The following article was originally printed in issue 003 of Animestyle. Scans and images courtesy of The Canipa Effect. The interview has been translated by Twitter user @NohAcro © 2016 Wave Motion Cannon
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Influences and styles
Oguro: Talking about mecha animation, as Imaishi-san said, it feels like you’re actually picking good bits from many mecha sakuga in the past, but you don’t see it that way?
Yoshinari: I’m actually not that interested in mecha. I asked to do mecha parts on Eva because I wanted to learn, since I wasn’t very good at drawing them. As I see it, I’ve just imitated how others were doing it.
Oguro: On the second episode, the first part of the action scene is by (Takeshi) Honda-san, and the second part is yours. It looks very different when we watch them side by side.
Yoshinari: About episode 2, even the way EVAs were supposed to be drawn wasn’t really well-defined. It was so unclear when I first saw the designs, I couldn’t figure out how to approach it. So I spent time thinking about how to make it move in a cool way. I think that’s why I tried to draw it with sharp shapes at first, to give it an (Masami) Obari feel. I pushed it into that direction. But Honda-san showed me the perfect example in parallel, so I quickly shifted into that style, even if the way he draws also changed quite drastically during the course of the show.
Yoshinari: During the second half, forms change even more under the influence of (Mitsuo) Iso-san.
Oguro: To the point where it doesn’t even look like the same designs in the film.
Yoshinari: Right. When working on episode 2, Honda-san had his own design sheet, which looked quite different from the original one. So I was working according to it, but Honda-san then changed designs again in the meantime, so I was left like “Huh?” (laugh).
Oguro: So you mean Honda-san was creating simplified drawings for shoulder parts according his own style?
Yoshinari: Exactly. We had animation models for the head, so I think that part remained unchanged for the most part. But the EVA’s design is quite vague, like it’s not very clear how the parts around its torso are composed, right?
Oguro: It’s quite complex, indeed.
Yoshinari: My guess is that someone had ordered not to separate torso and arm parts distinctly. There are long plates around the shoulders, right? Because of them, it’s not very clear where the torso ends and where the arms begin. The interpretation of that part is quite difficult, there is no clear solution for it.
Oguro: When we look at the designs, these shoulder parts should come over the head. Wouldn’t it be difficult for the EVA to move with them?
Yoshinari: That’s exactly the problem. If we draw it as it is on the designs, shoulder plates would hit its head when it tries to raise its arm. That’s why Honda-san considered them as completely different parts, that shoulders wouldn’t move even if arms are raised.
Oguro: Did people use his method and designs to draw the EVA after that?
Yoshinari: I think they did. But these are supposed to be restraints, so actually it should not be able to move that smoothly (laugh). In fact it would be more fitting if it didn’t move so much.
Oguro: The way it runs in episode 12 was completely drawn as Honda-san would have done it.
Yoshinari: But I couldn’t go as far as him either. You’d tell me it’s normal since we don’t have the same level as artists. I think at that point I started to include my own style into the drawings. That’s also the point from where designs started to derive from their original form once again, since I was getting able to draw it by memory for the most part. I think that kind of thing wouldn’t be tolerated now. They were indulgent about minor changes in mecha designs because it was a TV series.
Oguro: When you say “now”, are you talking about the Rebuilds?
Yoshinari: Right, I think they’re more careful about making designs clear and coherent now.
Oguro: At the point where you were working on the film, you had developed habits, hadn’t you?
Yoshinari: Honda-san made new designs for the film, so it was all reset in my mind (laugh). I had to draw it in a different way than in the TV series.
Oguro: We call action cuts with dense movement and composition “Yoshinari cuts” and recognize it as your style, but that’s actually not the ideal form for you.
Yoshinari: I think they’re simply habits. As a matter of fact, I would like to do draw more different things, but it always feels the same in the end. So I’d like to draw completely different things if I had the opportunity.
Oguro: So you have a fixed pattern for drawing in your mind, and it hasn’t changed in a while.
Yoshinari: Maybe, yes. Yet it’s not something that was established at a particular point, since I think I don’t have a proper drawing style.
Oguro: It’s more or less the same since FLCL, isn’t it?
Yoshinari: That’s exactly the case. I think I haven’t experimented so much since. It’s not a very good thing, but I’ve lost my pursuing spirit, and since then I’ve just drawn in ways I was accustomed to. It was also from then that I stopped checking movements.
Oguro: Of your own key animation?
Yoshinari: Right, I stopped putting my key frames on a checker to see how they moved. When I do things I’ve never done before, I’m scared of not checking it, so maybe that’s the moment from which I haven’t tried that kind of thing anymore. When I was younger, I immediately wanted to check how my key animation moved, but after that I’ve just been drawing them, and that’s all.
Oguro: But you’ve drawn an incredible amount of key frames during the few years after FLCL, didn’t you?
Yoshinari: Right, I actually wanted to draw more of them but I also received some work as a game illustrator, so I felt like I couldn’t focus on anime works anymore. In spite of that, the period when I was making illustrations for Valkyrie Profile was also the moment I wanted to draw genga the most. It felt a little bit like an interference.
Oguro: Didn’t you actively chose to make illustrations?
Yoshinari: It was completely because my brother told me to give him a hand (wry smile).
Oguro: So you didn’t want to be bivalent on both animation and illustration, you personally even wanted to focus on animation, is that what you mean?
Yoshinari: I was eager to draw key animation on that period, but I ended up working on Valkyrie because of strange circumstances. I’m always grateful of having work, so I did my best on it, of course. But an illustrator’s work is a completely different one, and I had never painted colors to begin with. I thought I would only have to make some drafts like for promotional pictures, but then I was asked to paint colors myself, so it took so much time…
Oguro: Do you like promotional drawings?
Yoshinari: I used to like them. They really only gave me mechas to draw when I was on Eva -well, I guess it’s still the case, since I only drew mechas on (Tengen Toppa) Gurren Lagan as well – So I rarely had the opportunity to draw characters for promotional cell drawings. I’ve done some illustrations actually… But character drawings for promotion like we see on anime magazines look difficult, don’t they?
Oguro: Like cute girls stuff?
Yoshinari: Rather things like close-ups of characters, I can’t draw that well. I like to draw shots where many things are mixed together in a messy way, but I’ve difficulty with drawings focusing on the character’s face.
Oguro: Like covers for Newtype.
Yoshinari: For example, anime characters’ proportions are special, so when I start adding details on a big format, I become more and more confused. It makes me think “What really is this?”
Oguro: Like drawing eyes for a close-up and starting to wonder if it’s really an eye?
Yoshinari: Something like that. If it’s an actual human being, I just have to draw as I see it. If someone has a beautiful face, the result should also be beautiful by tracing it. But for anime, the more I add details, the less I can figure out how to make it beautiful. For anime characters, their simple form is how they originally look like, and drawing them in close-up requires to add details to it, so the more we add details, the more it collapses. I can’t handle that balance.
Oguro: It must be terrible for some parts, like pupils.
Yoshinari: That’s why it’s the only part I can bear adding details to. If I start drawing wrinkles, it becomes more and more gross.
Oguro: Do you think mecha artworks need simplifications as well?
Yoshinari: I do. There is a balance and a density adapted to each size of mecha. Details are important, but it’s not good to be too messy.
Oguro: Also, that’s something very notable since FLCL, but you have a very unique use of forms. Were you influenced by something?
Yoshinari: Could you give me an example?
Oguro: Like in episode 1 of FLCL, when I see Canti’s battle, it clearly feels like your style, like the way you represent volume and perspective by using spheres.
Yoshinari: Well, I suppose there are things which look like a style as well, but if you ask me from where it came, I can just say that it became like that naturally. I think it’s something I came up with after trying many things. For instance, I guess there’s some influence from Ikuto Yamashita-san’s designs on Eva in it.
Yoshinari: It looks simple, but it contains intangible forms which leave us wondering about its actual shape. Like an overlap of very complex curves.
Oguro: It’s the kind of designs we didn’t have in the 80’s
Yoshinari: Indeed, yet people like Honda-san mastered even that kind of design easily, and from then I had been willing to capture shapes like he did. That may have influenced me.
Oguro: So both Yamashita-san and Honda-san have their own way of drawing it.
Yoshinari: I think they do, Honda-san’s way is clearer. The way Yamashita-san draws has an otherworldliness which makes people doubt whether or not the form really makes sense, but Honda-san draws things as actual, pre-existing shapes, so it feels more clear and organized. Well, even then my skills aren’t sufficient to imitate him.
Oguro: Don’t you have any influence from American comics?
Yoshinari: Of course I have, clearly. I was very influenced by Mike Mignola, even if it’s a little embarrassing to say so.
Oguro: After all he’s an international major now.
Yoshinari: I think he’s been since the 90’s…
Oguro: So that’s also when you fell in love with him.
Yoshinari: It’s not really about falling in love. It’s (Tatsuya) Oiishi-san who introduced me to his work. I think he’s the first one who discovered his talent in the industry. That’s why there also was a little Mignola boom inside GAINAX.
Oguro: So that’s when Oiishi-san was still in GAINAX.
Yoshinari: Right, he showed me some of his comics when we had just met, telling me this was dope.
Oguro: He left GAINAX only after few months, didn’t he?
Yoshinari: Indeed, if I remember well he wasn’t even there for half a month. Oiishi-san was a senpai of mine in professional school, but I joined GAINAX before him, so our relationship is a little bit strange.
Oguro: Just for the record, Oiishi-san said he was a dropout in GAINAX, is that real?
Yoshinari: (Very clearly) He was, yes.
Yoshinari: Even I asked him if there was anything he could do (laugh).
Oguro: He met success after leaving GAINAX and shifting his work range to directing.
Yoshinari: Yes, I’m glad he finally got recognized.
Oguro: You help him on his works from time to time, don’t you? Like on Pani Poni Dash!’s opening.
Yoshinari: Right, even if I haven’t been solicited for a while. When he started his directorial works, he didn’t have many connections inside the industry he could rely on, so he contacted old pals he used to hang out with when he was in GAINAX. For my part, he values my work so it’s always nice to hear from him.
Oguro: Returning to things you were influenced by, when we interviewed Imaishi-san, he told us that you liked the manga Nijitte Monogatari. Is that for its unique style?
Yoshinari: Exactly, it’s my basis when it comes to drawings, the most important part for me.
Oguro: Oh, really?!
Yoshinari: I was so influenced by it. It may be the most influential set of drawings on me.
Oguro: So it’s only for the art, not the content.
Yoshinari: Only the art, for the story it’s Kazuo Koike, so you know (laugh)… When I think about it, I really have distorted tastes for drawings. I mostly like very simplified or deformed styles. The first one I was attracted to was (Masahito) Yamashita-san. Obari-san’s drawings are kind of distorted as well, Satomi Kamie for manga, Egon Schiele for paintings and Mignola for American comics. All of these art styles are kind of bizarre.
Oguro: You like drawings which emphasize shapes, with clear punctuation.
Yoshinari: I think it’s because I cannot find the hook to try and draw it otherwise. I cannot make subtle, elusive drawings like Yasuhiko-san does. That’s why Osamu Tezuka’s drawings were also something I first couldn’t replicate at all. I needed to start with rough, harsh sketches.
Oguro: So you weren’t influenced by people who make elegant drawings, like Yasuomi Umetsu-san or Nobuteru Yuki-san?
Yoshinari: Well, of course I think I got some influence from them, and quite directly so. Umetsu-san’s art is always gorgeous. Whatever he does catches the eye. But I also think it’s very difficult. First, it must be laborious to draw that many lines. Besides, the most important thing in his drawings are ‘preparations’. You can’t have the same result by just imitating him. It can only be achieved by drawing upon careful observation, and doing so on a routine basis. To be able to draw like him, you first need to think about what to do beforehand.
Oguro: So it’s even a question of how you live your daily life.
Yoshinari: Yuki-san’s drawings influenced not only me but also a wide variety of people, so I think there is a part of him in my drawings as well. He used to publish key animation portfolios as douijinshi, so I used is as a reference.
Oguro: His influence on the artistic world was more notable on cels than on illustrations.
Yoshinari: Indeed, even if it’s quite impossible for me to draw on that level.
Oguro: Your credentials for movement must be people like Kanada-san, Obari-san or Ohira-san, aren’t they?
Yoshinari: They were at first, but in the 80’s, during the kind-of-Kanada boom, what most Kanada copycats were actually doing was imitating pseudo-(Masahito-)Yamashita-san’s style. In fact true Kanada-style animation was quite rare at the time.
Oguro: You mean they didn’t have the same sharpness as him?
Yoshinari: If I remember well, the first time Kanada-san’s style caught my eye was in (Galaxy Cyclone) Braiger. It felt like he was aiming for a more polished style. By the time he was doing Plawres Sanshiro, he had already started to lose impact.
Oguro: Maybe it felt like he was drawing according to patterns.
Yoshinari: He was growing a little bit sober, only drawing what’s necessary in a very simplistic way, with few key frames. I think that’s why after that, younger animators preferred to follow Yamashita-san’s more impactful style. Well, it’s a little bit strange to describe myself as ‘young’. But at the time there were Yamashita-san, (Hideki) Tamura-san, Masayuki-san, people like that. I think even I started by mainly watching Urusei Yatsura, in which I could regularly see Yamashita-san’s animation. Besides, I don’t remember watching (Hayao) Miyazaki anime at the time, so I think the ideal form I was watching back then remained.
Oguro: What do you call “ideal form”?
Yoshinari: Like the way he created movement. Yamashita-san’s animation also focuses on rhythm. Movements themselves aren’t that complicated, but rhythm makes them entertaining and dynamic. There’s the way he handles designs as well, like how he casts shadows, making them a part of the design.
Oguro: The style of Obari-san, who came just after him looked like a little more evolved version of that. Have you also passed by his work?
Yoshinari: When Obari-san showed up, it felt like a non-Yamashita-ish Kanada style. Like he were returning a little bit to the source, trying to impress with simpler and more polished shape. …But we’ll never be over if we start enumerating different styles, there were countless of them. I wasn’t only focusing on Kanada-style either, there were many completely different ones on the same period, like Bebow-style, Oh!Pro-style, Telecom-style.
Oguro: There was also (Shouji) Morimoto.
Yoshinari: Right. I tend to regroup them under (Takashi) Nakamura-style but there were Tatsuyuki Tanaka-san, Utsunomiya-san, Jirou Kanei-san, and Inoue-san as well. Although it’s a little bit different for him. There’s also (Yoshiyuki) Sadamoto-san, who draws quite solid shapes. His signature at the time was that he drew articulations in a very rough, maybe sharp way. I was thinking that it derived from Nakamura-san, but there may be Disney influence as well, since apparently he drew inspiration from Don Bluth. Also, it’s not anime but from (Katsuhiro) Otomo-san as well.
Oguro: Obviously, even considering the generation.
Yoshinari: He said he likes Hisashi Sakaguchi, who isn’t under Otomo-san’s direct influence, so sometimes I wonder where his style comes from. Well, I’m trying to make classifications like that, but since I’m just making it up myself, it must be very incorrect compared to how it actually is.
Oguro: I think you’re quite spot-on.
Yoshinari: There isn’t a clear platform for sakuga criticism between maniacs, so it would be great if someone could systematize one (laugh). Everyone has their own interpretation, but for instance, sometimes I consider things like “Maybe Iso-san is descended from (Tomonori) Furukawa-san’s lineage”. Even if I’m sure that if I asked him, there would also be many inspirations from people I don’t even know.
Oguro: Did you find Ohira-san’s animation realistic or deformed when you first saw it?
Yoshinari: I still think it’s deformed. I love the rough feeling he used to have, like on Hakkenden. He’s still quite crude per se, but he has also started from a very Yamashita-like note, hasn’t he?
Oguro: You mean when he was doing BUBBLEGUM CRISIS?
Yoshinari: The first time I saw his work was in (Ninja Senshi) Tobikage, and there were cuts with very obvious Yamashita-like animation here and there, like his drawing had been replaced by Ohira-san’s. Then Iso-san appeared, and Ohira-san went further creating a new style. So my image of them is the one of two great figures trying to surpass each other.
Oguro: That was around the 90’s, right?
Yoshinari: Even now. In my mind the 3 top animators are Ohira-san, Iso-san and (Hiroyuki) Okiura-san.
Oguro: Okiura-san’s style becomes more and more elaborate with time, but he hasn’t met a metamorphosis like for Ohira-san. It seems like his goal has remained unchanged.
Yoshinari: I agree. I think his objective isn’t to try new things, but to reach the pinnacle by only elevating already existing technique.
Oguro: I remember that you worked together on Jin-Roh, didn’t you?
Yoshinari: Aaaah… please don’t tell me about that. I gave him so much trouble on both Jin-Roh and A Letter to Momo I cannot look him straight in the eyes anymore.
Oguro: Really? Didn’t you get influenced by working with him?
Yoshinari: I couldn’t, I completely cowered before him. I was so bad to begin with, I didn’t have any spare room for getting inspiration from him. Actually it’s not Okiura-san but Inoue-san who corrected my work, yet it was a little bit traumatic experience for me (wry smile).
Oguro: I just thought about it, but isn’t there any influence from your brother Kou Yoshinari-san? You’ve always been helping him, and I think your styles looked very much alike at the beginning. Did you differentiate progressively?
Yoshinari: I’d rather say that I took on GAINAX’s style just after joining them. Their way of thinking was completely different, so I was like, “All my brother taught me was a lie!”, almost as if I was waking up from brainwashing (laugh). Before entering GAINAX most of my work consisted in clean copying my brother’s drawings, so I was thinking, “The more there are lines the better”.
Yoshinari: Then when I joined GAINAX, I was told not to draw a single unnecessary line. It was the exact opposite mentality, so I changed quite radically at that moment. Of course, even since, when I help my brother in his work, I have to stick to his drawing style, so there necessarily are more lines.
Oguro: Do you think that method is as valuable as the other?
Yoshinari: I guess there’s a way to deal with it. I don’t like it that much, but there are people who do.