General Director
Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

We are entering our fourth year since we began running these relay interviews. This time, with all four episodes of the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla" now complete, we once again interview General Director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko to coincide with the start of the second part, the new "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield." He spoke about his feelings on the completion of the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla," the first anime he has been involved with in many years, and his enthusiasm and thoughts about the newly beginning "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield."
- The four episodes of what was labeled the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla" are now done. Please tell us your thoughts on reaching that end point.
Yasuhiko: In the anime, the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla" was composed of four episodes, but in the original manga, there were two volumes of "Char & Sayla" and two volumes of "To War." In terms of this production, at first they said they would like to make four episodes, and we got that far just as planned, but in terms of content, it's like we are finally reaching "To War."
- What were your impressions of being involved in anime production again?
Yasuhiko: The wheels started tangibly moving at the studio in 2014, and it took about three years to make four episodes. I may be the General Director, but I didn't really have to appear in person at the studio work site so often for my production duties, and I even thought, "Is it okay for me to have it this easy?" And I am truly appreciative of the staff for making it like that. Basically, I drew the storyboards and checked the initial key animation, and they let me work within the sphere that I myself understood. If I'd stuck my face in areas I didn't understand, I would have gotten in the way, so the idea was that I should refrain from doing so. I don't know what kinds of struggles the staff were having behind the scenes, but from the very start I think the production went smoothly. I can only judge the pluses and minuses of the work on site by the footage they produce, but in those terms, I almost never feel like, "This isn't what I expected," or "I thought I gave clear instructions." I firmly believe they are doing well, and it pleases me to have been able to work on a series that makes me feel that way.
- CG was used for the mobile suits and other mecha. Regarding the fusion of CG and hand-drawn animation, how did you feel when you saw the footage?
Yasuhiko: I thought it was really great. It might seem like I almost have an allergy to CG myself, but that's not the case. I know what it was like in the days when we had a hard time drawing in-betweens to make animation of mecha moving. So I'm satisfied with the final product as the CG production staff are doing all that work so well. Of course, I do feel there are still issues to be tackled regarding how to better blend in the CG, and how to utilize CG better, but those are things that are being refined day by day on site.
- It feels like the quality of the footage is improving through the attention to the camera angles and layouts, including the way the CG is shown.
Yasuhiko: I think the way we're doing this is the layout system. I repeated to the staff over and over again that the storyboards I drew should be regarded as layouts, and that system is going well. Back when I was actively engaged in animation, I was conscious of the layout system for "CRUSHER JOE" and "GIANT GORG." But on those projects, I was drawing the layouts or initial key animation myself, so it was a heavy burden at the time. But the system of using the storyboards as the basis is efficient, so now I feel like it's a good way to do it. For the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield," Mr. (Hajime) Katoki and Mr. (Kiyoshi) Egami were also responsible for storyboards, and I followed up on them in terms of the directorial nuance. I'm only now realizing, "There's this way of doing it too."
- Using the panels drawn for storyboards as layouts is a system you almost never hear about elsewhere.
Yasuhiko: I'm a manga artist, and in one page of manga there are five to six panels, so each panel is quite small. I've been drawing pictures in those little panels for more than twenty years, so drawing small frames into those storyboard pages was not a trial. I wonder if maybe that's a blessing of having been a manga artist. The size of those storyboard pages is appropriate. When it comes to layout sheets which are as large as the animation frame size, it changes the nature of the work. It becomes a harder operation in which you can't really cut any corners. We make enlarged copies of the storyboard panels and turn them into layouts. Naturally they are rough, but I'm now confident that it's fine for the layout system. At first it didn't really sink in that these were the layouts. On the other hand, thanks to this layout system, we've been able to shorten the schedule a corresponding amount. Normally, the layouts are hardly done on schedule, and it causes trouble. I think the production staff should be more thankful to me for fixing that. (laughs)
- You actively attended the post-recording sessions of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as THE ORIGIN) as well. What were your feelings when watching the actual recording sessions?
Yasuhiko: I never went to a single post-recording session of "GIANT GORG." I still don't understand all the knacks of recording. But, Mr. (Sadayoshi) Fujino is a veteran sound director, so I thought it would all be fine, and thought I would like to go and watch it.
- What kind of back and forth did you have with Mr. Fujino?
Yasuhiko: I'm grateful that Mr. Fujino not only reads the scripts but also reviews storyboards closely. When it comes to ordering the musical pieces as well, he explains things in detail to the composer, Mr. (Takayuki) Hattori, without me having to say anything. He's been involved in many Gundam works and is even more abundantly knowledgeable than I am, so in that regard I'm able to completely relax and watch and learn. I've known him since he was a young man and called "Fujino-kun", so I'm impressed he has become really splendid. He was an apprentice to the sound director Mr. (Koichi) Chiba, who was originally an actor and placed importance on emotion in performances, and it feels like that aspect of Mr. Chiba has been passed on and inherited.
- At the recording studio, did you talk with the voice actors or communicate your wishes to them?
Yasuhiko: I only met the voice actors at the recordings, and I couldn't see well through the glass, so I couldn't match names to faces. But in the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield" the part of Dozle is a large and active one, so I was sure to properly meet and say a few words to Mr. (Kenta) Miyake, who is playing the Dozle role.
- What was the atmosphere like at the recordings?
Yasuhiko: I was really there as a guest, so I'm not exactly sure, but it seemed comfortable to me. Only – and I keep apologizing for this – when we do post-recording, much of the footage we use is still at the stage of key animation. With such material, actors can hardly grasp a character's acting when it comes to a more emotional scene. I feel the cast are always struggling to do their best.
- Talking with the members of the cast, it seems there was a unique feeling of tension at the recording studio. But what was your impression of what you saw there, Mr. Yasuhiko?
Yasuhiko: I'm not really sure, but the project does have a legendary feel about it, and everyone must be feeling the weight of that. If I can feel the sense of "This is Gundam!" in the air, then I'm grateful. At the recording, it was a mix of ascending young voice actors and legends. Watching their give and take from the other side of the glass, and how they interacted and how they finished up, was deeply interesting.
- Was there anything that made a strong impression on you about Episode 5, which was just completed?
Yasuhiko: In Episode 5, Ms. Megumi Han plays the grown-up Sayla, but her first voice was a little too grown-up. She wasn't in Episode 4, so she was probably conscious that she wasn't a child anymore and went too far. Then, after some discussion, she portrayed her as a strong girl through and through. As a result, she's gone from being a gentle young lady to a strong girl, and I said, "The character of Sayla is complete." I think it's fine now. Originally at Ms. Han's audition, she was chosen in consideration of the image of the mature Sayla. But since she was able to handle a child voice, too, she's been playing her from the start. This time her voice is what we initially wanted to have, so it feels complete.
Also, Mr. (Toshio) Furukawa, who is playing the role of Kai. In Episode 4, he only had a few lines, but as soon as he started to act with his voice, there was a feeling in the studio, like, "That's Mr. Furukawa, all right." This time he appears much more, and I hope people enjoy it. Mr. Furukawa is normally a mature and reserved person, but when he plays a role, he goes explosive. Such sudden eruption makes everyone's eyes widen. So it's surprising, but I felt relieved to see he's still doing well.
- Up to Episode 4, it followed the original manga you drew, with some newly recomposed things for the anime. What are your thoughts about those new elements which were introduced specifically because it's animation?
Yasuhiko: I'm very satisfied with them. There are almost no spots where I felt like, "If we had more time, I'd like to fix this bit up." And I think the cast are doing a great job. When you adapt things to animation, there are concrete changes and also changes of nuance. An example of a concrete change is in Episode 3, with the appearance of a character called Lino Fernandez who gave the story more weight. Those developments are ideas I could not have come up with working by myself, shut up in my room. Similarly, the red lighting on Char in Episode 3, and the staging of the sunrise hitting him, were things Mr. (Takashi) Imanishi depicted with great attention. I'm not able to be that flashy, and thanks to that, his attention to the red color leaves a deep impression. It's like he's attentive to the things I myself am unaware of. Also, even though they aren't big changes, there are places all over which were improved by subtle changes. All those various ideas and attention to detail together gave it a fine shape, I feel.
- Coming into the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield," Mr. Katoki is involved as an episode director. Would that be a big difference compared to how it was before?
Yasuhiko: In the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield," the combat scenes are the biggest selling point, but I thought that might be beyond my abilities. So I thought from the start I should rely on a specialist. Mr. Katoki was director on a section of a movie anthology called "SHORT PEACE" entitled "A Farewell to Weapons", which I saw. Since then I thought, "I'd like to work with him," and kept my eye out. I think Mr. Katoki's preoccupations come out in a good way in Episode 5, too. Actually, you really feel like, "Look at all the attention to detail" in the storyboards, the direction and the setting designs. He really came through. His desire for realism is not half-baked. As I myself have continued to say, he is a perfectionist about the way the space is depicted, and the brightness of the lighting and textures. He says things in a more concrete way than I do, like, "A ship's bridge isn't this spacious, it should look this way." The good thing about him is, if he makes such assertions, he doesn't compromise and he sticks to his guns.
- I think because it's animation, the combat scenes have to be portrayed powerfully, and that's Mr. Katoki's responsibility, right?
Yasuhiko: In the animation, there's an incredible sense of volume in the combat scenes. So compared to all four episodes of the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla", the screen time for those scenes is much longer in this one. There's no mistake that, compared to what's come before, the animation feels like it's more than your money's worth.
- And it's not just the combat scenes. Other important points of note are the political aspects, and the drama among the public as war breaks out, which are things you focus on, Mr. Yasuhiko.
Yasuhiko: In regards to the "colony drop," when I was working on the original manga, I didn't want to depict it as it felt so depressing. But that was a major, unavoidable setting element that I couldn't run away from. It feels heavy on the mind, but if you're going to portray "What kind of people live in that falling colony and what kind of lives do they have," then you have to do it right. Those people go down with the colony too, and the catastrophic results of that were also related by Mr. Ichiro Nagai in the narration of the TV series. You simply have to deal with it. And you have to communicate the weight of that, and that was the most exhausting part of it. He says, "the deaths of half the total population," but that's not an easy thing to say. Individual humans gather together and become a hundred million, and a billion, so you have to think about those individuals as concretely and deeply as possible.
In this situation, Dozle is tormented by a guilty conscience, and his personality changes to a certain extent. Up until now he was a clown who couldn't raise his head to his brother, but after experiencing the operation that led to the colony drop, he matures to a great degree. Ultimately he even reaches the point where he can say, "They're going to ruin our country" about Gihren and Kycilia's political struggle. The role of Dozle is a crucial one in these regards, so I wanted to meet Mr. Miyake. The colony drop is a major turning point that changes the personalities of various characters. Unfortunately, after Dozle laments, "I've killed hundreds of millions of Minevas," he recovers from his distress. He comes to justify the murder of war in his own particular way.
- It depicts the question of how to move forward.
Yasuhiko: Having such a personality change through one dramatic scene is somewhat symbolic. That's the kind of creatures people are. Unfortunately they can never really learn from tragedies. So I think Dozle's drama lies in those various shades of meaning. On the other hand, in the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield," Char takes on the name "Red Comet" and makes his glorious debut, but in terms of his coverage in the story it's smaller than in the manga's "To War" volume, and Dozle comes forward. The matured Sayla, and Amuro and others also come to the fore.
- So we can expect more activity from Amuro and Fraw?
Yasuhiko: There are definitely more scenes where Amuro appears than in the original manga. With the manga, because of the page count and so forth, I couldn't portray him this far, and I didn't have the desire to depict him that much either. But when it became animation and I looked at it again, I felt like there were a lot of places where, if we only used the elements depicted in the manga, we didn't have enough to segue well into a main story where Amuro and those around him are central and active. To compare it to a bow and arrow, if we didn't pull it a bit more, it wouldn't fly over to the main story.
- What are some other points people should watch out for in the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield"?
Yasuhiko: The "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield" begins with Side 2, Hatte, and it becomes a story of war with the Battle of Loum taking place at Side 5. So, in a way, I hope people can accept those elements, and – though it sounds strange to say it – enjoy such "spectacular war". However, the fact that it is basically a frightening tale is something that absolutely cannot be ignored. It is unfortunate, but war is an incredibly frightening thing, but it's amazingly cool. That's a devilish thing about war. So I hope people will see both sides of that.
The other day, I saw a movie directed by Sunao Katabuchi called "In This Corner of the World." I sympathized completely with the way that was done. You can depict the cruelty of war by expressing the horror of the battlefield, but by depicting very little of that and showing the everyday lives of ordinary people, you can uncover an understandable horror from that opposite direction too. "What will happen to the lives and existences of these people?" If a bomb falls on them, these modest pursuits will vanish. It's all of these thousands or tens of thousands together – how horrifying that is. It's not carnage with actual bloodshed, but you can accept it with your imagination. In the manga, I was conscious of that when I worked on that aspect, and I felt like we had the same views.
Especially with a space war, if you do it badly, it becomes a fireworks show. But, if you think about it realistically, when a vessel is destroyed, it's terrible for all the people who were on board. Using poison gas to annihilate ordinary people, and dropping a colony, are even worse. If you depict such things in a flippant way, Gundam becomes a very sinful work. So we treated that with great care and consideration. For example, in the crowd scene where the citizens are evacuating to the shelter in the colony, what kinds of elderly people and children are there, and what are their expressions? We fixated on such things, so I hope people absolutely do not miss that.
- Finally, do you have a message for the fans?
Yasuhiko: The Battle of Loum encompasses the colony drop, and commands great weight in the pre-history of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM". As it's not completed until Episode 6, I don't know if it's okay to boast that we've depicted it satisfactorily, but based on the response so far, I think we've made it fairly successfully. It should meet your expectations as the climax to THE ORIGIN's "past chapters," so please watch and enjoy it.

Next time in our relay interview series, Sunrise producer Mr. Osamu Taniguchi returns. Mr. Taniguchi talks about his thoughts on the completion of the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla" and his enthusiasm for the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield."