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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This article is broken into three parts
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Things I understood making “Osamu Tezuka Tributes”
Oguro: Let’s return to your own animation. Are you planning tasks meticulously before making a cut?
Yoshinari: No, not so much. I just make vague plans when I feel inclined to. It would actually go smoother if I made one every time, but even when I try to schedule the way I would draw, I always end up doing it in the same fashion.
Oguro: Do you still aspire to reach another step in your work, like making it denser for example?
Yoshinari: I don’t perceive it as trying to progress. It’s more like realizing how bad the previous work was and trying to make the next one at least less objectionable. On a personal level I don’t remember having been able to draw acceptably even once. I feel like all of my works are failures.
Oguro: So you can’t think of a particularly good work you’re proud of?
Yoshinari: No I cannot. I don’t really want to look back at them either (wry smile).
Oguro: But didn’t you put quite much heart in Osamu Tezuka tribute films, the shorts you made under the name “Otonari Kobo”?
Yoshinari: I didn’t put more heart in those shorts than in other works, I think they just look like it because they’re particularly dense, since I all did it by myself. Thus I felt the urge to correct the movements at each step. I corrected them after drawing key frames, after cleaning them up, after coloring them, after filming them… by continuously correcting the work like this, it necessarily ends up being terribly dense. That’s inevitable when I create something on my own.
Oguro: But until then there hadn’t been anything else condensing so much Yoshinari taste, was there?
Yoshinari: Well, it almost never happens for a commercial anime to have only one person doing all from animation to the finishing. Sometimes it even feels like if there’s something you really want to do, you have to do it yourself. Yet in that case it also lacks excitement, as nothing can really go wrong.
Oguro: Because there is no suggestion from other staff members?
Yoshinari: But that difference can also be very interesting since usually, once I’ve drawn key frames, I don’t see them until the film is finished. This way I can see how each step alters the animation. Of course there were also times when I completely messed up. The other problem is that since I’m all doing it by myself, I cannot be objective about it.
Oguro: So you didn’t particularly like Tezuka anime to begin with, did you?
Yoshinari: Not at all, since I’ve grown up listening to people from the Toei branch like (Yasuo) Otsuka-san criticizing Osamu Tezuka over and over. My opinion is that there’s no masterpiece in Tezuka anime.
Oguro: What about Tezuka manga?
Yoshinari: I don’t particularly like them either. I found his most popular works like Phoenix very enjoyable, it was fine. So I thought his works would all be as good as that, but when I read some of them a few years later, I realized there were only a handful of masterpieces
Oguro: You mean the content?
Yoshinari: Right. I was more interested in his drawings. He’s incredibly good. I remember when we first met with Oiishi-san, he told me something like, “Osamu Tezuka’s drawings in the 50’s are extremely polished” and I was like “ ‘kay.” But in 2005 a pirated edition -or I think it was- of Osamu Tezuka’s Bambi got republished, and when I saw it I thought, “Oh my God he’s good!”, and after that I there was a period during which I was mostly reading his works.
Oguro: So you were reading them only to see the drawings.
Yoshinari: Right. And in fact the ones he made around the 50’s are very graphic and polished, so I thought I could do something interesting with them. In short, since there hadn’t been any anime animating Tezuka’s drawings correctly, I decided to make them.
Oguro: It’s surprising that even the shows he created don’t look like moving Tezuka manga.
Yoshinari: Exactly. I thought maybe no one could do it, since he couldn’t achieve it himself. But Osamu Tezuka only genuinely started to make anime from the 60’s. So I thought maybe the direction of his drawings differed from his manga art at its peak.
Oguro: I was particularly impressed by the Majin Garon tribute film. When I saw it I wondered why it had not been adapted with this style for all that time.
Yoshinari: That’s a work he published between late 50’s and early 60’s, and his designs from that era are very fit for animation. I suppose he developed that style because he had to dash off his drafts, and strangely enough, they are very well suited for animation. Maybe he was willing to make them move while he was drawing.
Oguro: Most likely so, yes, after all he liked cinema and animation more than anyone else.
Yoshinari: To my mind, his drawings from that era clearly act as the prototype of current ‘anime-style drawings’. What I found curious is the fact that the style in question had been elaborated even before he formally started to create anime. Hayao Miyazaki-san once said: “We can’t escape from Osame Tezuka’s sense of beauty. In comparison, I envy younger people who are free from it.” But the fact is, we aren’t. We’re still not able to escape from Osamu Tezuka’s aesthetic.
Oguro: From the style he established in the 50’s and the 60’s?
Yoshinari: Yes. We still can’t get out from the style he created then, like the standards for “cuteness” and other things. Sometimes it comes to my mind that even things like current moe characters are based on Osamu Tezuka’s style, and animators who can free themselves from it are particularly rare.
Oguro: You mean drawings with a soft touch?
Yoshinari: Even drawings with a harder touch share the same balance. That’s also why I realized that by mastering Osamu Tezuka’s drawings, I could adapt it to many styles.
Oguro: You first made 3 tributes on your own, and then you created new ones after a pause, did you get offers from Tezuka Pro in the meantime?
Yoshinari: No, not at all. Actually I had created all of them on the same period, but rumors went quite big on the internet, so I thought I should temper it a little bit (wry smile). I also didn’t want to be caught doing this while I was supposed to be busy on my work, so I chose to wait until the storm blew over.
Oguro: Oh, I see (laugh).
Yoshinari: I also wanted to make stuff on his 50’s works, but I got caught, so I stopped. Besides, the reason I started all of this was because there was the internet site of The Association of Japanese Animations saying we could make derivative works including Tezuka characters. So when that site disappeared, I had nowhere to post my works anymore.
Oguro: So you would like to do it again if you get the offer, wouldn’t you?
Yoshinari: No, it only makes sense if I do it on my own, so I don’t want to make it according to an offer. “Could you do this for an entire series” would only be a bad joke (laugh).
Oguro: So you prefer to do the entire in-between – finishing – filming tasks on your own?
Yoshinari: It’s something I’d just do if I feel inclined to. So I’ll just make it in my own corner. But I’ll keep it to myself.
Oguro: Oh, so you’re making them.
Yoshinari: If I say I do they’d tell me to get back to work, so I keep it to myself.
Oguro: The paper animation in the last episode of Eva also felt quite like a private film, did you have much freedom over the content?
Yoshinari: I think so. There were only brief indications about the content on the storyboard.
Oguro: It was quite different compared to your other works, wasn’t it?
Yoshinari: Indeed, seeing the lines you drew yourself on the final film almost never happens in anime. But if I remember well, they didn’t directly film the paper for that one. Instead they passed it in the trace machine once.
Yoshinari: Pencil lines are too pale to be scanned directly. Of course it’s cheaper since it doesn’t require finishing and stuff, but we clearly cannot make entire series that way. Also, it looks like corner-cutting without colors.
Oguro: Did you find the idea interesting when you were told about it?
Yoshinari: Of course I did. The context was quite special too. The production was hard-pushed, and we didn’t even know if the episode could air in time, so it almost felt like we could draw whatever we wanted to.
Oguro: But you also nailed some of Eva’s essence by including elements like a crucifix.
Yoshinari: Isn’t it just a coincidence? I was just chain-drawing it like a shiritori anime, so I didn’t think about it too much. I was mostly drawing by habit at that point, so I think it just looks like it in the context of Eva (laugh).
Key frames from the last episode of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. During the last battle against Anti-Spirals, the Gurren Lagann rushes into the enemy while taking its attacks, and rips its head part (Lagann) to throw it at its foe! Yoshinari key-animated this cut and also handled 1st key animation in the cuts before and after this one.
I’m happy with any kind of work as long as I’m drawing.
Oguro: In recent years you have also handled many works other than animation, like storyboards and design works. Are you purposefully trying to advance in other directions?
Yoshinari: That’s the result, but the idea is that I would do anything they get me to work on. So my career looks like that because I’ve accepted what I was asked to do. Even for creating settings and designs, the industry lacks talented people, particularly when it comes to Imaishi-san’s series which are quite special – there aren’t many people who can be on the same wavelength as him. So I end up working on Imaishi works all the time, like (Mahiro) Maeda-san does on (Hideaki) Anno-san’s works.
Oguro: When you are just an animator, there are times when you cannot contribute to the work’s quality as much as you could, aren’t there? When you work with Imaishi-san, you’re able to participate in shaping the very core of the work, like the world-building for example. Do you feel satisfaction in that part of your work?
Yoshinari: Well, after all it depends on Imaishi-san if it’s enjoyable or not (laugh). Of course I give ideas, but what I find interesting is not necessarily that much in the context of the work. For instance, I had many ideas about how the underground society we see at the beginning is built, but most of them weren’t used at all (wry smile).
Oguro: They left it at the very beginning.
Yoshinari: I thought it would be interesting, so I was a bit disappointed. But I also think Imaishi-san makes good use of other people’s ideas. He has an exuberant imagination, but he often comes up with very rough drawings, so there are only few people who can transcribe his image correctly.
Oguro: You mean one could not even understand what he’s drawn?
Yoshinari: He has a very unique style you know, almost like he’s drawing bad on purpose (laugh). I think it requires training to be able to transcribe his sense. Since I worked with him on Gurren Lagann, I understand what he wants to draw for the most part. That’s why I think I’m more useful by making designs rather than just doing animation on special cuts here and there. Also because I tend to be self-satisfied when I’m doing key animation.
Oguro: So if you had the choice you would rather make animation, but you would also do designs or illustrations if you get offers for it?
Yoshinari: Right. I think I’d be happy with any kind of work as long as I’m drawing, even for things like in-betweens or finishing. Well, it starts to be difficult for me to draw clean lines, but I think tasks involving giving advices for movements would also be fun.
Oguro: You mean advising in-betweeners?
Yoshinari: In short, it would be a work more like Disney’s in-betweeners’. Even for the hair’s reaction for example, this thing requires more frames than you could expect. The moment you stop and the moment you end the movement are also quite important. Those are things which are difficult to add, but also very efficient when done well. Adding these details finely is a quite enjoyable task, and doing so would improve quality, yet there isn’t any position like that in the industry.
Oguro: Is that part of douga?
Yoshinari: It is. It’s not something a key animator would do, but varying the way movement is paced can make a subtle difference. Usually we only place in-betweens by cutting in the middle of two frames, but adjusting the proportion, the parts and the side we put in-betweens can change the result. For example, there can be a difference between the way we pace the movement between the back of a hand and the fingertips. By doing that kind of adjustment, movement can be drastically improved even with average key animation. I think it could be interesting to have that kind of work.
Oguro: Changing subject, let’s talk about your latest work, Little Witch Academia. Is the story also an original idea of yours?
Yoshinari: For the idea, yes. We discussed about it to decide of the direction we would give it. Since Anime Mirai is a project to raise young animators, we wanted to make the story in line with that concept. So we wondered if we couldn’t transpose the story of a new animator to something else. Then the first idea was something about a wizard’s apprentice.
Oguro: To ensure that animators participating could identify with the protagonist?
Yoshinari: That was the idea. The theme was about a young animator who joins the industry looking up to a -sorry for the term- lowbrow late-night magical girl anime. So he’s mocked by people around him.
Oguro: Oh I see.
Yoshinari: But we also wanted to show that kind of admiration is important. There is the story about Hayao Miyazaki entering the anime industry because he was moved by Panda and the Magic Serpent.
Oguro: About the fact that he admired the heroine?
Yoshinari: Then he watched the movie again afterwards and was disappointed by how bad it was (laugh). Yet, even if it’s actually not enjoyable at all, it can be irreplaceable for that person. What’s important is the feelings you got from watching it, and the fact that you had admiration for it. That’s the theme we were looking for.
Oguro: That’s the thoughts you placed in Akko’s character.
Yoshinari: Right. Akko’s like someone who joined the industry out of passion but without actual technique, so she can’t draw clean lines for in-betweens. Yet she has that egocentric confidence about being able to draw good key frames despite that. We wanted to transpose that idea in a wizard story, but it doesn’t really appear in the final product.
Oguro: This time, you supervised the whole story while creating the general imagery, and in the meantime you were also coaching younger staff, by repeatedly making them correct their own key frames for example.
Yoshinari: Right. As a matter of fact I shouldn’t have corrected their keys. That’s something they had to do by themselves. But I’m not really qualified for that either.
Oguro: For teaching them?
Yoshinari: Well, I’m not alone in that case. In fact I think most animators don’t know about their own technique since they don’t need to systematize it. They just draw according to a method they elaborated somehow. They don’t have the opportunity take another look at their own work, unless they write manuals like Kogawa-san. That’s why when they’re suddenly asked to explain, they can’t tell concretely how they draw like they usually do. As a way to deal with that, they could draw something, and then ask themselves why they drew it like that, why this works and not that. They need to evaluate their own work and to question it again. That’s the reason why it took me so much time.
Oguro: You need to prepare your own reasons in order to direct other people.
Yoshinari: Exactly. That’s why it’s so time-consuming even to point out futilities. To explain things like “The character is here, so it’s not normal to see her there like this”, I needed to stick sheets together and check layouts one by one, and it happened to me to wonder if that’s actually correct while doing so.
Oguro: So that’s completely different from doing it on your own.
Yoshinari: When I’m on my own I just draw by intuition. The workload would be unbearable if I had to evaluate it each and every time.
Oguro: Because then you would have to phrase it.
Yoshinari: That’s right. I’d have to explain the entire process leading to it, realizing I’m actually doing a very complicated, annoying thing. It would take me time to do all of that, and even if they get introduced with the theory, they still would have difficulties with some points.
Oguro: But it seems like talented people were gathered, even if they’re young.
Yoshinari: That’s what I thought, but each one had his own flaws. If you think about it, really talented animators wouldn’t even need to participate in Anime Mirai (laugh). That’s why I think all new people who participate are facing some kind of difficulty.
Oguro: It’s the first time you have drawn a storyboard as long as this, isn’t it?
Yoshinari: Indeed, even if it’s only about 30 minutes.
Oguro: Yet there are almost 400 cuts.
Yoshinari: It may be a bad habit I got as an animator. I tend to focus on unnecessary things. It didn’t fit into the set length, so we had to cut as much of it as possible… So I’m not at all in position of telling young people what to do. I still lack experience and have far more things to learn than them for now.
Oguro: Although, when I saw your storyboards, I thought you had a clear aspiration for entertainment.
Yoshinari: Sure thing since I made it under Imaishi-san’s supervision (laugh). Of course I want to entertain viewers, but I don’t watch current anime anymore, so I think my sensibility’s become old.
Oguro: So you don’t watch latest anime aimed towards young people?
Yoshinari: No, I don’t. Same thing for those which aren’t for young people. I’ve not even watched A Letter to Momo or Raibow Fireflies which are must-sees for sakuga maniacs. I don’t know why, I’m not interested.
Oguro: Maybe the time for taking new information in has ended.
Yoshinari: No, not really. I think it’s just that it isn’t new.
Oguro: Ah, I see.
Yoshinari: The only hunch I have is that it would certainly be like something which already exists. Well, if I start saying that, I’m even more repetitive myself. But you know, it’s not a problem since there are many things which stimulate me aside of anime.
Oguro: What are your plans after Little Witch Academia?
Yoshinari: I’d like to join Imaishi-san on his new project as soon as possible. It looks like so much fun from outside.
Oguro: As an animator?
Yoshinari: He asked me to work on the designs. It sounds fun of course, but I would like to do some animation direction (enshutsu). Until now I’ve tended to ignore the script, so I’d like for once to do some precise work.
Oguro: Do you mean you want to consider the screenwriter’s intention, or that you want to take part in the writing?
Yoshinari: No, I’d like to follow the script to the inch, to stick faithfully to what people would give me. For both Panty&Stocking and Little Witch, there was a script so to speak, but I changed it on my own. I think that’s not a very good habit, and I want to create something according precisely to how it was supposed to be. Since I’m still in the phase of learning things, I was willing to do a proper work as a normal director.
Oguro: All right, so this would be the last question: is there something you would call the ideal animation?
Yoshinari: Not really anything I would call ideal. I’m the kind of guy who can appreciate anything immediately, not only for drawings.
Oguro: Is there something you would ultimately want to create?
Yoshinari: I don’t know yet. I’m willing to do whatever I like on that moment, but if you ask me whether or not I would dedicate my life to it, not that much.
Oguro: Even for Tezuka tributes?
Yoshinari: I guess so. I used to like the idea when I was making them, but now I don’t really care anymore (laugh). For now I’m satisfied if I get work, and the most important thing for me is to handle the works I get correctly. I think that’s it.
Key frames from the first episode of FLCL. Canti comes out from Naota’s forehead, but it gets grasped by another robot which appeared after and is destabilized. Forms and movements are so maniac yet fascinating. A very alaborate key animation, including the way he adds ghost limbs.
Thank you for getting this translation out there. It was amazing to get such an in depth interview for Yoh Yoshinari with him being one of my favorite animators as well as possibly a favorite new director.
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Thanks for this! Really interesting to see how Yoshinari thinks. Completely different from me and I guess a lot of young artists who would rather draw something they enjoy and forming their workflow around that. Quite admirable that he simply enjoys the work itself regardless of context.