Ever since that meeting we were so excited to make this with them (laughs).

――This truly is a creative piece of work, but I heard that it had so much passion at its base, which had a lot of influence on every aspect.

RINA: At that meeting they told us what was just mentioned, and told us why they wanted SCANDAL for this project and to add our music to this story.

They also showed us a video of the storyboard, and I wrote down lyrics as I watched it. At the meeting they said, "We also have an image of breaking out of one's shell and leaping out into the world," which is why I put that exact line "Leap out of this confined world" in the chorus.

I jotted down the words that came up during the meeting and turned them into lyrics.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview 0m1WK9o

――I'd love to see the material [they showed you].

RINA: It was so impressive!

Kato: It's a little embarrassing looking at it now, but I think we put in all kinds of thoughts into it in advance.

RINA: That made me happy, though!

Kato: We also told them that a song we referenced was specifically what we were going for. If anything, I told them in words what the team and I were thinking.

Also, the production team and I got to see SCANDAL perform live a few days before that. The words conveyed during the planning meeting were written again after watching that performance...

At that show, HARUNA said, "We're all walking the path of life together, so come see us if you feel down or depressed." The nuances might have been a little different than that, but I thought that what she said was really cool.

I wanted to make a work that would inspire me to support the people who see it, so I was inspired by HARUNA's words and compiled the material in my own way.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview QAg8mXL


What kind of thoughts did SCANDAL put into "SPICE"?


――You mentioned earlier that you had the story and storyboard video done, but did the animation production start before the song's production?

Kato: The actual CG work was done after we talked to SCANDAL, but we started building the worldview and story in advance.

MARZA ANIMATION PLANET, who did the animating, and Spooky graphic, who did the character designs, were originally partners who we worked with on the "Monster Strike" anime, and to an extent we all shared the same image of what we wanted to make. So, we were going ahead with what we could do.

So, although it was at the storyboard stage, we made a video storyboard and showed them the story and development.

――What was it like when you received the song?

Kato: I was so impressed at how cool it was. Originally, we told them as a reference that what we wanted was close to "A.M.D.K.J.", and they made us a new song that closely follows the story.

It really does straightforwardly convey the message that we wanted to convey. When we received it, we immediately put it with the video storyboard. I was so obsessed with it and felt that the video's appeal increased. The entire team was impressed and so grateful.

MAMI: "A.M.D.K.J." is easy to understand, and since we wanted to make something new for ourselves as well, I took those flavors into consideration and made it quite freely while taking a look at the short's images and material (laughs).

Personally, I wasn't all too serious about it, but I wanted to make a song that has both yin and yang to it. When I started writing it, I was able to go all out with writing the demo for it.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview 9xYjPnH

――It certainly has a pretty heavy sound to it. What did you take into consideration, performance-wise?

TOMOMI: Sound-wise, we aimed for our classic sound. Also, the speed of it; I made my bass hum while imagining the sound flying through the air (laughs).

RINA: The finished song puts the rhythm section at the forefront, with the drums also being very dense and powerful. Like the bass, the speed is important but it also feels dense.

MAMI: The guitar tone is done with the same equipment we've used so far, but the chord progression feels like nothing we've done before. We're using pretty stylish chords like a seventh chord.

Also, I play while paying attention to my ensemble with HARUNA. That was done by Keita Kawaguchi, who has arranged our songs for a long time. The Kawaguchi-ness of it is amazing (laughs).

HARUNA: It contains our classic band sound and effects done to the vocals. By doing so, we thought that we could get closer to the sound and the animation.

We thought it'd be great if it could reach a variety of people, such as anime fans who don't usually listen to bands, so that's what we took into consideration.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview 7l62HHY

――It's true that the video has a digital feel to it, so it might feel familiar to some. As for the lyrics, how did you interpret them?

Kato: I was so moved by the line "Tears are the best spice." We created this worldview and characters using spices as motifs, and they interpreted it in the way that they did and expressed it so tenderly!

I was happy that they got close to each character and really expressed them, including their weaknesses. It's such a powerful, tender song.

――It was probably easy to write it in this theme of moving forward while each person faces their weaknesses and complements one another.

RINA: Yes. Like what TOMOMI talked about earlier, amidst the human rights issues and gender issues going on in the world, we continue to be band while considering things like that as part of our identity as well. That's why we could include that into the lyrics.

There are people of various races and religions among our fans, so we hoped that this song could reach those people as well.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview KN5rLSi


Pay attention to the deep worldview of "XPICE," and the future Spices!?


――Please give us your thoughts on "XPICE," which is a combination of your own music with an animated short.

HARUNA: To start with, we were shocked at how beautiful the short is. Since it started from a video storyboard, we were shocked at how such amazing animation came about! The lyrics take the place of dialogue, which is what we said ourselves, but we were impressed at how well they match it. I cried a little (laughs).

MAMI: The quality of the animation is simply amazing; I was pulled straight into this animated world. I don't why, but I cried too!

I thought that this work matched us as a band and our own individual thoughts. Stuff like the billboards and passers-by are so detailed. You can enjoy it over and over again!

TOMOMI: I don't meant to persist, but I also cried (laughs). You can feel the kindness of it, and you can feel the characters' changes of heart very clearly.

The colors and details are so stylish, cool, and beautiful. Wasabi-chan's final attack is also very beautiful. I wanted to take a picture of it! It was wonderful! I also felt like I could smell scents coming from the video.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview GznfK28

――It certainly has a big sense of reality.

Kato: We were particular about that. Characters are expressed in distorted ways in fictional worlds, but this is a world where characters are properly living and breathing. Since we wanted to express that in reality, the entire team worked hard on the finer details.

RINA: I watched it again while on the train and almost cried (laughs). I was surprised at the delicacy of the character's facial expressions. Their feelings are very much conveyed.

This made me feel once again how great touching animation can be. I thought it was awesome that the townscape doesn't give off any nationality and could be in any country.

I heard that this work combines cutting-edge CG technology and the feeling of hand-drawn animation. Despite it being cutting-edge, it has roundness and warmth, and the animation has a human touch to it. The message permeated the very animation itself.

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview RyZmXAn

――SCANDAL also appears in it.

RINA: That made us so happy!

MAMI: We were so touched.

HARUNA: We made something ourselves that looks like the poster of us hanging in Wasabi-chan's room (laughs).

――Regarding video production, did you put "SPICE" into the original video storyboard and complete it while making further changes?

Kato: Yes. When we received the song it already matched the video storyboard we had. Based on the impressions we got from the song, we fine-tuned the facial expressions and gestures. After that, we matched the timing of video switching to the sound, which felt good.

What we got from the song was the work's climax point where Wasabi awakens and is surprised by her own power.

Actually, she originally was going to stand up quickly, but as the band sings the line "I don't know what I can do" at that exact point in time, we decided it was better to make it a scene where she was testing her power to see what she can do now.

I hope Wasabi's expression comes off as her gradually gaining confidence she didn't have before.

――Depending on the timestamp, the lyrics really flow in well.

Kato: I wonder if there was a synergistic effect beyond what we initially thought. We considered the theme of the work itself because we wanted to depict the importance of working together with different forces, and we also wanted to embody that in the project itself.

I wanted to prove that the result of our companies working together as partners, including SCANDAL, and the strengths of many people combined, and that we could turn out something amazing. I hope we were able to do so.

――What caught my eye during the ending are the friends of Red Pepper and Wasabi. Could you tell us about them?

Kato: One is named Garlic, and the other one―the girl―is named Mint. If we get the chance, we'd love to make a story that includes them.

――There are so many kinds of spices, so it seems like you could keep expanding the story.

Kato: This was done as a stand-alone, but as the depth of the worldview and the conflicts that each character has were created after some planning, we could always make a continuation if we'd like to. So, I would like to keep making them (laughs).

――By the way, what kind of Spices would you like to see in the future? Of course, this does not mean they'll be official.

RINA: Ehー! That's hard to say!

MAMI: By "Spices," does that apply only to heroes?

Kato: No, the villains also have their own characteristic spices. The green and purple-colored enemy in the ending is named Shiso.

All: (laughs)

MAMI: A villain with the name "Garam Masala" would be cool (laughs).

TOMOMI: "Cinnamon" would be nice. But I'd really like to see a sequel [to "XPICE"]. I'm interested in so many things like learning about Garlic, and the cat that popped up in the middle of the animation.

HARUNA: My favorite spice is horseradish. It's a versatile spice that can be used in both Japanese and Western dishes. Plus, they could be Wasabi-chan's friend (laughs)!

RINA: I'm Googling spices/types right now; let's see... I'd like to see a character named Ginger.

Kato: Actually, we designed a character like that. We haven't decided on model reference sheets yet.

RINA: So there is a character named that! I would like to see Ginger.

――We're looking forward to seeing a sequel where these Spices play an active part!

spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview 39iLxaW

2011.7.3 AM2 2012.3.28 SCANDAL vs BUDOKAN 11.3+4 QAT Tour @名古屋 11.10 Happy MUSIC Live 2012 2013.3.3 SCANDAL OSAKA-JO HALL 2013 2014.6.1 HNL Ekiden & Music 2014 6.2 Fan Meeting 2015.4.25 HELLO WORLD @ Paris 4.26 London 4.30 Essen 5.15 Chicago 5.20 MEX 5.22 LA 5.23 Anaheim 2016.1.12+13 PERFECT WORLD 5.21 Welcome Fan Meeting 5.22 HNL Ekiden & Music 2016 5.23 Farewell Fan Meeting 8.21 SCAFes 2017.7.14 47 Prefecture Tour @茨城 7.15 水戸 7.17 東京 2018.9.5 Special Thanks @NY 9.7 SF 9.9 Anaheim 9.12 MTY 9.14 MEX 9.16 TX 2021 KFTD @Paris - London - Berlin 11.11 Toronto 11.13 NY 11.17 Anaheim 11.19 Dallas 11.21 Atlanta
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Shiroten Performer
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I'd like to see a character named Ginger.

...umm...fairly certain Ginger Spice is taken...

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TOMOMI: I'm interested in so many things like learning about Garlic, and the cat that popped up in the middle of the animation.
The... cat?  spice - Animate Times - SCANDAL × Hiroaki Kato's "XPICE" Interview 1f602 The randomness of this comment is so Tomomi LOL.

Am really glad the band is having fun doing all these little projects of theirs. Not sure if they could/would have done them if they were still with Sony.

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