Interview: Kiyotaka Suzuki

by Zac Bertschy,

This year's Anime Expo hosted the premiere of Infini-T Force, a new 3D CG series starring a superhero team of classic Tatsunoko characters set to air on TV in Japan next fall. Before its first episode premiered, we had the opportunity to sit down with Kiyotaka Suzuki, the director of this ambitious new adventure, and ask him some questions about the process of reviving these classic characters.


ANN: So this show is special. It brings together a bunch of Tatsunoko's most iconic superheroes, kind of like an Avengers team of Tatsunoko heroes. I was curious if you had a personal favorite from childhood, one of the characters that you were like the most excited about working with.

Kiyotaka Suzuki: Tekkaman. So when you think about my generation, I grew up with the second generation, Tekkaman Blade, which was not the original one, but that's what I really was attracted to as a kid.

These superheroes are all generally from around like the seventies or earlier. What appeal do you see in these characters for a modern generation, for today's teenage or younger audience?

Something that I think is really appealing is the passion of the old characters. I want to be able to show what's so cool about materials from that original generation to the audience today. Also the universality of those narratives.

Did you wind up having to update the characters personas at all for the new show? Are their personalities a little different to sort of match what people might expect from anime characters? Was there any attempt to modernize them as characters?

So at the level of design or the level of the dialogue, of course it's all been updated. In the original series, characters were all kind of in this position where boys were becoming young men, that transition. But the current one kind of moves the characters a little older. It's as if they already have that experience of the battle before them.

These shows were all animated traditionally back in the '70s. What led to the decision to make this show in 3D as opposed to traditional animation?

So this was Tatsunoko's 55th Anniversary Project, and we decided to undertake it as a new challenge.

Some productions have tried this, but with your 3D, are you attempting to emulate the look of traditional animated movement? A lot of 3D productions will drop frames from 3D animation to make it look more like anime. But anime fans are of split opinion on whether or not that's good. I was curious if your production would be at full framerate or if you were going for that kind of "animated on 10s" look that anime sometimes has.

We're doing it in full frame. What we're trying to do is make something that has a more realistic look as a TV series, and that's the challenge for this particular project.

That sounds challenging. So the Infinity Force manga launched, that was the first part of this project. Was this originally planned as a mixed media franchise, or did the success of the manga lead to "okay, now we're going to make an anime"?

It began originally as a visual production, so then the manga was done as an offshoot of that. It was always originally planned to be multimedia.

In a lot of press, it's mentioned that the anime is going to have a different story from the manga, or that the story will be a little bit different. I was just curious if you could tell us a little bit how, and why you decided not to adapt the manga directly?

Since it hasn't been released yet, I hope that's something you could just look forward to discovering.

You brought in the manga artist Oh! Great to handle the character designs for this. How did he come to be involved in the project? Were you a fan of his art before he was involved? Did you seek him out specifically to design these characters?

For this project of resurrecting the old Tatsunoko characters, we thought Oh! Great would be a good person to give a new look to them, to freshen them up so to speak.

It's a really cool choice. Do you find it daunting to be involved creatively with these beloved, classic characters? Do you feel intimidated at all by their legacy?

The original characters themselves are really made to have a broad appeal. Of course, while I felt pressure, I think I'm also able to get to what is essential to their sense of presence as characters.

Do you feel like you had a lot of freedom on the project to interpret the characters the way that you wanted to?

Of course there wasn't really external pressure, but because I'm so in awe of the original material, I felt a lot of internal pressure and desire to make something that was consistent with the originals.

The original Tatsunoko superhero series were children's entertainment, family entertainment you might say. They had a lot of underlying morality to them. There were messages about the environment and friendship and all that kind of stuff. Will Infinity Force be doing that kind of thing as well or are you taking it down a different road this time?

So at the entrance to the company office, there's a message from Yoshida Tatsuo, the founder of the company, which says that we must give dreams to children. I have been really trying to keep those words close to my heart as I create this piece.

When you were putting the series together, was there anything you were told "you absolutely cannot do that," with these characters and setting?

No.

As a director, how do you feel your previous work prepared you for this job, and do you feel like it uniquely prepared you for it?

At the level of story, no I don't think so. But at the technical level, my own previous work helped me develop skills in digital cinema and special effects that I think you can see in this new piece.

Is there anything that you want audiences to look out for specifically in the premiere this weekend?

Since this is the introductory episode, what I want the audience to know is that I will be true to the story, and they should keep watching.

Thanks to Anime Expo for this opportunity.


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