Interview: CloverWorks's Akira Shimizu and Yuichi Fukushima

by Kim Morrissy,

From November 2 to December 8, various anime studios exhibited their works in the Tokyo Anime Center for the second Anime Studio Meeting. The exhibit is intended to teach visitors about the anime industry and provide information for potential recruits to the business. CloverWorks representatives Akira Shimizu, Yūichi Fukushima and other members were present at the event to share information about the studio, which is best known for works like DARLING in the FRANXX, Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl, Her Blue Sky, and Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia-. Anime News Network managed to find time to speak to them in the middle of their busy schedule. 

First off, could you explain the Anime Studio Meeting event a little bit?

EMI TAKAMURA (PR Manager): The Anime Studio Meeting is an event started by four animation studios (Wit Studio, MAPPA, CloverWorks, CoMix Wave Films). It is held as a fan appreciation and recruitment event where we connect with fans and future creators. Recruiting is the main purpose of this event. The first time we did this was in February this year, so this is the second time.

How have the briefing sessions been so far?

AKIRA SHIMIZU (representative director): We've been trying to express the fun of working in an anime studio without sounding stiff about it or getting too tensed up. I hope we managed to get that across. It would be nice if people, both inside and outside Japan, would be able to think that CloverWorks is a place they'd like to work at.

What sort of qualities are you looking for in people who apply at CloverWorks?

Hmm… well, people with good communication skills are very valued. People who know how to apply themselves to reach their goal. If they're an animator, they need to be good at drawing. That's all they need. (laughs) It's the production assistants who need good communication skills and the animators who need to be good at drawing. 

Speaking of production assistants, lately in the English-speaking world, there is a lot of curiosity regarding the production assistant role. For example, fans were very excited to see Shōta Umehara's name appear in the credits of Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia-

YUICHI FUKUSHIMA (Corporate Officer, General Manager, Producer): Is Umehara getting popular overseas?



FUKUSHIMA: It figures.

TAKAMURA: What's the reason behind Umehara's popularity?

The episodes that Umehara works on have a higher quality than normal. And on his episodes, there are all these famous animators gathering. So, could you explain what kind of work the production assistants do at CloverWorks?

FUKUSHIMA: Production assistants think about who to ask to draw which cuts of animation and then send the offers. It's not just key frames they handle - they also have to ask people to do the finishing work, to work on in-between animations, and so on. In order to improve the quality of a work, they ask a lot of people to do the jobs. They oversee things and keep the schedule moving smoothly.

I see, so the production assistants choose the animators?

Right. And sometimes, the animators are busy, so they can't get the famous animators. But when they call in advance and negotiate with the animators, there is a chance that they can get them to participate in the anime. This type of communication is also part of the job of a production assistant. Well, there are also cases where as an animation producer and part of the production team I do that kind of work myself.

I see. In the anime SHIROBAKO, the protagonist is a production assistant. I got the impression that she was doing a whole lot of different jobs, but the one that stood out the most was… (laughs)... her driving.

(laughs) At our studio the production assistants don't drive.

Oh, really? Why's that?

We outsource transportation to other companies. That's why production assistants don't drive. They don't need a license. 

SHIMIZU: In my day, I used to drive like they do in SHIROBAKO. It's a different generation. It's quite dangerous to drive like that.

Well, now I'm relieved. I've heard CloverWorks described as a studio full of new ideas. Can you describe what the atmosphere is like in the studio right now?

SHIMIZU: ...It's normal.

FUKUSHIMA: (laughs)

SHIMIZU: It's not particularly upbeat or downbeat. Of course, everyone's emotions fluctuate according to their current situation. That's true of any job. But nobody starts yelling suddenly or anything. People just quietly and diligently finish their mission.

Speaking of “mission”, what is your mission at CloverWorks?

Ultimately, it's to finish work on the anime. Make sure the work we're in charge of is completed to a satisfactory degree. That's the role of the production staff. Producers like Fukushima have a different mission.

Is it a priority to make original anime like Her Blue Sky and DARLING in the FRANXX? Or do you think there's little difference between an adaptation and an original production?

FUKUSHIMA: I think that we do want to make original works. It would be great if we could make things that can be viewed just how our studio and our creators imagined it, not only in Japan but all around the world as well. Of course, making a visual adaptation based on a pre-existing story is also a valuable experience for us. I'm not discriminating against them, and building up experience in general is important for anime studios. But we do want to make original works. It's the easiest way for the studio's identity to be understood. 

CloverWorks produced three movies (Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl, Her Blue Sky, Saekano the Movie: Finale) and one TV series (Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia-) between June and October. What kind of difficulties were present?

SHIMIZU: Every one of those was an important work. They each had their staff, all doing the best they could. They were all being produced at the same time with largely separate teams, so there were a large number of people to manage. The fact that they were all working simultaneously did make things difficult at times. There were also difficulties in finding human resources.

Yeah, there is some staff overlap between recent CloverWorks projects. For example, Tomoaki Takase handling designs for Saekano the Movie: Finale and Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia-, and Miyuki Kuroki was a unit director on Her Blue Sky and an assistant director on Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia-. Did they work on both projects at the same time?

FUKUSHIMA: Certainly, there were times when they were working on both projects simultaneously when it came to some parts.

At what point was it decided that Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai would get a movie?

SHIMIZU: I can't say exactly when it was decided.

It seemed like quite a busy schedule because it was announced so soon after the TV anime.

FUKUSHIMA: It was certainly very busy. Every production has its rough points, but there wasn't much time after the TV anime ended, so it was a big undertaking. 

What kind of considerations are made when making a movie after a TV anime series (for example, for Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl and Saekano the Movie: Finale? What is your philosophy when it comes to creating a film experience to satisfy fans of the TV anime?

SHIMIZU: This is hard… Well, both Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl and Saekano the Movie: Finale have a source material that they're adapting, so respecting the source material is the first and most important thing. In that sense, it's no different from the TV series. There's no question that they got a movie because of the popularity of the TV series, so don't fix what's not broken. When it comes to the visuals, we actually try not to make the animators do anything out of the ordinary just because it's a movie.

Is there no pressure to raise the quality of the production above the TV series?

Well, movies have a different budget from TV series. Even the same length of footage would cost a different amount for a movie compared to a TV show. And the reason for that is the resolution size. If you're not being completely thorough, you'll end up making something sized for TV rather than for a movie screen and it's jarring when you play it in the theater. So the budget is there to address that. 

As for TV anime, what kind of considerations are made to ensure that episodes with important action parts like Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia- episode 8 have smooth productions? Like with the schedule and so forth.

FUKUSHIMA: Well, it's important that there's enough time allocated beforehand so that it can be made. That applies to episode 8 as well. It's decided at quite an early stage who draws the storyboards, who the animation directors will be, and who will draw which parts. 

Did episode 8 take longer than other episodes?

There were parts that took longer than others, but overall the schedule proceeded in the same way as other episodes. Every episode has its tricky parts.

When that episode came out, the animators shared their parts on Twitter. There was something I realized: there were digital animators, and also animators drawing on paper. But bringing those different styles together presents its difficulties.

The animators can draw using digital tools or on paper - it depends on their style. Both styles have their upsides and downsides. Looking back, episode 8 in particular had a lot of digital animators.

Yeah, for example Moaang's part was incredible.

Yeah, he's really good, huh?

There are all sorts of ways to approach the construction of a scene. In some ways, digital animation is more efficient: you can accomplish a lot of things, and that also brings up new difficulties. There's that aspect to it too. If you're drawing on paper and erase your work, you've got nothing left, but with digital animation, you can selectively remove parts and bring them back very easily. Other people are more used to the feeling of a pencil, on the other hand, and that hand-drawn feeling gets across in the footage as well. The animators can take either approach and then it's put together in the final product.

Fate/Grand Order -Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia- has many young animators taking part. They even handle important roles such as animation director. Is it your desire as the animation producer to put a spotlight on the young animators?

Yes, I do have that desire. It's not just specifically because they're young but because they're skilled. I want people to see the work of all kinds of animators from different generations. I want people to see what animators in this country are capable of. And if it helps their careers and gets them work in another place, I'm happy with that as well.

Is the Anime Studio Meeting something you'd like to participate in again?

SHIMIZU: Yes. The event has two purposes: showing off our work to the fans who are interested (that was particularly the case this time) and to recruit them. We want more young blood in our studio. We can't have an industry without people in it, so recruiting is important. 

Is there anything else you'd like to highlight?

FUKUSHIMA: Everyone's doing their best. I'd like the entire world to see what they're doing and learn about their work, and CloverWorks.

You can follow CloverWorks on Twitter and Instagram @CloverWorks_en and join their Facebook page @CloverWorksEn

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