Otakon 2013 – Anime Mirai Panel

Musical artists like Nishikawa-san promoted Anime Mirai, a program created by the Japanese government to fund new and up coming animators in order to promote the industry and train staff. Makes me wonder if it will ever be possible for something like that here, special allowances for comic book artists who are just starting out. It’s an idea.

I ended up sitting front and center so I could stare at Yomiuri Producer Suwa Michihiko and Director Tachikawa Yuzuru.

    Michiko: I’m Suwa. I work for the Japanese television company called Yomiuri Television. Who knows about Meitantei Conan? *audience cheers* Thank you very much. In Japan, we’re airing on YTV Saturday at 5:30pm Space Brothers and at 6pm is Conan. Who knows Space Brothers. *audience cheers* Thank you! We have the two series with 30 min. segments. The two series are very popular thanks to the fans.

    I’m also part of Anime Mirai, the project we brought to you today at Otakon. Who has been to the screening today [for Anime Mirai] at 11am? Thank you for those of you that made it. We also have another screening tomorrow at 9am. If you have time tomorrow, you can come to the screening and we’ll have fun. Anime Mirai is a project that is funded by the Japanese government which is intended to train Japanese animators. The Anime Mirai project is that every year, we are funded by the Department of Culture to create four 30 min. animations. The scope of the project is higher than any other animation so we ask for a higher quality of animation. Today, we have director Tachikawa here with us. He directed one of the four, Death Billards which is done by MadHouse. *audience applauds* There were a few of you that made it to the screening. At the screening, we had a little talk with Tachikawa-san. But the first episode of Death Billards was very popular. Now we’ll have an introduction by Tachikawa-san.

    Tachikawa: Hello, everyone! I’m Tachikawa, the director at MadHouse. I used to work for MadHouse originally, starting the animation business at MadHouse and became a freelancer. I’ve been working on different projects. Recently, I’ve worked on Sword Art Online, Lupin III and Shingeki no Kyojin. *fans applauds* I didn’t know about Anime Mirai before but after learning about the project, I sent in my project pitch of Death Billards. It’s actually my first theatrical work and it’s also the first time I did the directing, the scripting, the camera angles and storyboard as well. If any of you hasn’t seen it (most of you hasn’t seen it yet,) there is a screening at 9am tomorrow. If you want to catch it, it will be very fun. Thank you very much.

    Suwa: I like to touch upon how Anime Mirai works. We’re in the third year of this project and we’ve already started the fourth year. We originally open for pitches from 20 studios for this project. The thing about this project is that it gives animation studios a chance to actually get proper government funding to fully make one anime. One of the requirements is that it can’t be based on an existing original, like a manga. My role in the project is that I’m one of the selective committee members. There are 8 of us in the selective committee. All of these members judge on what qualifies in this project, judging on how interesting the project pitch is. Also, how each project will train animators.

    What we do is that after four projects are selected, we have the producers and animators work on the anime. What is different from other animation is that, they exclusively work on these anime during the period of production. We ask the animators to spend 3 to 4 months to only spend on this animation. Especially the ones that are starting out in working in anime.

    Why we started this project is that in Japan, there really aren’t that many animators invovled in one series from start to end. It is common that animators aren’t really involved in the project that much as a team member. They are doing it as work: they may have project A in one week and another week, they’ll have project B. One of the goals of this project is to have the animators be in a single project from start to end. For Death Billards, I’m sure Tachikawa-san has own tales he can share for this production. So while looking at the production materials, we’ll have him talk about Death Billards.

    These projects are original from each studio. If Anime Mirai never happened, we’ll never have a chance to see these types of animation. I hope that what it means that [it shows] what it means to come out from a government funded project. It’s basically off of our taxes. We spent blood, sweat and money, so it better be good. *audience laughs* We have a stricter management system compared to regular animation. There has daily to weekly detailed reports. By the end of production, there is a thick report that is made within three or four months. What is also part of the project is that we try to keep our eyes on the animators who are involved in this project. For example, the people who are involved in the first year project, we tried to keep track of where they are now in the animation business. There are a few animators among them that are actually involved in one of the big hit series right now. There are signature animators that emerge from these projects. If you guys keep an eye out for these projects, it could be very interesting.

The conversation turned to today’s screening of Anime Mirai projects. Suwa-san asked the audience of their thoughts on the story and animation. Viewers commented on the unique animation style, the fluidity of motion as well as the unique story basis of the series, especially of Death Billards by Tachikawa-san.

    Suwa: Thank you for reading into the project. Each episode is uniquely approached. After this panel, I hope you will be interested in going to the screening. Since Tachikawa-san is here, we have the opportunity to share with you the storyboard and the character design materials.

    Tachikawa: *holding up the settei booklets* This is the character models. Basically, these are used to make sure the character detail qualities are kept equally amongst different animators. Not only characters, but the entire world in the design form. For example, the anime Death Billards is based on billards so the physics of billards are drawn into the models. Since we don’t have a full room, we can pass this around. *hands the settei to the staff* Don’t take this apart! *audience laughs*

    A serious problem with Japanese animation is that the number of animators are decreasing every year. Especially one title that I’m recently involved in, Shingeki no Kyojin has a serious problem in that there are not enough animators working on it. We don’t have a schedule either. Usually with tv animation, each episodes takes about 2 months. For Shingeki no Kyojin, we’re only spending a month. For those of you that has seen it will realize that it’s only half of a schedule, but the quality is much more than required in regular tv animation. For that kind of schedule, we don’t have the chance or opportunity to teach animators. We can only take what’s good and what’s bad…we can’t really take the time to give them advice on it. For this 3 minute episode [in reference to Anime Mirai production] we’re able to spend 4 months on it. We’re able to teach animators what’s good and what’s not. New skills they can aquire. If you compare Shingeki no Kyojin models with Death Billards, the number of lines are completely different. For Death Billards, we reduced the number of lines so animators will be easier to draw. If you look at Shingeki no Kyojin settei, there are so many lines, so much more detail in the clothing, props. We don’t really have time to teach young animators what to draw, what to do with these. Do you like Shingeki no Kyojin? *audience cheers* It’s amazing that you guys kept up with the current series.
    Fans: Crunchyroll!
    Suwa: Also the original manga is here, right?
    Fans: Yes.
    Suwa Did you first find out the manga or the anime?
    Fans: Anime.

    Tachikawa: What I actually did on Shingeki no Kyojin is episode 7, where Eren gets eaten and he comes back as a Titan. I don’t know if you kept up, but the recent ending changed and I’m in charge of the new ending. *fans applauds*

The character settei for Shingeki no Kyojin was passed around.

    Suwa: I’m not sure if you’re aware, but when making animation, there is a script of the scenario. Based on the scenario, the storyboard artist makes the storyboard. As you can see, that is one episode worth of storyboard right there. The director or storyboard does that on their own. This is the blueprints for the animation. The director or storyboard artist visualizes the scene from the script. The key and in-between animators all base their genga and douga drawings off of this. Drawing is one thing that requires special talent. But especially visualizing something from scratch and making it into film, basically imagining the camera angles, the whole scene, that requires something more. From my perspective, Tachikawa-san is one of the up and coming, new generation of directors. As for a little bit of academia because of Kadokawa Shoten and TRIGGER collaborating, they prepared a setting so that everyone around the world can watch it on youtube. This is the first time the first three episodes of this project is being shown in the States. We would love to show this here, but since the total of four episodes is 2 hours long. If you come to the screening tomorrow, it will be fun.

    Tachikawa: We have the storyboards for Shingeki no Kyojin and Death Billards.
    Suwa: This is Death Billards and the other one is Shingeki no Kyojin episode 7, the one that Tachikawa-san directed. That is one episode that I never seen the storyboard for either. I will ask Tachikawa-san to show it to me later. Unfortunately, its done by a different [television] station and different project committee, but personally I feel jealous that someone else was able to pull this off.

The floor opened for questions for Suwa-san and Tachikawa-san, not only pertaining to Anime Mirai.

    Q: I’m surprised about the news that Shingeki no Kyojin had problems finding animators. I only watched the anime so when I asked others if I should read the manga, they say first watch the anime: it is really good. There are some things-like the scene which you directed where Eren gets eaten and becomes a titan-there are things you can do in anime that you can’t do in a still medium like manga. The scene was electrifying. Despite the problems, you did a spectacular job. Why do you think there has been such a decline in animation? Animation is much bigger in Japan than in America. What else do you think needs to happen to support the growth of animators in Japan? Anime Mirai is the start, but if you’re having such problems, what more needs to happen?
    Tachikawa: Thank you very much for support Shingeki no Kyojin. One of the reasons for the decline of animators is the budget. One cut or shot of animation is a few seconds, but we still need animators to draw hand by hand each piece of paper. For Shingeki no Kyojin there are more lines so each animator has to spend more time on it. For each shot, animators get paid about 5000 yen. Normally, animators would spend about two days working on that shot, so it’s about 2500 yen per day. Of course, depending on the person, some are better and some are not so good, but the average is about that much. What comes down to it is that you gotta love anime to do this. For Anime Mirai, we’re paying way more than usual to the animators. That’s why it’s suited to training animators. As for other methods to overcome the situation, there isn’t really a clear way to get more animators. On a personal level, there are some moments to try to improve the situation. Some people who love animation try to fund it. They may try to raise the budget by even a bit.

    Q: Thank you very much for Anime Mirai. I love Japanese animation and every time a great director dies, I worry about who will replace him. You may have noticed, but TRIGGER just had a very successful Kickstarter campaign. I was wondering if that is a possibility for Death Billards? Or for another way for fans around the world to directly support you?
    Tachikawa: *in English* Thank you very much.
    Suwa: Its one of the challenges that as producers, I must face. For example, YTV collaborated with old studios like Tezuka Productions, Tatsunoko Productions, and we created the production called Anime Sols. We’re going to keep on challenging ourselves to make interesting stuff in better condition.

    Q: I really enjoyed Death Billards. What inspired to create the story? You didn’t just direct it, you created it and pitched it. What led you to the idea for that pitch?
    Tachikawa: I wanted to make a fighting anime, but base it on people shooting pool. But simply showing people shooting pool was not very fun, I wanted to add an element to make it exciting. That was how it came out. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to make an anime where everyone who watched it had a different perception. That’s how it came to that kind of animation.

    Q: Tachikawa-san, as many people know, you’re working on an episode of Kill la Kill with [Studio] TRIGGER. Can you tell us a little about what Kill la Kill will be like and what your episode may be like? What is working on Kill la Kill like currently?
    Tachikawa: *smiles* How did you find out about this? *audience laughs*
    Fan: I found this out on a Japanese news account.
    Tachikawa: *laughs* One of the animation studios that I worked with on Anime Mirai and TRIGGER, the president, Otsuka [Masahiko] is a good friend of mine. He asked me to work on Kill la Kill so that is how I got the offer. My style is not really fitted for Gainax or TRIGGER. I told that to Otsuka-san, but he said that ‘But there is a specific episode that I want you to do, so that’s why I want you only in that episode.’ That episode involves human, money, greed and he told me that ‘That’s your thing, so you should do it.’ *audience laughs* I think he saw that how I describes humans was very fitting to that episode. The world of Kill la Kill was based on this Japanese 70’s drama called Sukeban where Japanese highschool students are actually police officers with yo-yo’s. It begins in October, so if you’re interested, take a look.

    Q: Thank you for coming all the way here and creating such a great animation of Death Billards. You were talking earlier about everyone being born unequal, everyone needs to work with the hand they’re dealt. In the end, fate can be changed. What is your personal stance on ‘fate’ and how fate works? Have you explored that theme thoroughly in Death Billards or would you like to explore that theme in future projects?
    Tachikawa: Mmmm…that is a difficult question. One of my motto is ‘To live is to fight’. I must keep in mind that there are many things I want to do in life, but there is very limited time. What I try to do is at least try to get one out into the world. It is very embarassing so can I just end it right there?

    Q: I was introduced to the Anime Mirai project via TRIGGER’s youtube site. I actually see that it mentioned on youtube through the stream. Is his something other studios are looking to be doing in the future?
    Suwa: I can’t talk about the details here, but there is a plan to stream anime. But besides Madhouse and Death Billards, there is another studio that is moving towards that [direction] right now, but I can’t really talk about it.

    Q: What I like about Shingeki no Kyojin is how 3D is used very well with the environment and the characters. I was wondering, do you set the environment first? Do you imagine first how the city will look? Or build it up as the scene goes?
    Tachikawa: The movements comes first when building the scene. After that, I deploy the settings. If there is enough setting to have a tower there, I set the tower there.

    Q: Can you talk more about the storyboarding process? How long from the time you get the script to when you storyboard it all out. What elements do you look at in the script to complete the storyboards? How do you divide up the work?
    Tachikawa: It takes one month to draw out the storyboard. Normally it takes one and a half months to two months. What I really focus on in the script to bring it to the storyboard is the beginning climax, to make sure that is built into the storyboard. When building off that, I build on what I want to describe from that script.

    Q: This isn’t the first year that Anime Mirai has been running. Are there any stand out titles that possibly people should look into. Directors you really feel grew from the project? Can you talk about the 2014 production that has already been announced?
    Suwa: I’ve only been involved in Anime Mirai for the past two years, including this year. I met Tachikawa-san for the first time at the completion party for Anime Mirai. There were other directors that I met before Anime Mirai so I was talking with them. But Death Billards was such a sensation that I remember after watching it, I wanted to be introduced to Tachikawa-san at the party. Anime Mirai 2014, we’re now in the production for it. All I can say is that it is far more varied in themes than this year. We try to focus on the world audience too. We try to work on that so that you can watch the 2014 [anime] as well as this year.

    Q: *in Japanese* The anime themes varied from dark, cheerful to futuristic. Is there a reason that they’re very varied in themes? Are we focusing on things that children will enjoy?
    Suwa: Yes, we are trying to focus on varying themes. We try to think about each episode separately. For Japanese animation, many people enjoy it from child to adult. We try to focus on a diverse theme. I believe that the future of animation is there too as well.

Suwa presented his upcoming project…a personal fav of mine.

    Suwa: I actually have another project that I’m working on that will be released in December in Japan which I have high expectations for which we’re PRing it right now. It is Lupin III vs. Detective Conan. *audience applauds* I have a 30 second trailer that is currently being aired in Japan. Lupin and Conan has a few lines at the end, but see it as a detective and thief. Please watch.

Conan: I told you I’m going to catch you. Lupin: Well, things are getting fun and interesting from here now.

    Suwa: It will appear in the Christmas season in Japan. Thank you very much!

They had Lupin and Conan promo uchiwa as well as a small promo card for the movie. After the panel, they took a group photo with the audience.