Ultimate Mark

Production Reference:
Gundam ZZ Blu-ray Memorial Box
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Translator's Note: These interviews with some of Gundam ZZ's staff and creators appeared in the Blu-ray Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ Memorial Box Part.II, released in November 2009.


—How did you come to be responsible for the character design of ZZ?

Kitazume: While Mobile Suit Z Gundam was airing, I recall there was a competition in the summer for the character design of a new program. This was a new project that wasn't part of the Gundam series. I also participated in this competition, but after that, my current producer (Kenji) Uchida told me I should wait because it was still a little tentative. Then, in the autumn—around October or November—I heard that an extension of Z Gundam might have been decided.

—And then they chose you without a competition?

Kitazume: I'm not sure what the process was that led to them requesting me. On Z, Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko did the character designs, while I did the animation direction for individual episodes, but they said Mr. Yasuhiko wouldn't be involved with ZZ. Nonetheless, Bright and other characters designed by Mr. Yasuhiko would be appearing in the program, so the order from Producer Uchida was to create new characters that wouldn't feel out of place when they were sharing the same screen. Ever since I was animation director on individual episodes of Z, I'd been drawing in a way that blended Mr. Yasuhiko's characters with my own previous drawing methods, so I thought it would be good to design them as an extension of that.

—Was it difficult creating characters from scratch?

Kitazume: There was some trial and error in doing character design for the first time. I was of the generation that was initiated by Mobile Suit Gundam, so I wanted to add a little of that flavor to the characters. Thus I made Judau's hair slightly wavy so he'd inherit some of Amuro'a aura.

Likewise, Roux Louka's eyes and part of her hairstyle include the symbols of a heroine that were possessed by Miss Sayla. Still, that was purely a matter of design, and as I was working I had no idea that Roux Louka would end up playing the heroine's role by accompanying Judau to Jupiter.

—What kinds of orders did you receive from Director Yoshiyuki Tomino?

Kitazume: When it came to the main characters, he had more criticisms of the costumes than the faces. In the initial roughs, I'd dressed them in simpler clothing. But he said that was no good. Since it was a TV program, the main characters had to wear more distinctive clothes.

Director Tomino gave me foreign catalogs of children's clothing and so forth, and then I designed their current clothes. But even though I used photos for reference, if you simply borrow trendy designs, they'll look outdated and unfashionable right away. So I designed fictional fashions, using those elements purely as inspiration.

—Elpeo Ple was a very memorable character in this story.

Kitazume: Ple was a character who gave me a lot of trouble at first. I think I was given memos summarizing the distinctive traits of each main character, and I designed them based on that. In the case of Ple, what was written was something like "As a child, she has some fluffy aspects, but sometimes she can also be quick-witted..." (1) It was pretty vague.

I drew a few drafts while I was fretting over it, and along the way I tried drawing one with long hair. It was around the third rough draft that I gave her a short haircut close to the current design. I thought that was a good direction, but I wanted to make it a bit more distinctive. Then Director Tomino suggested that I extend the sidelocks, and thus Ple's design was decided.

—So Director Tomino gave you written orders?

Kitazume: I think he did for the main characters. But Director Tomino didn't draw any roughs himself, as he did for Lalah in Gundam. I guess he entrusted it to my artistic sense.

—Were there any other characters who made an impression on you?

Kitazume: Glemy Toto got a good reception from Director Tomino. If I turned in a good design, Director Tomino would write "good" when he was checking it, and Glemy received one of those "good" notations. During ZZ, I'm not sure I ever got another "good" after that... so that really made an impression on me. I'm sure he must have liked the character's androgynous aura.

—It's a work with a lot of characters, isn't it?

Kitazume: That was a difficult aspect. Once I started working, I used up my own stock of ideas around the time I designed the Gaza Storm team. It was hard work after that. But thanks to that, I was able to develop a design method different from my previous one.

—And what kind of style was that?

Kitazume: Before that, I was drawing a whole form based on the character's image. But along the way I learned to use a method in which I combined various parts like a photomontage, adjusted the balance, and finally completed a character who had the intended atmosphere.

I've seldom gotten stuck with a character design since I acquired this method. Because I was able to learn this, ZZ proved to be a major turning point in my career as an animator.

—In your designs, how conscious were you of the fact that ZZ was aimed more at children than Z was?

Kitazume: I was thinking about the symbolic design of tokusatsu shows when it came to things like Haman's face decoration. After hearing about the direction of the work, I decided to try introducing some of the nuances of a hero show.

—You were in charge of animation direction for a total of three episodes, including episode 2, "The Boy From Shangri-La." (2)

Kitazume: At the time, I was also working on an omnibus OVA called Robot Carnival, so I had my hands full with just the character design and wasn't really able to do animation direction. Being able to draw the new costumes for all the characters in episode 32, "Across the Salt Lake," made a lasting impression.

Come to think of it, back then, it was considered unusual that I changed Roux Louka's hairstyle and gave her a ponytail along with her new costume. An anime character's hairstyle is like a symbol representing the character, so normally you wouldn't really mess with it in the middle of the story. It was never my intention to create characters who'd be unrecognizable if you changed their hairstyle, so I spontaneously drew that with the thought, "If she's somewhere hot, she'd at least wear her hair up..."

In terms of drawing, I thought the episodes handled by Mr. Naoyuki Onda, another person who used to work at the Bebow animation studio, captured the atmosphere of my designs very well. As well as Mr. Onda himself, the key animators for his episodes included all my former coworkers. (3)

—Could you say a few words about the release of the Blu-ray discs?

Kitazume: With the release of the Blu-ray discs, the coloring is better than ever, and I think you'll be able to see more subtle color nuances in things like the space battle scenes. Please look out for that as well when you rewatch it.

Translator's Notes

(1) The Japanese term ふわっとした (fuwattoshita) literally means "fluffy" or "puffy." 鋭い (surodoi) is equivalent to "sharp," "shrewd," or "keen."

(2) Kitazume served as animation director for episodes 2, 32, and 47.

(3) At this point, Onda was a member of Kitazume's Studio Pack, which was made up mainly of former Bebow animators. As well as episodes 42 and 47 of Z Gundam, Onda served as animation director for episodes 5, 11, 16, 21, 26, 31, and 36 of Gundam ZZ, and many of Studio Pack's animators also worked on these episodes.


A step followed by later works

—You'd been participating as mechanical animation director since the previous program, Mobile Suit Z Gundam. But Z was the first Sunrise work with a mechanical animation director credit, wasn't it?

Uchida: Even though Sunrise had always focused its production on robot shows, they didn't put enough care into drawing them. That's what I believed at the time. I discussed it with Producer (Kenji) Uchida, and he decided to have me do the mechanical animation direction. At the time, I didn't particularly think of myself as a mecha animator. But as I was just saying, I felt that "we aren't putting energy into the mecha" and "the mecha could be depicted in a more interesting way," and I think that's why I made the proposal.

Nowadays, there's a common understanding of how to depict robots as realistic weapons, but that was a time when there wasn't really anything like that. So we were essentially starting from zero, and in that sense, I wouldn't say I was able to do it exactly as I expected. But afterwards, the awareness changed towards an understanding that a position like mechanical animation director was indeed needed, so I think it may have been a necessary step in that process.

—Were you conscious of Z and ZZ as a sequel to Gundam, and a sequel to that sequel?

Uchida: Sunrise's Studio 2, which produced Z and ZZ, was the same studio that had made things like The Unchallengeable Trider G7 and Robot King Daioja, so it wasn't originally making that kind of realistic robot anime. Then Director (Yoshiyuki) Tomino came along and created Blue Gale Xabungle, Aura Battler Dunbine, and Heavy Metal L-Gaim. With these three works, I think Director Tomino was trying to show the staff the possibility that "we can still do things like this with robot anime." Nonetheless, since the next work was to be "a sequel to Gundam," I recall that the studio itself was at something of a loss.

Meanwhile, regarding the drawing, Director Tomino told me the following right after Z began. He wanted us to stop depicting the mecha with the slight flexibility they'd had in the previous Gundam. (1) I think Director Tomino wanted them to be more rigid. But this was a very high-level request, and an extremely difficult task for me as well. In the depiction of mecha, flashy action with exaggerated poses is relatively easy, but making them look subtly realistic is quite hard, and it requires a lot of skill.

—With the change in direction from the serious Z to the brighter ZZ, was there the same kind of difference in the drawing style?

Uchida: The plan with ZZ was to make the Gundam's combination and transformation a selling point, so I think in ZZ the scope of what was permissible became broader, including flashy presentation.

—More mobile suits also appeared in ZZ than in Z.

Uchida: The precision of the setting increased when we went from Z to ZZ. During Z, there were still some parts that were drawn impressionistically, but in ZZ we drew them in considerable detail based exactly on the setting. Even the smallest parts were now firmly defined in the setting. In that sense, there was a transition period between Z and ZZ.

In terms of the actual work, of course the hardest part was the ZZ Gundam. Like I was saying, there are small parts all over it, and since it's a really massive machine it's hard to balance. It also has a lot of lines, so I think it gave the animators and finishers even more trouble than the key artists. Still, despite the difficulty, I grew fond of it as I memorized the parts and drew it over and over.

—Of the mobile suits that appeared in ZZ, do you have any favorites?

Uchida: One mobile suit I really like is the Quin Mantha. I think its silhouette is very cool. The Bawoo is another of my favorite machines, but with the Bawoo, it was hard to correct the "Flying Dragon" inscription to match the perspective and the unevenness of the machine's surface. What's more, the inscription has a lot of strokes in a calligraphic style. Nowadays I guess you could do it more easily by pasting in a graphic. (wry laughter)

On the other hand, the Psycho Gundam Mk-II was really tough. There were also a lot of guest mecha that only appeared in one episode. Even if you thought "this mecha is pretty cool, isn't it," it was all over before you had time to learn it, and you'd never have the chance to draw it again. That sort of thing happened a lot.

—Were there any scenes that left an impression?

Uchida: Episode 46, where I was responsible for the entire episode as a regular animation director rather than being mechanical animation director, made a lasting impression to me. I think they chose me for it because there was a gap in the rotation, and it was also just before the finale. As I worked on it, I wasn't sure how much I should inherit the atmosphere of the other episodes, and how much I should express myself. Since it was the episode where Glemy died, I thought I should try to depict him in a cool way. Even though Glemy had become a major enemy character, there were still gags at key points. (2) I wanted to depict that slightly lame Glemy in a cool way up at the very end.

—The job of a regular animation director is a rotating one, but there's only one person credited as mechanical animation director. Were you in charge of every episode?

Uchida: Basically, yes. In general, mecha scenes made up about 1/3 of each episode, and I was responsible for that every week. So of course, every week I had a looming deadline... I'm not saying it was just because of that, but if the key art was well done, I basically okayed it. As I worked, I felt I should concentrate on fixing things that absolutely had to be fixed. Since the time of Z, we'd had skilled animators like Mr. Hirotoshi Sano and Mr. Shin Matsuo in the studio, and their efforts were a great help to me.

—What did you think about as a mechanical animation director?

Uchida: About making the best use of what the young and skillful animators had drawn. Mr. Sano and Mr. Matsuo, who I was just talking about, are obvious examples of this. Recently, it's become common to appoint a chief animation director and try to standardize the drawing style throughout the series, rather than just within each episode. I can understand that approach from a business standpoint, but at the same time, I think it also dampens the enthusiasm of youngsters who say "I want to draw it this way."

The other day, I saw a talk show at a solo exhibition by the veteran animator Mr. Akihiro Kanayama. (3) He singled me out by name, saying "From the beginning, Uchida drew his key art without any intention of getting a character likeness." (wry laughter) But I think putting that kind of youthful energy to use gives life to a work, especially a TV anime. I believe the job of the animation director is to make that assessment, fixing the drawings that should be fixed, and making use of the drawings that should be made use of. My thinking on that hasn't changed since then.

Translator's Notes

(1) The Japanese term 柔らかみ (yawarakami) means "softness," "flexibility," or "pliability."

(2) I'm not sure if Uchida means he included gags in his own episode, or that Glemy was still being treated humorously despite becoming a major villain.

(3) Incidentally, Kanayama served as animation director on ten episodes of Z Gundam and eight episodes of Gundam ZZ, as well as numerous episodes of the previous robot shows produced by Sunrise Studio 2.