IGPX - Interview with director Mitsuru Hongo

by Bamboo Dong,
The last segment of our interviews with th IGPX production staff concludes with an interview with the director of the series, Mitsuru Hongo. He's joined by international operations manager Maki Terashima from Production IG, and the producer and creative director for the series, Sean Akins from Cartoon Network. We hope you enjoy it, and don't forget to check out our other interviews with producers Sean Akins and Jason DeMarco!

What were your thoughts when you first got contacted about doing this project?

Mitsuru Hongo: I wasn't really told to make it for an American audience. I was just told to direct the series based on a pilot film that's already been completed, so all I thought about was how to make the series more appealing and interesting.

Has your viewpoint on the whole directing process changed knowing that it'll be targeted for the whole world, including the US?

MH: Three years ago, when I first came to America to attend Anime Expo, I found out that Outlaw Star and Shamanic Princess, both of which I directed, were being enjoyed by American fans. Until then I didn't know that these series were being enjoyed by Americans or people outside of Japan, so I realized that if you make any show interesting and attractive, not only will the Japanese fans watch it, but also people outside Japan. When I was told to direct IGPX, I only concentrated on making the show interesting, not just for the Japanese or for any targeted country... just for people all over the world.

What are some of the main themes that you wanted to portray?

MH: Our team is Team Satomi. They're a rookie team in the IG1 league and when they enter IG1, they are still very disorganized and their teamwork isn't going too well, especially with everyone going off on their own. As the series is progresses, though, they start realizing that teamwork is very important in conquering any conflict. I wanted to concentrate on the theme that something you cannot accomplish or conquer by yourself can be accomplished by cooperating with other people

Sean (Akins) has said before that the whole show is kind of like Formula 1 with giant robots. Are you a racing fan?

MH: I have never really been a big fan of any kind of auto racing or motor sports, but the pilot, which was a miniseries, had a story that was based more on battles. When I heard the title IGPX, I thought it should be more of a race than a battle. Since this show had been given to me to direct, I studied a lot about racing.

So far, the series is being planned for 26 episodes. Do you have any plans to take it beyond that?

MH:As long as the Cartoon Network people are happy with it, I'd like to continue making more of IGPX, even if it takes 10 years or 20 years. Maybe by the tenth season, Takeshi will be like 30 years old and still racing. [laughs]

What have been some of the challenges so far in making the show?

MH: The most challenging part about the creative part of it was that the race scenes are done in 3D CG, and it's really difficult to merge that with 2D animation and make it look like everything is moving very fast.

How much input does IG have in the English dub?

Maki Terashima: We really don't. Once we make the Japanese version, we deliver it to Cartoon Network. From then on, they take charge of making the English dub, so we have nothing to do with the English version.

Sean Akins: That's not true at all.

MT: Yes, it is.

SA: No, it's not.

MT: We have two Production IGs: one in Japan and one in the US, and I'm sort of working as a liaison between the two of them. I'm partly involved in the English dubbing but the Japan side isn't.

SA: That's correct. IG stays involved in production. Maki is there for all the voiceover recordings, she sees all the scripts and does all the translations, and all that stuff.

MT: Not all of them.

SA: Okay, not all the translations. Why do you always want to contradict me in front of other people and the guests?

MT: Okay, but IG Japan has really nothing to do with the English dub. IG USA—

SA: Is intimately involved.

Was it difficult to script action sequences at the speed they were at, which was like, 350 mph? Did they make for difficult scenes to put together and still make believable?

MH: In reality, it's impossible for a physical object to race at that speed, but we had to lie creatively to make the race scenes look realistic. In that sense, we were constantly discussing with the 3D team on how to make it look as realistic and possible. Also, these machines have battle modes and they have to fight against one another. We thought we'd make sure that all the fighting moves and techniques were different in each episodes so the viewers wouldn't get bored watching the same thing over and over again.

Do you think your experience directing an action series like Outlaw Star helping doing something like IGPX?

MH: I believe so.

So in the first episode of the series, there's a hot dog vendor. He has an eyepatch, of all things, and he's kind of gruff and mean. Why is that?

MH: The character designer of IGPX, Toshihisa Kaiya, was just playing with the designs and when he was designing the hot dog vendor, he got the inspiration of an American hot dog vendor after seeing Sean and Jason.

SA: That's what I thought!

MH:Maybe he was scared of them. [laughs]

As someone who has to watch the finished product later, what is your favorite part of the show?

MH: Compared to any of the shows I directed, IGPX is a show where I can really be on the fan side or the viewers side. I can really keep watching it, and the more I watch it, the more I want to see, so it's really a very special project for me. Although it's an action show, there's some really good drama in it and there're some mysteries that need to be resolved as the story progresses. Again, it's not just a plain action show.

The show takes place in like, 2049 or something?

SA: That's a point of contention. It starts in '47, the first series begins in 48. The second series begins in '49.

Seeing how that's 40 years from now, do you think we'll ever get to the point where we'll be racing giant robots in a city?

MH:We think it's definitely possible as long as there are people who can pay for it.

SA: I think that's inevitable, actually. That's what human beings do. They race lawn mowers, you know what I mean? As technology progresses, you're actually going to get bipedal robots. We almost have them now. Once that price point comes down, dudes'll be racing them no problem. We just gotta wait for the technology to catch up.

MH: I think it's possible because the technology is already there. You know, Honda invented Asimo, and in America there's already those military robots being sponsored by the government. It's very possible; we just don't see it in public.

These robots are on wheels right?

SA: No, they're on blades.

How do they move?

MH: They're slightly floating. It's a super high tech motor that they use, so they're slightly above the ground. Of courser, by then, they probably don't even need oil.

SA: If they spark, it looks cool. It's gotta be blades!

Do you envision the robots being more like speed skaters or like racecars? What is the real life model their movements are based on?

MH: Probably both. The designs were done by two really good mecha designers, so the ideas came from them.

So they really just defy all logic.

SA: Yes.

What else are you working on now, or is IGPX your only project?

MH: I can't tell you anything about this new project, but I'm working on the development of a project which is going to support my life after I'm done with IGPX. [laughs] If you're a freelance director or animator in Japan, you can't really support your life unless you work 24/7.

Alright, last question. Do you plan on doing any future work with Cartoon Network too, or have you gotten tired of them by now?

SA: I wanna hear the answer to this one.

MH: That's a really hard question to answer while Sean's here. [laughs] Of course, yes.

Well that's all the questions, so thank you very much!

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