The following article was originally printed in The December 2008 issue of Animage. The interview has been translated by Hyun Park © 2019 Wave Motion Cannon
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I want to hear their Story…
Atsushi Wakabayashi Bio: Animator and Director. Born in December 10, 1964 and raised in Tochigi Prefecture. After he studied commercial design at a vocational school, he started his animator career by entering Tatsunoko Animation Laboratory. Yu Yu Hakusho is his first well known title as animation supervisor. He and then-episode director Akiyuki Shinbo teamwork launched masterpieces one after another. Afterwards, Wakabayashi handled character designs for Midori no Makibao and Little Giant Microman. On Wild Arms: Twilight Venom, he made his storyboarding debut; he experienced his first episode direction with Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. On Naruto episodes 30, 71, and 133, he handled storyboard, direction, and animation supervision. Thanks to his fantastic fight sequence and high quality animation, those episode are called ‘divine episodes’ among fans. He is making first directorial debut with Guin Saga which is set to premier on spring 2009.
When it comes to Yu Yu Hakusho, Atsushi Wakabayashi is remembered as the show’s animation supervisor while Akiyuki Shinbo took charge of episode direction. In that show, he made a powerful finishing touch with characters and effects rampaging the screen. His fame rose with his recent works on Naruto episodes 71 and 133, which he handled storyboard, direction, and animation supervision. With outlandish and exciting action sequences, those episodes are called ‘divine episodes’ among fans. With such impactful works under his belt, he is making his first directorial debut with upcoming spring 2009 premier of Guin Saga.
Interviewer: Yuichiro Oguro
Date & Place: October 15, 2008 at Satelight Studio
About how I remembered your name, it was your role as animation supervisor in the Yu Yu Hakusho. It was quite conspicuous work and I did not remember seeing your name as key animator til then so I thought, ‘who is this guy?’
Wakabayashi: Thank you very much. Yu Yu Hakusho was the first work which I worked on as a main staffer. There was a period when I was away from animation industry.
And I want to ask you about that. Did you always wanted to be an animator?
Wakabayashi: No, I never had such plan. I studied commercial design at a vocational school and I didn’t come to Tokyo to become animator. I didn’t have particular direction after graduation, but I found out that Tatsunoko Lab (Tatsunoko Animation Laboratory) was hiring. I also had interest in animation, so I went to the studio casually with ‘hey, only if I can get to draw pictures’ attitude and then ended up getting the job.
You entered Tatsunoko Lab around when Doteraman was airing?
Wakabayashi: At that time, I already left the company. I was only there for a year. I guess Showa Aho Souji – (Akanuke Ichiban!) was the last one? I think that was the final one.
Were you doing inbetweening during your days at Tatsunoko Lab?
Wakabayashi: It was inbetweening. Afterwards, I went off to Toei Animation. Around that time, they did a lot of oversea co-productions, didn’t they? They brought me in with this ‘give-us-a-hand’ style invitation and I did inbetween check for about a year. I wanted to do key animation, but it seemed like going freelance would be quicker to move up as key animator, so I started to trickle into key animation. However, I ended up being broke and so I quit animation and took a normal part-time job for a time being. And then Yu Yu Hakusho came along right afterwards.
It seems like your name shows up on credits intermittently in various shows until Yu Yu Hakusho.
Wakabayashi: When it’s shown intermittently, then it’s really intermittent. So I wouldn’t call them as work. It’s like doing only 10 cuts or 20 cuts. Workload was low and I was thinking of finding another job at that time.
Then the work that put you on track was…
Wakabayashi: Yu Yu Hakusho was the start. What motivated me to go back was doing animations for some English study materials. I can’t remember the titles, but coincidentally (Akiyuki) Shinbo was involved as well. Although we didn’t work on the same ones, he was having fun with his own work and he asked me, “I’ve got a new show in line, so are you in?” And that was Yu Yu Hakusho.
Interviewer Note: Director Akiyuki Shinbo. He made creatively ambitious episodes in Yu Yu Hakusho by teaming up with Wakabayashi
Around that time, he’d been drawing visually striking key animations.
Wakabayashi: I wonder. Still I bet he had fun doing it, that’s why. (Smiles)
And you’re not a hardcore anime fan or anything.
Wakabayashi: Not at all. If anything, I’ve been watching live action films often. I watched anime as well, but I think I’m biased.
Speaking of anime, what kind of shows did you like?
Wakabayashi: Well, they’re already old. Ones I really liked was Lupin the Third of olden days. From there, shows like Gutsy Frog or Future Boy Conan. I watched shows that everyone was seemed to be watching. I didn’t watch Gundam, but I watched the rerun as people around me were making fuss about it.
(Translator note: “Gutsy Frog”/ど根性ガエル. TV Anime aired in 1972 and 1981)
For example, before you became a pro, you were not the type who throws in ‘this is so-and-so animation supervisor’s episode’ comments by memorizing animator’s name.
Wakabayashi: Back in my high school days, there were some guys who said things like ‘(Yoshinori) Kanada this, Kanada that’, but I didn’t understand them at all. I started to remember animators’ names after I entered Tatsunoko. It was around time when works of (Takashi) Nakamura and (Koji) Morimoto stood out, and people around me told me that they’re awesome. I was surprised like, ‘wow it’s true, they’re awesome’. So it was like gaining knowledge by chasing after what others knew.
Somehow, I figured you might like Takashi Nakamura’s Gold Lightan.
Wakabayashi: Of course, I like it. Nakaumura’s works were first ones I got exposed to. Dagger of Kamui was the first, then I’ve watched shows like Urashiman and Gold Lightan with his name in mind. That’s where you get to realize the animation is interesting, isn’t it?
(Interviewer Note: Certain Gold Lightan episodes, which Takashi Nakamura took charge as animation supervisor, are done in full animation and they went beyond what’s expected from typical TV animation.)
On Yu Yu Hakuho, what kind of initiative did you take for yourself? For example, did you ever think, ‘let’s make this eye catching’?
Wakabayashi: I didn’t have such ambition. I didn’t care as long as l liked doing it. I enjoyed making it in terms of ‘on this scene, let’s do it this way’. At that time, I was working at home, so I was at the place where I don’t hear other people’s opinion or perspective. Shinbo visited me every night and we held meetings while having dinner at a family restaurant. Other than that, it was the world all to myself.
About the teamwork between you and Shinbo, with the Black Dragon Wave, did Shinbo ask you to depict it in certain way?
Wakabayashi: There was no such request. In Shinbo’s situation, the plan for how should it be displayed was already done in storyboard. So I drew it with ‘it’s fine as long as it’s shown on the screen’ feeling. As for the animation itself, I took on quite a bit though.
(Interviewer Note: ‘Black Dragon Wave’ is the ultimate killing move belongs to Hiei, a character in Yu Yu Hakusho. Its official name is “Jao Ensatsu Kokuryuha/Wicked King Immolation Black Dragon Wave”. Wakabayashi and Shinbo teamed up in episode 30 (Dragon of Darkness Flame) and episode 58 (Wielder of Dragon)
Earlier you said that you didn’t know anything about Kanada, but what about the style for the Black Dragon Wave, that was Kanada style, wasn’t it?
Wakabayashi: Nope, the storyboard was already set that way.
It was already set that way on the storyboard stage?
Wakabayashi: Yep. Because Shinbo is a Kanada animation fan, I think it ended up that way. So I blended certain animators’ works that I liked at the time and it turned out that way. Or something like that.
Starting off with (Shinsaku) Kozuma, a large number of unique artists have participated in Yu Yu Hakusho. Any influence from them?
Wakabayashi: About influence, I had this shock of ‘oh, I didn’t know you can draw that way’. Although Kozuma was invited by Shinbo, I felt that his train of thought and my own are quite similar. Kozuma also like movies, so I think we might have similar idea for screen composition.
You’ve continued on since Yu Yu Hakusho, but would it be fair to say you’re personally geared toward realism as an animator?
Wakabayashi: Either way, I thought shows like (Midori no) Makibao would be more suitable for me. Even though I participated in Makibao simply because I liked it, I think such comical stuff dwells deep inside of me. I like realistic stuff, but I have my limit on realism. Somewhere in my mind I could settle just by watching. So more and more realistic stuff has been coming out lately, but I couldn’t keep up with it. (laughs)
(Interviewer Note: Midori no Makibao/Green Meadow King is a hot-blooded horse racing anime with comical characters. Wakabayashi was animation supervisor of episode 35 (Two Traps! Start of Competition!!) and that episode is the one that he was proud of.)
So you feel action shows like Yu Yu Hakusho, Ninku, and Naruto are like…
Wakabayashi: I think they are either familiar to me or I landed on them at the right time. Their head-to-height proportion and worldviews are something that I can handle in terms of characters and situation, I think. It’s not my field of expertise if things become more realistic than that.
Would you say Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex level of realism…
Wakabayashi: I participated one time as episode director, more like I took it up as a bit of an adventure and to build up experience. That was my first role as director. Still, working on a show loaded with realism was a painful choice though.
(Interviewer Note: He made his first episode director debut with episode 7 (Idolatry) of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.)
We’ll talk about direction later, tell me more about your animator days.
Which episode in Yu Yu Hakusho left the deepest impression om you?
Wakabayashi: Definitely the episode 58 with Black Dragon Wave. That was the episode that made me do whatever I wanted to do. At the time, there was also a schedule to upkeep, so I worked on it carefully. There are some parts that I ended up regretting, but I thought it’s could be the culmination of what I’ve done so far.
It was incredibly eye catching.
Wakabayashi: Oh really? Still, it was Shinbo’s storyboard being great. So a realization that ‘maybe this could be done properly on a storyboard level after all’ crossed my mind. Not only animation, I do think the episode is about both direction & animation going well together.
I see. Still, is Yu Yu Hakusho episode 58 the highest pinnacle to you?
Wakabayashi: Although the pinnacle is episode 58, my personal favorite is episode 74. The episode where Doctor Kamiya appears. I was thinking that I could personally sublimate that episode. When I see it now, there are a tons of premature parts which I can’t bear to watch for a moment. However, I think that was the best I could do as an animation supervisor.
(Interviewer Note: Episode 74 (Sleep, Doctor, Sleep). This one is also Shinbo and Wakabayashi team episode. It’s a masterpiece that showcased bold use of black color in composition and explicit effects. Thanks to this episode, Shinbo made his directorial debut with Metal Fighter Miku.)
Did you also drew the key animation as well?
Wakabayashi: Yeah, of course.
Which part in Doctor Kamiya episode?
Wakabayashi: I wonder where. First half of A-Part (Act 1) where Kamiya…
Part where the action sequence is done in background animation?
Wakabayashi: Yes, yes… around right there. It’s around where Yusuke gets ambushed. Because I was also doing animation supervision, I couldn’t get to draw that much though.
Later on, Shinbo made directorial debut with Metal Fighter Miku. And you drew opening animation for Miku. I think that’s all of it.
Wakabayashi: That’s right. I drew it all by myself.
Then, that is also a masterpiece during your animator days.
Wakabayashi: Oh, I don’t know about that.
As for your work as animator, I’m getting this impression of richness though. Movements and even the forms feel rich. Was this influenced by something?
Wakabayashi: How should I put it. If I put it into words, it’s bit hard to say though. Still, I think TV drama and manga which I watched as a kid had that richness. Even now, it’s like I’ve been making things based from those sentiments. Those sentiments remain within me and I have desire to bust them out. I think they end up showing on works that I do.
There was time when you wound up an animation supervisor for only one episode for Ninku though.
Wakabayashi: Oh that. I really didn’t want to do it (smiles). The Director directly asked me that, ‘why don’t you do this for a bit’ and I worked on one episode only. It wasn’t that much fun, but I used up quite amount of sheets.
(Interviewer Note: Episode 29 (Sky Dragon Emerges!). A must watch episode for Sakuga fans)
Was problem with schedule the reason why you didn’t want to do it?
Wakabayashi: No, it was the content. The storyline was getting further away from the original. I was dissatisfied with why they weren’t making as it is and I was not used to its world building. When it presented itself like some kind of military force, I
found it hard to accept.
The one that you worked on was episode 29. And it was the episode where Sky Dragon shows up. Did you also drew key animation for that episode?
Wakabayashi: I’d drawn the key animation. The final part where Touji and Aichou awakened and the action sequence starts off. Basically, I did nothing but action sequences. (laughs)
Even the part right before where Fuusuke jumps up and kicks?
Wakabayashi: That’s right.
I see. Then parts worth watching were drawn by yourself.
Wakabayashi: My take on it was, as long as I can make my own part move in a fun way, then it’s fine. As a single show, I didn’t enjoy that much.
Later on, your character design works have increased, haven’t they?
Wakabayashi: Yeah, but I don’t want to bring it up though (laughs)
So the work that you can keep your head high to yourself is…
Wakabayashi: There’s none. About character design, there are some works I gave up on halfway.
Especially with (Little Giant) Microman, I thought that it lacked the dynamism that you showed on Yu Yu Hakusho or Ninku as an animation supervisor.
Wakabayashi: Well, I was credited as episode 1’s animation supervisor, but I only did corrections on characters. As for designs, there are already character models drawn by the manga artist on the basic level and it’s like I took it up as just another job by drawing them as they were.
What about Flame of Rekka and Captain Kuppa the Desert Pirate?
Wakabayashi: Rekka‘s main characters were done by someone named Mari Kitayama as a pinch hitter, and I was supposed to draw things like villains. However there was dilemma of not being able to do animation supervision and key animation while designing characters. When I was working on Poporo Crois, Captain Kuppa project by Koichi Mashimo was getting more interesting, so I called him to get involved. However, the project went on hiatus for awhile and everything went back to square one. At that time I had other works to do, so I ended up doing only main character designs and stepped down.
(Interviewer Note: Tomoaki Tomo handled Secondary Characters for Captian Kuppa. He is credited with joint name.)
Wakabayashi: Before Captain Kuppa, I was doing another storyboard work. I’ve previously stated that I wanted work on storyboards, and production people remembered, so they shuffled me into Wild Arms TV. From there I realized the difficulty of making storyboards, and I thought that keep continuing on would be hard. So I took a break for awhile. They said I should try directing on Ghost in the Shell for my next work. I didn’t do well with storyboarding prior, but I felt that I could do it this time and also because I had ample schedule to do it.
Now that we’re rewinding the conversation back to your first episode direction. How did it feel doing both storyboard and direction first time?
Wakabayashi: I thought it would be tough, but this time I had this ‘oh I wonder if I could pull this off’ feeling.
Doesn’t the episode have more action than it seems?
Wakabayashi: That speaks to me being selfish and that’s how it ended up.
Clearly everyone in Section 9 has an action sequence.
Wakabayashi: The script wasn’t like that though. It had more psychological content. That was bit difficult for me, so I asked director if it’s okay to increase action scenes.
To summarize, what we have talked about so far, you’ve been active as an animator from early to mid 90’s. Then you tried out character design, but you felt that it was not right for you.
Wakabayashi: That’s right.
Afterwards, you started doing direction. Is it okay to put it that way?
Wakabayashi: Except, it’s bit off the mark to say that I went for direction just because character design didn’t work out for me. I’ve kept animating, but I couldn’t see expansion in horizon. The finishing touches of the show is still decided by the director who assembles it. It’s not always assembled with great people and I thought that the chances of making shows with great people will eventually decrease. So I thought it would be better directing by myself, that’s the biggest reason.
Oh I see. So you didn’t lose the joy of drawing or making things move.
Wakabayashi: I didn’t lose it, but unlike other skilled animators, I don’t have animation fetish for myself. In terms of direction, I vaguely had ‘I want to make this kind of excitement’ sentiment. I still like animating, but instead of simply having good animation, I think it’s better off having good animation with an exciting storyline. I felt that animation shouldn’t be the only thing that goes well when the story is not good. That’s just a waste. I thought that if putting effort in animating alone doesn’t give any benefit, then wouldn’t it be better making a story with the right atmosphere that I want, then animate it afterwards.
Perhaps you were aware of the story’s atmosphere even though you’re just doing your job as animation supervisor.
Wakabayashi: Yes. I was fully aware of it as an animation supervisor. Like, ‘let’s make this part exciting’. So I think I was able to train myself in directing while working as animation supervisor.
Going back to Ninku episode 29, but it seems like the way you tried to insert action scenes is the same as what you did for Naruto.
Wakabayashi: Both feel the same, don’t they.
Perhaps, I thought you changed the setting considerably along with the storyboard.
Wakabayashi: Yeah, I changed it. (laughs)
I could see what kind of action you wanted to show in the process.
Wakabayashi: Obviously Ninku‘s action format was transferred over to Naruto. Still it wasn’t fully formed, but I started to notice something at that time. How to set up action or the amount of cuts, I guess? I think that it was about time that I was finally able to figure it out.
So that’s how it got finalized on Naruto. The reason why those three episodes are called ‘divine episode’ even by anime fans who aren’t familiar with animation.
Wakabayashi: (Laughs) Thank you very much.
(Interview Note: On Naruto, Wakabayashi handled directing, storyboarding, and animation supervision on following three episodes: episode 30 (The Sharingan Revived: Dragon-Flame Jutsu!); episode 71 (An Unrivaled Match: Hokage Battle Royale!”; episode 133 (A Plea From a Friend). These are absolute must-watch
episodes for Sakuga Obsessed.)
How did you end up getting involved with Naruto?
Wakabayashi: With Ghost in the Shell, we had discussions about working on subsequent episodes. As I kept working it, I found it would be troublesome to others, so I let it drop to one episode. Around the time, I was thinking about what should I do next, then Naruto got started. There was opening available at Pierrot, so as I wobbled back there and Naruto‘s director (Yuto) Itachi suddenly handed me a scenario with a ‘here-you-go’ manner. That was episode 30. I thought I was more suitable for characters like Rock Lee, so Sasuke’s Sharingan story didn’t click with me. However, it seemed like an important episode, so I passed back my intention directly to the director (laughs). And that’s how it happened. Because I still had some time in my schedule, I tried to do storyboards, direction and animation supervision. Therefore, with the reaction I got from the Ghost in the Shell action-construction method as basis, I wanted to put a serious consideration on assembling the action sequence. I put my heart and soul into how to make that part of the manga really awesome.
Did you personally pick out animation team for this episode?
Wakabayashi: That’s right. I couldn’t leave out (Norio) Matsumoto and (Atsuko) Inoue. With three people, including myself, I had this crazy idea that we could pull off one episode by ourselves. Nowadays, I don’t know any joe could pull it off, but even in the past, Nakamura drew key animation with three people in Urashiman.
(Interviewer Note: Norio Matsumoto is super animator of realist school. He handled many key animations of Wakabayashi’s action sequences. He and Wakabayashi met during Tatsunoko Lab days. The subject of Nakamura is about Future Policeman Urashiman episode 26 (From Neo Tokyo to Hell). In this episode, Takeshi Nakamura handled storyboard, animation supervision, and key
That’s right, isn’t it. He did draw half of the act.
Wakabayashi: Yeah. That’s what I remembered. I thought that I should be able to do that too. It was quite difficult, but I had feeling that I could do it if I tried.
Even in the parts where Matsumoto’ key animation is drawn, there are detailed instructions densely packed in the storyboard’s fight scenes.
Wakabayashi: Everything was pretty much set in the storyboarding stage. When more key animation comes up for check, I just accept them with ‘yep, looks good’ manner. There are parts where I did corrections on expressions, timing correction during editing, or touch up here and there, but I left most of them alone.
On episode 30, Matsumoto’s key animation starts off in the middle of Act A?
Wakabayashi: Nope, it never started in the middle. It’s Act A all around.
So he worked on all of the Act A? Did Matsumoto work on half of episode 71 and 133 as well?
Wakabayashi: He did all of the Act A of episode 71. On episode 133, he worked on various parts in Acts A and B. After that, I, Inoue, and (Tokuyuki) Matsutake filled in whatever was left over.
So Matumoto’s key animations took up the most in episode 133.
Wakabayashi: That’s right.
In short, Matsumoto drew key animation on parts where Naruto shoots off.
Wakabayashi: That is Matsumoto’s. When he came aboard, I felt that I should give him the kind of storyboard he deserved.
Was it Matsumoto who worked on the tree branches that grow out in episode 71?
Wakabayashi: Yep, I know he’s good at it and because he himself was willing to do it (laugh). He knew how to arrange effects well, so I drew storyboard in consideration of bring out the best of it. We only made one episode of Naruto per year though.
You’re right. Just one per year (laughs)
Wakabayashi: Otherwise, the producer will not let you do it. Due to fact that it uses up tons of paper, so it would end up going over budget. We approached (the project)with a ‘it looks like the excitement is dying down, shall we kick it up the notch’ feel.
(Translator note: Unlike typical copy paper, professional animation paper costs about 10 Yen/10 Cents per sheet. So using a lot of paper means drawing tons of frames thus costing millions of yen/thousands of dollars spent on extravagant scene(s). One reason why some anime studios disclose how much sheets used on their feature film or TV episode because they want to show off production value)
How long does it take to make one episode?
Wakabayashi: Animating takes about two and a half months. Storyboarding takes six to seven weeks. In order to build an action sequence, it requires considerable blending.
That’s because you were doing never-seen-before action sequences in your Naruto episodes.
Wakabayashi: That’s right. I thought such a situation was my life line. If this is something that other people can’t imitate, then this is probably where I think it should be.
Are such action sequences an accumulation of movies and other things you’ve seen?
Wakabayashi: They’re accumulations, all right. There was a lot of bizarre and strange stuff on air, especially when I was a kid. Simply put, it’s like saying, ‘you’re eccentric’, even though I didn’t knew what that word meant. To be specific, I like quirky things. I certainly have a desire to make up crazy situations.
Maybe I’m being too nosy, but it’s not good for your personal finances when you take six to seven weeks on a stroyboard.
Wakabayashi: You end up being broke. So I took the risk of becoming poor working like that. But I would get an immense satisfaction by doing it. It’s like living for that satisfaction. Once I finish directing episode, I take up a normal job temporarily. So I saved up money a year after, then I spend time on directing an episode afterwards. That’s gist of it.
Oh, I see.
Wakabayashi: My point is, I wanted to make history. I wanted to leave a mark that says, ‘this kind of stuff is made by this guy’. When it takes time, it’s like trying to prove that nothing like those three episodes have ever been made.
Your episodes are in the same level as Takeshi Nakamura’s Gold Lightan episode.
Wakabayashi: Oh, thank you very much! It’s meaningful to make stuff like that. Lately there are young animators who’ve told me that they entered the anime industry after watching those episodes and I was very happy. I’m happy that I could influence people in such a way.
You have clearly have a different personal stance between doing direction and doing storyboards.
Wakabayashi: I do. When I’m doing storyboards, I try not to cause problems for the production. I draw storyboards by following the scenario and not try not to make it look complicated from a director’s point of view. For direction, I still want to put my personal touch.
Do you have one ideal when doing storyboard, direction, and animation supervision?
Wakabayashi: I do; I cannot do it without a schedule. I can’t pull it off if I don’t get three months. Although such an ideal is impossible with a normal TV series, right? Because a company like Pierrot is generous enough to allow such a method, I think I was able to pull it off.
As you imply, there was no separate schedule for your team or special budget put aside or early draft scripts as other people assumed.
Wakabayashi: There was no such thing. It was just like all the others. About the script, other episodes were already written in advance. Since they’re based from manga, so they’re already written ahead of time. Other people were also under the same situation. It’s just that other people were already working on prior episodes, so that’s why the scenario was in dormancy for a long time.
(Translator note: Wakabayashi is implying that he had early start with episode 30.)
Earlier you’ve said that episode 30 was dumped on you by director, however you chose episode 71 and 133 on your own?
Wakabayashi: That’s right. I thought only I can do them myself and I asked to him to let me work on them. Actually, I told him that I also wanted to do the Naruto vs Orochimaru fight, but I was working on the pilot of Guin Saga, so my schedule didn’t allow it. I was thinking of making that sequence as a final finishing touch. But I now I regret that I couldn’t do it.
Do you think you might get another chance to work on “Naruto” in the future?
Wakabayashi: Only if Naruto continues on after the Guin Saga is over. Because I absolutely have not given up on Naruto yet.
So, you’ve made your directorial debut on Guin Saga. Did you always want to become a director?
Wakabayashi: I thought about it. Only because the director can hold complete unity. Even if I did well on my own episode, but when previous episode and next episode don’t connect with mine, then it just loses the steam. I think even the episodes after my episode should look and feel good as well. To do that, they still have to be unified under director’s guidance.
As you start working as director, I’m sure you’re getting a lot of new experiences.
Wakabayashi: There are tons.
What do you deal with, for example?
Wakabayashi: Like attending voice actor auditions or having meetings with art, photography, and other departments. Even on character designs, I have to think about giving direction on designs to certain artists and so on, even though I think there are parts where they confused others. I think I’ll get used to it as I build experience.
How was the scenario meeting?
Wakabayashi: I felt quite a lot of pressure. Since it’s not based on manga, there is no clear visual to base from. On how to break it down and turn it into animation. I received great deal of help from the writer (Shoji) Yonemura. He set up a plot structure for each episode and I made it exciting by tossing in ideas. Because everyone helped making the story, so my initial anxiety eventually disappeared.
How was the original novel’s content?
Wakabayashi: When I read it first time, I thought it was bit difficult, but as I started to work on it, it wasn’t like that as all. I think it’s interesting material to make as a film. I believe I didn’t make a mistake taking the job as a director.
Where did you think it would be difficult?
Wakabayashi: It was the ensemble cast. Since it has the episode where each character winds up as the protagonist. So at first I was anxious about if the story would stay consistent or scatter all over the place. Also it’s also a long story, it’s problematic to brake it up. Still, it can’t helped no matter how much I worry. There are parts that I regret even after I did my the best I could.
Putting Guin Saga aside, what kind of animation crafting is suitable to you?
Wakabayashi: Like ideal animation making?
It’s all right to say this is you want to make.
Wakabayashi: Of course I love action, but I think the action is cool due to underlying drama and conflicts. Shows with such a blend have been shrinking lately. I guess I’m complaining a bit; maybe things are becoming too visual-centric. I think drama with some soul searching has not been increasing. Perhaps It can’t be helped because people’s tastes are changing. Among manga I liked, many of them are written by Kazuo Koike. His characters are really cool. I want to make story with such character by sticking close with the original work. And by that I mean, I think the Naruto episodes that I worked on have a storyline that satisfied me quite a bit. After all, it’s not fun to get involved if the story doesn’t agree with your taste. I want to work on story that fits my liking.
What you want to do is a drama, isn’t it.
Wakabayashi: It’s the drama. Personally, something passionate should be in the show no matter what. Since I’m an (Akira) Kurosawa fan, Yojimbo is my ultimate goal. It would be nice if I could make such polished work. It has both action and entertainment.
Not only that. It’s rugged.
Wakabayashi: As it is rugged, also has humor too. I think that’s the ideal. I think I’ve just enough strength for that journey.
You just made it that far.
Wakabayashi: I’m still at the starting point. I have not turned back yet. When I was working those three Naruto episodes, I had a vague thought that I could get some kind of ‘ticket’ to something greater. I know it’s bit late, becoming Guin Saga‘s director. That’s what I meant by getting barely started. I don’t have major ambition or anything. As long as I get to work on what I like, then that’s good enough.