Reporter(s): Kuzu Ryu Sen
Location: Otakon 2005, Baltimore, MD, USA
Date: August 19, 2005


What is the difference between what a character designer does and what a producer does?

Well, they’re very different jobs. Mainly, as a producer, you’re the one giving the orders, as opposed to the other way around. However, there are some exceptions, like when character designers use their own creative process to create new characters for example.

Are there any skills acquired as a character designer that would be useful when directing?

There’s nothing overly specific, but the director does need an overall picture of the process, so any knowledge of the production aspects is useful.

Does the budget, and indirectly, whether the anime is a TV series or an OVA, have any impact on character design?

Tough question.

Really, it’s not a matter of effort in either way, but more a result of the director’s decisions. Of course, as a designer, I did do things such as remove lines and such to lessen the amount of effort required. Finally, the screen sizes are different when comparing a TV series to an OVA, so the level of detail required is different.

Can you comment on the transition from cel-based animation to digital animation?

When we were first making the transition, we all hoped that our workload would decrease, since digital animation is easier. However, the increased capability of digital animation actually resulted in us having to do more work.

To use colour as an example, there was a limited number of paints that you could use for cel animation, but there are ten of thousands of colours that can be used in digital animation. As a result, it takes hours to select colours now.

In Yawara!, the setting was every day life as opposed to science-fiction or fantasy. Did this make designing the characters any easier or harder?

In the case of Yawara!, there was a pre-existing manga, so the priority we had was to remain faithful to the manga character designs. In general though, the number of shadows and highlights increases with the scenery that one would normally associate with sci-fi or fantasy, whereas the designs and backgrounds in slice-of-life dramas tend to be fairly simple.

How closely do you work as a character designer with the original mangaka?

Well, we character designers don’t really work together with the mangaka, that’s the job of the producer or director. The producer or director will serve as go-betweens between the character designers and themangaka. Of course, the creator’s approval for any designs is required before we can start animating. Occasionally, the original author will reject a character design.

Anime is a competitive field to get into, what was your inspiration for breaking into the industry and/or continuing in the industry?

Is [making anime] what you want to do?.

Yes, absolutely.

Well, to start, I just love to draw. As I continued, I decided that eventually, I wanted to stop as an animator and move on to directing. This is what has driven my current career path.

Basically, you should start with what you love to do. As you do it, a clearer vision will appear, so you can just follow your heart.

As a member of the industry, where do you feel the Japanese animation industry is going? Do you have any insider opinions?

Since I’m in production, and not marketing, that’s not something that comes up a lot. But production, me included, is always eager to experiment with new things.

What is it like working with Maruyama [Masao]-san? Is it intimidating?

Well… my boss is in the audience, so the question is actually scarier than the answer [crowd laughs].

To me, Maruyama-san is someone who can be both very kind and very scary at the same time, but I attribute that to the fact that he, like all of us, is human, so that’s why I’ve worked with him for 20 years.

He’s pretending that he’s not listening now [crowd laughs again].

He’s given me advice on matters of life too, so he’s my mentor in that regard as well. Finally, Maruyama-san has some quirks, and sometimes, those quirks impose on me.

As a character designer, what are the biggest outside influences on the actual designs?

Well, there are obviously differences when referring to works from manga as opposed to original works, but generally, my style tends to prevail. Of course, animation is a group effort, so the design has to be simplified so that every animator can draw the character uniformly.

What’s harder, the storytelling aspect or the visual aspect?

The visual aspect.

Compared to live action, anime is much more obvious, so it’s very difficult to be subtle. However, if it’s done well, I believe it has more impact than live action. But I don’t know this first hand.

Using Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals as an example, do you think it’s easier to work on anime adaptation of a game or a manga?

Well, when I worked on Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals, I was working with Rintaro. With that kind of guidance, it wasn’t difficult at all.

Video games and anime are both their own media, and the video game company often has suggestions on how to turn their products into anime. However, you rarely see an anime to video game adaptation, and even rarer is the point where the anime company can suggest how the game should be made.

Having said that, video game companies are often obsessed with their products, and tend to get passionate about small details. Because of this, the producer and/or director have hard times dealing with those demands. But they do act as good buffers [for us animators].

Is there more freedom at a large company such as Madhouse?

Well, it depends on whether final approval for something has to be given by the mangaka or producer.

There are times where characters in an anime will be different from the original source material, and other times they’ll be a dead copy; this varies by producer. The character designers have no say in this; sometimes we can give suggestions, although usually not.

I think whether the design is accepted or not depends on the level of audience appeal, so I always put in extra effort to enhance audience appeal.

In the American animation industry, there are certain qualities that are looked for within animators. What about its Japanese counterpart?

Hmm… the difference between US animation and Japanese animation is not something that I’ve thought about until now. I think the big difference is how the characters aren’t distorted as much in Japan.

Now, there’s less actual animation in Japanese animation, so you need to be more accurate anatomically to compensate. It all goes back to the level of animation. In the US industry, motion is imperative for characters to distinguish themselves, but this is not so in Japan. As such, a different level of visual detail has to be provided so that characters are distinguishable.

What are your impressions of an American-style convention?

I’ve been in the industry 35 years, and I have to say that 15 years ago, this convention would have been unimaginable. It’s hard to believe that Japanese animation has become this widely accepted.

Back when I started, Japanese animation was no match for the fluidity of US animation, so we thought we could only gain limited acceptance. I’m not aware of the history behind the increased acceptance of Japanese animation in the US, but it is very encouraging to animators. Because of this, I’ve been able to travel to the US, Germany, France, and I am very grateful for that.

How is Baltimore?

Well, the buildings here are more interesting than those in Japan, and I like boats very much, so I’ve enjoyed the Inner Harbour very much, as well as the boat models located in the Baltimore Convention Center itself.