Episode Director

Kiyoshi Egami

The fifth in our series of relay interviews with the staff of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" is Episode Director Kiyoshi Egami. He debuted as an episode director on "BLUE COMET SPT LAYZNER" (1985), and has been involved with many works since. This veteran episode director talked to us about what kind of character performances we will see in "THE ORIGIN."
- Please tell us how you became involved in "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN").
Egami: Last year, I worked on "SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO 2199" as an episode director. Mr. (Takashi) Imanishi also worked on it as CG director, and it was the first time we'd seen each other in a while.
Actually, Mr. Imanishi was my senior as production assistant when I first joined Sunrise, so our association goes way back. After that, I went to a different studio, gained some experience, and made my episode directing debut on "BLUE COMET SPT LAYZNER." But Mr. Imanishi, who’d made his episode directing debut before me, also worked on "LAYZNER," so there was a period where we were working on the episode direction together. Mr. Imanishi is my senior as both production assistant and as episode director, so he was a model in various ways, and I've learned a lot from him.
I think our reunion on "YAMATO 2199" is what led to my being asked to handle episode direction for "THE ORIGIN." So I was happy to become part of the staff.
- You've been involved with some past Gundam works, but do you have any attachment to the Gundam series in general?
Egami: I saw the first "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" when I was in university, and it was a big influence that led to my joining Sunrise. I also worked on "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM ZZ" and "MOBILE SUIT V GUNDAM." Gundam is certainly a work I admire. "THE ORIGIN" is also First Gundam as depicted by Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko, and with Mr. Imanishi as director, it's something I absolutely wanted to do.
- Since "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" was such an influence on you, do you have any thoughts about the past story depicted in this work?
Egami: I was aware of the "ORIGIN" comic, but I hadn’t read it. So when I eventually did read it, I thought the story was expanded extremely skillfully, and rather than it feeling awkward, I was actually deeply moved. Originally, only a little bit of it was depicted on film, and viewers could only imagine what had happened. Here, I was able to enjoy a story with depth that depicted exactly how such-and-such developments led to certain relationships.
- Mr. Yasuhiko is general director and is doing storyboards, but Mr. Imanishi is the director. In general, I think many people believe that the director does the job of episode directing. Could you please tell us what your job as "episode director" entails on this project, Mr. Egami?
Egami: The job of the episode director is to give more concrete instructions about how the characters should act. Your role is to decide which angle to shoot from, and what kind of cut to finish with. You have the script which acts as the base for the story, and the storyboards which form the base for the film, and then you have the director directing, but how it’s to be drawn needs to be settled on more precisely and concretely.
For example, in the case of "he runs in and throws a punch," the episode director gives concrete instructions on how he runs, what's the look on his face, how much his mouth is open, and how he throws the punch. The episode director does not draw, but gives directions to the art team to "Please draw it like this." So when it comes to the frequency and manner in which Casval blinks his eyes, or how the Guntank moves, my job is to give concrete specifications and instructions on a frame-by-frame basis, like "This kind of expression," or "Tilt the Guntank about this much," or "Move the camera to here in the next drawing.” So it could be said that the scenes for which I’m responsible are drawn wholly as per my instructions.
It's kind of like the performance plans or camera plans they use in live-action film. The episode director produces all the specific instructions for creating the footage, including nuances. Then, the director gives it a final check to see if the footage will look the way he imagined it.
This time, Mr. (Ichiro) Itano did the opening Battle of Loum combat scene, and I was in charge of episode direction for the main story that follows.
- What kind of direction did you receive from Mr. Yasuhiko and Mr. Imanishi regarding the episode?
Egami: Speaking with Mr. Yasuhiko, my impression is he was thinking, "I want to make anime characters act." He told me multiple times, "Each of the featured characters has various thoughts, and they speak those thoughts as dialogue, so they perform expressions when they speak and grown-up acting becomes important. Therefore, they can't just move - they have to act." That has been the hardest thing of all on this project. Also, it was very hard work figuring out how to represent the panel layouts of the comic so as to match the tempo of the film.
- On this project, in addition to the attention to the characters' acting, you also had to combine them with CG-created mecha. As the episode director, were there any difficulties with that?
Egami: The mecha, including cars, were ultimately drawn with CG, but their general movements were created through hand drawings. For the mecha, I checked the drawings by Mr. Takuya Suzuki, the chief mechanical animation director, and Mr. Suzuki and I would have a back-and-forth to finalize the movement of the mecha. After that process, they then began the CG production, so although it's CG in the end, the "movement" was done the old-fashioned anime way. That allowed a uniform directing style, and I feel there's no awkwardness in the final product.
- Was there generally a lot of detail work too?
Egami: Personally, I wanted the characters' performances to have casual and subtle mannerisms. I've previously striven to realize such a style, but it’s difficult to achieve it so precisely in a TV series. However, this time, Mr. Yasuhiko also had the same goal in mind. I really wanted to make it happen, so I gave a lot of impossible instructions to the art team (laughs). The art team on this project are all really talented, so they take on difficult requests, and that's really wonderful.
In particular, for the confrontation scene between Kycilia and Casval, we got a lot of notes from Mr. Yasuhiko, and Mr. (Hiroyuki) Nishimura, the chief animation director, personally corrected the movements. The detail in Kycilia's performance is really effective - it's especially worthy of note. In terms of story, too, it's one of the highlights, but I think that scene is also spellbinding in the sense of enjoying the characters' performances.
- As an episode director, were there any characters who were particularly difficult to direct?
Egami: Well, not really. However, there are things we have to be careful of with Casval. He sometimes has a childlike expression, and sometimes he’s a good big brother who looks out for Artesia, and he also sometimes glares with a grown-up expression. He has a basically somewhat scary expression, but if you look closely at his performance, for just an instant he’ll show childlike surprise, and then his expression springs right back to what it was. You're apt to overlook it, but as the episode director, I hope people notice such detailed movements in his expression.
Also, when we were done, I thought "What a star!" about Roselucia. A female animator named Minako Takasu was in charge of her, and the performance she drew is wonderful. She's an old lady who you dislike at first glance, but when you see her speak passionately about her Spacenoid ideals and her hidden feelings about the life she’s lived, you realize she's a fascinating person too, for sure (laughs).
- And finally, do you have a word for the fans who are looking forward to the series?
Egami: As an episode director, I ask you to please notice the detail in the characters' performances. And not just with Casval, Kycilia, and Roselucia, but Ral’s and Hamon's adult relationship is also quite firmly expressed.
Also, as a work, this is not just a story about the past of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM." I think you can enjoy it as a grand adventure of young Casval, too. It's not just a mecha show, it has a flavor that's close to fine art, and you will thoroughly love this tale about a young brother and sister tossed about in the historical maelstrom called the Universal Century. So please look forward to seeing it finished.

Next up in the relay interview series is musician Mr. Takayuki Hattori.