Michael Arias: Honestly, I think expectations for Tekkon were fairly low, at least from the general public. This wasn't the next Hayao Miyazaki movie and 4°C isn't Studio Ghibli. I suppose it depends on who you're talking about. Fans of animation and manga here were certainly paying attention and they are a tough crowd to please.
Ping Pong, though it was considered a hit here in Japan (even more so for it being an indie), was a live-action film, as was the adaptation of Taiyo's Blue Spring (Aoi Haru), and I think most audiences were going to see it more for the cast, the music, and other elements, than for it having been a Taiyo Matsumoto work. Taiyo Matsumoto is not exactly a household name here, though he's well known in certain circles. If anything Taiyo's more rabid fans felt a bit betrayed by Ping Pong (I liked it, even with all the departures from the original).
And Mind Game was based on an unknown work by Robin Nishi. The original is brilliant but it was long out of print when 4°C began work on it. The movie is amazing—brilliant I'd say, but it was a total failure at the box office (for a variety of reasons, none related directly to the artistry of the movie).
TT: Tekkonkinkreet and Mind Game are from the same studio, and the character designs for both are similar, but they're two completely different kinds of stories. Did that affect Tekkonkinkreet's reception?
Shojiro Nishimi, Tekkon's character designer and animation supervisor, and Masaaki Yuasa, Mind Game's director and character designer, are buddies—rivals actually—from high school. And though Mind Game was the first project they'd ever worked on together (actually, that's why Nishimi was at the studio when I was scouting for animation supervisors), they'd been refining a similar style of character design in parallel over the years. On top of that, a great many Mind Game veterans were working with me on Tekkon. So I suppose it's no surprise if there are some superficial similarities.
But I don't think that affected Tekkon's reception. And, as I said, Mind Game sank without a trace. So the comparison wasn't even made, except by experts in animation.
TT: The characters look a little more refined than in the comic, and gives the movie more of a studio look. Was that deliberate, or did it come about organically? Is the look being associated with Studio 4°C, as far as you know?
Nishimi's graphic style has many similarities with Taiyo's. That's what attracted me to him originally—I was wandering the studio and saw a stack of his sketches on a table and thought that they were actually Taiyo's at first! But, they weren't exactly as Taiyo would draw them, of course. But I asked around and found out who their author was, and then searched his desk for more after he'd gone home for the evening.
So I really did let Nishimi do whatever he felt was right for the material. He started out sketching and then I would go through his sketches and pick the ones I liked or point out details that caught my eye or ask for him to emphasize one aspect or another. And we also discussed technical concerns—to draw shadows or not, how much detail to abbreviate, how to colour the characters, whether to use gradient fills or not... A pretty standard process for character design. And definitely "organic."
I guess there is a certain look associated with 4°C—mainly due to Mind Game and Tekkon. But it's constantly evolving.