Ultimate Mark

Production Reference:
Gundam F91 4K Remaster Box
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Translator's Note: The following interviews with Gundam F91 character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and animation director Shukou Murase appeared in the booklet from the Mobile Suit Gundam F91 4K Remaster Box released in 2018.

CHARACTER DESIGN
YOSHIKAZU YASUHIKO INTERVIEW

"I thought that if Yoshiyuki Tomino were making a theatrical work, then I wanted to see it."

—You began working on Gundam F91 around the autumn of 1989, right?

Yasuhiko: In terms of work, I decided to retire from anime jobs after the release of the animated Venus Wars in March 1989. It was at exactly that point in time.

—So that means it was effectively your final anime job?

Yasuhiko: I believed my anime work had completely ended with Venus Wars, and so during Gundam F91 I didn't think of myself as doing an anime job. But character design is an anime job, so when you point that out, I suppose I was doing one.

—How did it come about that you were commissioned to work on Gundam F91?

Yasuhiko: I did the character design for Mobile Suit Z Gundam, and for some time after that they kept asking me, "Would you like to participate in a Gundam sequel?" Just when I thought there wouldn't be any more such invitations, the topic of Gundam F91 came up. Initially, I think I said I wasn't interested.

—Then why did you end up accepting the job?

Yasuhiko: The reason I wasn't interested was that my impression of working on Z Gundam was so bad. On Z Gundam, I did the job with the sense that I was supposed to simply draw the characters without having a single meeting, and that way of working didn't make any sense to me. So I replied, "If I'm doing this job, it would be better if we had a proper meeting." As a result, we ended up discussing where I could meet with Mr. Yoshiyuki Tomino.

I gathered with Mr. Tomino, Mr. Kunio Okawara, and Sunrise president Eiji Yamaura in a conference room at the current Sunrise main office, and we held a meeting just as promised. I recall that was when I heard Mr. Tomino say, "The theme of Gundam F91 is family." I remember that we weren't really able to have a proper conversation, but it still felt better than working on Z Gundam, where we couldn't have any meetings at all. Since we had that meeting, maybe that was also when I received the character (design) orders.

—It seems you had a few back-and-forth exchanges about revisions of the character designs. Do you remember any of the details?

Yasuhiko: I don't remember anything about that. But reading this account (in a Gundam F91 mook published at the time), it seems we certainly did have a few exchanges. (1)

—What was your impression when you heard that they were beginning a new Gundam with Gundam F91?

Yasuhiko: I thought it was good that it would be completely new. At the time, I felt that the world extended from First Gundam had already reached its limit. I happened to see some of Gundam ZZ on television, and it felt like they'd pretty much broken that world. "So this is how it's ended up," I thought. In that sense, I thought they'd already come to the limit, and when I heard "We're doing a new Gundam," my reaction was that was the best way.

—Is there anything that left a particular impression from your work on Gundam F91?

Yasuhiko: I remember being preoccupied with the normal suit helmets. Up until then, when we were depicting characters wearing normal suits, they'd have to either open the visor section to show their face while still wearing the helmet, or take off the helmet and hold it. In practice, having them take off the helmet was really annoying when it came to staging, since they had to either hold it their hands or put it down. But if the entire top part of the helmet opened and moved backward, it would make for a compact and interesting design, and we could also stage things so as to show their faces. I remember wondering whether we could create a design like that.

In First Gundam, the normal suits fit too closely to the body, and there were also questions like where the oxygen supply came from. I remember I wanted to fix those things as well.

—Looking at them, you get the impression of the pressure suits worn by Russian fighter pilots.

Yasuhiko: I drew them thinking that sort of image would be good. I don't remember any other difficulties with the character design. When I was drawing for Z Gundam, there were normal suits with a relatively loose-fitting appearance, but when you go in that direction you lose the shape of the body, so I didn't want to go too far that way. You can see the body lines, and it feels like the oxygen supply tubes are spreading out over that.

—Looking at the rough drafts, it seems that Director Tomino was quite particular about the heroine Cecily, and there were several rounds of back-and-forth exchanges. Do you remember anything about that?

Yasuhiko: I really don't recall what aspects led to them being rejected. But looking at them again like this, it's clear it had something to do with the character faces I was drawing at the time. My drawing style is always changing, but her face at that point was the kind of face I drew when I began to specialize in manga.

—Do you remember anything about the orders from Director Tomino?

Yasuhiko: All I remember is the introductory meeting, and I think we didn't have many other face-to-face meetings involving direct exchanges such as, "Something more like this."

—When you drew the roughs and passed them on to Director Tomino, there would have been a back-and-forth exchange including his instructions for revisions, right?

Yasuhiko: There probably was. I don't remember the details of the setting for Gundam F91, but the story took place after the Principality of Zeon, didn't it? At the time, I remember thinking that they were like orders for "another Gundam" with no relation to the so-called previous history. It was clear that it didn't need any relationship to the previous works, so it wasn't really a hard thing to do.

—So, since it was a new work that was a complete reset, you could work freely?

Yasuhiko: When the world is a continuation of a previous work, you're sometimes asked to make adjustments like, "the design should be adapted about this much." But even Iron Mask was a whole different character from Char, so I feel I didn't have any trouble with parts like, "it won't work if we do this."

—To what extent had the image of the story been determined at the stage when you received the orders?

Yasuhiko: Based on the process used at the time, the setting had been roughly decided, but the screenplay wouldn't have been finished yet. Since it was "another Gundam world" I wasn't worried, but I felt I didn't really understand what kind of world it was going to be. As far as the world view, I recall being told that the keyword was "family." I distinctly remember Mr. Tomino saying, "It's family from now on!"

This emphasis on family and blood relationships, with a focus on "aristocracy," was something I thought hadn't been discussed in previous Gundam works. Instead of depicting the somewhat vague concepts of Newtypes and Oldtypes, we were bringing in the subject of "aristocracy." My lasting impression was, "we're talking about family = aristocracy."

After this, Hollywood movies started coming out that looked at family relationships and said, "even with this..." (2) So perhaps Mr. Tomino was demonstrating foresight by choosing "family" as a theme.

—In Gundam works, becoming a Newtype tends to go in the direction of them being the chosen people. So this feels like a new point of view is being introduced.

Yasuhiko: In that respect it seems like a change of subject, doesn't it? So in that sense as well, it felt like we were chopping off the tail of previous Gundams, or at least putting it aside.

—Was your commission for Gundam F91 always for a theatrical work?

Yasuhiko: I think it was commissioned as a theatrical work. But because they'd gone to the trouble of creating all that setting, if it were reasonably successful, I think they intended to make a continuation from there. By the way, wasn't Gundam F91 the first completely new theatrical work created by Mr. Tomino?

—Well, there was Char's Counterattack before that.

Yasuhiko: I'd previously been asked several times to help make a Gundam work, and I think Char's Counterattack was one of those occasions. But thinking back on it while we're talking, completely regardless of whether or not it was a Gundam work, I thought that if Mr. Tomino were making a theatrical film, then I wanted to see it.

I'd always felt that way, so when I head that Gundam F91 would be created from scratch, I thought that I might participate with some conditions attached. That said, I didn't intend to work on site as part of the staff, but it would be fine to assist as a character designer. So if they'd said from the beginning that it was a TV series, I might have declined.

I don't know the situation with Char's Counterattack, but I felt strongly that, as a company, Sunrise should try making full-length features. They've really mastered it now, haven't they?

—You missed out on that kind of opportunity, didn't you?

Yasuhiko: In the 1980s, Hideaki Anno and Katsuhiro Otomo started making animation, and Miyazaki anime became the national anime. Seeing that situation, I thought "there's no place for me," and retired from anime. But Mr. Tomino was different. If he were making a full-length feature as Sunrise's ace even as these newcomers were appearing, then I felt I wanted to see it.

—And after that, you saw the movie in a preview screening, right?

Yasuhiko: I saw the preview. But I haven't rewatched it since then, and I don't recall how I felt at the time. Before I watched it, I remember reading the storyboards, since I had to design all the sub-characters. But just as always, with Tomino storyboards, you can't understand it very well just from reading the storyboards.

For example, if I designed someone thinking that they were a supporting character, they'd often end up being really important. It had been like that since the time of Mobile Suit Gundam, so I knew to expect it. It's not like they had labels on them saying, "This is a major character." And when he went from script to storyboards, he'd change the dialogue more than I would, so when I was designing characters I couldn't really rely on the script either.

—There are some surviving illustrations that give the impression they asked your opinion on the mecha design as well.

Yasuhiko: I didn't recall doing this, but I remember now I'm looking at it. the Gundam F91 has ducts like an air conditioner on its chest. I thought these ducts would make the animators cry. Nowadays they could render them digitally so it wouldn't be a problem, but at the time I thought, "How are they going to do this?" So I drew this to say, "Wouldn't it be easier to depict like this?" (3)

Ever since then, looking at it from the animator's side, there's been a sense that you have to draw what the designer designed. But when I was doing it, I simplified it. If I create a complicated design, I try to reduce the number of lines to make it easier to draw, but people don't do that anymore.

—How does it feel to look back on this now, after such a long time?

Yasuhiko: I only saw the movie once during the preview screening, so I don't have many sentimental feelings, and I have the strong impression I've forgotten a lot about it. But if you'll forgive me for digressing from Gundam F91, after this work I saw Mobile Suit Gundam 0083. This was after some time had passed, but when I watched it, I was really surprised. It amazed me that, even while we were creating Gundam F91 with its all its detailed setting, the same Sunrise company was also doing something like this. Though I didn't know it, it meant that the Sunrise of that time wasn't putting all its energies into creating Gundam F91.

It's difficult to compare them, but 0083 was good. As I was just saying, I thought it was hopeless to do a First-like Gundam, but they did it really well. Mr. Haruhiko Mikimoto and the others also made Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket. Dismissing these without seeing them, I thought that the ones made by Mr. Tomino were legitimate and the other Gundams were being made arbitrarily, so I didn't pay attention to them. But 0083's setting was extremely helpful when I was drawing Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin. It shows that First Gundam-like things weren't finished yet.

—Some people from the Venus Wars staff also participated in 0083, right?

Yasuhiko: Yes, Toshihiro Kawamoto and Hirotoshi Sano were involved. I thought they must have gotten really good to do a job like that.

—And because the OVA works were a hit, you could say they were also works from an era which was a turning point for the business.

Yasuhiko: Now that I rewatch the footage like this, there are some pretty good cuts, and it's not a work that cut any corners. (4) In that sense, I guess Sunrise had become the kind of big company that could create multiple works at the same time.

Translator's Notes

(1) This mook is probably Kodansha's "Mobile Suit Gundam F91 Perfect File," which reproduces multiple drafts of Yasuhiko's character designs.

(2) The Japanese phrase here, 「これでもか」, is hard to interpret without additional context. But I think it doesn't really matter.

(3) In Yasuhiko's sketch, the Gundam has covers that close over its chest ducts.

(4) It's not clear to me whether Yasuhiko is talking about Gundam F91 or one of the video series here. I suspect he may be reacting to F91 footage that the interviewer is showing him.

ANIMATION DIRECTOR
SHUKOU MURASE INTERVIEW

"It was a deeply memorable work that has influenced me ever since."

—How did you come to be involved with Gundam F91?

Murase: At the time, I was at Sunrise because I'd been working on the Yoroiden Samurai Troopers OVAs. I was stationed with a small team nicknamed "Studio Zero" that worked mainly on OVA titles. It was a sub-branch of Studio 2, and when it was decided that Studio 2 would be making Gundam F91, they approached me as a result. Rather than being selected as staff for a theatrical work, it felt like I was just being called in because I was related to Sunrise's Studio 2.

From that time on, Sunrise had a separate workspace for each studio, and the relationship between each producer and the staff of each studio was really important. So the demarcation between studios was very clear. Although Gundam F91 was a theatrical work, rather than mobilizing all the studios, it seemed like the studio responsible had to do it themselves.

—What did you think when you heard about it?

Murase: I'd previously had the opportunity to do in-betweening work on theatrical features for Madhouse and others, and I think from that experience I'd arrived at my own definitions for the level and quality of theatrical anime. For a cut with this kind of content, you'd need about this much time and this many sheets. I knew that from my working experience making things with a density different from a TV series. So essentially, I came to the studio with an eagerness to apply that sense to making a Gundam. But it seemed that Sunrise was merely thinking of producing something on the scale of an extension of a TV series.

—In that case, it seems like there was a slight difference in awareness.

Murase: That's right. When I initially met and talked with Mr. Tomino, and later when I first saw his finished storyboards, I felt eager to draw with the consciousness that it was a theatrical work. But the situation at the production site wasn't one that allowed me to apply that enthusiasm. And what's more, although the previous Char's Counterattack had inherited the TV series production team from Gundam ZZ, that progression was briefly interrupted after Char's Counterattack and the studio hadn't retained the production knowhow of the Tomino works. I think that was also a big factor.

—Until then, the theatrical features produced by Sunrise had used the so-called "trimmed Vista" format, in which they cut off the top and bottom of TV-size sheets. But with Gundam F91, the artwork was done at the proper VistaVision size. Did it feel like they were earnestly trying to grade up?

Murase: I think I was also involved when the choice of paper was made. Mr. Kazuki Akane, who worked on Gundam F91 as a unit director, had also been a production assistant on Char's Counterattack. From that point on, it seems he'd been feeling the limitations of trimmed Vista. At the time, they were using carbon paper to transfer the drawings to cels, but when there was a lot of fine detail drawing the lines were often faint or lost. So when they had to, they ended up drawing on large-format paper anyway. So his opinion was that it would be better to use the regular Vista size from the beginning. I'd been using Vista size on previous theatrical works, so I remember agreeing with him. In that sense, I feel it wasn't just the production side telling us to use Vista size, but the request of the staff as well.

—Was there anything you realized as a result?

Murase: Thinking back on it now, I think it might have been better to use trimmed Vista as the default, and then switch to Vista size when necessary. When you're usually working on TV series, and then the paper gets bigger, the density of the layouts tends to become diffuse due to sensory issues. In particular, when we were drawing close-ups of the characters, they invariably ended up looking featureless because the size was bigger than usual. (1) And the animators said their work was more difficult simply because of the size of the paper. In that case, I think drawing at the regular size might have improved the overall density of the linework.

—So you'd only use the Vista size for parts with detailed drawings, like mecha and crowd scenes.

Murase: That's right. Of course, there were those who wanted us to increase the density to match the larger paper. But it's not like the entire staff were working exclusively on theatrical titles, and they were responsible for other TV series as well. That being the case, I felt some parts I couldn't draw, particularly the in-betweening, tended to be very rough. (2) Naturally, I heard the unit costs also went up, and the finishing work was difficult as well.

—I guess that means you have to increase the precision of the checking. So a general theatrical release is going to involve a lot of work.

Murase: It would have been better if they'd gained experience with theatrical works, and accumulated that at the studio. But Sunrise had only made a handful of theatrical works, so neither the staff, the production side, nor the company itself had really acquired any of that knowhow. And when a production site was disbanded, new staff were gathered and the whole thing would be reassembled, right down to the drawing style. At the time, I became keenly aware that such knowhow didn't exist in the studio.

—Mr. Yasuhiko was in charge of character design, but did you have any difficulty drawing in Mr. Yasuhiko's style? (3)

Murase: It's hard, isn't it? I tried my best to imitate him, too, but I feel I couldn't get to the point of playing his part. Mr. Yasuhiko has a unique drawing style, so I could draw the angles shown on the character sheets, but when I went beyond those it was difficult to maintain the balance. (4) There were parts where the balance changed depending on the angle, so we needed intermediate drawings where the balance was shifting, but I couldn't quite do it. My impression was that I could copy them, but I couldn't make them my own.

On Samurai Troopers, I was asked to draw in the style of Mr. Norio Shioyama. Mr. Shioyama's drawing style was also pretty difficult, so on Samurai Troopers, I think I accepted from the beginning that I'd be drawing in my own way. This time, I initially thought I'd be able to draw in Mr. Yasuhiko's style. But it was hard when I actually tried to do it, and it didn't go as I expected.

—It really is pretty difficult.

Murase: I feel they recreated it very well in the Gundam The Origin anime. But at the time of F91, I think Mr. Yasuhiko's style had changed somewhat due to the influence of the manga he was drawing. So on site, we wondered how we could combine the image from the time of First Gundam with Mr. Yasuhiko's drawing style as expressed in the character sheets. His character sheets had become manga-like, and I think it was also suggested that we could make them a little more anime-oriented. But we didn't actually go that far, and we couldn't even recreate Mr. Yasuhiko's drawing style. On site, we really struggled to combine the expression and performance demanded by Mr. Tomino with Mr. Yasuhiko's current style.

—The orders from Director Tomino regarding the animation must have been at a fairly high level, too.

Murase: At the beginning, they were amazing. He was pointing out things to the extent that I said, "You're thinking about it this much?" But by the halfway point, it was no longer possible to keep worrying about such aspects. Mr. Tomino was being pragmatic about it, but no matter what, I couldn't abandon the aspects we were initially aiming for. In that sense, I think if I'd learned from Mr. Tomino's example and worked a little more pragmatically, the overall quality might have been higher. (5)

—The opening section gives the impression of being drawn with great detail as a theatrical work.

Murase: Meeting the demands of the storyboards required a lot of performance skill and many key frames. At the beginning, Mr. Tomino told us "I want you to make movie cuts, not anime cuts." It's hard to summarize his specific requests, but he taught us about factors that we'd never have considered if we were just doing normal anime production.

It wasn't enough to simply draw and act out the images specified in the cuts shown in the storyboards. What Mr. Tomino requested in his storyboards was that we draw with an understanding of the smallest details, such as what the characters were trying to do and why that camera angle was chosen. Just because there was a medium close-up in the storyboards, he said, it didn't mean we should go ahead and draw it like that.

Mr. Tomino was drawing what he thought was best, taking the subsequent workflow into account, but if we felt otherwise when we actually tried drawing it, he wanted us to think carefully for ourselves. In terms of the performance as well, we had to understand why he was requesting the cut start and end where it did. He asked us to think about the totality of the cut.

—That's a pretty big demand, isn't it?

Murase: In the first half, the drawing in the storyboards themselves was incredible. The storyboards were so densely packed that there was no room for us to add our own ideas, and it was all we could do simply to retain all that information.

Anyway, after working with that kind of format, it was hard to change your frame of mind when the format subsequently changed to prioritize saving time. From the corner of my eye, I saw other people working through that process, but I myself couldn't do it. I only paid attention to the parts I was responsible for, and I couldn't see the big picture. And since the storyboards were being created sequentially from the beginning, I didn't really see much after the halfway point. That's because my responsibilities were concentrated in the first half. (6)

—The density of the mecha animation in Gundam F91 is high as well. That must have been a challenge.

Murase: At the point when I joined, they hadn't picked a mecha animation director, so when they asked "What should we do about the mecha?" I said "Okay, I'll draw them." So I was an animation director for both mecha and characters. The first thing I was in charge of was mecha scenes, so at the beginning I was drawing nothing but mecha. After that, there were other situations where mecha animation direction was needed, but it seems that until the end they never established a so-called mecha animation director. The second half was collectively entrusted to Studio Dove, so maybe there was a mecha animation director in place at Dove.

After the midway point in the schedule, we were joined by an animator named Mr. Masami Goto who was good at drawing mecha, and I remember he was responsible for a lot of the key art for the battle scenes. As the work ramped up, at a point when we were having real trouble with the second half, staff from Gundam 0083 also joined in. In particular, Mr. Hirotoshi Sano directed the animation for the final battle between the Gundam F91 and the Rafflesia, and I was deeply impressed that he did such an amazing job in that short time.

—The mecha are notable for their many details and complex forms. What was it like to actually draw them?

Murase: It was tough, certainly, but since their three-dimensional shapes were so difficult, I thought it would be pointless to cut corners and I drew all of that from the beginning. That became the default from then on, so it might have been better if we'd simplified the lines to a certain degree in the initial stages.

—That was an impressive aspect as a fan, but I imagine it must have been challenging on site.

Murase: We hadn't been able to establish a common understanding of what level we should make them at, and I feel like we ran out of time to figure that out. In that sense, when it came to the mecha, I think I overdid it at the beginning.

—What kind of influence did Gundam F91 have on your subsequent work, Mr. Murase?

Murase: The aspects that I discussed with Mr. Tomino at the beginning, his initial intentions, and the things I had to think about in order to achieve them, were things that nobody ever said to me before or since. So that was really important. I think what he told me then remains the foundation of what I'm doing even now.

Thinking back on it, there were shallow parts, and there were also some frustrating aspects about working on Gundam F91. I felt I wasn't cut out to be an animator, and after that I didn't get many requests to work as an animation director. For the next ten years or so, I was doing design jobs instead.

—What aspects did you feel were frustrating?

Murase: The fact that I couldn't deliver on the quantity, and that at the time I'd only been doing key animation for about three years, so my abilities were inadequate and I didn't really know what to do. (7) Ultimately, after one year working as an animation director, I realized that I couldn't handle it. I couldn't see the big picture, and I thought I was only able to deliver quality on a part-by-part basis.

After that, I was fortunate enough to keep getting character design work, so I shifted towards that. From there I went into episode direction, and ended up drawing many more layouts and key frames than I did when I was an animator. Over the years, I sometimes thought it might have been better if I'd been doing that on Gundam F91. In particular, when working a series director, I came to think that what Mr. Tomino had been asking for wasn't the kind of work I was doing at the time, but something rather different. I suppose I must have misunderstood the job of animation director itself.

—In that sense, it must have been a memorable work.

Murase: It was deeply memorable. I feel like I spent about a year in the studio, and despite everything that happened in that time, the experience itself was really interesting. Because of the situation on site, we weren't able to make the work according to the initial storyboard order, but I'm glad that we were able to bring it to completion through the efforts of all the staff.

Translator's Notes

(1) The Japanese term ノッペリ (nopperi) can mean either "expressionless" or "flat and smooth." Given Murase's comments about density of detail, I suspect he means the latter, but "featureless" encompasses both meanings.

(2) Murase's Japanese phrasing, 「描ききれない部分」, is literally "the parts that couldn't be drawn." He doesn't explicitly say that these are the parts he wasn't able to draw himself, but it's hard to see another interpretation, so perhaps he's just trying to be modest.

(3) I've interpreted the Japanese term (e) as "drawing style" here. The dictionary definition is simply "picture" or "drawing," but this seems to be the sense in which Yasuhiko and Murase are using it.

(4) Murase is using the English loanword バランス ("balance") here. Perhaps we could interpret this as "proportions" in this context.

(5) The Japanese idiom Murase is using here, 割り切る (warikiru), can be interpreted as "make a clear decision" or "divide evenly." I've expressed it here as "be pragmatic" in the sense of drawing a line and cutting one's losses.

(6) Literally, the Japanese phrasing looks more like "The result was that my responsibilities were concentrated in the first half," but I feel it makes more sense the other way round.

(7) I'm not quite sure what Murase means by his first comment, expressed in Japanese as 「物量的にまとめられない」, and he doesn't really elaborate.