Interviewer- First of all, on Itoki's album, Toby wrote lyrics for and composed the song "74" so we were able to have him for this interview. How did your collaboration start?
Itoki: Well it started when I played UNDERTALE, it filled me with a lot of emotion and I sent a really long Email to Toby. With that Email, I also attached an arrangement of Toby's music that I made myself and said "Feel free to listen to it if you'd like..." I received an unbelievable response from Toby. He said "I listened to it! Your other song "ROLE PLAY" is also really good!" It was really moving that he went and gave my original tracks a listen.
Toby: Hana also left a link for her Youtube channel in that email. So I wanted to listen to her other songs. I thought "Woah!!" In the first response I said, "It would be nice if you could sing in one of my songs someday..." A few years later that became a reality when "74" was made.
Interviewer- It seems you two meeting and working together happened on pure impulse. Itoki in your first Email to Toby, what were your feelings about UNDERTALE that you wrote about?
Itoki: Around the time UNDERTALE came out I was growing distant from games, but it stuck with me. It reminded me a lot of the games I played as a kid. I don't know how many years it's been since a game made me cry... All of UNDERTALE's characters felt alive, the game's world was like a musical, and it felt like I was a part of that world. Because I wanted to see the other endings I played it over and over again. It was really interesting.
Toby: At that time, did you play the English version?
Itoki: I did.
Toby: At around that time, there weren't many Japanese people who were playing UNDERTALE. But the game was inspired by Japanese RPGs like MOTHER, so it was really exciting to hear that Japanese people played it and said it reminded them of the games they played as kids. I was also really happy that I was able to impress people who speak a different language and who live in a completely different environment.
Interviewer: Toby, what did you find appealing about Itoki's music when you first listened to it?
Toby: I thought "This is nice!" everything she does makes you go "That's so typical of her" In short, everything she works on has a sort of "Itoki Hana-feel". Her music has something elegant and dreamy to it, but at the same time, there's a hint of seriousness to it. It's a strange mood that you don't see often in other artists.
Toby: So, of course, she's a great musician and that's the focal point of her career, but she's also creative in just about everything. For example, she's able to create characters and stories. Those characters always have a more warm than cool feeling to them (TL Note: Toby, my man, what does that mean?)
Itoki: That makes me happy--- Because I am myself I'm not conscious of that stuff. Like how others perceive me in what I make. It just takes shape on its own.
Toby: I get that. David Lynch once said that he creates things because once he gets an idea in his head he just wants to get it out. I think that's also the case for me. I really can't help but do something once I get an idea for it. I can't be comfortable until I do.
Itoki: Oh yeah, I understand that feeling of "I have to make this!!!" Because of that, it makes me glad when people say that something has an "Itoki Hana-feel" to it. Once Toby read a manga that I wrote in Japanese. He told me that the line "Let's eat ice cream before we die" had that same feeling to it.
Toby: Yeah it did.
Itoki: I was really happy about that then.
Interviewer- Itoki, you've said that UNDERTALE moved you enough to write a long E-mail about it. Do you think your own work has been influenced by anything particular from the game, and if so how?
Itoki:It's not so much that I was influenced by any particular part, but more on a fundamental level, I think it's more like the game was a little pat on the back that said "It's okay to be who you are" All of UNDERTALE's characters are pretty straight forward. They each have their own flaws and strong personalities that make you go "What's with this guy?" But even so, they are all full of life and you never feel like any of them are lacking. They each feel like they have a role to play.
Interviewer: What you're talking about now sounds a lot like what you talked about in our last interview where you talked about the relationship between flaws and narrative. Toby, what kinds of things did you focus on when creating the characters for UNDERTALE?
Toby: Because there's an original story each character has their own reason to exist within it. Because of that when creating them I would think about "If I was this character what would I do? What kinds of experiences would I have? Doing this prevented characters from being "Because I'm the hero, I fight bad guys!"
Toby: Of course there's characters that I don't relate with. When I have to work with a character like that I have to put myself in their shoes and think about it not as a fictional character but as if I really was that character. I have to think about some things I wouldn't normally think about. Like "What do I do? What's in my house? What kinds of people do I get along with? What do I say? What have I done in the past?" There's always a lot to think about.
Toby: One more thing is that if people like my characters then I'm sure the main reason for that is because they find them fun. I think it's the same with Pixar's characters, even if they're sad or serious there's always something fun about them. If it was all just serious the characters wouldn't feel real, the same is true if they were only about fun. By combining various elements the whole character becomes more real.
Itoki: When I first played UNDERTALE I thought I wouldn't be able to be friends with Toby, but when we first met and started talking I had the feeling of "Ah, Toby sounds like this character now!" I got the feeling that Toby really put himself into the characters. In a way UNDERTALE is a game but not really, I wish there was another way to put it, it's like a world of art itself.
Toby: Thank you!
Interviewer: Going back to Itoki, what do you think is special about UNDERTALE besides its charming characters?
Itoki: Well with most games, the player is often given simple choices like "yes/no" "take/don't take" and the first time around you make your choice then you think "Oh, next time I'll make a different choice and see what happens." There are many parts of UNDERTALE that make the player realize how destructive that kind of curiosity can be to the game's world. Like if you were to kill a major character by mistake and then reset to try and correct it, a character might appear and say "Hey, made a mistake and reset it didn't you?" It felt as if the game could see right through me...
Interviewer: So it's not just the player staring at the game but the game is also staring back at the player...
Itoki: I think the differences in how people view "Justice" are involved in it too. The fact that there are options other than to "FIGHT" are interesting but at the same time there's the option to defeat all the characters which is a relief, It's like the game is saying "It's okay to be who are" To be more precise, UNDERTALE gave me the feeling that it's okay to hope for a kind world where humans and monsters coexist.
Interviewer: Itoki, you've published a story online called "Phantom Aria" which is set in a fantasy world, and I thought there might be a connection between what you just said about the world of UNDERTALE and Phantom Aria's.
Itoki: I think it was UNDERTALE that gave me the courage to show the characters that I created.
Interviewer: I'd like to talk about the song "74" which is co-written by the two of you and is included in your album. Toby wrote the song while you arranged it and translated the lyrics into Japanese right? How did you feel when Toby first sent you that song?
Itoki: I thought it was fantastic! I felt from the beginning that you could clearly follow the movement of the song. The instrumentation was very typical of Toby. The song made me think about a small voice echoing in a castle.
Interviewer: "A small voice echoing in a castle" is very reflective of the beginning lyrics of 74 which go "Months spent alone inside this tower"
Itoki: I feel that Toby's songs are beautiful in that not only is the main melody "singing" but the secondary melody is too. It's like the melody is the main character of the song, while the song itself tells the story. This is true whether the song is written out or performed as a solo on piano. Once I played a music improv game with Toby. We gave each other themes like "The sound of clouds" or "The sound of the shining sun" and we had each other improvise. When I gave the theme "desert" you could tell just from the piano Toby was playing that the sun was shining and all was calm, but suddenly there would be a low rumbling sound. I could see the scene develop "Oh that's probably a large dark cloud" or "It's raining" I would ask Toby "Did it just rain?" and he would answer "Yes it did!" I think it's really amazing how you can express that kind of thing with just melody and rhythm. I usually have a strong visual experience with sounds. Like footsteps or the swaying grass. I feel like that's what comes out as music. I asked Toby once "Do you see colors? (In your music)" he responded that he couldn't, but when I listen to his music I see all kinds of colors.
Toby: What are we having like a (Toby says in Japanese) Praise Toby party today? (laughs).
Itoki: I feel that 74 has that same story coming from the sound aspect. It's really great.
Toby: Yeah... Getting the music to match the feeling is something I've been practicing a lot. So I guess it's something I've gotten good at. The "feeling" of a song is the most important aspect. When working on a song I think to myself "How can I get that right feeling?" I don't have any real skill for performing music but I think my ideas can be heard clearly through my music.
Interviewer: You started making music before making games, isn't that right?
Toby: Yes, well it's a bit complicated. I started making music professionally before making games professionally. But I've been making games since I was 10 using a creation program called "GameMaker" but it was just a hobby at the time.
Interviewer: When thinking about music that has influenced you, what comes to mind?
Toby: That's a tough question, because there's just so much, but if you were to ask me what has inspired me the most, that would have to be the MOTHER series' music.
Interviewer: Ah, the MOTHER series was composed by Hirokazu Tanaka and Keiichi Suzuki right? (Reference article: 25 Years since the Masterpiece "MOTHER" Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka )
Toby: That's right. Actually recently I've been working on a large list of game music that I like. I've been influenced by a whole lot. See (Toby shows the list of games on his phone)
Interviewer: Oh it really is a long list!
Toby: These are all my favorites. Here's Famicom and GameBoy. This is Super Famicom and Mega Drive. Playstation, Playstation 2... Anyway I like a lot of game music!
Interviewer: The ability to compose a scene using music that Itoki mentioned earlier must have come from being exposed to so much music from games.
Toby: I really only listen to game music. Of course I try to pull inspiration from anything I can but music is very important to me and I've liked all the music I've heard but it's game music that I listen to the most.
Interviewer: Was there anything in particular you were thinking about when you wrote the lyrics for "74"?
Toby:This was my first time writing a song like this, but I decided to give it a more storyteller feeling instead of poetry. I've heard that there's not too many songs in Japan that directly tell a story like this. Is that true?
Itoki: In an opera there's a type of scene called an "aria" where time stops and the character says something like "Oh I love him, I love him! But what should I do about these feelings... I love him!" and then the scene ends and the story moves on. There's a lot of songs like that in Japan. I think it is rare to have a song where the story has a lot of movement and the character's situation and feelings change so rapidly.
Toby: There's a lot of songs in the world that are like "Oh, I miss my girlfriend~♪" So it's best if I didn't write something like that. (laughs).
Interviewer: So I wonder if the two of you believe in the power of creating something. Whether it be a story or a character?
Toby: Of course. Because creativity is a tool you can really do anything with it. You can even kill with creativity. That's why it's your choice on how you'll use that creativity inside of yourself. But it doesn't just depend on how you use it but how the recipients use it too.
Itoki: I also have something to say about that. Someone once said that you can fire an arrow but it won't always go where you expect it to. It might land somewhere you didn't expect or someone else might pick it up and fire it somewhere else. In this way your creation might be received in ways you didn't expect. Toby said that "You can even kill with creativity" but that's another reason I feel that it's so powerful is because it has both of those sides to it.
Interviewer: If that's the case, it must be important to have a sort of trust in the recipients right?
Itoki: Toby once told me "I want to keep the secrets as secrets." I also want to keep a form of secrecy to my characters and music.
Toby: You don't want to control the reactions of the people who receive your work after all.
Itoki:That's right. I want each listener to think about the work in any way they like.
Toby: Hey, if you were a character in an RPG what weapon would you have?
Itoki: Hm, I don't know... What about you Toby?
Toby: Oh I wouldn't have a weapon...
Itoki: What? That's not fair.
Toby: I would just be a dog. If my enemy brought a large sword I would just die in one hit (laughs).
Interviewer: I feel like you can see the creative part of Toby in what he just said.
Itoki: I don't really want to have a sword, can I use magic?
Itoki: Alright, magic then. Not white magic but black magic. Using sound to attack. I'd use a flute to make a terrible sound that would drive my enemies nuts.
Interviewer: That's a bit misleading of you but it definitely fits your character. (laughs)
Toby: Just to be clear her music isn't like that. (Laughs) Her music is great and doesn't do any damage. (laughs)