Interview: The Staff of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slimeby Kyle Cardine,
In a landscape filled with isekai shows, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime offers a different approach. What if you were brought into a new world not as a wise wizard, powerful swordsman, or with your smartphone, but as a slime? Director Yasuhito Kikuchi and character designer Ryouma Ebata headed this adaptation by light novel author Fuse, which actually started out as an online publication. Kikuchi, known for directing series like Macross Frontier and Infinite Stratos, and Ebata, who was the character designer for Busou Shinki and Magical Warfare, came to Anime NYC, where we had the chance to sit down with them and talk about their deep histories with key animating.
ANN: Kikuchi-san, how did you first get involved in this project? And what was your first impression of the novels when you read them?
Kikuchi: First, it was offered by Bandai Namco Arts and it sounded like an interesting project. I also knew about the slime novel since it was a self-published story. Then I got the offer. I thought it was easy to read and thought it would be fun to develop the story.
Since you're here in New York, has Atsushi Nakayama been handling things in your stead? How do you normally divide the role of director with Nakayama?
Yes, he's been handling things. I make the initial plans, and then I pass it off to Nakayama. And he'll do the practical work for production. I'm more of a planner where Nakayama is doing the practical work.
You storyboarded the first episode of Slime, while Nakayama directed it. What sort of conversations did you have about translating your storyboards into animation?
I generally discussed the image of the show, like coloring and such.
You previously directed Infinite Stratos, another light novel anime adaptation produced at 8-Bit. What sort of challenges are there to adapting books as opposed to manga or anime-original projects?
For light novels, you can create things the way you like.
Masaru Yonezawa solo key animated the first episode of the anime. What convinced you to allow a single animator to handle all the key animation in the opening episode?
Yonezawa is a great animator, I know this is hard but ideally, I think all the parts can really be done by one person. And his schedule was open, so I thought “let's do it.”
That must take incredible endurance for one person.
There are so many people who want to do it though. Mentally, it's quite tough.
These days you're known as a mecha specialist, but Slime doesn't have any mecha elements at all. What sort of challenges did you face depicting a European-inspired isekai fantasy compared to your usual projects?
For Slime, there are lots of elements from different countries. Like Germany, England, and even Asian elements. Each is separated in different ways. It takes a lot of research.
You're also well known for depicting bishoujo characters. The protagonist of Slime is a slime, but he also gives off the vibe of a “bishoujo” character, don't you think? What's your perception of the slime as a character?
It doesn't matter what sex or gender, I want to have attractive and interesting characters. That's how I want to make it.
This series has a lot of digital effects. What made you want to use these kinds of effects?
This time, graphic designer Haibara joined the project and he gave us a lot of suggestions and we went from there.
Finally, what aspect of the anime would you like viewers to focus on?
I can explain the point of storyboard. If it's drawn by someone else it's usually lighter on like action scenes. Therefore, my work is to take in a lot of ideas into action scenes and making the drawing fun.
Ebata-san, as a key animator, you're well known for your unique style of character animation. However, as an animation director, your role is to ensure consistency among all the animators working on Slime. How do you juggle the need for consistency in anime with the unique art styles of the individual animators?
Ebata: The difficulty is that since it's aired on TV, there are lots of limitations with time and budgets, so how you deal with that is important. With theatrical films, there is a direction plan including the introduction, development, turn and conclusion to create consistency. However, because it is difficult to manage everything satisfactorily in a TV series, this time with “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime”, we are using a method that uses all the ideas from each animator, not just unifying all the animators working on Slime.
In the end, which do you prefer doing: key animation or animation direction?
I like doing whatever is most needed, but I consider myself as a key animator.
The sense of accomplishment.
Where did you develop that unique style of walking animation that you're well-known for?
I've been trying it for a while. It's trial and error in experimenting, like with the movement of the left and right foot and the speed. Nowadays, I have a lot of experience with that and have the skills to show that.
The walk/run cycle is one of the fundamentals of 2D animation, but it's something that even pros can struggle with. What sort of advice do you have for animators who are struggling with walk/run cycles?
Advice, huh? [laughs] You got to walk around yourself and then you can feel how it is. That's the most basic and important part. When you want to know the movement of something, like your finger or foot, you see it right away.
Do you get the impression that any of the animators you've been working with on Slime have been influenced by your style?
I wonder. I don't know if they're influenced by me, but when I need to discuss something with someone, I turn to Masaru Yonezawa. I don't know if they're influenced by me. We understand each other and the ideas work. Maybe we do, but it's not like I'm purposefully influencing something.
I guess it's like parenting where sometimes you don't know what is rubbing off to the kids.
Yonezawa-san may be like that because he's my senpai.
How about the division of roles between you and Takahiro Kishida for monster design. What is that like?
For human characters, that was mainly me. For monsters, that was Kishida-san. There are some in-betweens, like a human looking person with horns and such. There's always that split between what is a monster and what is a human character. I take things that look more human and Kishida will take things like the goblins.
What sort of ideas did you come up with to make the slime's emotions more expressive in the animation?
Actually, as I mentioned, most of the monster characters were designed by Kishida. So, the slime was designed by him and I reckon the unique point is that a slime expresses emotion with cartoon effects using its own body.
Finally, what aspect of the anime would you like viewers to focus on?
The anime is still ongoing, so please look forward to how it develops.
Thank you to Yasuhito Kikuchi, Ryouma Ebata, Bandai Namco Arts, and Anime NYC for the opportunity.