Intro to Music-Based Character Project Denonbu - Inside the Experience to Discover New Content
A Japanese-to-English translation of Ototoy's interview with Denonbu producers Takuya Negawa and Hiroaki Ishida
This is part of a This Side of Japan feature, Club Under Construction: Discussing Bandai Namco’s New Denonbu Project. You can return to it here. You can also check out previous issues of the newsletter here.
The original article was published Nov. 17, 2020 on Ototoy. The interview was originally conducted and written in Japanese by Ototoy staff writer Ken Nishida. It was translated to English by Ryo Miyauchi for the This Side of Japan newsletter as supplementary reading material. Please give proper credit when sharing.
Denonbu is the newest character project developed by Bandai Namco Entertainment that focuses on quality dance music. The project has been gaining more attention from collaborating with composers leading the club scene and casting idols and Vtubers as voice actresses. Ototoy interviewed the producers, Takuya Negawa and Hiroaki Ishida, to fully understand the world of Denonbu. We discussed Denonbu goal to create an experience that will lead to new discoveries—a must-read for both fans and newcomers!
Ototoy: How did Denonbu get started?
Negawa: Well, [Asobinotes] was built as a label to play around with music using Bandai Namco Entertainment’s IP. It’s different from a regular label that develops artists, and it was started with this idea of making remixes or cover songs by using characters. Of course, our company has IPs of other characters, but what we can do with them gets limited because of the rights. So we decided to make a new character IP so we can do things more freely, and that’s how Denonbu got started.
Ototoy: I see. What’s the concept behind Denonbu?
Ishida: First, we decided on a mixed media development based on music and events. We have Mika Pikazao-sensei doing the character design. For the music, we have many composers making something people can listen to as dance music. We’re making contents that fit the up-and-coming technologies that’s out right now.
Ototoy: Why did you want to focus on dance music?
Negawa: Because I like it [laughs]. I produced a club event with friends using character-related songs at a concept cafe called AniON. From then on, I thought it would be great if I could make some character content related to club music.
Ototoy: So the characters were created with dance music as the foundation. I think it’s fun and interesting that Denonbu is more open-minded with what you can do with 2D content. Why did you want to make it like that?
Negawa: This is my personal opinion, but I think there’s no need to put a limit when it comes to making 2D content. I am working with some guidelines, but it’s really loose. I was hearing about how, in the past, artists handed their new records to DJs for them to play. I think that’s more fun that way. Then, when Denonbu puts out a new release, I want DJs across the country to play it. It means a lot if you listened to it [laughs]. Instead of working with a strict rule, I think there’s something in having more and more users say “hey, Denonbu is great.”
Ishida: We’re an entertainment company, so we’re planning to grow using music. We want to take the lead on things like this.
Negawa: I want people to do a bunch of remixes, and to show that it’s OK for them to do it, I want to retweet already-done remixes on our official account.
If we could be the bridge to discover other great works
Ototoy: I see. How is the story and universe of Denonbu?
Ishida: It’s set in the near-future where technologies like AI and holograms have evolved. And there, denonbu [electronic music club] where you DJ and make music is becoming popular. The schools battle other schools as a club activity.
Ototoy: I see that each school has a different personality.
Ishida: We’re making things like the feel of the music different for each area. We’re changing the feel of the music based on the area and match it with the school, the backdrops and the rest of the cities. The reason why it’s set in Tokyo is because we wanted to show that they’re doing club activities throughout the districts. [laughs] It’s like a local competition.
Ototoy: How did you choose the personalities for each area?
Ishida: I wanted to make the Akiba units like the main characters. So the visuals are really like the high-school animes. Harajuku is based on kawaii, but we also put in some twists so it’s not all just cute. For Azabu, the music is based on the image of the wealthy and the “city” feel of city pop, and the characters look like the rich kids. Shibuya is supposed to be the top-rank school, and we’re collaborating with Vtubers for it.
Ototoy: Akiba has voice actresses from Dear Stage. Shibuya has Vtubers from Nijisanji. Why did you make voice actress for each area from different companies?
Ishida: Thinking of how to make each area have its own personality, I thought it would be fun to make all three from each area have voice actresses from the same company, so we chose the cast depending on how they fit the music. I wanted to stress teamwork from early on.
Negawa: Dear Stage is in Akiba, so we asked them. It would’ve been best if there was a company in each area, but things aren’t perfect like that. [laughs]. And there are some similar things with the Vtuber industry and club music.
Ototoy: Of course there are the voice actresses, but I think it’s fun that Denonbu also has idols and Vtubers as part of the cast.
Ishida: One good part about club culture is that you can discover an artist at a club who you would’ve never heard anywhere else. So I thought it would be great to mix cultures in that way. People can know about other works from following the voice actresses, and it can be the reason for people who aren’t into idols to learn about idol culture. It would be great if the Denonbu cast can be the bridge to discover other great things. It would be amazing if you can feel the culture and traditions of club culture from the project overall.
Negawa: When DJs mix songs, of course they play songs to pump up the crowd, but they also play music that they want to introduce. We want our work to play that role too. Like, a person getting into Kenmochi Hidefumi from listening to Denonbu, then they discover Wednesday Campanella. I think the opposite can happen too. It’d be great if there were brand new discoveries for the users.
Ototoy: Mixtures of scenes and one thing leading to other discoveries definitely feel like club culture.
Negawa: It would be great if we can do this with not just music but other cultures.
Ishida: Of course, it would also be ideal to incorporate things from not just the new but also past generations so people from all generations can enjoy it.
A story where they respect one another instead of crush each other
Ototoy: So we’ll talk now about the music of Denonbu. How did you make each song have its own personality?
Negawa: Akiba was planned to be introduced first as main characters, so I wanted people who came across it from other idol contents to not think “oh, this isn’t for me” when they heard the songs. But I also wanted to make it this four-on-the-floor dance music. We already decided on using like future bass for the sounds of Harajuku, so basically giving it a Harajuku feel. I wanted a stylish, ‘80s-like sound for Azabu, so we decided on a city-pop-like feel. Shibuya is more fancy, though it’s different from the original image. [laughs]
Ototoy: How was the response in releasing the music first?
Negawa: I was a bit worried before we released the three Akiba songs, but it all went OK! Each three is a little different, but each are high quality. I feel great that we were able to do that.
Ishida: It stands on its own as character songs, and it’s also great as dance music, so it was interesting to hear that you can visualize the image of the characters really well. They’re solo songs, and they can easily understand each character. I was happy.
Negawa: In the beginning, I was told by a project member that I shouldn’t do solo songs. But it’s easier to build the personality of each individual character that way, so I’m glad we focused on solo songs. I think that was what made it easy to understand the character image.
Ototoy: Lastly, what’s next for Denonbu?
Negawa: What’s streaming right now are solo songs, but we are also planning to do area songs.
Ishida: There’s a main story line, but the future concept is diversity, so I want to bring the story to where they compete among each other, but they realize “the other schools are also great” through these DJ competitions. There are multiple competitions throughout the year as part of the club activities, but I want to make it a story where instead of crushing each other, they respect one another.
Ototoy: Are you planning to do events in the future as well?
Negawa: We want to call on the composers for club events and have the voice actresses perform live. Right now, we’re thinking of how those performances should work. I want to also have a hologram at an event. It’d be great to do everything while tying up new technologies.
Ototoy: Are there plans to expand the areas?
Negawa: I definitely want to. We’re thinking of where. There were talks for Asakusa.
Ishida: Monzannakachou was also mentioned because the Bandai Namco Sound Team is there. [laughs]
Negawa: I also want to do Eurobeat, so I want to make an area for that. I want to choose one from one of the remixers. Maybe that’s what I want to do most. There are a lot of composers I don’t know, so it’d be great to call on any great people from there.
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