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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 4: “Having Lots of Faces Doesn’t Make You Great!”
It is the first appearance of some future members of the Gurren Brigade: Kitan, Kiyoh, Kiyal and Kinon a.k.a. ‘The Black Siblings’. The episode unfolds an uncommon world of gags with an indulgent and innocent tone. Storyboards, direction, animation direction and key animation were handled by Osamu Kobayashi, known for Paradise Kiss. The highlight the episode is of course his unique drawing style, and anyone could remember all the reactions it triggered, either in positive or negative ways.
Script: Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Storyboards, Episode direction, Animation direction: Osamu Kobayashi
Key animation: Osamu Kobayashi, Kenichi Kutsuna, Nobu Horimoto, Yuki Hayashi, Seiya Numata, Keiji Nagao, Yoh Yoshinari, Yusuke Yoshigaki, Hisashi Mori
So, about the memorable episode 4 (laugh), could you first talk about the content?
Imaishi: We first thought the first three episodes would be conclusive in a way. We had our main cast and it only remained to introduce support characters, so we thought we were going to make those episodes seriously (laugh). Actually, after episode 4 there were supposed to be a bunch of one-shot episodes in a road trip format. But there were too many things we wanted to do, so that part was compressed in episodes 4 to 6. And since episode 4 was the only episode for which I wrote the plot myself, I’m really attached to it. It’s the most (First Human) Giatrus-like episode. The idea was to tell a story in which the most important matter was to find food for that day. So Hirsoshi Yamaguchi-san wrote the script according to my plot, and when (Osamu) Kobayashi-san received that, he started to rewrite it even before beginning the storyboards (laugh). The characters’ personality changed quite drastically at that moment, particularly for the three sisters.
Otsuka: So the reason why Kiyal refers to herself as “Ore” is…
Imaishi: Right, that wasn’t in the script, Osamu-san added it. Also the fact that she ends her sentences with “~daze”. Kinon’s “~desuno” as well. At first I thought they could all talk more or less the same way, I didn’t really care (laugh). But Osamu-san said ‘That’s boring.” and he expanded it.
Otsuka: I received the rough storyboards for episode 4 exactly when I was writing the script for episode 6, and I remember having changed their lines in a panic when I saw how they were talking.
Imaishi: I really thought I was lucky you were writing that episode (laugh).
So Osamu-san has also played a role in shaping some of the characters.
Imaishi: Right. At first the sisters were primarily there for episode 6’s bath episode, so the goal wasn’t to give them an important place. Then Osamu-san came up with a proper personality for each, so I progressively grew affection for them. Nishigori also said he didn’t want to make them look the same, so he changed their designs as well. Maybe it’s the natural course of things when we think about it.
If Osamu-san hadn’t changed her personalities in episode 3, their development in the third act could have been different, couldn’t it?
Imaishi: Indeed. They may even have become like in Osomatsu-kun, constantly having the same behavior, or something like that (laugh). Though we weren’t intending to treat them as complete comedic sidekicks throughout. Like, they would have behaved appropriately during serious moments in the second half.
Imaishi: For episode 4, the storyboard itself is atypical. In addition to that, I knew checking all the episodes until this one would be a thorny path (wry smile). To my mind, episodes 4, 5 and 6 were the part of the series with the most freedom. So when I was thinking about part 2 and 3 which were yet to do, I feared that if I started to put pressure on the production now, it could become unbearable in the future. So as a matter of balance, I wanted to make that part uneven, even intentionally. If anything I wanted episodes 4 to 6 to look like completely different shows. That’s why I almost didn’t correct episode 4. All I did was adjusting time excess and adding some gags I really wanted to insert. If I corrected the layouts, it would have been harder for Osamu-san to do his direction work, plus it would mean extra layout checks for me, so I wanted to avoid that (laugh).
Otsuka: I think episode 4 is the one with the most humans moving onscreen, isn’t it? I was surprised when I first heard Osamu-san was handling it.
Imaishi: Were you?
Otsuka: The content of the script was quite eccentric, I really would have been confused if I had to do it (laugh). So I was worried when I heard Osamu-san was doing it, thinking that he would be as confused as I were. But he actually tied it up by blending his own world in. I admired that, he must have had a hard time with it (laugh).
Imaishi: I think it’s a strength of his, the fact that he’s not fully impregnated with the anime industry. Most people would think too hard about it and be confused, but I think instead he had fun with it, like when characters tried to eat those furry thingies.
Otsuka: Right, that wasn’t in the first plot. I don’t remember during which scenario meeting it was, but you suddenly said: ‘I’d like a scene where they try to eat Beastmen’. I really wondered what was going on with you (laugh).
Otsuka: Like, munching them alive, I didn’t get it (laugh).
Imaishi: Basically, what I wanted to say is that the protagonists who came out of the ground are humans, and also beasts at the same time (laugh). Beastmen, while being human are beasts as well. Since they’re both carnivore, they would naturally eat beast meat. My point was that by extension, they may also go as far as borderline cannibalism.
Otsuka: (Stunned expression) At first there was an idea about a combination between 16 robots, and since there was a training scene between Kamina and Simon, I guessed it was going to be a hot-blooded episode.
Imaishi: That was a reference to 21 Emon (laugh). There’s a part where aliens wearing space suit get a room in 21 Emon’s hotel, but there are actually 10 or so little ball-shaped aliens in that suit, and they’re trying to cheat on room fees. And when a porter comes in, they panic and assemble in weird shapes. I said ‘this is it!’ (laugh). I thought with that concept, we could respect the proportions between Ganmen and pilots even with 16 robots. Then when I started drawing round-shaped Beastmen, I thought: ‘Isn’t this edible?’ (bursts into laughter).
Is it a kind of lower-rank specimen among Beastmen?
Imaishi: Basically, Beastmen aren’t that smart and they can’t read. That’s why there isn’t any text on the screens of their Ganmen. Because their only way of explaining is through visuals.
Oh, I see.
Imaishi: For example, in a critical situation, it’s useless to mark “Danger” onscreen, because they couldn’t read it anyways. So instead they put X marks or open hands to notify the pilot. Episode 4 has a lot of little details like that.
Otsuka: I feel like I also want to see episode 4 done with your style.
Imaishi: Like I said, I think if I did it myself, my own obsessions would have shown directly, and I felt like it wouldn’t be funny enough. But by diluting it with a completely different taste like Osamu-san’s, I thought the result may be quite unconventional.
Otsuka: It was indeed unconventional to say the least (laugh).
So episode 4 was the result of a looser story prepared with an Osamu Kobayashi taste?
Imaishi: I think on the absurdity side, Osamu-san and I are quite close. That’s one of the reasons I thought episode 4 would work. To tell the truth, I wanted to give him both a very serious episode and a very comedic episode. But he was worried that he couldn’t draw mech. In fact Lagann’s size was quite fluctuant, like there were times when Simon was clearly too small. I didn’t have a choice, so I just corrected that by expanding only Simon’s cell (laugh).
That is not his area of expertise.
Imaishi: Robot scenes were mostly key-animated by (Kenichi) Kutsuna-kun. (Seiya) Numata-kun drew a funny run in the first half, and most of the action in the second half was done by Kutsuna-kun. Since you know, he’s quite good. I was really in admiration before how he drew the flow of Gurren and Lagann rolling over, the smoke they raise and how they get back on their feet to rush over the opponent. It’s also true for the rocket punches. The part just after Gurren Lagann combines is by Osamu-san, and it’s amazing how it doesn’t move (laugh). Besides, I asked him to pierce all 16 of them, but he actually did only about 6 (laugh).
(Everyone bursts out laughing)
Imaishi: But after all, he had to draw over 200 cuts, so I thought I couldn’t ask him more. Plus the fact that it doesn’t move after transformation gives it a Yoshinari Kanada style, doesn’t it? (laugh) Like what they were doing at Studio No.1.
After all he is the ex-president of the Yoshinori Kanada’s fanclub.
Imaishi: So I interpret that as a tour de force of his (laugh).
Are you satisfied of the result?
Imaishi: Of course I am. Though I expected everyone to be confused (laugh). But I didn’t think it would get so much reaction. I knew people would notice that the drawing style was different, but it was normal to me since we did it intentionally. I also felt like it was pointless to combine such a nonsensical story with dense animation.
So to his credit, the silliness of the story was on purpose?
Imaishi: Exactly. The fact that characters’ IQ is so low is also a decision of the director. I took the gamble of making them look completely air-headed (laugh).
Contrary to people’s expectation of a cool show from what they saw until episode 3.
Imaishi: In that sense, I think it’s also true that we made the first three episodes too seriously. We were holding it back a little bit since it’s not an OVA, but we wanted to do as much as we could. I also wanted to make it more viewer-friendly this time, so I couldn’t make it too sloppy.
Otsuka: There was also the fact that Kamina appeared to be much cooler than we expected. We thought his hot-blooded idiot side would be prevalent at the beginning. Maybe it’s due to Katsuyuki Konishi-san playing the role. He became a likeable character for a quite broad part of the audience.
Imaishi: The reception of Kamina’s character was also a point we weren’t really sure about. Personally, my objective had always been to write his scenes without getting too self-conscious. I didn’t want to create a situation where he personally thinks he’s cool despite the objective silliness. I rather wanted the camera to film him in a way that highlights his coolness. Once that’s done, I didn’t care if it made some viewers mock him since I was persistently serious about it. That’s how determined I was.
Otsuka: We didn’t expect it to work so well… even if it’s a strange thing to say (laugh). So I guess that contrast became apparent in episode 4.
Imaishi: Maybe, yes.
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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: 1/25/2008.