This interview is a continuation of an interview of Yutaka Nakmura (left) and head producer and president of studio BONES, Masahiko Minami, by Yuichiro Oguro. Part 2 of 3. If you would like to read form the beginning, Part 1 may be found here.
Oguro: I had no idea what parts of Chouja Reideen you were a part of, but it would appear it was episode 18 “Clash!! Angel VS The Hearts” and the finale “A Super Being Descends!”, right?
Nakamura: I don’t quite remember, but the finale probably had a lot of cuts in it. Episode 18 had a part where the protagonists took the form of beings who could fly, and had an aerial dog fright. I believe there was only one cut during this scene, and then afterward for the final blow.
Oguro: Then you drew episode 18 in full?
Nakamura: No, it was around 10 or 20 cuts if I recall correctly. I was among 40 or 50 people who had them.
Oguro: You were on Revolutionary Girl Utena episode 1 too, right? You remember how Hasegawa-kun was like “Who’s that over there” at the time, right?
Nakamura: Yeah, I do.
Ogura: And the spiral staircase. That was one frame repeated.
Nakamura: That was my first time doing that, but it was actually two frames.
Oguro: Ah, is that so?
Nakamura: However, after Ikuhara-san’s check of the key frame it became one frame.
Oguro: Is that so? That sounds like Ikuhara-san all right.
Nakamura: During the meeting phase, we had discussed it being one frame, but the spiral stair case’s interior (The key frame and the gap between the lines of the key frame) should be about a millimeter, right? The number of millimeters had to be split down the middle so they wouldn’t blur together, so for the sake of that we were talking about maybe using around four frames which wouldn’t do. So I figured “There’s no way around it” and settled on two frames, but Ikuhara-san managed it in one.
Oguro: So it had a flavor of an older anime huh?
Nakamura: That’s for sure. (Laughs)
Oguro: That was when they went up the stairs to arrive at the dueling grounds, yeah?
Nakamura: It was about thirty cuts or so before they arrived.
Oguro: Hasegawa-kun would participate in conversations about this too huh?
Nakamura: That’s right. I’d say “I’m drawing this character design at the moment, how’s that?” And he’d reply “Go for it!” (laugh)
Oguro: Huuh? But aren’t they pretty girls?
Nakamura: Nah, well…. because it was Hasegawa-san’s job, I was granted a lot of freedom. He really helped me out in various ways.
Oguro: After that, you did several things until Bebop. Was there anything you were particularly impressed by?
Nakamura: Impressed huh… Jaja Uma Quartet maybe? I was in charge of one scene where a power plant exploded. I’m pretty sure I was asked to do something similar to an actual photo for that one. The second one…it was a major failure, but at the time there was going to be a reference to the currently in theaters Independence Day. It is a movie heavy with special effects, and it was from that point that I started becoming aware of mixing anime with live action.
Oguro: I see, could you specify what you mean? Do you watch a live action movie, remember it, and then draw it?
Nakumura: In reality, an explosion is a natural phenomenon with an unfathomable amount of things happening, right? Like even when a missile is launched, it doesn’t just fly in a straight line, it tends to incline slightly. Trying to skillfully pick up on this and animate it is kind of like a false reality, or something that’s realistic-ish.
Oguro: Right…and now your next work, Bebop.
Oguro: So with Bebop you blossomed into a character animator.
Nakamura: Blossomed huh… (bitter laugh).
Oguro: The prep time for it was rather long, huh.
Nakamura: The planning was about 5 years I think?
Minami: It wasn’t 5 years.
Nakamura: Was it about 3 years then? The actual art was done about a half year before airing, right?
Minami: It was still shorter than Escaflowne.
Oguro: Though it took a while before airing began, right?
Nakamura: It did.
Oguro: You were still drawing it up until it aired on WOWOW. (TL Note: Japanese TV station)
Minami: It takes about a year or so to draw a twenty six episode work.
Nakamura: Yup, that’s the so called Minami-san magic.
Oguro: Ah, I see. Minami-san uses his magic to get his productions to have a break while airing, huh? (laughs).
Minami: Ouch! (laughs).
Nakamura: (Laughs) It’s a magic everyone wishes they could use.
Oguro: Except it’s more like a deceptive tactic.
Minami: It is not. (Laughs)
Oguro: Were you able to complete your action scenes for episode 1 in a single go, Nakamura-san?
Nakamura: No way. The director told me “Spike uses Jeet Kune Do, and is a Bruce Lee fan, so I’ll leave that action to you.”
Oguro: I see, so you were instructed specifically to use Bruce Lee huh?
Nakamura: In the opening, there’s a cut with him kicking right? That was actually from a Bruce Lee action flick that the director had scrutinized frame by frame. It was a reference for the key animators who had to draw it.
Oguro: So that’s how it was?
Nakamura: The movement in the opening was incredible. I remember when I saw it, I thought “So it’s something like this, huh”?
Oguro: Of course if we’re talking episode 1, it’s that action scene in front of the café, right?
Nakamura: It was after the man and woman got out of the car. When Spike was wearing the poncho.
Oguro: To what part? When Spike was done fighting the guy and hopped on the car to kick the hoodlums to get in?
Nakamura: The part I did was the part where he went wild in front of the café.
Oguro: It was a great pass with one cut attached to the other. What was the storyboard like?
Nakamura: That part wasn’t in the storyboard. However the director said “The camera work should be attached to the movements”, and it was from that time forward that we used gradual pans to create movement by pulling the camera along.
Oguro: It was also then that you developed your key frame specialty, fluttering clothes and such, right?
Oguro: It suddenly appeared, right?
Nakamura: Basically action is kind of like a silhouette, right? So where I could use it I would is what I thought. So I forcefully fluttered what I could. Spike’s fro, and especially his hands. It was the best. (Laughs).
Oguro: So basically the look of unnecessary movements, yeah?
Nakamura: That’s right. The viewer’s eyes are going to be all over the place right? So then, the foundation of action is to deceive the eye. (Laughs) A sort of “Ah, that’s pretty awesome for some reason” sort of feel.
Oguro: I’d go as far as saying that within Bebop that the scenes you did are the most realistic. It may not actually be real –just realistic-ish, but the sense of movement is incredible.
Nakamura: Yeah, that’s right. Although the basis is realism, it can’t actually be done (laughs)
Oguro: The art in Bebop has a lot of reaction, right?
Oguro: The word “Reaction” might be a bit off, but it’s that there are movements that normally wouldn’t be included in key frames.
Nakamura: Ohh, yeah, yeah. That’s right. To maintain that degree of curvature and movement, it comes down to seeing what kind of drawing one would put in. Up until Escaflowne I had primarily been a mecha animator. When I started drawing character action, I started watching action movies and paying attention to the way people move. Like how in Hong-kong flics there’s a huge reaction when a character is hit, or in historical films the reaction to when a character is cut. The light reactions are most important ones. When I watch a period piece on TV, I always mutter “That’s too naïve…there’s too much left on screen” . (Laughs)
Oguro: Then, you got addicted to action stuff like that.
Nakamura: I sure did.
Oguro: So you ended up participating a lot in Bebop huh.
Episodes of Cowboy Bebop that Nakamura Yutaka was a part of. Session 1: Astroid Blues Session 5: Fallen Angel’s ballad Session 9: Jamming with Edward Session 12: Jupiter Jazz Session 15: My Funny Valentine Session 18: Speak Like a Child. Session 19: Wild Horses Session 20: Pierrot le Fou Session 22: Cowboy Funk Session 24: Bad Luck Woman Session 25: The Real Folk Blues (Part one) Session 26: The Real Folk Blues (Part two)
Oguro: Most of them were character action episodes?
Nakamura: That’s right. They were.
Oguro: You didn’t do any mecha scenes?
Nakamura: Mecha… what episode was that again? It was the one where Ed first appeared. (Episode 9: Jamming with Edward.) There were a lot of cuts on that one, but the extent of mecha on that show as when the satellite fired.
Oguro: Were there any character action scenes that you yourself are fully confident in? Or that you thought were really impressive?
Nakamura: I’m not so sure about being confident in them, but for impressive I’d say Episode 24 for sure.
Oguro: Episode 24 that’s where Spike and Ed’s dad are fighting right? That was crazy.
Nakamura: There were few cuts in that one, but I’ve always thought that was the best action scene I’ve done.
Oguro: To what point were you the key artist?
Nakamura: I drew the part where the fight started up until the ship came down with a crash. After that Horikawa (Kouichi)-san handled the art.
Oguro: The art where the camera pulled along up until the cut where the ship arrived huh? Spike was about three cells, and then a cut to the inner part as well huh? (laughs).
Nakamura: Right, right (Laughs) It was a bit fast though, so at the time I was drawing it, it felt like it was normally headed right to the center. I heard from other people “Wait that’s a bit…”
Oguro: “A bit too much”?
Nakamura: I said it myself. “I did a bit too much.” (Laughs).
Oguro: Hm, he’s not running. His legs aren’t moving, huh?
Nakamura: He wasn’t moving.
Oguro: He was flying huh?
Nakamura: That he was (laugh).
Oguro: From a fan standpoint, the most impressive episode would be 22 “Cowboy Funk”. In particular the scene where the Cowboy appeared.
Nakamura: Oh yeah.
Oguro: The fight on the roof, right?
Nakamura: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. (laughs)
Oguro: That one was a huge lie action-wise.
Nakamura: Right? For that one we were told in regard to the storyboard “It’s fine if you go for comedy.”
Oguro: There were a lot of cuts, right?
Nakamura: That’s right. I was in charge of the part immediately following the building’s explosion. After the fight had ended, the scene where Spike falls down and hits the desk was done by Kamogawa (Yutaka)-san. I was the scene before that.
Oguro: I didn’t know you were in charge of a part in Bebop, so for episode 20 “Pierre Le Fou” I thought you were behind the scene at the start where Spike and Pierre are fighting. Am I wrong?
Nakamura: That is wrong. That part was handled by Miyata Taddaaki-san. I was only in charge of two parts in that one. The first was the part where Mad Pierrot shot some unknown boss guy down, and when Spike ran into him. The part before Miyata-san’s.
Oguro: Ah, I see.
Nakamura: The second part was when Spike was in the amusement park, and Mad Pierrot was chasing him. When he ran into a certain room, and that angel like character appeared and said “It’s dangerous here, it’s dangerous here.”
Oguro: So you did that part huh? (Laughs).
Nakamura: After that the part where the penguins were gliding across the ice like darts, and the final scene where Spike was blown away by an explosion.
Oguro: That episode differed from normal Bebop episodes quite a bit. The tension was generally higher, wasn’t it?
Nakamura: It was. For Miyata-san’s part, I was really like “Man, this is it.” From then on I thought “As I thought touch isn’t just motion blurs, but has to have a straight line in it or else it’s no good”.
Oguro: Motion blurs, you mean a brush like effect, right?
Nakamura: That’s right. It’s born from the a photographic subject. It’s like after images left over when processing a digital photo. In Miyata-san’s part there was more of this than the usual.
Oguro: The pencil lines?
Nakamura: It’s expressed in pencil lines. It’s crazy though, like during the movie version, I wondered how he was able to get away without using motion blurs. I wanted to use the Miyata style.
Oguro: There was a lot of that in Episode 12 of “Jupiter Jazz” too, right?
Nakamura: Jupiter Jazz, huh… What part of it?
Oguro: The scene where Spike fights a group of guys hiding their faces?
Nakamura: Ah, right.
Oguro: After that there was Faye up against the same group…
Nakamura: That one was done by Itou Yoshiyuki-san I was the one behind Spike’s scene. I wanted to explain one thing about that scene, and it would be Spike’s abnormally high jump. It might look ridiculous, but it’s because of Jupiter’s gravity, that’s how he’s able to jump so high.
Oguro: Ah, I see (laughs)
Nakamura: Though that was added later. (Laughs).
Oguro: Since we’re on the subject, may I discuss other Bebop episodes?
Oguro: Episode 19 “Speak Like a Child” is an episode where Faye finds a video of herself…
Nakamura: Oh right… what part did I do on that one… that one had a bunch of cuts. Like the point where they enter the building to look for a tape text and then fall through debris, or when they were squeezing their bodies through tight spaces…
Oguro: Then there’s episode 5 “Ballad of Fallen Angels” When Vicious first appears…
Nakamura: Right. That was Komori (Takahiro)-san’s episode for the most part, but I did the scene where it was sword versus gun in the middle.
Oguro: Oh right the chanbara (sword fighting) part.
Nakamura: That’s right. Horigawa-san did the first half, and I was the second one, up until Spike fell out of the building after the explosion.
Oguro: What kind of episode was 15, “Speak Like a Child”?
Nakamura: That was the one with the swindling bastard, and getting caught up in his scheme to steal money. That one too was a fight scene. The swindler guy was slim at first, but got really plump later. He tried to get away by riding with Faye, but he had gotten too big and couldn’t.
Oguro: Oh, that did happen?
Nakamura: I boldly drew that one, from takeoff to the small dogfight. That part slightly before it was what I did.
Oguro: “Wild Horses” was where the old maintenance guy showed up, right?
Nakamura: It was the part where they launched the shuttle from above ground.
Oguro: Then you did draw a mecha part aside from 9?
Nakamura: Ah, yeah that’s right I did. The part where the tank was pulled from the space shuttle was drawn by Satou Tsunenori. The part I did was after that during the actual rise after takeoff.
Oguro: There were very few cuts.
Nakamura: Very few indeed. It was tough on me. (laughs)
Oguro: It was tough to draw you mean?
Nakamura: So basically, I’m not too great at drawing fumes. So I had to draw it over several times and got pretty frazzled by it.
Oguro: I see. What about the last two?
Nakamura: Episode 25 was where Vincent killed the three old people. By then I was already exhausted. Oh, and 26 was once again the scene between gun and sword. Fukaouka-kun drew the second half.
Oguro: Was that before or after?
Nakamura: It was kind of mixed? Though I chiefly did the first half.
Oguro: When you look back on Bebop what do you think?
Nakamura: Hmm, What indeed, When I look back on it, what pops into mind is the feeling of an ‘Afro Blues Story’ (laughs).
That’s all for now – check back for Part 3 in the coming days!