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Interview: Akudama Drive Art Director Yoshio Tanioka

by Kim Morrissy,

Akudama Drive depicts a unique cyberpunk world, set in a Japan reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s. Anime News Network spoke to art director Yoshio Tanioka about his role in crafting the anime's background art and aesthetic.

How familiar were you with Kazutaka Kodaka's works before you accepted this project? Have you played the Danganronpa games before?

I was aware of Kazutaka Kodaka through the Danganronpa series. I have not yet played the games, but I have watched the TV anime.

Among art directors, your experience working on Akudama Drive was unusual because you joined the production at a very early stage. What was this experience like for you?

Through this job, I experienced what it is like to create something. Normally, there's a relatively high awareness that the work of drawing background art is done under the instructions of the series director and episode directors, so it was very fun to create the imagined landscape directly. At the same time, I felt the large weight of responsibility.

To what degree were the image boards for the anime's worldview a team effort?

The director and assistant director gave me the ideas that would form the backbone of the image boards. That was about 70-80 percent of it. The rest was adjusting the amount of detail to make the ideas easier to convey, or things that got added along the way.

What would you say is the biggest difference between drawing the image boards and the background art that appears in the finished video? What sort of things do you keep in mind when drawing them?

The purposes of these two things differ majorly. The image boards put together the fragmented key words and sketches into a more solid form. They're made so that the staff can have a shared idea of the direction of the work.

The backgrounds are a component of the footage, so making one drawing won't complete the anime. By putting multiple shots together, the world of the anime emerges. Also, the main focus of the story is the characters, so adjusting the amount of detail so as not to interfere with the characters' movements is a part of raising the quality.

Image board

Anime background

Screenshot featuring characters

Akudama Drive is filled with lighting and effects. How much input did you have on the compositing and coloring?

Regarding the light source and colors for each scene, I create the direction of it through the art boards, but when it comes to setting the colors of the characters, mechanical objects, and props, I entrust the matter entirely to the color design/color coordinator Saori Goda.

Also, the final look of the screen, including the effects, is left to the photography/compositing director Kazuhiro Yamada.

How much did you coordinate with the mechanical designers and the character designer?

We weren't communicating directly, but there was a shared system where we could always see the latest designs and materials for the characters, mechanical objects, props, and so forth. So every time a design was completed, I would look at it and adjust the backgrounds to accommodate the scale of the design.

For example, you can see how the vehicles and the heads and bodies of the characters emphasize more of an anime look than super-realism. Because of that, we decided not to stack too many layers of textures into the backgrounds before we even began the actual work on episode 1. Instead, we used colors and the touch of a brush to convey the feeling of the material.

On the other hand, the early teaser visual has a background with a lot of different textures, so if you compare it to the finished anime you can see the difference in artistic direction.

Teaser visual

Main feature

Many people have a particular image of cyberpunk from works like Blade Runner. How did you ensure that Akudama Drive looked distinct as a cyberpunk work while still honoring its roots?

I don't think of Akudama Drive as something that spreads the world of cyberpunk. By narrowing the focus to "Japan, Kansai, and Showa" the visual differences are expressed. Specifically, the hologram display of the billboard ad designs that were popular in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s were more compatible with cyberpunk than I expected.

How did you make sure the city of Akudama Drive felt recognizably like Osaka?

I remade and emphasized symbolic buildings like the Tsūtenkaku and Osaka Castle. For that purpose, they're drawn larger than the real buildings. Also, the humorous three-dimensional billboards and advertisements are very Osaka-like, in my opinion.

In an earlier interview, you talked about how the setting is inspired by “Showa Japan.” For our non-Japanese readers, could you explain specifically what parts of the backgrounds are associated with “Showa”? What made you think of adding Showa elements to the world of Akudama Drive?

In episodes 1 and 2, the streets are laden with elements that would look out of date in modern Japan. This includes the props as well. I'll list them as follows: advertisement balloons, blimps (although they're used as buses here) with ads attached to them, the interior designs of the buses, the black rotary-dial telephone in the takoyaki store, the designs of the cars that drive through the town, the brown tube monitors, the open reel recording mediums, and billboard advertisements that were popular and trending in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. In the latter half of the show (which hasn't aired yet at this point), those elements are reflected very strongly.

By the time I joined the project, it had already been decided that the Showa elements would be a fundamental part of the show. I heard that it was done to differentiate it from past works.

Coincidentally, Akudama Drive is airing around the same time as the release of the game Cyberpunk 2077. Have you noticed any similarities in the approaches to cyberpunk?

I felt that it was interesting how they focus on people living in a ruined future. There may be local differences in the cultures, but ultimately they share similar elements. It reaffirmed to me how Akudama Drive and Cyberpunk 2077 are stories about people.

Image credits: ©Pierrot,Too Kyo Games/Akudama Drive Production Committee

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