• remind me tomorrow
  • remind me next week
  • never remind me
Subscribe to the ANN Newsletter • Wake up every Sunday to a curated list of ANN's most interesting posts of the week. read more

Sakura-Con 2023
Inside the Job of Veteran Toei Animation Animator Hisashi Kagawa

by Caitlin Moore,

ANN's coverage of Sakura-Con sponsored by Yen Press!

This year, Sakura-Con welcomed Hisashi Kagawa among its Guests of Honor. Kagawa has had a decades-spanning career, including as a key animator, animation director, and character designer for several Toei Animation franchises, such as Pretty Cure and Sailor Moon. Most recently, he served as Chief Animation Director for Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai, which he sat down to talk about with a moderator.

Photo by Caitlin Moore

First, Kagawa said that he was enjoying his time in Seattle and at Sakura Con. He'd visited the first Starbucks at Pike Place Market, petted the pig statue for good luck, and visited the graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee to pay his respect for such legendary action stars. He loved seeing the enthusiasm of the fans and cosplayers.

From there, Kagawa began to discuss his involvement with Dragon Quest while working on a drawing of Dai. When he was approached about the project, he hadn't been familiar with the original manga, but as he read it for research, he came to truly understand the appeal and wanted to see the anime get to the end of the story. He chuckled a bit about how, since work on the anime wrapped up back in October, he needed to pull up a reference to make sure he got all the details on Dai correct.

He described the job of Chief Animation Director as being responsible for maintaining consistent animation quality throughout the production. With so many animators, all of them will draw the characters slightly differently, so it was up to him to keep everyone on model throughout. Unlike series like Pretty Cure and Sailor Moon, Dragon Quest is an adventure story, so it demanded a slightly different approach.

When asked why he thought adventure anime was so popular in Japan, he noted that Dragon Quest is based on an extremely popular game series, in a rich world populated with a diverse cast of characters. Audiences felt like they had explored that world and come to identify with it and its characters, so they feel a deep-set affinity. Kagawa is particularly proud of the character Popp, who started off more like a normal person than a protagonist: a bit of a coward who would run and hide whenever conflict arose. However, over the story, he grew into a stronger figure. Kagawa expressed a deep affection for the character and pride in his growth.

The Adventure of Dai had faced a number of delays throughout its production, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a cyberattack on Toei Animation. The broadcast delays made it so Kagawa initially felt like they'd have plenty of time, but with all the action scenes and increasingly intense battles, it never stopped feeling like there was a lot of work to do on a tight schedule. He was half-grateful for the opportunity to work on it, but it was a challenging and intense project.

Photo by Caitlin Moore

When asked if it was easier to work on an original anime or adapt an existing property, he described the advantages and disadvantages of each. When an original manga or game exists, the animation team has something to work off of, which can lighten the burden on the storyboarders and designers. However, that means fans will also come with their own preconceptions of things like how Dai should move or how characters should sound, and the anime production wants to meet their expectations. Deciding which direction to take the story can feel like a weekly release on its own, since he's looking forward to how each thing turned out.

At this point, the moderator turned to asking about Tiger Mask W, which he said was one of his favorite series. Kagawa said that because Tiger Mask W had so many new characters, it felt more like working on an original series than an adaptation. While he didn't feel like he resembled any of the characters, since they were all pro wrestlers, if he had to choose a favorite, it would be the titular Tiger Mask.

From there, the moderator switched over to some questions about his work on Sailor Moon and its legacy. Kagawa had been an animation director on the majokko (lit. "little witch") series Mahōtsukai Sally, and his supervisor on that project recommended him for work on Sailor Moon. At the time, animators had a lot more freedom in their projects; unlike his work on Dragon Quest, it was normal for things to look a little different from week to week, and each animator was able to contribute their own unique vision. His work on Sailor Moon developed the skills that aided him as a character designer for Fresh Pretty Cure and other installments of the franchise.

When asked what he'd like to people to recognize as his signature work, when looking back at his career as a whole, Kagawa brought up Sailor Jupiter's transformation sequence. He also enjoyed how, in Tiger Mask W, he was able to bring his own personality into the characters, including the female wrestlers. He recommended that new animators pay attention to how things move and moving images, as opposed to still illustrations. They must work to develop their own style, but in doing so, adapt from other artists and incorporate what works for them. As the panel reached its end, he expressed gratitude to the fans for coming to see him and the time we spent together.

discuss this in the forum (2 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

back to Sakura-Con 2023
Convention homepage / archives