Gintama Looking Back and Thanks: Color Designer Ritsuko Utagawa (Animage, July, 2017)

HughThis interview was originally published in the July issue of Animage, 2017.  The interview was translated by Twitter user @HwpMatthews © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon

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Animage: You have been involved with the Gintama anime since the 2005 Jump-festa anime tour, right?

Utagawa: In a period where I didn’t know whether the TV series had become a thing yet, I originally took on a job request from Takamatsu. Although it wasn’t as if he hadn’t yet socialized with any friends from the modern era, I received his reply of “ah, that’s great!” twice and that was it……. at least that’s what it felt like (laughs). As of right now, Gintama is the longest show I have worked on in my entire career history. Now that I’ve come this far, I wonder how my life’s work could have almost changed…. completely? Ah damn it! Why am I feeling this way? (laughs) Recently it now seems as long as we’re in a “vacation” period, I am one way or another doing work for Gintama, and even when I’m working on other series they’re also based on Gintama. I always feel as if Gin is sitting right beside me.

Animage: When you were first settling on the main character’s colors, were you provided with any instructions from Sorachi-sensei about the colors?

Utagawa: I got nothing like that. I had first settled on the colors for maybe the anime tour announcement poster, but I still hadn’t read most of the original manga at the time. Takamatsu along with two other people were looking at the volume covers while they were settling on what the poster would be like, but at that point Kagura’s hair color wasn’t the color it is now, we had chosen a blondish color. Given that Kagura’s clothes are red, red hair would have overlapped with it; normal anime would usually want to avoid that. So we put in a blondish color on the poster, but as for whether the fans at the time would be okay with it, they had various things to say……. (sarcastic laugh) Eventually, when we were making the main version of the anime-festa poster, we settled on the current vermillion-like salmon color.

Animage: Speaking of hair, gin’s hair is also actually quite special, isn’t it? Because the White Yaksha is “white”, naturally you would think he would also have the “silver” look, but in reality he has a light blue base.

Utagawa: Regardless of whether it’s white or silver, either one would seem rather plain for an anime. Since white in particular is hard to put highlights in, it would have been difficult to use as a hair color. Silver as well, since it would ultimately appear grey as an anime color, and grey on a protagonist would make him seem weak. “A silvery color would be light blue wouldn’t it, it’s got a little flair to it”, that was a result of one of the various searches we made for the right look, but we hadn’t settled on the current color just yet. Settling on the other character’s colors after that was relatively more straightforward in my opinion.

Animage: Over the course of the series, has the color shading changed massively?

Utagawa: During the second movie Gintama: The Movie: The Final Chapter: Be Forever Odd-jobs I lowered the shadow levels. Up until that, I followed Takamatsu’s (The first director) belief that “cell anime has a nice vibe”, and choose comparatively soft colors. When there was a serious arc, my approach is to apply a little shadow to the shading, but most of the time there is generally a soft and comfy vibe. That is what greatly changed during the “Final chapter”.

Animage: In the Final Chapter, there was such a strong variety of colour shading that it made the screen seem vivid didn’t it?

Utagawa: Well, during the start of Gintama season 3 (Enchousen), the serious arcs had greatly increased from this point, and because (Shinji) Takeuchi had changed the main character designs to be drawn a little more adult-like, it resulted in the Final Chapter’s color design following suit. That color design is also becoming standard now.

Animage: Between Takamatsu, Fujita and Miyawaki, three directors who have taken on this job, were there any differences you felt in the mood at the studio?

Utagawa: As for whether the studio mood changes with the director, I’d have to say no……. “The TV broadcast is always fun no matter what” was the sort of feeling I got from Takamatsu. When the DVDs got made, there was unused footage and music and so on lying around (laughs), so I had the impression that there was a lot of unseen stuff that didn’t get shown on air. Fujita also had somewhat the same approach. However, with things like filming the mannequins in the “live action edition” of the show (laughs), when it came to thinking up all sorts of unusual things, I feel that Fujita was frequently number one. Everyone shouldered the mannequins to the filming; I was also like a stylist preparing the wig, and fixing the misplaced hair and clothing on set. It’s an embarrassing but also fun memory. In comparison Miyawaki does things precisely. For example, on the openings she will set up these small details even though Gintama doesn’t have a lot of them. In Takamatsu’s case, he would hold around 3 sheets of storyboard and be like “next thing, since we’re putting this in” but then just suddenly shout out and be like “huuuhhh!?”, but with Miyawaki, she’s orderly, “put this much dialogue here” she makes up her mind beforehand. When White Yaksha and Pakuyasa changed places in episode 322, from the start she had quickly prepared 2 versions of the opening, and since I can’t forcefully speak up, she saves me the trouble of doing so.

Animage: On the contrary, it seems you had a great deal to say about Takamatsu (laughs)

Utagawa: That’s also true for Fujita as well. A Motorcycle coming out all of a sudden and then falling over on a banana skin (episode 67). There have been a lot of times where he would do something he had just thought up. But that’s the thing, however interesting the stuff he makes is; he always continues to think of how to do those things…. Do you follow me? (laughs)

Ritsuko Utagawa’s thank you:

Sorachi-sensei, thank you for creating such an interesting series! First of all, I think I’m running out of things to say here. What’s left to say is thank you to the whole staff. As I’m somewhat part of the main staff, I brazenly receive press coverage, but at the current studio we really have quite a lot of staff. From the people creating the show, to the people applying the finishing touches…… if everyone wasn’t here, we wouldn’t be able to do a thing. I really want to express my gratitude!

OP & ED:

With each season, we take pleasure in creating original footage for the openings and endings that are now Gintama’s specialty. They also feature special color shading and textures among other things. Since the openings and endings are also set to good songs, the directors can also extract ideas that they can draw onto fitting storyboards. It also puts me in a desperate state because it can mess up the colors and make them no good.

The Colour changes of the serious arcs:

When the serious arcs became longer, all the impressions that the shots gave changed a little. In the series, for scenes that have cloudy skies, night time or evening backdrops, they all get treated as if they take place at the same time, and for a special event, the directorial aim would just be to present a severe situation. For the Shogun Assassination arc, Farewell Shinsengumi arc and The Battle on Rakuyo arc, we were almost constantly changing the colors. Furthermore because we were having people moving in groups, I therefore had to make color changes for all of those people……. It’s extremely tiring when the show becomes serious (laughs)

The other side of mosaics:

Gintama is famous for mosaics. They are well-known among the fans, as we fully draw “something” on the other side, but the color of that “something” is actually a fixation of theirs they like to hide! Therefore I have to come up with an interesting color that will be covered by the mosaics. Kagura’s vomit also differs as okonomiyaki isn’t a vibrant color to be setting; I do it in a way that makes the ‘feeling of various things mixing around’ come across (laughs).

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