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Interview: Gainax on Gurren Lagann

by Egan Loo,

Gainax's latest giant robot series Gurren Lagann is finally making its way to American shores this month; the first subtitled DVD is in stores now, and the dub premieres tonight at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT on the Sci Fi Channel's Ani-Monday programming block. To mark the occasion, we spoke with producer Yasuhiro Takeda, project planner (and Gainax co-founder) Hiroyuki Yamaga, mechanical designer and animation director Yoh Yoshinari, and assistant director Masahiko Otsuka.

Anime News Network: Like a see-saw, Gurren Lagann tilts back-and-forth in tone from serious to comedic — often several times within the same episode. How did you manage to balance the serious and tongue-in-cheek themes that you wanted to depict?

Takeda: Overall, we decided what we were going to do in each episode, and then the rest is up to the screenwriter (Kazuki Nakashima) to come up with a balance of what works and what doesn't work.

Yamaga: We've worked together so long that we don't have to have a discussion on where to have comedy and where we're going to be serious. We just understand each other so much that it progresses naturally and works smoothly.

ANN: Were there any story ideas or designs that were suggested, but didn't make it into the final animation because they were too serious or too silly?

Takeda: I mean, not in terms of being too serious or comedic or anything like that, but there was more we wanted to depict within the series, such as wanting to spend more episodes on what it was like to live underground — two episodes at least. Another example was when the story moved into the jail. We wanted to spend more time with that, but we weren't able to.

ANN: Much of the art style, especially in the early episodes, was reminiscent of [director Hiroyuki] Imaishi's other directorial work, Dead Leaves, and I see that Mr. Yoshinari also worked on both of those projects. What was it like to maintain that unique, fast-paced yet tongue-in-cheek style on a more rigorous television schedule, as opposed to a film?

Yoshinari: Artistically speaking, [the animation] looks very complex, but the truth is that during the design phase, it's actually very easy to animate. When the whole design was being created, we had motion in mind. So, despite the fact that it looked difficult, it wasn't that difficult to animate.

ANN: Were there any episodes or themes that stood out in each of your minds as the most challenging as an animator or creator?

Yamaga: Episode 15 (laughter).

Yoshinari: Episode 15 was the most difficult because there were so many shots (cuts) when compared to a typical episode. It was at least one and a half episodes worth of shots because there was so much we needed to cover.

Yamaga: When we get the scripts, we need to figure out how many shots it will take to do the story. When it comes down to it, you only have the same amount of time to do that episode [as in any other episode].

Takeda: When [acclaimed animator] Sushio introduced himself at the FanimeCon meet-and-greet, he called himself the “super animator” [because of the extensive work he did on episode 15].

ANN: On the same note, which episode was the most satisfying at the end of the day?

Takeda: It would have to be the last episode. That means it's done, finally. If you don't finish it then none of it would have mattered, so the last episode was definitely the most satisfying.

ANN: Mr. Yoshinari, which of the mecha did you enjoy designing the most among the many unique designs you brought to the series?

Yoshinari: None of it was fun, it was hard (laughter).

ANN: Then which one was the most challenging?

Yoshinari: Deciding on the finalized design for Gurren Lagann [robot], since it was the basis for everything else in that world.

ANN: What about the original design of the Gurren Lagann was hard?

Yoshinari: Basically, in deciding what Gurren Lagann's finalized design was going to be, it chooses the level of reality that you're going to be allowing for the series. Once you decide that, you'll be subject to that design, and so finalizing Gurren Lagann's design was the hardest thing to do.

ANN: Gainax has had to deal with concerns from television stations regarding mature images and themes in previous series. For Gurren Lagann, airing at a child-friendly time slot last year, did any television stations raise similar concerns about the series?

Takeda: Well, it's not Gainax's problem — it's the television stations' problem (laughter). We had a number of problems though — in particular, episode 6, the bathhouse episode. If only the television stations would just look through the original scripts when we submitted them instead of waiting until the animation footage was made. When we actually first suggested [the episode], they said, “Oh, it shouldn't be a problem.” Yet, when we completed the animation footage and showed it to them, they said, “There's no way we can show this.” The biggest issue was that peeking into the women's bath — that act alone — is illegal. Therefore, we can't show that during a child-friendly timeslot. Why couldn't they have told us that when we gave them the script before? So we had to do what we could to get it on the air. I mean, we took the script to them, we took the storyboards to them, and eventually, when we finally took the animation footage to them — only then, did they finally say that they had a problem with it.

ANN: The two-part storyline, with the multi-year gap in between, is a very special feature of the story. How early in the process did you decide to develop the story in two parts?

Takeda: It was decided from the beginning.

ANN: Gurren Lagann indirectly reminded me of another Gainax series, Otaku no Video, in that both had a two-part structure with the multi-year gap, and they both deal with themes of revolution and what to do after that revolution ends. Changing the world is easy; running the world and dealing with the consequences is hard. Was that similarity intentional, unintentional, or just a result of the similar experiences that Gainax has dealt with over the years?

Yamaga: Doing such a thing wasn't intentional in the beginning, but one of our jobs is to create a character in a world setting, and it's very difficult to depict such a thing realistically. Now to take that person, have him grow up, it creates a little reality…[pause] It's depicting human nature in that when you're a child, you want to be a grownup. Then when you're grown up, the question is: are you living in an idealized grownup world? No, there's a reality to everything, and that's part of the story that we wanted to show in the two-part series.

ANN: I understand that you're doing two movies. Is that going to reflect the same story structure?

Yamaga: The first movie will depict the first part of the story.

ANN: In a previous convention panel, it was mentioned that the first episode's introductory scene tells a slightly different story than the ending because the story changed during production. What were some of the reasons as to why the story changed from the introductory scene to the way we know it now?

Otsuka: That's where we thought we were going to go when we first depicted it. However, by the time we got there it had grown so much beyond the scale of what we had originally imagined it was going to be, therefore slight differences would be noticed.

ANN: I'd like to clarify a few things that were mentioned at previous convention panels: there's talk of three different projects [at Gainax] at the moment: one television project, one movie project, and one where the release hasn't been decided upon. Can you expand on these at all?

Takeda: We'd really like to, but we've given away more than we should. We've got all those things in mind and planned and then some. [Note: ANN confirmed in May that Gainax was adapting Yoshiichi Akahito's Shikabane Hime manga as a television anime series.]

Yamaga: We hope to be working on Gurren Lagann for the next decade. This work we know as Gurren Lagann will continue.

Special thanks to Toshifumi Yoshida for interpreting the interview and to Jeremy Snow for transcribing.

Image © Gainax/Aniplex, KDE-J, TV Tokyo, Dentsu

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