A conversation with 2199 director Nobuyoshi Habara

Transcribed by Tim Eldred

September 5, 2013 brought me together with Nobuyoshi Habara and our lovely translator Ms. Rina Lee for the second time. The first interview, which had been arranged by Voyager Entertainment, took place in May 2012 (and can be read here) between the releases of Yamato 2199 Chapters 1 and 2. Naturally, Mr. Habara wasn’t allowed to say much about the series other than the fact that he’d been assigned to direct Episodes 9 and 19, and they would be completely different from the original series.

This time it was different; with Chapter 7 just completing its theatrical run and both of Mr. Habara’s episodes seen and adored by fans around the world, many more topics were on the table. What’s more, he started the session by handing me a miraculous gift; a production routing folder from Xebec studio with Yamato 2199 stamped on it. That alone would have been a great souvenir, but inside were some extremely rare goodies and a number of original storyboards – drawn in pencil – of scenes that hadn’t made it into Episode 19! Of course, they are shared herein.

Meanwhile, since I now had the first season of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble under my belt, Mr. Habara and I had plenty of notes to compare (he’s as interested in my work as I am in his). Ms. Lee, on the other hand, works far outside the animation world so some occasional explanation was needed for her to keep pace with us. Therefore, rather than a straightforward interview, this turned into a two-sided conversation (some portions edited for brevity). Hope you enjoy the result.

So here we are now, Yamato 2199 is all done and both of your episodes have been seen by everyone; numbers 9 and 19. The first thing I’d like to ask is what it was like to work on the series. What was the mood and the atmosphere like in the studio?

Overall, everyone there loves Yamato and that’s why they made it. Someone might have their opinion and someone else might disagree with it, and there might be a huge argument, but after that the answer is going to be really good and solid.

And how would you compare that experience to Yamato Resurrection?

On Resurrection, Mr. Nishizaki told everyone what to do. It wasn’t like we were only obeying him, but we had to do it his way. On 2199, everyone could say whatever they wanted, so it was like all of us were making the whole series. It was more creative.

Does that mean you were able to give your opinion on other peoples’ episodes and they gave opinions on yours?

That was possible, but everyone had their work to do, and there wasn’t time to comment on other peoples’ work. On my two episodes, I had enough time to do everything I wanted to do, but it was still a big challenge. Usually I’d just have meetings with others, but this time I checked in-betweens and really tiny details, and explained everything.

Hands-on directing. Usually we don’t have time for it because everything is moving so fast you can only make certain decisions and then trust your crew to finish everything else for you. So it’s a rare opportunity when you can check every scene and talk in detail about the intention. But if you have that opportunity, it always makes for a better result at the end.

If the animators know what’s going on with the scene they can do a better job, and they have to know what a character is thinking or feeling so that every line goes in the right place.

As a director, you’d like to be able to control everything at every level, but most of the time you can’t.

Especially with Episode 9, I did everything I wanted to do, so it was very satisfying.

I can tell you’re very proud of it. It’s a great work of art. Everyone loves it. All of the American fans who have seen it say it’s one of their favorites.

That makes me very happy!

Were there other parts of the series you worked on besides your two episodes?

I did some animation, but I can’t remember which episode. If someone needed help, I helped them.

If you’re needed, you go where the fire is. It happens on our shows sometimes, too. Somebody will get in trouble and they’ll need help to finish a scene or create a sequence, and others lend a hand as time allows. But the structure is very different. As you said last time, 2199 had nine directors, but on Avengers I’m just one of two directors, so I had to do twelve episodes on the first season.

So you guys don’t really have any time, compared with Yamato.

Our job is to finish the storyboard and the designs and send all that to the animation studios in Korea. They work on it for a few months and send it back to us, then we go into post-production where we review their work and ask for corrections. Do you have the same process? Is your animation done here in Japan, or is it sent to other countries?

Coloring can be done in Korea or China, and in-betweens too.

So if you have retakes, it comes after they finish their work, right?

Yes, and we keep that part here.

Were there any episodes you wish you had worked on?

I finished my work on Resurrection after 2199 had started. When I was still on Resurrection, I told them I wanted in, and I guessed that by the time I was ready, they might be up to Episode 20 and I wanted to do that one. But when I came on board, they were still on Episode 1.

Well, that was good for you.

I really wanted to do Episode 20.

The big battle in the Rainbow Star Cluster.

Yes, yes! I really wanted to do it, but after I watched it I said, “I’m so glad I didn’t do it!” (Laughs) It was great, but at the same time it was a LOT of work.

It was the same for the original version. It took longer than any other episode and ate up more cels than any other, and it was a gigantic job. It was almost like making a movie.

On TV shows usually they have opening and ending titles, but it was too long. Anyway, when I got the script for Episode 19, I found out that they would sing the Garmillas national anthem, and I really wanted to do it, so I was glad to get that one.

That was the setup for Episode 20 with all the planes taking off and all the ships gathering together. That was probably a lot of fun to do, and it stops just before the big battle. So you got to do the easy part!

(Laughs) That’s right! I really liked the singing scene, and I did all the work to make sure they were actually singing, not just cycling the animation.

Usually when a character is singing you don’t have time to match all of the mouth movements, so they just open and close, and it looks wrong on the screen but you don’t have time to do more. If you somehow get the time for that, it’s much more realistic. On another topic, when I heard about the release schedule for the last two movies, everything was moved up so it would finish in theaters before the TV broadcast caught up.

Yes, exactly.

Prior to that the gap between movies was about three months, but suddenly it was squeezed down to two. I’m sure it was already very, very busy, but now everyone on the production staff had less time.

The broadcast day for the last episode was set, so we all knew it. The second-to-last episode (25) would be released [as part of Chapter 7] a couple of weeks before the broadcast and there wasn’t enough time to finish it.

When it was decided to speed up the movies, what was the reaction on the staff side?

The biggest problem was that the director’s storyboard for Episode 20 was late. Everyone was ready and waiting, but he was late. And when he finally delivered, there was no time to react to anything, they just had to do it.

Well, I can tell you my reaction. When I heard about it, I said, “Oh, poor Habara-san…”

(Laughs) I never had to rush my episodes. I had just enough time. On other episodes they wanted to do things, but when the storyboard was late they couldn’t. With 9 and 19, everything was set. So I felt bad for them.

(At this point we took a break to watch excerpts from some Avengers animatics.)

Even though I’m watching a storyboard, it feels like watching a film!

We’re trying to imitate the look of the Avengers movie. The same style of filmmaking. So I always try to make it look BIG. Like something you’d see on a big movie screen.

The layout looks like film. Like a wide-screen film.

I also got to work on the last episode, and that was another big one. It’s always fun to work on the last episode of a season, because that’s the big finish. I like it a lot. It would be a better job if I worked on Yamato, but I don’t live here!


(Next we watched Episode 9 of 2199 for commentary.)

The storybook was drawn by Takuji Kusanagi. He drew single images and we treated them with effects to give the impression of motion. The title of the book is The Heart of Agent 9. I originally wanted to use the number 99, but if we did that it might have created a conflict with Leiji Matsumoto. Everyone feels that “99” is his image. For example, the first name for Analyzer was to be AU-99, but we changed it to 09.

Do you know the name of Analyzer in Star Blazers? IQ-9.


So when I first saw AU-09, I thought it was an imitation of IQ-9. It’s an interesting coincidence.

We didn’t have to use many cels on this episode. With most Yamato episodes there were 6,000 to 8,000, but this one was only about 3,500, so it was very reasonable. There aren’t a lot of scenes with motion, so we didn’t need as much. We didn’t want the animation to be distracting.

We have the same economy on our shows too. We need cheap scenes to pay for the expensive ones.

We used 3DCG for Analyzer when he turns around. It’s cheaper than drawing. Alter is a machine and he doesn’t have any expressions, so we used lighting to suggest his moods, sad or cheerful.

I’m curious about this image of the first bridge. Was it used throughout the series, or were there more than one?

It’s always the same. We just add the characters.

Was it painted by hand, or is it digital?


Then everything is on a layer, and you place a character behind a chair?


Did a lot of the backgrounds of the bridge get reused from episode to episode?

Yes. The entire bridge was built in 3D, so we can change the camera angle as needed. We record it and print it out, then just add the characters.

So you never had to draw the bridge again. It’s all done for you. I bet they wish they had that in 1974.

(Laughs) Yes!

Every background was drawn by hand, and it always looked different.

Right! But I think that’s good sometimes.

Were the characters in the storybook designed by Nobuteru Yuuki?

No, they were all designed by Mr. Kusanagi. When this episode was released, we thought a real version of the book would be published, but there wasn’t enough time. Maybe it can be done in the future. There was another story in the storybook that we didn’t use in the episode. Mr. Kusanagi is working on it, but he’s not done yet.

I was very careful with Analyzer. I wanted to show him in a cute way, scratching his head like a person and such.

There was a plan to sell the playing cards, too, but maybe they’ll do it later. [Note: a limited-edition set was released with the Chapter 4 theater goods.]

There are already a lot of products for 2199, but many more still to do.

Yamato 2199 is an unusual anime. The people who come to watch it are in their 40s and 50s and they have money, so they buy a lot. Whenever I see something from Yamato, I want to buy it. You too, right?

I don’t get everything, but I get the stuff that looks good to me.

By the time I get to the end of making an episode, I never want to look at it again. Is it the same for you?

(Laughs) Yep. I only watch it until it’s finished.

And whenever I look at a finished episode, all I can see are the mistakes.

Right, right, me too. It’s the same worldwide.

This angle with Analyzer looking up makes him look sad. And I used shadows a lot.

In this series, does Sanada have mechanical arms and legs? We never saw them, so I don’t know if they’re there or not.

We never did anything with them. It just never came up.

This is one of my favorite scenes for light and shadow.

We’re looking at a scene where they just passed the image of a lighthouse.

The lighthouse isn’t the same as the one in the storybook, but it’s a parallel. This scene is very dark, so my thought is that they save power on the ship by turning some lights off.

They’re heading toward their hope, or their dream in this scene. Sanada asks Analyzer what his relationship is with Alter, and Analyzer says they’re friends. That’s why the elevator starts out dark, and when it opens it’s really light.

They’re moving into a world of hope.

Right. Here they’re getting ready to shoot Alter, but they don’t want to. He’s running away into hiding.

I’m curious about this. We see Alter running on his hands and feet like a spider. It reminds me of the Gamiloid in the live-action movie [below right]. It runs like a spider, too.

Oh, I didn’t think about that.

How was the live-action movie received by the staff? Did they like it?

It’s not my favorite, but I didn’t hate it. It didn’t have much impact on us.

In the script, the locations inside the ship were not specified, so I decided on them when I worked on the storyboard. The room Alter goes into has a red gate, and the inside of the room is blue. Sometimes viewers can’t tell if we’re inside a certain room or not. That’s why the room is blue and the gate is red.

Of the new characters in the series, were there any that you really liked to animate?

I liked Alter, but my overall favorite is Yuki. Of course.

So now we’re on the deck of Yamato, outside.

I wanted to keep the red sun hidden until Alter and Analyzer get closer. But before the film was released, it was shown in the trailer, so I was disappointed by that.

Was that inspired by The New Voyage? The last scene with Kodai and Dessler against the red sun?

Oh, I didn’t think about that!

In the end here, Analyzer looks at the pictures of a dog and a cat, and remembers Alter.

Is Analyzer meant to be the dog, and Alter the cat?

No, they’re not meant to be symbolic.

(The episode ends)

What was your first reaction to the script when you got it?

The story is about a friendship between robots, so I thought about how I could express that. That was the hard part.

Did you have any part in the writing of the script?

No, I didn’t.

I heard that the scripts were written long before the animation started. Is that true?

When I started on episode 9, I think the script was done.

Were scripts changed or modified as time went on?

Yes. I made some small changes in both of my scripts, but I don’t remember where I changed them.

I have to do the same thing. Sometimes I’ll get a script and find that part of it can’t be visualized very easily, so I’ll make changes.

Of course, it’s the same for me. Sometimes when we get to the animation we need more dialogue, so I’ll add it.

Do you watch the series on TV every week?

No, I work on Sundays. No time.

(Episode 19 starts)

This was a big mecha episode, so you must have really enjoyed that part. Do you have a favorite mecha here?

Yes! The drill missile! It doesn’t show up for long, but it’s my favorite.

And you got to show Dessler.

The voice actors on the Garmillas side are really good, so I really enjoyed that.

They’re all veterans. And the voice actor for Dessler (Koichi Yamadera) also played Kodai in Resurrection. He was the only one to play both characters.

He also did both Captain Harlock and Tochiro in an OAV series. I forgot the title, but the character design was by Nobuteru Yuuki.

For this scene we didn’t have any backgrounds, so I made them up.

You designed this little room?

I designed it in the storyboard, and others finished it.

So it was like in Episode 9, when you got to decide the location.

Yes. Like that.

For this scene of Shinohara and Yamamoto, we see Shinohara’s soft side. He has Asian-style eyes that go up and I couldn’t change the design, so instead I chose a camera angle to emphasize his soft side. I used an angle to make them go down instead of up.

This is my favorite scene.

Oh, all the carriers landing.


Did you do all the storyboards yourself?

These scenes were storyboarded by Director Izubuchi. He really knows how to show off the mecha.

What storyboards did you do?

I basically did them all except for the mecha parts, and Director Izubuchi would revise them. In the storyboards I gave you, you can see some ideas that weren’t used.

What a surprise to see Frakken in 2199!

Yes, he came from Yamato III.

Before chapter 6 came out, the first half of this episode was released as an online preview. So all the American fans got to see it. We were amazed by how good it was. The anthem-singing scene in particular really stood out.

I’m really glad! It was very important to me. I put all my energy into it.

Even on Youtube, we can see the passion.

(Laughs) It seems like this machinery moving really fast, but with the sound it’s more realistic.

Animation looks very different when you turn the sound down. Whenever I work with a new person on my crew, I always tell them if you really want to see the style of Avengers, watch the movie with the sound off.

One of the big differences between American anime and Japanese anime is that in Japan the emphasis is on dialogue, and it’s all on the voice actors. In America your voice actors are good, but you guys are really good at drawing motion. I wish we did more of that.

I agree, I think the big difference is that American animation is more about movement and Japanese animation is more about style and design.

In this scene they’re just talking, so we’re saving money. This is Japanese style. (Laughs)

I use it as often as I can! The biggest struggle I have is when I finish a storyboard and give it to a timer, they’re always adding movement, and I have to pull them back.


It was the influence of Disney that made movement so important in American animation. Unfortunately, that makes it very expensive, too.

Even today, we have very tight budgets and we save money wherever we can. But with Yamato animation we use a larger number of cels, and that’s why it costs so much. They’re not actually making any money yet, just spending it.

They’ll make it back over time.

I work for Xebec, so I have to think about the company’s expenses. Usually I make animation that uses only a small number of cels but still has to look good.

Using economy is a great skill.

To be honest, I’d like to have more movement.

Do you also design screen graphics in your storyboard?

No, another company does that called Morita Graphic Design.

For a scene like the one we just saw with the cosmo radar, do you just put a note in the storyboard saying “show cosmo radar here,” and the other team makes up the graphic for it?

Yes, that’s right. When that one came back finished, it was way beyond what I had imagined.

At left: a scene from the trailer for Episode 19. Right: the finished version from the episode itself.

You were the first one to show the Rainbow Star Cluster. Was it very difficult to design?

Director Izubuchi designed everything.

Here’s a scene I have a question about. I’m sure you know that in the original when the planes took off, they dropped a bit and then came back up.

I drew it that way in the first storyboard, but Mr. Izubuchi said we’re not going to do this now. He wanted to save it for the heavier ships in the next episode. It’s logical, but I was really disappointed.

This rising-up scene was designed by Mr. Izubuchi to look exactly like the Macross opening. I didn’t really want to do it that way, but he insisted.

Was it a tribute?

I don’t know. (Laughs)

Okay, we just saw Yamato go into the storm.

This one is kind of hard to see, but it’s exactly the same as in the Yamato III opening when the ship pulls away. You should check it.

We’re seeing the scene now of the Cosmo Falcons launching from inside Yamato, and the whole interior is different from the old series. Was it difficult to choose a camera angle inside that space?

VERY difficult.

You also did the fighter launch scenes in Resurrection. Was there anything from that experience that helped you?

I think of Resurrection and 2199 very differently.

The two sequences have very similar energy, I’m just wondering if the one in Resurrection helped you to do this one.

Well, the launch scene in 2199 had already been made and I just reused it.

(Refers to Domel scene in storyboard)

When I drew this storyboard I was thinking about the original Rainbow Star Cluster episode. The camera was right up to Domel’s face, a tight close-up. I really wanted to do it here. The scene made it into the trailer for Chapter 6, but the director saw it there and decided it was too much. (Laughs)

(the episode ends)

So the next big question from everyone in America is what will come after 2199.

(Laughs) I can’t say anything! But there’s a hint at the end of the TV broadcast.

We won’t be able to see that in America.

If you search the internet after the last episode, you should find something. But it will be in Japanese.

Some secret message, huh?

The Japanese fans don’t know about it yet, but there will be something right after the TV show.

Teaser from the end of Episode 26: “Complete New Story – Theatrical Film – To be released 2014.”

What do you know about the missing scenes in Episode 25?

I haven’t seen them yet. I’ll be just as surprised as you.

I’m really looking forward to that because when I watched Chapter 7 in the theater this week, I kept in mind that it was the only time it would be new and fresh. We usually get that chance only once, but with Episode 25 we’ll get it twice. Right after that, though, all the fans will be hungry for something else new. We’ve all been spoiled, because there was no new Yamato for so long, and now there’s SO much new Yamato that we can’t get enough.


Even if a new one comes out next year, it’s still going to be a loooong wait.

(Laughs) And if it’s two years, that’s even longer.

What’s your new project? What are you working on now?

Fafner. The second series is coming out, and I’m the series director. I directed on the first series, too.

So now you are Izubuchi-san!

(Laughs) Izubuchi-san will be at the top again, and I’ll work under him. On Yamato I couldn’t do everything I wanted, but here I can.

When you finished Yamato, was it a relief or did you want to do more?

Most of the crew only worked on 2199, but I also worked on Resurrection, so I finished twice and I was exhausted!

And ready for something new?

That’s right. Makoto Kobayashi felt exactly the same.

Did Mr. Kobayashi also work on 2199?

He did most of the Garmillas backgrounds. In Episode 19, for example, he designed the landscape in the ship scenes.

You mean the landing area?

Yes. And the wall behind Dessler’s throne.

Oh, of course, that’s very much his design.

He’s a genius.

Well, when this conversation gets published on the website, it will be just before Chapter 7 comes out on video. Most American fans will not know anything about it when they read this. Is there anything special you’d like to tell them?

Everyone should agree that it’s the right ending to the story. I’m a big fan myself, and I think the American fans will feel exactly like I do. And I hope everyone likes Fafner! Thank you!

The End

Click here to see Mr. Habara’s unused storyboards from Episode 19

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