Interview – Kiyoshi Tane
Photography – Hiroyuki Matsuzaki
After nearly 17 years, Game Center CX has finally reached its 300th episode. These last two years have brought us Arino’s Challenge in Makuhari Messe, the GCCX Symfony, and Game Center CX in Russia. We’re bringing you this interview with Shinya Arino to commemorate this momentous occasion, and discuss the trials leading up to it!
Makuhari Messe: A Technological Challenge
Congratulations on 300 episodes of Game Center CX!
(Arino) Thank you, we’ve finally hit 300. I guess 300 episodes is pretty much equal to 15 years?
It’s been two years since the 15 year mark (Laughs)
(Arino) (Laughs) You weren’t going to ask anything else, right?
No, but you’ve had “Arino’s Challenge in Makuhari Messe” since then, right? That was a huge challenge.
(Arino) It was. Actually it might have been more of a technological challenge than anything, since they needed to show the games I was playing on the venue monitor at the same speed. I thought it was pretty amazing that they managed to get it down to no lag, since I guess there had been some before.
Apparently it was a two second lag between your monitor and the big one in the venue.
(Arino) We couldn’t really ask people to wait to shout until two seconds after I died! (Laughs) And when the production and presentation staff both asked to have it fixed, the technology staff figured it out just in time. So it was all thanks to them.
(Ishida P) Actually a lot of technology issues happened behind the scenes. We hadn’t ever had that many people in the audience of an event we were recording before, so our staff headset intercom system actually went down. It wasn’t an issue during rehearsal, but it happened during the actual event because of interference from the audience’s phones and portable game systems.
(Arino) Huh!? Aren’t they on a different frequency?
(Ishida P) Supposedly. But everyone was going crazy back stage going “When will the intercoms be up!?”
(Arino) You should have given up on the intercoms and just used Line.
In terms of technology, I bet the “Draw Your Sword!” musical number and such took a lot of preparation.
(Arino) It did (Laughs) During rehearsal the day before, the topic of me coming out on that bicycle came up. And just when I started peddling, Kan said “Let’s frame this out” and then they put training wheels on the bike. I said “I can do it without these” but I was thinking “I don’t need these things at all!”.
It was probably hard to balance since it had so many big gaudy decorations on it though.
(Arino) We only ever used it once. Was it a rental?
(Ishida P) No, the art department made it especially for this event. They asked me three times what I thought of it, and I told them it was awesome!
(Arino) You can’t go complimenting them too much! (Laughs) I was told to go slowly when riding that bike during rehearsal. I kept asking them if I was going down the right path, but they wouldn’t put any guidelines down to show where to go. Luckily the cameraman was walking ahead of me during the actual show! If I got off course I wouldn’t have been able to find my way back on, so I had to go slowly anyway. I guess it was a good thing I had training wheels after all. And just when I thought “I wish Continue would take a photo of this right now” during the show, I stopped and saluted. And that’s what you used in the next magazine! (Laughs)
Thank you (Laughs) Things were a bit rough before you got into the challenge, huh?
(Arino) There was a lot of equipment under the table I was using for the challenge, and it made things really warm. But I guess it was warm at the Budokan too. I thought maybe it would be cooler here since it was a bigger venue, but it was really hot under there because of that equipment. There was some space between the stage and where I was sitting, and it was like I had my own personal island. When I asked them why it wasn’t connected to the stage, they told me it’s because the console might glitch from the shaking when people are singing and dancing there! (Laughs) So it’s like when your mom hits the console with the vacuum when she’s cleaning.
You couldn’t tell any of that from the crowd.
(Arino) There was this big triangular hole near where I was too. They told me not to fall into it, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they couldn’t have cut it closer to the stage! (Laughs) I wonder if next time we could make a little stage just for me, like I was playing an acoustic concert or something. But then I wonder if the audience would want to see the ADs sing and dance.
The audience really went crazy when the ADs came out on stage.
(Arino) Even though more than half of them aren’t even on the show anymore! (Laughs)
Soda Popinski, A Makeshift Health Bar, The Bon-Bon Guy: Looking Back On The Fierce Fight At Makuhari Messe
The actual challenges had some really amazing moments.
(Arino) You mean the re-match against Popinski for the encore.
Even though Popinski isn’t even the game’s last boss (Laughs)
(Arino) Oh he’s not? Do people who play games know that? (Laughs) But Popinski got people the most excited. Probably because I fought Piston Honda before him. And it was a lot of fun when everyone got really impressed when I took him down so easily, it really raised my morale.
Some people said that this was esports, since you were playing a boxing game at Makuhari Messe! (Laughs)
(Arino) I mean there were people who said “This is martial arts” last time, since it was at the Budokan. It was really fun hearing all the kids yelling “Kacho, concentrate!” so loudly.
I wondered if picking “SOS” as a game to play was such a good idea, since it’s a particularly intense challenge to do live! (Laughs)
(Arino) Because I picked the wrong path right away? Tell that to management! (Laughs) I was really angry after that one was over, just thinking “What the hell is with this game!?”.
Naturally you wouldn’t have been able to clear it, so it’s no wonder you were angry.
(Ishida P) It was voted number one in Continue’s poll for favorite challenge of Arino’s.
(Arino) Oh, I see. Then it was Continue’s mistake! (Laughs)
I apologize (Laughs) The Marchen Maze challenge was also really fun. You were in top form, so the ADs maintaining the makeshift health bar out of cardboard boxes were scrambling to keep up.
(Arino) Because that game has no health bars for the bosses at all! (Laughs) I wanted to ask what the hell they were doing, but I was kind of on a roll up there so I ignored it. It was a failure on my part as an entertainer!
And everyone maintaining the health bar was just doing the same thing over and over.
(Arino) They had to wait until the boxes piled up, but they just couldn’t. They kept thinking “This one could kill him, and it’s going to take awhile if he avoids this wave”. I felt really bad since they’d just put them out, but I just kept ignoring it. I still saw that they were piling up though.
But you ignoring it was really funny in of itself.
(Arino) But the thing I really couldn’t ignore was the “Famionaire” game show segment. It didn’t appear on the broadcast, but while it was going on I was just thinking “Why do we have to do this? I just want to play games”. But Kibe had so much fun with it. Was that just some kind of a time filler or something?
“Famionaire” was used to keep the announcement of Bomberman being one of the games a secret up until the last minute.
(Arino) I see, I see. They did announce it in quiz form. Even though it doesn’t have anything to do with a quiz.
(Ishida P) It doesn’t! (Laughs) It’s a segment we’d been putting a lot of energy into lately, and it got a good response.
(Arino) Did Kibe thing that “Famionaire” was going to blow the roof off of the place? (Laughs)
Kibe does love his segments, after all. And he gets to be in them too.
(Arino) He loves them but he’s still always nervous. I wish he’d gotten embarrassed boiling udon noodles in that segment awhile back! (Laughs)
And then the “Bon-Bon Guy” in the audience was really popular when you were playing Super Mario Bros. 2 and having problems with the triangle jump. He told you the timing of how to do it by rhythmically saying “Bon! Bon!”.
(Arino) Everyone really heaped praise on the cameraman that found the Bon-Bon Guy in the audience. Until the cameraman and switcher found him, I just kept going “What? What?” (Laughs) as I glanced at the monitor.
It’s a good thing they found him, he was so great.
(Arino) I wanted them to get him to talk louder. I could hear he was saying something, but I couldn’t quite tell what. And then right there at Makuhari Messe, he was saying “Bon! Bon!” in his normal voice (Laughs) No artist would have done that, so he passed the test in the talent department.
And he’s come to some of the show’s other events since then.
(Arino) He came to the year end event, and everyone was taking photos of him. Even though he’s not a performer, everyone’s all like “It’s the Bon-Bon Guy! Can I take a picture!?”. We have 15 years worth of star ADs, but he’s the first star viewer.
So many fans are excited about him for someone that you would have had to have seen the event at Makuhari to really even understand! (Laughs)
(Arino) There was no party after that event either! (Laughs) Afterward I just went with my family to eat Korean barbecue nearby. It wasn’t even in a private room, so I just kept thinking “But we filled up the whole venue!” as I ate.
The 10th anniversary event was at the Budokan, the 15th was at Makuhari Messe, so there are some pretty big expectations for the 20th anniversary one.
(Arino) And there’s only three years until that, it’s frightening! Maybe we should have flipped Budokan and Messe around.
Makuhari Messe was quite an achievement, so maybe next is Saitama Super Arena.
(Arino) All sorts of different people have shows there though, so I wonder if Saitama Super Arena is do-able. Better yet, I’d like to do it at Ryougoku Kokugikan (a famous sumo venue). A traveling bus tour would be good too, where everyone does a quiz (Laughs) Either that or at Shinjuku Kadoza, or even remotely.
The Orchestra Members Liked Games Too
The next big event was the Game Center CX Symfony.
(Arino) The symphony was really fun, since there was a live orchestra playing and all.
You got to play TwinBee accompanied by a live orchestra performance.
(Arino) They even performed the sound that happens when you get an item. Them performing that sound was so much fun that I got a ton of speed-ups just to make trouble for them. But I was moving so fast that I ended up making more trouble for myself! (Laughs)
You were creating more hurdles for yourself! (Laughs)
(Arino) Yeah. I just had to clear the first stage, so it should have been really easy. I was moving so fast that I couldn’t even do it though.
Did you feel a lot of pressure beforehand?
(Arino) I did. I came in thinking that I had to clear it properly so things could keep on track. But when I got an item and heard them perform the sound, it was so cool that I kept thinking “Just one more!…Just one more!” (Laughs) But I wanted to leave the audience wanting more.
You were really on a roll there too (Laughs)
(Arino) All I did was play games and leave, but I was surprised that some of the musicians stopped to talk to me, because some of them play games too. It was fun that some of them weren’t just playing and reading the music the entire time, but were also thinking “I know this game” too. They weren’t people from a completely different world after all.
Was it different when you appeared on the NHK program “Symphonic Gamers 4”?
(Arino) The audience had a lot of elderly people in it for that program, so the humor was more refined. But everyone knew about games at the GCCX symphony. At first I thought it would feel much more formal and that half the people there would be JAGMO’s (Japan Game Music Orchestra) regular audience, so I was a bit scared. I was wondering how the audience was going to act. I thought maybe it wouldn’t be well received if I made that joke about the Triforce from Zelda. But it went over just fine! (Laughs)
So you were using that to test the waters (Laughs)
(Arino) It was a Litmus Test, and it passed. The conductor had a lot of fun too.
That group doesn’t typically also perform the game sound effects.
(Arino) Right, they don’t. They were really quick to play the right sound when I got an answer wrong during the quiz too! (Laughs) It would be great if we could do that every year. It’s so much fun having people who both love games and are interested in the performance there. Digital sounds are fine and all, but there’s something wonderful about having live musicians performing.
The Excitement Of GCCX Fans In Russia
Immediately following that, you went to Russia.
(Arino) I was told that I was going to be the bridge linking Japan and Russia together! (Laughs)
But I was surprised that there were so many GCCX fans in Russia.
(Arino) There were quite a few people there who knew the show. There were even people there who said they’d translated parts of the show into Russian.
As a result, what you thought would happen with the GCCX Symfony at Opera City sort of happened with the rehearsal in Russia! (Laughs)
(Arino) Russia was the most scary one of all though. No one knew what I was saying and didn’t necessarily even like games.
And no one on staff was with you until the day of the show.
(Arino) That’s right. What our translator/coordinator was saying was slightly off sometimes, so that of course made me worry that what I was saying wasn’t being conveyed properly. But I couldn’t really judge that.
Then the next day after the show, a bunch of fans got together as a surprise.
(Arino) I guess people don’t line up for much in Russia, because people were wondering what in the world the line for that was for. “It’s to meet a famous Japanese comedian”. “Well I guess I might as well line up too”. A bunch of people who took photos with me were probably wondering who I was.
You playing that VR roller coaster game with Kibe was really funny too. When you put on the goggles and stood on the platform, the person next to you was moving it around with their hands to simulate movement of the roller coaster.
(Arino) Ahh, the amusement park thing! I wish there was something like that in Japan! You can’t really understand until you try it for yourself.
They were masters of synchronizing the movement with the VR images.
(Arino) That just wouldn’t have been fun sitting in a chair. Standing and feeling unstable is what made it fun. To think it’s through human effort that you get those cheap scares. The realism was amazing.
The Will To Achieve Unexpected Success During The 300 Minute Live Broadcast
And then to commemorate the 300th episode, you had a 300 minute live broadcast. It was really amazing that you cleared Nuts & Milk, but I guess things were a bit crazy backstage since you had time leftover.
(Arino) That was an accident! (Laughs) I guess everyone, but mostly the director, was really panicked.
Even though it was a huge success as far as the game challenge, it was a broadcast incident as far as the staff was concerned! (Laughs)
(Arino) The director Fujimoto was really angry. He said “We have to plan for a lot of things to happen”. But having said that, he didn’t plan for that to happen.
(Ishida P) No, that’s true!
You really got your second wind partway through, you started playing really well.
(Arino) Yeah, I cleared it in only 200 minutes. When I asked “If I clear it early, what will we do? Cut to video clips?”, and management said “There’s no way you’ll do that!” That reaction just made me think “Dammit!”. Some people on staff probably think “Arino is only this good”, and I showed them that they underestimated me by making them panic! (Laughs)
You upheld the commitment you made in the first broadcast of the year where you stated that you weren’t going to let anyone call these things a “miracle” anymore! (Laughs)
(Arino) That’s right, because they’re really not miracles anymore. While I was playing, Kogawa started up another game on an extra table that had been set out, and I was just thinking “Why is she playing a game over there while the show is filming?”.
This isn’t the time for that.
(Arino) And as I was wondering why she couldn’t wait until after filming was done, I said “I cleared it!”. Then the Panel de Pon challenge began, and I guess she was preparing to do the changeover between consoles. I didn’t know she could do that!
I guess she’s more than just a fortune teller in that one segment! (Laughs)
(Arino) In hindsight it was her getting the second setup ready. Panel de Pon was very memorable.
What was really funny about the whole thing was how much of a panic Kibe was in. He was in charge of keeping up with Tweets, but at the same time having to attend meetings backstage since it looked like you were going to clear the game early. Then he had to hurry out when you called him over, so he was at his wits’ end! (Laughs)
(Arino) I said “Hey Kibe, can you come out here real quick?”, and everyone went to figure out where he was.
I wondered if you were calling him out there on purpose! (Laughs)
(Arino) It was on purpose, between Kan and I! (Laughs) We were thinking he would probably either be in the middle of something, or he’d stepped out. Then the staff dimmed the lights, but the camera was still setup. It was some fun Shouwa-era TV.
I thought it was fitting.
(Arino) It just kept turning more and more into a Shouwa-era production. We weren’t able to make it to the end of Panel de Pon though, even though I really wanted to see the last boss. It was a really tough game.
Kibe giving you instructions and Kogawa scolding you were both very funny! (Laughs)
(Arino) Yeah, the quote of the day was: “It doesn’t matter if it’s low!” What does that even mean? Is it about score?
It means only getting rid of three boxes at a time.
(Arino) I see, that’s the minimum that you can get rid of at one time. They’d be surprised whenever I got rid of five at a time instead. Just when they thought I was in a situation where I couldn’t get rid of five and I did, they’d be surprised again. They just kept underestimating me.
The sense of unity that came from “It doesn’t matter if it’s low!” was really amazing.
(Arino) That’s the good part about having a small number of people there. If I were doing that in a big venue like Makuhari Messe, it would be so chaotic. Maybe Kibe would sit next to me for that? But it was really fun with that particular size of group: Kogawa giving instructions and Kibe saying how low the score is.
Panel de Pon was also revenge for the broadcast that you did back in March, Game Center CX mini.
(Arino) The mini episode was so much that I kind of wanted to get the Super Famicom mini so I could play Panel de Pon at home. So when I asked “Are we going to have a challenge for this at some point?”, they said “No, go ahead and buy it”. So I did, and played it.
(Ishida P) Oh you did!?
(Arino) I did. But I usually forget it’s there when the TV’s free, so I haven’t been able to play it much at all! (Laughs) But it wasn’t as long ago as everyone thinks. It would have been nice if I’d been able to play it the previous night. And as a result, I was underestimated. It’s this weird cycle.
After all, it got so heated because you were so good at Nuts & Milk.
(Arino) Because I got my second wind, it was really cool. I told myself that I was going to end this before the 300 minute mark, as a way of picking a fight with management. I was really heated. But then they sent a really big thug at me in the form of Panel de Pon! (Laughs)
To think that their reaction was Panel de Pon! (Laughs)
(Arino) And as I was playing it, I was thinking “I’m not doing as well at this one!” (Laughs) Even though I have it at home! I didn’t quite end up making it to 3-5.
Every 100 Episodes, Every 5 Years, Aging
Having gotten through 300 episodes, I guess the 20 year mark is next?
(Arino) Even closer than that is me turning 50. Didn’t we do something on the show when I turned 40? When I think about it that way, the show has plenty of events: Every 100 episodes, every 5 years, and me aging. Will Continue cover those events too?
We definitely will!
(Arino) Then come to one of them before I turn 50! (Laughs) I want to do an event at the Hanayashiki amusement park again too, since the one we planned to have got cancelled. I heard that the theater there got even bigger, so I’d love to have fun with everyone again there sometime.
I really want to see another “Oboro Samurai” skit again. It had a real feel of watching a relative’s school arts festival performance! (Laughs)
(Arino) That’s taking it too far! It was made by a broadcast professional! (Laughs)
But the ADs in the skit aren’t exactly professional actors, so it’s like their part-time job.
(Arino) I guess it is their part-time job! (Laughs) If we end up doing an event at Hanayashiki again, the staff will want to make some merch for it again, and I feel like things will get pretty fun. There will be a big hustle around it.
The hand-made feeling that Game Center CX has is really great.
(Arino) It would be nice if we could do a stamp rally too. With Corona, I’m not sure when we’ll all be able to get together again. But I hope everyone will stay safe and wait until we can.