The Other Half of the Golden Combo: Akio Sugino Interview – Establishing Annapuru (Part 4/6)

Part 3 of this interview can be found here. The corresponding Japanese text of this interview can be found in its entirety here.

Establishing Annapuru

Kinejun: When was Annapuru established?

Sugino: What year was it… I think around 1980?

Kinejun: Was Annapuru’s first project Tomorrow’s Joe 2?

Sugino: Yes. Dezaki quit Madhouse over Tomorrow’s Joe 2. Instead, he worked on the new show at Annapuru. That’s how it’s been since.

Kinejun: So you worked on it together with Dezaki?

Sugino: Yes at first it was just Dezaki and myself. Then we poached five key animators from Madhouse (laughs).

Kinejun: Is Annapuru a limited company?

Sugino: Yes.

Kinejun: What were the circumstances that lead to your departure from Madhouse?

Sugino: Well at the time we’d work on shows in parallel. We produced Nobody’s Boy: Remi and Treasure Island in the same manner as Animated Travels: Marco Polo’s Adventures. It was always two shows being produced in parallel. When the production for Tomorrow’s Joe 2 was confirmed, we pleaded with the company president to let us just focus on Tomorrow’s Joe 2 instead of working on two shows in parallel. We wanted to do it justice. But we were told it would be a waste of resources from a business perspective. That rejection caused a rift, and I left with Dezaki to form a new company.

Kinejun: So you left because of the desire to focus solely on Tomorrow’s Joe 2.

Sugino: Yes. Since then, I’ve only had to work on one production at a time.

Kinejun: There’s also a movie version of Tomorrow’s Joe 2. Was this produced in parallel with the TV series?

Sugino: Yes. When we were producing the TV series, early on we prioritized the scene in the last episode showcasing the transformation into pure white ashes. After the movie, that same section was edited together for the TV series. What exactly they did I’m not sure because those times were quite hectic (laughs).

Kinejun: I’ve heard that there was a lot of back and forth with Buichi Terasawa, the original creator of Space Adventure Cobra, during the production of the corresponding movie adaptation.

Sugino: Yes he was quite strict when it came to his characters. When we sought approval, he’d say our portrayals of his characters were plain wrong.

Kinejun: So there were a lot of arguments?

Sugino: I’m not sure—I didn’t attend those meetings. It just seemed like the director was getting chewed out because he was in so many meetings.

Kinejun: So you had to keep adjusting the designs of his characters.

Sugino: I heard that there was going to be another anime adaptation of Cobra with Terasawa as director but apparently that project fizzled out due to funding difficulties. They asked us if we were interested in getting involved with that project.

Kinejun: Does that mean in the end, Terasawa recognized your staff as trustworthy?

Sugino: No way (laughs).

Kinejun: You also did the character designs for Cat’s Eye.

Sugino: I did, but my drawings were far too divorced from the original manga. I think in the middle of the production, Satoshi Hirayama drew new designs right? I didn’t touch anything besides the opening and ending. Our own Kami took on the role of animation director under the name Nobuko Tsukada.

Kinejun: I believe Treasure Island, Ace, and Golgo all feature characters that are 10 head widths tall. You tend to draw characters with these proportions, don’t you.

Sugino: Not even 10 head widths. That’s the influence of the director. As best as I can, I try to draw characters that appear to be well proportioned at 8 head widths when observed from a bird’s eye view. My intention was to draw characters somewhat from a distance because they’d look cool that way.

Kinejun: Dezaki uses freeze frames to great effect in the shots of his work. He also does the same with harmony[1] (editor’s note: harmony is a technique where only the lines are traced onto the cel without any coloring, and instead background poster colors are painted onto separate drawing paper. The cel with the traced lines is then laid on top of this, to give the appearance of a colored drawing). Was this done at Dezaki’s request?

Sugino: Yes. Dezaki seemed to hate limp movement, although recently his tendencies appear to have changed yet again.

Kinejun: Well for my money’s worth, Dezaki’s methods and direction bring out the best qualities of limited animation.

Sugino: If I were to describe it simply, consider a shot with a tennis ball that bounces. When normally animated, it lasts about 6 frames. To portray a fierce serve, take the shot of the ball being hit and repeat it three times. It’s really quite odd, but I think it’s all in the timing. The same applies for a shot of someone taking a punch. Repeat it three times, but on the last time have it move in slow motion. You can use this technique to great effect. If you attempt to portray this motion as though it were live action, then it won’t look like a boxing punch. A tennis ball would just turn into a bunch of lines. As a last resort of limited animation, pan three times, repeat the action, or otherwise use a freeze frame to portray the distorted ball. I think this is what the shot becomes. This idea is quite TV-oriented.

Kinejun: Oshin was derived from a live-action NHK TV show. I’ve heard the character designs of the anime were made with the live action actors in mind.

Sugino: Initially even after a lot of struggle the designs didn’t have that feeling at all. Eiichi Yamamoto directed that one, and I had a lot of discussions with him about the designs.

Kinejun: It seems like it would be difficult to try and approximate the look of the actor’s faces—or rather, having to draw characters that weren’t in your style.

Sugino: Indeed. Eiichi came to me with a picture book for reference and asked me to try and draw it in the same style. I watched episodes of NHK’s Oshin many times, but the series didn’t fit the style of the picture book. He showed me a lot of different books and asked me to draw in a similar fashion. Those picture books were overflowing with poetic sentiment, but I felt that didn’t fit the world of Oshin. So I couldn’t do the character designs based on them. That’s how the designs ended up with the likeness of the actors.

Kinejun: You also worked on a lot of co-productions around that time.

Sugino: Yes, around the time of Nemo. I also did other American co-productions such as Mighty Orbots and Sweet Sea. Sweet Sea was like the original story off which Disney’s Little Mermaid was based.

Kinejun: And you also did the character designs and animation direction for those?

Sugino: Yes. Tokyo Movie Shinsha was doing a lot of co-productions around that time. There was also some Dinosaur thing. Oh yes, and The Littles. I didn’t want to do the character designs for this though, so I avoided the production.

Kinejun: How about Reporter Blues?

Sugino: I think I worked on two or three episodes.

Kinejun: Did the planning for Mighty Orbots come from the American side?

Sugino: Yes.

Kinejun: So the they provided the initial character designs?

Sugino: The animators over there created the designs. I was going to be the animation director, and I was supposed to adjust the character designs to make them more Japanese-style in my way. There wasn’t enough time, so that didn’t happen.

Kinejun: Compared to taking on the duties of both character designer and animation director, I would imagine that it would be more time consuming to perform only the duties of the animation director and correct shots based on someone else’s character designs.

Sugino: Well, if the designs are simple to draw, then no. But, oftentimes that is not the case. I can remember how to draw all my own designs, but I can’t draw other people’s designs from memory. Also what someone is particular about with the character designs differs from person to person.

The interview continues in part 5 here.

  1. The harmony technique here is often referred to as postcard memories.

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