General Director

Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

This time in our relay interview series, at long last we have Mr. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, author of the "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" manga, and general director of the OVA. He spoke to us at length about many things, including his thoughts and feelings as episode 1 finally neared completion, what he focused on as general director, and his thoughts about the cast and crew. So here we go with an even more packed interview than usual!
- So Episode 1 has been successfully completed. This was your first involvement with anime in a long while. Please tell us your thoughts on reaching the first endpoint.
Yasuhiko: All in all, it feels like a relief. My work, which was drawing storyboards and checking the key animation, was over with very early in the process. So there wasn't much actual feeling of, "Ah, it's all done!" I was there for the post-recording and dubbing too, but that was really just to see the professionals doing their jobs and learn from them. Director (Takashi) Imanishi was involved until everything was really finalized, so I think he has a much greater sense of finality than me. My feeling is, "Thank goodness it's done." Almost as if I were someone else.
- On this project didn't you get a solid sense, for the first time in a while, that the work reached completion in stages?
Yasuhiko: We had trailers from 30 to 90 seconds, and then we added other film footage, and step-by-step it got closer to being done. And each time, the sense of anticipation increased. Then, when I saw the completed episode, it was something that matched that level of anticipation. I don't know whether a person involved should really say "I think it looks good". But personally, I do believe it is very well done.
Regarding my work process on this project, I didn't see the final stages. I said, "Take care of the rest," and left it in the hands of the staff who did the subsequent work. I feel bad for the people who followed me. It was truly severe work, but that was how we did it this time. As a result, I believe all the staff worked extremely hard. I myself experienced playing the role of animation director several times in the course of 20 years' involvement in anime production. To create a level of art which doesn't give of a sense of discomfort to the audience seems like an ordinary task, but I know how difficult that can be. So I think they had to go through a lot of trouble, and I think we're rewarded by that level of completion. I really feel the crew all did a great job.
- Your main jobs on this project were storyboarding and checking the initial key animation, but how did the storyboard work proceed?
Yasuhiko: Director Imanishi and I received the completed script and checked it together, and then I created the storyboards based on those conversations. I drew the storyboards as carefully as possible so they communicated our intentions. Furthermore, they were being used for the layouts as well, so I checked the key animation which was drawn based on the storyboards. After that series of jobs, my role was complete. I was the one who asked for the storyboards to be used as layouts, so I couldn't be careless in drawing them.
From the start, I was confident that I'd be able to draw the storyboards to a level where they would match the quality of what I remember "layouts" used to look like. Then I gave them over to the production assistant, so copies could be made for the animators to refer to in drawing the layouts.
- As a manga artist, your work involves drawing panels, but now your job is drawing shots while being conscious of "the screen" for the first time in a while. Did you feel any sense of difference there?
Yasuhiko: It does feel different, and when you're working within the screen, you really feel the various difficulties on a daily basis. I learned how hard animation is all over again. With manga, the volume of information has become sparser compared to the old days. To put it in extreme terms, the information that artists used to pack into 20 or 30 pages seems like it needs two or three volumes now. Things that were conveyed in one panel back in the day are now divided into multiple shots. Generally speaking, they're longer. On this project, what I drew in one volume turned out to be about an hour. Looking at it again, I think the filmed work covered a little less than that one volume, so it must have been relatively densely packed. I was able to reconfirm that the expressive density of manga is still not so bad.
However, a filmed work has the overwhelming power of film, while manga has its own path. This is the first time I've fully seen that mutual relationship. My manga "ARION" was filmed before too, but since it wasn't something that was originally supposed to fit into a single movie, we had to rearrange the plot for the movie. So it's a different work from the source material. In that respect, this project basically prioritizes the comics, and since I'm involved with the storyboards myself, there are many points of comparison. Thus I had to think through the difference between manga and animation in their expressive methods, as if I were looking into it closely for the first time.
- Was the job of transferring manga panels to storyboard angles hard work?
Yasuhiko: It certainly was. As for in what respect, I still haven't lost what you could call the nature of an animator. That is to say, even when I'm drawing manga, I still feel the influence of film, or I haven't separated those two in my thought process. So it felt as if there were this strange tail attached to the manga while I was working on it. But this tail wasn't such a bad thing. For instance, I'd draw a certain pose in a frame, and then I'd temporarily forget about that frame and say "well, this is film," and create storyboards from the script. Then sometimes, I'd have exactly the same picture in both the manga and the storyboard. So what I'd been drawing in the manga wasn't wrong after all. This realization was like some odd secret treat – something only a person who had tackled both fields of work could savor.
Some people may think that you simply put what was drawn in the manga panels into the storyboards, but that isn't the case. I think it would have been improper to simply copy the art from the manga, but somehow it turned out just the same in those cases. The reason why I'm still interested in anime production is because you can make these kinds of interesting discoveries.
- Watching the completed episode 1, you can feel a bright tone to it. Were you conscious of this difference in tone when you were storyboarding?
Yasuhiko: No, I wasn't really conscious of that. However, because the manga is in panels, you get some large panels and some small panels on a point-by-point basis. In animation, however, you're continually working within a single screen. That difference in tone may be the result of more aspects of the story picking up light and attention, not just the dark scenes which were the main focus of the manga. In manga, the panel size is usually smaller during the lighter parts. If such small panels were enlarged into bigger frames, you might get a different impression, and if the tone seems to change as a result then that's a good thing.
- With the adaptation into anime, there were some points of difference from the manga, I think. Can you tell us how things changed?
Yasuhiko: In terms of the basic flow, I think there are everything from large changes to small alterations, due to the involvement of so many people with the work. For example, at the beginning where Deikun appears, that scene is different from the manga. But that was changed because of the way the screenplay writer, Mr. (Katsuyuki) Sumisawa, thought about it. And that change wasn't made simply. I thought, "Huh? Isn't that a crude way to show it?" But then I thought it over, and I changed to thinking, "Well, it's better this way." It was my first experience of being able to look back at something like that.
- Speaking of small alterations, Gihren has gained a hobby, and it seems like he now has more character.
Yasuhiko: In the manga when Kycilia comes to deliver her report, he's pruning his garden, but you feel like, "Why would he be doing such a thing?" It's rather dull. When I thought about what Gihren would do in his private time, I naturally thought of simulation games. Or what about the game of Go, which is said to be deeper than chess or shogi? It's the formative process that leads to him becoming a dictator, so I thought he must have undergone various types of training. We gave such things a try, so long as they didn't turn into bad jokes. When he and Dozle discuss what to do with the out-of-control Guntank, he's wearing shogi-patterned clothing, for example.
- The new element of CG is a part of this project, but did you think about the way it would be employed?
Yasuhiko: As for the CG, I didn't understand it, nor did I try. People who don't understand something making uncalled-for comments about it are nothing but a nuisance, so I felt I should just leave them to it. Their performance on this project was incredibly good, and I'm deeply appreciative of the staff for the work they did.
This was a long time ago, but when I first heard about CG being used, I thought, "Just don't." I didn't have a very good impression of it. Long ago, it was flashy and crude, and I only had a negative image of it as something intruding on hand-drawn art. Then I was shown a sample and told, "This is what the quality is like now," and I had to agree. I was then given a preview screening of the actual finished work, and I was even more satisfied.
In regards to the movement of CG, Mr. (Takuya) Suzuki, the chief mechanical animation director, drew the key animation for many shots. Of course I checked them, but ultimately I had no idea what process they'd go through and what kind of film footage would result. However, I understood Mr. Suzuki's great skill as an animator, so I felt I should just look forward to seeing what he did with it. And the staff at D.I.D. Studio who produced the CG based on Mr. Suzuki's key animation did a great job as well. I feel like we have a great marriage of good animators and good CG. In terms of animation's future too, it's a good thing that that kind of expression has become possible.
- Mr. Hiroyuki Nishimura, the chief animation director, did a wonderful job too, didn't he?
Yasuhiko: I'm deeply grateful to him as well. Mr. Nishimura divided up the work with his assistant animation director, but it was still very tough, I think. I checked the key animation, but I would just say, "Please correct it so it's like this," and then leave the rest to them, so it was easy for me. But it was Mr. Nishimura who fixed it, and even made it better in some respects. I feel we were able to do the job with a relationship of trust that included things like that. So I'm truly satisfied with the artwork too.
- What are your thoughts on working together with Director Imanishi?
Yasuhiko: We adopted a policy of not talking unnecessarily in a way that would complicate things. When it comes to the world of CG, Mr. Imanishi is unrivalled, so there was nothing for me to say about it. In terms of work, we were obsessed with completely opposite things. The things I obsessed over, surprisingly he didn't focus on, and the things I didn't, he did for me. It was sort of like that.
It's like that when I'm drawing manga too. I don't worry too much about the details. You might even say it's careless and crude. However, for better or for worse, modern animation doesn't allow for careless and crude parts. So that obsession with detail, which I didn't happen to have, he covered for me. Sometimes I even thought, "Do we need to go that far?" but thanks to Mr. Imanishi doing that, there's a very high density of detail. I feel we were able to do the job kind of passing by each other.
- Were you also involved with the casting?
Yasuhiko: I was given some choice in the auditions, but basically I didn't expect there would be any mistakes in the casting. The main cast are all such big names, and it's the thing I know least about, but I hear they're all leading role-class performers. I'm completely satisfied. For example, Ms. Miyuki Ichijyo as Roselucia. She performed that important role in such a unique way.
- Please tell us your thoughts about Ms. Mayumi Tanaka as Casval and Ms. Megumi Han as Artesia.
Yasuhiko: Ms. Tanaka is very youthful. Even now, she runs and leaps in her performances. She really does seem young. Her role in this project was a bit taciturn, so I felt sorry that she didn't have more lines. It may have been unreasonable to ask it of her, but I'm grateful we did.
With Ms. Megumi, we actually imagined her in a different role when she auditioned, but she was incredibly good, so we asked her to do Artesia. I'm nervous about what everyone's reactions will be, but I think it'll be good. She's very passionate about the work, and she even came to see how the dubbing went. She's young but very serious, and I'm looking forward to more from her.
- You went to the post-recording too. What are your thoughts about that experience?
Yasuhiko: Basically, I left all that to them, and I just went there to observe. Mr. (Sadayoshi) Fujino, the sound director, is extremely attentive to details and gave the actors quite severe instructions, so I feel at ease knowing there are no errors there. For instance, he went into fine detail making sure the actors matched the characters' mouth movements. And on the other hand, if there was room to fix the drawings, he would ask to have them changed to match the dialog. I felt like my role was to state my opinions when things were a bit more loose and relaxed.
So I think the performers and the sound director all did a great job. Also, most of the artwork was in place when the post-recording was done, and I feel like it should always be this way. It's unusual to do the post-recording without the artwork, and it's a discourtesy to the professionals. It should be only natural that the artwork is there.
- How is work progressing on episode 2?
Yasuhiko: More than half the key animation is done, but there's been a little bit of delay. There was too much groping in the dark, and now we can see ahead. And now I mostly understand what my position is, so I hope I don't go outside of that.
- So, do you have any final words for all the people looking forward to the project?
Yasuhiko: I think those who have already seen it can attest to its quality, so at the very least, we want to maintain that and keep to the schedule. When you see "THE ORIGIN," I think it's a work that hardly ever gives you that uncomfortable feeling of, "Why is it like this?" It might sound only natural that the work shouldn't cause any discomfort, but the staff have worked very hard to get it to that point. I hope the audience will get a sense of those efforts. This is a work that I think will satisfy the audience in those respects as well, and it would please me if they continue to enjoy it.