This is a translation of an interview with Ryukishi07 that was posted to Visual Arts' online magazine Visualstyles in December 2020. Ryukishi talks about his past experiences working with Key and his upcoming visual novel LOOPERS.
Key Kinetic Novel Project Loopers Special Interview with Ryukishi07
The Kinetic Novel brand which birthed planetarian -Chiisana Hoshi no Yume- and Harmonia, is cooking up something new!
First up is Loopers planned to release in the spring of 2021. We’ve invited scenario writer Ryukishi07 to find out all about it.
Before we get to your new work, Loopers, I’d love to hear how you became involved with Key. Can you describe that sequence of events?
Ryukishi07: It started 20 years ago, as I was just playing their games like anyone else. I first found Air then went back for Kanon, and that’s how I became immersed in ‘nakige’ (crying games). I was impressed, especially by the heroines in Kanon that would still be really colorful characters if released today, and I thought “It’s okay to go that far in making your character traits!” I loved Key so deeply that those ideas would inspire me later in writing the characters for Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.
And then you would later team up with Key to make Rewrite. Did you get designated by anyone in particular?
Ryukishi07: I’m not sure about that, but I can say that there was a Little Busters! art exhibit in Akiba (May 2007), and I was invited to come take a look which was the first time they contacted me. With it being an invitation from Key, I excitedly said yes immediately, but I did wonder why they would invite me. Thinking back that meeting was possibly an interview in disguise, haha.
Ahaha, interview in disguise, you say?
R07: Well at the time, I had practically no connections with President Baba or other Key staff. So from their side, they may have wanted to know more about me before talking about work. That theory may not be far off, as the offer to work on rewrite came not too long after.
And after this masked interview and the job offer, you were in charge of Konohana Lucia in Rewrite.
At that time I was releasing a piece twice a year... I believe the offer came as I was in the middle of writing Umineko no Naku Koro ni, so I would not be able to write very much for other projects. But there’s an 8 month gap between winter and summer Comiket. I said I could join for the first half of that, so January through April.
Do you have any special memories or stories from the production period?
R07: I thought I would start by reading the manuscript for one of Tanaka Romeo’s heroines. But by the time I needed to get to work, those hadn’t been finished. In the end, I sat down with the setting reference material and had no choice but to start writing.
Ehh! You were the first to start writing on Rewrite?
Yes, but I had accepted the task, so I had to finish it. Being Rewrite, I was told that material could be rewritten if something came up, so I just started to write. When I finished the manuscript, I thought “I finished a job for a company I adore. I have no regrets in this life!” So after passing through the pearly gates, I’m back and get to write a new kinetic novel, so I’m doubly happy.
I’d like to hear just a bit more about Rewrite. So the heroine routes were in progress, but surely there was a true route, right?
R07: That was also partway done. I should maybe not say this, so cut it if you have to. The details around Akane were quite loose...and the details on Gaia and Guardian as organizations were also fuzzy. So I made up several things with the mindset that it could be changed if something went wrong. Though in the end, it was included pretty much as it was, haha. Part of the craziness of youth. It takes me back... It was fun.
So Gaia and Guardian were only loosely defined. I hear that there wasn’t much on Lucia either.
R07: That’s right. In the beginning there wasn’t going to be a Lucia. It was just Kotori, Akane, Chihaya, and Shizuru, but then Gaia would have two while Guardian only had one. I suggested adding one more, so that’s why I got to write Lucia and why I had a lot of freedom with her.
Since you started out as a fan of Key, did your impression change in any way after working with them?
R07: In short, it really didn’t change. When I first visited the main company in Osaka, I understood that it’s thanks to all the talented people that they make so many wonderful products. Of course I also saw some curious things such as a soundproof workroom like a karaoke box(for music composition etc). It had my imagination going, but it also felt like an atmosphere to help motivate people which impressed me. It’s natural a company that makes such great products has excellent people with Mr. Maeda being the prime example. And that’s also to the credit of President Baba.
Now then, I’d love to hear about your new project, Loopers. Can you first tell me about how the project came to be?
R07: It’s better to let the director Takada (Full name: Takada Kazuma) explain that.
Takada: Understood. I’m Takada of the Visual Arts project assistance department (企画進行室) and the director of Loopers. Loopers started as a story about treasure hunting, specifically it started out with the motif of geocaching which is a real-world form of treasure hunting game. From there we would have meetings discussing various details, and one time while discussing what could be in the treasure box, producer Okano Touya said “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a human finger in the box?”. That statement made a big impact, and that’s when the project really got off the ground. Of course, the core of Key is “crying”, so the concept for the project became [Treasure Hunt+Horror+Crying]. With a concept like that we knew we had to get in touch with Mr. Ryukishi07.
R07: Yes, the first I heard about it was [Treasure Hunt+Horror+Crying]. Crying is standard, and Treasure Hunting is a topic you won’t see often in novels today, and finally Horror. I assumed the reason they contacted me was for the Horror, but there was also the Treasure Hunt part. It sounded fun, so I gladly agreed to the offer.
So what were your plans for the story of Loopers?
R07: I’m known as a horror author but also a time loop author, so at the plot planning stage I had the idea of the same day looping over and over. Thankfully, I had been given plenty of time to knead the story, so throughout the plot stage we carefully talked things over as I was writing. If Rewrite was written with the energy of youth, Loopers is made with the seasoned knowledge of veterans. It might be the most carefully written piece of my life.
So a moment ago, we heard the unusual term geocaching. Were you familiar with what that is?
R07: I had never heard of it. When I first heard about treasure hunting, what came to mind was the buried gold of Tokugawa, haha. After that I learned what geocaching is. I installed an app and tried it, but I unfortunately couldn’t find any treasure. It could be that too much time had passed since it was hidden and someone had already found it. With something hidden in a city, someone could’ve simply thought it was garbage and taken care of it, but I got the feeling that not knowing whether there actually is a treasure or not is also a part of the pleasure of treasure hunting. By the way, in the story the game is called geohunting instead of geocaching.
And Loopers is being released in the form of a Kinetic Novel. What are your thoughts on Kinetic Novels?
R07: They have a length appropriate for finishing in one sitting similar to a movie, and in that time, you have a clear ‘kishōtenketsu’. I’m a fan of the neat sense of size they have.
Unlike normal ‘bishoujo’ games, it’s a feature of Kinetic Novels that they don’t contain choices that branch the story. How do you feel about that?
R07: I rarely make stories with choices. I think choices are to be used in places you want the audience to stop and struggle with the options. However, with Loopers I aimed for something you can read through like a movie, so I didn’t mind not having choices.
So to get to something that may be on a lot of fans’ minds. With it being a Ryukishi07 story, I think a lot of fans expect big horror elements. We did also hear stories about fingers in boxes, so what can we expect?
R07: To start, the finger in a box was an idea brought up that led to the concept of the game, so don’t take that the wrong way, haha. You’ll have to wait and see if there are actually fingers or other things in treasure boxes. For me, there’s also Key’s brand image to take into consideration, so I imagined about 70% crying and 30% horror feel. It would be inaccurate to go around calling it horror, so I prefer saying it’s mysterious, and the mysterious part has a lot of clues. Around the time you’ll think “Oh this is what’s going on,” there’s a true opening after which the story will focus on the crying part. I intended to have the horror feel quite downplayed. If I keep talking, I’m going to spill all the secrets, but I promise it’s not the type of story where you’ll be tensed up from beginning to end. It’s all right for kids to watch!
Just hearing that is a relieving.
R07: Of course I say that, but I was also fascinated by the finger in a box. There were times I got riled up and suggested some event but was told that was a bit much for Key’s style, haha. And even more, I did participate in real geocaching and would hate to misuse it like that. It would be a lot of problem if some person actually put a finger in a box, so I wouldn’t want to ruin the fun treasure hunt with grotesque details. Thanks to taking that direction, I think the story could be wrapped up beautifully.
Beautifully, okay? What do you mean by that?
R07: You can say stories have a balance between the orthodox and unorthodox. The orthodox has clear ‘kishōtenketsu’ and a good satisfaction after finishing. There are people who hate the orthodox for being stereotypical, but in actuality everyone likes the orthodox. If that wasn’t true, it wouldn’t be orthodox in the first place. Now the unorthodox, I believe it is when you put just a few cracks and bumps in the orthodox golden path. You wouldn’t have the unorthodox without the orthodox, and that’s why I said stories have a balance between the orthodox and unorthodox. Experienced Key fans may ignore an orthodox story for being too ordinary. That’s where I can bring the Ryukishi07 special spice--aka the unorthodox. I think therein lies the reason I was offered this project.
And because you handled that balance well is why you said the story was beautiful?
Yes, along with the refined techniques expected by Key fans and the promise of the orthodox, knowing how much spice to add was essential. They wouldn’t need me just to make a good story, yet they asked for me. Then I should look for the Ryukishi07 way to satisfy Key fans, right? Furthermore, this is following planetarian and Harmonia as a part of the Kinetic Novel series, so I must make people feel glad they read it as a Kinetic Novel. With that and the Loopers worldview in mind, I spent a long time adjusting the balance of orthodox and unorthodox, and it wrapped up beautifully. That is what I meant.
Takada: The plot that Mr. Ryukishi07 submitted beautifully fulfilled its identity as a Kinetic Novel and stayed true to the Key feeling. The balance made me appreciate his skill.
--So that is what you paid attention to as you were “kneading the story.”
R07: That’s right. To just make a macabre story or a shocking story is easy, but I was called in to be a writer for the Kinetic Novel brand which already has its own history. A grotesque story wasn’t the way to go. It needed to be a story that lifted up the comfort in [Treasure Hunt+Horror+Crying], and I wanted to answer to those expectations.
Next I’d like to hear about the world of Loopers. Starting with the protagonist Tyler, what type of guy is he?
R07: From looking at illustrator Mochizuki Kei’s art, people may think he is a cool-guy type of character, but in the story he's a straightforward, foolish, and cheerful boy who wears his heart on his sleeve. To summarize him, “When he’s quiet, he’s a stud but it’s ruined when he opens his mouth,” I guess. Even so, he’s incredibly positive and a passionate treasure hunter. He has a burning wish to find all treasure, not just in Japan, but the whole world. For this summer break, he’s running around practically every day with his smartphone in his hand.
And at the start of the story, Tyler meets the mysterious girl Mia, yes?
R07: Mia is like Tyler’s opposite in that she’s exactly what she looks like: a girl similar to a stray cat. But also like a cat, once she opens up to someone, she’s attached to them forever. She always goes to the extremes in terms of distances in her relationships, I suppose. For certain reasons, she doesn’t have much experience with other people, so it’s like she either sees you as family or a complete stranger. She’s a heroine that’s very important to the story, and for the mysterious beginning part of the story, Tyler really wants to know what she seems to know.
But Mia is also a part of the Loopers, right?
R07: Yes, in this world there are people who repeat Today over and over again. They are the group called the Loopers, and Mia is a part of that group. The group’s wish is to break out of the ever repeating Today and pass over to Tomorrow. The protagonist Tyler one day finds himself having become a looper but there are members who have been repeating the same day for over 10 years.
Repeating the same day for 10 years sounds like it would drain all your motivation.
R07: It would probably be fun for a time. However, the Loopers is not just a group for people in the same situation to lick each others’ wounds. They also train to be able to live a proper life when they break out of the loop. Worst case scenario, you commit a crime in the loop and it would never have happened the next day. But if it becomes Tomorrow without looping, that’d be a tragedy. The Loopers is also about letting people who have encroached on the territory of God to stay sane and someday return to being human.
Do they keep their memory between loops?
R07: Their memory is the only thing they keep in that world. For example, the contents of your wallet would come back, but any money you earned will disappear. But keeping your memory is also a problem. When you’re living the same day endlessly, everything will feel monotonous eventually. Also because everything goes back to zero, you can’t produce anything. If you write a novel, the pages will go back to being blank. It’s a very rough world for creators, haha.
What would you do if you were stuck repeating the same day over and over?
R07: I’m just an old man now, so I think I’d do fine in a monotonous world, haha. If you have the Internet, you got infinite entertainment, and you would have all the games made up till now. And with age, you can play the same game for longer, so you could just play forever. Role playing games would have the save deleted every day, so those might not work, but you can play action games forever. And for smartphone games, you would be able to get your free registration gacha pull every day… Wait, then any SSRs would be gone the next day, so that doesn’t work, haha. But as I wrote, I imagined what a hell it would be for younger people. Nothing changes, and you can’t make anything new. Wouldn’t that be unthinkably painful for kids? You wouldn’t even require food, so you might end up not eating for a long time. Imagining a world where you lose the joy of eating...that’s terrifying.
Bringing it back to Tyler and Mia, does Tyler bring any hope for bettering the situation?
R07: Yes, and this also relates to the treasure hunt that we’ve been talking about. When it comes to treasures, most people will think about what’s inside, but Tyler is a guy who finds meaning in the search itself. He also believes that “it’s only a genuine treasure hunt if you have faith in the person who hid the treasure,” but you can only prove that relationship of trust exists once you find the treasure. This is one of the great joys of treasure hunting and also a theme in the story, so look forward to seeing how these hunts affect the story.
If we switch directions with our questions. What relationships does Tyler have with the other Loopers?
R07: Key’s works often have close groups of friends, right? That’s at the heart of Mr. Maeda’s Little Busters!. They’re a little odd, but you become close, and then you have lots of friends. I thought it was important to include that aspect of becoming intimate with a group for Loopers. Tyler doesn’t just become trapped in the loop and meet mysterious people, no, he’s being welcomed into a group.
Takada: It’s essential that the title is in plural. Tyler’s comrades are very important.
To have an appealing group central to the story, it’s important to make the individuals appealing first. Was it a lot of work to bring it together?
R07: I suppose that’s true, but I was having fun from the point of deciding the cast’s personalities. While writing, I was thinking it’d be great if they all have their own quirks and get their time in the spotlight. It’s a lot of work, but for me it was more just fun to write.
Takada: Thanks to you, I feel this is the birth of characters that haven’t been in any previous Key works. Personally, I’m a fan of Leona.
R07: I think Joe leaves a big impression. I thought--if it was a Maeda work--there would be a muscle character like him, so I took the liberty of making one.
Since the names Leona and Joe came up, can you introduce the major members of the Loopers?
R07: First there’s the leader Simon who’s a university student. He’s a strange deviant. Not in any sexual way, but he deviates from other people in terms of being obscenely rich and having an instant photographic memory and such... If you wanted to describe him nicely, you could also call him a prodigy, haha.
What about Hilda with her eye-catching twintails?
R07: She's the type to frequently butt heads with others. As you might think from hearing that, she’s a frank girl. On the other hand, she’s easily spooked. The one to usually clash with her is the unfortunate Leona.
She looks like she’d be a delinquent.
R07: You would think so, but Leona is similar to a neet pretending to be a delinquent. From my side, writing someone who’s not actually bad act like a troublemaker was very endearing. Leona and Hilda have a fantastic relationship that was fun to write. At times I’d think “Get a room, you two!”.
So what about your favourite, Joe.
R07: As I already said, he’s a muscle character. His first thought when he got caught in the loop was that he would be able to train infinitely, but you can’t build muscle in the loop no matter how much you train, so he currently has lost all meaning in life.
Hahaha, that’s great! It’s like you know his personality just from hearing about the setting!
R07: Holly is a popular video creator. However, it doesn’t matter what kind of great videos she makes or how many likes she gets because it all goes back to zero. Of course that kills your urge to create, so she’s in a similar state to Joe.
Finally is the heterochromatic Ritapon.
R07: At first she was drawn to have glasses, but that clashed with Simon, so we removed them. She works as a manga author. No matter how much she draws, the pages are all blank the next day, so she’s steadily losing motivation. In that sense, she’s the same as Holly and Joe. For these three in particular, this loop world might as well be Hell.
And all these characters have stylish illustrations by Mochizuki Kei. Why did you pick her in particular?
Takada: The Kinetic Novel brand is also a place where we can experiment. It came up in discussions that it might not be the best to use Key’s traditional art style for a Ryukishi07 story, so we contacted Ms. Mochizuki Kei who has been garnering attention from young audiences recently. Ms. Mochizuki’s art has a strong style that can immediately be recognized as hers. Mr. Ryukishi07 is also a writer with a strong style. We expected a big chemical reaction from two such creators coming together.
R07: Ms. Mochizuki’s art really is stylish, isn’t it?
Takada: Not just stylish but she also weaves in ‘moe’ elements too which is impressive.
R07: Weaving together the feelings of cool and cute...that’s truly cutting edge. Some fans may associate the character art with super powered battles in a ruined Tokyo. I’m sorry to say, no one in Loopers has such abilities, haha.
What were your thoughts when you saw the first illustrations for the project?
R07: I simply thought “That looks so cool!”. Normally visual novels will have more cute art, but this solid art style fits perfectly for a group of youths hiding secrets.
--I hear you’ve put strength into the music for this title. Can you tell us more about that?
Takada: We have plans for 3 songs all performed by the same artist. I can’t say who it is yet, but it’s a vocalist from a unit which has been doing ending songs for anime lately.
R07: And I got to make requests for what kind of feel the music should have. For example, I asked for the opening to have a similar taste to the anime opening for Little Busters!
Takada: I felt the same. I believe it’s a perfect song for Loopers.
R07: I thought of Little Busters! a lot when writing the camaraderie of the Loopers, so I wanted to pay respect to that in the song. But even though I made a brazen request like that, I haven’t heard the song yet, so I’m looking forward to it being completed.
I want to ask about the core of the story. Can the Loopers escape the looping world, and are there other worlds? What happens in the second half of the story?
R07: To give one specific answer, it’s not about if they “can” escape but rather if they “will” escape.
And that means?
R07: I’ve explained how the looping world can get dull and monotonous. But on the other hand--if they escape--they lose their immortality and unlimited funds. For people who know everything that will happen around them, the unknowable Tomorrow is also frightening.
As you say, giving up a world where you can’t age or die would take some consideration.
R07: I believe there will be a trial version at some point, and I look forward to see how much of the Loopers world I can show off there. I’ve added just a drop of Ryukishi07 poison in there in the form of satire--not in the sense that the story is horror or suspense--so I hope everyone will enjoy it until the end.
Do you have a final message to the readers?
R07: As a Kinetic Novel, this piece is of a comfortable size and can be enjoyed in similar fashion to a movie. Also I was very careful with this: Loopers doesn’t have any character fans will find unpleasant. Basically, all the members are great people who should lighten up your day. And one final time for emphasis, Loopers is mysterious but not in any way a scary story! Please be confident and jump into the world of Loopers
- Despite “kinetic novel” being a generalized phrase in the west, it is a copyrighted term owned by Visual Arts. This is why it’s written in uppercase form and often referred to as a brand.
- A Chinese idea for describing dramatic structure similar to Freytag’s Pyramid