Ultimate Mark

Production Reference:
Great Mechanics G 2022 Winter
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Translator's Note: The quarterly magazine Great Mechanics G, published by Futabasha, is devoted to in-depth coverage of current and past mecha anime. It frequently publishes exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes features, including a series of reminiscences about the production of classic robot anime by Yoshie Kawahara, formerly of the Sunrise planning office and now a freelance writer. Kawahara's insider history of the planning office appeared in the 2022 Winter issue, published in December 2022.

The following text is copyright © 2022 Futabasha.


Have you heard of someone called Hiroshi Kazama, or someone named Yoshie Kawahara? From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, Kazama was credited mainly with setting-related tasks on many of the robot anime produced by (then) Nippon Sunrise, from Robot King Daioja to Aura Battler Dunbine. Kawahara, meanwhile, was a scriptwriter on Heavy Metal L-Gaim and the author of the Yoroiden Samurai Troopers novelization. In fact, these two are the same person, one of the few female core staff members at Sunrise, the champion of robot anime. In this series, we've asked Ms. Kawahara to tell us about her memories of the past.

Text: Yoshie Kawahara, AKA Coelacanth Kazama

Profile: Yoshie Kawahara • Born in Tokyo's Suginami Ward. In senior high school, Kawahara joined the (then) Sunrise Studio as a miscellaneous part-time job (1975). After graduation, she automatically became a Sunrise contract staff worker. At first she was also active as an anime fan, but soon moved on from this due to the demands of her busy workplace. After this, Kawahara accumulated experience of all kinds, driven by the needs of her workplace duties. In 1980, she was officially assigned to the planning office. Temporarily seconded from the planning office, she became the first female "setting manager," and from 1984 onwards she worked full-time in the planning office. (1) After her contract ended in 1989, she began working as a freelance writer.

What was this Sunrise planning office involved in anime production?!

In the spring of this year, the company named "Sunrise, Inc." ceased to exist, and "Sunrise" became a brand name within Bandai Namco Filmworks.

Sunrise—officially "Soeisha, Inc." which specialized in planning and business operations, and "Sunrise Studio Co., Ltd." which was a production work site—was founded in 1972 (Showa 47) by seven people who had broken away from Mushi Production. Until the establishment of "Nippon Sunrise, Inc." with 1977's Super Machine Zambot 3, it wasn't a production company in the true sense that held its own copyrights, but more or less a subcontractor.

However, in its second year, Sunrise essentially did the majority of the work on 0-Tester, from planning onwards. 0-Tester (broadcast from October 1973 to December 1974 on the Kansai Television network) began with the desire of Tohoku Shinsha to create an animation program modeled on the British Supermarionation series Thunderbirds (broadcast 1965~1966 in the UK, and 1966~1967 in Japan), which had previously become popular after Tohoku Shinsha imported it. However, this was an original work with a completely different setting, story, characters, and mecha. In short, Tohoku Shinsha was merely the rights-holder, and from the time it was first established Sunrise was already creating original anime.

For almost 50 years after that, Sunrise has continued creating original works. But it was the "planning office" (later the Planning & Development Office of the Planning Department), which no longer exists in the present Sunrise structure, that supported this.

Until recently, the credits of most of Sunrise's original works included the name "Hajime Yatate" under planning, original story, or original work. No such Yatate person actually exists. "Hajime Yatate" is the Sunrise planning office.

The name Hajime Yatate represents everyone involved in drafting the plan, particularly the first head of the planning department, the late Mr. Eiji Yamaura (the third president of the company). Then, after Mr. Yamaura moved over to the management side, the central planning role passed to Koichi Inoue, who may be familiar to the readers, and he became "Hajime Yatate II." (2) (Since Inoue later became my husband, I've omitted the honorific.)

I heard from my direct superior Mr. Masao Iizuka, the planning office desk chief (at the time), that the name Hajime Yatate means you're about to set out on a difficult journey. It comes from the line "Yatate no hajime" from the poet Matsuo Bashō's "Oku no Hosomichi," and incorporates the meaning "We did this for the first time!" (3) Incidentally, underneath the Senju-ōhashi bridge in Tokyo's Adachi Ward, there's a "Site of Yatate Hajime" monument at the spot where Bashō read the first lines of "Oku no Hosomichi." It might be fun to try visiting it.

For the Sunrise works of the time, which wouldn't have been possible without a relationship between product development and the work itself, the planning office was the heart and brain. But even within the company, it seems there were very few staff who understood its importance. That's only natural given that the production site begins operations after the production has already been decided. Thus, it's irrelevant to ask who was doing before that point. The only people on site who know about this are the producer in charge, the director, the main designers, the person responsible for series structure (the scriptwriter who serves as main writer), and setting managers like myself seconded from the planning office.

The planning office routine and its membership at the time

Until I came back from working on site to the planning office to which I belonged, the planning office had also served as "Sunrise's do-anything division," partially responsible for publicity and for matters which would be handled by the general affairs or legal departments in a normal company. (4)

This was because our desk chief Mr. Iizuka, who had been recruited by Sunrise from Mushi Production's materials department, had historically taken on sole responsibility for organizing and storing everything from planning-related documents to intermediate products from the production site—in other words, scripts and storyboards, setting materials, and even key frames and used cels.

Up until the mid-1980s, the plans themselves took the form of proposals the planning department manager Mr. Yamaura put together with scriptwriters, directors, and designers he deemed suitable for the project's objectives. These were then presented to sponsors and advertising agencies.

Mr. Iizuka served as Mr. Yamaura's right-hand man. But as I mentioned, various jobs were being done at the same time, so crowded planning meetings and so forth were rarely held in the "planning office" itself during so-called business hours, but took place in neighborhood cafes and other separate locations. As a result, the people on site often thought of Mr. Iizuka as nothing more than "Uncle Cel-Organizer." But he laughed it off, saying "That's fine, it's true after all."

Looking back on it, this all seems rather amazing. But it also illustrates how, in a production company that was still in its infancy, everything had to adapt to the needs of the moment.

As far as I know, up until about 1976, the original "planning office" was a single Japanese-style room split in two, on the fifth floor of the narrow building that housed the cafe "Sansan" where meetings were often held. (5) After that, it moved to an apartment in the back of the building that contained the original head office. That was a Japanese-style double room. From 1978 onward it was in an old single-floor space about 20 tatami mats in area, previously known as "Studio 3," which had been used as a production site ever since Wanpaku Omukashi Kum-Kum (1975). That was on the second floor of a grocery in front of the train station. Around 1983, it moved to the third floor of the old head office building... little by little, it was expanding.

Nonetheless, there was never enough room to store and organize the materials from the continually increasing number of works. In particular, from the end of the 1970s onwards there were more and more requests from anime magazines, and it seemed like there were outsiders going in and out almost every day. So when we were working on things that were still in the planning stage, we had to do it late at night, or at an out-of-the-way desk that was hard for visitors to see.

In the 1980s, the number of planning office members also increased a little. (6) There was Mr. Shoji Tonoike, who managed the scripts for Round Vernian Vifam (1983) and City Hunter (1987). (7) His friend Ms. Yoko Watanabe (now Yoko Tonoike), who later served as a production assistant on both programs, had started as a part-time finishing assistant on The☆Ultraman (1979). Ms. Junko Sato was later responsible for setting management on things like Mr. Ajikko (1987) and Future GPX Cyber Formula (1991). Ms. Yumiko Tsukamoto, who also began as a part-timer, wrote scripts for Giant Gorg (1984) and was mainly responsible for producing publicity materials.

This is out of sequence, but the scriptwriter Mr. Satoshi Namiki also belonged to the planning office when he was setting manager on Space Runaway Ideon (1980). So did Mr. Mitsuo (then Mitsu) Fukuda, who is currently directing Mobile Suit Gundam Seed (2002), when he was doing setting management for things like The Unchallengeable Trider G7 (1980). Mr. Tetushisa Yamada, who was a producer on Gunhed (a live-action special effects film released in 1989, produced by Toho Pictures, Sunrise, Bandai, Kadokawa Shoten, and IMAGICA), was briefly a member as well.

Inoue had been seconded to Studio 1 as setting manager on Armored Trooper Votoms (1983). Once he was done with that work he started coming in to the planning office more often, at the same time as me. The one difference between us was that, after Inoue joined the company in 1981, he'd started going with the planning department manager to visit sponsors and advertising agencies, and was already involved in product planning and drafting the accompanying plans.

That's because Inoue had been headhunted from the production engineering department of Tomy (now Tomytec), since knowledge of toy development and manufacturing was essential for the planning of Sunrise's works. But the rest of his time was spent organizing publicity materials alongside the rest of the staff, or driving Mr. Iizuka around as a chauffeur, so most of the planning office members didn't know he was doing that kind of work at the time.

In hindsight, Mr. Iizuka used to say that "Hiroppe (meaning me) is the first-born son of the Iizuka family, and Jirongu (Mr. Iizuka's nickname for Inoue) is the son of Mr. Yamaura." (8) From what happened afterwards, I'd have to agree.

A map of the various locations of the "Wandering Planning Office," and a diagram of the "Studio 6" that Kawahara describes below. The numbered locations are:
(1) Fifth floor of Sansan
(2) Double-room apartment
(3) Old Studio 3
(4) Third floor of old head office
Other map locations include the old Studio 1 and 2, the new "Studio 6," the current head office, and the Kamiigusa train station.


The next-generation planning (and development) office that began as a 1LDK (9)

For a year or two after I came back to the planning office, on the third floor of the head office building, I was still working on plans for a few different works. Then a location that another department was previously using became vacant. It was a room in a condo that had been built a few years earlier, close to the apartment behind the head office building where the planning office used to be located. For the first time, the planning office had a space that would always be available for planning meetings.

Though it was called a condominium, it was a two-story building most likely made from wood, a rental property that deserved a name like "Something-or-other Co-op." When you opened the lobby door, you'd see a dining room and kitchen about six mats in area, and next to it a six-mat Japanese-style room with a built-in closet. There was also a modular bathroom with a toilet. It ws an unremarkable layout that looked like something a bachelor or a newlywed couple might rent. But it was a hideaway known only to those involved with the planning office and visited only by people who had business with us, a so-called "desert island" completely separate from the duties of publicity and production sites.

We had a phone line, of course, but there was no copy machine. And since this was almost 40 years ago, there was no Wi-Fi or Internet access. But you could spread documents out on the fairly large dining table in the Japanese-style room, or do miscellaneous drawing work, and even if you were up all night working or holding meetings, you could even flop down, roll over, and take a nap. There was also a small TV, so we could watch broadcast anime, as well as trying out trendy video games at just the moment when NES games like Dragon Quest and Gradius were taking the world by storm.

We had a gas stove and a sink, so we could boil all the water we wanted, and prepare not just cup noodles but also instant ramen as long as we had a pot ready. (There was no microwave, though.) It was supposedly forbidden, but's possible that when we were looking really disheveled after staying up all night, we may even have stealthily taken a quick shower before going to meet with sponsors.

This was nicknamed "Studio 6." (10) We'd finally been given what we'd always wanted, a place where we could continually work on refining plans. Inoue and I were stationed here on a full-time basis, and they told us "As Hajime Yatate II, you should stop being seconded to production sites, and devote yourselves to planning." (11)

I only recently heard this from Inoue, but it seems Mr. Iizuka told him "The planning office is now in your hands. I'm taking care of publicity and materials, so Mr. Yamaura's job is up to you."

From this point on, the previous "planning office" was split between planning & development, and publicity & materials. Studio 6 became the "Planning Department Planning Office," and the third floor of the head office became the "Materials & Publicity Division."

Two office desks were placed in the dining room and kitchen area of the new planning office, and one of them became mine. Usually I was doing office work such as handwriting proposals and then later entering them into a word processor, summarizing setting plans, preparing planning materials, and arranging meetings.

Inoue would head out to meetings with external relationships such as sponsors and advertising agencies, or with the producers in charge of production sites. When he returned in the evening, another round of planning meetings would begin, covering various matters that came up while he was out of the office.

Designers and young people with specialized expertise, known as "planning brains," would gather there after finishing their other work and hold discussions around the dining table in the Japanese-style room. So I was living a lifestyle where I got home much later than when I was on production sites, often after public transportation had stopped running. My memory may be a little off, but I think this was around 1985.

I spent a few years in this Studio 6 before I left Sunrise. It was to be my first and last "Fortress of Planning."

Translator's Notes

(1) The Japanese term 出向 (shukkō) refers to a temporary assignment or transfer, translated here as "seconding." It appears that, when a project moved into production, planning office staff were sometimes temporarily transferred to the production studio in question to handle the work of setting management.

(2) Written in Japanese as 二代目・矢立肇 (nidaime Yayate Hajime). The Japanese term used here means the second-generation inheritor of a role or title. This succession probably took place around June 1987, when Nippon Sunrise was renamed "Sunrise, Inc." and Yamaura became its third president.

(3) "Oku no Hosomichi," often translated as "The Narrow Road to the Deep North," is a classic work of Japanese literature from the Edo period. The line in question describes the poet using his portable writing set, or yatate, for the first time.

(4) As noted in Kawahara's profile above, from 1984 onwards, she was working full-time in the planning office rather than being seconded to production sites.

(5) The term 和室 (washitsu), translated here as "Japanese-style room" and sometimes rendered as "tatami room," indicates a traditional Japanese entertaining room with tatami mats on the floor and sliding doors.

(6) Since I'm translating Japanese honorifics like "san" (which are genderless) into the English "Mr." and "Ms." (which are gendered), and I couldn't find detailed profiles for all the planning office staff listed here, in some cases I just made my best guess.

(7) Tonoike also wrote scripts for Vifam and City Hunter, among many other series.

(8) "Hiroppe" is presumably based on "Hiroshi Kazama," the alias Kawahara used for her setting manager credits. Hiroshi is usually a male name, so her Hiroshi Kazama persona would be Iizuka's son.

(9) An apartment with one general-purpose room in addition to the living, dining, and kitchen areas.

(10) Presumably this was before the official Sunrise Studio 6 was established.

(11) Kawahara previously used the "Hajime Yatate II" name in reference to Inoue alone, but going by the Japanese text, this comment is clearly directed to both of them.