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Producer Masakazu Kubo on Making an Anime for Hardcore Golf Fans

by Richard Eisenbeis,

Image courtesy of REMOW
64-year-old Masakazu Kubo has been planning and producing anime for decades. He's had a major hand in everything from Pokémon and Detective Conan to Teasing Master Takagi-san and Dorohedoro. Recently, he sat down with us to talk about Tonbo!, his attempt to make the most realistic golf anime possible.

"At first glance, Tonbo! might seem an odd choice for an anime adaptation—it's not based on some wildly popular light novel series, nor is it the next big manga running in the pages of Shonen Jump. However, this is exactly what attracted Kubo to it. “Four years ago, President Ohga said to me, 'There are a lot of niche publications out there, so why don't you help us bring one of them to the screen?' and when I was looking for an interesting original manga, I came across Tonbo!'' Kubo explained. “It's published in Weekly Golf Digest magazine. Since it's not published by a manga publisher, it wasn't sold in bookstores or really promoted at all. However, if you looked at digital manga stores, it was ranked high—in the top 3 for sports manga. I thought it had potential.”

The next step was to get the rights to adapt the manga and find the money to finance the project. “I gave an anime proposal presentation to Golf Digest Weekly, asking them to give me permission to adapt the manga. They said yes, so I asked them if we could get investments from various golf companies [...] to start. It was about a year ago that we finally raised all the money.”

"However, there was one big problem to overcome when making a golf anime: most people in the anime industry don't play golf. Luckily, Kubo does. “I like golf very much. [...] Since the animators, director, and sound director had never played golf, I gave them a lot of advice about the subtle impacts of clubs and the subtle differences in swings.”

The main selling point of Tonbo! is its commitment to realism—especially when it comes to its portrayal of golf. “There have been other golf anime like Birdie Wing, recently, or Pro Golfer Saru, in the past, but in Tonbo!, name-brand golf gear is pulled from reality as often as possible. I don't think there is another anime with so many brands attached to it,” Kubo told me. “I think it will be fun for golf fans to watch and say, 'Oh, so that club is being used!'”

Of course, it's more than just the gear seen in the anime that lines up with the real world. “While Tonbo herself hits shots that you would never expect, there are basically no impossible shots. She always makes shots that can be imitated by others,” Kubo explained. “And since the original manga places an emphasis on reality, we valued that in the animation as well—so there are no shots like a ball flying out of the sky with flames coming off of it.”

This focus on realism even goes beyond what's animated. “The sound of a golf shot differs from club to club, from manufacturer to manufacturer, and whether it's a bad swing or a good one—not to mention that the sound of the swing speed and hit of a female pro is different from the swing speed and hit of a male pro. So we recorded all these sounds. We gathered all the clubs that appear in Tonbo! anime, called in a professional golfer [named Kazuya Konno], and recorded all the sounds. We also wanted to record the sound of mishits too, so we had to ask our hired pro golfer to please make a few bad swings.”

However, it was during the sound recording that the production faced its greatest unforeseen challenge. “When we first got [to the course] in the morning, I thought it was going to be a great day, but when we did a bad swing, the moment the ball hit the leaves in the trees, the birds started to cry out. I was like, 'Well, that's not good.'” Kubo continued, “If you hear a bird's cawing [on the audio recording], you won't be able to use it. 'How can I make the birds stop singing?' It was very vexing because if we screamed [and tried to scare them off], they would just get louder. I kept thinking, 'We should have done this in a place where there were no birds.'”

Another important aspect of Tonbo! is its setting: the rural Tokara Islands off the coast of southern Japan. While Kubo himself has not gone to the islands, the anime's director, art staff, and CG staff all took a trip down there for location scouting and other research. “Of course, there isn't actually a golf course there like in the manga and, in the manga, there is only one vending machine on the island but, of course, things have changed since that was the case. The free public baths still exist, though.”

Tonbo's upbringing on the Tokara Islands is a vital part of her character in Kubo's eyes. “Tonbo starts out growing up on a small island in the Tokara Islands. I think hers is a great story about growing up in a very tight-knit community. [...] She is very honest and positive, and she values living without being tied down too much. So I think the benefits of growing up on an island with a small number of people come into play in the character's personality.”

While people in isolated island communities are sometimes seen as being left behind by the rest of society, Kubo feels that living in such a community is a personal choice. “In the manga, a character named Kuta-san says, 'Will you choose to live on the island after knowing the world, or will you choose to live on the island without seeing the world?' In other words, people who live on this island have jobs there, of course, but I think many people live on the island after coming to know the outside world. They compare life on the island with life outside, and they choose the island life.”

“If I had lived in such a place, my personality might have been a little better,” Kubo joked.

Tonbo! can be viewed on Amazon Prime Video with new episodes each Friday.

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