Digging one up from the archive, here is the panel Q&A session from Animazement 2012 back in late May. Director Ichiro Itano is an anime industry veteran who got his start under the wings of the likes of Noboru Ishiguro and Yoshiyuki Tomino. In Raleigh, Itano represented the late director Ishiguro when the untimely news of Ishiguro's passing meant shortchanging one of Animazement's guest of honor. Director Itano came to help us cherish the late director's accomplishments.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the panel for director Itano and take some questions. Itano always intrigued me because I've read about some of his exploits, like blacking out inside a jet plane while doing animation research. Getting to meet the man in person was an interesting experience. Click on and learn from one of the more wild and crazy personalities paving the way for the anime industry!
The panel room was relatively small and even smaller was the crowd; Animazement is a mid-size con out in Raleigh and the turn-out is not bad considering its early Friday afternoon time slot. The audience took to the microphone and it was a straightforward Q&A session. A big thank you for Mr. Itano and the staff at Animazement to make this possible.
How did you create the Itano circus?
When I was in high school, I would play around and attached about 50 fireworks rockets on the side of the motorcycle. I would go to Enoshima and there's a stretch that's about 300 meters long. I would ride the motorcycle and launch all the rockets. It looks very good from my perspective on the bike and from the target on the other end. Until then, all the fight scenes in anime looked like a newsreel, it's a point-by-point description of all the shots and hits. Something that hasn't been done before is action scenes so fast that you can't tell entirely what's going on, but you know something's going on. It's more like a handi-cam perspective. That's what I remembered when I came up with the Itano circus. It wasn't something done before, and that became the basis for the Itano circus.
What were your art influences as you got into the business?
When I was in elementary school, in 3rd grade, the first Lupin the Third anime came on TV. Until then, all TV anime were just for kids so they were very wholesome and had nothing questionable. But Lupin was different; he was a thieve and a killer, and his girlfriend would lie and cheat to get what she wants. This appeals to me as a grown-up anime and it's very adult and I liked it. Also after I got into the industry, when I was getting started I worked on Space Battleship Yamato. It was Leiji Matsumoto's work and directed by late Noburo Ishiguro, here is his photo. I worked as an inbetweener and I was influenced by Yamato's character design and also the characters. As a child, Lupin was my first influence, and then Yamato. That was my two influences.
Are you still watching anime made today? And what is your opinion about anime today?
Yes I still watch current anime. The writer for Blassreiter, Gen Urobuchi, worked on a title called Madoka Magica. Originally he wrote for games, and he insisted that there is no time or money to be spent on anime but I was the one who convinced him to work on an anime together. After we were done with Blassreiter, he decided to stay in the industry and worked on a couple shows. His recent hit was Madoka. That wasn't a show just about cute magical girls and there's more realism and death. It appeals to reality in the story; there's life and death situations in the show and that gave life to the characters. So there's a new generation of animators creating quality works, and I'm happy about that. Previously Urobuchi asked why don't I feature more current and contemporary cute girl designs in Blassreiter, that would get better ratings. I said there were just stories that I wanted to tell and I didn't want to go down that path. Blassreiter didn't sell too well and there were some elements about it that wasn't for the general public. I think Urobuchi learned from that experience and took the good qualities from Blassreiter and incorporated it into subsequent shows such as Madoka.
Another show I've been following was Tsuritama. It seems like a bunch of guys fishing all the time but I'm sure eventually they'll travel through space-time and save the earth. (Everyone laughs.) I'm waiting for that. There's a lot of quality work going into that show. They do use contemporary character designs but the animation is very solid. So I'm happy the industry is showing promise for the next generation and I'm looking forward to more works from these guys.
What is your best work that you're proud of?
My most popular work would be Macross, but I want to be most proud of Blassreiter.
I heard the Starship Trooper novel had an influence with older mangaka and designers. Did it have any influence on your creation?
I have not read the novel but I enjoyed the movie. Speaking of influences, I think Star Wars had an influence. When the Starship Troopers movie came out I was already a director at the time. In terms of influence Star Wars had a big influence versus Starship Troopers.
I saw that you were credited as special action director in Asura's Wrath. I was wondering what it was working on that game.
I did the storyboard for the opening animation. I checked all the action and character fights and battles. All the cuts were supervised by myself directly. There were 26 episodes but for all the important ones I supervised them. This is completely hand drawn and not motion captured.
What is your favorite Gundam and why?
The first Gundam. It was created by the two masters, director Tomino and character designer and animator Yasuhiko. I do like the current Gundam Unicorn and I also like 0083, but I have 2 mentors and they are Tomino and Yasuhiko. The two of them taught me a lot while working on the original Gundam.
What kind of things do you like to observe to study motion?
I learn by watching sports. Sometimes they do slow motion replay and I study those. I sometimes go to theaters and I watch mimes. [Itano demonstrates this physically.] When they do action against nothing and show their muscle movement, I study that.
Is there any future works that you want to create? What kind of works would that be?
Currently I'm infatuated with raising the next generation of animators. If there's a good animator that can inherit the Itano Circus skill, I'd be very happy. Right now I'm working with an animation company called Graphinica, this is the former Gonzo digital animation studio that became independent. I'm working with young animators there to teach them animation skills. Also, when Hideki Anno left Gainax and started Khara, I'm working with the young animators there. I'm also working on the CG for the new Eva movie. As for my own project I will keep it a secret.
In the late 80s, there's this show called Angel Cop, and it has themes of nationalism and political ideas. Did that reflect any of your own ideas?
That was made back in the era of when Japan was a little bit out of line with the rest of the world. This was before the bubble burst in the economy. All the people thought water and national security came cheap. I my own sense of concern was that, for example, if a big act of terrorism, the nation may not be able to respond against that. It is not right just to rely on the military projection of Americans but Japan needs to find its own independent place in Asia, that's the thought I had. But I was too radical with Angel Cop that the subsequent 15 years I wasn't able to get my projects through.
You worked in many different position. For example in Megazone 23, you directed, storyboarded, and animated. How did you accomplish this?
The director of part 1, Ichiguro, said that there's a lot of work but little reward. There is little royalties and sales coming in. But since I already did work on parts 2 and 3 for storyboard and design, he offered me the director job. My condition for this was that I wanted to change everything. Because of this all the characters are different in parts 2 and 3. The character design back then was already a moe style. Character designer Hirano created the characters in part 1. I used Umetsu's designs for part two, because I liked the realistic or comic-like style. Seeing the drastic design change made the sponsors unhappy. At the time there were two anime movies being made. Both movies used realistic designs and both movies did poorly. The sponsors were worried about the design change for Megazone. I fought back against the sponsors and told them that it's about the story and not the character design that sells the work.
Megazone part 2 was made possible because of Ishiguro. He said "I entrust it to Itano, if there's any objection from the sponsor, I will tell them to go away. You do what you want to do." So I did. If you look at the sales figure, for Japanese sales, part 2 sold the best and was most successful, because of the story.
What movies do you like?
I like a lot of movies. Die Hard, The Matrix. I'm a fan of American action movies. Older ones like Dirty Harry, Getaway. I always liked Hollywood movies. For directors, it includes Kubrick and some others.
What's your favorite Kubric movie?
Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket.
Have you seen Macross Frontier? What is your opinion of it and was it a satisfactory follow-up to your work in the original Macross?
I was not directly involved in the production of Macross Frontier. There were other CG animators who have learned the Itano Circus, and they're involved in the production. So I give Macross Frontier passing marks for action and background work. The reason why I wasn't involved was because of Blassreiter. Macross Frontier was suppose to be a 2007 production to go with the 25th anniversary of the franchise, but it was pushed back for various reasons. Since I was the director and animator for Blassreiter at the later time so I wasn't able to work on it. Plus, Macross Frontier was a reboot to let the next generation of animator to show off their work, I thought it was best to let them shine on their own.
What do you think the future of humanity will be like?
I watch a lot of Discovery channel. From there, I watch shows about the future and space. I go to the library to read up about cybernetics and biology. At the end of the road for humanity there are a lot of light and shadows. It's best to have a realistic grasp on the sciences to understand. So I study up on it.
You have a reputation for being a daredevil. What's the most daring thing you've done?
That would be the time when I went with director Shoji Kawamori to Thailand. We went to the island of Phuket. We got up at 5am, travel by car for 2 hours into the mountains, and go as far as we can go on jeeps. Then we got on foot and waded across a river for six hours. We negotiated cobras and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. This was all for a location hunt for Macross Zero. The thing was, this is just going to the destination. By the time we got there, we were all tired, but we still have to go back on our own. This was the most defying act I have taken so far.