Episode Director

Nana Harada

From character performances to background movement, the episode director is responsible for the visual depiction of all the details throughout an episode. This time around, we spoke to Nana Harada, the director of Episode 2 of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"), mainly about the portrayal of Edouard and Sayla, and also about directorial attention to detail.
- How did you come to be involved with THE ORIGIN?
Harada: I've worked with Mr. (Takashi) Imanishi many times to begin with, and he approached me because of that connection. I've continually worked for Sunrise's D.I.D. Studio, which Mr. Imanishi is attached to, but it's actually been a long time since we've worked this closely together. Mr. Imanishi was the series director on the OVA "ARMORED TROOPER VOTOMS: Shining Heresy," and I was an episode director, so we worked together for about a year. I understand how he works, so I was keen to jump back into it.
- Looking back over your career so far, you've been involved with a lot of robot and mecha works. People often have the impression that mecha isn't really a forte of female directors, but do you have any sense of strengths or weaknesses on a project?
Harada: When I first started at Sunrise, I didn't know left from right. But the very first thing I worked on was a TV series by Mr. (Yoshiyuki) Tomino. So right off the bat I was thrown into a job involving mecha. Of course, at first, I didn't know much about mecha, just like the conventional idea about most women. But it wouldn't serve the job for me to say, "I don't really get this," so I never said "no" to it, and I learned about it.
Even so, I'm grateful to have been working at Sunrise right away. If I had been involved with some other project before that, I think it would have been very difficult to get into mecha stories later on. I got experience with mecha-based stories without knowing anything about them, so I was able to work on mecha-related projects afterwards without any resistance. And ever since then, in terms of my favorite works, I quite love the ones with all the explosions and combat!
- What kind of impressions did you have of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" (hereafter "GUNDAM") and Mr. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko?
Harada: I watched the first "GUNDAM" as an ordinary fan, and it was one of the things that made me want to work in animation. As for Mr. Yasuhiko, he was the top of the top, above the clouds even, and I never imagined I would ever work with him. Ever since the serialization of "THE ORIGIN" began, I'd been talking to friends about how great it would be to see an anime version, and now that the time has actually come, it's deeply emotional.
- Ms. Harada, you are directing the second episode. What kind of instructions did you get from Mr. Yasuhiko regarding it?
Harada: He didn't say anything in particular about it overall, but instead he made requests about specific shots. And of those, he had very detailed instructions about the transformation of Edouard's character. How much emotion should he express? When he's angry, he's expressionless, and he glares at his adversary with no expression apart from his eyes. He gave me those kinds of very specific instructions. In addition to the expression shown in Edouard's eyes, he also said things about the timing of his movements, such as, "Until then he moves slowly, but then suddenly he rushes at the other person." Mr. Yasuhiko would sometimes write down the emotional expressions in detail in the layouts that he personally checked.
- Ms. Harada, what did you yourself focus on with the portrayal of Edouard's character?
Harada: Definitely the emotional expression. I was very attentive to how much of his heart Edouard expresses as his mind becomes increasingly stormy. Because there are still elements he has hidden away inside him. In the episode, there's a scene where he's attacked and fights in person. At first it's a frightening situation, but once he passes a certain point, he switches to the counterattack. That's his personality. His emotions tell him to run in fear, but that gradually changes to anger against his opponent, so I really focused on those concealed inner aspects.
- Did you try to change how things were depicted directorially between episodes 1 and 2?
Harada: I don't particularly think so. It's specific to the period setting, and a bit of time has passed since episode 1, so they've moved from the age of childhood to adolescence. I think that passage of time naturally changed the approach to the direction.
- And were you conscious of any aspects that were "Gundam-like"?
Harada: I myself was of the first "GUNDAM" generation, so I'd already formed an idea in my head of what Char was like and how Sayla grew up. I think the same is true for all the fans who watched it. I consciously tried as much as possible not to ruin those images.
- As an episode director, did you get the impression that this has a higher feeling of density than other works?
Harada: That's true. This episode starts out Spain, then there's the secret history of mobile worker development, and then it goes to the Texas Colony and more and more locations. And the characters' emotions also go through more changes. You really feel there's a lot to it. Also, since the open-type Texas Colony appears, I talked a lot with Mr. Imanishi about how things would look through the windows of an open-type space colony and how we should depict that.
- One of the highlights of this episode is the scene where Hamon sings at Club Eden.
Harada: Mr. Yasuhiko was very particular about that scene. We filmed an actual performance to use as reference. We made the finger movements on the instruments match the music, and we gave the gestures and mood around Hamon's singing a seductive quality. We made it so viewers won't have any sense of anything being out of place with the musical performance, and also created the right atmosphere for the scene.
- To which scene did you give the most attention in episode 2?
Harada: That has to be the dramatic high point, of course – the final parting scene between Edouard and Sayla. It depicts a crucial scene that connects to their later reunion in the "GUNDAM" TV series and movies, so I thought we should make their respective emotions visible if possible. Chief animation director Mr. (Hiroyuki) Nishimura also made each shot itself longer, and we worked hard to reproduce the light movements of Mr. Yasuhiko's artwork. Personally, at the end I concentrated on places where we could see a little of Edouard's expression.
Also, we put a lot of work into the emotional expressions and the movements in the background. In that scene it was important that the wind was blowing, so we built the trees around them with CG and made them sway. In the old days, we would have drawn them as part of the background art, or we would have had to hand-draw the movement even though they would have felt different from the backgrounds. Now, we can give the trees texture with CG, and depict them swaying in the wind. I wanted the trees to sway fiercely to match Edouard's emotions, so I was very attentive to everything from the expressions to the backgrounds.
- Was there anything else you worked hard on in the studio?
Harada: There were several points where we had to combine hand-drawn and CG art. For those scenes and shots, I wondered what kind of materials I should provide. They took shape through several tests and checks, so it took a lot of work.
Mr. Imanishi especially listened to the opinions of all the staff involved, so chief mecha animation director Mr. Suzuki, chief character animation director Mr. Nishimura, and everyone else looked at it and said, "How about more like this?" We did more tests, and they steadily took shape.
- As a director, has knowledge of CG become necessary?
Harada: Probably it's essentially necessary, but the technology keeps progressing too, so sometimes you can't keep up. As a director, it's not just CG; even the way we film has reached a different stage now, so the way we use the CG is itself changing more and more too. And as a viewer, your TV has also gotten much bigger and has higher definition, so you have to depict things in detail for those reasons. For example, we now take additional steps like creating larger artwork and then having the cinematographer reduce it, to preserve the detail in the art. We can assume every household is watching it on a large screen these days, and this series is being screened in theaters too, so it's necessary that we create footage that can hold up on big screens.
- How is the episode director involved with the performance of the voice actors?
Harada: The episode director is present for all of the postrecording. At the recording studio, the sound director is responsible for the postrecording, but the episode director is there to explain visual considerations to the sound director, like, "This image was created with this intention," or "He's making this kind of expression," or "He moves in this kind of way with this intention." Regarding scenes and shots, Mr. Yasuhiko and Mr. Imanishi communicate any points they are particular about. But I've been looking closely at the key art for every shot, and the episode director is the only one who talks directly with the artists, so ultimately it's the episode director who explains all of that. In that respect, the job of the episode director is to observe the whole flow from beginning to end. Even checking the final colors and backgrounds is part of the episode director's job.
- What was the postrecording like?
Harada: Mr. Shuichi Ikeda is playing the role of Edouard. He was extremely conscious of him being a young Char, so he himself said, "I'd like to do it with a slightly different tone," and asked to re-record it. The postrecording was already done, but he was so strongly involved emotionally that he asked to re-record his part. I also felt a sense of nervousness in the studio, probably because it was "THE ORIGIN."
- Ms. Harada, what are your own feelings about working on "THE ORIGIN"?
Harada: There was a lot of pressure, of course. Especially because, on this project, I had to directly ask Mr. Yasuhiko about his intentions, a man I had thought of as being above the clouds. That said, I've been involved in a lot of projects and I've got strong nerves now, so I was able to do the job without being too nervous about it.
- And finally, as its director, please tell us what to watch out for in episode 2.
Harada: This is the tale of how the siblings were adopted by Teabolo Mass, lived peacefully on Earth as Edouard and Sayla Mass, and then events occurred that ultimately led to their separation. But I believe the way their circumstances and their ways of thinking gradually change is a highlight. Also, for those who love mecha, we depict the secret history of mobile suit development, and the related back-and-forth between Ramba Ral and the Black Tri-Stars is sure to be enjoyed by Gundam fans.

Next in our relay interview series is Takumi Ishida, the singer of episode 2's theme song.