Osamu Taniguchi

With the conclusion of the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla" and the start of the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield," Producer Osamu Taniguchi of Origin Studio returns to our relay interview series for the first time in three years. He spoke to us about the work of these three years to get to Episode 4, new guidelines for the production starting with Episode 5 which is being undertaken with fresh enthusiasm, the thinking behind the scenes, and his interactions with the staff.
- When we spoke to you three years ago, you had practically only just started working at Sunrise. What are your thoughts now that you've actually performed as a producer?
Taniguchi: Personally, in terms of mecha projects, I was a production assistant on "TIDE-LINE BLUE" by Mr. Umanosuke Iida, who directed "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: THE 08th MS TEAM." "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN") is my first mecha project as a producer. At first I thought it would be a struggle in various ways, but once I was actually involved, the work itself was not that different from other projects. However, I was surprised by the amount of sci-fi research and setting. On this project, we have Mr. (Tsukasa) Shikano for sci-fi consultation and Mr. (Takuhito) Kusanagi on military uniform and equipment design, so it's the kind of project where you need to turn to professionals, people who really know their stuff in those areas. Also, we needed to pay extremely close attention to the timeline and history of the Universal Century. It felt strongly like we had to attach great importance to investigation of the Gundam world, like "This device is OK here" or "This technology is not OK here."
The "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield" depicts more mecha than the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla," so we also have Mr. (Yohei) Kodama for the backgrounds, and Mr. Takashi Miyamoto (mecha designer on "CODE GEASS: AKITO THE EXILED") to add precise mecha design-like detailing to the layout drawings of things like the bridges, decks, and interiors of the Musai, Salamis and other warships. I was previously consulting with art director Mr. (Junichi) Higashi to add some new staff who could incorporate more details into the layout drawings. But such people would need a mecha designer's abilities, and we couldn't find anyone quite suitable. Then we talked to mecha designer Mr. (Hajime) Katoki, and he introduced us to Mr. Miyamoto. Thanks to Mr. Miyamoto, the detailing became very intricate, but it forced the background artists to work harder.
- How do you feel about completing the four episodes of the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla" after three years?
Taniguchi: Now that it's done, I can say that it was shorter than I expected. In the middle of it, I was conscious of the long road ahead. "Two more episodes..." But looking back now that it's finished, it feels like there's lots more we could have done. From publicity to artwork, it feels like there were good things and bad. I won't mention specifically what was good and what was bad, and it's not that if we squashed those bad aspects the work would be perfect, but that unevenness is the final quality of this project. We accept that as the result, and turn our hands to the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield."
- In a producer's position different from that of the general director, Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko, you need to set a ceiling on quality and schedule. Were those judgments quite severe on “THE ORIGIN" compared to other projects?
Taniguchi: In terms of cel count, we used about 25,000 in Episodes 1 and 2, and about 30,000 in Episodes 3 and 4. That fit into what we projected. But with the number and length of shots, Mr. Yasuhiko was obsessive, and it seemed like we were going to go too long in running time. Even so, we were able to limit it to under 900 shots. Then we estimated how many shots and cels we'd have to produce per month. Such calculation became more accurate each time we produced a new episode, and by Episode 4 it was easy to calculate. Compared to that, it's hard to make estimates for Episode 5 and onward. I think all the fans would like us to maintain the same schedule, but the amount of material is greater, and the quality has to be better too. Things can't just be as they have been. The hurdles are higher. That's what we're working hard on at the moment.
- Regarding the production being on schedule, they say "THE ORIGIN" is excellent in that respect.
Taniguchi: People do seem to be saying that. That's thanks to everyone's hard work, and a result of estimates with some degree of leeway. And the one who worked the hardest was, of course, Mr. Yasuhiko; that is, his storyboards were done with extraordinary speed. In normal projects, the thing that causes the most trouble is getting stuck when the scripts, storyboards, and designs are delayed. But because Mr. Yasuhiko worked so quickly, the staff working below him were also led by that. The main staff, meaning the episode directors and animation directors, were also serious and exceptional people. So every day, constantly, the quality never dropped, the work continued steadily, and that's what produced results.
- I think Mr. Yasuhiko's trustful relationship with the studio also grew, but when you look at it from a producer's standpoint, was there also a significant change in Mr. Yasuhiko's approach towards his work?
Taniguchi: I think so. Before, he basically left things like the music to other people. But now, he says things like, "There's one part of the lyrics of the ending theme that bothers me, and I'd like to change it." So we're getting his opinion on things like that, too. At first there was the sense that he'd just returned to the anime industry after a long absence, but lately that feeling isn't there anymore. He understands the work, and we're able to get a wide range of various opinions from him. I think it's become fun for him in many ways. Something that made an impression was regarding Erdush, the commander of the Guncannon Iron Cavalry Squadron in Episode 4. A member of the Origin Studio staff from overseas was the model for him, but it was Mr. Yasuhiko who proposed that. Also, at the start of Episode 4, there's a flashback scene in which a CG bust of Deikun appears. That was Mr. Yasuhiko's idea too. He thought it might look good if we scanned the bust that was made for display in 3D, and used CG to process it. He hits on those small things and verbalizes them more and more. That surprises me every time now. He also has confidence in the CG artwork, and respects the people working on it. Up until Episode 3, for anything regarding music and sound, Mr. (Takashi) Imanishi would hold preliminary meetings and then the work would be done. But after Episode 3, it got so we had to ask Mr. Yasuhiko and the episode directors for their opinions. So I think Mr. Yasuhiko himself had to change the way he was involved. In that sense, as the only comics serialization he's doing now is "Yamato Takeru," the way he invests his energies has changed, and it feels like he's almost made a full-fledged comeback to animation.
- Mr. Imanishi has stepped down, so after Episode 4 Mr. Yasuhiko has more relative importance, but was there any change to the workplace system?
Taniguchi: The trouble we had in Episode 4 was with the mecha scenes. There's a battle on the moon in Mare Smythii between the Guncannon Iron Cavalry Squadron and the Zeon mobile suits piloted by Ral, Char, and the later Black Tri-Stars. Mr. Yasuhiko said he wanted to ask Mr. (Hajime) Katoki to do the storyboards. At the time, Mr. Katoki was busy with another project and couldn't do it, but that led to Mr. Katoki being asked to do storyboards for Episode 5. For the mecha scenes in Episode 4, Mr. Yasuhiko said, "Mecha scenes aren't really my specialty." But there was the schedule to think about, so ultimately Mr. Yasuhiko drew them. As a result, Mr. Yasuhiko ended up drawing the entire storyboards for the first time in these 4 episodes. If Mr. Katoki had drawn them then, he would have been more obsessive, and I think it might have been interesting in a different sense.
- You've spoken about the storyboards, so I wanted to ask, with Mr. Yasuhiko's storyboards, what kind of processes you went through before making final decisions?
Taniguchi: Once Mr. Yasuhiko has completed the storyboards, the episode directors and animation directors check them. At that point, they're asked to point out things that should be changed, such as the choice of shots and the lengths of scenes. I myself might state wishes like, "The number of shots is too high right now, I'd like you to cut fifty." This process was something Mr. Yasuhiko also wanted, so that's always how we worked from Episode 1 onwards. If, for example, we'd had doubts about Mr. Yasuhiko's storyboards and worked with them anyway, it would have made things hard for the episode directors and animation directors, so we deliberately created opportunities to say to Mr. Yasuhiko, "Wouldn't such and such be better?" After that back and forth, they're allowed to work as they wish. But sometimes Mr. Yasuhiko would also say, "I want to make this like it was before."
- The examination of each shot is done closely in storyboard meetings too, right?
Taniguchi: That's right. For Episode 5, Mr. Yasuhiko is the main person working on storyboards along with Mr. Katoki and episode director Mr. (Kiyoshi) Egami, but there was a lot of revision. Mr. Yasuhiko would sometimes state desires like, "That would be better like this," or, "I'd like it more like this," about things in the storyboards the other two drew. And when Mr. Egami checked Mr. Katoki's storyboards and made a request, I might ask Mr. Egami himself to work on those storyboards. So the discussions were quite intense as we worked towards completion of the storyboards.
- In that sense, Episode 5 seems to be considerably denser in content.
Taniguchi: This applies to Mr. Yasuhiko too, but Mr. Katoki is a person who can make things really dense, so that had a big influence. The opening sequence of Episode 1 where Dozle is commanding from the Valkyrie is shown again, but it's all different, including how we show it. The art design is like that of a real warship, and we've made the interiors more cramped so it's more realistic. And in the post-recording, too, we directed the actors to give orders in calm and steady tones during the actual combat. We're now inclined to do deeper research on the military aspects. In the world of Gundam now, it's important that military elements are depicted realistically. So we take in the opinions of the mecha designers and others, and I think it now feels more legitimate.
- What are you conscious of in terms of leading the Origin Studio production team?
Taniguchi: Much like a soccer team, when you work together a long time, you start to get too cozy with each other. It felt like we were stagnating, so I thought with the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield," I had to break up the team. By break up, I mean changing up and reinforcing the members. In going from Episode 4 to Episode 5, the major addition was Mr. Katoki, of course. He was a huge reinforcement for the team. If we use a soccer team analogy, I personally thought we'd have to spend a lot of money to rearrange the team to strengthen it, and that's the kind of reinforcement we achieved. We made four episodes over a three-year period. It's specifically because of that environment that we were able to consider such managerial aspects of the studio team on this series. With a short project, you think about how are we going to get through one or two quarters with this fighting strength, but when it comes to involvement over such an extended period, it really is like thinking about the management of a soccer team. This is my first time being involved in a project this long, personally. With a normal TV series, you produce two or four quarters' worth of episodes in a year. But we're already entering our fourth year, so I think that kind of change is necessary too. It's just my personal opinion, but I loved the animation of "THE ORIGIN" when we produced Episode 1. No one was confident, they were nervous, they didn't know where the line of "completion" was. I like it because I can see that it was made with that kind of groping around. Now we've gotten used to things in many respects. I'd like to go back to that aspect of nervousness we had on Episode 1. The studio itself, too, consisted of the same old members and had fallen into a kind of feeling of national isolation. So I strongly felt that we needed to break that up a little. The main staff are carrying over, so how do we reinforce them? Mr. Katoki is at the center of that, and everyone is wondering what kind of great stuff he will do. I like that feeling of tension.
- And meanwhile, large parts are connected to the CG work as well, right?
Taniguchi: The storyboards which Mr. Katoki draws are greatly tied to D.I.D. Studio, which is doing the CG production, so I think there's some unease. But D.I.D. Studio understands that it will have to create something greater than before, led by CG producer Mr. (Kiichirou) Inoue and the newly added Mr. (Shinpei) Nagashima, who is involved in a position close to CG director. They'll be looking over everything from the way the CG models are shown to the modeling itself as work proceeds. I think it's a good stimulus in that regard, too.
- Meanwhile, there's a mission statement that a Gundam project also means selling merchandise. Can you tell us how you think about that?
Taniguchi: Up through Episode 4, there wasn't much mobile suit action, and though the people in the Bandai Hobby division wanted to release merchandise, they couldn't do a lot of it. So it felt like we were wracking our brains as we worked on it together. Now, when it comes to the plastic model kits, we've started MSD (Mobile Suit Discovery) and become able to do a lot more, and I think we'll be able to have an even greater expansion of content moving forward. Beginning with our relationship with the Hobby division, then Bandai Visual which handles the disc packaging, and Bandai Namco Rights Marketing which does streaming, we work with them in concert in a way that I think is almost impossible at other companies. This is an experience I can have because it's a Gundam project, and it means a lot to me. Normally, you probably don't go this far as a producer, and I see this as a good opportunity for my own development since I'm able to do various things.
- Presently, other Gundam projects are being produced at Sunrise as well. Are you conscious of those?
Taniguchi: The one I'm most aware of is "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM UC." It's one that Mr. Yasuhiko did the original character designs for, and the last episode of "UC" also has footage from "THE ORIGIN" appended to it, so I felt "THE ORIGIN" is the epic that follows "UC" and I was conscious of that. Of course, "UC" was such a huge hit and is of incredibly high quality, so I thought, "How are we going to make this so it's different and also a Yasuhiko film?" Also, "UC" is supported by a younger generation, so how do we acquire that fan base? How do we get that was a real question. I thought we wouldn't really be able to do that and it would be difficult.
- You are also producing the newly begun "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM Twilight AXIS," aren't you, Mr. Taniguchi?
Taniguchi: Origin Studio is producing "Twilight AXIS" as well. There was talk of producing something in collaboration with Ark Performance. At first we even considered going in a "picture drama" direction, where there's not much movement, but I just couldn't go along with that. If we're going to spend that much time and effort, I wanted something that would be animated, so we did that. We hired Mr. (Sejoon) Kim, who is an acquaintance of mine, as director on "Twilight AXIS," and the mechanical animation director Mr. (Shingo) Abe. They're at the heart of that and they're in their thirties, and unlike THE ORIGIN, they're animating everything in the hand-drawn style. In terms of era, it's close to "UC," and several new mobile suits appear. We're aiming to create a new feeling with the project. It seems like they thought I could keep working on Gundam since I've been in charge on "THE ORIGIN." I'm producing them both simultaneously.
- What should people watch out for in the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield"?
Taniguchi: There are several things. Of course, Mr. (Toru) Furuya and Mr. (Toshio) Furukawa appear a lot more, and that's big. The One Year War feels like it's just around the corner. Also, we're all investigating how we should depict the fleet combat. From the way the beams fire to how they're shaped, we're reexamining all the CG modeling, so it will have a very different feel than the opening sequence in Episode 1 and will be much denser. Also, regarding the shots of Char in action in the later half, for the first time in this series, Mr. Yasuhiko himself drew the key animation for about 20 shots. Naturally, everyone in the studio got excited about it. Also, from Episode 5 onwards, we are joined by Mr. Nobutake Ito, general animation director of the theatrical animated feature "THE NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL," now that he has finished his other work. But he really praised us for keeping the exact flavor of Mr. Yasuhiko's manga in the anime. It pleases me greatly that the general animation director of a different theatrical work would praise our general animation director. Also, Mr. (Atsushi) Takeuchi and Mr. (Hisashi) Ezura, mecha designers at Production I.G. and super animators, worked on the mecha animation in the colony drop scene. So though the scene is short, it's well worth seeing, and the final result is great. We're going to release it in a larger number of theaters from this episode on, so I hope everyone experiences the colony drop on the big screen.
- Do you have a final message for fans looking forward to the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield"?
Taniguchi: Thank you for joining us on the "Chronicle of Char and Sayla" through Episode 4. We've put a lot of passion into episodes 5 and 6, so I hope we can all feel the excitement of it together. And along with that excitement, I also hope we'll be able to produce the "what's ahead" that everyone is waiting for. For now, please enjoy the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield" in episodes 5 and 6.

Next time in our relay interview series, we have editor Mr. Masato Yoshitake, who talks to us about the work of editing.