Ultimate Mark

Production Reference:
Mobile Suit Z Gundam Nostalgia
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Translator's Note: Released by SoftBank Publishing in March 2005—just before the general release of the first movie in the Mobile Suit Z Gundam: A New Translation trilogy—Mobile Suit Z Gundam Nostalgia: Believe in a sign of Z? is an overview of the original TV series, with new commentary and interview material. It includes extensive interviews with animation director Hiroyuki Kitazume and mechanical animation director Yorihisa Uchida, which I've translated here.

The following text is copyright © Sotsu • Sunrise and SoftBank Publishing.


Two elements that came as a shock

—Was Z Gundam the debut work of the company that you started?

Kitazume: Mr. Tomonori Kogawa, the founder of Studio Bebow to which I belonged at the time, had been involved with Director Tomino's works for a long time. I'd been able to study in-betweening, key animation, drawing, and the animator's job under Mr. Kogawa. Then, when I was working on L-Gaim, I started talking to other studio members about whether it was time to go independent.

It was just around that time the Z Gundam project came up. When we were forming our new Studio Pack, the producer asked me, "Would you like to work with us after you leave Studio Bebow?" Since I didn't yet know what work I'd be doing after I quit, I said "Yes, please!" That's how it was decided.

—When you received this job in the middle of that process, were you worried about taking on a new job with Director Tomino?

Kitazume: As far as we were concerned, we thought of it as a Sunrise work rather than one of Mr. Tomino's works. In my previous experience, I'd never dealt with any company other than Sunrise. So my honest feeling at the time was that I didn't have any particular worries about working with Sunrise or Mr. Tomino, since I was very familiar with their workflow and systems.

—Since this job was a sequel to First Gundam, what were your impressions of the original work?

Kitazume: First was the work that made me want to become an animator. So "I'll be able to work on the sequel to First!" and "They're making a sequel to First!" came as a double shock. When they offered it to me, I had no idea at all how they should go about making a sequel. But since I loved the work called Gundam, I wanted to jump at the offer anyway. Rather than the pressure of making a sequel to First, I was just delighted that I'd be able to participate.

The wall of Yasuhiko characters and the birth of Kitazume characters

—What kind of work were you asked to do, specifically?

Kitazume: Pack had five or six members, but during our discussions we decided that, for example, we might handle all the key animation for an individual episode. I myself had worked as an animation director on the previous L-Gaim, so they asked that I continue in that role. I think I said "Okay, I'll take on animation direction for the first episode," and we agreed on that.

—What kind of interactions did you have with Mr. Yasuhiko, who was in charge of character design?

Kitazume: When I asked about the project, they showed me Mr. Yasuhiko's character sheets, although they were still preliminary drafts. That's when I first found out that Mr. Yasuhiko was doing the character designs. After that, I was a little puzzled to learn that he wasn't joining the animation staff.

When I was at Studio Bebow, in the animation stage it was fine to simply interpret things based on the style of Mr. Kogawa or Mr. Nagano, but we didn't have that this time. The only hints we had were Mr. Yasuhiko's character sheets. And in that situation, it was vexing that we had to make the characters he'd designed move in animation. And what's more, I was responsible for animation direction on episode 1.

—The number of character sheets varied depending on the character, right?

Kitazume: Yes. The protagonist Kamille was easier, since we had several pages of expression sheets, but there were only a few characters like that. For most of the characters, we had to draw them based on our own imagination.

I think if Mr. Yasuhiko had been in charge of animation direction for the first episode, we'd have been able to expect a collection of his revisions afterwards, and we could have devoted ourselves to drawing to match that. But with only the character sheets, I thought I couldn't draw in a way that made it seem like Mr. Yasuhiko himself were drawing it. So rather than doing the impossible, I could only offer my own interpretation based on Mr. Yasuhiko's drawings, just like I used to do. I thought that was the best I could offer.

—How do you think of Mr. Yasuhiko?

Kitazume: I wouldn't say he's a wall, but he's a big presence. When you look at his model sheets for First, you clearly understand that they aren't just designs for animation, but drawings by the creator Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. There were aspects that distinctly separated them from the character designs of other anime works. I thought it would be hopeless trying to express that difference in my work on Z Gundam. Ultimately, I thought I'd try to pick up whatever information I could and follow my own independent route.

Around the middle of the story, it seemed that my way of doing things had been accepted. I was even getting a lot of illustration requests from the anime magazines, so I felt properly appreciated, and thought again that my own intuition hadn't been off the mark.

—By the middle of the story, you were already using your own style.

Kitazume: At the beginning of the story, I was really trying to force the characters to look like Mr. Yasuhiko's drawings, but by the middle I was able to create my own drawing style, so I gradually shifted to that.

When I wondered how to draw Kamille so he looked like himself, I decided to add expressions to him in my own style. Maybe it wasn't drawn in Mr. Yasuhiko's character sheets, and it might not look like Mr. Yasuhiko's drawings, but I came to understand a lot with the accumulation of episodes and production experience. In discussing this with the animation staff, we said that it would be fine as long as we understood the characters.

The maturation of Kamille and working in the studio

—Were there any scenes or episodes that made an impression on you?

Kitazume: I couldn't leave out the episodes involving Four Murasame. There are surprisingly few love stories in Mr. Tomino's works, and among these, I didn't expect Kamille would fall in love in such an ordinary way. "Huh, so there are also stories like this in the world of Gundam?" I guess, since Mr. Meigo Endo was in charge of the script, it must have largely reflected Mr. Endo's taste. (1)

—Four actually didn't appear all that much.

Kitazume: That's right. She only appeared in about three or four episodes, but she left a strong impression. "Cyber-Newtype" is a keyword that wasn't in First, and the question of how to depict a romance between the protagonist and a Cyber-Newtype was the subject of much discussion among the staff. We really wanted to depict the character of Four effectively.

—It was a more realistic romance than the one between Amuro and Lalah in First, wasn't it?

Kitazume: It felt true to life. They were attracted to each other as human beings. But since Four was mentally unwell, it seemed like it ultimately wouldn't be a perfect love story. Even before she was an enemy, Four was a Cyber-Newtype, and I think the fact her personality was disintegrating made her a character who left a sad and pitiable impression.

—Kamille matured through his romance with Four, didn't he?

Kitazume: Yeah, he did. Characters are living creatures.

I was the animation director on roughly one episode in every five, and as a member of the main staff, I was in a position to voice my own opinions and make suggestions like "It would be better if we did this." When you're working on a long TV series, the original character sheets eventually become useless. With five or so animation directors, the characters will gradually change as each person's sensibilities emerge. I think that sort of thing wouldn't happen if there were a chief animation director doing the work of revision and coordination.

—Which characters were hardest to draw?

Kitazume: Definitely Amuro. Though he was the main character of the previous series, the Amuro of Z Gundam feels very different compared to to the Amuro of First. When you look at the character sheet, in some respects he seems like Amuro simply because Mr. Yasuhiko is drawing him. I myself wanted to make Amuro look like Mr. Yasuhiko's drawings, so I had a hard time drawing him.

—There are many important female characters in Z Gundam. Please tell us what points you paid attention to when you were drawing them.

Kitazume: I guess I drew a variety of female characters. For example, if it was Fa, I tried to make her look cute because I thought of her as the heroine. I was concerned about things like that. I thought the viewers would find it boring if they were all men, and given that there were so many female characters, I tried to make them as cute as possible to make it more enjoyable.

But there were plenty of female characters with harsh personalities. (laughs) Lila was one I didn't want to draw in a cute way. That's because of her age. (laughs) And then there's Haman. She's a character with a cold demeanor, and there were absolutely no scenes where she was supposed to be cute. Otherwise, I tried to draw them so that the personality conveyed by the character sheet would come across onscreen as much as possible.

—Was the character of Haman important to you?

Kitazume: No, not at all. She wasn't a character who appeared very much in Z Gundam. But I'd been thinking "You have to have Zeons in the world of Gundam, after all," so I was excited when the Zeon remnants showed up. Likewise, when you couldn't tell whether any of the mobile suits that appeared were AEUG or Titans, I was glad to have machines show up that could be clearly identified as Zeon mobile suits.

Since Haman was the boss of that organization, I drew her with a different feeling from the other characters. At the time, I didn't yet know that she'd become a character who would be carried over into Z Gundam's sequel.

After finishing Z Gundam...

—What role does the work called Z Gundam have for you, Mr. Kitazume?

Kitazume: In a few words, it's a work I'm glad I was involved in creating. Working alongside Mr. Tomino enabled me to improve my abilities, and I think it was really helpful. The production process was very challenging, but there was also a sense of accomplishment after we finished. I had to overcome some high hurdles, so it was a very educational job.

—And how did you feel about the story?

Kitazume: Honestly, there were parts I couldn't follow. Since I was on the animation staff, I was only thinking about putting my energy into depicting the characters according to the instructions of the episode directors.

As for the episodes we weren't responsible for, I was checking those on the screen, but I wondered about things like why Quattro, or rather Char, was getting beaten up by Kamille. (laughs) As a fan of First, I thought "Char isn't that kind of guy," but all I could do was to perform my own job properly by accepting the instructions of the episode directors. I worked with a detached attitude, and said "That's just the way it is."

Translator's Notes

(1) Akinori Endo was then known as Meigo Endo.


The pressure of a Gundam sequel

—Please tell us how you came to be involved in the production of Z Gundam.

Uchida: Z Gundam was being produced at Sunrise's Studio 2, and I'd been working there since the previous series L-Gaim, so I ended up being assigned to it.

—What was your initial impression of working on a sequel to First Gundam?

Uchida: First was a tremendous work, so I was already feeling enormous pressure. (laughs) "I won't be able to take it easy," I thought.

—And what was your impression of Z Gundam when you saw a summary of the work?

Uchida: My impression was that, in various ways, it was more warped than an ordinary TV anime. The story was very complicated, and it felt a little different from being a mechanical animation director on other works. The depiction of the mobile suits was more precise than in First.

—What did you pay particular attention to in drawing mecha and mobile suits?

Uchida: Since it was a sequel to First, I wanted to make the movement and the processing methods of the mecha and mobile suits deliberately different from other works. But the situation at the time being what it was, it's questionable whether we were 100% succesful... we couldn't fully digest it.

If works dealing with mobile suits and mecha had been as popular then as they are now, we'd have been able to deliberately create methods for moving and depicting robots within the Gundam works. But at the time, the staff responsible for the drawing—myself included—were unable to firmly grasp the nature of Gundam, so it was difficult work.

—How did the position of mechanical animation director come into being?

Uchida: At the time, Sunrise didn't have many animators who could draw mecha in an interesting way. We didn't even enjoy drawing them ourselves. "This isn't going to be much fun," I thought, so I asked the producer Mr. Kenji Uchida, "Couldn't you create a position that can supervise all the mecha animation?" And that's how I was appointed as mechanical animation director.

—How was the atmosphere in the studio at the time?

Uchida: It was pretty heavy. If anything, the works the staff had been making up until then were fairly light, and perhaps because of that shift, it now became very heavy. As I was just saying, we were working without being able to firmly establish an expressive style and movement method, so it was probably inevitable that the atmosphere got heavy as well.

Representing transforming mobile suits as tools

—Were there any battle scenes in Z Gundam that left an impression?

Uchida: The battle with the Asshimar, the flying saucer monster. (laughs) I remember the key animators had a pretty hard time drawing the scene of its surprise attack on the airport. I wanted the expressive method to be really flashy, so I asked them to do retakes of everything they'd originally drawn, saying "please revise the key art with this kind of image." I gave the people responsible for the key animation a great deal of trouble, so that really made a lasting impression.

—Many transforming mobile suits appeared in Z Gundam. What were you thinking about when depicting their transformations?

Uchida: It was a little different from the representation methods of so-called "orthodox robot anime." In super robot works, the transformation scenes are flashy, and the background changes.

But mobile suits are mecha treated slightly more like tools, so when it came to the representation method and the cutting, we tried to differentiate them by drawing in a more matter-of-fact way. Personally, I prefer flashy movement, so it felt somewhat unsatisfactory.

—What elements are necessary for Gundam-like mecha movement?

Uchida: Nowadays, even when they're flying in the air or outer space, there's an established form for "mobile suits fly with these kinds of poses." But we didn't have anything like that in the studio at the time, so if they proceeded with the animation work in a normal fashion, everyone would end up drawing as if they were making a robot show for another company.

By all rights, I should have been making corrections and giving the artists revision orders from my position as mechanical animation director, but under the circumstances I couldn't go that far. In fact, the work situation was so terrible that we couldn't even draw the Gundam in proportion.

—In that kind of situation, it must have been hard to demand that mobile suits be drawn in a different way. (1)

Uchida: I was always conscious of how we could make the mecha look cool, though. Anyway, there were many different kinds of machine, and no shortage of scenes in which we had to draw several of them together on one screen. It was really tough.

The thing that saved us was the capable animators, still active on the front lines today, who were still young back then and worked extremely hard. Mr. Hirotoshi Sano and many others contributed. This was also a time when Anime R was working really hard on a series called Layzner with all its Kansai power, and the staff were saying to each other, "Let's do our best not to lose to the Osaka gang." (2) It was a fun atmosphere.

Proportion is the basis for easy drawing

—Which mobile suits or warships made an impression on you?

Uchida: The Qubeley, because it was easy to draw. At first glance, it looks like it has a difficult shape, but in fact the Qubeley has very few lines. Other mobile suits also have an excessive number of facets, making them quite blocky. The Qubeley, on the other hand, has plenty of curves. It's easier to move that kind of mecha.

—The Qubeley certainly moved a lot in the final episodes.

Uchida: It's easy to draw once you're familiar with it. And it was fun to draw the wing parts on its shoulders a little bigger. Otherwise, in terms of looking cool and attractive, I'd say the Gundam Mk-II and the Zeta Gundam.

—Of all the generations of Gundams, doesn't the Zeta Gundam have the most difficult shape?

Uchida: Yeah, it's a machine that's hard to draw. In terms of proportions, it was especially difficult to capture the shape of the legs. Compared to other Gundams, it departs a little from the human form, with longer legs and a shorter torso. It's very hard to get the balance right.

—Were there any other mobile suits that left an impression?

Uchida: The-O was another difficult mobile suit. It had very unique proportions. Though it was a machine with a rounded feeling like the Qubeley, The-O was much harder to draw. Another factor was that there wasn't precise setting for it, since it was a mobile suit that appeared just before the final episode.

—How about the Psycho Gundam Mk-II? That's a mobile suit with an awful lot of detail.

Uchida: It was relatively simple compared to something like The-O. The proportions of the Psycho Gundam Mk-II are exactly those of the human body, aren't they? It just has a lot of parts, but the thing itself isn't that hard to draw. Whether or not they transform, it's easier to draw things that are close to humanoid.

On Z Gundam, we'd decided we were going to use black for the shadows in outer space. Thus we could sometimes avoid difficult details by filling them in with black. I'd actually intended for us to draw the space scenes with a clear light source but, partly because this idea didn't really permeate the animation staff, we only applied distinct shadows for the first 20 episodes or so. From the middle of the story to the second half, I don't think we were putting in shadows at all. Even though we were adding blacks, we were placing the black areas like a decorative pattern, without a definite light source.

The situation at the time and the fan reaction

—This is similar to our earlier discussion about Gundam-like mecha movement, but it seems the drawing method for Gundam-like robots was established with Z Gundam.

Uchida: Personally, I was impressed by the movement that Mr. Yasuhiko created during First. I had orders from Mr. Tomino to use a different movement method, and the truth is that I created it through trial and error. Even I couldn't quite visualize it.

—Looking at the movement of the mobile suits in things like Char's Counterattack, one gets the impression it's carried over from Z Gundam.

Uchida: That's because the production staff was in flux until Char's Counterattack. In the case of 0083, they based it on the movement in First instead, reinterpreting it to suit the trends of the times. So I think it's quite different from Z Gundam.

—Is it the role of the mechanical animation director to establish the style of the work?

Uchida: That's what I originally thought. But at the stage of Z Gundam, I wasn't able to establish a style because some things were still beyond my abilities. So I think of Z Gundam as a very difficult work, and one that I don't really care to look back on.

—As we've been gathering material for this book from the main staff, it seems they generally don't evaluate Z Gundam too highly.

Uchida: I'm not satisfied with the finished product. I myself was still inexperienced at the time, and the expression fell short because I didn't understand the meaning.

—Is that because you were strongly conscious of its image as a sequel to First?

Uchida: Yes, there was that. Mr. Tomino was directing it, and the image Mr. Yasuhiko created in the previous work was just too strong. Mr. Tomino told me at the time he wanted to use a different expressive style from First, and that really worried me. He'd criticize me by saying "You can't do this," or say "If you can't come up with a new expression, then just go back to the old one."

In retrospect, I think my expectations were too high, but it was hard to balance the parts where I had freedom and the parts where I didn't. We had our own ideas about how to move and draw the mecha, but we'd been given too much information beforehand, so we ended up overthinking it instead. I think that's why many of the people who were in the studio at the time now say "I don't want to see it" and "It's painful."

—But it seems that Z Gundam is highly regarded among the fans.

Uchida: Oh, is that so? Then I'm very disappointed to hear it. As someone responsible for mechanical animation direction, there are things I think I could do now that I wasn't able to do then. It stabs me in the heart when a fan tells me "That scene was really good." (laughs) But I had fun working on it, and I was able to grow a lot as an artist, so I guess it was an important work.

Translator's Notes

(1) The Japanese term 描き分け (kakiwake) essentially means "differentiate" or "draw distinctly." In this context, I think the interviewer means differentiating mobile suits from other robots, rather than distinguishing one mobile suit from another.

(2) Anime R was (is?) an animation production studio based in Osaka which worked on many Sunrise titles, including Ideon, L-Gaim, and various Gundam series. It's perhaps best known for its work on Ryosuke Takahashi-directed series such as Dougram, Votoms, and Layzner.