Guin Saga : Interview with Director Atsushi Wakabayashi (Part 1)

The following interview was originally posted as special interview on GuinSaga.net. The interview has been translated by Twitter user @NohAcro © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon

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atsushi wakabayashiProfile: Born in 1964. Became an animator after joining Tatsunoko Anime Technique Laboratory. He then worked for Studio Pierrot on several shows like Yu Yu Hakusho (animation director) or NARUTO (episode director).


Guin Saga is your first directorial work. Did you know about the novels?

Actually I wasn’t reading them at all when I was young. I just vaguely remembered Amano-san’s illustrations until I got the job as a director. I was not really keen on fantasy in my early 20’s. I was more into Japanese movies or Jidaigeki.

What were your thoughts when you read the novels?

The interesting thing is, terms of heroic fantasy, it’s a work which was born in the earliest times of the genre in Japan. Before that, most Japanese fantasy novels felt in the head of romance, like Teito Monogatari. So it was deeply moving to see what fantasy originally looked like, to read a sourcebook if I could say so. It is simple but powerful, and many people who were moved by it then created fantasy themselves.

You first worked as an animator, what drove you into the anime industry?

I wasn’t willing to become an animator from the beginning. When I had to find a job, Tatsunoko’s Anime Art Institute was looking for animators. I was a little bit interested by animation, so I applied and it passed. I was there for only a year, but I met many interesting people, like Norio Matsumoto-kun with whom I joined the studio in the same year. Then I became a freelance animator, and the next studio I joined was Studio Pierrot.

How did it happen?

I randomly met an episode director called Akiyuki Shinbo-san, and he asked me “I’ll be doing a new show soon, are you interested?” and that was Yu Yu Hakusho. I was almost forced into one of Shinbo-san’s episode. I was comfortable with that, so I tried. When I was at Pierrot, I was mainly focusing on one single show at a time, so sometimes I envied a little bit people like Matsumoto-kun who worked extensively. But I’m not very shrewd, so it’s true I can only focus on one work at a time. That’s why I couldn’t extend my own range of works.

What were your thought behind switching from animator to direction work?

In the end I was fed up with drawing according to other people’s storyboards (laugh). I realized it was easier to think about the flow of a scene and draw key frames myself. Of course it was very pleasing to work with good directors, but I didn’t always have that luck. That’s why I started episode direction, thinking I had to do it myself.

What was your first work as an episode director?

The first time I got storyboard work was on Wild Arms TV episode 3. I wanted to get accustomed to drawing storyboards, but it was a little bit of a breakdown for me. I wasn’t expecting it to be so hard. But it was also a very valuable experience since I learned how exhausting it was. It was just after that that I got to work on Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. episode 7 as an episode director.

Was NARUTO episode 30 just after that?

It was, indeed. NARUTO’s production started around just after my part on S.A.C. ended. I was just walking around the studio when NARUTO’s director said “Here.” And suddenly handed me the script (laugh). That was episode 30.

atsushi-wakabayashi2After that you handled about one amazing action episode per year.

We only could do such things once a year (laugh), both in terms of time and budget. Once every 6 month would be impossible.

And this time you are directing Guin Saga. What were your thoughts on being the director for the first time?

It’s not because you’re the director that you’re able to take all decisions or add your touch to everything, you must entrust people more frequently. That can’t be helped. That’s why I needed to use directing and not action animation to make the show exciting. As a series director, I even have the chance to do that without misinterpreting characters during the course of the show. I’m willing to challenge that kind of supervising work this time.


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