At Connichi 2017, we were given the chance to interview two veterans of the anime industry, and founders of Gainax, President and Director Hiroyuki Yamaga (Mahoromatic, Daicon) and Producer Yasuhiro Takeda (Daicon, Gurren Lagaan). We discuss Uru in Blue, Gainax West and the infamous Gainax Tomatoes!
The following article is said interview, with questions by us at Fighting for Nippon and those who submitted questions via our Twitter. The interview was conducted by @Asukaratechop and @_TsunTsunAndi_ in German, of which was then translated into Japanese, then back to German via the interpreter, and then into English for your reading pleasure by both @Asukaratechop and @Somatoshi.
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Blowing up Captain Harlocks ship in the Zero Century
Question: In yesterday‘s panel, you mentioned Production GOODBOOK (animation production company) approaching Reiji Matsumoto-san regarding The Zero Century Emeraldas, and you being involved only afterwards. How did it come to this?
Takeda: Even before these movies, Gainax and GOODBOOK had a connection. We worked on a project that sadly never saw the light of day. When they came to work with Matsumoto-san, they were missing the experience to helm it themselves, and therefore approached us at Gainax.
Question: Are you looking forward to the work on this project, seeing as even back in the beginnings of Gainax, in Daicon III, you blew up Captain Harlock‘s spaceship?
Takeda: Was it Harlock‘s ship?
Yamaga: The Yamato!
Takeda: Ah yes, the Yamato! /re-enacts shooting and explosion noises/
In Japan, especially for the older generation, Matsumoto-san‘s manga was pioneering and those of us that remember these days were really happy when this project came to us. It‘s a big joy and honour to work on a classic like this!
Closing of Gainax West in Kobe
Question: Regarding Gainax West, a few months ago, they announced the Panty & Stocking Café on Kobe Anime Street, but we haven‘t heard from them since. Are there any more projects in the works over there?
Takeda: Kobe Anime Street disbanded sometime in June or July, actually. As for Gainax West, we‘re actually planning to just take over all their prior work at Gainax Kyoto now.
Question: There was a vegetable store in Kobe that sold Gainax tomatoes, right? Apparently, it seems to have closed down now?
Takeda: Ah yes, Gainax tomatoes. The store actually has no connection to us, they just asked to use our name for marketing purposes.
— 神戸経済新聞 (@kobekeizai) April 1, 2016
Question: So, 3DCGI is seeing more and more use in anime production nowadays, and might just reach the status of a mainstream technique someday soon. From the perspective of an animation studio, how do you feel about it?
Yamaga: We already used CG back in the 80’s and were one of the pioneers in the field, so it’s more the rest of the world that is currently catching up.
Question: Can you imagine the studio ever going full CGI?
Yamaga: We can imagine doing CG-projects, but we wouldn’t call it ‘anime’ anymore. ‘Animation’ means it’s drawn, not animated on a computer.
Question: The two of you have been working in the industry for a long time. How do challenges of today compare to those from the 80’s?
Takeda: Regarding money, there are simply more anime now. That means it’s harder to get funding, just because there’s more material to be funded overall. In the past, there were also more individual producers that would make projects independently from bigger companies. Nowadays, it’s all very dependent on the system. Producers go the safe way, look at what’s gonna sell well, and adaptations of popular manga are in the foreground.
On the other hand, thanks to international ways of distributing media, like streaming services, it’s easier to get foreign sponsors to invest. Services like Amazon and Netflix approach projects with fitting budgets in mind, so this might help out going forward.
Yamaga: In terms of production, nothing much changed. Animation is still created the same way, just scanned into a computer nowadays.
Aiming for the third Gunbuster!
Question: A few years ago, you announced you were working on the script for Aim For The Top! 3 [Gunbuster 3/Diebuster sequel], we haven’t heard anything since though, is there anything new you can tell us?
Yamaga: I’m still writing it! We still need to work on the script, and we haven’t yet gotten anyone to fund it either.
Question: Maybe for the 50th anniversary then?
Takeda: We’d rather have it earlier than that! The first episode’s script is done, we’re gonna use that to attract sponsors.
Question: Aim For The Top! is obviously influenced by Tennis-show Aim For The Ace!, not just in name, but also as seen in Diebuster episode 3. How did you get the idea of referencing a sports series in Sci-fi?
Takeda: Back then, a producer Bandai approached us and asked for an anime that would be able to sell 10,000 copies. Okada-san and I were tasked with coming up with something we could do, and Okada-san was simply a big fan of Aim For The Ace! back then.
Question: According to our sources, production on Uru in Blue began earlier this year. Yesterday during the panel, you mentioned you were still writing the script for it. Has our information been wrong or is there anything you can say about it?
Yamaga: Ah, that just refers to the script. Production on the script has begun. I alternate on writing between Uru in Blue and Aim For The Top 3 at the moment. I write 20 minutes on either at a time and hope they’ll be done by around the same time.
Looking to the Gainax Past
Question: In the western anime fandom, the Gainax Pose and Gainax Spirit are very popular tropes. Where do they come from, are you in Japan even aware they were named like this, or maybe even try to implement them in more series for that particular reason?
Takeda: In all the old shows, mechs would put their arms up when flying or just stand still like the Gundam. We tried making it look a bit cooler when the robot appears, so we thought “Why not have its arms crossed?”. It doesn’t make any sense for a robot to cross arms, but we figured that would just make out an additional charm. It’s a bit like in Kabuki, where different poses mean different things.
Yamaga: We don’t really set out to always make it like this, but that’s how Gainax started out. In these stories, you can witness a character that’s weak, and maybe even useless to society in a sense, rise to greater heights and become a successful person. That’s just something that’s imminent in our minds here, so it’s not like we really calculate it in.
Question: In Blue Blazes [Aoi Hono, a drama series based off the manga of the same name], the two of you were portrayed in your early years. How do you feel about the series and what was it like to even play a guest role in the tv series?
Takeda: I really like the series. Especially that while it’s obviously fiction, all these real elements were implemented. Reading the manga as someone who actually witnessed the events taking place puts it in perspective. You can see how your memories look from the view of someone else, that was really appealing to me.
Working on the series was very fun. I played a driving teacher that shouted a lot at the main actor, who is very famous in Japan. That was fun, you don’t get to do that very often. During recording, someone who worked on the sound came up to me and told me he was a longtime fan of my work, and I thought the show was continuing in that moment. A fan talking to you and praising your work while you’re recording something about your past is on a somewhat surreal level.
Yamaga: I can’t talk about the manga, only the tv series, but director Yuichi Fukuda did a very good job in adapting it as a tv drama.
Imagine you see someone reenacting yourself, myself, everyone in this room, with cameras all around us. That’s what being on the set felt like. It was awkward to see all these events be replayed and see your past self from the outside.
If I could have, I would have avoided starring as a guest actor. But everyone else was eager to join, so I didn’t want to be the only one to deny the offer.
Question: Finally, what do you think of pineapple on pizza?
Takeda: I like it very much. Eating warm pineapple is pretty nice. In Japan, we don’t just have pineapple on pizza, but also Subuta [Japanese word for sweet and sour pork]. That’s a Chinese dish that can be served with pineapple, and it’s very good.
Yamaga: Yes, I agree.