The time has come for the final entry in this series of translations from the Dereani complete fanbook, and there’s no better way to close it all out than with a one on one interview with none other than the
goddess given human form massive deviant super animator and general beast Megumi Kouno herself. One of her main duties this time around was as part of the design works team, which this interview is mainly focused on, and thus we’re given an intricate look at the work that goes into outfit design and keeping midriffs exposed at all times possible.
Megumi Kouno: Started out at Dogakobo, then eventually worked herself over to Gainax. While she had made her debut as key animator a few years before — even participating in a Gainax episode of the 2008 Yatterman series — it wasn’t until her solo work on Hanamaru Kindergarden’s 4th ED in 2010 that people began to really notice her. She eventually went freelance after the great Gainax collapse of 2011, and fate just so has it that she became a key staff member on a little project by Atsushi Nishigori — a fellow former Gainax bud — called The [email protected] Her work on the show, which included 2D dancing most people had only dreamed of until then, helped skyrocket her already rising reputation as a young powerhouse, and rightfully earned her place as one of the first people to come to up when discussing both imas related anime and examples of people who have mastered the craft of dancing animation.
Another fun tidbit is that Yousuke Toba, a producer at Aniplex, has a tendency to bring her along to projects he’s on, which resulted in her providing work for Dogakobo’s — the very studio she started out at — Love Lab. Talk about full circle!
— Tell us, what did your role as part of the design works team actually entail?
Kouno: I was in charge of the outfits used during live performances, to put it simply. Animas left me feeling a little unsatisfied over certain things I wasn’t able to do while working on it, so I came into Dereani fully intent on fixing that.
— Did you know anything about the series back when you learned that you’d be involved with Animas?
Kouno: Nope, all my knowledge of it came from working on the anime. I did have an interest in idols themselves back then though, and I’d watched a lot of videos of their performances and PVs, etc.
— What expectations did you have for Dereani when you learned that Nishigori (Atsushi) would be passing the torch to Takao?
Kouno: I figured we’d be up for an entirely different experience considering they both have very distinct approaches to their work. It’d be an understatement to say that I was interested in how her work would shape up too, so I was determined to stick around for the whole journey.
— What lead to you being appointed as part of the design works team in the first place?
Kouno: I’m not actually aware of the reasoning myself; I just accepted Fukushima (Yuuichi)’s proposal when he brought it up to me…
Fukushima: Nishigori was in charge of all the outfit designs back on Animas, but we figured that Takao being at the helm this time meant it’d be appropriate to focus on more delicate designs. Takao has a penchant for wanting even the smallest of things to feel just right, and Kouno seemed like the ideal person to deliver on that. Couple that with the fact that Kouno’s drawings have always featured some striking detail, and she just seemed like the perfect fit for working on outfit design.
Kouno: Oh, so that’s why you went with me (Laughs).
— So you were essentially in charge of all the outfits featured during the live performances, then.
Kouno: There were a couple here and there that I didn’t do, but yes, I designed all the outfits for the main performances.
— Let’s hear you discuss the outfits featured in episode 3’s performance to start, then.
Kouno: Much like all of the other outfits featured in the first season, Takao had asked me to preserve the same flavor of the outfits featured in the game’s cards, but without making them feel exactly the same. Meanwhile, the second season had outfits like Triad Primus’s — which I basically just took straight from the game and made some minor adjustments here and there — so I had to adjust my level of freedom between both seasons.
The thing with episode 3’s outfits, though, is that there’s tons of different parts on them. I knew I’d be the animation director for that episode while working on them too, so I kind of went the extra mile with them.
— Your outfits have a tendency to feature exposed midriffs more often than not.
Kouno: That’s not even a conscious decision; they just end up like that somehow before I realise it, haha.
— So you just have a habit of designing them like that without a second thought.
Kouno: Yup, though Takao did ask me not to do so with Uzuki, Rin and Mio in their backdancer outfits. Mio did end up getting the go-ahead later on since it fit with her personality, but Uzuki and Rin’s midriffs remained off limits.
— It was interesting seeing how each of their outfits were designed to reflect their character.
Kouno: There’s a number of subtle differences between all three of them, right down to details like the opening in their collars, but I think I might’ve gone a bit too far on that front. The differences really are subtle, so it was easy for someone to give them a quick glance and figure they’re all the same… I actually felt pretty bad about that after the fact, but certain animation directors being able to spot all the differences made life easier for me in that regard. I even made sure their skirts were all slightly different lengths as well, so that just made them even more of a hassle to draw.
Safe to say that I’ll probably avoid including tiny little differences like that in future designs, haha.
— Did you ever notice anything new while animating your own designs?
Kouno: I had to work with them while doing both key animation and animation direction, so there was definitely a lot to learn from that. There were plenty of comments around the workplace regarding how difficult the outfits were to work with as well, so I made sure to take into account the time that’d be spent animating them after that. That lead to me trying to figure out how to make them less complex to draw — while looking just as detailed — for the second season’s batch.
— How did you go about deciding which direction to take the designs in?
Kouno: The majority of my work was based on Takao’s instructions. She’d tell me which outfits they’d be wearing for specific parts and give me a rough idea of what she’s looking for during staff meetings, and I’d note all that down and use it to guide me along.
— Were you ever provided with reference materials or the like during those meetings?
Kouno: Takao would provide me with rough illustrations whenever she had a clear vision on the sort of design she wanted. If she wasn’t so sure herself, then we’d both take some time during the meeting to run some image searches and decide on where to go based on whatever we figured was appropriate. Love Laika’s outfits are a good example of designs where she knew exactly what she wanted; those got decided on real quick as a result.
— So you weren’t any stranger to searching about for anything that’d help serve as a hint of sorts, then.
Kouno: Pretty much. I went out and bought some teen magazines to help while working on the outfits for Mika’s unit (Happy Princess). The dress-like outfit featured at the start of episode 1 — which Cinderella Project went on to wear at the end of the show — was designed while referencing a number wedding dress books as well.
— Speaking of which, that dress-like outfit is certainly appealing, but the design itself seems incredibly complex.
Kouno: Seriously, looking at it nowadays almost gives me a heart attack. An outfit like that was never fit for animation in the first place; it’d be more appropriate to just feature it on a billboard or something. I was so excited over being left in charge of outfit design though that I just went wild without thinking about the work involved later down the line.
— One thing I noticed is that the legs are still visible despite the sheer volume of the skirt. Is that because you knew the outfit was being used for a dance scene?
Kouno: Keeping the legs exposed helps the girls give off that fresh, young feeling. One of the main appeals of idol related stuff – for me, at least — is letting the fans feel like they can get a glimpse of what they’re not supposed to. Naturally Takao was 100% against ever letting them actually get the glimpse too, so I had to settle with just teasing it.
But yeah, increasing both the sexy and cuteness factor through that risque touch is one of the things I was aiming for.
— And you’re of the opinion that doing so helps make the girls more endearing.
Kouno: I am indeed.
— How many rough designs would you typically come up with before eventually settling on something?
Kouno: Around 4 or 5 per outfit, as far as I remember. I’d show those to Takao and then polish off whichever one she liked the most, though coming up with something that’d match with what she had in mind proved to be a struggle sometimes.
— Are there any outfits in particular that you had a hard time with?
Kouno: The one featured in the first season’s OP proved to be a challenge. Even Takao wasn’t too sure on what to do with it, so I got into a real panic myself. All we knew for sure was that we wanted hearts to be the main concept behind its design, and that we wanted the girls to look cute in it too, so I just ended up placing a number of them all over the outfit while drawing; on their necks, on their chests, on their waists, and even on their shoes. We tied it into the Cinderella motif by giving them heart shaped crowns too, and the shoes themselves were designed with glass shoes in mind.
Work had only just started on the series back then as well, so the only thing I had to rely on while working was Takao’s instructions, because I still wasn’t sure where the series was heading at the time.
— Did Takao make any requests that took you by surprise?
Kouno: Hmm… I’m pretty sure the majority of requests she made were for me to make some adjustments to things like the volume and measurement of an outfit’s skirt in correlation to each character’s hip size, plus some silhouette fixes here and there.
— Are there any other outfits you’re partial to?
Kouno: I’m pretty fond of * (Asterisk)’s outfits, which turned out really nice thanks to the aid of our colour designer. I actually struggled with them a lot when I first got started, largely due to the wild difference in both Miku and Riina’s personalities; trying to match the outfits to said personalities while maintaining a sense of harmony between them was a grueling task, but Takao helped me out by suggesting that I put cat ears on Riina’s headphones. The outfits themselves were still rather distinct though, so all that was left was creating some similarities between them here and there to make them feel like part of a set. I eventually figured that I could do so by ensuring that they both show the exact same amount of skin in the same areas, and then our colour designer sealed the deal by showing me that blue and pink would work really well in contrast with each other on top of the base blacks featured on each outfit.
— Episode 3 wasn’t the only episode where you did key animation for performances, correct?
Kouno: That’s right. Working on Animas‘s performances made it painfully clear that I had a long way to go when it came to animating them, so I came into Dereani prepared to pull out all the stops. That resulted in me changing up my drawing style somewhat, and it gave me the opportunity to look over and reflect on my own work as well.
We typically work on the performances while referencing 3DCG videos, but an issue I normally have is that we don’t really have any control over the length of them. That wasn’t the case this time around though, because instead of just working with them as as is, I started thinking about why certain movements were featured at certain parts. Doing so lead to me being able to think about how my work would tie in with the timesheets, too.
— So you figured out how to produce the best results within given constraints, then.
Kouno: Yup. One of the main things worth considering is which type of movement you should be going with; sometimes you’re best off sticking with more restricted movement that’s become synonymous with anime now, and other times it might be best to ditch that and throw in more realistic movement.
— Are there any scenes other than those from episode 3’s performance that you’d like to mention?
Kouno: There are. The first one is Uzuki’s dancing in the second season’s OP (Shine!! Cut 42). The other comes from episode 25; during the chorus of [email protected]☆ (Cut 25), where there’s around five of them dancing with Rin at the centre, to be specific. It wasn’t until I requested that someone do 2nd key animation on it that the drawings finally matched up with the image I had in my head, so I had a real eureka moment as I realized exactly what I needed to do to make them move the way I wanted.
— How does it feel now that the project’s over and done with?
Kouno: It’s worth mentioning that the fanbase really did help push us along the way. They really do have nothing but love for this franchise, so I wanted to give them the best they could get.
Basically, I’ve got nothing but gratitude for those who enjoyed the show as a whole.
And that’s a wrap, folks! It’s been an arduous month of endless translating, but I hope you all enjoyed being able to hear from a fairly sizeable chunk of the staff involved with Cinderella Girls. And remember, don’t be shy to make it known if you want to see more content like this. Balancing these with work is tough, but it’s something I’m definitely willing to do so long as people want to see more!
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