Otakon 09: The Yutaka Yamamoto Show and Tell


Yutaka Yamamoto, affectionately nicknamed as Yamakan (either as a conjunction of his family and given name, or as a conjunction of his last name and the title of director--kantoku), was a stallion at Otakon 09. Unlike the average Japanese anime production guest, he is full of opinions and is not afraid to share them.

Read on and see selected questions and answers, paraphrased and transcribed by both yours truly and Bayoab, as asked to the animation director of Lucky Star, Haruhi Suzumiya, and the generally ex-Kyoto Animation know-it-all, all told at Otakon 2009. The questions were taken across three of the panels Yamakan guested in, and are arranged vaguely by topic...

Being a director:

Q: What inspired you to become a director?

Yutaka Yamamoto (Y): I want to be an animator. But I am not that great at drawing. So I became a director.

Q: Were there any old shows that inspired you?

Y: The one title that made me do what I do today, it was Laputa, Castle in the Sky. If it wasn't for that movie, I would not be here today.

Q: Do you find inspiration in Ghibli's Takahata, who cannot draw well either?

Y: Before I made a name for myself (if I did), Takahata is one of two directors I respect greatly. Honestly speaking, without Takahata, Miyazaki would not be as famous today. Without his participation Miyazaki's works would not be as well-known. Ann of Green Gables is the textbook of what a director should do with a show. It has all a director needs in one show, and that is what I think how good he is as a director and how good that show is.

Q: Do you feel it's important to add something original to a manga adaptation or sticking closely to the source?

Y: When it comes down to it, when making an anime out of a book or manga, some things you can't translate directly. You respect it as much as possible but some things don't translate. You also want to throw in some originality. I butted head with Tanigawa (author of Haruhi novels) with my ideas, and I think sometimes originality needs to come out in an adaptation. I felt once the show was done, I can go to Tanigawa and say this is the way it worked out best.

Q: What are some of the daily or long term problems you face as being a director?

Y: I am very bad at doing storyboards. Well, I can come up with the story without any art fairly quickly, and as said before, I am not good with art. It's very hard for me to do. That's the biggest hardship I have in my day-to-day work. In fact, in my hotel room right now there are storyboard pages. I'm doing my best.

Q: Your shows are very detail and unique. What details do you specifically categorize as most important to express your message?

Y: Without getting into ideologies or theories of filmmaking, there are many popular titles that don't pay attention to details, but I think characters are the most important. How characters stay in character, their motivations and being consistent with that and remaining in character is the most important thing in creating a show.

Q: Can you personally do the dances you directed?

Y: I came up with all the dance moves from Haruhi in my apartment, standing on my futon. I can do those moves. However for Kannagi we hired a choreographer, so not for that.

Q: I read that you prefer anime that can reach a wide audience. What are some anime that you've seen that influenced that style?

Y: When I was little, the family would sit down for dinner, we would watch TV. I remember watching Dr. Slump and Yawara on TV with my family. Having had the experience of watching animation with your family, it's something that I want to see my works to become.

Personal favorites:

Q: Out of all the project you worked on, was there a favorite episode you worked on?

Y: Ones that were most memorable? As a director--I didn't want to be emotionally worked up with my own work. But I was breaking into tears for Live Alive (episode 12 of Haruhi) and last episode of Kannagi.

Q: Can you describe what moe is to you?

Y: I think you're categorizing me unfairly, but rather if it is a robot show like Gurren Lagann, or not, like K-ON, etc, if you're into it, it's moe to you. That's how I classify it. If you like it, it's moe to you.

Q: What was your favorite series as director?

Translator: Is it like asking which is your favorite children?

Y: Indeed. I love all my children. Some are good children, some are bad children, some are introverted and some are wild. The child I have the most problem with is Haruhi!


Q: What are some top changes in the industry since you started in the 90s and now?

Y: The biggest change is that people who used to go wild have gotten old, and the younger generation has gotten tame. People like Hideaki Anno, Miyazaki, Oshii, Takahata and Tomino created shows that were expressive, and they are also expressive people. The late 90s and early 2000s, the zero generation of Japan, the people have become tame and are proper, 4.0 student type, good persons. That has caused a change in trend of anime that come out. In order to bring back the way things were, I may get a reputation for being a big mouth, but I want to bring back the old way of making anime.

Q: Is there an American property that you want to see as an anime?

Y: I would like to see Back to the Future done, but even if it was animated, it would fall short of the original because the movies were so good.

Q: Of the anime you did not direct, which recent titles do you recommend?

Y: My current favorite is Summer Wars by director Hosoda, who has previously done The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, coming out soon in theaters in Japan...

Q: Is Nagi-sama a virgin?

Y: It is a difficult question. First, it is not clear. Based on the original work, the answer may be made clear in the future. So please follow the manga.

Q: In Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu, there is a scene in gym class where the students are dancing together. Was that your idea?

Y: Actually, I don't remember very clearly, but it wasn't my idea. I think the director, Takemoto, wanted something silly and unrelated to the story added in that scene. One might say that was the origin of Hare Hare Yukai, but you probably won't see me admit to that (laugh).

On food:

Q: Which way do you like to eat a chocolate coronet?

Y: I would like to eat the fat end first.

Q: On a strawberry shortcake, do you eat the strawberry first or last?

Y: Wooo. I'm going to give you a serious answer. Often times, Japanese strawberry is bitter, and it could ruin your palette. As such, I would eat the strawberry carefully halfway through finishing the cake.

On Kannagi:

Q: How did you determine the Japanese voice acting cast for Kannagi?

Hisoue Sukamoto (producer of Kannagi from Aniplex): We did the auditions, we contracted the voice talent agent. We had about 30 people audition for that role. Haruka Tomatsu matched our image for her so she was selected. But the most important thing was that the author of the manga also had to like that voice, so that was the biggest factor. After that, we also listened to the sound director's opinion too.

Y: When we auditioned Nagi's voice actress, we also auditioned each of the 3 girls: Nagi, Tsugumi, Zange. When we auditioned Tomatsu, it sounded so real for Tsugumi since she had just graduated from high school. At the same time, Sawashiro, who is Tsugumi's voice actor, also matched Nagi's voice well. I was thinking so much about the casting, but at the end I ended up casting them by their looks. I felt that Tomatsu looks like Nagi and Sawashiro looks like Tsugumi...

Q: You said you got a choreographer to make the opening for Kannagi. Did you use some kind of newer technology to animate it or was it drawn traditionally?

Y: We asked the choreographer to dance in front of a camera, and then we showed the video to the animators and recreated it in drawing. We did not use rotoscoping or motion capture.

Hisoue Sukamoto: It was also animated at 30fps instead of 24fps, to give it extra details.


Lastly, you can read about the Endless Eight apology here!

At one point in one of the Kannagi focus panel, Yamakan asked the audience if Nagi would be an acceptable goddess in America, a country largely unfamiliar with Kannagi's Shinto background. What do you think?

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Jeff Chuang
Jeff ChuangAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Yet to be the oldest kid on the block, this East Coast implant writes cryptic things about JP folklore, the industry or dirty moe. Attend cons and lives the "I can buy Aniplex releases" life. ... more + disclosures



Filed under... #Japanator Original #Kannagi #lucky star #Otakon #The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi



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