Interview with Character Designer Nobuteru Yuuki

An interview from the program book for Yamato 2199 Chapter 2

I think the opportunity with 2199 is to increase the younger generation of Yamato fans

Interviewer: Please tell us how you encountered the original work.

Yuuki: I watched the first TV series in real time. I started watching with the launch of Yamato, so I think it was Episode 2 or 3. I caught it when the first Yamato was an adventure. It was said that human beings set out into unknown space with last-minute equipment. Besides, the equipment itself was a mystery because the engine came from unknown aliens.

I liked the sense of serenity that was presented for outer space, and above all I was attracted by the SF characteristics. For example, the work had such things as the relationship between Iscandar and Gamilas, somewhere out in space! I was surprised by that part. Up until then, there hadn’t been an SF sprinkled with the spice of such realistic concepts.

Interviewer: What were the circumstances for you to get involved with Yamato 2199, the remake of the original work?

Yuuki: There was talk of it when I was working on Toward the Terra [TV series], but I turned it down for various reasons. It was in a state where a director had not yet been decided, so I recommended Mr. Izubuchi. I knew that he could direct from his work on Patlabor, so I asked, “can we make this happen?” since he and I had worked out the details of planning a project before.

Therefore, when I heard about Yamato, Mr. Izubuchi’s name came up at the very beginning. When it was decided he would be the director, he said “Yuuki has to do the characters,” so I started to participate.

Interviewer: In terms of character design, what are the points that you pay particular attention to?

Yuuki: Until now, teenagers didn’t know about Yamato, so the original plan for the Yamato 2199 TV series was to get fans in their twenties to see it. Initially we were going to go with realistic characters based on the initial draft, but would that kind of design be acceptable to them? At the time of the original work, the individuality of each animator was pushed to the forefront and not everybody had to draw the same way, but that is not the case now.

Instead, the characters were reduced to simple lines and we adopted the mainstream methodology of showing their individuality by decorating them with fashion and hairstyles. We could have drawn them like the thick-lined designs used before, but unfortunately today’s fans would reject them without so much as a glance. I wanted to avoid that.

Since Mr. Izubuchi didn’t want that, it was difficult to reconcile those two approaches and have “conformity” with the original. Even I cherish the image of the previous work, but regardless of my feelings that’s not the principle objective of this one. Yamato Resurrection, which was released in 2009, is a work for fans who have seen Yamato. As much as I think those characters were good for that, they wouldn’t be right for Yamato 2199. That’s the difference in our approach.

As a matter of fact, I was called upon by Yoshinobu Nishizaki to do some character designs for Resurrection. I had done video package illustration for Yamato 2 before [shown above], and because he liked it, I received several invitations to participate in planning for new projects after Final Yamato, like “Great Space Emperor Dessler.” [Translator’s note: Mr. Yuuki is referring to the aborted Dessler’s War story; read all about it here.]

Actually, at that time I said, “I want to do a remake of Part 1.” But it didn’t come to pass. I was asked to work on Resurrection because of that relationship.

Interviewer: I didn’t know about that connection to Resurrection.

Yuuki: While working on Resurrection, there was one thing I wanted to try.

The characters were clearly different from the original work. For example, when Kodai and Yuki appeared together on screen in the old days, they were able to accommodate ad-libs in every shot. But no animation staff is comparable to that now, and CG is also involved, so I adjusted the head-to-body-length proportions of the male characters with the female characters, so they wouldn’t look weird when they were all lined up next to each other.

As a result, they looked more slender. CLAMP [studio], for example, draws their characters extremely tall and slender, but since they’re able to make them move properly I was convinced that this would be all right. However, Mr. Nishizaki said, “it’s impossible to depict a human drama with this kind of body,” so my design was not adopted after all. At that time, Mr. Izubuchi liked the characters I drew, so the designs in 2199 partially make use of them.

Interviewer: I’d like to hear a point about each character, starting with the main characters from the original work.

Yuuki: In a way, Okita was a character who was completed in the original work, so he has hardly changed this time. I tentatively tried adding skin color to his lips, but Mr. Izubuchi said “I want to keep the image of the original after all,” so I had to keep it as is.

Interviewer: Kodai has gotten a considerable renewal.

Yuuki: Kodai’s character and personality has changed a little this time, but I wasn’t concerned much with that. I was careful to give him a “refreshing” appearance. The eyes of the fans will concentrate around the hero, because that character influences the image of the work.

Shima has changed a lot compared to Kodai, because of a request from Mr. Izubuchi that said, “I want him to be a bit prettier.” The pose on the model sheet is the same as the original work so you could understand the change at first sight…so for that reason, please think of it as an homage. (Laughs)

Much as I said before, about how I changed the male characters’ proportions in Resurrection so they wouldn’t look strange next to the very tall and thin female characters, Yuki became the standard to choose a balance this time. It is not an exaggeration to say that I decided all the proportions around Yuki. (Laughs)

Sanada’s hairstyle has changed a little. It was certainly seen as a crew cut in the original, but this time I thought it wouldn’t fit with such an intellectual character and crew. But I don’t think such people take a lot of time with their appearance and usually put in only minimal effort, so I went for a feeling without much waste. I temporarily tried out a fashionable mustache on him, but Mr. Izubuchi said, “that’s not Sanada!” and rejected it. (Laughs) I reluctantly lengthened his sideburns a little.

I didn’t think I would try to change Dr. Sado, so from the start I drew him as he was in the original, then I was surprised when Mr. Izubuchi asked, “what should we do? How can we make him match the look of the other characters?” When I said I could improvise him to look a little more real, he said “that might be good.” So I was surprised twice. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Dessler finally appears at the end of Chapter 2, and his image is quite young.

Yuuki: He is younger compared to the original, and my suggestion for this part may have influenced it. I didn’t know how old the previous Dessler was, but I personally felt that he seemed a little old to be considered a rival to Kodai. We also wanted to design him after the image of a Roman Emperor this time, so that’s the reason we decided to make him younger.

I don’t know if Dessler built the Gamilas Empire in his lifetime or if he inherited the position of Emperor through his heredity, but in any case, since I couldn’t make him without him being an ingenious schemer, I also wanted to give him a callous shrewdness with the charisma of a young Nero or Commodus.

Interviewer: Which character was most difficult for you?

Yuuki: It was Starsha. I couldn’t change her, because I thought she would become a different character if I did. We had to clear that hurdle. When you mention Starsha, you have the fantastic image of her floating in space, not an ordinary human so to speak. I was at a loss for what I should do this time. I guess when I consider people in the distant future, I end up revering them as our descendants.

I got the impression that Starsha best exists on image boards, and that she really shouldn’t be mixed in with the rest of these characters. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Comparing the new characters with those from the original, I would think there would be no constraints. Where you able to design them freely?

Yuuki: Because there are so many new female crew members, I absolutely intended to make them as pretty as possible. I’d say the nurse Makoto Harada is the typical model. If she were to have one characteristic, it would be her “idiot hair,” which Mr. Izubuchi objected to at first. (Laughs)

I basically said, “We need this to give the design a youthful look, right?” And then Shigeru Morita, the script writer, backed me up by saying “We need to have it like this these days!” As a result, Izubuchi was overruled two-to-one somehow. (Laughs)

I took the “idiot hair” as a sign to adopt a modern mood for the twin-tail hair of Yuria Misaki. As a matter of fact, I first thought about trying to use that for an enemy character, but her position as an “apprentice technician” was what lead to her twin-tail style.

In contrast with these two, I thought “glasses” and “auntie” would be the keywords for Niimi. The image was Ms. Rottenmeier from Girl of the Alps Heidi. (Laughs) But Mr. Izubuchi was reluctant to “make a main character an auntie,” so I argued, “we need a veteran among the women,” so only her glasses survived as a result. As for her costume color, I thought “she should be blue since she’s a technology officer, but would blue be too stark?” But it worked surprisingly well when I tried it.

Yamamoto was born from a slightly complicated process. In the beginning the intention was for her to be a male character as in the original, but Kodai and others did the same thing as he, so I felt he was somewhat weak as a character. So, since Kato is a vigorous character with a shaved head, I thought I would give Yamamoto long hair for contrast. So, yes, Shinohara was originally meant to be Yamamoto. Then Mr. Izubuchi suddenly said “I’ve decided to make Yamamoto a woman,” and my first thought was, “why?” (Laughs) In fact, at the time I was working on a design for Miharu Sasaki, the female pilot from Yamato Resurrection, so that became Yamamoto.

Interviewer: In addition to what you’ve talked about, it’s a pleasure to see what kind of new characters appear on both the Yamato and Gamilas sides.

Yuuki: From the point of view of present-day anime fans, Yamato may look like a stone that has gathered moss, and needs a change. But I want to demonstrate that a stone can shine if you polish it. And Mr. Izubuchi also persuaded us that the only people who could do that were people like us, who’d grown up watching Yamato. It kind of embarrasses me to have stuff like that said about me, though.

When I worked on Toward the Terra, I remember being surprised that it rejuvenated my fannish nature. In the same way, I hope that Yamato will spread through the young generation of fans. Those who were fans of the original might feel a sense of incongruity toward these characters. But because I’m a fan of the original, I intend to honor the roots, so I hope you will watch it with warm eyes. The original purpose of Yamato 2199 is to attract younger fans and pass along the spirit of this story ten and twenty years from now. In that way, I hope that you will take the long view.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

Read our own interview with Mr. Yuuki here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *