Director Yasuda Kenji on Macross ∆
May 29, 2016 6 Comments
I’d been planning to take a break, honest. But then Bandai Channel published their next Creators Selection interview, and it turned out to be Yasuda Kenji, director of Macross ∆. In the second half, he talks candidly about developing the new Macross series with Kawamori Shōji, and I felt that I just had to share.
Do note, however, that Yasuda does give a few light spoilers about what’s going to happen in the series from here on out. So if you’d rather not be spoiled, please stop once they start discussing the Aerial Knights. If you read on, don’t say I didn’t warn you! And without further ado, please enjoy.
Bandai Creators Selection #32: Yasuda Kenji (2nd half only)
Interviews where creators reflect on themselves and the shows they’ve worked on.
This week, we speak with Yasuda Kenji, the director of Macross ∆, which is the talk of the town and whose theme has topped the music charts. ~~ Together with Director Kawamori Shōji, who’s renowned for his fantastical ideas, he has developed the world views, characters and story of a new addition to the franchise. And idol unit, a rune sparking on the head of the heroine, and dancing valkyries—all this and more in a new development in Macross. How did these ideas come into being? This month, we press yet another creator for the reality behind his work.
Edit: Interview conducted and written up by Ryūsuke Nagakawa
Macross ∆: a new challenge in a series full of history
Now, I’d like to ask you about Macross ∆ (2016). How did you come to be appointed as the director for the show?
Yasuda: I got the call quite early on, back when people were saying “Kawamori is starting a new Macross series,” back when he still hadn’t decided on the direction it would take. At first, it was going to be something like a ‘club activities’ story, with a competition involving air combat… (More information on this early idea can be found in this interview conducted by Ollie Barder.)
So not something involving war?
Yasuda: Right. But because it’s Macross, (line producer) Eguchi Kouhei and I talked him out of it, like “It’s better to have an adversary, don’t you think?” (laughs). Because Macross F had those bugs, the Vajra, as enemies, we figured that “this time, the opponents should also be people,” and the Aerial Knights were born from that. We also chatted about how interesting it would be if the adversaries had their own singer, and so the story slowly took form. When we were close to solidifying the foundations of the characters, we had Nemoto Toshizo come on board as series composer, and set about filling them out completely. Then we had something of a camp where we set out the entire series, and kept adding more and more detail until it all materialised, until it felt complete. I’ve been involved in a lot of adaptations, so I found this experience of learning how to create an original story really interesting. That said, this is Kawamori’s way of creating something—it’s quite unique in that he usually hasn’t decided for certain what will happen next (laughs).
Kawamori doesn’t really like doing what’s been done before, or something that’s pre-ordained or according to a particular pattern, does he?
Yasuda: And I’m the complete opposite, someone who has peace of mind only when there’s a relatively set plan for going forward. So this experience was somewhat nerve-wracking (laughs). Even if the general framework is established, we’d go this way and that on the path towards the goal. Saying stuff like “this character would act in this way,” (we’d) come up with something that brings the character to life and thus changes the path forward. There were times when I worried about whether we’d be able to wrap up the huge canvas that we’d laid out. But since this is Macross, we leant on the power of songs and used feats of strength to push it through (laughs). Macross ∆ should end in quite a different way from all the other series that have come before.
Because Frontier was such a huge hit, did you feel pressure to live up to that?
Yasuda: Definitely. If we did the same thing again, then the series might have worked because we’d have been drawing on something stable. But Kawamori definitely does not repeat anything that he’s done before. He did also work on AKB0048 (2012), but when you have a five-person group, then the musical variation increases exponentially. The chorus work and splitting of songs into the different singing parts is really interesting, and we’ve also put in some nostalgic melodies and techno beats. The audience reception seems to have been pretty good, so I’m quite relieved.
Is the challenge this time having a unit take on the songstress role?
Yasuda: Because both sides are fighting in teams, “teamwork” is one of the big themes that has emerged. In Frontier, you had a lot of one-on-one dogfights in space; this time, we’ve got dogfights within an atmosphere as well as teams going head-to-head, so there is a lot more going on in each shot. And for longer shots, we’ve got to weave them coming in and out two, maybe three times. The CG team was pretty much in tears (chuckles), but now those confrontations have a certain aura about them. The other new development, compared to everything that’s come before, is in how we depict the singers standing on the battlefield.
Is there anything in particular that you keep in mind for the scenes involving music or performances?
Yasuda: Kawamori and I have split the storyboarding work between us, and I’m mostly in charge of the ‘everyday’ parts, whilst he does the performances and battle scenes. The synchronisation with music is something that really gives me that “This is Macross” feeling. There are a lot of shots where it’s not just instrumentals running in the background; rather, the action is synched to the tension in the songs, or to the lyrics. For example, we have shots of the characters feeling something pull at their hearts just when the lyrics are saying the same thing… The lyrics and chorus work are also pretty complicated, so with all of these different elements, it becomes something of a puzzle (that has to be put together). There are other shows where there is singing in battle scenes, but it’s like we’re at a whole other level from the rest of the crowd, a level where only Kawamori can pull it off. That’s what I feel, watching from right beside him. Someone who doesn’t have a brain that can build valkyries with lego wouldn’t be able to draw those storyboards.
But it feels wonderful to really get into puzzles like that.
Yasuda: It does indeed. Those storyboards are really detailed, with so much information that it takes quite some time to read through them. But when it comes to the editing stage, when cutting the length of the shots and adding the sounds, then you just get it, like “I see, so this is how it all turns out.” And every week, we have a new song, too. During the Frontier TV series, there weren’t that many performances or battle scenes, but they really upped the ante for the films. After that, many other shows have been made in the industry, and we’ve gotten a lot more idol anime, too. So the hurdle for this new Macross series has slowly been rising on both fronts. We have set a pretty high hurdle for ourselves, but we really take on board the feedback we get each week. It’s still a work in progress.
‘The shining rune’ is Macross ∆’s new invention
Moving on, what would you say are the traits that define each of the characters?
Yasuda: Both Hayate and Freyja are pretty straightforward, so I’d like them to come across as being quite ‘fresh’. They do get troubled, but they don’t dwell on things and tend to take action instead. When we started planning, we had Hayate down as a sulky youngster, but we ended up making him quite frank and honest instead. He comes across as having no direction, but when he does look at something, he really gives it his attention. He’s someone you can count on, the kind of person you’re want as a friend—that’s what we’re aiming for. He’s also pretty creative, and doesn’t wear a helmet when piloting his valkyrie.
Freyja’s hair is pretty interesting.
Yasuda: In the show, they call it a ‘rune’—that’s a sensory organ that all Windermereans have. Males have two, whilst females have just one, but they all shine or change colour in accordance with how they feel. Accordingly, you can tell when they’re excited, or if they’re pretty tense and just putting on a straight face. So we can depict some interesting situations — it’s pretty useful for us (laughs).
Would you say that it’s a new invention for this work?
Yasuda: With the Macross franchise, concerts are a given, so we thought it’ll be interesting to have everyone in the venue wear runes and wave (them) at us. Within the show, the etiquette for adults is that they shouldn’t let their emotions show, so having your rune shine is considered disgraceful.
It’s also refreshing how Freyja has such a peculiar way of speaking. Did you come up with an original dialect of some sort?
Yasuda: The setting for Freyja’s character is that she hails from a rural area, which she leaves because she looks up to idols and wants to become one, so we created a phony dialect to help us convey that. It’s a combination of a number of different regional dialects, and I think it’s pretty interesting, but it’s also something that really raises the hurdle for a newbie voice actor. Thankfully, Suzuki Minori has a very good sense (for voices)—I think we managed to find someone really fitting for the role.
I’ve seen the ‘Making-of’ video(s) you’ve released, and she seems to have nerves of steel.
Yasuda: Just before the start of the weekly broadcast, there was a concert at a theatre, and she was extremely nervous. But when she stepped onto the stage, she just went forward boldly, leading the crowd throughout the performance. It was really impressive. When she told the staff that she’d been in elementary school when Frontier was running, we had jaws dropping all over the place (laughs).
Time really does fly, doesn’t it? (laughs) What’s the (love) triangle like this time?
Yasuda: The main triangle consists of Freyja, Hayate and Mirage—we’re aiming for something that feels good, without the syrupy or muddled aspects that you often see in those midday soaps. I want a romance where the viewers feel like they want to watch over these characters.
Mirage’s family lineage, where she’s the granddaughter of Max and Milia, seems to have caused a bit of a stir.
Yasuda: From my perspective as one of the creators, I was actually surprised at just how much of an impact this had. Macross does have a history of over 30 years as a franchise now, and we figured that Max and Milia’s family could be regarded as carrying on the legacy—they also appeared in Macross 7, after all.
Contrasts between the other characters also makes for some interesting interpersonal relationships.
Yasuda: There are quite a number of characters, but each one of them is unique. It’s been difficult doing justice to each and every one of them, but I think that we should succeed in making sure that none of them are buried beneath the rest.
I was also really surprised to see dancing valkyries. How did that idea come about?
Yasuda: Hayate was originally someone who wanted to become a dancer, so that aspect of his character has survived in this form. In any case, he’s a youth that can pull off a lot of things off skilfully, but somehow doesn’t have a particular goal. Until he encounters the valkyrie and finds great joy in flying in the sky, which is when he finally starts thinking “This is where I belong.” But because they’re in the middle of a war, he comes up against the reality that he can’t just enjoy himself flying about. And so he finds a reason for flying. That kind of growth is a huge theme in this series.
Along with Walkure—for whom you did actually look at real life dancers—doesn’t this mean that ‘dance’ has become a keyword for the show?
Yasuda: Indeed, we asked a professional choreographer to help us with several of the songs, to come up with group formations and dance movements, and that enabled us to animate those scenes well. For Hayate, what was written on storyboard was simply “The valkyrie dodges the bullets as if it were dancing,” which really put the CG team in a spin. So, we asked someone/people amongst the staff who could breakdance to allow us to take videos of them dancing, and used that for reference.
Nowadays, you can even learn dance in classes at school, so it seems like the upcoming generations are of people who can dance.1
Yasuda: People in our generation generally find it embarrassing to dance in front of others, so it does feel like there’s been a generational change (laughs). The notion of a ‘dancing valkyrie’ is also something that hasn’t been done until now, so we were a bit concerned about how Macross fans would react. But there are many who’ve said that it’s interesting, since it’s an action that represents Hayate as a character, I think it’s worked pretty well.
Moving on to the Aerial Knights now, what are some of their characteristics?
Yasuda: They’re ‘a group of hunks’ (laughs). We ended up with a lot more characters as a result, but on the other hand, we were able to show just the key visuals revealing ’a good-looking army corps vs. Walkure’ at the first stage event about Macross ∆. In doing that, we managed to hide information about Hayate and Mirage. Amongst these adversaries, we also have the veteran pilot, Master Herrman, who’s pretty popular amongst the staff. We’re going to be covering the way that he looks at the world, what he places value on, and through that reveal more about the situation on Windermere’s side. In accordance with that depth (of information?), we’ll be bringing out something new in each and every episode.
What would you say is the axle upon which the series turns?
Yasuda: “Coming closer to the mysteries of the Protoculture” is a major theme in the story. Who is going to be involved in this? One of the Walkure singers, Mikumo, has been depicted as a rather mysterious individual until now, but how is she going to act from here on out? And how are our protagonists going to approach, overcome and fight against both the battle prowess and the sense of values that their adversaries have? We’ll keep dishing up flashy battle scenes and performances, with the hope that you will continue to enjoy this story about young people growing up. Another theme that runs through the show is the notion of “treasuring each and every moment, living without wasting any of it,” so I hope that you’ll feel something from the various messages that we’ve encapsulated in it.
Is it there that we’ll find the meaning in why you’ve decided to depict people fighting against each other? I mean, one of the adversaries has already died.
Yasuda: We felt that there was no getting around that. Of course, it’s something that we struggled with. It was my own selfish desire that had me saying “It’s better to have an adversary,” but as a result, I’ve had to come face-to-face with the fact that “this is what it means to be fighting against other people.”
An endeavour to expand the great history of the Macross franchise
When we compile the various works in the franchise, we can see that there’s already a sizeable history here.
Yasuda: The history is all connected, such that the chronology has become quite a considerable beast. During the script meetings, Kodachi (Ukyō) joined us as a record keeper, following-up on everything in terms of the settings. Whenever I hear “This incident happened in this year, so this particular colony ship should be in this area,” I realise all over again that this is what it means to have a work with such a great history behind it. There are fans who are fascinated by even the smallest detail about the mechs of previous series—that in itself tells you how interesting ‘a franchise that has history’ is.
It’s been 8 years since Frontier, so CG technology has advanced as well.
Yasuda: That’s why we can’t use the CG models from the past—we have to increase the level of detail in them. Should we spend time on that, or should we spend time on increasing the quality of the rest of the animation? The balance between these choices is always at the back of my mind. We also need to surpass the concert scenes in Frontier, and projection mapping and virtual reality have become so familiar now that we need to move even further ahead.2 That’s yet another theme, so we want to keep challenging ourselves in that regard.
The character “∆” is a straight-up representation of the triangle—when was that decided?
Yasuda: We went with Macross ∆ (working title) for quite a while, but after examining a few different options, we came back round and decided on “∆”. It’s nice and short, and the staff were already quite attached to it. So we’ve ended up with a nice title that really represents what the work is all about.
And how are things going to proceed henceforth?
Yasuda: We’re going to build and build until the end of the first cour. Our protagonists are going to be driven into a corner by ever more intense attacks from their adversaries, and it’s a matter of how they will stand up against that. The story will gather speed, but there’s a story that doesn’t end simply waiting after that..something like that. There’s nothing like “a hot springs” episode where we can all take a breather, so each and every episode should be really enjoyable. And if you rewatch some of it, you should be able to see a number of connections between various elements, so I hope you enjoy that aspect of it as well.
It’s great that there’s value in watching it over again.
Yasuda: We’d be pleased if viewers are surprised to find that something or other was an element of foreshadowing. One of the strengths of an original work is that we can go back to a script that we’ve written and rewrite it, stacking up little pieces of foreshadowing. It feels like we’ve complied close to two episodes worth of content into each densely packed script. And each of these packed scripts has also been turned into an even more packed storyboard, so there really is a heap of content.
Finally, can I ask you for a message for the fans?
Yasuda: The Macross franchise has come 34 years since the first TV broadcast—it’s a title with a great history. And to that history, we’re adding the new work known as Macross ∆. But this time, we’re not just trying to add another piece of history, we’re also digging and diving into the mysteries of the Protoculture, and depicting the Windermereans and a host of other peoples, all in an effort to expand the Macross universe. We’re still in the middle of production, but we’re doing this with the hope that the world of Macross will continue on without end. I’m sure there will be many new fans coming in through Macross ∆, but I believe that Macross is a title that people will be able to enjoy forever, so I hope that you will stay with us for many years to come.
(Profile) Born in 1972 and hailing from Tochigi Prefecture, YASUDA Kenji joined Studio Fantasia in 1995 and cut his teeth on the OVA Megami Paradise. Following that, he storyboarded and directed episodes of Space Pirate Mito (1999) as part of SHAFT, worked as assistant director on Boogiepop Phantom (2000) and Noien – to your other self (2005), before moving on to Satellite. Notable works that he’s directed include Shugo Chara! (2007), Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth (2011), Arata the Legend (2013) and the Genesis of Aquarion Love OVA (2015). He also served as assistant director on Satō Jun’ichi’s M3 the dark metal (2014). Now, he’s working with Chief Director Kawamori Shōji on Macross ∆, with a view towards expanding the scope of the franchise.
Disclaimer: This is the 7th post in my “On Anime ‘Writing’” project. As always, the translation is entirely mine, as are any mistakes and misinterpretations. Please do not copy and paste large portions of it anywhere else, though feel free to link to the post itself if you wish.
And now, I think I’ll take a good month or so off these interview translations… I’m still planning to do a certain Yoshino interview (or three), but it’ll take just that little bit longer.
- I don’t know how popular breakdancing is the rest of the world, but it’s huge in Japan. Every school has quite a few students who do it, and many dance performances that classes will work on for their school festivals will feature a decent amount of breakdancing. ↩
- Kawamori goes into this issue in more detail in his own Bandai Channel interview, which dates from July 27, 2015. ↩