Holding out for a B-Club: Toshihiro Hirano Commentary

This was originally supposed to be something quick I was planning to get out by late March. But uhh, what can I say. I have a hard time motivating myself to do translation work. That and we’re all still contending with the pandemic.

Anyway, readers of this site may have noticed that I haven’t covered much robot stuff. I’m not a hardcore mecha fan, and there are far more suited people who write about that stuff. But what is also true is that CROSS FIGHT! kicks ass, and so here we are. Toshihiro Hirano (who goes by Toshiki Hirano these days) did character designs for a few of these shows and other sci-fi things. He even directed a couple of them. In this 1989 B-Club Special artbook,[1] he comments on his work for Megazone 23, Fight! Iczer-One, Ninja Warrior Tobikage,[2] Cosmos Pink Shock, Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh, and the rejected proposal to Sunrise: Iron! Sperke. Did you know about that last one? I sure didn’t.

Footnotes are my own additions, and I have not included them on the images. Those of you who prefer reading the text directly on the images may want to check the footnotes afterwards at the bottom of the page. The images are linked to their full resolution versions. You are meant to proceed between columns of text in right to left order.

Character Works

Here we have commentary from Hirano himself as he reflects back on each of his character designs throughout his career, and how they’ve evolved from Megazone 23 through Dangaioh.

Shōgo Yahagi, Yui Takanaka

Megazone 23

My design didn’t quite depict the biker character that he was.

Shōgo Yahagi⸻Regarding his clothing, originally I was instructed (by unit/technical director Ichirō Itano) to give him a leather jacket or jumpsuit, and this is how he ended up. This design was rough because I didn’t ride a motorcycle, so I had trouble depicting a biker’s sentiment. I still have doubts as to whether or not my design fit the directives.

Yui Takanaka⸻She’s the heroine of this story, and the character I put the most effort into. I think it’s because of the opportunities for her to shine: the dance scenes, the sex scene, the last weeping scene, and many more. As much as time would permit, I refined every one of those moments. I changed her outfit several times during the story to make her seem more realistic, but it didn’t really change the impresion she left. I guess all I really did was make her look cute.

Tomomi Murashita, Loft Cat, Mai Yumekanō, BD

Compared to the two protagonists, I had more freedom in drawing these characters.

Tomomi Murashita & Mai Yumekanō⸻Overall, it seems I didn’t really distinguish the girls’ faces from each other, Yui included. But compared to Yui, I had more freedom in drawing these two side characters.

I see now that Tomomi’s hairstyle is somewhat strange. Mai is the one trying to break out into the entertainment industry. Somehow I missed this and figured a plainer design would fit her instead. One interesting point is that Tomomi was kind of a design prototype for Pai (Dangaioh), and Mai’s facial features were used for Nagisa (Iczer One).

BD⸻Strangely, this is the one guy with a realistic face. It makes no sense for this kind of guy to appear alongside Tomomi and the others, but I drew him like this anyway. His aesthetic draws entirely from Macross designs.

Cat⸻The cat’s face is blatantly taken from Michael (What’s Michael? serialized in Kodansha’s Comic Morning magazine). How embarrassing.

Coco, Masami Okazaki,[3] Mōrii, Chombo, Shinji Nakagawa, Eigen Yumekanō, Motorcycle Cop, Director General, Producer, Lieutenant Nakao, Common Soldier

Megazone was more of a depressing than laborious experience for me.

Side Characters⸻I think Chombo and Mōrii are closer to what the director envisioned for the characters. That’s why many more guys who look like them appear in Part II.[4]

Realistic characters are tough to design.

General Comments⸻I was working nonstop on Megazone 23. My head was spinning all the way through to the end of the project. I get a substantially different impression from these character sheets compared to the movie.

Visually it draws from Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Looking at this now, I see the proportions are inconsistent, the heads are huge, and the bodies seem childlike. I’m just remarkably bad at designing the kind of realistic characters Megazone 23 was conceived around. To some extent, the appeal of the characters I draw are derived out of their separation from everyday life.

I have some regrets, but this was also the starting point for me so, all I can do is accept it in earnest. However, I’d say this was far more amateurish compared to what I do now.

Iczer One, Nagisa Kanō, Iczer Two

Fight! Iczer One

My designs rarely change this much as I draw them.

Iczer One⸻These are the character sheets for her in Act I but I used them a lot in Act III as-is. Kind of a bold move on my part, because her proportions in I and III are considerably different. Even though I was referencing the source material when designing her, she kept changing as I drew her and eventually there wasn’t a hint of her from the original work leftover.

Nagisa Kanō⸻The aspect I intentionally kept from the source material was her hair accessory. This can be said of some of my other designs as well, but she has manga-like proportions. I figured that it would be easier to animate her that way. Perhaps her hairstyle is another aspect somewhat retained from the source material?

Iczer Two⸻She’s gimmicky. This character is composed of that whistling, music, and direction combined.[5] I decided on her black costume and robot on the spot to fit the trope, which I dutifully followed. However, I do admit there was room for more creativity. Some directors may look at Act II and claim they can’t direct so shamelessly. In contrast, I wondered if I could. At the time I actually felt this was fundamental to directing. It’s just a coward’s excuse to say you have too much shame.

Sepia, Cobalt, Big Gold, Sir Violet, Follower, Sayoko, Sayoko’s Mom, Nagisa’s Parents

What is the secret to Iczer One’s persisting popularity?!

Side Characters⸻Sepia is largely unchanged from the source material. For instance, her battle outfit remains the same. I turned Cobalt into a female character for the anime adaptation, but her face is inherited from the source material. Big Gold is an anime-original character. Violet adheres to the source material characterization to a certain extent. With Sayoko and her mother I emphasized misfortune. I wanted to convey their lack of presence and elicit a sense of pity. I also wanted to make Sayoko has childlike as possible, and her poses accomplished this far more than I had expected.

General Comments⸻Of all my work thus far, Iczer One and Two remain the most popular characters. Honestly, it’s a sore point that it’s the Iczer characters and not the Dangaioh characters, which I still work on. There has been especially overwhelming support from girl audiences. Iczer One is a straightforward character, so I realize that perhaps this straightforwardness has some overlap with Girls’ Pro Wrestling. This appears to be a period of time where this archetype of girls was liked.

As far as the quality of Iczer One is concerned, it’s like the company (AIC) and I were riding this unstoppable wave of success. I’d never be able to pull off something now like what Act III achieved. I wonder where my unbridled confidence came from? I was so invested in the project.

Romina Ladorio, Karen, Renny Ai[6]

Ninja Warrior Tobikage

Tobikage, my last TV series…

Romina Ladorio⸻I really like this design. She’s a potential love interest in the series, but she’s always wearing that one outfit on the ship… It’s quite different from the other characters. Later on she appears in a battle outfit, but that wasn’t my design. I kept saying I would make one, but I couldn’t get the go-ahead. Well anyway, I’d say her design in terms of the hair and outfit turned out pretty well. However, the way she was used in the series itself was quite different than what I had envisioned. I was surprised. It wasn’t clear what planet she was from either, which made her the most difficult character to design for.

Renny Ai⸻A particularly funny thing happened concerning Renny. In the TV show she’s wearing a miniskirt but that’s actually part of her outer wear. Underneath is a leotard. Without consulting me, they went ahead and made her outer wear longer, which in turn relegated the leotard into becoming underwear. They said they did it because underwear can’t be shown on TV. No matter how many times I explained to them that it was a leotard and not an underwear, they weren’t having it. Additionally, while I intentionally made the outer wear’s left shoulder looser, combined with the miniskirt it just makes her clothing look trashy. It was such a disappointing outcome.

Karen⸻She’s a new character that appears in episode 25 as a member of the female ninja corps. I took on the character animation director role for only her character in this episode.

General Comments⸻I drew these character sheets after finishing Iczer One: Act I. Proportion-wise these designs still have large heads, but people around me have said that I’ve gotten a lot better since Megazone. These designs are kind of an intermediary between Megazone and Dangaioh. Interesting work finally came my way, so I was quite motivated. Some of the facial expressions I drew then are better than what I do now. Getting to work on a robot show made me happy.

That said, I really felt the difficulties of working in TV with this show. On the designer side, we went into the last episode looking for trouble, going so far as to change up the storyboards and characters. Thinking back on it now, being put into the position of suddenly having to wrap up a portion of the story was quite a pain. Perhaps we were only able to get away with what we did by riding on the unstoppable high of Iczer, in that we were still young and fearless. Anyway, it was due to this work that I gave up on TV series production.

Michiko Hayami,[7] Hiroshi

Cosmos Pink Shock

I’d like to work on it again if given the chance.

Michiko Hayami⸻This time I took a much more experimental approach to the design. Considering manga style character proportions, she is the most balanced character I’ve designed. However, the audience reception to her was not favorable. They branded her as having had corners cut in the design. That’s nonsense. Her design was born out of intentionally pursuing a more manga style look. At the time my designs for Iczer and the like were developing much richer detail with touches of realism. People around me said that Michiko’s design was comprised of few lines and only a single layer of shadowing. These were the so-called cut corners. To some extent the older fans understood better, but the younger Iczer fans were not so supportive. Basically, if an artist puts out a completed illustration, that becomes their brand. Whatever deviates from this will not be accepted. However, this is unsatisfying to artists. We want to push ourselves to try and explore different possibilities. I only made adjustments for this work up until the middle of production, but wasn’t able to do more drawings, so I still have some regrets over this. Even if it’s in a different genre, I’d like to work on something like this again.

Mia Alice, Pai Thunder

Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh

Dangaioh arrived in period of stability. Also, what’s yet to come in the show.

Mia Alice⸻I thought her design came out pretty solid, but I was sad that in the show itself she had a weaker presence and did not get as much fan support as a result. She did not have abilities suitable for a protagonist character. In contrast to Iczer One, while she had a lot of male fan support, the female fan support seemed lacking as she didn’t resonate with girls. In Part 3, a more expressionless Mia appears, which is quite different from what we’ve seen up until now. We have also prepared several service shots long-awaited (?) by fans. Of the Dangaioh team, Mia was the easiest to draw, perhaps because I did a lot of new drawings of her.

Pai Thunder⸻She was well received by female fans. From a design point of view, her voluminous hair was really troublesome.

Lamba Nom, Roll Kran

I’m the chief animation director for Part 3!

Roll Kran⸻Roll’s personality changes when he’s in the cockpit of the Dangaioh. While this has its fun moments, it was quite an incoherent mess. In Part 3 we provide more backstory for his behavior and he assumes more of a hero role. Originally he was designed as more of a comedic character, but this time he’s been designed entirely for the cool, handsome character role. His reception by the girls (at the studio) is now much more favorable. As for why he now assumes this role, it has to do with how he died once before. He was previously betrayed by his guerilla comrades, and later gets revived as a cyborg. The overwhelming shock of his murder is what led to his behavior in Part 1. In Part 3 he regains his sense of self and from then on proceeds as the hero.

Lamba Nom⸻She’s the youngest of the Dangaioh team, and relative to the other three her proportions are the most different. In the show itself they were peculiarly quite good, but differ slightly in her character sheets.

Gil Berg, Dr. Tarsan, Rare Animal Kosshii, Dira

Who’d expect Gil Berg was still alive.

Gil Berg⸻Initially there was not much drama on the side of the villains, so he’s leftover as the representative of Bunker. I didn’t expect him to make it this far. Incidentally, as I was drawing up the storyboards, it occurred to me that he wouldn’t die so easily based on what last shown of him. He’s far too tenacious to be wiped out like this, so wouldn’t Bunker take advantage of that? Putting aside how a part of his brain managed to survive the explosion, this tenacity is what enabled his revival. However, his obsessive nature sets its sights on Mia. Basically, he has been charmed by Mia so much that it has escalated to a twisted, abnormal infatuation over her. When thinking of the proposal for Part 3, I considered a plotline the scattered remains of his body are collected and he turns into something like The Thing. This was too unsightly though, so I opted for RoboCop instead.

Dira⸻Unlike Gil’s death, I got feedback about how Dira’s death was regrettable! Since Dira’s an android, she could be easily reconstructed. I did consider perhaps that many of the same model of android would be onboard the ship. But the voice actor for Dira is a big name… I do quite like this character though, so I’d like to reuse the design if the opportunity arises.

Burst, Flash, Midō, Kilkel, Folk

The new characters in Part 3!

Burst & Flash⸻These two were Roll’s comrades in the same guerrilla army. They’re effeminate homos who use girly speech patterns.[8] Their faces are also dead giveaways that they’re traitors. I kind of figured it might be interesting if they were pretty, effeminate homos. I didn’t think too hard about it. There isn’t really a reason that they’re traitors either, so please don’t bother looking too deeply into it. Perhaps we can say they’re traitors, just because. Maybe kind of like in western movies. It’s not that exactly, but in any case please look forward to a different side of the story in Part 3.

Midō⸻This girl is kind of gimmicky character. She’s actually Roll’s girlfriend. Viewers may have thought that Mia and Roll are an item, but Roll actually had a girlfriend back in his guerilla days. Actually, Midō is also important in another way. In Part 4 she joins the Dangaioh team as the 4th female member. Please look forward to the new developments in Part 4.[9]

General Comments⸻This was a pretty stable show visually speaking, but we started with about 6-12 episodes worth of proposals. While we’ve seen some commercial success, the story elements have become scattered. Part 3 will be an adjustment period for a bit. In Part 4 the revived Dangaioh will likely give off a completely different impression. I don’t think it will be a flashy robot anime. Towards this endeavor, Part 3 will be the intermediary step that gets all the characters adjusted and organized, while still showcasing decisive battle scenes featuring the three robots. In the future I’d like younger staff to work on and make something like this show.

The past two years I’ve only done directing, but this year I’ve returned to drawing. Along these lines, I’ve taken up the role of chief animation director for Part 3, and also tried to inject fresh ideas by drawing new designs along with the character sheets. I’ve experimented with reducing the amount of lines in the designs to make it them easier to draw. At the studio, people have reacted quite favorably to this. The designs are easier to draw after all…

Gun, Sperke Iron, Brost, Funk Iron, Reimu, Missile Iron, Claw Iron, Glim Iron

Iron! Sperke

Tears! Tears of disappointment over the rejected proposal: Iron! Sperke

This would have been a Sunrise project. In the same vein as Saint Seiya, it would have featured characters in armor. The armor worn is similar to that of the cloth armor from Saint Seiya, but they turn into chess pieces when unequipped. I worked very passionately on this proposal. Unfortunately, ultimately the project was turned down. That’s the tough part about TV. Had this been greenlit, I would have quit working on direct-to-video adaptations and put all my efforts into TV for the first time in a while.

Gun (Sperke Iron)⸻He’s the protagonist of this story, wherein he searches for companions to embark on a journey with. There’s two designs: type 1 and 2. Type 1 is a more Iczer-like design. For type 2, I first considered the story and then decided to draw him more like a normal boy.

Brost (Funk Iron)⸻He’s sort of a rival to Gun (but he is his ally).

Reimu (Glim Iron)⸻She’s a more of an older sister character to Gun and Brost.

Missile Iron & Claw Iron⸻These two are more like older brother characters. As you can see with Missile, he embodies the spirit of a weapon from head to toe. Claw was designed as a character that soars through the skies.

There’s been other rejected proposals I’ve worked on. Of all of them however, Sperke was the one I was most committed to, so its rejection was the most disappointing. Shō Aikawa would have written the story. This proposal also featured ninjas. In the movie Future Ninja,[10] mecha ninja appear. Actually, I also thought of this concept all the way down to the same name, which lead to its rejection.

Source: p81-105 of Toshihiro Hirano CHARACTER WORKS (B-Club Special), published on March 1st, 1989.

  1. B-Club was a bi-monthly magazine published by Bandai from 1985 to 1998 that focused on model kits. Alongside the main magazine, artbooks were also published under the line B-Club Special. You can find a more detailed overview of B-Club at Zimmerit here. Update (2021-03-31): Zimmerit now has a very extensive article on B-Club and its history that can be found here. Highly recommended.

  2. Released back in the day as Ninja Robots in the US, and several other countries.

  3. Did you remember who Masami Okazaki was? Yeah, me neither. He’s unnamed in the OVA itself, but appears around 1hr 2m and 1hr 3m mark. He’s supposedly an animator that’s friends with Shōgo, from what I could find online. I don’t have an official reference to back this up, so take this with a grain of salt.

  4. Hirano is using the general term for director (監督, kantoku) here, but I think he is referring to the unit/technical director (演出, enshutsu) Ichirō Itano, who he mentions explicitly by that term in the commentary for Shōgo Yahagi. Itano ended up directing Megazone 23 Part II, which is consistent with Hirano’s commentary. In Megazone 23, Itano also served as an action director (アクション監督, akushon kantoku), animation director (作画監督, sakuga kantoku), and storyboarder (絵コンテ, ekonte). Those other directorial roles also share the general term for director (kantoku), which may explain Hirano’s use of this term here. Or maybe he was just using these terms interchangeably. Anyway, besides Itano, Yasuo Hasegawa was also a unit/technical director on Megazone 23, and a storyboarder and unit/technical director on Megazone 23 Part II.

  5. The whistling, music, and direction referred to here I believe is at around the 19m 30s mark in Act II, but Hirano might also mean Iczer Two’s introduction at around the 9m 55s mark.

  6. Jenny Ai in Ninja Robots.

  7. As far as I can tell, her name is Mitsuko Hayami in all other sources I’ve seen. However, here it’s Michiko Hayami. I don’t know why. In the OVA she does refer to herself as Micchi so it works either way.

  8. I have chosen to render Hirano’s use of the term okama as effeminate homo, so as not to completely brush under the rug the offensive nature of this term. I could have opted a more derogatory choice and it would have technically worked too, but I’d rather not. In any case, for additional reading I highly recommend this article on Legends of Localization by Clyde Mandelin about the history of the term’s translation in video games: The Japanese Word “Okama” in Video Game Translations. It’s a great deep dive into the history of how this controversial term has been handled in video game translation.

  9. As you may have inferred, Part 3 was not yet released by the time this book was published. Part 4 never happened, but a sequel TV series called Great Dangaioh aired in 2001.

  10. Known as Cyber Ninja in the US, Warlord in Canada, and Robo Ninja in the UK according to Wikipedia.

One thought on “Holding out for a B-Club: Toshihiro Hirano Commentary

  1. Thanks for the translation, such a good read. You have to feel kind of sorry for Hirano, despite all the iconic and arguably successful shows he spearheaded, he still had a lot of his projects either rejected or cancelled midway through (twice for Dangaioh). He is definitely one of my favorite creators and I wish he had more and better opportunities.


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