Interview with Masamitsu Hidaka at Anime Expo

Masamitsu Hidaka was the original director of Pokemon up until around the Battle Frontier season, and also worked as the storyboard artist for many episodes. He worked on the first four movies, and still is partly involved with the new movies. Today, he mainly works on the storyboards for each of the Diamond and Pearl episodes, but is still involved in the show.

When I first heard several months ago that he would be attending Anime Expo as a Guest of Honor, I immediately registered as press so I would have the opportunity to interview him. Yesterday, I arrived at Anime Expo, picked up my press badge, then went over to the press junket area to interview him. Unfortunately because of a bomb threat at LAX (the airport), he was rather late, so I waited around for a while. I met other members of the press, including a translation company from Japan who has worked on shows like Code Geass. They came to interview him as well, so we were discussing what we would ask him. Because you are only allowed 15 minutes to interview each Guest of Honor, I asked the man in charge if I could possibly have more time with him or join up with the translation company for a 30-minute interview, but he said they would be following the rules very strictly. Basically, I would have 15 minutes with him alone, and then I’d be kicked out.

Mr. Hidaka finally arrived, and I joined him and his three translators in a private room. I explained I was the webmaster of PokeBeach and was representing the fandom and 11 years of questions, since this is the closest anyone has come to someone who works on the show from Japan. He seemed excited to answer my questions, so I began. Before I go into my questions and his answers, let me explain how the process worked. I would state my question, the translator would tell him what I was asking, he would give a long response, and then they would summarize his answer in a few sentences. So, the responses I post here are based off the translator’s summary of what he was stating, and are not too in-depth. Luckily, I recorded the entire interview and have a friend like Bangiras who can translate Japanese, so she is going to hopefully translate his full-blown responses at a later time if there is anything significant he mentioned.

So, I was representing the fandom, right? What has the fandom been asking for years and years? I asked him questions like: Will Misty ever return to the show? Who is Ash’s father? What is Ho-Oh’s significance to Ash? Was there any threat of Pokemon being canceled when the Porygon episode aired? Why was Jynx’s color changed? Who are the stars of the 12th movie? What are your feelings on Pokemon USA taking over the dub? Because the site was down this past week, I wasn’t able to collect questions from PokeBeach’s visitors, so I was basically asking him what I thought the fandom would want to know.

So, will Misty ever return to the show? His answer was a flat out no – not as a main character, anyway. If she is to ever return to the show, it will only be in a minor role as something like as a rival for a tournament, similar to May returning for a few Diamond and Pearl episodes. But no, “Kasumi-san” would never return as a main character again, unfortunately. I heard him mention “Pokemon Contests” in his response to my question, but the translator did not tell me what he meant.

Who is Ash’s father? This one made him laugh, since I asked it rather bluntly and simply. He explained Ash’s grandfather was a great Trainer who traveled the lands a long time ago, and Ash’s father followed in his footsteps and left. Then I asked if he would ever appear, and he responded that only if the writers felt a need to “grow” Ash as a character (personal note: we need some character development, please). He explained he was not a writer on the show and merely worked as the storyboard artist, so he had no control over what they put on the show. But, he said there is a possibility his father could appear one day. At least we know Ash has a father now, unlike other anime characters.

What is Ho-Oh’s significance to Ash? Is Ho-Oh Ash’s father (as some fans have theorized)? This made him laugh even harder. Ho-Oh, he detailed, is just a plot device to get Ash moving (I suppose like the GS Ball) and to show that he is special. Ho-Oh started Ash on his journey and was one of the reasons he went to Hoenn, and it is never seen by anyone. So, Ho-Oh is just a device to show how special our main character is for having seen it three or so times. Nothing more.

Although I knew the answer to this question, I wanted to see his response. I asked “How did your office react when the Porygon episode occurred?” Before the translator could even translate to him what I was asking, he was shaking his head and looking down. He stated that he thought some good came out of the episode airing, such as the fact that anime shows now have text at the beginning of each episode that states not to sit too close to the television. He also made it a point to mention that no one died, which I suppose is good for him. He continued to explain that the show was not in any real danger of being canceled, since the network was gun-ho about continuing it, though it did have to go off the air for a while.

Why was Jynx’s color changed? Again, I knew the answer to this question, but I wanted to see how he would react. He didn’t know what I was talking about, so I said “Roguella,” but I suppose I butchered the Japanese name to the point of him not understanding. He crawled over to my laptop and I showed him Jynx’s picture, and he was like “Oh!” He gave a rather lengthy response, and the translator basically explained that the Pokemon Company does not want anyone to be offended by Pokemon and does not want any negative attention, so they just decided to change its color as a political move. I forgot to ask whether the Porygon line would ever be in the show again after the Porygon episode, but I suppose this philosophy would answer that question – they don’t want the negative attention of Porygon appearing again and reviving old memories, just as they do not want negative attention with Jynx being colored black.

Now that I was on a friendly level with him, I asked who the stars of the 12th Pokemon movie would be. He sounded as if he was going to tell me, but then was like “Ah, I can’t! But it’s one of the new Pokemon.” I just laughed and said “Well duh it has to have a new Pokemon. Can’t you give me just a tiny tiny hint?” He sounded like he was going to tell me again, but then just said if he did, he would get into major trouble. So, I didn’t get anything out of him. He did say they have already started the next movie, though.

What are your feelings on the dub moving from 4Kids to Pokemon USA? He seemed confused, so I explained how the companies changed and the voices were completely different, and how it upset many fans. He just shook his head and was giving off a “that’s bad” vibe. He admitted he did not even know the voices changed, but he looked upset over it. I guess in Japan they respect their voice actors and can’t imagine voices changing, especially for actors who have worked on a show for many years, so he did not like the idea of what happened.

TIME’S UP! One of the Anime Expo employees popped their heads in and said I had to leave. I thanked Mr. Hidaka, but asked if I could have another interview with him. One of his translators told me I would have to go through the convention to do it. Unfortunately, the convention only lets you write down three specific times that might not work for the person you want to interview, so chances of me meeting this man again were slim. This wasn’t good enough for me.

I walked out the door and saw the translation group I had met in the press room earlier. The employee had walked away to escort someone else into an interviewing room, so they grabbed me and hid me behind them (there were five of them). They knew I was here to interview him for the fandom, so despite Anime Expo being strict about the 15 minutes, they were letting me in with them. I think we had a psychic connection going, because they knew what I wanted, and I knew they were going to do it. Since it was now their turn, they walked in and snuck me with them. I put my finger on my mouth and said “Shhh” to Mr. Hidaka and his translators, and they started to laugh so hard it wasn’t even funny. They knew if the employees caught me I’d get kicked out of the whole convention, but they were nice and let me stay to observe the translation group interviewing him. I recorded their session, but the translation group spoke in Japanese the whole time, so I only understood bits and pieces of what they were asking and what he was saying based off Mr. Hidaka’s translators telling me.

They mainly asked about the business aspects of Pokemon and the beginnings of it. Mr. Hidaka talked about how he played the Gameboy games before he went on the show and liked them a lot, but did not know how successful they would be in a real show. His job was to translate the characters from the games to the show, and he believed it worked rather successfully. He joked that he would have invested more in Pokemon had he known how successful it would be today and that he could be very rich right now. He also explained that after the first few seasons, he needed to start considering the international reception of Pokemon – he had to make the show more culturally generic. This might explain why the Japanese text in the show was replaced with blocky letters, and how much of the Japanese culture left the show (if you look back at episodes like “The Ghost of Maiden’s Peak,” when was the last time we saw Japanese culture that rampant in the show?).

Most of what else they asked and what he responded with I did not understand. The employee popped his head in to call them out once their 15 minutes were over, but luckily I was behind the door when he cracked it open. One of Mr. Hidaka’s translators stopped me as we were going out and asked me for my name and phone number. She said that she would talk with Mr. Hidaka about doing another interview later in the week outside of the convention, and that she would call me when she found out what times would be good for him. So, I will have the opportunity to ask more questions without being timed! If you have any suggestions for questions, post in this news story’s thread, and if the times he is available are good for me, I’ll go down to Los Angeles and interview him again with those questions!