Character Design

Tsukasa Kotobuki

For this installment in our series of relay staff interviews, we have Mr. Tsukasa Kotobuki, the lead character designer. Mr. Kotobuki has been active in a broad range of projects, from character design for anime and games, to creating Gundam manga such as "MOBILE SUIT Z GUNDAM Day After Tomorrow - From Kai's Shiden's Reports" (hereafter referred to as "Kai's Reports"). We talked to him about his thoughts on "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"), which Mr. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko himself asked him to work on.
- What was the course of events that led to your involvement with "THE ORIGIN"?
Kotobuki: Around the time I was serializing "MOBILE SUIT Z GUNDAM Day After Tomorrow - From Kai Shiden's Memories" (hereafter referred to as "Kai's Memories") in Kadokawa Shoten's "Monthly Gundam Ace," Mr. Yasuhiko got in touch to say he wanted me to take on the character design for the anime of "THE ORIGIN."
It had already been announced that there would be an anime of "THE ORIGIN," and I myself figured - no differently than any other Gundam fan would - that the "GUNDAM UC" team would surely carry over to it. And it was just then that I got the call.
After that, Mr. (Hideyuki) Tomioka of Sunrise threatened me, saying that "If you don't do this, then the anime version dies right here" (laughs). I myself was looking forward to seeing the translation to anime, so I answered, "I'll help to the extent that I'm able!"
At the time, I was working on the serialization of "Kai's Memories." I thought it would be too hard to multitask and do the anime too, so the scheduled three volumes were abridged to two, and once the serialization ended, I shifted over to the anime job.
- You've worked on several Gundam-related manga, starting with "Kai's Reports," so you must have a strong attachment to Gundam.
Kotobuki: I was in fourth grade when "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" came out, so I was of the generation that was directly hit by First Gundam. When "MOBILE SUIT Z GUNDAM" was broadcast I was in the second grade of middle school. I'd never imagined that they would ever produce a sequel, and I thought, "Aw, if only I'd been born a little bit earlier, I might've been able to work on Gundam!"
But right after that I met the monster known as Comike, and by the time "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM ZZ" and "CHAR'S COUNTERATTACK" came out I was making dōjinshi fanzines. After that, Gundam works were coming out one after the other, and I thought, "If there are this many Gundam works coming out, surely I'll get the chance to work on one too, right?!" But at that time I was more of a manga artist than an animator, so I figured, "Well, in that case I ought to support Gundam works through manga."
When I heard that "THE ORIGIN" would be serialized in a new magazine called "Gundam Ace," I thought, "I definitely want to be a part of that!" But at that exact same time I was right in the middle of serializing a manga in Monthly Shonen Ace. When I heard from the editors that serialization of "THE ORIGIN" would finish in three years, I figured I wouldn't be able to be a part of it, and just gave up. But thankfully Mr. Yasuhiko's serialization was extended, and as a result I was able to do "Kai's Reports" and "Kai's Memories" six years after the magazine launched. Those caught Mr. Yasuhiko's eye, so I am truly grateful to Gundam Ace.
- In other words, what you were thinking about at the time actually came true. What did you think when you were approached about doing the character designs?
Kotobuki: At the time my thought was, "Why me?" (laughs) I thought maybe they'd mistaken me for somebody else, but quite a while before they contacted me directly, I heard Sunrise was considering it, and I wondered if there was some mistake. Out of all the talented anime staff out there, I find it amazing even now that they chose me. I grew up watching Gundam, and I always wished I could be involved with anime, so for me now to be able to actually say, "I'm designing those characters for anime!" is deeply moving.
- Mr. Sumisawa in our previous interview said a similar thing.
Kotobuki: I think people who entered this world because they liked Gundam would love to be involved with a Gundam title in some form. And of those, I think you could say working on "THE ORIGIN" is one of the all-time ultimate jobs.
There's already a sense of accomplishment. Of course, there's still a ton of work to go, so we are in no way finished whatsoever (laughs).
- You’re doing "joint" character design with Mr. Yasuhiko on this project, but how exactly do you divide up the work?
Kotobuki: At first, they said Mr. Yasuhiko would not be involved in the anime, so at that point I was responsible for all the characters including the main protagonists. But later there was a reorganization, and it was decided that Mr. Yasuhiko would join as General Director for the past chapters, and was himself also going to do storyboards and check layouts. At that stage, since he was going that far, he wanted to use his own art for the featured characters rather than having them arranged by another person. But that said, Mr. Yasuhiko was still working on the serialization of the manga and now he was going to be working on the anime, so considering the workload, it was decided that Mr. Yasuhiko would handle the characters he was particularly attached to, and I would handle all the rest.
However, the lines aren't that clearly defined. In meetings, we divided it very simply, as if he were looking at the roughs I'd drawn and saying, "I'll draw this one, and you do this one, Kotobuki." But it's like there is a give and take, and it feels as if we're still fine-tuning things even now. Partway through, he might say, "Actually, I'll take this one, and you take this one after all." To be honest, it's a relief to not have to do the main characters (laughs).
- As far as the actual work goes, did you get any instructions from Mr. Yasuhiko?
Kotobuki: Well, the mobile suits and costumes were to change, so to a certain degree it was okay to change them to go with the flow of the times. Even so, I endeavored to make them as much like Yoshikazu Yasuhiko designs as possible in my own way. However, midway through, it turned out that Mr. Yasuhiko himself was going to be drawing the main characters. So we had to adjust the designs we'd already done even further, so there would be no awkwardness alongside Mr. Yasuhiko's characters. Ideally, the Yasuhiko images would also bring out the touch of Chief Animation Director (Hiroyuki) Nishimura… In other words, I was trying to draw designs that aimed somewhere between the art of those two people.
- At present, are you in the studio and working?
Kotobuki: D.I.D. Studio, which handled the mecha and CG, was well ahead. But when the "ORIGIN" studio was first established, I was the only one there, so I fervently practiced drawing in Mr. Yasuhiko's style there. Afterwards, Chief Animation Director Nishimura joined me, and then we both spent the days practicing the Yasuhiko style. Now it's completely different, and the drawing work is being done mainly under the direction of Mr. Nishimura, so it seems like I'm being left to myself even though I have little experience in the field of anime.
When the two of us lined up our desks and practiced our drawing, it felt like the battle-hardened Mr. Nishimura could see the future clearly. It was a world I completely did not understand. That being the situation, I'm doing my best not to hold everybody else back.
- You were involved with the animated version of "THE ORIGIN" from a very early stage, but having finally seen the moving images in the completed promotional video, what are your impressions?
Kotobuki: At first, I felt a sense of relief to finally see how my own credit would be displayed (laughs). As I had great confidence in the moving images, I could only grin. I had no idea what D.I.D., who did the CG, was doing, so when I saw the Zaku, I thought, "Ah, so this is how the mobile suits in 'THE ORIGIN' move!" And at the same time, I also thought, "I'm actually working on Gundam now!"
- Mr. Sumisawa, who we interviewed in the last installment, asked the mean question: "When are you going to start up 'Kai's Reports' again?" (laughs)
Kotobuki: To be sure, Mr. Sumisawa has also occasionally suspended the serialization of his "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING" novel in "Gundam Ace" when working on "THE ORIGIN!" (laughs) For me, it's an environment where I'm able to support Gundam works even from outside the studio, so even if it's irregular, I'd like to keep working in "Gundam Ace."
- Well, any final thoughts?
Kotobuki: Right now, I'm mixed up with a staff made up of the absolute elite, so I'm just trying to be useful and not be a nuisance if possible. There's still a while before the general release, but please look forward to its completion. Also, I would like to once again express my gratitude here to "Gundam Ace" for providing me with the opportunity to be where I now am, to all the readers who have constantly supported my work on "Kai's Reports" and "Kai's Memories," and to voice actor Mr. Toshio Furukawa. Thank you, thank you!

Next in our series of relay interviews is the man with whom Mr. Kotobuki practiced the Yasuhiko style, chief animation director Mr. Hiroyuki Nishimura.