The series of translations covering Naoko Yamada’s works through megax‘s translations nears its end. This will be the final piece from Tamako’s production book, focusing on Yamada’s good friend and recurring character designer/chief animation director Yukiko Horiguchi.
Tamako Love Story interviews:
Character Designer/Chief Animation Director Yukiko Horiguchi
– As the Tamako series is an original production from Kyoto Animation, what did you discuss with director Yamada when you were creating the visuals for the characters?
There were many times when we would chat idly while we each drew something. Those times during our strategy meetings where we would encamp ourselves in the conference room chatting about ordinary things that had nothing to do with animation were the most fun parts of production. (laughs) Usually she would leave the designs to me after our meetings, but for the characters she had a strong attachment to, she would give me a rough draft of what she wanted, like for Dera and the Princess. Also, I gave the tofu seller a more manly design at first, but she said “he needs to feel more spongy!” and gave me a rough draft of what she wanted. There are a lot of characters in the Tamako series, so it was fun working after she entrusted me with the rough drafts she drew. (laughs) Often when I couldn’t think of anything or when I reached the end of my rope, I would think “can I not think of something the director would like?” and entrust it to my pencil and paper. When nothing came to mind for her, she would return it to me as-is and say “I couldn’t think of anything either.” (laughs)
– So the design process for the main characters went relatively smoothly?
That’s right. Since the planning for it progressed very early compared to when it was broadcast, the way Tamako, Mochizou, and the Prince were designed was determined early (at that time, the romance portion was stronger). At first the Prince was the same age as Tamako and there was a time where a love triangle was present too. (laughs) The designs that troubled me weren’t the main characters… they were the classmates. While we were in the middle of drawing the animation, the animators and animation directors would say to me “we can’t work when there’s no designs” so I had to wring them out somehow. In past works, I would design everything about the classmates, but this time there wasn’t any time to think about things like secret histories. I’d say that’s why there’s no individualism in them for this production. There’s plenty deep history in the characters in the shopping street though. (laughs)
– The first key visual for the movie and the images used for the posters sold with the advance tickets was a bold decision for an image. Please tell us what your intentions were for each of the characters.
The director gave me a rough draft she had finished for the key visual used with Tamako. It was very novel with Tamako’s hair cut. As we had a theme of Tamako feeling strongly anxious, lost, and starting anew, I gave all my power to showcase those emotions in the image. This is a bit of a digression and keep it between us, but when the director faxed me her rough draft, my fax machine ran out of ink near her mouth, so when I saw her hair get disheveled, I momentarily thought “is this a horror movie?”
Mochizou didn’t have any points in the TV series where he looked overly manly, so I wanted to show off that side of him you see in the movie. His strong expression temporarily sealed up the girlish boy side of Mochizou. Since he firmly decides what his path will be, in contrast to Tamako, it was my intent to draw him straightforward without any hesitation.
The most complex of them all. Effeminate was OK for Midori. I drew her while adding a bit more of a backward looking atmosphere compared to the other characters. With her eyes upturned and her hand by her mouth, she feels like she’s a child who wants to say something, but can’t. It’s heartbreaking. She’s a girl who wants things to stay the same if she can’t say what she’s feeling, but no matter what she does, things will change. It’s a very painful place to be in.
Kanna feels the same as she always does. (laughs) It feels like she’s looking straight at her own path. No matter what, the fact that she won’t change is her charm. It’s refreshing.
I drew her with enough forward-looking atmosphere that she wouldn’t lose out to Kanna this time. It feels like she’s chosen her own path and won’t be swayed from it. With her smiling a bit, it feels like she has no hesitation at all.
Since she’s around looking disinterestedly at her older sister throughout the film, I drew her with that disinterested mood here. This time, I drew her, Mochizou, Kanna, and Shiori with that unhesitating positive atmosphere.
– Were there any particularity difficult changes between the TV series and movie?
Nothing in particular. I love heartwarming stories and adolescent romances, so it felt the same whenever I drew for the film. The director’s storyboards built the atmosphere very well, so I wanted to replicate that atmosphere in the completed visuals as best I could. If you glance at the TV series and the movie, you may think the atmosphere is completely different, but other than the theme at the forefront being different, there’s a lot that they have in common. It may be a bit easier to understand in the movie, but both have a theme of “growth” in them.
– Each of the main characters in Tamako Love Story has such detailed expressions and gestures. What portions did you pay attention to when you were working as chief animation director?
It has to be Tamako’s expressions. Tamako seriously falling in love was something that we wanted to depict in the TV series, but dropped. It wouldn’t feel out of place here though. For those who watched the TV series, wouldn’t it be fresh to see Tamako blushing when she became aware of Mochizou? And since I felt that director Yamada put a lot of spirit into Tamako’s sensuality in the storyboards this time, I put in a lot of energy making Tamako appear attractive as a girl this time. It’s something we restrained ourselves from doing in the TV series. However, if you put too much spirit into making her sensual with blushing and fretting, she’ll appear more sly than feminine. I made sure to keep that balanced. And then I put a lot of effort into Midori; enough that it felt like I wouldn’t let her down compared to Tamako. She has a very bitter role in the film, so I at least wanted to draw her very beautifully. And then I put a lot of energy into Shiori’s expressions, so they’re the biggest change in a sense. Similar to how I wanted to protect Midori, I worked on Shiori feeling like I was watching her walk away to live by herself.
– As chief animation director, please tell us your favorite three scenes from Tamako Love Story that you are most attached to.
Number 3 is the scene where they’re moving Fuku-san into the ambulance. Mochizou strongly props up Tamako, who was shaken and tattered. He was extremely cool during that chain of events from the ambulance until they reach the hospital. Incidentally, that part’s unit director was (Taichi) Ogawa-san. I think the animation director for it, (Nobuaki) Maruki-san, put an extraordinary amount of effort into that bit and considerably raised the quality of the finished visuals. That combo also worked on episode 3 (Shiori’s episode). Ogawa-san instructed Maruki-san and myself “I really want this scene to have that kind of shading attached!” when he put a lot of effort into the conversation Tamako and Shiori have before they enter the public bathhouse at night.
Number 2 is Midori calmly closing her eyes by Tamako’s side when Shiori says “you love him” to Tamako when she begins to realize her own feelings for Mochizou. Honestly, this moved me enough that I could easily place it as number 1. When I saw it during the preview screening, I was brought to tears. It was so heartbreaking. I wanted her to be happy.
Of course, number 1 is where Tamako conveys her feelings to Mochizou. I love each of her expressions: frantic after running, then nervous before confessing, and then her thoughts afterwards. The amazing timing spanning from the introduction gave it such a great refreshing feeling.
– It felt important to have the characters in Tamako Love Story represented as being “alive.” What tricks did you use to bring out that feeling?
The TV series had more of a comic style, so I worked while restraining that “alive” feeling. It didn’t feel necessary for the movie, so I remodeled Tamako’s design a bit. In particular her bangs. Her bangs had three big bundles during the TV series, so for the movie I returned it to feeling a bit more spontaneous. Also, I didn’t want to abbreviate the way her clothes wrinkled. That was what I was aware of.
– Please tell us any interesting stories during production.
One episode’s animation director asked me “Mochizou has pierced ears, right? Then wouldn’t it be better to draw something gold on the back of his ear?” I deceived them by saying “Wo-Wouldn’t it be alright to leave it out? Surely they’re not pierced; it’s just a charming sticker!” (laughs) Up until that point, he hadn’t been drawn with a metal fixture, so I had no choice to say that or else it would have been chaos at the studio. (sigh) But he did have a piercing. (sigh)
– We heard the illustration drawn for the KyoAni Shop advance ticket had a profound meaning to it. Please tell us about that.
It’s not really profound, but by Tamako and Midori, there are these round orbs like tiddlywinks. On Tamako’s side, there’s one shaped like a heart. By Midori, there’s one that’s broken…. It conceals the harshness of reality until you look closely. When we were meeting to discuss the illustration, the conclusion we reached was “Surely Kanna broke it….. that sadist!” (laughs) In the background on the right side, you see these stair-like objects. On the left, you have the shopping street and the girls, on the right you have Shiori on the outside like she’s preparing for a trip. It’s relatively just how it looks though.
– When you draw these promotional illustrations, do you think about what alternative meanings you draw in them?
I love thinking about secret stories, so there’s a lot of times I’ll draw while thinking about those kinds of things. The movie in particular puts a spotlight on the inside of the characters, so I drew while thinking about each of their positions and feelings. For example, if you were to be 2D and meet these characters, they would be living, right? Then you can’t treat them lukewarmly. So I’m happy being able to draw like that to convey their own feelings to those who look at it.
– Please tell us any particular episode and character you’ve grown fond of through the Tamako series.
It has to be Shiori’s introduction episode (3) and the story about Mamedai and Hinako’s love (9) from the TV series. I love stories like “the protagonist makes a new friend”, so episode 3 was considerably cute for me. Honestly, I wanted to be the animation director for that episode when I read the scenario, but then I couldn’t work on episode 1, so I tearfully, tearfully abandoned that dream. I feel a bit jealous towards that animation director. (laughs) Episode 9 goes without saying anything. The story between Mamedai and Hinako is so adorable.
Hmm, for characters it has to be Tamako. No matter what time it was, she was a constant presence for me. It was always trial-and-error, so she’s someone that an answer wouldn’t come out easily for. It felt like she finally arrived in the movie. The two that were fun to draw were Shiori and Anko.
– What kind of work is the Tamako series to you, Horiguchi-san?
It’s a work that brings back the older times and feels a bit heartbreakingly nostalgic. Tamako is a production where the little bits of happiness of everyday life and the comforts between people are interlaid inside. There’s a lot of things that aren’t there when you look at it, and it’s something that caused me a lot of suffering due to my own inadequacies, but it’s a work that made me think about various things and helped me grow.
– How was participating on the Tamako series? Please tell us your impressions.
With only 1 cour of episodes and 1 movie, it’s not that long of a series, but I feel like I’ve been involved with it for a miraculously long time. I’m very happy that I was able to see each of the characters grow up as I designed the characters from the TV series through the movie. While I was working, I could only reflect back on what we had just finished, but now that time has passed, it really feels like I’ve done something. With the memories of the movie more fresh, my memories of Dera-chan have become more nostalgic. (laughs) Happy endings are the best.
– Please give a message to all the fans of the Tamako series.
If I could leave a little bit of excitement and thrill for those who watched the series, it’d make me happy. Every day changes in various ways, so nothing constantly appears the same. I’d be pleased if you felt that way a little bit while watching this series. I’m very grateful for all of you who have supported us to this point. Thank you very much!