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Interview: My Hero Academia's Yoshihiko Umakoshi and Chris Sabat

by Jacob Chapman,

As the second season of My Hero Academia roared to a fever pitch, attendees at Anime Expo 2017 cheered on the series' animation director Yoshihiko Umakoshi and the English voice of All Might Chris Sabat in a panel room packed to capacity. Just after their panel, we asked these two special guests what it's been like working on MHA's first tournament arc.

ANN: When you first got onto the project, how did you approach animating Horikoshi's designs? Were they easy to adapt to animation or difficult?

Umakoshi: My first impression was that they were very suited for animation. In terms of making them living, moving characters, all we did was basically simplify his lines. That's all we needed to do, because the manga already had a lot of movement.

What was your first impression of Christopher Sabat's All Might performance when you heard it, compared to the Japanese version?

Umakoshi:It wasn't when I watched his voice in the dubbed version, but when I heard him live next to me, speaking in All Might's voice, that it really shook my heart. That shook me to the core. I knew that it was All Might, it was the right voice.

I've been listening to Christopher's performances in dubs since he's been doing them, and of the many great roles he's played, I've never heard a character that seemed more perfect for him than All Might.

Umakoshi: I really want the original manga writer, Horikoshi-san, to hear his voice in real time, not just through anime.

Sabat: This is my favorite interview by the way, you guys are welcome to compliment me more.

For Chris, now that we're into the second season, how has your understanding of All Might as a character grown, and how do you feel about him now that you've been performing him for a while.

Sabat: It's funny. I felt that I really came to understand All Might at the end of the first season. For the first half of the second season, All Might hasn't had a lot of participation, but I've gotten a lot out of the lighter, more delicate conversations that he's had. His lines have a lot of foreboding to them. Something is happening, I don't even know exactly what yet.

It's a little scary, I hope he's not going anywhere.

Sabat: Yeah. You can tell that something is happening. He's just found out that his sensei wants to train Izuku. I still don't know what that's about either. He's really been on the sidelines, but I have a feeling that's about to change dramatically. The show is just so well-done, and some of it's because the animation is so good, you can gather so much information about how these characters are feeling just by looking at them. It's one of the few shows I've worked on where you may not even need to hear the line you're dubbing to understand and feel what these characters are like. So I've gotten a lot more character information from the animation than I normally get, especially from a shonen anime.

It must be helpful for simul-dubbing, because you don't have to ask the director much about context.

Sabat: It's true. It's nice to be doing it so close to the broadcast, and I've now gotten right at the point where I haven't read any more of the manga yet, so I need to start catching up on a little bit more of that.

For Umakoshi, the big episode that many American fans really got excited over was the fight between Todoroki and Izuku. I know that you were heavily involved with that episode and the process of getting it just right, so what was preparation for that episode like?

Umakoshi: I think that story arc was something we couldn't fail animating. Before we actually started working on those episodes of the story, we paid attention to the assignments of which key animators would go to which part of that story. We selected somebody who was skilled in certain things and matched them with who works best in other parts of that scene. In that last moment when they collide, you remember?

ANN: Yutapon, right?

Umakoshi: (in English) Ah, you know. More amazing animators.

Yeah, definitely. The US reaction to that episode was crazy. I haven't seen such an intense love for a single episode of animation in a long time. What was the Japanese reaction like when that fight came out? And how did manga fans react?

Umakoshi: Personally, I did feel quite a strong reaction from the Japanese audience as well. That particular story had a lot of attention on it by the fans.

Do you have a personal favorite character to animate or storyboard?

Umakoshi: All Might, always All Might. It's always been All Might.

Big All Might or shrunken All Might?

Umakoshi: Both. Because he has those two sizes, that's why he's interesting to draw.

If you were in the world of My Hero Academia, what kind of hero would you like to be? And what kind of costume or name would you like to have?

Umakoshi: I'll be the type of hero that picks up miscellaneous weapons to fight with and protects myself with special armor. I don't think I would have any powers myself.

So quirk-less?

Umakoshi: Probably I would be quirk-less. I'd need time to think about the name.

For future material from the manga, what are you most looking forward to working on that has not been animated yet?

Umakoshi: The development of the relationship between Deku and All Might is one, but also the development of the relationship between Deku and Bakugo is going to be something. I'm looking forward to working on that.

Exciting! The production cycle for My Hero Academia is different from a lot of Shonen Jump adaptations. Bones has decided to split it into 13 and then 24 and then maybe 13 again, however it works. Is that an easier production cycle to work under than how Naruto and One Piece work, which is just all year round? Do you prefer it that way, or do the long breaks make it difficult to get back into the groove?

Umakoshi: Personally, it would be best if I could be working on it continuously, throughout a whole year. But in reality, sometimes it doesn't work out that way, due to different aspects of business and things. But in reality, the schedule did line up so that we worked on the second season right after the first season ended, so I have been working on it somewhat continuously, even if the delivery of the product comes in batches.

Fans don't really know about that, so they have to assume there must be more lag time, when there may not be.

Umakoshi: When there's original work, when you keep continuously working on it, at some point you're going to catch up to the manga. Since both producers and creators really want to respect the original work, they want to make sure that they don't have to defer too much from it.

For my part, I do prefer to wait, actually. I'm happy when I feel like you have the resources and the time to do your best with the best material. So this is a weird question, but there's a lot of stuff that people expect to love, like the Todoroki and Deku fight, so they already have high expectations, and sometimes there's strange things that become big and I don't think that you necessarily know it's going to happen. Like for some reason the internet went crazy over Tsuyu's hero name, Froppy, and I don't know why, but it was a big deal. So have there been any big-deal moments in the anime that you weren't expecting like that?

Umakoshi: This includes actually myself too, in terms of discovering that All Might is actually a Japanese person, Toshinori. When All Might receives a letter from Gran Torino, it says “Dear Toshinori.” So his name is Japanese. It's not spoken about loudly or anything, but it's there. So the fact that he's actually Japanese was an unexpected surprise to many viewers, including myself.

Last question. Everyone has a different personal journey in My Hero Academia. For Uraraka, it's supporting her family, for Todoroki, it's about personal pride. Of all the characters and their emotional journeys, what speaks to you the most personally?

Umakoshi: This is something that I really don't want to think about, but we can see that the end can be predicted between Deku and All Might's relationship going forward. So as we work in production, we don't always think about what might happen to All Might, but that's something that I'm personally interested in discovering and depicting, moving forward.

We love My Hero Academia very much. Thank you for working so hard on it.

Umakoshi: Thank you very much.

Thanks to Anime Expo and Funimation for this opportunity.

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