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Interview: Gainax's Hiroyuki Yamaga

by Gia Manry,

ANN: Are you directly involved in the production of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt?

Hiroyuki Yamaga: No.

Then I'll only ask one question related to it — you said at your panel that it would be a pretty dirty show; there's been a lot of debate out here about a show called Chu-Bra!!, which got a lot of flack for its level of fanservice. Is there such a thing as too much?

No … we just do it how we like it. (Laughs) There's no limit for us!

At the History of Gainax panel [on Saturday], you talked about the Daicon III and IV films, which fans are aware of out here. But very little is known about the event that they were created for, the Nihon SF Taikai. Did you attend? What was it like? What kind of things were going on?

When we did Daicon III it was just me, Evangelion director Hideaki Anno, and [Takami] Akai, who worked on the Princess Maker series for Gainax. Staff from the Daicon convention asked us personally, "Can you make us some kind of animation?" So that's how Daicon III came about. When it came out, the convention was having money troubles, even with 10,000 attendees, so they sold videos of the Daicon III opening, which saved them from bankruptcy. So the staff of Daicon said, in two years we'll have another one, why don't you join as staff and make another? And that's how Daicon IV came about.

At Fanime a couple of years ago you mentioned that Petite Princess Yucie was your favorite project that you'd worked on. Could you talk more about that?

Back then, that's what I was working on...whatever I'm working on at the moment is always my favorite work.

Some of Gainax's works become particularly famous for their soundtracks, particularly FLCL, as well as Evangelion and Gurren Lagann. How does Gainax approach the music? Does it come later in the production process?

We don't decide the music on our own at Gainax. Depending on the series we have different sponsors, like Evangelion had King Records, who said we had to use their musicians. For Gurren Lagann we were working with Aniplex, which is part of Sony, so we had to use Sony artists. We actually wanted a guy rock band to do the opening music, and Sony said that they didn't have one, so how about using Shokotan, and that's how Shoko Nakagawa sang the opening song. So sometimes stuff like that happens, and that's how music gets selected. Weird coincidences and stuff.

The Daicon IV animation has a lot of Star Wars references in it. Does Gainax still have a lot of Star Wars fans? And how do they feel about the prequels?

Back then, when we made Daicon IV, Star Wars was so popular. Since it was a sci-fi convention we HAD to have Star Wars in it. Right now, we have some Star Wars fans, but I don't know if they're hardcore…and I didn't like the prequels.

Me either. So what are Gainax employees fans of these days, in terms of things outside of Gainax, of course?

Everyone has completely different tastes, so...everything, I guess.

On the more serious side, fans around the world are talking a lot about the future of the anime industry — where do you think the industry will be in Japan in five or ten years?

Right now, I'm looking at Fanime and I see more and more fans. So personally, I think the fandom isn't going downhill, but definitely since ten years ago there's been a decrease in titles and a lot of companies have gone bankrupt. But that's because ten years ago we were making too many, and because of the overload, fans got bored. And when fans get bored they won't buy stuff, and companies go down. But I think in five years it will have normalized. I think animation companies will be thinking more about quality than quantity, and anime will be on the rise again.

That's good, because some fans out here feel like some studios are pushing out moe show after moe show and that they aren't really trying to push the boundaries anymore. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I don't think it's just Gainax that's trying to push boundaries…the companies that are still around are the ones that are doing it right. But with so much moe anime out there…I think that only one or two of those titles really sold well, and anyone can see that, but they keep producing it…which is why I don't want to do it! But if moe was really selling that well, we'd probably do it too.

There has been a lot of talk about anime-based films out here, like the upcoming Cowboy Bebop movie, the past Speed Racer and Dragon Ball Z movies...but there hasn't been much talk about the Evangelion live-action movie that ADV licensed some time ago, although they say they're still working on it. Are there other Gainax titles that you think would make a good movie in the US?

When you think about anime becoming Hollywood movies...I'm an animation guy, I don't know anything about Hollywood! I don't know how an Evangelion movie would turn out, I don't know if it will be worth watching. So I can't really answer that. Have there been any good anime to live action films?

From a western perspective, we see a lot of things that look like the Japanese government is pressuring studios to "clean up" in some ways, especially in relation to lolicon materials. Do you feel that the government is pressuring companies? Where do you think it will lead in the end?

Yeah, they're trying to pass a law. I think the rule is kind of stupid and ridiculous, if they pass it then the censorship would be pretty ridiculous. But I think my job is to bring animation right up to the boundary of the censorship, because fans will want to see it — but not make it illegal.

You mentioned at the Gainax history panel that you went to Bandai and offered to do a Gundam OVA, which they turned down, before they gave you money for Honneamise. What would that OVA have been about?

They brought out some Gundam Pla-Mo [plastic models], and they had these characters named Johnny Raiden and Shin Matsunaga, and Johnny Raiden rode in a red Zaku just like Char, so I guess when people went to buy the Pla-Mo they thought it was Char because it was red, but it actually wasn't. So we went to Bandai and asked if we could have made an OVA based on those guys.

Interesting! Would you still do it today given the opportunity?

Back then there was only the original series and people actually knew that product so it probably would have been cool, but now no one knows it…

FUNimation has said that the license to the Evangelion 2.0 film isn't being offered out yet. I know you don't work in licensing, but do you know why that might be? A lot of fans out here are very impatient to see it.

I don't know, obviously because I'm not in the marketing department. That would be on Studio Khara. Maybe they're planning something?

What do you think is the biggest fan misconception about Gainax-- one thing people might assume about Gainax and its employees that just isn't true?

That we have lots of money. That's so not true. I remember some fans from overseas came to see our office, and since Gainax is such a well-known name they thought they'd see some impressive building, a big high-rise or something...but it's just a regular small building, they were quite shocked.

Because it didn't have a giant EVA unit on top?

Yeah. Since we're right next to Ghibli, sometimes I want to tell people "that's really Gainax!" because Ghibli's studio is so nice.

Was that a specific goal in designing the EVA units? Bigger than Gundam?

Originally we wanted it to be as tall as Ultraman, but Ultraman is maybe 45 meters, so if you put him into Tokyo NOW, he'd be shorter than the buildings, because they were a lot shorter in the '60s! So to keep the same scale we had to make the EVAs taller.

Do you think Anno will ever be done with Evangelion? Will these movies really be the final version, or do you think someday he'll come back again?

That I do not know. That, only Anno knows.

You mentioned that Gainax's next project (after Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt) is going to be based in 20th century England. What else can you say about that project now?

Actually in the end of June in Japan we're going to release all the information. The basic rundown is, it takes place in 20th century England, and the main characters are a boy and a girl who wander around collecting magical books. It's based off of a novel. The setting is supposed to be 20th century, but the story begins right after World War I as the character is telling the story. I want to keep that building style of the 20s, but it also has to be modern enough for cars, and they didn't really have cars in the '20s much, so right now I'm going back and forth.

There's so much live-action in Gainax's early history. Where did you find the actors and the resources to put those together?

We just called acting offices. Was there something particularly interesting you saw?

There were a handful of brief clips in a Gainax history video.

Originally those were pretty short! As a company by ourselves, we haven't made any full-length live-action movies, although we've teamed up with other companies for them.

Like Cutey Honey?

Cutey Honey, that was something Anno went and did with a movie production company.

You've also done several promotional videos-- for music artists, it seemed. Is that something Gainax would do again if approached?

It's not like we don't want to do it anymore, so if it comes up again we'd do it again. But right now, nothing.

With regard to the Gurren Lagann Parallel Works, would you ever consider doing that for a past work — Evangelion or FLCL maybe?

We don't have any plans, but that would be interesting.

You recently produced Hanamaru Kindergarten, and obviously Gainax has produced a lot of animation based on other manga, despite being more famous for your original work. How do you make an adaptation still feel like a Gainax work?

Even I don't know what really makes us so unique from other companies.

Lately there have been a lot of co-productions between US companies and Japanese studios, like The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight for US audiences, and now some made for Japan — Heroman, the upcoming Marvel anime titles like Iron Man. Is that something Gainax would consider doing?

Actually, no one's approached us yet, so I can't say whether we'd do it or not.

You mentioned yesterday that you're currently the "Acting President" of Gainax. What does that mean exactly? What do you do on a given day?

I guess as a president, I do a lot … I'll be a producer, I'll help write scripts … a lot of things. I do a lot of stuff.

The perception of Gainax in the US is that it's a studio founded by otaku. Have you ever considered yourself to be an otaku? If so — do you still?

I think Gainax isn't that different from other studios. We have the same amount of "otaku." I don't think I can become an otaku; I did once think I should be one, but since I don't really watch movies or other anime series and I always forget the names of staff members at other studios, so I don't think I can do it.

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