Director Conversation, March 2018

Nobuyoshi Habara (Yamato 2202) X You Moriyama (Megalobox)

Published by V-Storage online on March 30, 2018. See the original post here.

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Ashita no Joe [Tomorrow’s Joe], the new series Megalobox begins, which projects the legendary story of fighting spirit into a near-future society. How does Director You Moriyama appeal to new fans of a masterpiece from the 60s and 70s that can be called a Showa legand? Likewise, Director Nobuyoshi Habara makes Yamato 2202, based on Farewell to Yamato and Yamato 2. The inheritance of legends emerges with the enthusiasm to revive them!

Interview by anime researcher Ryusuke Hikawa

Rebuilding a legendary masterpiece into a new work

Interviewer: I’d like to ask you about the challenge you both have in common, reviving a famous work of the 70s. Mr. Moriyama first; please tell us your thoughts when you got the offer to make Megalobox.

Moriyama: I came on board as an animator and designer, and because the director was inexperienced my first impression was that it would be a difficult project. I wasn’t in the real-time generation for Ashita no Joe, but I followed it completely and of course it’s one of my favorite works, so it was easy to accept it despite being such a high hurdle. Also, as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the original series, it continues from the end of the original. The plan started with the feeling of it being a spinoff, like an extra episode. We tried depicting Toru Rikiishi’s past, but it didn’t go very well. This idea was dropped when it was obvious that things wouldn’t advance, so it became an original story in which “The stage is the near future.” It’s a crazy plan when I think of the original, but thanks to our interaction we could take a new direction and the project was restarted as Megalobox.


Nobuyoshi Habara

Interviewer: Mr. Habara, I heard that you didn’t feel like you would be the director of Yamato 2202 at the beginning.

Habara: Initially they didn’t have a writer, so I introduced them to Hideki Oka. Eventually, it became a joint screenplay with Harutoshi Fukui, and I got the offer to direct in the flow of that. Personally I was worried because it’s my favorite work above all others, so the chance to do it gave me a lot of uncertainty. I was previously involved with Resurrection and 2199 and I knew what a struggle it would be, but if I turned it down I’d regret it later, so I gave it my heart and soul. That was my feeling when I took it on.

Interviewer: The series is based on Farewell to Yamato (1978) and the TV series that diverged from it, Yamato 2. In terms of rebuilding it into a completely new work, there is a similarity to Megalobox, isn’t there?

Habara: That’s right, it’s definitely similar. The mission that was given to our team, including Mr. Fukui, was “make something that can be continued” and “make a new Yamato that continues from 2199.” So, while mixing elements of the original and adding new things, Mr. Fukui has created many concepts and stories.

Interviewer: I’d like to hear your impressions of each others’ work. First, Mr. Habara. How do you see Megalobox?

Habara: I’ve seen the first two episodes, and I became interested in how it would continue. I like Ashita no Joe 2very much, and I’ve watched it many times. I was surprised at how immersed I became in the new worldview of Megalobox. The standing of the characters is clearly understood, and they feel like the characters who appeared in Ashita no Joe. The balance was very good. The dark shades were also good, and the voices are a great match. It feels alive…

Moriyama: There is the feeling that the characters are elevated a step by the actors’ voices.

Interviewer: Mr. Moriyama, how do you see Yamato 2202?

Moriyama: I wasn’t in the generation directly hit by Yamato, but I came after. It was the opening [title] of Chapter 2 that made a great impression on me. Yamato‘s construction scene, and the meaning of rebuilding an old thing into a new one, was properly depicted. I think great care was taken in what could be added to the origin and what could be removed, and the construction scene was something we had never seen before. I think people would add something either way, but in a rich scene like that I felt that the world of Yamato has expanded widely. I was able to identify with it tremendously. I intended to say that right off the bat today.

Habara: Thank you very much. In fact, at the time of Resurrection, since it was a resurrection, I suggested to Yoshinobu Nishizaki that we should show the construction of Yamato, but it didn’t happen. This time I made it with Kia Asamiya to include the feeling of, “I want to see this in Yamato.”

Moriyama: It became modern and realistic with 2199. Since the impression has changed somewhat from the old days, that opening came naturally, didn’t it?

Habara: In fact, the form of the 1974 Yamato and the Yamato from Farewell were a little different. It was just a difference that came from it being drawn by hand. But now Yamato has become CG, so in consultation with Mr. Tamamori on the mecha design, I wanted to establish the different forms in an orthodox way and express it in the CG model. For that reason, it also gives a meaning to it being renovated even in the story.

Elements that are especially important in the original

Interviewer: When you rebuild an original work, what sort of things pull at you?

Moriyama: Since this became original in a way, I was allowed to do it freely without worrying so much about its relationship to the original. However, since the story draws on the human side of Ashita no Joe, I look back at the original and pay attention to language use and relationships, and that became a basis that we all share in the writing of scripts. So the reference point for the “Ashita no Joe 50th anniversary series project” is the original manga. But we can’t forget the anime version either, so that definitely comes into it. Especially in the mental structure of the hero of Megalobox. I feel that he’s like a version of Toru Rikiishi from Joe 2, who died and came back from a journey. By advancing the story from there with an uncertain viewpoint, I thought we could create a new hero image.

Habara: Through the words and the reaction to language, it felt like, “Oh, this is Joe” at the core.

Interviewer: What was Ashita no Joe to you, Mr. Habara?

Habara: Honestly, I have no memory of the first TV series, but I was a high school student for Joe 2, so I was completely absorbed by it. For animators in our generation, I think it can certainly be said that this was a work that influenced us in some way. Even while I’m directing, if I have someone cast their eyes down when they talk, that person’s life and death feel very real. The really exciting part in Megalobox is how that will be reflected.

Interviewer: What parts were important in reorganizing Yamato?

Habara: In the case of 2202, the many differences between Farewell and Yamato 2 were the hard parts with abundant choices. But what’s important to me above all is the characters’ emotions. In Yamato the main character wavers considerably. It sounds like you’re saying something completely different depending on the episode, but that’s part of its appeal, too. How to build them up while keeping that subtle balance. It’s very difficult. I think that’s another feature of 2202.

Interviewer: What’s the most important thing to you?


You Moriyama

Habara: In the end, I’m still very careful with the position of the camera. The standard practice is to change the height of the camera with the flow of emotions. I’m always thinking about that because there’s the possibility of losing something and you have to decide what to put into that flow.

Moriyama: I think the story of Ashita no Joe will definitely be fascinating to young people who see it today. The thoughts and actions of Joe Yabuki, Toru Rikiishi, and Danpei Tange are unique to their time and symbolize that era greatly. I wanted to preserve that feeling. Megalobox depicts the near future with a famous story of the past as its starting point. I consciously made it to strongly be “a story of the present day.” At first glance, characters appear who are similar to the original, but depending on their personality and behavior, I think we’re making them reflect modern sensibilities.

Habara: It’s interesting that there are also characters who have changed drastically, but their standing in that world is quite convincing. So I’m very intrigued by what’s going to happen.

Moriyama: We’re showing it to present day people, but I’m not overly conscious of, “Let’s make things that they think are interesting!” Our motivations are pure. It’s being made by a small team, and because we have a lot in common in terms of our hobbies and favorite movies, we trust in each other. In that case, when we agree that our first impression of a character seems to be cool, it’s good that we can concentrate steadily on increasing that quality.

Habara: As the director of Yamato this time, I borrow the power of veterans as much as possible, and I’m trying to become a coordinator. Our work site is a hot spot, so there are likely to be clashes at the script stage fairly often. But everyone is an adult, so I can withdraw to some extent, and since I make the visuals my priority I get consensus by saying, “This is a better way.”

Moriyama: Presumably, everyone has their own “Yamato view.”

Habara: That’s right. But it’s a good thing to have that kind of tension, and it should have a good effect on the work. By the way, do you have anyone on the staff of Megalobox from the real-time Joe generation?

Moriyama: Yes. Manabe Katsuhiko, our scriptwriter, has particularly strong “Joe love.” And some of the veterans in charge of key animation come from the real-time generation. Jiro Kono, our art director, also worked for [original Joe director] Osamu Dezaki.

Approaching the original through the use of music and the expression of lines

Interviewer: Touching on the originals again, have you made any rediscoveries?

Moriyama: I wanted to rearrange the slum streets in the near-future cityscape, so I carefully read the original again and felt that the depth was amazing. It’s just a trivial depiction, but I felt that the townspeople were full of life. That town seems truly real, and its residents are alive.

Habara: I thought again about the use of music in Yamato. I look back at it constantly, and after making it ourselves it is completely different from other anime. It’s something like “music anime.” We take great care with the spots between where the music enters. I also dare to leave parts in that I would cut if I were editing it normally. Conversely, I stretch them out to accommodate music. The viewers have perceived that too, and I’m glad that they accept it.

Moriyama: I get the music for Megalobox from Mr. Mabanua. The Ashita no Joe anime is a strong musical influence, such as blues and folk. I think there are people who naturally memorize the images by uniting them with music, so I want music in Megalobox that will remain linked to the memory of the visuals. When I imagined a slum town of the near future, I thought it would certainly flow with hip hop and black music, so I asked Mabanua for that.

Habara: I envy you when I see lines on the characters that look like machine tracing. It has that rough feeling with carbon and bubbles and little holes. The hot parts of Ashita no Joe were loaded with that. Like the places where the ink line gets really thick. I was delighted to see that enthusiasm come through.

(Translator’s note: Mr. Habara is referring to a method used to speed up anime in the 60s and 70s in which pencil drawings were transferred to cells by mechanical means, which created many unintended artifacts such as imperfections in the line work. Over time, it became an indelible part of 1970s anime.)

Moriyama: After a line is drawn thickly and firmly by hand, I apply a photographic process. When it goes well it makes the coolest cell-style visual, doesn’t it? From the start of planning, I imagined that flowing through the work on TV, where no clean, modern image would appear at all. I entered the anime industry during the cell era, and I love those visuals. That’s why we bring the lines close to that old style, and we damage the pictures with photography. However, it’s not easy on the eyes just to put particles on them, so we shrink them a bit and then enlarge them again to give it a film-like feeling.

Habara: I’m also conscious of film characteristics in 2202. In the analog days, there could be errors in the perforation (feed holes in the film) that caused shaking. A digital freeze stops perfectly, so I put in a slight waver.

Even when depicting classic human drama, the approach is different

Interviewer: Could you give me a few more impressions from seeing each others’ works?

Habara: I love the dark world feeling of Megalobox, and I enjoy it very much. Since the quality is high, I’m a little worried that it will be hard to maintain when it gets difficult.

Moriyama: Although 2202 is an ensemble drama, each character has their own individuality, and I feel that a lot of care was taken with the focus on each one. This is a story that runs counter to the hero-centered “solitary life.” Even though it depicts the same human drama as the theme of the original works, it feels quite different. The difficulty of being together in a group is carefully depicted in 2202, and it’s very compelling. I couldn’t do that.

Habara: The group drama is the part that Mr. Fukui writes in detail.

Moriyama: This is a very personal question, but when you depict a war story are you conscious of real social problems?

Habara: Of course I am. I’m careful not to put too much of my own thoughts into it. Since I inherited the work called Space Battleship Yamato, it’s important to pass it on, and it would change the purpose to put in too many of my own thoughts about war. I’m from Hiroshima, and I think we have strong feelings about peace. It’s not good to go too far, so I’m careful to be devoted to entertainment.

Moriyama: It’s a very difficult part, isn’t it? In the modern world, the use of weapons and the attitudes toward fighting are different than they once were. It makes me think.

Habara: The people who made the first Yamato were from the generation that experienced war. I often think about how those of us making it now can’t possibly match that. Yutaka Izubuchi had a great idea when he put a cap on the Wave-Motion Gun in 2199. To return it to entertainment, the Wave Gun was revived.

Interviewer: As an aside, what would you do if you were directing Space Battleship Yamato, Mr. Moriyama?

Moriyama: I’m sure it would be a lot harder than Joe. Because Megalobox is a story that depicts an individual, I think various feelings can be included, but Yamato isn’t like that. “Depicting a group” would be very hard for me.

Interviewer: You do a lot of SF settings, don’t you? What about that point?

Moriyama: Actually, I’m not good at SF.

Habara: Really? You’re good at gears and other ideas, but not at SF?

Moriyama: I love things like that, but I’m not good at drawing huge things. At most, I go to the car level. In Yamato, there are a lot of huge impossible things flying around, aren’t there? That makes me think the degree of design difficulty is quite high.

Interviewer: On the other hand, what would you do with Ashita no Joe, Mr. Habara?

Habara: I could never come up with the gear ideas. It’s a great invention. It’s great that the rival characters are the people who can use the latest thing. It’s possible to make it into an ensemble drama, so I might try that. People connect with other people and something changes. I think those sorts of relationships are interesting.

Moriyama: I think there are many ways to approach it. Personally, I think this is the correct answer to Megalobox, but I don’t know if I truly understand it.

Interviewer: Finally, I’d like to know if you have any salutes or messages to each other.

Habara: I can’t help being fascinated by Megalobox, and I look forward to more of it. As a lover of Ashita no Joe, I thought that worldview was cool, and I think this new work is quite good. Anyway, it understands the positions and feelings of people like Joe and Rikiishi really well. Because it’s depicted as lovingly as the original, I welcome it. It’s a film with a lot of love in it, so I look forward to it through the end.

Moriyama: I’ve also been enjoying Yamato 2202 very much. Again, I love how music and visuals are connected as I said before. Because it has so many elements that can be enjoyed again, I’ll watch it many times and pay attention to the music. Music has a lot of power in that work, like the pipe organ. I think it’s wonderful.


You Moriyama Profile

Born in 1978. His credits include visual concepts for Attack on Titan, Lupin III: Jigen’s Gravestone, and Lupin III: Blood Spray of Ishikawa Goemon. Concept art and design for Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. His unique visual sensibilities are on full display in Megalobox.

Read more in his Anime News Network profile here.

Nobuyoshi Habara Profile

Born 1963 in Hiroshima Prefecture. Director. Participated in Yamato Resurrection as a mechanic director, and as an animation director on the Director’s Cut version. In the subsequent Yamato 2199, he took charge of directing and storyboarding for episodes 9 and 19. He is the series director for the latest work, Yamato 2202.

Read more in his Anime News Network profile here.

Read more about Ashita no Joe here.

See Anime News Network’s entry on Megalobox here.

Read a review of Megalobox on Crunchyroll here.

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