Kizumonogatari Staff Roundtable: Chief Animation Directors And Unit Directors

Kizumonogatari Staff Roundtable: Chief Animation Directors And Unit Directors

Kizumonogatari hit its 5th anniversary last month, and to commemorate that, we’ll be publishing a weekly series of interviews. First, a lengthy conversation with its lead animators and directors about the movie’s creation, and what it’s like to work under an eccentric genius like Tatsuya Oishi.

Character Designer and Chief Animation Director: Hideyuki Morioka

Chief Animation Director: Hiroki Yamamura

Unit Director: Yukihiro Miyamoto

Unit Director: Toshimasa Suzuki

Interview originally published within Kizumonogatari’s Complete Guidebook, which you can buy over here. Translated by bitmap. For the direct quotes of lines for the film, he used the official Aniplex subtitles, which hurt us all because they’re not very good.

Touching on Kizumonogatari’s storyboards

How did each of you come to work on Kizumonogatari?

Morioka: I had helped out here and there on Bakemonogatari, assisting on animation direction as well as drawing some key animation for the openings, but Kizumonogatari was close to my first real involvement in the Monogatari franchise. (Director) Oishi offered me the Chief Animation Director position that Akio Watanabe had done previously for the Monogatari series, so I was worried about how my art style would be received by fans of the franchise. That being said, all of the key animators ended up being a very talented bunch, so I didn’t have much to correct as Chief Animation Director (laughs).

Suzuki: I was invited to the project after helping out on Bakemonogatari as well. I believe I joined around the time Oishi was in the process of storyboarding.

Miyamoto: I was asked to help out because the workload was too much for a single person. I remember exchanging a firm handshake with Oishi―only to end up waiting ages for the storyboards to be completed (laughs).

Yamamura: I suppose that makes me the last of everyone here to join, then. It must have been around spring of 2014, when we all went as a group to do on-location photography at the old National Stadium. I had been working on a different series right up until then, and gladly took the chance to join the project, knowing Oishi was at the helm.

What was your first impression upon seeing Oishi’s storyboards?

Morioka: The storyboards were drawn extravagantly without a single thought to compromise, and I could tell that no effort would be spared. He wanted to make use of every resource animation-wise to its fullest, seeing as how this was a project meant for theaters. When I looked through the storyboards for the scene at the beginning of Tekketsu where Koyomi is on fire, I could feel my face losing its color as I wondered just who would be tasked with drawing it (laughs). On the other hand, Oishi isn’t the type to draw out storyboards without doing some forward-thinking for how it will all work. So my impression was that while it would require a staggering amount of labor, there must be a path to success there as well.

Miyamoto: Oishi’s drawings and presentation are very well-defined even at the storyboard stage. That being the case, the animation team worked hard to live up to the high bar set by the storyboards while adding our own additional flourishes on top.

Suzuki: They were really fun storyboards to read through, as you might expect. There aren’t many people in the industry who can draw storyboards like he does; these were packed with unique ideas and a sense of pacing that just scream “Oishi”. The storyboards are filled with a clear sense of intent, which I find to be another distinctive trait. His presentation is always so detailed as well. What would have used lots of shorter cuts in quick succession for TV is depicted in longer, more detailed shots in Kizumonogatari. The pacing is different from the TV series for the sake of showcasing longer scenes and dialogue-driven moments.

Yamamura: There really is a lot of attention put into each and every detail. The storyboards for the beginning of Tekketsu were carefully colored in, so you could immediately get a sense of what the final layout should look like. That level of thoroughness throughout is what gives it the Oishi touch.

Tekketsu’s lineup of satisfying animation

What were your thoughts when you started work on Tekketsu, the first installment of the trilogy?

Morioka: As the prequel to Bakemonogatari, Kizumonogatari has to show the characters from basically their first meeting; I felt this would present a challenge, especially for Tekketsu, as the first part. Also, the expressions drawn in Oishi’s storyboards were basically all missing from the model sheets. Tackling that problem turned out to be quite a bit of trouble.

Miyamoto: It sure did (laughs).

Morioka: The animators usually use the facial expressions on the model sheets as the base for the key animation. We as animation directors go off the same sheets as well, to give directions such as, “Please fix up the drawings on the storyboards to match this.” However, Oishi specifically instructed us not to do that, and prioritize the feel and the impact you get from the storyboards instead.

Yamamura: However, it turned out that the biggest help in the layout process was Oishi himself doing the poses and movements during our meetings (laughs).

Miyamoto: I remember being the model for the receiving end of a punch once (laughs).

Yamamura: For another example, the scene at the beginning of Tekketsu where Koyomi climbs the spiral staircase is referenced from footage that Oishi and I took of each other on our phones. That being said, there was a lot of pressure as one of the very first cuts of the first movie of the trilogy.

Suzuki: It turned out very well. The scene after that where he’s on fire really made me appreciate the skill of the key animators as well.

Yamamura: Genichirou Abe did the scene where Koyomi is on fire and walks through the flock of birds before falling from the cram school building. The later scene where Kiss-shot saves Koyomi is the work of Kou Yoshinari, who did everything up to and including the painting.

What are your favorite scenes from Tekketsu?

Morioka: I personally really like the conversation scenes between Koyomi and Hanekawa. The sequences where she’s hopping around then giggling bashfully are wonderful. The key animation there is by Taiki Konno, whose skillful work I was really impressed by.

Suzuki: I was in charge of the second half of Tekketsu, and I liked the conversation scene on the stair landings between Koyomi and 10-year-old Kiss-shot. The part where he pats her head as it makes squeaky toy noises establishes their relationship while being funny, and feels good on an animation level to boot.

Yamamura: I believe that was drawn by Riki Matsuura. I ended up making basically no corrections because it was so good.

Miyamoto: The scene where Kiss-shot is thrashing about limblessly on the train platform has always stayed with me. The part where her hair is flowing in the wind in slow motion as the train pulls in is good enough to sell seats by itself in my opinion. I was left feeling that this is a scene that would go down in movie history.

Yamamura: I like the part after that with the sound clip of the baby crying because it feels like a very Oishi thing to do. I can’t help but think, “That’s amazing! No one else would dare try that!” (laughs).

Morioka: Also, there’s the scene where Koyomi agonizes over whether to save Kiss-shot or not and screams, “I know that already!” Yuya Geshi, who was in charge of that bit, drew some excellent facial expressions for Koyomi.

Yamamura: This was Geshi’s first time really doing substantial work for the Monogatari series, but all of his cuts came back so high in quality, which I’m truly grateful for.

Morioka: That scene didn’t have any corrections made to it, either. The expressions Geshi drew were just that good. I tried making adjustments a number of times, but it always ended up feeling off. In the end, I had to admit defeat to his superior drawings. But doing so annoyed me, so I sent it back with the note, “Don’t forget to draw his pendant.” (laughs)

Yamamura: There, all done with corrections!” (laughs) Geshi was responsible for quite a number of cuts, though.

Miyamoto: He complained about it, too (laughs). He said, “I was told it was going to be 40 cuts, and during the meetings it went up to 80. In the end it turned out to be over 100 cuts.

Morioka: Well, 60 to 80 cuts would normally be considered a lot, and he ended up with more than 100 by the end… (laughs)

Suzuki: At the same time, it feels like that became the norm for Kizumonogatari (laughs). We ended up exceeding 4000 cuts over the course of the entire trilogy; that is quite the number, so you can’t really compare the assignments to your average movie’s.

Yamamura: Oishi ended up being quite taken with Geshi’s animation as well. I think that’s part of why he trusted him with the most important cut at the end of Reiketsu, that one in the cram school.

Nekketsu’s multitude of fight scenes

Next, let’s talk about Nekketsu.

Morioka: Starting from Nekketsu, Yamamura and I divided up our supervision work as chief animation directors by character.

Yamamura: In Tekketsu, the work was split up on a scene-by-scene basis. But from Nekketsu on, we changed the process so that I would handle the male characters, Morioka would handle the female characters, and for critical scenes, Oishi would assign them to either Morioka or me.

Morioka: The way that it turned out for Nekketsu, though, was that I was basically only in charge of Hanekawa. No matter how much I drew, it was all her; I was stuck in Hanekawa hell, or rather Hanekawa heaven (laughs).

Yamamura: Your Hanekawa is really adorable, though. Oishi is always one to appeal to the crowd, so he kept repeating that “most importantly, Koyomi and Oshino need to be hot” and “most importantly, Kiss-shot and Hanekawa need to be cute”. As a result, it was always in the front of my mind as I was drawing.

How about the other two members?

Suzuki: Miyamoto was the sole unit director for Nekketsu, but I was taken aback as I saw all of the fight scenes getting passed back (laughs). I couldn’t help but think, “Thank God I’m not working on this” because they were all such intensive scenes.

Miyamoto: They really were (laughs). We made use of a lot more long takes for the fights than we did for the TV series. Taken as a whole, I was just constantly impressed by the level of animation at work as everything sunk in (laughs).

Yamamura: Abe was the one who created the rain patterns for the Dramaturgy fight. That was really something.

Morioka: Hiroyuki Ohkaji, who acted as the animation director for that part, is extremely patient. He chipped away at the work slowly and diligently. That fight in the rain was only possible because of him.

I hear Oishi himself was quite particular about the scenes in the rain.

Morioka: That’s right. For rainy scenes, usually you would put a filter over everything to blur it or make it hazy. This time around, however, we intentionally chose not to go that route, resulting in a very clear rain that you don’t really see much in anime.

Miyamoto: Oishi told us, “Give me a scene unlike anything that’s come before, exploding with rain.” I think we succeeded in creating that effect.

Suzuki: The Episode fight is memorable as well. There’s an uncanny quality to it, due to the use of slow-motion interspersed throughout the action. Keeping everything at a realistic speed would probably have made it feel a lot snappier, but having the cross slowly fly through the air lends an interesting effect.

Yamamura: The background music is very upbeat as well, so it really does make for a very strange fight scene (laughs).

Suzuki: You would normally expect something more cathartic, but I think that’s what makes it a fight worthy of Oishi.

Reiketsu’s Hanekawa and Kiss-shot

Finally, let’s talk about Reiketsu, the last installment of the trilogy.

Yamamura: I was in charge of the male characters for Reiketsu as well. Oishi also assigned the comedy scene in the gym storage room to me, which I was very happy about. I finally got to draw Hanekawa (laughs). More than anything else, though, the scene Konno drew with Koyomi pushing Hanekawa down and being extremely aggressive was really hilarious. I think it turned out to be such a funny, titillating scene because it’s the kind of animation that Konno excels at.

Morioka: I didn’t make too many corrections on Konno’s scenes. He always gave me great drawings that didn’t need them. The “lift both arms up” scene is so good that it makes me laugh every time I watch it (laughs).

Yamamura: It’s really great (laughs).

Morioka: I also recommend the bit that Yamamura did where he goes, “The sequel will be on the internet.

Hanekawa is really cute in the storage room scene.

Morioka: That being said, there was something that personally bothered me. Starting around Nekketsu, I ended up constantly drawing Hanekawa with a cat mouth out of habit, and I couldn’t figure out when to stop. Specifically, at the end of the storage room scene, Hanekawa tells Koyomi to live on, and Suzuki asked me, “Should we keep the cat mouth even though this is supposed to be a serious scene?” I hadn’t even noticed.

Suzuki: Oh yeah, I remember saying that (laughs).

Morioka: I decided to defer to Oishi on the matter, who said we should leave it as is.

Can you talk about Kiss-shot, whom we finally see regain all her body parts and her full form in Reiketsu?

Morioka: For the fight scenes, she wears a cruel look on her face, and she’s drawn less to look beautiful than to look powerful and daunting. Personally though, I see Kiss-shot as being the true heroine of Kizumonogatari. I made a conscious effort to make her charming in the scenes where she’s talking alone with Koyomi. Oishi asked us to depict them like lovers, and it also helps to reinforce the disconnect later in the eating scene. I also love the final scene where Koyomi sits down next to Shinobu, smiling at her. I think it’s Geshi’s animation that really makes it.

How about you?

Miyamoto: I was mainly responsible for the fight scenes. Just as before, I was surrounded by so many talented animators, and my work was enjoyable from start to finish. The key animators took Oishi’s storyboards and not just refined but elevated them. All of the drawings that came back were just fantastic.

Suzuki: There’s nothing more fun than looking at a talented animator’s drawings. It fills me with excitement to see how they tackle things, and I’m always surprised to see just how they bring everything to life.

You were responsible for the first half of Reiketsu, if I recall.

Suzuki: That’s right. I was in charge of everything up to the storage room scene right before the fight. I didn’t end up ordering a lot of retakes as a unit director either, and it was a pleasant experience. My favorite scene is where Araragi is consumed by despair and runs amok in the storage room. Issei Arakaki’s idiosyncrasies shine through, and the resulting key animation defies expectations. I also really like the scenes of Hanekawa gloomily walking in the rain that are interspersed throughout Koyomi and Meme’s conversation. It’s a really moody and wonderfully cinematic part, and the cuts turned out great.

Wrapping up the trilogy’s long production

Now that the trilogy is complete, what are your thoughts looking back at Kizumonogatari?

Yamamura: Tekketsu and Nekketsu felt like they were over before I knew it, but Reiketsu was quite the ordeal as we painstakingly toiled away at it until the very end. I even ended up staying at the studio three days in a row (laughs). Everyone there was putting in all our efforts to put out something great, though. It really felt like the embodiment of what it’s like to produce an anime. It may have been painful, but if I had to say one way or the other, I would say it was fun. Well, that doesn’t change the fact that it was painful (laughs).

Morioka: I’ve had the opportunity to work on theatrical anime productions a number of times, but this was the first time acting as a Chief Animation Director. To be honest, there were times that made me worry, but I truly enjoyed working with all of our wonderful animators. The only lingering regret I have is that because we split up the character supervision work by gender, I didn’t have a lot of chances to draw Meme Oshino (laughs).

Suzuki: This trilogy was originally conceived and drawn by Oishi as a single story, and that’s the way I consider it. So I think that if you watch all of Tekketsu, Nekketsu, and Reiketsu in a row on Blu-ray, you’ll come away with a much different impression than you did when watching each one individually in theaters. We worked to create a product that will reward you with something new on repeated watches, so I hope you will take the time to experience it as such.

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1 year ago

Thank you so much for this! Kizumonogatari is one of my favorite film series. I don’t think I’ve ever been so attracted to a film before, aesthetically speaking. As you mentioned in the beginning I felt the subs felt off at times although I don’t know Japanese myself. With the amount of jokes and gags going on through the series I can’t help but feel that I’m missing out on the vision that Nisioisin and the director intended by not knowing Japanese.