Game Center CX in 2021
When I was writing coverage on your recording from the other day, the staff held a surprise birthday party for you. Does that happen every year?
(Kan) It does, so it isn’t really a surprise anymore! (Laughs) I think “Well it’s about time for them to do it”, and then I pretend to be surprised when they do. I know it’s coming, but I’m grateful for it all the same.
They absolutely love you on the set.
(Kan) No, I think it’s probably them feeling like they have to do it! (Laughs)
We’re doing a big feature on Game Center CX for the first time in 14 years. So in a way, this issue is very long awaited. But the big difference this time around is COVID. It’s probably been difficult with the number of people in the challenge room, right?
(Kan) Actually, since we’ve been a program with only one host from the very beginning and filming has always been fairly straightforward, we haven’t suffered too much with having to adjust to all this. We just can’t go out and film the Tamage segment.
It’s been tough for Tamage.
(Kan) And Tamage is actually a very important part of the program. If we were able to go to a location and film where they weren’t letting in customers normally, we’d lose the appeal of the segment, which is Arino interacting so excitedly with kids. We’d have no choice but to film at a location where he couldn’t interact with anyone at all. If the challenge segments are connected to games, then Tamage is connected to people. We have other mini segments, but to not have Tamage as a part of a 57-minute show means it’s basically all the game challenge. And that doesn’t make for a very good balance. It’s not as enticing because there’s no more palette cleanser.
Then COVID hasn’t had much of an impact on Arino’s challenge segments?
(Kan) Not entirely. The biggest pain point for the challenges has been using technology to make it so that only a camera and the director are in the room with Arino. Even the AD is remote. And doing those segments in a completely empty room is challenging because Arino is a comedian, after all. He’s looking for reactions. When he’s doing it all by himself, he’s in a situation where he can’t really tell if the joke works or not. I feel like that makes it a lot harder to do. But on the other hand, if we put him in a room with only 5 people in it for the first time in a while, it would make him a bit nervous! (Laughs)
(Kan) It’s like, wait a second…even though you’ve done this in front of 10,000 people, you’re getting nervous in front of 5 people, but you’d be okay if hundreds more people were here? (Laughs) I think it’s probably a form of rehabilitation, because if he needs to get used to being in front of 5 people, it’ll probably take quite a bit of time before he can be in front of 10,000 again.
Things that Have Changed and Things that Haven’t
And now the programs’ PlayStation 2 ban has finally been lifted.
(Kan) We’ve done Earth Defense Force and Tokyo Bus Guide! (Laughs) It’s probably a pretty good thing that we still have a lot of territory left to explore there, right?
And by the way, Continue has done special features on both of those! (Laughs)
(Kan) Come to think of it, we haven’t had any all-staff meetings to determine which games to choose for the show in the last 6 months.
I’m sure that’s mostly because of COVID.
(Kan) We have meetings over Zoom to choose games, but we still end up fighting about it! (Laughs) I guess they’re more arguments than they are fights. Amidst the writing staff, Kensaku Sakai has the stance that major titles are better choices so that more people can be aware of Game Center CX. But Masayuki Kibe has an attachment to different types of titles, and Tatsuya Fujimoto has his own peculiarities. Nozomi Ishida quickly asserts “We don’t have permission; we absolutely can’t do it” when it comes to PlayStation 2. That’s why we’ve been arguing about this for 18 years. I tell them that it’s been long enough, but no one listens to me! (Laughs) So that’s why I’m telling everyone else about how they squabble in meetings.
They squabble even in online meetings! (Laughs)
(Kan) That sort of thing unexpectedly makes up the heart of the show, though. So in a way, it’s kind of nice that they squabble.
And then as far as surprises go, Gen Matsui got married. And even more surprising, he got married to fellow staff member Fukutomi Mikan.
(Kan) I had no idea that had happened, at the time.
Oh, you didn’t?
(Kan) Everyone else seemed to, but I didn’t, so I was very surprised. When I expressed surprise over not even knowing that they’d been dating, everyone else said that they already knew that they were. Was I the only one who didn’t know? That’s why I was of two minds: Wondering if Mikan couldn’t do better than Matsui, and being glad that she at least didn’t marry Yuuki Katayama or Ryo Osuka! (Laughs)
Even though it would have been funny if it had been Osuka! (Laughs)
(Kan) I still would have thought Mikan could have done better if it had been Osuka or Katayama. But with Matsui, it feels like maybe they’re a couple playing house, and that’s fine.
Matsui is a popular AD, but do you think it will work out okay?
(Kan) But I think it was more of a loss for Mikan than it is for Matsui! (Laughs) And based on that, it was a matter of Matsui needing to step up and take responsibility for making her happiness, and it turned into a matter of me looking at this as leading to a big chance from a producer’s perspective! (Laughs) If I played it too straight, there’d be an element of “Why are you making other people’s marriages your business?”, and I think I was a little nervous about it. But I figured they wanted to somehow celebrate this with everyone. So, I had a set of mugs made for them called “Private Celebration”. I went ahead and emailed Nina Matsumoto and asked her to come up with a design for them. One design is done in a Famicom-style with Matsui looking embarrassed and Mikan giving him a kiss, with Arino looking off from the side. I sent that design to them as “Private Celebration”, and they were very happy about it. The other design was the opposite of the hero protecting the princess: It was Matsui looking scared and Mikan protecting him! (Laughs)
(Laughs) That’s great!
(Kan) It may still be difficult to do, but it’s an occasion to be celebrated…so I hope that we can have some sort of event where we all celebrate together.
Pride from Being a Long Running Show and Heading into the 20th Year
This special feature is being printed just before the show heads into its 20th year. So, to the extent that you can, would you talk about something that you feel you’d like to do with the show?
(Kan) We’ve managed to avoid being hit too hard by COVID, but there is one thing. For example, if we would have faced a setback during the Makuhari Messe event in 2018, our company is the one that organizes these, so we would have incurred a significant loss.
If things got cancelled right before the event itself, or something.
(Kan) Of course we have insurance and such. But even so, it would be a huge deal. Our 20th anniversary is 2 years away at this point, but when I thought about how an event would go… Nowadays live events have a restriction where attendees aren’t allowed to shout during the performance. But what would a Game Center CX event be without them being able to do that? “Kacho, behind you!” or “Go in from the right!”, or whatever. I think about what that will be like two years from now. But we promised during the 15th anniversary that we’d have another event in 5 years, so I feel like we can’t back out on that.
Oh! I’m really looking forward to it!
(Kan) Game Center CX is often referred to as the originator of what we now call game streaming, and I think we probably were the first ones to do it in the form it’s being done in now. Arino jokes that “The work that results in me actually doing this on the show is much more interesting”, but I think that’s said only half-jokingly. And that’s why recently I’ve been thinking that Toraya is going through some sort of distress, or a tough situation.
Toraya is a red bean paste confectionery that’s been around for quite some time.
(Kan) They were established something like 500 years ago. When people said “Toraya is just old” in response to the popularity of Western confectionaries, they opened a café called Toraya Red Bean Stand. Those are the strengths and weaknesses, the merits and demerits of being something so long running. That said, when you search for “Games + Comedians”, Arino is the first person you’ll see. The brand value there is very strong. You need to protect the heart of what represents something so long running. And I keep thinking about whether it would be okay for those red bean paste confectionaries to look different being sold at a café, even though the taste wouldn’t change.
With something like a new innovation.
(Kan) Like with us making Game Center CX branded glasses and Hobonichi Techo. Those are things I felt we should try, but also that we shouldn’t rush into…so balancing that out is difficult. But after next year we’ll look at holding some more events that everyone can come and participate in. Today I’ll just say we have about 3 or 4 different things we’re looking into. But it would be difficult to have an event in Akihabara this year, so with that same timing, I’m thinking of starting a project related to the bonus footage of Momotaro Dentetsu included in the most recent DVD box. The idea is to have people start watching it simultaneously at a specific time. It would be like a live stream version of radio, where we say, “Alright everyone, push play on the segment!”
So, it would be real-time audio commentary?
(Kan) That’s right. They’d insult the old staff members when they come back, and that kind of thing. I was thinking of playing around with some sort of secondary audio, like that. And we’re considering trying it out for this Christmas, December 25th at 2 PM. Abe is used to appearing on our streams, but Ishii from marketing is still a bit scared! (Laughs)
(Kan) Ishii asked if it’s really going to be okay, and Abe said, “Just leave it to me!” But we won’t know for sure what’s going to happen until it does! (Laughs)
Game Center CX and Continue
I’ve been following Game Center CX since the beginning, so I think it’s just simply an amazing show. For better or worse, Continue has become more about kusoge lately, after having started out being focused on the industry at large. And I feel like Game Center CX has gone on a sort of similar trajectory.
(Kan) We started out anti-establishment, and before we knew it, we were establishment! (Laughs)
I don’t mean that in a weird way, I actually do think it’s amazing. Even if you’re establishment now, somewhere in there you still have that anti-establishment spirit. Because I heard stories from staff members at the beginning of how some game makers refused to talk to you and being turned away at the door.
(Kan) It’s gotten much easier now, though. They know about Game Center CX, so they just give us the OK. Sometimes they even approach us about playing specific games on the show, and we tell them that we’re not currently accepting proposals for the show. That’s the blessing of having been around for 18 years. And I do truly think of it as a blessing.
But since you’ve consistently associated with Continue over the years, I think Game Center CX has plenty of anti-establishment sentiment left.
(Kan) I don’t know, I really thought about cutting off Ohta Publishing after that one incident. (Laughs)
(Laughs) You mean that one incident that caused a commotion all throughout Japan? (Laughs)
(Kan) It’s dangerous to associate with a company like that, after all. I was really disappointed in Ohta Publishing! (Laughs)
Well, I hope that we can continue to work together, despite that! (Laughs) At any rate, we’re very much looking forward to seeing what your 20th anniversary brings!
(Kan) Thank you, we’re looking forward to it as well.