NEXT SMILE! Interviews CEO Takanori Aki!
From a talent agency in Matsudo to a company spreading pop culture worldwide.
For the GOOD SMILE NEXT project for Good Smile Company's 20th anniversary, the three person unit NEXT SMILE!, comprised of Miku Ito, Minori Suzuki and Yu Serizawa, visited Good Smile Company's Tokyo headquarters for a special photo introduction!
In the second half of this article, NEXT SMILE! interviews Good Smile Company CEO Takanori Aki about Good Smile Company, and how it is far more than just a figure company!
The first visit to Good Smile Company! The office is full of smiles, and is much different from the average company!
You can feel the excitement just from the entrance! Good Smile Company often uses this space for livestreams, but the whole floor features meeting rooms and free spaces for people in and outside of the company. NEXT SMILE! took a commemorative photo next to the Good Smile Company logo on the shelves, along with Wooser who happened to be nearby! Wooser, you're partly cut off in the photo... is that okay!?
NEXT SMILE! also took a look at the meeting rooms! Each meeting room features different decorations, and this meeting room is filled with Racing Miku figures and even a car bonnet from a previous Racing Miku car! As NEXT SMILE! imagined all of the different projects born from this meeting room, they gave us their best serious faces.
They also got a look at the production floor. This is where figure sculptors and painters do their work. While they observed the staff at work, you could hear them make surprised remarks like "How detailed!" and "So that's how that's made!"
Finally, NEXT SMILE! checked out one of the GOODSMILE Racing cars. Compared to NEXT SMILE!, you can really tell how big the car is! Did you know that Good Smile Company also competes in car racing? This car raced on the circuit in various races, and features the Hatsune Miku Racing Ver. 2019 design.
Now for an interview with Takanori Aki...!
NEXT SMILE! got a look at Good Smile Company from top to bottom, and now it's time for an interview with CEO Takanori Aki! So, what is the CEO of a figure company like? The girls donned some glasses and got ready to interview!
Takanori Aki: Hello, I'm Takanori Aki.
Miku Ito/Minori Suzuki/Yu Serizawa: Pleased to meet you!
Aki: Everyone is so energetic, it's great. Pleased to meet you too!
From talent agency to fishing supply shop...? The twists and turns leading to the hobby industry.
Ito: When was Good Smile Company founded?
Aki: Good Smile Company was founded 19 years ago in May of 2001. Next year will be the 20th Anniversary. We've been around probably longer than you thought!
Ito: 20 years...! Did Good Smile Company make figures from the very beginning?
Aki: Actually, we were a talent agency at first. I was a member of Banpresto at the time, and looked after the group's talent agencies. After those talent agencies were dissolved, a lot of people were saying, "I want to work with you, Aki!", so I decided to start my own company.
Serizawa: Incredible! That's such a happy story!
Suzuki: What kind of talent did you work with at the time?
Aki: At the time we had people like Tomokazu Sugita, Mikako Takahashi and Yumiko Kobayashi. But talent agencies really aren't profitable to start out with. Really, you just start with a dream of "This person is definitely going to become famous!" You need money for lessons and outfits, so in order to make money, I also ran a fishing supply shop.
Ito: So it started out as a talent agency and fishing supply shop?
Aki: Yes [laughing]. We made money with the fishing supply shop, and then made music videos and such. We did a lot of different things.
Ito: You say you did a lot of different things, is that how you transitioned into a figure making company?
Aki: At the time, we had Max Watanabe employed as talent at the agency, and he did work in the hobby industry. Over time, we started helping his business more and more. He now runs Max Factory, a very famous company that is representative of the hobby industry, and to back him up, Good Smile Company became more and more of a hobby-focused company. Now, Good Smile Company works with Max Factory as an associated company.
Suzuki: Good Smile Company has been working with Max Factory since so long ago...!
Aki: Yep! I didn't know anything about the hobby industry at first, and thought it was a really mysterious world that was off-limits to me. But Max Factory's products were incredible, almost as though they jumped straight out of the original illustrations they were from. It was through experience with them that I started to have more confidence in this hobby work.
Anime, games and car races! Good Smile Company—not just a figure company!
Serizawa: Do you think there is more demand for figures now than before?
Aki: I certainly think there is, and we're really trying to make sure that demand keeps going up. Many years ago, figures were even a niche thing in Otaku culture, or at least they were inaccessible for most. Nowadays with things like the Nendoroid series, anyone can buy a figure of their favorite character.
Serizawa: It's a pretty normal thing to decorate your shelf with figures now, isn't it?
Aki: Exactly. If you go look at different companies, it's perfectly normal to see a bunch of little figures lined up on their shelves. We worked in all kinds of ways to make it a normal thing to buy figures. We even made a commercial that basically just said "It's cool to have figures in your house!"
What are Nendoroids?
The Nendoroid series is a series of palm-sized articulated action figures made in a cute, original style. The series started in 2006 and now features over 1,200 entries as of 2020. Not only can they be displayed to look at, but they come with various face plates and optional parts to recreate different scenes, allowing for all kinds of ways to enjoy their charm.
Ito: Good Smile Company does much more than just make figures, right!?
Aki: Yes. For example, our associated company Ultra Super Pictures is a holding company with many different famous anime studios under its umbrella, like SANZIGEN ("BanG Dream! 3rd Season", "Sakura Wars the Animation" etc.), TRIGGER ("PROMARE", "KILL la KILL" etc.) and LIDENFILMS ("Woodpecker Detective's Office", "Blade of the Immortal", etc.). In 2017, we added Good Smile Film as another associated company involved in planning, production and promotion in the animation industry. In addition to doing promotion for series like "The Quintessential Quintuplets", they've worked with various different projects, and are a really reliable team. We also operate the smartphone games "Grand Summoners" and "Touhou Lost Word".
Serizawa: I've been in a commercial for "Grand Summoners"!
Aki: Thank you for your help! [laughing]
Grand Summoners 2nd Anniversary CM featuring i☆Ris
Aki: We've also been doing car racing since 2008. We've participated in the SUPER GT GT300 class and have become the series champions in 2011, 2014 and most recently in 2017.
Suzuki: We actually got to see a race car earlier! What got you started in car racing?
Aki: Usually our ventures start from being asked if we can do something, and then saying "OK, OK, let's do this together," and racing cars was no different. It takes a lot of money to participate in car races. You need to get sponsors in order to get that money... so in order to stand out on the circuit, there was a group of people that came up with the idea of taking an itasha (a car featuring anime and manga characters and logos) to the circuit. That group came to us for help, and we got on the topic of using a popular character like Hatsune Miku on the itasha. We were introduced to Crypton Future Media, and that's where the current "Hatsune Miku GT Project" came from.
Helping people achieve their dreams.
Ito: So you've been racing cars for 12 years now!
Aki: Our racing team has come to have a lot of fans. Someone that works on the racing team has a dream and vision for the team, so we can't just stop now!
Serizawa: How nice!
Aki: We're a company that supports dreams. That's something we've kept since the talent agency days.
Suzuki: So all of Good Smile Company's different business comes from supporting dreams?
Aki: Exactly. There are plenty of people in the world that are truly dedicated to their dreams, and I really understand that. "You can't achieve your dreams if you don't have one." is a pretty positive outlook, I think. No matter their age, people with dreams come to us. We talk with them, and if they're really truthful about their dream, we help. If not, then we build up a little distance between us. [laughing]
Serizawa: Is that something you know just based on intuition?
Aki: Yes, you could say it's intuition. When you ask things like, "Are you serious about this?", "How do you want to make this work?", "What kind of process are you think of?", "How long do you want to do this for?" and "What does success mean to you?", a truthful person won't hesitate, and even if they do, they'll give you an answer.
Ito/Suzuki/Serizawa: [nodding seriously]
Suzuki: That really hits deep down, the idea of turning your dreams into something tangible.
Aki: Yep, and once you turn it into something tangible, you can get feedback. Things like "That part won't work." and "This order of doing things won't work out." As you work through it day by day, your dream gets closer. Through that process you realize whether something is possible or not, and if it's possible then do it. If not, then you can always give up.
Ito: This almost feels like a social studies field trip.
Suzuki: I think I'm going to tear up!
Aki: I also think the work of a voice actress is quite tough. It's most difficult to decide when to retire from your job, and you can't just pick and choose when you want to give up on something. But in making your dreams come true, there are times where you have to choose whether to go forward or give up.
Starting from a factory on 30,000m2 of land and just 20 staff members in China.
Serizawa: Thank you for sharing that story. It was wonderful! Have there been any times where you've thought something was difficult in your own work?
Aki: To be honest, I've had luck on my side a lot and can't think of anything particularly difficult... There is probably something I just hadn't noticed it at the time. [laughing]
Serizawa: I guess it all depends on the way you look at it!
Aki: A long time ago, we made our first factory in China. To me it was our first big experiment. Even though I hadn't been to China that much, we were looking to rent out a big factory. In order to find somewhere large enough to fit around 3,000 people, we took a look around to 10 or so places with a real estate company. Since we had our big dream in mind, we ended up saying "This place is the biggest and the coolest," then and rented out a factory on a 30,000m2 plot of land.
Suzuki: I can't even imagine it!
Ito: 30,000m2 is how big...?
It's big enough that you could fit a racing circuit on it. We rented out the space and started work, but we only had about 20 staff members at the beginning. In order to get workers, we had to get a dormitory, but then there was nothing in the dormitory rooms so we also had to make beds.
Serizawa: That sounds like it cost a lot of money!
Aki: Right? Since it cost so much, we just bought the materials and made the beds ourselves.
A mission to blend the world's pop culture through the hobby industry.
Serizawa: Finally, tell us about what you have in mind for Good Smile Company in the future!
Aki: Up until now, helping other people and making things successful together has been our way of expanding our business, so personally there hasn't been much thought to what we want to do ourselves. As we've grown and gotten more experience, we're starting to see what Good Smile Company's role is in the world, if only just a little bit. What we've been doing now is mainly sending Japanese pop culture out into the world. For example, the work of voice actresses such as yourselves, new anime content and the figures we make—they're all things we as a company send out into the world. But not only that, recently we've also been focusing on the pop culture of other countries as well. For example, look at pop culture in China and the USA that is influenced by Japanese pop culture. There are animation and games produced abroad that have their roots in Japanese design, so we can take those and bring them back to Japan for Japanese people to enjoy as well. Through this process of different countries adding their unique colors to the mix, pop culture born in Japan can be enjoyed all across the world. Using the hobby industry as a medium, we can facilitate that expansion of culture in the world. Our team in Japan sends figures of Japanese characters out to other countries, while our China and USA teams do the same work for characters from their respective countries. In the end I think our mission is blending together all of the world's pop culture and sub-cultures.
Serizawa: That's deep...!
Aki: Through that, we can ensure that the creators who work by our side can continue doing what they love for a long time. When something gets a little popular and then suddenly ends, isn't it easy to forget about? I think if creators can continue doing what they love for many years, they'll produce even more impressive work, and everyone in the industry will become even happier. Series and characters that remain only in Japan tend to not have a long lifespan, so our role is to send those series and characters out into the world to make them even more popular.
Keep an eye on Good Smile Company in the future!
Ito/Suzuki/Serizawa: Please give a message to the fans!
Aki: [laughing] I don't know if Good Smile Company really has fans, but...
Ito/Serizawa: There definitely are!
Suzuki: There are fans right here!
Aki: Thank you, I'm glad to hear that. Figures are the best way to for us to help everyone enjoy their favorite things even more, so we're going to continue doing our best to make great figures, but remember that we're also working on anime, games, even a song made with NEXT SMILE! and livestreams too, so no matter where you are in the world, be sure to keep an eye on everything Good Smile Company does in the future. We'll be hidden in the background, starting to stand out more and more at our own pace.
Serizawa: That's the power of being in the background, isn't it!
Aki: Keep an eye out for when Good Smile Company really breaks out. That's when you know something new and interesting is coming.
Suzuki: We'll do our best as PR Ambassadors too!
Aki: Thank you! I'm excited to work together, let's do the best we can.
Ito/Suzuki/Serizawa: Thank you!!!
The music video "GOOD SMILE BRINGS FUTURE -NEXT SMILE!ver-" is out now!
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