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Interview with Rising Star Sunghoo Park, Director of The God of High School

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Following acclaim for his directorial work on the technically impressive Garo -Vanishing Line- anime series, Sunghoo Park has continued to be the man to watch at studio MAPPA. Most recently he's brought his attention to detail on the fist-flying martial arts series The God of High School, based on a Korean webcomic. The Crunchyroll Original series follows three teenage martial artists who enter a mysterious tournament for the chance of having their one wish granted. Park discussed how the team got those martial arts sequences down and the scenes he most wants readers to look out for.

Thank you for your time and agreeing to this interview. Since this is the first time we've been able to talk with you, I was hoping you could give us an introduction to your career. When did you first begin working in animation and were there any shows and/or that inspired you to work in this field?

It all started in 2004 when I joined Studio Comet. I worked on the drawing of Onegai My Melody and others. I decided to work in the anime industry by watching the film, Macross: Do You Remember Love?. I of course watched the TV series, but this film really had a huge impact on me.

This is your second time directing with studio MAPPA since Garo -Vanishing Line- in 2017. Can you talk a bit about what you've been up to before signing on to direct The God of High School?

After Garo, I worked on the opening [sequence] of Zombie Land Saga. After that, while I worked on Banana Fish as an assistant director, I steadily prepared for The God of High School with script meetings and storyboarding.

What's the work environment like now that you've returned to MAPPA? Have there been any hurdles to overcome in production due to COVID-19? How did the team overcome those challenges?

As a production environment, MAPPA is very good. Work from home is encouraged during the declaration of the state of emergency due to COVID-19, and I sometimes felt that there was a lack of communication [with my team]. However, since we were working from home, we had more time to work without having to commute to work, and as a result, we were able to speed up the process in some ways.

The God of High School is interesting in that it has three main characters all fighting in this tournament for a different reason and utilizing different fighting styles. How did the team translate karate, taekwondo, kung fu, and sword-fighting into animation? Were there any useful references?

Unfortunately, I didn't have any experience in martial arts myself, so I learned it in books and on YouTube. I took care to share the images I had with my team by attaching YouTube links as a reference in addition to what is instructed in the storyboard.

Do you have any favorite martial arts films or performers?

One of my favorite fighting movies in particular is Jackie Chan's masterpiece, Drunken Master. Jackie may not be a martial artist, but my favorite performer is also Jackie Chan.

Early chapters of Yongje Park's original webcomic has a lot of implied action, we might see before and after but not the middle of a fight. How were the action scenes translated from the comic into animation?

I fully used my imagination to read between lines where the parts that weren't depicted. Sometimes I played it out in front of my mirror, I added my ideas to build up the action sequence and worked on camera angles and other things. I'm too embarrassed to show you the process, because I got blown up and fell down in the room, by doing some pretty spectacular actions (laughs).

What do you think makes the series unique among action anime?

In a word, it's a synchronization of stylish action and music with a lot of attention to detail.

The God of High School comic isn't just focused on action, it's very funny as well. Will the anime be balancing both the humor and action?

Humor and action are part of the charm of the original, and the anime naturally incorporates them. This was further enhanced by the performance of Tatsumaru Tachibana, the voice actor for the protagonist Mori. His ad-libbing enriched Mori's facial expressions and had a positive impact on our drawing as well. I think the balance between serious and comical is very good.

Of the three characters, I was personally struck by Daewi Han, the high school boy who was working extra jobs so his friend could afford medical treatment. This is a scenario that many people in the U.S. can relate to and so it's easy to sympathize with Daewi's motivations. Is there a similar situation regarding medical costs in Korea?

I think that taking some kind of action for your loved ones is something that we can all relate to universally. As for insurance, Korea has quite a good insurance system, and it is easy to get medical help, thus they can avoid serious illnesses.

Is there a moment in the anime that you are particularly excited for audiences to see? Do you have any messages for overseas fans?

I especially want you to pay attention to the slugfest in episode five and the entire episode 10. I hope you will enjoy the fusion of battle and music as I've tried to create a stylish action. So I hope you'll all enjoy it.

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