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Interview: Eiko Tanaka

by Zac Bertschy,
At San Diego Comic-Con this year, we had a short opportunity to chat with the founder of legendary animation company STUDIO4℃, Eiko Tanaka. Tanaka founded the company in 1986, and she remains president and CEO to this day. Viz Media will release Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I – The Egg of the King on Blu-ray and DVD on November 27th, with an additional premiere on the company's new PS3-centric anime channel, Neon Alley, this fall.

ANN: What was your first reaction upon being approached to produce the Berserk films? Were you a fan of the manga originally?

EIKO TANAKA: As a matter of fact, I did not have any knowledge about the original manga. Knowing the fact that the original manga has sold 30 million copies over the world, I really got surprised. Picking up the book and opening the first page, I got overwhelmed with its density (people who have read it may say, “of course you get overwhelmed”, though…)

What was the biggest challenge in adapting this material? Did you wind up referencing the original television series at all?

The heavy armor and the battle sequences. For the armor, depicting numerous lines and the solid textures that they have is difficult. For the battles, many combatants have to be drawn, such as the cavalry, the archers, the spearmen, the foot-soldiers, and so on. The way they fight also has to be studied. Furthermore, are we really going to show the scene where the body is cut in half? All of these make things more difficult. Any of these is something that isn't easy to depict using the traditional hand-drawn style that Japanese anime is proud of.

Also, another difficult task was that we had to make it feature length, though the original TV series was able to take more hours to be loyal to the original manga story.

In your estimation, what sort of production budget is ideal for a project of this scope?

Japanese films are produced with much lower cost than the budget of Hollywood movies. As the producer, I know the budget for this movie, which is secret. But, I wish I had 3 billion (yen).

Was there a particular arc of the manga you personally were looking forward to seeing animated?

Next will be the arc of “Lost Children”. I wish we could see Farnese animated.

If these three films are successful enough, is the idea to produce more films and cover more of the manga story?

The original manga still goes on with 36 tankobon published. We would like to continue to produce the animation of this magnificent saga to the end!

STUDIO4℃ is known chiefly for the wildly creative original films you've produced such as Mind Game and Genius Party. With the success of these Berserk films, do you intend to attempt another anthology project?

Yes, we do. We are always working a variety of projects enthusiastically.

The Berserk films rely heavily on CG for crowd animation; why was this particular technique chosen? Would you like to see STUDIO4℃ work with CG more heavily in the future?

We used CG for the parts where hand-drawn animation was the most difficult to use. We were planning to make all the faces, which are easy to look conspicuous, with hand-drawing and then combine them with CG. I am afraid that there are some parts which we could have done better.

As STUDIO4℃, we will continue to enthusiastically use CG as a tool to aid hand-drawn animation, aiming to produce expressions which cannot be done with only either hand-drawn animation or CG.

Creatively, do you prefer working on projects like Mind Game or do you appreciate the challenge of adapting existing material more?

Either is a creative challenge. STUDIO4℃ will continue to produce the quality works with the prides, as which it identify themselves. Please look forward to our works.

As a founder of STUDIO4℃, obviously you've been around the anime industry long enough to see the dramatic changes it's gone through in the last 20 years. Which of these changes, do you think, are the most positive? Do you wish certain changes hadn't happened?

It is the change that animation used to be only for kids, now has become regarded as the movies that adults can enjoy. That was what I have dreamed of. I am glad to see my dream come true.

The change that I didn't want to see is the recession that has followed the subprime mortgage crisis and then later the Lehman Brothers shock, the Euro crisis, and the (excessive) Yen appreciation.

Now is the era that the global economy has a great impact on anime. I really feel that animation has been getting globalized. I am happy and proud that I came to Comic-con to blow off the recession and can introduce Bersek to everybody.

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