INTERVIEW: Composer Shiro SAGISU is thrilled to be working on Bleach again
Bleach is back with Bleach: Bloody Thousand Year War, and composer Shiro SAGISU couldn’t be happier to return to what he calls his life’s work. SAGISU has written the music for dozens of anime, ranging from evangelization at Berserk—and with the relaunch of Bleachhe spoke to United States about his early love for music, how he approaches his composition, how he would like his fans to follow him Twitter and even what he thinks of the title United States. And check out the Bleach soundtrack here!
Otaku USA: How did you get interested in music?
Shiro Sagisu: There are two big things that made me love music. One thing is that about sixty years ago, in my neighborhood, there was a Catholic monastery. So there, I learned to play the violin and the piano when I was four or five years old. It was very rare in Japan at the time that there was even a Catholic monastery. The second reason, which is also a very rare situation, but my father was a mangaka and he also owned an animation and special effects studio. So he was a bit like the Walt Disney of Japan. So growing up in that environment, I had a studio right next to my house and there were people working on entertainment day and night, coming in and going out. So I was born into an entertainment industry situation. I think those two unique situations that I was born into really helped me develop my love for music.
You have composed character themes. How do you approach composing music for different characters in BLEACH?
When I have to think of characters in songwriting terms, I tend to start with whether that character is male or female. And then from there, rather than thinking about the personality of the character, I tend to try to think backwards about the personality of the character. Kind of like, if there was a very happy character, how does that person have a dark side? What is the dark side of this person? Because it’s important to know that everyone has two sides and their personality, and it’s important to know the side that they usually don’t show. Because especially in anime there are often times where the music shows what the character is thinking of doing next rather than what the character is doing in the moment or thinking in the moment. It’s important to use the music to describe what the character may be thinking of doing next or what’s coming for the character next and what the character’s thoughts are.
How long do you need to write your compositions? How long does it take for a complete TV series, and what was the case for BLEACH?
I want to do my best at all times. Bleach was particularly long. It’s a very long series, and it’s a very, very long process to write all the music for Bleach. Sometimes, if I’m really, really focused, I’ll write music for twenty-four hours. So at that time there is no long or short, because there are only twenty-four hours in the day. I constantly think about the music I write. I am very animalistic in the sense that I write. I don’t really think about how many courses the anime could have, or how many episodes the series could have. I’m constantly thinking and trying to release as many songs and as many as I can for the show. specifically for Bleach, it’s my life’s work. I try to give everything I can to the show and the show’s music.
Generally, how much freedom do you have to write music for an anime, and what is the director’s part responsible? What was the case for BLEACH?
I believe that the most important part of any play, whether it’s an action movie or an animated movie or any type of soundtrack, the relationship between the director and me is the most crucial part in songwriting and soundtrack. It’s very important for me to develop a good relationship and a good connection with them, and to hear directly from the director what kind of piece he is trying to make. For me, I make music very freely, so it’s very important for me to say exactly how I can get that freedom from the director. If we’re talking from the director’s point of view, the more freedom they give me, the better songs I’ll end up writing. Especially for Bleachthey gave me a lot of freedom and I am able to do a lot of things on my own. Bleach itself is my life’s work and it is my life itself. It’s very important to me to be able to write the music the way I want, and I feel like when I have that freedom and can write it the way I want, it’s better for the show. of Bleach as well.
How does it feel to go back to BLEACH after all these years?
I’m very, very excited. But I also feel very relaxed at the same time, kind of like I’m coming home or to a room that I really liked. It’s a bit confrontational because I feel comfortable but also excited. It’s a pleasant feeling.
Can you tell us any stories about the revamping of the Japanese national anthem for the 2020 Olympics?
Generally, for American or European national anthems, they tend to arrange it according to the event they are using it for. I’ve always been jealous that they were able to do that. This time, when I needed to arrange it for the Olympics, I realized that the Japanese national anthem was very short and it was a very harsh song. It’s kind of like this big solid rock. There’s not much you can deal with. It was therefore very difficult to try to arrange this song in the modern Olympic aesthetic. I did everything I could to make that happen, to add that modernity to the song. Usually there is a very large audience for the Olympics, but due to COVID there was no audience. It was very strange for me, even in rehearsal, to perform this piece in an empty room. It was a very strange feeling. Looking back now, I feel like the arrangement of the solemn national anthem matched the silence of the empty hall.
Is there anything you would like Western fans to know about you and your music?
One thing I really want my fans to know is that my fans and I are constantly connected. Twenty or thirty years ago, it was hard to imagine the world we live in now. Thanks to social media, thanks to the internet, we can all be constantly connected at all times. So if there’s something I’d like to voice my opinion on, or a song or sound that I want everyone to hear right now, I can post it and share it with the world immediately. It’s a very strong bond to have with my fans. I would like to use that and make sure my fans and I are connected in a really strong way. I also have a Twitter, so I would like my fans to follow my Twitter. It’s a very special situation for Japanese composers, but I travel a lot, whether in America or in Europe. Especially in Europe, whenever I write my name on anything, whether it’s in a hotel, restaurant or post office, people recognize my name and often talk to me and say, “This are you the one who writes music for Bleach.” I can always answer any questions fans may have, so I would like fans to talk and talk to me more every time they recognize me.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Yes. The name United States shows how much respect and interest you have in Japan and I feel a lot of respect for people like you.
Danica Davidson is the bestselling author manga art for beginners with artist Melanie Westin, plus her suite, Manga art for everyoneand the first manga chalk book of its kind Manga Art Chalk, both illustrated by professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out his other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.