Sakura-Con 2016 – Kawamoto Toshihiro and Matsumoto Rie Art Panel

Kawamoto Toshihiro and Matsumoto Rie were two of my most anticipated guests for this year’s convention due to their recent work with Studio BONES on Kekkai Sensen, a.k.a. Blood Blockade Battlefront.

Kawamoto Toshihiro’s arguably best known work was as character designer and animation direct of Cowboy Bebop. He also did the character design in Kekkai Sensen. He was the more animated of the two in this panel, and seemed comfortable in front of a crowd–this was his third time as a guest at Sakura-Con. He is also the founder of Studio BONES and is currently a board member.

Matsumoto Rie’s works include PreCure!, Kyousogiga, and Kekkai Sensen, where she covered various positions as director, assistant director, storyboard, and even series composition.

The panel opened with their introduction and a short promotional video of Kekkai Sensen, followed by some discussion by the guests. Photos were not allowed during this panel.

*Any transcription below is provided first through a translator’s words, then paraphrased as needed by me.*

Opening Discussion

There was conflict between the director, Matsumoto Rie, and the original creator about Kekkai Sensen’s opening.

Matsumoto: When I met the original creator for the first time after deciding to create the television series, he said, “I don’t have too much to ask for. I want you to make a great opening for people to watch hundreds of times.

Kawamoto: Does that happen a lot, to receive pressure like that from the original creator?

M: It’s not very common for the creator to ask for such a specific thing. It more often happens that they ask for the content to be accurate. I was still glad that he asked me about it, since it meant that he had a lot of expectations for me. I was nervous.

K: The reason I asked is because I was interested myself in hearing about the actual situation. Now I want to show you this opening sequence that is so good you can watch it a hundred times.

K: Thank you very much. I feel that thanks to your applause, we are able to confirm the greatness of this opening for the original creator. Now I’d like to talk about the creation of the opening and the pre-completion stage, the storyboard, with paper and line drawings.

K: The theme song is by Bump of Chicken, “Hello, world!” and the opening was based on the rhythm of the song.

K: Matsumoto, please tell us, based on the world view, what were you thinking when you created this opening sequence?

M: Let me talk about what I started doing when I first spoke with Bump of Chicken about making this song. Someone else created the original manga. This was a process of recreating this world view. The opening is the face of the anime, and I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Even before the song was created, I knew the song needed to fit the original creation. Even if we have great music, if it doesn’t fit, then it isn’t an opening you can watch repeatedly. So from Mr. Nightow, this is about a protagonist who finds the answer to his question, the reason for his being. I knew I needed to create a song that fit this theme. The original work of Kekkai Sensen has about five books and is a collection of small stories. The first story is about the protagonist and his sister, and is sort of complete, but we’re not sure what happens after those five books. I made this opening for the first story of the protagonist.

K: It sounds like you had an influence on the music, and talked with the musicians. When you first heard the song, what was your impression?

M: Actually, Bump of Chicken were avid readers of the original work. They knew fundamentally what the story was about, not just the surface. They were definitely able to get to the core. I had a great impression of the main part of the song, where the logo comes up on the screen. I like that part a lot. Just before the title appears, there’s a part where there’s a sound like a church’s bell. When I heard that, I thought this was about celebrating the protagonist in some way. This gave me an idea in animating as well.

K: I was involved in the production of this anime, and when I was working on this, I wasn’t able to ask these questions. This is refreshing and exciting to be able to ask now that it’s done. When I was involved in the art, looking at these kinds of storyboards and creating an idea based on the world view and goals of the director, I had a tendency to balance/weigh how much work and weight it took to realize this vision. I’d like to ask Matsumoto to talk more about the confluence of the difference between monochrome and color scenes that are interspersed throughout the show.

M: This story is about the protagonist not knowing who he is when coming to this town, Hellsalem’s Lot. The reason I used black and white monochrome to color some scenes was to show this progression of the protagonist moving away from the mass of people to finding his own self and reason for living.

K: I feel like I can ask more and more questions about each season, and we can learn more about productions and about each cut. But I’d like to take advantage of this opportunity to ask the audience for questions.

Audience Q&A

Q: Matsumoto, did any of the cinematography methods of Director Stanley Kubrick make it into the production.

M: I looked at how he uses music, and I learned about how to use my music. That’s just my personal impression of his style. I don’t know if you agree, or if it’s similar to Kubrick. To me, it’s not like I was influenced; I just like him a lot.

Q: Matsumoto, for the characters you like best, do you spend more time animating them?

M: No, that’s not true. But if you’re talking about original characters not in the original work, I do spend a lot of time on them to make sure they’ll fit.

Q: Matsumoto, about Kyousogiga, that was a complicated, ambitious creation. Please talk a bit about the influence and how it came about in a general perspective. The creative idea.

M: Whenever you create something, of course you need to get paid by someone. When you’re paid, you need to respect their vision. But the order was really about the protagonist being a girl. I just kept putting in stuff I like into the animation, kind of like Pandora’s box.

Q: Matsumoto, what’s the difference between an animation director and an art director? What’s your job working with animators and your vision?

M: One big thing is that the art director creates the background. The animation director is more focused on everything, and how it all fits together. We must look at everything in total, and can’t spend too much time on drawing.

Q: Matsumoto, is there any particular episode or scene of PreCure! you enjoy?

M: Can I talk about the movie version that I directed?

Q: Sure.

M: There was a scene at the end where Mont Saint-Michel is destroyed, and we were worried French people would get angry. But when it was released, they were happy! My favorite characters is Choppy and Flappy from the first series. They always kiss each other, and that’s the sort of thing they do all the time. And I guess the reason I like them is because they’re very un-Japanese.

Q: Kawamoto, over the years that you’ve done character design, are there any you don’t get tired of drawing?

K: I feel like this is the answer I give every time, but I had a Welsh corgi dog that I loved very much. That became Ein of Cowboy Bebop. I can draw him forever, and feel no stress. I love drawing Ein.

Q: Matsumoto, it feels like it’s rare to see female directors. What path did you take to get this role?

M: Lots of effort. I went to the Toei Animation School, pretty much the only school where you can study animation. I started out as an assistant director, then spent a few years there, then slowly went into directing.

K: Is there any particular reason why there are so few?

M: No particular reason.

Q: Matsumoto, in Kyousogiga, what was one of your most favorite scenes to direct?

M: I have a lot of memories for each scene. There’s one scene where Myoue and the protagonist start to have a common goal. When I made that scene, I became confident this was going to be a great work.

Q: Matsumoto, how did Kyousogiga change from the original web series to the television series?

M: This is also a place where a sponsor has a lot of say. My individual say doesn’t necessarily reflect on the animation itself. Sponsors don’t have too much to say, but because they give us a certain amount of money, I want to maximize the enjoyment for viewers using that money. That’s about it.

Q: For both of you, you have a lot of energy in the opening. You also put that in the end with the closing, which would usually be somber, calming. Why was that?

M: It’s just my preference. I wanted to end with something fun. The theme of Kekkai Sensen is really about having a positive outlook, even in a world that doesn’t look so positive. After twelve episodes, toward the ending, the story becomes more serious. But I wanted to end the creation with something more fun, with dancing.

Q: Kawamoto, what was your original vision behind Cowboy Bebop, and did you take any sci-fi reference for it?

K: I think with Cowboy Bebop, a big part was that the director, Watanabe, and I are from the same generation. We have a lot of the same feelings and outlooks. I think there were some brain storming sessions, thinking about the character names, what if this world came about, and we came to specific names and aspects of characters. That was reflected in the work and the director and myself arrived at those character aspects. If you’ve seen the anime, the guest characters come from common themes, specific movies or genres. You might notice references to specific works, things we liked, things we were fans of.

Closing

M: I’m not sure I talked about what you wanted to hear, and usually I don’t have too many opportunities to ask Kawamoto what he thinks. I also had a lot of fun today. I have a lot of influence from a lot of people. The first time I went to a theater twice for the same movie was for FMA, for Yutaka Nakamura. I learned a lot from Cowboy Bebop, Kubrick–those people are reasons I never use music for emotional scenes.

K: Thanks to my work on Cowboy Bebop, I was able to work on some very fun parts of the production process, directing and character design. And I’m grateful to feel the love you all have for the works of the past, like Cowboy Bebop, and that people today still have an interest in those works. But today we’re talking a lot about Kekkai Sensen, and you may notice the usage of music is slightly different than in Cowboy Bebop, but I do feel echoes in communication between myself and the director. These echoes are reborn in Kekkai Sensen. This is a very special work to me as well. This is my 3rd Sakura-Con–every time I come, thank you for coming to the panels and autograph sessions. I get so much power and take it back to Japan for my next work.

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