Music

Porter Robinson seeks ‘Shelter’ inside a fantasy world for his anime debut

by Lachlan Johnston

Special To The Japan Times

At 10:15 p.m. on Oct. 18, Porter Robinson stood on a street corner in Shibuya and watched his lifelong dream become reality.

The electronic music producer, surrounded by around 100 dedicated fans, saw the anime that he produced himself for his song “Shelter” — a collaboration with French musician Madeon — play in its entirety on a screen mounted on the Shibuya Modi shopping center. It was his first time seeing the finished product, and for six minutes and seven seconds the crowd watched it with him in silence, grinning from ear to ear.

After it was over, the silence hung in the air for a moment before the bustle of the surrounding streets brought everyone back to reality.

“If I could convert 100,000 people worldwide into anime fans, I feel like it would really make an impact,” Robinson, 24, later tells The Japan Times at the offices of Sony Music Japan, who recently signed him. “I’m extremely invested in the Japanese anime industry.”

He’s not the first Western musician to express a love for anime. One of the most well-known examples happened in 2001 when French duo Daft Punk collaborated with Leiji Matsumoto on “Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem,” a visualization of the duo’s hit album “Discovery.”

“Shelter” was written and produced by Robinson in partnership with animation studio A-1 Pictures and anime-streaming website Crunchyroll. It was directed by Toshifumi Akai.

“When sitting down with A-1 for the first time, I was expecting their questions to be like, ‘Tell me the budget, when do you need this by?’ Robinson says. “But it was more like, ‘Would you consider (main character) Rin to be left-handed or right-handed?’ ” He adds that it was an amazing learning experience and that he was “extremely grateful” for it.

Working on the video brought Robinson back and forth to Japan about seven or eight times this year (he currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina), but he has had an interest in Japanese culture for much longer.

“I think my earliest exposure to electronic music was when my older brother brought home a copy of (video game) ‘Dance Dance Revolution,’ ” he says. “Not long after, I worked my way toward making my first electronic piece. It was an Ayumi Hamasaki remix.”

From there Robinson did a lot of work with EDM artists such as Skrillex and Zedd. His debut album, “Worlds,” was released in 2014 and his interest in Japanese pop culture was apparent on the track “Sad Machine,” on which he used Vocaloid software. He also worked with local brand Galaxxxy to create a range of streetwear to compliment “Worlds.”

Like other Western electronic artists, he also cites Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s music video for the 2012 track “Ponponpon” as an influence.

“I think a lot of people were like, ‘Oh Japan, you’re so crazy,’ but to me it was an entire world of garish toys mixed with a cute and scary vibe,” he says. “It made me really consider why my own work was so inconsistent.”

“Shelter” has more in common sonically with the shimmering electronic pop produced by Tokyo acts such as LLLL, Tomggg and almost any other artist signed to the Maltine label. Robinson, however, says he draws influence from all types of media.

“I am a fan of art that is sentimental and emotional,” he says. “My absolute favorite film would have to be Mamoru Hosoda’s ‘Wolf Children,’ largely due to the way it tackles parental love. It’s a recurring theme, especially in my own ‘Shelter’ animation.”

Robinson says he works hard to express the same level of emotion in his own work.

“Conveying my feelings to people through my art is something that’s extremely important to me,” he says. “To me, (the idea of) Porter Robinson is a love letter to fantasy and escapism.”

In fact, even before Crunchyroll approached him last year to create an animated short, Robinson said he had the story idea already in his head. The website had expressed interest in creating original content, much like Netflix and other streaming services. After they joined forces, the team brought the idea to A-1 Pictures and everything clicked into place.

Robinson took time away from his still ongoing North American Shelter Live Tour with Madeon (due to hit Toronto on Nov. 13) to attend the premiere of “Shelter” in Tokyo. As of now there’s no word on the tour coming to Japan, but the artist is enthusiastic about making it happen.

“I deeply want to,” he says. “Touring in Japan can be quite complicated — the venue situation is its own political battle — and I can’t announce anything. … I am going to be trying my hardest.”

Fans can at least take heart in the idea that, when it comes to making things happen, Porter Robinson is on a bit of a roll.

For more information, visit www.porterrobinson.com.


Seeking ‘Shelter’ within a fantasy

“Shelter: the Animation” is U.S. musician Porter Robinson’s debut in the world of anime.

Made in collaboration with anime-streaming website Crunchyroll and animation studio A-1 Pictures (“Sword Art Online,” “Anohana”), the piece was created to accompany Robinson and French electronic musician Madeon’s latest musical collaboration, “Shelter.”

The plot centers on a 17-year-old girl named Rin, who finds herself in a virtual reality world in which she has full control. Using her tablet-like device, Rin has the ability to draw entire environments around her. As time progresses, however, the viewer comes to learn the truth behind her happy existence.

“The main thing I wanted to convey through the story of ‘Shelter’ was a feeling of technological optimism,” Robinson says. “We see in ‘Shelter’ the end of the world, but at the same time we see this beautiful harrowing escape into fantasy. That’s something I’m quite obsessed with conveying.”

Produced by Robinson, directed by Toshifumi Akai and featuring character designs by Megumi Kono, it’s easy to see the charm that the short holds.

“Working with A-1 Pictures was a dream come true, and even if nobody else in the world was able to watch it, this whole process would have still been worth it,” Robinson says.

Currently sitting at more than 4.3 million views, the full video is available to stream via Porter Robinson’s official YouTube channel.