The first of three interviews with Yuki Hayashi and Rie Matsumoto about Kyousougiga. It covers the OVA and the PV.
This interview, initially published in Vol. 38 of Kikan Ace and initially recorded on December 26th, 2011, concerns the two creations that the Kyousougiga project began with: the five minute PV and the twenty-five minute OVA. It addresses a range of topics from both of these shorts, including the show’s fantastical mix of the real and the imaginary, its characters’ designs, and the OVA’s manga-inspired visuals.
1. First of all, I’d like to say that I thought the character designs were incredibly charming. Especially Myoue’s! His robe and goggle combination was moe!
Hayashi: That’s moe!?
Matsumoto: Wait, I thought the combination wouldn’t really work?
2. No way! I’ve heard from some female fans who say that they adore that kind of thing—like mufflers with traditional Japanese clothes, or goggles with robes. What did you have in mind when you came up with Myoue’s design?
Matsumoto: Well, I definitely wasn’t looking for moe, haha! But to answer the question: I was a child during the ghost story boom. There was this one book series that we loved, School Horror Stories, which later got adapted into around six or so movies; every recess everybody in class would pull out their copy. In the second installment there was this thief, played by Nomura Hironobu, who—despite being a thief—wore monk’s robes and protected children. That left an enormous impression on me. Isn’t that strange? A thief dressed as a monk? And, what’s more, that contrast was obvious from his very first appearance. So Nomura’s monk was the central inspiration for Myoue’s design.
3. Wait a second—doesn’t that mean you’re using what you thought was moe when you were a child?
Hayashi: Ah, something like “isn’t he cute?” Haha.
Matsumoto: Well, I guess I did think he was pretty cool…
4. His head wasn’t shaved?
Matsumoto: He had long hair, actually! Because of that, I wanted to give Myoue a bit of an effeminate appearance. And then I took a bunch of handsome features and meshed them together. With his long hair, he’s kind of a combination of parts that most people would find charming in a 2D character.
5. I see! How about you, Hayashi: how did you come up with the characters?
Hayashi: With regard to our protagonist, Koto, the director’s sketches were good, so I used those as my base. I’d just come out of working on HeartCatch PreCure The Movie, and I think that the work I did for that movie bled into Kyousougiga a little. For example, Lady Koto’s voice actress is Hisakawa Aya, so it kept popping into my head: “Isn’t she Cure Moonlight? What should I do?” Haha. Lady Koto’s motif, though, was Princess Kaguya, so I gave her a Japanese Princess-y kind of haircut. Since her clothes were pure black, I couldn’t decide on what color I wanted her hair to be; black on black is a bit overbearing. Thankfully, our color coordinator, Akimoto Yuki, made her hair silver.
6. There’s a lot of black in the main character designs, isn’t there?
Hayashi: The director was pretty picky about that: she wanted to divide the characters into the forces of white and black. I believe it’s supposed to resemble a game of chess, actually.
Matsumoto: While I did want to illustrate opposing forces with the colors, I also don’t like the idea of white being the symbol of goodness. That’s why Koto is dressed in black. To me, red is the color of humanity, the color of blood; I think it’s an important color. That’s why I tried to use red as a symbolic color; I inserted a bit of red into each main protagonist’s design. And the foundation of everything is black. But not because it’s supposed to be insidious or anything. I think the honest people are the ones who keep things to themselves instead of monologuing to everyone they meet. And to me the hero is the person who—while a bit of an enigma at first—knows inside them what’s important and only says it when it’s absolutely necessary to say it. Black is an overwhelming color. Even if black’s often used as a shorthand for evil, I use it to convey that the character is trying to keep their emotions out of sight.
7. That’s a refreshing take on things! So you intentionally use colors in order to add depth to the story and its characters.
Matsumoto: One more thing. We decided to, after talking with Akimoto, tone down the colors we used for the human characters and sharpen the ones we used for the monsters and phantasms. Monsters are, after all, the manifestations of humanity’s primal fears. They’re those things we gave shape to represent those things lurking in the forests and mountains outside of our view and control. If you think about it that way, they’re completely different from humans: whereas when we look at a person we can’t tell what they’re thinking, monsters are made of—clearly—fear and trepidation. So we went ahead with that and dropped our unambiguously monstrous monsters into Kyousougiga.
8. It seems that you, director, have an interest in the kind of stories told in folklore.
Matsumoto: I love horror stories, and I often visit the library to read Yanagita Kunio’s folklore books. Isn’t it exciting, sharing scary stories with other people? We think, “So, then, why monsters of all things?”, but that’s the reason we have folkloristics, isn’t it? After I grew older, that’s the kind of thing I became interested in. I’ve come to understand that these monsters we used to be so interested in as children are spawned from our thoughts; and that, just like with our thoughts, there’s a reason for those folklore stories. I love questions like: “When we were children, we sensed that monsters are frightening, but what sparked us to create these horrors in the first place?” It’s almost as if we’re mapping out our thoughts.
9. Our unconscious desires taking on symbolic form, huh… that does kind of show through in Kyousougiga’s monsters. Hayashi, you’ve said that you like drawing monsters, but what about them intrigues you?
Hayashi: It’s less about the monsters and more about shapes. At Toei, we’ve already made monsters in monumental works like GeGeGe no Kitarou and Hakaba Kitarou; I wanted to take this show in a different direction. I wanted to create cuter designs. Fundamentally, they’re just configurations of basic shapes: triangles and circles, trapezoids, inverted triangles. I wanted to use the shapes you’d find in a diagram or chart. I think that if you take a look at their silhouettes they’re all pretty distinct from one another. I used the “Night Parade of One Hundred Demons“ (a picture scroll of monsters marching together; one of the most famous of which is Toriyama Sekien’s) as my basis and then deformed Sekien’s creatures.
10. The creatures you ended up making left a big impression on me through their forms. So it seems that you have a very specific image in mind for Kyousougiga’s setting. I’d like to ask you about the scene compositions: the compositions and layouts were wonderful. For example, you’d often have a black silhouette of something in the foreground and use it to frame the action. That kind of thing is even in your storyboards, director.
Matsumoto: I wanted the scenes to resemble manga panels, so I intentionally made them like that. I thought, ‘Since this is Kyousougiga, using black in these scenes wouldn’t be so bad,’ and I used it to cut, organize, and frame my shots. Even the diagonally-oriented shots were inspired by manga panels.
Hayashi: Though usually you’d use the backgrounds or something to that effect. Like putting a telephone pole between two people to create a sense of confrontation between them.
11. I see. It seems like you’ve thought through this quite thoroughly. So, like framing the shot with foodstuff from a kitchen, or leaving flower petals on both sides of the frame?
Hayashi: I think the director was trying to give each illusion the sense of verticality. Since the aspect ratio is usually fixed to 16:9.
Matsumoto: When making Kyousougiga, I wanted to emphasize the fact that the world was taking place in a paper scroll—to emphasize the fact that this takes place in a 2D world—hence ‘giga’ [note: 戯画, part of the title, 京騒戯画, means ‘cartoon’ or ‘comic’]. I thought: “I like manga. What would happen if I were to drop manga elements into this world?” Thinking that it would work out because of how lively the subject matter is, I tried to insert that sense of verticality intentionally. Something like, “Well, putting aside whether this is going to work or not, let’s give a try!” I like how it turned out.
12. Manga and anime have huge differences, but what do you think, Director, is something unique to manga?
Matsumoto: The ability to play around with and muddle distance. For example, there’s that one scene where Koto gets dragged into the Council of Three. Subsequently, there’s a shot in which Kurama, Yase, and Koto pop into the same frame. If we were to take into account the characters’ actual positions, there’s no way that would’ve worked. From that angle, it would be impossible for Koto to look at Kurama like she does. However, by cutting each character into a manga-style panel, it worked. If you can introduce that manga panel logic into the shot, it won’t seem off-putting. That was the idea, anyways.
13. So you’re saying that, even if anime has its limitations, using manga techniques can help better the flow of characters’ expressions and the narrative? That’s a pretty novel approach.
Matsumoto: It’s a combination of the real and the exaggerated—if you’re going to do something, you may as well go all the way.
14. Hayashi, are there any embellishments you found particularly interesting?
Hayashi: Kyousougiga‘s a bit different from what you’d see on normal television. At first, I was a bit skeptical about bordering or boxing frames with black. Mecha anime uses cut-ins every now and then, but not quite in the same way manga does. I thought it was pretty interesting to have things like fairies and sparkles play around in the black borders. Even book elements , like kitchen utensils or food items, kind of assimilate into the borders if you paint them black; I thought that gave some shots a great sense of design.
15. Did you, Hayashi-san, think that there was anything done in Kyousougiga for the sake of it? Anything that you felt like you were able to do because of Kyousougiga?
Hayashi: I guess my taking over the role of the animation director counts? You know, like making sure that all the visuals were consistent… I very much wanted to, through my animation, deliver 100% of Matsumoto’s vision. And what I really wanted to do, from time to time, was to step in on the key frames. For example: I’d think “I really want to make this move like this“, “I want to use this trick”, or “I really want to exaggerate this facial expression.” But, because of my role as the animation director, I was already overworking. When you’re correcting cuts, you quickly find out that doing those corrections takes up all your energy. So I really didn’t have the time to think about how the characters moved and whatnot.
16. But you drew some of the key frames, didn’t you?
Matsumoto: Yes, like the scene at the beginning with the Council of Three.
Hayashi: Out of a total of three-hundred and forty cuts, I drew about one hundred of them. And I also did the second key animation for about thirty or forty cuts.
17. Wow, you drew a lot of them! Did you do the corrections for all of the layouts?
Hayashi: Only for the ones that needed correction. The first half of the OVA had a number of very important layouts—the insides of rooms and the city streets, for example. But, thanks to the junior animators who worked tirelessly on those parts, I didn’t have too much to correct. And the transition into the second part of the OVA, the court scene, was pretty easy. Everything looks about what it should.
18. It seemed as though there were a lot of places where the layouts could straight-up be used as backgrounds? For cuts without much action, for example.
Hayashi: When I was working as an animation director, there were cuts with sparse action and simple character clean-ups. Those can be done faster if I handle them. But any cuts requiring a lot of action were too much work. Because of that, we left the first part of the episode to our junior animators, and the second half to some very skilled freelancers. That was an enormous help. Though, I’ll admit: when I first saw the storyboards, I was shocked at how demanding the cuts were going to be. In the end, we managed to slap everything together, and I’m satisfied with the result.
19. I thought that, at the storyboard level, Kyousougiga was phenomenal. There was so much going on all the time. Hayashi, you said you wanted to animate the demons more?
Hayashi: I did, but they didn’t show up that much this time. Maybe sometime in the ONA series; or maybe a TV series, if we can somehow get one and make the scheduling work out… I think, once we have all of that figured out, I’ll have more things I’ll want to draw. But since the OVA and the PV were meant to be standalone products, we inserted a bunch of promotional elements. I think it’s harder to make a show work when you have to think about a character’s feelings. There wasn’t much drama this time, so we still have to get around to the difficult parts.
20. I see. I think Kyousougiga has quite an interesting idea. The characters, composition, and backgrounds are all unique; you don’t see anime like this. However, the OVA was very short and, like Hayashi said, there were a number of elements that you couldn’t fit into it. Were there any parts about which you thought, “We’ve got to prioritize this” or “This needs to be in here”?
Matsumoto: One of the conditions I worked under was that I needed to show all of the characters. I don’t know whether they’ll be continuing on to the final product, but I can’t just create something and say, “That wasn’t all the characters!” So that was top priority. Even when we were making the PV, I thought: so, if this is going to be a 12-episode TV series, Lady Koto will probably show up around episode 6, but she needs to be in the PV and ONA. So, resolving how to make that work out was at the front of my mind. I mean, let’s take Shounen Jump for example: before a series is serialized, don’t they give out a complete one-shot? Even if the final product departs from the one-shot, the viewer needs to be interested in what comes next. Something that would get people interested in the characters. To stress spirit over complicated explanations. I’ll admit, though, that passion alone doesn’t make your story work. But I don’t want to create shows that’ll have the viewers stewing over reasons instead of having fun. I’d like it if viewers would watch the OVA and say to themselves, “I didn’t understand it that well, but it was fun!” I thought that if I just followed the outline of the main story it’d result in a hackneyed product. I’d also like to betray—in a good way—the expectations of the people who think they’ve figured out to some degree what’s going to happen…. it’s pretty hard, haha!
21. I see. I think that’s wonderfully considerate of you… creating something that’s interesting but that still keeps its cards close to its chest.
Matsumoto: Basically, I’m a fan of character drama. I like exploring the intricacies of emotion, but we had to cut that material from the OVA. So we didn’t stress much about how to make the characters more relatable. It’s hard to try and build sympathetic characters when you have to introduce so many of them. But, despite having to sacrifice those interactions for now, it would be nice if the OVA hooked some viewers.
22. So, you dropped the dramatic elements but kept the core of each characters’ personalities?
Matsumoto: It’s just that people have different tastes. They look for different things in anime, so there are probably people who think this doesn’t work. I think how people react to these thirty minutes is very demonstrative of their taste.
23. However, I think we need these kinds of stories. Something different: something with a spirit of its own. There aren’t too many people who are capable of creating something like Kyousougiga, and the opportunity doesn’t show up very often. And you said earlier that you focused on the spirit; I think I see that coming through in the animation towards the end of the OVA. For my last question, I’d like to ask you about something regarding the animation. In the second half, there was a pretty flashy explosion, wasn’t there? Takashi Hashimoto is good at effects animation; did he draw any of that?
Matsumoto: Hashimoto-san was in charge of the cut where, in the second half, Lady Koto appears.
Hayashi: She means the cut in which the clouds part, the stars twinkle, and the planets fall into the earth. And the part in which the two Kotos walk out together as the smoke clears.
Matsumoto: Right up until the sun shatters.
Hayashi: That cut with the smoke was really cool.
24. The entire thing seemed so spectacular, like a no-brakes chain of color. As a viewer, I wanted a fitting climax to the episode’s energy. I thought, “What’s going to happen next?” So when the planet began falling, I was so excited. And then, just when I thought, “Now the stakes have really been raised!”, it ended! That was one hell of a way to end the episode.
Matsumoto: Well, we wanted it to end after Lady Koto appeared. Hashimoto-san really is great at explosions, though. Hayashi, do you remember how, some time ago, we were talking about who would destroy the New Tokyo Tower first?
Hayashi: I do! And then we started going, ‘Wait, didn’t Hashimoto destroy the tower? What hasn’t been destroyed yet?’ Of course, the planets had already been destroyed.
Matsumoto: It’s hard to say we really ‘made’ that cut for the OVA. The planets had already been destroyed ever since the PV. But once we brought up the topic of destruction, I started hoping that Hashimoto would get around to it.
Hayashi: We were left debating over what we wanted Hashimoto to destroy. Unfortunately, I got into a car accident when we were supposed to have our animator’s meeting with Hashimoto, so I didn’t manage to make it.
25. What? An accident?
Matsumoto: I was so nervous because Hayashi wasn’t with me! And then, once I started explaining things, Hashimoto went: ‘This is going to be a problem.’ That was scary! Haha! I apologized over and over…
26. But even then, I think you all succeeded with the climax. Lady Koto’s appearance was amazing. I couldn’t help but wonder ‘Wait, so they’ve already destroyed all the planets. How are they going to top this in the series proper?’
Matsumoto: Without any regrets, just going at it full blast! Or at least that’s how we’d like to go about it.
27. That makes sense. So, even if all the planning and conception took a while, you’d like to at least deliver a respectable, ambitious final project?
Matsumoto: You never know if there’s actually going to be a ‘next time’ whenever you do one of these things—maybe someone’ll get into a car accident.
Hayashi: Huh? Are you talking about me? Hahaha.
Matsumoto: Well, so long as I’ve completed the storyboards, somebody else’ll finish Kyousougiga for me even if I get into a traffic accident. So, for now, I’ve got all the storyboards done!
Hayashi: Geez, you live like there’s no tomorrow…
28. Maybe it’s not so much that as it is ‘Let’s do our absolute best today!’?
Matsumoto: Every time. That’s the attitude I took with the PreCure movie, too.
29. Great. And all of this just makes me want to see the finished Kyousougiga even more.
Hayashi: We want to end this on a good note. It’d be wonderful if we could get a series to work with.
Matsumoto: And I’d love it if our feelings came through in Kyousougiga.
 — When animators talk about ‘book’ elements, they refer to parts of a given shot that, despite looking like part of the background, are composited on a different layer from the background layer. Refer, for example, to the book elements in this cut from Yoru no Yatterman. Animators use book elements whenever they need a character to move about an object/fixture that should, visually, belong to the back/foreground.
A big thank you to Kastel for helping me edit this translation.