Interview: Eisaku Inoue

by Manu G.,

During this year's Japan Weekend Madrid in Spain, animator Eisaku Inoue sat down with us for an interview about his work and the current state of the anime industry. As an animator for Toei, Inoue has worked on franchises such as One Piece, World Trigger, Saint Seiya, Digimon, and Dragon Ball Z among many others.

How did you start working for Toei Animation?

Eisaku Inoue: I started working for a subcontracted company under Toei, which was easy-going because I didn't any have production responsibility. I had to draw what I was asked for, but I loved drawing, so I pretty much enjoyed the work there.

From One Piece to Dragon Ball to Saint Seiya, you've worked for some of the most famous anime franchises around the world. How does it feel to have taken part in such productions?

I just had the chance to work on all those series. I had to draw one way or another, so it's a matter of coincidence that I drew them instead of other anime. But I was fortunate enough to work on series which later became popular. For example, when working on Saint Seiya, most of the team wasn't sure if the production would last long. We thought the series wound end within just a few episodes and wouldn't be popular, so it was such a surprise when it became a success.

It's been a while since those anime first got released, but they are still considered major titles. Which newer series do you think could still be that relevant in the future?

Right now I'm experiencing the Kemono Friends' phenomenon. I think it's a masterpiece. The series is getting many fans in Japan, but it looks like the opposite of what you would call a good quality or popular anime. It's a cheap low-quality computer animation series that looks like it was made by a student during his free time.

So why do you think it's so good?

Because it was basically conceived alone by its creator, TATSUKI, and despite its lack of good quality CGI, he compensated with a great plot, direction, and execution. Normally, when you think about animation, you think about about good quality and visual impact. But with Kemono Friends it's the opposite. The animation impacts you because of how bad it is. But when you start watching the series, you realize the excellent narrative and direction. I'm sure many anime fans are going to get mad at me, but I think this kind of creation is even superior to the work of Makoto Shinkai or Mamoru Hosoda. His ability to tell a story with such cheap elements is sharper than those directors, and I even think that storytelling prowess could even reach the level of Hayao Miyazaki. The point is that people get surprised when they watch it, because you don't expect such a cheesy anime to be so narratively strong.

Now something happened to the production company making the anime, Yaoyorozu. I guess KADOKAWA, the partner who made the national broadcasting possible, asked TATSUKI to improve the animation quality and he refused, so they've cancelled the contract. Right now there's some controversy over the series, and I think this whole situation is indicative of how things will happen in the future, where really talented creators who have a limited access to a budget can break the paradigm of how anime production has worked until now.

I can understand your point on Kemono Friends, but I don't know if that seems like it will be comparable to hits like One Piece or Dragon Ball in the future.

Well, it's an anime that falls within the parameters of moe series (laughs). It's really interesting that not only is it cheap, it's in a genre that's not widely accepted as a good example of narrative. It's a low-budget anime that has some people touting it as a masterpiece while other people may watch it and not understand how they can get excited about a show in the sleazy moe genre.

Is this related to the current anime crisis? Are conventional production studios lacking for ideas?

I think there was a before-and-after shift in the anime industry between the '80s and '90s. At the end of the '80s, there was a very important economic crisis after the Japanese asset price bubble. Lots of money was spent on animation, resulting in a healthy growth of the anime industry at a production level but also a creative level. As the bubble burst, the production companies were reluctant to take any risks, so they cut budgets and played it safe. Instead of financing original series, they went for sequels and established popular characters. On a related note, many of those sequels were not as good as the originals. Now the situation is repeated. Many people in the industry will wait to see how things turn out for others before taking risks. So when a new niche market appears that assures you some audience, everyone follows it right away.

From a creativity point of view, what do you prefer: working on big franchises that have a clear roadmap or having some freedom when drawing?

I adapt to the production as necessary, so if I have to follow any character designer or animation director's direction, I do it. But as soon as I have the opportunity, I try to add something personal to the animation. When those personal elements are appreciated, in Japan as well as abroad, I feel really appreciated too. So I'd really like to create an original anime at some point, with an original plot and original character designs.



Thanks to Manu G. and Japan Weekend Madrid for this interview opportunity.


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