The Other Half of the Golden Combo: Akio Sugino Interview – Work Outside of Tokyo Movie (Part 3/6)

Part 2 of this interview can be found here. The corresponding Japanese text of this interview can be found in its entirety here.

Work Outside of Tokyo Movie

Kinejun: Did you do the character designs for Urikupen Rescue Team [Jungle Tales]?[1]

Sugino: Yes. I did the characters and… Oh, this is for a magazine.[2] I participated in the capacity of doing original work.

Kinejun: So it wasn’t an adaptation, but an anime original?

Sugino: Yes, it wasn’t adapted from anything. The naming scheme was comprised of U [usagi], ri [risu], ku [kuma], pen [pengin], which stood for rabbit, squirrel, bear, and penguin respectively.

Kinejun: I see.

Sugino: The characters were designed first, and then the story was conceived afterwards. I believe the sponsor was Nichirei, the frozen food company.

Kinejun: The project planning was done on MK’s side.[3]

Sugino: Yes, I think so.

Sugino: Also, I was an animation director for three or four episodes of Tatsunoko’s The Song of Tentomushi.[4] I’ve been told the art is completely different from the original manga though (laughs).

Kinejun: Was Dino Mech Gaiking a Tōei Dōga project?

Sugino: Yes. Dino Mech Gaiking was also not an adaptation of anything else. Since it was completely original, it wouldn’t fly with Tōei Dōga or the agencies to just sell the idea on the story alone. So I was asked to draw some designs for it and so I did, including the transforming robot. Because of that, I ended up getting credited for the original idea.[5]

Kinejun: I believe Takeshi Shirato drew the character model sheets, so then you would have drawn the initial designs at the draft phase?

Sugino: Yes, although my designs were only used in the opening and ending, not the rest of the show.

Kinejun: Did you do any animation direction for the show?

Sugino: Yes, for two or three episodes. I think Dezaki worked on two—no, one episode? And Hideo Takayashiki worked on one episode. For those episodes I was both a key animator and an animation director. (Editor’s note: According to documents from Tōei Dōga, Hideo Takayashiki was an episode director for episodes 11 and 18, “Don’t Cry Hachirō” and “Spaceship Noah’s Ark” respectively. Sugino credited as an animation director for only those two episodes. No episodes could be found where Osamu Dezaki is credited as an episode director.)

Sugino: Around that time I also did both key animation and animation direction for Ancestor Genius Bakabon. I recall this being very difficult. I also did the animation for the ending.[6] That work really dragged on for a while. Oh and I also worked on a project that Yasuji Mori worked on: Laura, the Prairie Girl. I think I did two episodes. Besides that, I also drew keyframes for 20-30 shots of Heidi, a series which Kotabe[7] worked on.

Kinejun: How about 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother?

Sugino: No I didn’t work on that. They didn’t let me due to scheduling conflicts. I really liked that one though. Now that I think about it, I did work on Vicky the Viking.

Kinejun: So around that time you were working on a lot of Nippon Animation projects.

Sugino: Yes. I distinctly remembering meeting with (Isao) Takahata several times in Sakuragaoka. We’d have two hour meetings just to talk about 30 shots.

Kinejun: How was working on the 1976 Manga Fairy Tales of the World series? Even though it was a commercial anime, I’d imagine that even within those confines you could still demonstrate your personality.

Sugino: Both Manga Fairy Tales of the World and Jetter Mars aired on the same time slot at different stations—they were counterprogramming. Occasionally I did animation direction for both titles, and all I remember was how difficult they were. This was disrespectful to Rintaro, but I put more effort into Manga Fairy Tales of the World than Jetter Mars. I got to do loose storyboards for the former,[8] so it was a fun time. Jetter Mars was a Tōei Dōga project, and because of that it didn’t really have a Tezuka tone to it. Animation direction for that show was really hard. There were also other Tōei folks who did animation direction for individual episodes, and I had to make corrections on top of them. People got very upset with me.

Kinejun: And the individual episode animation directors at Tōei Dōga each had their own style.

Sugino: I told them that we had to redo the shots because their art styles differed. I got many phone calls in response demanding to know how they were supposed to draw. They told me that it was too difficult to draw the keyframes. Working under that system was really difficult.

Kinejun: Even now at Tōei Dōga, the role of chief animation director doesn’t exist. It’s just individual episode animation directors.

Sugino: There were about 5 animation directors and they’d rotate among each other swiftly. They’d turn a blind eye to small discrepancies between drawings.

Kinejun: To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Nippon Televsision, a 3D anime TV series of Nobody’s Boy: Remi [Homeless Child] was announced. Was it difficult in terms of the animation work?

Sugino: The most difficult part of this production was the length. If the shots were too short then the 3D would be quite tiring. So the amount of 20, 30 second shots increased, and directing became quite difficult. Dezaki’s episode direction was quite different from his episode direction on Joe and Ace. In the middle of the production we stopped paying attention to the 3D aspect and the show changed. Until Mattia appears, it was a lot of grueling long shots—a single shot would so long.

Kinejun: What lead to the 3D aspect getting dropped?

Sugino: The 3D effect didn’t work, and no one actually wore the glasses for it. Apparently the 3D just got gradually weeded out of the show (laughs).

Kinejun: Once you put on those glasses then everything seems to pop out at you.

Sugino: Indeed. The first time I saw an experimental 3D film I was really blown away. All that was shown was a rotating sphere, but it felt like looking at an optical illusion where I was getting sucked into the space of the movie. Recently Hitchcock’s Dial for Murder got remade right. Originally that was shot in 3D, like Nobody’s Boy: Remi. (Editor’s note: Warner Movie’s Dial for Murder (which had a 1955 theatrical release in Japan) was produced as a 3D movie, but for its theatrical release it was screened as a normal film.)

Kinejun: Was it supposed to be seen with 3D glasses?

Sugino: I think that was the idea, but to show something right up in your face, Hitchock would just have a character move over from the right to the left.

The interview continues in part 4 here.

  1. Haim Saban released this as Jungle Tales in the US with major changes made to the dub adaptation. Wikipedia has more information here..

  2. I cannot find any mention online of a magazine that may have contained anything about Urikupen, so I’m not entirely sure what Sugino is talking about here. Perhaps he is talking about being interviewed for Kinema Junpo in the moment, but that seems like a poor guess.

  3. Besides having an inconvenient name for online searches, MK was a production company involved in only a handful of titles. The corresponding ANN entry can be found here.

  4. At first glance this appears to be a sudden change in subject, but Tatsunoko Pro produced both Urikupen and The Song of Tentomushi.

  5. There is a known controversy over this because Go Nagai was apparently the actual original creator of Gaiking and sued Tōei Dōga, the lawsuit of which spanned over 10 years. See the corresponding Wikipedia entry for more information here. That’s not to say that Sugino didn’t create some designs for the series, but original idea is probably not an accurate way to credit him.

  6. The ending theme that follows each episode of Ancestor Genius Bakabon consists of a bunch of still images, so presumably Sugino is actually referring to the animation for its opening theme. Thanks to Toadette for clarifying this over Twitter.

  7. Yōichi Kotabe.

  8. This seems to contradict what Sugino said in part 1 of this interview, where he said that the storyboards he drew for Kunimatsu were the only ones he had ever drawn—however, he did draw storyboards for projects after this interview was published. He uses the word 絵コンテ (e konte) in part 1, whereas he uses the word ストーリーボード (storyboard) here. They both mean storyboard, but according to the Japanese wikipedia article, the former describes all the shots, whereas the latter is a more general and loose outline. The precise definition differs between studios, but perhaps this explains the discrepancy.

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