The Embassy of Finland's twitter mascot Fintan becoming an anime series is the first time that a mascot of any embassy in Japan was featured in animated form. Made to commemorate Finland's 100 year anniversary, the anime was made in hope of further warming the relationship between Finland and Japan as we prepare to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of our countries' diplomatic relationships in 2019. The anime's first episode was released in February 2017, followed by the second episode in April, and the third and final episode released on September 15.
The Finnish embassy's twitter account, currently boasting over 132 000 followers, was opened in 2011, and was named Fintan the following year. Fintan's illustration was decided in the summer of 2012 by a public contest. The winning piece was drawn by Mr. Kenji Itoso, anime director and head of faculty and professor at Osaka Seika University's Department for Arts and Design. Having also directed the three Fintan anime series, Mr. Itoso gave an interview to the Embassy's press section, where he talked about his feelings and some behind-the-scenes stories.
Q. The third anime episode featuring the Embassy's mascot Fintan was released on September 15. How do you feel about the project overall?
A. Basically, when requested, I am always ready to accept all kinds of projects. When I was offered the Fintan animation project, I accepted it immediately, and from that point on, I kept thinking how to make the stories interesting. Story-telling is of course important, but the most difficult part was how to bring out Finland's 100-year independence anniversary through the anime series. The project was also important because it was, in many ways, different from what I have done thus far. I was worried whether the message of Finland's anniversary is conveyed to the audience. Now that the project is completed, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief, but in truth, I have yet to digest the whole project in full.
Q. You started by looking for production staff. Was the project challenging in the sense that Fintan was originally just a cartoon character?
A. I wanted to make the animation in 3D as the audience may include those living abroad. I had never done 3D animation before, but I wanted to do something that's different from standard animation.
I received tips from other people in the business and looked into how 3D technology can be used for video. The greatest thing was that the projects' 3D staff was very experienced, including a CG-director for many famous anime series, and thanks to him we were able to put together a talented staff. The character design, presentation and the quality of the entire project were exactly as I expected, and I feel grateful.
I have always liked gentle strokes, such as watercolor paintings. Anyone can make beautiful 3D footage with a computer, but it looks too perfect; flawless, but with no character. That's why I finished the animation by adding paper-like effects on top of the 3D data.
Q. So it was not just the watercolor-like background, you also added some hand drawn-like effects on Fintan. How do you feel watching him move?
A. Honestly, I'm glad. The end result is exactly as I had imagined, and the moving Fintan is adorable. Now that I think about it, it has been a long time since I originally drew Fintan. The entire project started from the Fintan drawing competition in 2012, and it was a great honor that I was able to take part in Finland's 100-year anniversary in the form of an animation project. When it began, there were also talks of a manga comic, but moving Fintan sounded much more interesting.
Q. The Embassy's social media accounts were used to gather ideas for the animation.
A. The ideas we received could roughly be divided into two; those who based their suggestions on researching a lot about Finland, and those who emphasized more on the mood of the story. In the end we took elements from various ideas. For the final script, we also had a script writer from a variety show buff up the comedy. All the three episodes are different, but in my opinion, Fintan's movements in the last episode is the cutest and looks most natural.
Q. You think so? How was making an anime with a length of just two minutes?
A. Two minutes is really a challenging time limit. I prioritized simplicity, as there was no time for detailed explanations. We exaggerated the movements and gestures so that people who have no prior knowledge of Fintan nor Finland can also follow the story. In the third episode all the action happens in one place, but I think the audience can watch it until the end thanks to Fintan's cute movements.
And the voice actors were really good.
Q. True! The voice actor of Fintan was the popular Ms. Saori Hayami, who has not often played a male character before. We found that many of her fans were amazed and surprised online. Did you seek Ms. Hayami for this role specifically?
A. Yes. I listened to Ms. Hayami's voice from her previous roles, and I was convinced that her voice fits perfectly if she lowers her voice and talks in a boyish manner. The voice of Yuki, a new character, was performed by Aya Suzaki, who is a big fan of Finland. It seemed like she enjoyed the part, which made us happy. The narrator for the first episode, Daichi Kanbara, changed his voice and manner of speaking depending on the scene, and Saeko Akiho's voice, playing Fintan's grandmother in the second episode, was a perfect fit. All in all, the casting was a success, and we did not even need to instruct the voice actors during recording. We were really happy with the end result.
Q. What was challenging about making the series?
A. I actually have never visited Finland, which is a little embarrassing to admit at this point. The entire series loses its meaning as an anniversary of Finland's independence, if the background is not recognized as Finnish. I looked through a lot of websites with landscape photos of Finland, but most of them were from tourist destinations. I wondered what to do with my staff, and eventually we decided to "take a walk" on Google Earth. We took screenshots of normal landscapes, and drew them as backgrounds for the series. I've used Google Earth for private purposes, but I never imagined I would use it for work.
Q. The series have many small details and tributes that the Finland-fans will surely recognize.
A. Yes for example, for the end credits we used Ievan Polkka, a famous Finnish folk song. Japanese singer Erika Ikuta from the famous idol group Nogizaka 46 memorized the whole Finnish lyrics and sang it on TV, which became popular. The sound source is free to use, but we couldn’t find any on the internet, so the person in charge of music listened to Ievan Polkka by the ear and arranged it with pop music-like elements.
We wanted to add a lot of other funny scenes, like the wife-carrying competition for the first episode. There were a lot of other great ideas.
Q. Yes, we remember that the script's first version had Fintan playing the role of the wife with a wig in the wife-carrying contest. How do you wish Fintan to develop from here? At the moment a group of Finnish students are making a VR-program where you can experience Finnish sauna together with Fintan. It would be great to produce more Fintan anime though.
A. We already have the 3D modeling data, so making a new series would not be that difficult. The best thing would be if we could find a sponsor; if we could co-operate with business, we could make new and longer versions of the series.
Q. What kind of activities are you involved with now?
A. I currently teach at Osaka Seikei University, and from this year I also act as the head of one department, assisting the management side. My expertise are in character design and animation, so I share my knowhow with the students, hoping to create contacts between students and the animation industry. My focus is on training new talent, and I am currently trying to produce a new animation series to offer students a way to practice their skills. In that sense I'm glad that I did the Fintan project. I learned a lot about 3D techniques and can now answer my students' questions better.
On a personal level, I am most happy that nearly all people who like Finland also know Fintan. They are genuinely surprised to learn that I was the one who drew him. I've worked on a large variety of different projects, but seeing such strong reactions makes me feel that I have successfully done something for the audience. I originally started studying art to make people happy; it's truly rewarding to see the connection with people I don’t know through my work.
Why not do something more with Fintan? I was also discussing this with my staff.
Q. That's nice to hear. How was the reaction when you were first recruiting staff for this project?
A. I often heard them say "I didn’t know that embassies do this kind of fun stuff." They normally do productions for the core anime fans, so they were excited to hear that this time it's for the larger public. Many busy and famous people in our business were willing to take part, because the project was interesting and it was generated by the embassy.
Q. We really appreciate their efforts! In two years, Finland and Japan will celebrate the 100 year anniversary of diplomatic relations. So maybe we should do something new?
A. Why not? And in 2020, Fintan can do sports.
Q. Sure, Fintan cheering for the Tokyo Olympics! It's good to dream big.
Kenji Itoso profile
Animation director, President of KENJI STUDIO. Professor heading the Department of Art and Design at Osaka Seikei University. Having worked at Hayao Miiyazaki's Studio Ghibli before he turned 20, he made a debut as director for film "Seikilos and Me" produced by the renowned Nobuhiko Obayashi. His works vary from visual director of music concerts to producer of films and animations. He effectively utilizes crowd-funding for producing works, and succeeded in raising an accumulated total of 800 million yen in funds by Kickstarter.