It was a very small press panel, even by the standards of such things. Five of us, no more. So we were able to talk among ourselves a little bit beforehand, planning out what we'd ask while the head of the studio enjoyed a burrito.
Or at least try. The problem was that they had some questions emailed by random members of press beforehand, and they decided to ask some of those first. Kind of a waste of time, considering that, first, most of that information was easily found on the Internet, and second, the people sending in the questions hadn't even bothered to show up.
I was there for a slightly different purpose than most of the fans -- I was really curious about the business end. In particular, I wanted to hear about the negotiations for the global simulcast rights. I'd heard from the Chinese forums that the Chinese stream of Fate/Zero had nearly been cancelled several times by the censors. There were also a bunch of open questions regarding payments and so forth -- issues that I'd never heard about in America, but that seemed suddenly fascinating. I was also curious about the break between the seasons. They'd claimed massive fatigue after the first fifteen episodes, but was there more to the story?
Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good answer to the first question, but I did get a pretty good sense as to the story behind the break.
I'd read beforehand that, in another interview, he'd mentioned that the entire staff was running on a couple hours of sleep a night during the first run of Fate/Zero. They'd made a couple of episodes in advance specifically to avoid this problem, but as it developed, their perfectionist impulses caught up with them. So they took a season off, just to recover. That's what I knew coming in.
At the AX press panel, KONDO Hikaru elaborated on that, saying that they'd taken a year and a half of meetings on the series before work actually started -- that the last episode itself took three months of meetings. Everything was very meticulously-planned, carefully paced, and of course that took its toll on the staff. (Personally, I can see that. Each episode felt like a short movie, beautifully structured, complete in itself.)
Just moving from the original light novel medium was intrinsically challenging. "There's a lot of talking in the novels. We had to distill that, otherwise it would turn into a series of monologues, rather than the action series we wanted it to be."
"We drew a lot from US action films."
The other problem that they were having -- the bit where their perfectionism came back to bite -- was that the action sequences had to be stunning. Or as least as stunning as they could afford. And, on an anime budget, that meant they had to choose their battles.
And that's a serious business question. You can spend money on some scenes -- which do you choose? In this case, there are some amazing set pieces, balanced against some fairly basic CG. It's a problem with a lot of studios. They don't know how to balance the artistic side with the basic necessity to make a profit. Gainax learned to do it eventually. Gonzo never has. It's not even a balancing act, except at the margin. You push the art as far as you can, but always have to make enough to survive.
I got the impression that he was comfortable with both sides. It's not something that one can come out and say, but when he answered questions, he'd talk about merchandise in an offhand, casual way. He'd talk about events. Making deals. And then AOKI Ei would talk about how Wandering Son had more of a focus on body language and colors and such, while Fate/Zero is more about dialogue, battle, lighting and facial expressions.