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We are a two-people team running Archipel, a YouTube channel where we create documentary content centered around Japanese artists and creatives, in addition to capturing some pieces of Japanese culture. On this Medium, we plan to share more insights about our work, the path that led to where we are today, in addition to our overall feeling in the process.

Ebb and Flow

Starting a few months ago, we were regularly discussing within the team what we should do next, both in terms of content and on how to develop the channel further. In 2018 we tried our hand at a lot of new content, should we keep going that way and do even more? Should we rather specialize in a specific field or format? Our minds tend to drift like that, until we are reminded by the reality that we also need to sustain the channel working side jobs.

We started the year doing a lot of this back and forth, then came March, when I went to represent the team in San Francisco at the Game Developers Conference, where we had a screening of our documentary Ebb and Flow during the film festival that was held as part of the conference. It was a first for us to have our content on the big screen, luckily the room was packed to come and discover our documentary, in addition to another video profile we had previously made about character designer Akira ‘Akiman’ Yasuda, which we added in order to get closer to the one-hour duration threshold. It was a refreshing feel to see this content again, and this time it was the occasion to see the reactions in the audience, smiles, laughs and more than anything a general focus directed towards something that we had made. I also had the chance to participate in a short Q&A session after the screening, when I was asked about the origins of the project, who we were and how we worked on the channel, which is a always a good exercise in order to replace the foundations of what we do, a similar goal with what I hope this Medium will achieve.

Back in Tokyo, close to a year after the documentary originally went out, the GDC screening just a month ago and our will to share more via this Medium, we got to reflect back on the Ebb and Flow case. Therefore we decided to center our first post around it, also feeling that the name itself quite appropriately represents the current state of the channel, our personal emotional state and also, we have to admit, a current state of fatigue we have been feeling recently, that we could even go all the way to qualify it as a strange period in our lives altogether.

After originally starting our channel with a single piece of content (named toco toco, a short documentary series following Japanese creatives of all fields in the places that inspire them), we wanted to diversify, cover more stories, regardless of format (but more on that in a later post). Ebb and Flow started from a conversation we had within the team, where we realized how many good Japanese games went out in such a short period of time, starting late 2016. It had us wonder what the trigger of this “movement” was or if the people involved even realized it in the first place. We thought it would be interesting to go directly and ask each game director their thoughts on the question. We started by drafting a short list, then we went on to make the requests. Eventually, it drove us to Osaka, knocking on the door of Capcom’s headquarters for the first time (and as some of you who are following us already know, not the last), discovering the outgoing personality of Koshi Nakanishi, surprisingly contrasted with the horror level of his game Resident Evil 7, or even more so with the more studious character of Yuya Tokuda, who had recently released Monster Hunter: World, casually breaking record sales at the start of 2018. We also cannot but remember that ominous presence we felt when Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi entered his office in our backs as we were setting up.

A few months later, and after a finish-up process that gave us yet another solid taste of what crunch time is, Ebb and Flow was about to go out. We had spent a lot of energy and time in order to bring this project to completion, it was our first “long” content on the channel and the first with so many creators featured. We had never really thought views were important to us, nor were they a driver to our motivation, but still we couldn’t help to expect that this one could be big for us into reaching a larger volume of audiences, as gaming-related content was (and still is) our top driver in engagement, it naturally came upon us that the stars were close to being aligned.

In the end, the cast was composed of eight of Japan’s top game creators, speaking their views about a reflourishing game industry in Japan since late 2016. It was a rare introspection on the industry, past mistakes that were made, and the occasion to listen to perspectives on a rediscovered Japanese identity, that gave birth to games such as NieR: Automata, Persona 5, Resident Evil 7, and many others. John Ricciardi from game localization company (and eponymous podcast) 8-4 completed the panel to provide his analysis and insights acquired from his 18-year experience living and working in Japan, in addition to having worked on multiple of the titles showcased.

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Final Ebb and Flow Thumbnail

We really wanted to make this one special, so we tried to fine-tune some of the small details. This led us to talking to an illustrator to design a special thumbnail art (which we probably spent way too much more time that we should have on). Some will notice that each arm, in the painting, represents a game that is showcased in the documentary, with the moon and sea being, you guessed it, the main components of ebb and flow.

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An early approach for the poster, more direct, which we dropped ultimately. Ironically enough, we had also shot a making-of for this particular art, which will probably never see the light of day.
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Additional elements from that same early approach.

Sorry to bother you

Jumping on this opportunity to share a small story. That effort we put in the thumbnail reminded us of a call we once received from YouTube after us asking for advice on how we could improve our channel’s visibility. In the end the call was all about our thumbnails, saying they lacked impact, and that we should be reconsidering our approach altogether to go for large fonts over photos, your typical vlog clickbait that we desperately wanted to avoid. It was sure the beginning of a deep relationship.

There we were, fighting against our accumulated lack of sleep (it was a morning, we had to go from Tokyo to Kyoto that day for a side job), we hit that publish button, holding our hopes high, also feeling a bit of relief, because it was about to be over, and a hint of regret, again because it was about to be over. You get the initial reactions, retweets, likes, comments (well within the documentary’s runtime for the first ones, but still, you learn to enjoy the token of trust from those immediate shares), we went on to Kyoto thinking we had somewhat completed our initial mission, always keeping an eye on our phones.

However, it was a rather slow start, even by our standards. We have that cycle of refreshing our YouTube studio app or our Twitter, but it seemed that our expectations wouldn’t be met, despite a positive early response. We jumped back into our cycle of side jobs, we started to work on new content, Ebb and Flow ultimately just became another video on our channel.

Again, we are now close to a year later, of course since then we got to chance to create many videos, short and long. While the reactions we had were very good (which we are more than thankful to see for all of our content) and seeing the help of the community in making the documentary available in six languages, we can’t help to feel a slight bitterness when it comes to Ebb and Flow. A mere tens of thousands views (clocking in at around 30 per day as we are writing this), little coverage in gaming media and a feeling that our initial hunch that we were onto an interesting topic wasn’t perceived the same way by the community.

This parenthesis extended quite a bit to cover an episode of “low tide” in morale, from now on we plan on sharing more background from our past content, starting from the very beginnings of our channel, up until today.

As a closing word, we would like to thank again Katsura Hashino, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Toshihiro Nagoshi, Koshi Nakanishi, Yuya Tokuda, Keiichiro Toyama, Fumihiko Yasuda, Yoko Taro & John Ricciardi and their respective teams for the time they gave us and for their participation in Ebb and Flow.

-the Archipel team

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