This interview was originally published on Anime Style on 01/07/08.
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Gurren Lagann: the most talked-about, high-quality TV series of the 2007 anime world. A series into which Gainax poured all its might with the catch phrase, “the biggest robot anime of the 21st century,” and which became a new masterpiece under first-time director Hiroyuki Imaishi. Even after its initial run, the series is continuing to build its fanbase with impressive DVD sales and late night reruns. With that in mind, Anime Style presents a 27-part Gurren Lagann ‘various talk commentary interview’ web series. We were joined by both director Imaishi and assistant director Masahiko Otsuka for a frank discussion of their memories.
Episode 2: “I Said I’m Gonna Pilot That Thing!!”
Simon and Kamina, who have finally managed to get above ground, encounter the denizens of Littner Village. This episode also marks the first appearance of the engineer Leeron. The heroes engage in fierce battle with three Gunmen as Kamina takes over one of the enemies’ Gunmen and names it ‘Gurren’. Storyboards and direction by Shouji Saeki (This Ugly yet Beautiful World, He Is My Master), who wrote, did storyboards and directed many episodes of Gurren Lagann, and directed its openings and endings.
Script: Kazuki Nakashima
Storyboards/direction: Shouji Saeki
Animation director: Kouichi Motomura
Animation: Tadashi Hiramatsu, Hisashi Mori, Masayoshi Tanaka, Tomoko Itou, Hiroyuki Okuno, Yousuke Sotoyama, Toshifumi Akai, Masashi Yokota, Satoshi Yamaguchi, Haruka Tanaka, Hanako Enomoto, Yukihiro Kobayashi, Sayaka Toda, Kikuko Sadakata, Akira Akemiya, Hitomi Hasegawa, Ayumu Kotake, Kouichi Motomura
As the director, what points stick out for you about episode 2?
Imaishi: Definitely how erotically Yoko is shot. (laughs)
Otsuka: Did you ask (Shouji) Saeki to do that?
Imaishi: Yeah, I think so. Probably.
Otsuka: It was quite sexy, wasn’t it.
Imaishi: I told him at the very least, I didn’t want anyone changing the channel while Yoko was on-screen. (laughs) Saeki really went above and beyond my expectations. I think of all the episodes in the series, Yoko is the sexiest in this one.
Otsuka: The angles are erotic, aren’t they.
Imaishi: Every time one appeared, I thought, “that’s Saeki for you.” Other parts of the episode were good too, but that especially. (laughs)
Otsuka: You didn’t do a lot of storyboard revisions for this one, did you?
Imaishi: Nope. From the onset, I really didn’t feel like doing it. (laughs) When I start a series, I always storyboard the first episode myself, but if I have to revise all of episode 2, I can tell it’s going to be hard going, so I make it my goal not to revise it at all. I tried hard to stick to that philosophy for the first half of the series.
Otsuka: But you did some major revisions on my storyboards for episode 3. (bitter laugh)
Imaishi: Ah, I see…. well, it was like it came in cycles. I hardly did anything on episode 2, but then did a lot on 3, then almost nothing on 4, (laughs) tampered a lot with 5, left 6 alone, etc.
Otsuka: With episode 2, did Saeki try to match your style?
Imaishi: I think there are scenes where he did do that, but it’s more like our styles are similar, you could say… we both learned our chops on His and Her Circumstances (Kare Kano), so we do a lot of things the same way. We’ve worked together so often I can imagine what his illustrations will look like, which gives me peace of mind, and I basically understand what he’s aiming to do. For example, even if the storyboards are kind of rough, he compensates in the direction, and he really thinks hard about the action.
It sounds like you can really rely on him.
Imaishi: But the episode really went overtime and had too many shots. Nakashima doesn’t write scripts in a normal way, so if you storyboard his scripts normally you’re bound to go over. That was especially true early on. Even though I warned him about that in the script meetings. (laughs) Well, it’s precisely because he’s so interesting that I let it go. I think all I did [for storyboard revising] was fix that.
How was the film finishing?
Imaishi: For episode 1, I checked all the layouts, and have the feeling I checked everything really thoroughly, but for episode 2 I think I only looked at about eight shots. (laughs)
Otsuka: Just eight?
Imaishi: Basically, I just left it to Saeki, and told him “just come to me with parts you aren’t sure about.” That ended up being about seven or eight shots. How Simon’s face should look when he gets serious, for example, or Kamina’s expression when he’s deciding on something. Just things like that, I think. Otherwise, I didn’t look at the layouts or the key frames. Once they’d been painted I looked at them and said, “OK!” That’s it. (laughs) It was basically a case of leaving it up to Saeki.
Otsuka: (Kouichi) Motomura draws some really cute girls, doesn’t he.
Imaishi: He really does.
Otsuka: It’s like, “wow, that shy Motomura draws stuff like this.” (laughs)
What parts of the episode did he draw?
Otsuka: Well, he was animation director, so basically everything. He draws girls’ faces about twice as cute as other animators.
Imaishi: I feel like Yoko’s a bit shorter than in episode 1. [Character designer Atsushi] Nishigori went off his own designs in episode 1 (laughs). If I had to choose, I think episode 1’s Yoko is a bit too tall, and episode 2 made her a bit shorter to match the character designs. Also, Yoko sure has a lot of cheek blush going on in this episode. (laughs)
Any other comments on the animation?
Imaishi: I have to mention Hisashi Mori’s key frames. His explosion scene was just beautiful. It’s so tricky you don’t know what’s going on for a second, but that’s a trivial problem, because it’s just so cool.
How many shots did Mori draw in total?
Imaishi: The explosion, plus the shot where the [Gurren] Gunmen gets buried, and the one where it swings the sword and destroys the rock around it. That marked another appearance of Gurren Lagann’s mystery weaponry. (laughs) Even though the premise is that the robots can only punch and kick, suddenly there’s a lightning-like flash and the rock goes flying into pieces. “Hey, this isn’t on spec,” I thought, but it’s so cool, I thought, well, okay!
Imaishi: Only Lagann is supposed to be able to do stuff like that, right, because of its mysterious spiral power. But the thing I really don’t get is why in that shot there’s that shading that looks like dirt in a movie projector.
Otsuka: What is that, exactly?
Imaishi: No clue. (laughs) It really looks like dirt on film. It just pokes out from the bottom of the frame, slightly out of focus.
Otsuka: It’s really cool, though.
Imaishi: Yeah, this was another case of “it’s cool, so okay!” (laughs)
It’s amazing it was left on the finished product.
Imaishi: I didn’t really see it when I looked at the key frames, so I looked at the film, but I didn’t see it their either, so I put them together, and it still came down to, “I really don’t get it.” (laughs) But it looks cool, so I thought, well, whatever.
That makes buying the DVDs and checking it out worthwhile. (laughs)
Imaishi: The next shot, where the debris is flying at Kamina and Yoko and she ducks to avoid it was done by (Tadashi) Hiramatsu. After Mori’s amazing special effects-like exploding debris comes this graceful debris by Hiramatsu that just kind of slides across the screen. They don’t match up at all. (laughs)
Otsuka: That’s because Hiramatsu’s not interested in stuff like rocks.
Imaishi: Yeah. It means the way Yoko’s breasts sway when she dodges the rock is more important. Having Mori and Hiramatsu do shots back-to-back in that scene made it a little hard to follow. The shots where the Littner villagers return fire with their guns were done by Hiramatsu. Anime Style readers will just have to forgive us for that one. (laughs)
A kind of “the shots look really different, but we get it”-type thing.
Imaishi: Right, right. “Why the heck didn’t they revise this part?” (laughs) Animation director Motomura just let it go as-is too, didn’t he. Well, I guess neither of us wanted to mess with it.
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Reporting days: 11/9/2007, 12/11/2007, 1/16/2008, 2/20/2008.
Reporting place: Gainax.
Reporters: Yuichiro Oguro, Atsushi Okamoto.
Composition: Atsushi Okamoto. First published: 1/7/2008.