‘Empire of a 17-Year-Old’ Combines AI, Science Fiction, and Japanese Animation | FRIDAY DIGITAL

‘Empire of a 17-Year-Old’ Combines AI, Science Fiction, and Japanese Animation

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The image of Japanese Drama was completely absent overseas.

A girl walks through a dark forest, a steel door opens to reveal a huge AI, and the glasses she wears flicker. Then, with an alarm, light emanates from the tips of three towers, forming a ring.

Just in the first few minutes of the first episode of 17-Year-Old Empire (NHK Sogo), the mysterious texture of the images and sounds, like an anime or a drama, is enough to make one shudder.

 “I am the person in charge of the Saturday drama slot. As a first step, I started the process of researching overseas for producers to find out what would be interesting to present to the world today.

 I found it difficult to answer the question, “What do you think of when you hear the words ‘Japanese drama’? I was quite scared that this would be a task like throwing something out into space.

 As we proposed various motifs to foreign countries, we became interested in Japanese technology and AI, and we decided to use the image of Japanese animation to aim for a fusion of animation and live-action with the keywords AI, science fiction, and Japanese animation.”

says Kei Kunha, who is in charge of overseeing the production of the film.


Joining the creative team is private TV drama producer Ayumi Sano (now at Kantele), who has worked on “Quartet” (TBS) and “Soyota and the Three Former Husbands” (Kantele), with a script by Reiko Yoshida of “K-ON” and “Violet Evergarden” fame. The series, “Youth, Politics, and Science Fiction Fantasy,” attracted much attention from drama and animation fans even before it began airing.

The mysterious worldview, which is a fusion of animation and live-action, is a must-see!

 Set in Japan in the near future, ridiculed as Sunset Japan

Even though it is science fiction, the setting is Japan in the near future in the year 202x, when 40% of the population is elderly, the economy is in decline, and the country is ridiculed as Sunset Japan. Why did we choose politics as our theme?

 Mr. Sano suggested that if we wanted to combine live-action and animation, it would be better to use an animation scriptwriter, Reiko Yoshida, rather than a live-action scriptwriter, whom we have known for a long time.

 Then, when I met with Ms. Yoshida, the story of 17-year-olds building a country and the title “Empire of a 17-Year-Old” came up as the theme I wanted to try, and I said, ‘Well, then, it’s going to be about politics.'”

The story begins with the launch of a project called “Utopi-AI” (a.k.a. UA) in Japan, where there is no way out. 17-year-old Aran Maki (Fuju Kamio) is chosen as the prime minister of the experimental city of UA, and the other ministers are all around 20 years old namely, Anna Yamada, Yuumi Kawai, Ayumu Mochizuki, and Shota Sometani. At first glance, the use of AI to compensate for the lack of experience that young people lack in politics seems hopeful, but in the background is the real crisis and despair that Japan is currently facing.

 It is in the tradition of NHK dramas to create works with a sense of criticism. This time, however, we tried to create a film that would be interesting for children to watch while maintaining being critical and modern.

If politics were depicted in a live-action film, it would tend to be difficult and heavy-handed, but if it were done with an animated touch, it would be freed from the usual gravity, tradition, and stagnation, and a new coming-of-age drama could be depicted.

Another key element of the film is that it is set in the near future, in the year 202X.

The usual science fiction setting is that something happens in Japan, such as a disaster, and a major part of the country is changed.

 But we couldn’t win if we did something similar to a big movie on our scale. After talking with Mr. Yoshida, they decided of depicting politics as something close to home. It would be interesting to capture the problems today in a way that is somewhere between fantasy and reality.

However, he laughs, “I didn’t know how to read the script at first.”

 He laughs, “It was experimental for me as an actor, and I think I felt like I was going into something for which I didn’t know the answer.

 But when Anna Yamada buys a good-luck charm at a shrine on the first day of shooting, I was impressed and said, ‘That sounds like a character.’ Anna had watched a lot of anime and studied the movements and facial expressions, and with the help of Daisuke Iga’s wonderful costumes, including the blue uniforms, as the shooting progressed, I began to feel that we might be able to create a world that I had never seen before in a Japanese drama.”

Anna Yamada says she watched a lot of anime and studied the movements and facial expressions.

 Gen Hoshino, an elite politician x Fuju Kamio, a 17-year-old prime minister chosen by AI

She also commented on her impressions of Gen Hoshino, who plays Kiyoshi Taira, the elite politician who leads the Woor project, and Kaedeju Kamio, who plays Maki, the 17-year-old prime minister chosen by the AI.

 I trusted Hoshino-san’s understanding of Reiko Yoshida’s world so much that I thought it would be richer to wait for what he would come up with and make the most of it rather than spending words to convey my thoughts. I decided to proceed in this way.

 Mr. Kamio is the originator of this work, a 17-year-old high school student chosen by AI, which is an incredibly super existence, so I think it was quite a burden for him. When Mr. Yoshida was writing the script, he had an image of Mr. Kamio from the beginning as Maki, who would be a cool but boyish figure. There was no way he could understand what AI was thinking, and yet he was a mysterious figure who had to be convincing.

 But when I read the script for the second episode, I was surprised. I had an image of Maki as more of an adult, but he had the openness and honesty of a junior high school student or even younger, and there was a huge gap between that and his mysteriousness.

 I think it was very difficult to portray that gap, but I think Kamio-san has managed it beautifully.

The Saturday drama “17-Year-Old Empire” will be broadcast on Saturdays at 10:00 pm on NHK Sogo.

 The driving force behind always taking on the newest and most outrageous challenges

 What was your impression of Mr. Sano when you worked with him for the first time?

 “I was intimidated by his energy, purity, and technique, and he is an extremely talented person. But I was also surprised and pleased to find that his distance from the scriptwriters and actors, and the way he takes responsibility for them, seemed very similar to my own.

 I am a person who accompanies and stands by the scriptwriters and actors, but Mr. Sano’s methodology is very thorough, and I was surprised by his core strength as a producer who stands by them without question.

 He also has a sense of speed. For example, when I would say, “Let’s think about it in two days,” Mr. Sano would say, ‘In six hours.’ How much time should I spend on the task at hand? is a super important part of a producer’s decision-making process, and having people in the same profession in the same situation at the same time was a very happy, albeit daunting, experience.” 

Nevertheless, I am very happy to have had the opportunity to work on such projects as “Vulture,” a gritty economic entertainment drama; “Amachan,” an NHK television series and NHK historical drama “Idaten: Tokyo Olimpic Banashi” written by Kankuro Kudo; and the juvenile science fiction and dark fantasy “Kirei no Kuni,” written by Takuya Kato, a spirited playwright in his twenties. Mr. Kei Kunha continues to create dramas that have never been seen before, such as “Kirei no Kuni” (The Land of the Beautiful), a juvenile science fiction and dark fantasy scripted by Takuya Kato, an up-and-coming playwright in his 20s. Why does he continue to take on the newest and most outrageous challenges?


 “I am probably a very ordinary person. I am not a wonderful creator who is always looking for new things and watching a huge number of works.

 When creating something, I think everyone has the desire to see something that has never been seen before. The starting point is the feeling that if you are going to make something, you have to make it anyway. However, for me, the most energetic part of my work is thinking “I would never do this combination” or “What would happen if I combined these two” to create something I have never seen before.

 The way my mind works is very normal, like traveling to a new place or feeling the excitement of encountering something new amid a routine life. Another reason is that I was raised by NHK, which allows me to express myself in new and interesting ways, so I feel the need to keep doing new and interesting things.”

  • Interview and text by Wakako Takou

    Born in 1973. After working for a publishing company and an advertising production company, became a freelance writer. She interviews actors and others for weekly and monthly magazines, and writes drama columns for various media. His main publications include "All Important Things Are Taught by Morning Drama" (Ota Publishing), "KinKiKids: Owarinaki Michi" and "Hey!Say!JUMP: When 9 Tobira Open" (both from Earls Publishing).

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