“I’m a god and can easily keep up translation work for both my job and the blog, nae bother.” – Me, a week before completely failing to do so. Laugh it up, troops.
More importantly, however, we’re back in business, and this time we’ve got a roundtable featuring a number of key animators who worked on the show. Let’s dive in now before I fall asleep and miss the target day.
The five animators featured in this roundtable are part of what we call the A-1 clique — a group of people within A-1 who tend to work together more often than not — and have been mainstays within the series for a long time now, most being a key part of the original Animas team. Perhaps the most well-known one amongst them — Isao Hayashi — is a former Nakamura Production animator who’s now known as the fly-by camera guy, but has also helped create some of the series’ emotional highs. Then there’s Yuusuke Tanaka, who’s contributed to some spectacular dance scenes; Jun Uemura, who took Dereani as an opportunity to display his solid grasp on both dancing and character acting; Tomomi Kawatsuma, a fairly young animator who’s been working with A-1 ever since breaking into the industry in 2009 after graduating from Vantan Game Academy’s animator course; and last but not least, Yuukei Yamada, resident Fate/Grand Order addict who’s technically more of an animation director than a key animator, but we’ll ignore minor details like that.
— A fair amount of Dereani‘s staff were also involved in Animas‘s production, so let’s start this off by asking how you reacted when you first learned that it was happening.
Tanaka: I don’t even recall learning about the project (Laughs). Whenabouts did they tell us about it?
Uemura: If memory serves correctly, Takao started on it while working on the Animas movie, and we agreed to jump on board once that was done with.
Hayashi: I wouldn’t be surprised if we all forgot simply because of how intense work on the movie was.
Tanaka: It was pretty difficult to imagine which direction it’d head in, to say the least. Especially when we all knew it couldn’t just be a rehash of Animas.
Hayashi: We could tell that we were in for some trouble, at the very least (Laughs). The only thing we knew about Cinderella Girls back then was that it has a ton of idols. That, plus the fact that there’s a number of different illustrators working on it, which meant there’d be all sorts of individual drawing styles. Said styles were a lot more intricate than what you’d find in regular old imas, so we were all pretty terrified by the prospect of the designs being adapted as-is, haha.
Uemura: It didn’t help that there’d be far more bits and bobs we’d have to draw compared to Animas‘s designs, too.
— Matsuo’s designs focused on staying as true to the game’s as possible, didn’t they?
Uemura: Yup, they ended up almost exactly the same. I was curious what sort of tweaks he’d make while adapting them, but well, turns out he barely made any at all, haha. He made mention of the fact that making excessive tweaks would have a pretty big impact overall, which is why he avoided doing so.
— This one’s for Kawatsuma and Yamada: both of you came along from working on Animas too, correct?
Yamada: Correct, though my involvement with the series began with the movie as opposed to the TV series. I’d been a fan of Cinderella Girls before work on the show went underway, so I had a pretty good grasp on the characters. The issue though — much like everyone else pointed out — was the intricacy of their designs, not to mention the idea of doing justice to Matsuo’s incredible work in adapting them. It was important to have the viewers understand each and every character’s appeal, which resulted in far more pressure than I would have liked.
Kawatsuma: I started out on the TV series myself, but I hadn’t played the game whatsoever. This was true for Dereani as well, so most meetings involved me listening and nodding away to whoever was directing the episode while they gave a rundown of character personalities and whatnot (Laughs). I went through that exact experience on Animas too, so I figured I’d have my hands full getting a grasp on the characters this time around as well.
— I see (Laughs). What was it like working under Takao’s direction in comparison to previous experiences?
Kawatsuma: There’s a funny story I can tell here related to the work I was doing on outfit designs. You know how Mio tends to wear hoodies and other boyish clothes? Well, there was one time where I was going about my work as usual, but it just so happened to involve a scene where Mio was down in the dumps, so Takao pulled me up and asked me to make her hood a bit more saggy to match the mood (Laughs). Seeing her zone in on even the most minute details like that really left an impression on me, to say the least.
Tanaka: I can vouch for Takao’s delicate and detailed directing, too. She’s especially thorough when it comes to portraying each character’s emotions.
Hayashi: That much was apparent back in the Animas days, even. Especially so on the episodes she directed and storyboarded thanks to the incredible detail on her layouts and such. It was easy to tell how super thorough she was with frame composition just from looking at her storyboards, which typically resulted in our work coming back to us with tons of corrections, haha. Not to imply that was a bad thing, though, considering it helped with our own understanding of things more often than not. There were plenty of other areas where that meticulous side of her came into play as well, such as character expressions during specific scenes and the like.
Yamada: The Animas movie was the first time I had the pleasure of working with her, and let’s just say my first impression of her was pretty special, haha. It’s hard not to be taken by that passion she has towards her work. The one exchange with her that stuck with me the most was when I asked which (765) character was her favourite, only for her to reply with “I can’t play favourites with my daughters!” (Laughs).
She really does treasure the characters in her work, and refuses to choose a favourite out of guilt towards the others. That’s why I chalked her up as the kind of person whose affection really comes through in their work itself. She wants these characters to feel real, and — as an animator — that’s something I respect and want to accomplish myself, too. Working with her really hit it home that both herself and her work are so far beyond me…
Sorry, I’m not really making much sense here, am I?
— No worries, you’re fine (Laughs). Do you all have any personal favourites or stand-out scenes you’d like to mention from the episodes you worked on?
Uemura: While I worked on both of the show’s openings, I never did get the chance to do draw any shots from the front; I always ended up with ones from the back, or ones involving their feet/legs, haha. The one time I did get to draw someone from the front during an opening segment, however, was during episode 1’s Onegai! Cinderella. That one shot of the girls watching Koume dancing on the screen (Cut 27), to be specific. I actually put a fair bit of detail into that, but well, you can’t really tell considering how small it turned out.
Uemura: I drew that sequence at your standard size since Harada — one of the episode directors — said there was a chance it could be used later on, but that never came to fruition in the end (Laughs).
Yamada: You did seem to be left in charge of the more technical parts a lot, from what I remember. Largely due to the fact that you’re one of the few people who could deliver when it came to creating the exact frame composition Takao was looking for. The only issue there was that said composition involved long shots more often than not, so the characters would always end up being really small, haha.
Hayashi: You always got asked to do cuts that involved pretty tricky layouts. Bits where characters were going up stairs, etc.
Uemura: I did draw my fair share of stairs, that’s for sure.
Hayashi: Scenes like that are pretty hard, too. Drawing someone walking up stairs requires a surprising amount of key frames, not to mention the fact that there’s a slightly different nuance to it than when characters are walking normally.
Uemura: They’re certainly not easy, haha.
Hayashi: Most of your cuts were decided for you by those on the production side as well, weren’t they?
Uemura: Yup, I rarely had the opportunity to pick which ones I wanted. Episode 14 provided me with one of the rare occasions where I was actually able to do so through Karen and Nao’s intro scene (Cut 194,199), which I had my eye on while looking through the storyboard for it. Episode 4 had one too, namely the bit where Miku walks into the office while yawning (Cut 11).
Yamada: Oh, the bit where she shakes her butt a lot (Laughs).
Uemura: Yeah… I’m well aware that I went overboard there… I mean, the storyboard was going for that speaking with her butt effect in the first place, so I decided to make it reminiscent of Crayon Shin-chan, but yeah. Definitely took it a bit too far, haha.
Yamada: Well, no one complained about it at least (Laughs).
As for me, I never actually had the chance to do much key animation…
Hayashi: You did do that bit in episode 13 where little bits of sweat come flying off Riina as she’s dancing away (Cut 385). That actually turned a fair number of heads; even Akai (Toshifumi) asked around to find out who did it.
Yamada: …Why didn’t you tell me that back then?! (Laughs)
But yeah, I really wanted to work on one of the live scenes at least. I mean, this is imas we’re talking about here. It’s not often that animation directors get to pick which scenes they do key animation on, but I ended up getting a couple of live scene cuts handed to me after mentioning I’d like to work on one of them. The one with Riina involved her swinging her arms in tune to the music as well, so I had to spend some time thinking about the ideal amount of sweat to have fly off her.
Hayashi: Sometimes it’s tricky deciding whether or not there should be lots of it.
Yamada: The live scenes are always so pleasant too, so the last thing I wanted was for it to look gross. Fortunately I avoided that, so it was a pretty satisfying experience.
Other than that though, I usually ended up having to work on the more serious episodes. Takao always had a ton of specific demands for episodes like that too, a fact that put me under some fierce pressure, to say the least.
Yamada: One scene I worked on that I’m really attached to is the bit in episode 26 with Ranko, Koume and all the zombies (Cut 95). I even got the go-ahead to do my own layouts there, making it the first time in a while that I got to do both that and some key animation. Needless to say I had a ton of fun doing so, haha.
Kawatsuma: I didn’t have the best of experiences while doing key animation this time around, in all honesty. There were so many times where I just couldn’t draw things the way I visualised them, so it was pretty rough going…
In terms of animation direction, the first episode I worked on there was episode 8.
Yamada: Ah yeah, the Ranko episode.
Kawatsuma: Her outfit there really was a nightmare to work with (Laughs).
Hayashi: No doubt about it.
Yamada: The worst part is it’s got a bunch of different shades of black that end up getting meshed together on screens, even when you do your best to give them that subtle colouring difference (Laughs). Unsurprisingly, that normally ends up in you getting real mad over your hard work going to waste, haha.
Kawatsuma: Stuff like that is why I’d conditioned myself into not really wanting to work with Ranko, but I actually grew to like her more and more as work on that episode progressed. This is something I thought while working on Animas as well, but getting to know all the characters really does make it easier to grow fond of them and appreciate their cute sides. In that sense, Ranko really did end up leaving the biggest impression on me.
— Which scene(s) were the most satisfying to work on for all of you?
Kawatsuma: The rooftop scene where Ranko’s determined to open up to the Producer, but can’t quite muster the words at first (Cut 267). I got to work on the layouts there, so it was a lot fun.
Another scene I enjoyed a lot was Uzuki’s little fashion show segment in episode 26 (Cuts 259 etc). We had some breathing room between that episode and the end of the TV series itself, so I got to have some fun drawing that despite not being completely over the experiences I had on previous episodes. In fact, I even ended up blurting out to Takao that I enjoyed working on it, haha.
Hayashi: I spent far more time doing key animation than on anything else for Dereani — to the point where I actually felt bad for others since I was taking so many scenes — so it’s hard to decide on one single part… I guess the first one worth mentioning is right at the beginning of episode 1, with the glass shoe falling. I worked on a similar scene right at the end of the 2nd anniversary PV too, so being able to work on that part during the show was a nice way to connect the two.
One of the production runners even went out and bought a real glass shoe for me, which served as a good reference.
— Oh, so you actually had one then? (Laughs)
Hayashi: Being able to get a feel for how much it weighed helped, plus it let me figure out whether or not the box acting as a cushion would stop it from shattering if it fell down a flight of stairs (Laughs).
Yamada: It definitely wouldn’t. (Laughs)
Hayashi: Yeah, no doubt.
I got to handle a number of dance sequences too, like the fly-by camera in episode 13 etc, but one scene I have the most vivid memory of working on is Mio’s acting in episode 21 (Cut 243). The fact that she’s acting out the part of a fictional character — in a play based on The Secret Garden — made it all the trickier to work on too, because it wasn’t just about her feelings there; I actually watched over the original a number of times while working on the scene just so I could get a grasp on what kind of expressions and emotions she’d try to have come across while playing this character.
It’s not like it had a crazy amount of cuts or anything either, but it was an important scene nonetheless — especially for Mio’s character arc — so I really did struggle with it.
Yamada: Don’t forget to mention episode 23.
Hayashi: Yeah, I was in charge of Uzuki’s crying scene (Cut 246) there as well. In fact, that was probably my best work on the show, haha.
Yamada: It did earn you the “Master of Crying” nickname, after all (Laughs).
Hayashi: That whole cut was around 13 seconds long, but the main priority before working on it was hearing Ohashi’s voice acting for the scene itself. And well, she did a ridiculously good job, to say the least. I’m a firm believer that the animation itself has to be on par with the rest of the delivery in shows like this, where drama and strong direction are the focus; it can’t stand out too much by itself, but at the same time it can’t take a back seat either. That’s why I was a bit worried about how to handle it at first, but Ohashi’s incredible acting made it a much simpler matter, haha.
While that cut added to the experience of the scene overall, it’s more of an exception to the rule for me. I’m still of the opinion that character movement in anime should, under normal circumstances, be built upon much simpler motions.
Yamada: I was genuinely amazed at how well everything came together for that scene. It’s a testament to how much Takao values the use of everyday occurrences to enhance her work.
Hayashi: She really does, and it’s especially obvious through her storyboards as well.
Episode 24 featured a scene with Rin and Mio right before Uzuki’s live (Cut 269, 272) where the both of them tear up, so I had the odd honour of being able to draw all three new generations girls crying (Laughs).
— How about yourself then, Tanaka?
Tanaka: My main concern this time around was over whether or not I could do justice to Matsuo’s character designs through my own drawings, and well, doing so turned out to be just as difficult as I imagined. It wasn’t until episode 25 — while making some corrections as one of the animation directors on the scene where they introduce themselves as Cinderella Girls — that I really felt confident in how much my art had improved.
— The show was practically over by that scene, though (Laughs).
Tanaka: It’s not like the original key animation was bad or anything, either. It was good, in fact, but I did feel that my corrections helped contribute to the scene’s atmosphere. The thing with Matsuo’s character designs is that they’re as authentic as they come; I mentioned this in a previous interview as well, but you really can’t cut corners with them. Both in terms of keeping them true to Annin Doufu’s original designs, and in maintaining that authenticity mentioned. Matsuo’s designs do a solid job of striking the perfect balance between both of those, but trying to do so myself wasn’t an easy task, to say the least.
Another thing about the designs is that, despite the similarities between all the girls, there’s actually a fair amount of tiny little differences in details between them.
Uemura: The game has a number of different illustrators working on it, which ends up leading to differences in eye shapes and highlights, etc. Normally you get to the point where you can draw characters without referring to their design sheets, but that never was the case for Dereani.
Tanaka: Those design sheets really were clutch for us, especially since it was pretty easy to forget specific little details like how a character’s hair parts and whatnot (Laughs). That just made our jobs all the more difficult, too.
— You were tasked with the sub-character designs as well, weren’t you Tanaka? Which characters did that encompass, specifically?
Tanaka: A number of characters who weren’t a part of Cinderella Project, essentially. One character in particular that I struggled with was Kaede; her facial features are pretty unique compared to the others, not to mention the sheer volume of her hair. I was happy to be left in charge of her though, since Matsuo personally asked me to do so after he saw the part in episode 1 where she’s featured on a billboard (Cut 257).
Natsuki’s hairstyle proved to be a challenge by itself, too.
— It’s certainly one of the more unique hairstyles amongst the cast.
Tanaka: There’s a certain balance to it as well, unlike your typical pompadour. It kinda shoots up and flows towards the back, if you know what I mean.
Yamada: Finding the middle ground between cool and cute is a pretty difficult task.
Hayashi: You actually got to work with her a lot when it came to key animation, didn’t you? During episode 14 and the like, for example.
Tanaka: Yup, I was in charge of the scene where she first speaks, even. I’m pretty fond of her character, so I made it a point to ask for scenes with her whenever I could.
Hayashi: You always had that guitar you asked for sitting by your table, too (Laughs).
Tanaka: I needed a good reference, so I had someone go out and buy one for me.
Hayashi: Understandable considering how difficult instruments can be to draw.
Tanaka: I do wonder what happened to that guitar, though. It kind of disappeared out of the blue at some point… (Laughs)
— Right then, let’s round this off by asking how you all feel the show turned out in the end.
Uemura: Hmm… It doesn’t really feel like I got to do that much key animation on it in the end, despite being able to list off a number of parts where I did. I didn’t get that many cuts to work on in episode 26 either, so I guess you could say I’m hungry for more (Laughs).
Yamada: This might be an odd way to put it, but I’d say it’s a show where we really prioritised the viewers themselves. There’s no doubt that a good chunk of Producers who liked Cinderella Girls before Dereani were looking forward to seeing how their favourites would act and express themselves on TV, so I was always asking myself just how well I could answer to those expectations. That ended up adding a ton of extra pressure for me, but I wanted them to enjoy it all the same, so that became a key factor in my work.
Kawatsuma: The show actually left me feeling a little guilty, though not in the way you’d imagine. One of my friends is a massive Cinderella Girls fan and MikaP, and was actually one of the people involved in popularising the Tokimeki Escalate call featured in episode 3 at the 1st anniversary live.
Hayashi: Woah, now that isn’t something I was expecting to hear (Laughs).
Kawatsuma: Anyway, said friend would always text me whenever the newest episode finished airing, and those texts would always end with a word of thanks. “Please say thanks to the rest of the staff as well.” is what they’d say. Stuff like that made me realise that the fans really helped make Dereani in the end, and that’s why I ended up coming away from it having learned a lot. Not just myself either, though; a lot of the other staff understood that too, which made working with them all the more pleasant.
I said it left me feeling a little guilty, but I definitely mean it in a positive way when stuff like that was a factor towards why it did.
Hayashi: It definitely feels like we managed to accomplish a good number of things. Personally, I’ve been thinking about what I managed to do in Dereani compared to Animas, and having the chance to do episode direction was one of those things. Then there was my decision to gun for doing as much key animation as possible in the second season as a personal challenge, which ended up landing me a bunch of difficult scenes.
I pulled out all the stops for Dereani, to the point where I’m actually kinda worried about my output from here on, haha. Whether or not we’ll see more imas anime is anyone’s guess, but if we do, I’d most definitely love to use my experience here and get involved with it once again.
Tanaka: Hmm… I’m kind of aping on Kawatsuma here, but every episode really did require us to give it 100% at all times.
Yamada: Well you know what they say. SAY☆Ippai and all that (Laughs).
[Note: This is a dumb pun based on the opening lyrics to Star!!, the show’s first OP, because Tanaka says 精一杯. I ain’t getting paid enough to think up something appropriate to replace it with.]
Anyway, we were all pretty determined to give it our all. I mentioned something along these lines in the interview for the Animas movie as well, but the thing with working on imas is that the viewers always make their presence known. That goes especially so nowadays, what with the popularity of Twitter and niconico livestreams and such; those let people share their opinions for a broad audience, so I made it a point to read and listen to those as much as I could whenever the latest episode finished airing. That fan presence 100% helped in making the show what it was.
I’m glad someone at A-1 approved the idea of purchasing both a glass shoe and a guitar for the sake of animator referencing. Hopefully it wasn’t out of the poor production runner’s own pocket.
Next week’ll be the final piece in this series of translations, and trust me when I say it’ll be going out with a bang.
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