Interview: The Creative Team Behind Netflix's Seis Manos

by Zac Bertschy,

Releasing this Thursday, October 3rd, SEIS MANOS is a unique production that follows the bloody revenge of three battle-hardened, martial arts-trained Mexican heroes on a quest for vengeance, produced by Castlevania veterans Powerhouse Animation. We had the opportunity to speak to co-creator and showrunner Brad Graeber and Executive Producer - and Viz Media veteran - Rob Pereyda - in advance of the show's upcoming premiere.

ANN: Where did the idea for SEIS MANOS come from, and how did it develop?

Brad: Powerhouse is lucky to have a staff that excels in action.  Whether CASTLEVANIA or the video game cinemas we work on we have a team of animators that really excels at fight choreography. I am a martial arts enthusiast and student and I have always wanted to do a project that had legit kung fu in the animation.  We created the concept and worked on an animation test to show the help pitch the show. Carl Thiel, who scored the series, did music for the test and introduced me to my co-creator Alvaro Rodriguez. Alvaro wrote a pilot and he and I pitched the concept for a couple years.  Viz Media saw the pilot, deck and optioned the property. We brought in Daniel Dominguez as a writer and he and Al further developed the story, characters and world.

Rob: I met Brad at the Powerhouse booth at CTN animation eXpo in late 2016, and we instantly hit it off taste-wise. Just for the heck of it, he showed me this crazy cool, initial test animation he'd done for SEIS MANOS, and it was wild fun. Pretty quickly, we knew that VIZ and Powerhouse were a great fit together, and teamed up when VIZ officially optioned the property and provided support to help develop it to get pitch ready. Just a few short months later it was good to go, we (Brad, Alvaro, Daniel, and the VIZ team) took it to Netflix, and the rest is history!
 
What would you say the chief inspirations for this show are?

Brad: SEIS MANOS is a beautiful bouillabaisse with many ingredients.  It is a love letter to 70s cinema, including blaxploitation cinema, and grindhouse films.  It is like watching Sunday morning UHF back in the day – there are horror elements, “kung fu theater” elements, and Alvaro Rodriguez (co-creator) brought in a lot of inspiration from Mexican cinema.  We were influenced by the well choreographed action in anime and Asian cinema as well.
  
The cast is mostly made up of marginalized folks and people of color - is that intentional?

Brad: Yes.  There are fans all over the world that are hungry for adult animation. Many of these groups are incredibly underrepresented in the genre.  We want to tell stories that haven't been told with our original IPs and explore new themes and places. Powerhouse is based in Austin, TX and many of the film makers in our community work with LatinX stories- it was intentional, but it wasn't calculated either.  Stories of the Matamordos murders in the 80s stoked the urban legends of my youth and our villain grew out of that and everything just kind of fell into place.

Rob: One of the things that popped out at us when we first saw the early SEIS MANOS concepts and test footage was what I call the “'Whoa, what am I looking at?!' effect” – when you see something you haven't quite seen before, and are touched in a good way. In this case, it was a trio of Mexican heroes doing some awesome and wild kung fu, and it just made so much sense.
 
Was it always the intention to produce this show with horror elements - like the guy getting his chest ripped open?

Brad: Yes – that moment in the trailer is an Easter egg / tribute to a Shaw brothers film, Invincible Shaolin from 1978. At the climax of that film the hero who has been training a “kung fu grip” rips open a chest to reveal the sternum of his opponent. Those films had a lot of horror elements and there are several kung fu moments that we make direct call outs to some of those inspirational scenes.  Credit where it is due: Alvaro Rodriguez and Daniel Dominguez brought a lot of the horror and folkloric mysticism to the show which was initially more envisioned as a straight action piece with some supernatural elements.

  Powerhouse has been making animation like this for a while, with a host of talented artists - would you say the studio has a definable ethos? If so, what would that be?

Brad: Powerhouse has been around for 18 years – across those years we were often told that prestige adult action animation, especially for original IPs not tied to toys, would never happen in the states.  Our studio is young and diverse and a lot of our artists are very inspired by anime and the types of unlimited stories and intense action in eastern animation. We want to prove that you can tell those types of stories and that there is a broad audience for it.  Working in games for many years we have developed a staff that really enjoys doing fight choreography as well as pushing those boundaries. At the end of the day we want to continue to tell new diverse stories with good characters and push the boundaries enough to where they break down.  We want to create things that stand on their own and don't always fit neatly into categories and boxes that have held animation back.
 
How would you personally define what SEIS MANOS is attempting to do?

Brad: We wanted to create a show that served an underserved group and we wanted to make something that was a love letter to 70s cinema and lived outside of some of the cookie cutter tropes that animation gets cornered into.  However, when we are blessed with good writers and directors and animators the stories take on a life of their own and you end up following the characters and seeing where it goes. A lot of that can't be planned and doesn't always have an agenda.

Rob: Besides it just being plain rad with a strong sense of style, we were really excited to be involved in SEIS MANOS because it's such an exciting, wild project. It's got the genre mashups going on, it's rooted in historical context, and most of all, it's just a plain epic story you don't really see in adult animation these days. Brad, Alvaro, Daniel, Willis, and the whole team love the material from which this draws inspiration, and it really shows in SEIS MANOS.
 
How difficult was production on this show?

Brad: No animated production is easy – we are working with a blank slate at 24 frames per second and you need incredible dedicated artists to do what we do.  That being said I feel SEIS MANOS was a blast and never felt like work. We had the freedom from VIZ and Netflix to work with people we have always wanted to collaborate with and try something that I feel is completely new.  The crew was extremely excited by this opportunity and I feel it shows.

Rob: Powerhouse Animation Studios makes it look easy, and I'm almost sad for the next show I'm on not living up to the.... “powerhouse” that is Powerhouse.
 
Have you ever seen MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE?

Brad: Admittedly, I have not but enjoyed reading about it.  I wouldn't be surprised if Alvaro who is a walking cinema encyclopedia is familiar with it.  The name of the series originally came from the Shaw Brothers formula of having a number at the top of the title: 36th Chamber Shaolin, 5 Deadly Venoms, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, etc.  The “hands” comes from the idea of doing different styles of kung fu for each character. Kung fu styles can often be deciphered by hand form and position – tiger claw, mantis fist, crane beak, etc. We initially called it Seis Manos de Furia but shortened it to SEIS MANOS.  Manos has a double meaning- not just for the deadly “hands” but manos can also mean family members in the shortened form of hermanos. In kung fu there is a family system and you often refer to your fellow students as “kung fu brothers.” Our main characters are all orphans but form a family under their Sifu who is like a father to them.

Our thanks to Brad Graeber, Rob Pereyda and Viz Media for this opportunity.


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