The Forgotten Lupin III Interviews – Yuzo Aoki

NohArcoThese interviews were translated by Twitter user @NohAcro © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon


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With the help of Reed Nelson and LupintheThird.com, Wave Motion Cannon is proud to present a series of never before translated interviews with Yuzo Aoki, director of the often overlooked ‘Pink Jacket’ Lupin. Due to the brevity and rarity of each translation, we thought it best to combine them all here. Please enjoy this rare look at some of what Yuzo Aoki has said over the course of his time as director of Lupin III Part III.


Yuzo Aoki Interview (The Anime, December 1983)

We heard that you have just recently been chosen as the character designer.

Aoki: I really didn’t know until I got the offer, so yeah, it’s very recent. There were rumors, but I wasn’t expecting to actually do it (laugh). I thought someone more influential would get the job. So now I’m hastily studying Monkey Punch’s drawings from the beginning (laugh). Rough sketches we presented are only the first drafts. I think I’ll have to present definitive sketches in less than a month, since I’m responsible for character designs.

It is a long story between you and Lupin, isn’t it?

Aoki: I have always participated in Lupin since the old series, when (Yasuo) Otsuka was the animation director. I have drawn all styles of Lupin. I even worked on the pilot with Tsutomu Shibayama (as the character designer). I got influence from each one of them as I wanted to. I’ve been working as an animator for 12 years, and I think I got blessed with good mentors like Shibayama and master Osamu Tezuka. But when I think about it, I haven’t drawn Lupin at all for 2 or 3 years (laugh).

What model are you working with in your design work?

Aoki: Right now the only thing I can come up with is to return to the origins. I cannot just do it like (Junichi) Iioka and draw after the model of the older series. Even in Monkey-san’s original work, the drawings evolved from the beginning and what came after. If it’s only about drawings, I personally prefer the second half. The original ones are also very good, but I cannot help but think that if I had to animate it, drawings from the second half would be easier. Characters in animation must be simplified and perfected enough that anyone can draw them, thus I intend not to make them self-sufficient for myself. The characters are not alive in my mind yet, but once they are, the images will start to move by themselves and create their own expressions. That’s when I reach my cruise condition.

Once designs and the scripts are done, you will enter the proper production phase in which you will work as an animation director, right?

Aoki: Even when the designs are done, I will have to listen to many people’s suggestions, and I guess there would be modifications inside the staff as well. The tone of the story will depend on the scriptwriter, and once it starts airing, drawings will progressively lose their stiffness. As an animation director on Part III, I hope I’ll be able to capture the originality of each production team. As such I want to make the art flexible, and even if I have to restrain my drawings at the beginning, I expect each staff member to express his originality once he gets accustomed to it. In order to do so, the character designs themselves must be tolerant. If I get to work as an episode director as well, like on the new series, I will give more importance to the plot itself, trying not to focus on the original work like I do for drawings.

Do you like Lupin yourself, as a story or as a character?

Aoki: Zenigata is on the system’s side, so he’s an exception (laugh), but I enjoy thinking that these 4 characters may actually live in a tough world, with a great dispute between the East and the West. I like that. In that sense I admire Monkey-san for managing to create a plot with characters like these, the scale of the character themselves is huge. Yet it’s a little bit complicated when you’ve dealt with them for a while and part of you wants to stop (laugh).


Yuzo Aoki comment (Futabasha MOOK, Animation Collection Lupin III Part III, Published November 25th 1984/ Futabasha)

Hello, I am Aoki, working as an animation director. What I am intending this time is to create another Lupin‘. In my mind, until now, there have been 3 major categories of Lupin. The first one is Mr. Yasuo Otsuka’s Lupin. The second is Mr. Hayao Miyazaki’s Lupin. Of course all of them are completely different from the original one, mine included. But my Lupin has not grown enough yet. It is a work on which I would like to try many things, like the expressions of guest characters, and I also think I should do it.


Yuzo Aoki comment (Animage, January 1984)

(Tsutomu) Shibayama’s Lupin is the Lupin I felt was closest to the actual one, and I’m still under that impression. (Takeo) Kitahara’s Lupin was popular, and (Yasuo) Otsuka’s was naïve. I myself like (Shingo) Araki’s Lupin.

In my mind, for a work with a source material, animators are only interpreters, and Monkey-san’s Lupin is the genuine one. That is the reason I studied the manga exhaustively to create a new Lupin, by learning from the past. Lupin is a character who has different traits with each work, yet never loses his own laid back and tolerant self. This time I am planning to participate both as an episode director and animation director, and I intend to create unique episodes, valuing the staff’s sensibility, and I hope Lupin himself will enjoy them.


Yuzo Aoki comment (Animage, February 1984)

I did not want to turn Lupin into an “old man”. My image of him while drawing was one of a young man.

Once we have the basics, I wanted the staff to do it as they wanted. I think that way we can have funnier and more unique drawings. As the animation director, I must homogenize drawings at first, but once we have a coherence between them, I want to focus on direction. If young folks could turn my storyboards into incredible drawings, that would be the best we could organize it.


Yuzo Aoki Interview & Comment (The Anime, February 1984)

In this month’s issue, Mr. Yuzo Aoki who was in charge of the character designs will be explaining the image and concept he put in each character.

Aoki: It required me about a month from the moment I started to when the definitive sketches were approved. Until then I was under the influence of the previous Lupin III characters, but when I decided to throw that away to make my own interpretation of Monkey Punch’s drawings, that’s when I was finally able to make satisfying drawings.


This is how he reached the satisfying result with the 5 new character designs. When we asked him which character he preferred, he told us it was Jigen, and Zenigata in second place. According to his self-evaluation, he is at 75% technique wise, but he personally considers it as a 100% work of his own.


Aoki: From now and during the production, while characters will meet subtle changes, I think I’ll look back at these designs if I have a doubt about anything. Designs themselves imply a lot of things, and I think these are the best on that aspect.

LUPIN

I let some over-optimism in his design. Some of it comes from his young age, allowing him to act like a playboy. Nevertheless, I allowed rudeness where it was required, and I prepared many expressions to adapt any plot he could be involved in (laugh). I drew him from the idea that Lupin had 3 aspects: a soft one, a hard one, and a comical one.

ZENIGATA

Inspector Zenigata is actually a talented cop, and that’s what I wanted to recall with this design. I think he’s quite handsome, and once he becomes serious, he’s the one who could have the best confrontation against Lupin. That’s why I didn’t want to treat him like the extra one, I chose to give him a little bit more spotlight. Well, he’s also the one whose face gets deformed the most (laugh).

FUJIKO

The only character this time who doesn’t look like her original manga self is Fujiko Mine. Instead, she’s the one who changes the most depending on the work she’s in. She looks large-built, but in dramatic scenes we realize that she’s not that tall. I wanted to give her a coquettish feeling. Her hair is not black either, by making it the same color as the eyes, they become part of the character’s image color.

JIGEN

I wanted to make Daisuke Jigen a more joyful character this time, less somber. As for the hat, he only pulls it over his eyes in critical situations, when he must make his shot count. I made all five characters younger, but I also made Jigen more frivolous, and his smiles more sincere.

GOEMON

The image of Goemon came directly from the source material. He’s the youngest of the group. I thought I could soften his lone wolf nature to make it suit the anime by overlapping with the manga. He also isn’t long-faced because it would make him look older, that’s the reason (laugh). The patterns of his kimono are both a reference to the manga and an accent for the animation.


Yuzo Aoki Interview (OUT, February 1984)

Lupin III is coming back after a 3 years blank, what will be your image of Lupin’s character? Or maybe I should ask what Lupin represents for you.

Aoki: I’ve been working on Lupin since the old series, and I think all people who have worked on it have their own image. I was not part of the main staff until now, so I was mostly creating according to other people’s images. That’s the difficult part, even if I’ve already accepted it.

That it is your job?

Aoki: I’ve drawn a clear line, but I’m not that obsessed with it. Yet I find Lupin more likable than other protagonists. He’s not an obstructing kind of hero. What we call heroes tend to brag about their actions, even robots often make spectacular appearances, but it’s rarely the case for Lupin. It’s more like he’s just casually there and others treat him like a hero. Lupin just lives a hazy life of his own, doing as he wants. He’s completely fictional, yet he pushes his existence on others. But Lupin is a human being of blood and flesh, and acts like there is a way to deal with the situation. That’s why in that sense, he’s a hero who doesn’t feel pushy. I think that kind of hero exists, and it’s quite adapted to contemporary trends from that viewpoint, at least from the second series. The idea wasn’t mature enough in the first one. The hero was still too heroic, like in Ashita no Joe. I think it’s from the second series on that the character matched the trend, the image of a hero children expected.

We have heard that you were drawing the storyboards for the first episode. What kind of directing are you adopting this time?

Aoki: I’m aiming for the middle between (Masaaki) Osumi and (Isao) Takahata, (Hayao) Miyazaki who all were episode directors on the first Lupin series. As I needed to represent both styles, I’m trying to create characters according to those different patterns. In the end, I just decided to create 3 types of characters: a hard Lupin, a soft Lupin and a comical Lupin. After that I let animators use these styles according to the script, the context and voice actors. It’s like having 3 different personalities, so I’m thinking that I’ll have to do handle animation director work schizophrenically. Like a tricolor wafer (laugh).


Yuzo Aoki interview (My Anime, May 1984)

Lupin’s new series’ opening does is not content with presenting its characters, it also entertains the aufience by including SF elements. We asked animation director Aoki, who drew the storyboards to explain the image he used to create it.


“I was aiming to create something that could satisfy enthusiasts while making it feel new. Simply put, it’s my combination of the nostalgic Lupin and a modern feeling. I’ve known the original Lupin from way back, and it appears to me like it’s becoming increasingly dry with time. I think it’s a manga anyone can enjoy, regardless of the time period. You asked me the upcoming highlights, but the way drawings will be made and staged will also depend on the directing… Yet one thing I want to underline is the fact that I would like to make a Lupin anyone can enjoy. For that I’m willing to prepare varied plots, in the sense that any kind of people could enjoy it. I’d also want to make the scale of the story greater, like for the staging, making Lupin’s action bigger. Sometimes he would simply aim for a precious jewel, but not only. I’d like Lupin to chase something bigger, in a romantic kind of way. It’d be great if Lupin could fulfill faint desires, little dreams of the audience. It’s not something I’ll be able to achieve on my own though, I’m willing to create that kind of Lupin with all the staff.


Yuzo Aoki interview (Animedia, May 1984)

When I was asked to try something new so it actually feels like “Part III,” the first thing I thought about was the original Monkey Punch drawings. When you think about it, the characters in the shows are the ones Yasuo Otsuka created. So I decided to make something that had the same atmosphere as the original work. Yet it wouldn’t make sense to bring back his drawings from over ten years ago, so my starting point was to adapt the ones he’s making now in a creative way. I think the characters are starting to get solid from episode 4.

In anime, drawings tend to have more presence than in manga, both in a good and bad way. So it depends on the director’s ability and the animators’ representation whether or not we’ll be able to turn it into a positive result. I was absolutely sure that it would work by adding Part III’s proper modernity and frivolousness to Lupin III’s nostalgic action and drama.


Yuzo Aoki interview (The Anime, January 1985)

There have been people pointing out that the characters’ faces have changed, what is the reason for that?

Aoki: After the new Lupin series, I had not drawn these characters for about 4 years, so it’s more like I finally managed to retrieve the image, like “right, Lupin was more or less like this” (laugh). I think that means I’m getting attached to the character I created for Part III.

You directed episode 18 ‘Show Time Is Death Feeling’ which aired in November.

Aoki: The episode was made in June or something like that. The airing was constantly postponed because of baseball (laugh). There is a scene where protagonists are dancing for one entire minute during the climax, right? I tried to imitate “Flash dance” (laugh), and that’s something we didn’t see in the previous Lupin III series, wasn’t it? But sure enough, it was impossible for me to handle both directing and animation (laugh). That’s why I at least endeavored to check all the storyboards.

How are you personally intending to change Part III, based on the drawings?

Aoki: I said I had referenced the drawings, but essentially, I’m not intending to make them look like they did in the previous series at all. I’d rather make them simpler. After all, it’s not interesting to just mimic, and Part III needs its own characters, partly in order to attract new fans. Now that the designs are settled, I’d also like to make little changes in their clothing from one episode to the next. I think it would also be good to see Lupin in a rougher style than his usual jacket, or to have Zenigata in a more fashionable style. For example, Goemon could wear an entirely black ninja outfit (laugh). As for the plot, since there are 52 full episodes, we’re avoiding harsh stories. For the record, Yasuo Yamada asked me the other day to make an episode without Lupin (laugh).

Could you give us examples of good upcoming episodes?

Hajime Kamegaki-kun and Hideyuki Motohashi-kun are animation directors on episode 24, so it’s worth attention. It’s interesting to see what kind of Lupin III we get when they make it (laugh). There is also episode 26 and episodes 27 and 28 in which Goemon and Jigen will respectively come under the spotlight. But we’ll have to wait next year for that (laugh).


Yuzo Aoki interview (Lupin III Part III TV Perfection BOX) (Published 1st July 1999, VAP)

Aoki: I almost think it’s impossible for Japanese people to make stylish stories that take place overseas.

Oh really? But you actually achieved it, didn’t you? Like in the opening. Talking about it, there is also the ED of City Hunter. The rhythm and images start after the episode concluded with a gag. The Cat’s Eye song also became a hit, and I think it’s thanks to both the song and images, don’t you think? That also pulls the program forward.

Aoki: You know, since anime is a culture. For example, Charlie Brown is more polished on a cultural level, and it’s well-made. Japanese people can’t do that. It’s sad not being able to create such things, don’t you think?

You couldn’t do it?

Aoki: No I can’t. I’m not talented enough for that, and I think that’s why I’m here.

You were handling so many different things on Part III. It feels like you’ve worked the equivalent of several years on one show.

Aoki: I’m wondering. I created many characters though…at first I thought about returning to what (Yasuo) Otsuka did on the first series, but there was the issue of Part III’s individuality, plus the key station changed, so it was decided to do it a different way. “Or else it would be useless to have Aoki work on it,” as they said, so I wondered what I should do. There was already an outstanding work called Lupin III, and I thought I couldn’t match that.

Hmmm, after all it’s a completely different thing, so if you ask me whether it’s inferior or not… if I had to point out a weak part in Part III, let’s see…maybe it was too cool (laugh)?

Aoki: Yeah, right, like I said, I was only able to depict them in a cool way. I wanted to make them play the fool, like Otsuka did, make them more adult. When he is determined to do something, Lupin doesn’t show it. In fact, he plays the fool or idles away, but that kind of twisted representation is really hard. Mine was too straight, and I think that’s why I couldn’t make it as appealing as the previous shows. I tried to get that appeal my own way, but…

At the time Otsuka and Kitahara were doing it, the characters’ humanity was making the drama. Although they were quite twisted as well, they could be serious, facetious, playing dumb, look like they play dumb and then show their abilities…that kind of humanity showed in an interesting way. If you ask whether or not Part III achieved it as well as they did…you see? The audience is sensitive to those things, even more for fans who had watched the previous shows. They maybe even thought that from that point of view, that wasn’t Lupin for them.

It’s quite idealistic the way you put it.

Aoki: I want to go as far as to say it. Part III was really hard. Even Mr. Matsumoto, the producer is quite young, he’s only 30 years old. If I tried now, I think I could do it better, but you know…someone else has to take responsibility now.

You were too obsessed with trying new things?

Aoki: I wonder, my guess is it’s because of my inadequacy, both in terms of drawings and style…I think it got solid only from about episode 25. It became more and more simple, and we obtained a simple yet satisfying result from the second half. At the beginning we were only groping. Even I had lost touch with Lupin for a little while, since after Kita-san’s show was over, I thought I wouldn’t work on the show anymore. If I had to speak for my own responsibility, I’d say that this is what happens when an incomplete human being and animator becomes a director. You can write it that way, I think everybody will be convinced (laugh). This is how I see it as well.

It’s quite difficult to be convinced by that…

Aoki: From my point of view, people who mastered Lupin on an extreme level are Otsuka and (Tsutomu) Shibayama. It’s just natural. They naturally and effortlessly sync to Lupin’s world, I think that’s what makes Otsuka and Shibayama special.


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