Anime Expo 2022
Interview with SPY x FAMILY Animation Producers Kazue Hayashi & Kazuki Yamanaka
by Bamboo Dong & Evan Miller,
SPY x FAMILY just finished a successful first season, quickly becoming one of the most beloved properties globally, with legions of cosplaying fans, commercial tie-ins like a Tamagotchi, and a t-shirt collection at UNIQLO. We had the privilege of sitting down with animation producers Kazue Hayashi and Kazuki Yamanaka when they traveled to California for Anime Expo.
So first off, congratulations to you both on the success of Spy×Family and Bubble, both of which you two had a hand in producing. When you both joined Wit Studio, did you expect to have a year like this one?
Both: Not really!
Kazuki Yamanaka: Honestly, there's been a lot of pressure.
Could you walk me through how you both became involved with Spy×Family, and what drew you to the project?
Yamanaka: Things started coming together in the summer of 2019, around September. We'd read the manga over the summer, so once we got the green light to work on the anime, we put a team together and started production in April 2020.
The interior design elements and furniture in Spy×Family are very thoughtfully curated. What informed some of those design decisions?
Kazue Hayashi: We really focused in on the designs from Endo-sensei's original manga, and then our artistic director team arranged things in a way we felt would best maintain the feel of the manga in the anime.
It wasn't as time consuming as it might seem; we put our trust in the staff to get it right and they brainstormed how to make it look good. Besides, having the original to refer back to makes the process easier. It might have been harder for Endo-sensei though! In any case, we had their approval during the process and are happy with how it came out.
Yamanaka: There were a lot of detail-heavy points we had to address, and it's a pretty unique title visually. Obviously we never want to cut corners, so to get the backgrounds right, the staff in charge of background design pulled out all the stops. Everything moved pretty smoothly overall.
Anya and the other kids have terrific, exaggerated facial expressions. Can you talk about their design and implementation?
Hayashi: The expressions and moods for the characters that Endo-sensei designed are a big part of the appeal of the series. As such, we didn't want the animation to affect their look. We consulted with them as we put the expressions together, such as Anya's crying face and that sort of “cute crying” the character does.
Yamanaka: We used a lot of character close-ups with Anya and so on as a way to accurately present them to the audience.
I'd like to ask about the gags and humor in the show. One of my favorite visual gags is a flashback that Yuri has when his sister, as a child, walks in covered in blood. It's played so straight-faced but it's very funny. What were some of your favorite comedic moments to plan out?
Yamanaka: For me, the scenes between Becky and Anya stand out. Becky warms to Anya, and she's always overly appreciative of it. Those sorts of scenes played for laughs are always fun. The scene where Damian gets hit was also one of my favorites.
Hayashi: To be honest, I can't really pick a favorite – there are so many!
Yamanaka: The voice actors really put a lot of work into their delivery on those lines.
Hayashi: The recording sessions were hilarious. We had to stop a few times since we were all laughing. In auditions, many of the cast asked how much we wanted them to play up those lines, and we let them try their own take on it. We had a number of times where someone would do a really funny line delivery in rehearsal, and we'd just ask them to reprise it in recording.
Another appealing aspect of this show is the use of different animation styles and references to other genres. I'm thinking in particular of the dodgeball episode. Were you able to draw on your experiences working on other series for those moments?
Yamanaka: The original scenes were simply interesting on their own, and we did consult with different animators to create those scenes. Still, like other parts of the anime, we consulted with Endo-sensei to create the look of those moments.
A lot of manga artists rely on their editors and other staff to take reference photos or find materials to develop those kinds of settings. Was that a step you had to take with the anime as well? Were you able to do any location scouting?
Hayashi: Unfortunately because of the pandemic, we weren't able to.
Yamanaka: Yeah, we didn't get to do any of that this time around.
That must have made things difficult from a creative standpoint.
Hayashi: We were able to get the reference photographs and materials that Endo- sensei used, so that helped. There wasn't a specific location or book we used; we pulled influences from all over.
Yamanaka: Besides that, our Art Director has a good sense for what kind of color palette and accents we wanted for the anime.
Between this series and your experience with a show like Ranking of Kings, do you find that animating child characters is a unique challenge?
Yamanaka: Most animators are used to working with adult characters and profiles, so having so many younger child characters was a challenge.
Hayashi: The height difference between characters is really pronounced in Spy×Family, which made layout design a lot trickier than it usually is.
Yamanaka: Fitting everyone onto the screen was tricky.
Hayashi: All the scenes where you'd see the height difference between Anya, Loid, and Yor... those layouts were the hardest.
Yamanaka: We'd often have to zoom out the perspective to fit everyone. If we'd done the show without that, I think the finished anime wouldn't look as good.
As one of the shows made in the pandemic, it's been a long road from production to now. How does it feel to see such a strong response from fans here at Anime Expo?
Hayashi: It's fantastic.
Yamanaka: I'm happy the response has been so positive!
Any thoughts on future projects you'd like to take on at WIT?
Yamanaka: We'd love to continue producing original stuff, and for titles based on an original work or manga, we hope we can meet the standard we've set with this series!
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