Sakura-Con 2017 - Hiroshi Nagahama interview

Anime Director and American Comic Book fan Hiroshi Nagahama conducted a joint interview at Sakura-Con 2017 in which Japan-A-Radio was invited to be a part of. He spoke at length about his thoughts on American comics and the Marvel Universe, and on his upcoming collaboration with Stan Lee called “The Reflection”. Nagahama also spoke about the rotoscope process used in the anime series “Flowers of Evil”, which started off the interview.


Hiroshi Nagahama

Q: How did you convince the sponsors of Flowers of Evil to produce the anime in rotoscope?

A: I wasn't originally the one trying to convince producers for funding for Flowers of Evil, Mr. Nakanishi from King Records actually came to me about this project, and when he originally came to me to create an anime from the manga I refused. I had read the manga all the way through, it was a very interesting story, but I wasn't really sure it could be animated in a way that really connect with the fans. About a week went by and Mr. Nakanishi came back to me and said “I thought about it, and I think it really has to be you that does this project, is there any way that you can make it in the way you want to convey it?” I replied that there is a way, he asked me “What?” and I said rotoscoping. If we actually film live action and then trace over them and animate it that way then I think it could translate what the manga was trying to say and then we can get it across in the animation.

So from the very beginning we were going to use rotoscoping. There was no trying other techniques at the beginning and then going to rotoscoping in the middle and then trying to figure out funding at that point, we knew from the beginning that this was what we were going to do and we planned out how to accoplish that based on that assumption. I think we were very lucky in the sense that we were able to plan it from the beginning that way.

Q: Is there any difference between your last Sakura-Con visit and this one?

A: One of the greatest aspects of Sakura-Con is that surprisingly it doesn't change. And what I mean by that is that the staff is the same, the atmosphere is the same and so are the feelings that the fans bring. Last time I came to Sakura-Con was 2002, and so far the only thing that has really changed is the scale and the number of attendees. I think the spirit and the can do attitude and the degree of polish is the same.

Q: Between the last time you were at Sakura-Con and this time what has changed for you in regard to the anime industry?

A: I'm working on a collaboration with Stan Lee, this is something I've been working towards for a long time. The last time I was here, the project was only in the very preliminary planning stages, it wasn't really at the point at which it was coming together, but now its at the point where its all really coming together, I'm starting to see how its turning out and that's what has really changed for me.

Q: You're a big fan of American comics but what is it about American Superhero comics that really appeals to you?

A: What first attracted me to American comics was the art style, the reality of the art. When I was a kid, I actually didn't like the often superdeformed, chibi style of manga. As a kid we all read a tankobon called “Koro-Koro Comics” which included Doraemon, and then when we got older we would switch to Shonen Jump, like we were on rails with someone telling us what to read, we'd all read it at the same time. Now I read the stories of Doraemon and other works of Ishimori Shotaro, and I liked the stories but not the art style and I wondered why the art style was like that. Now there were some other manga drawn in a more realistic art style but that wasn't really what I was looking for.

Now during this time Spider-Man was released in Japan, and Ono Kosei was the translator and it was published in tankobon form and I read it and I was really impressed by the art style and how different it was. I was impressed by how realistic the people were for example they would draw the nostrils and the lips and other details you wouldn't see in manga, they would even draw the eyebrows and the lines of the eyes in a realistic way, but it was still beautiful. For example when they drew female characters in this realistic way they looked pretty, and they didn't have to look ultra stylized to be pretty, and this really impressed me, and since I discovered it as a kid I sort of took it as my guiding principle that this kind of art style was also possible.

So the art style is what first attracted me to American comics but then I found also that the structure appealed to me. I was a little bit weird in my approach to manga as a kid, I didn't quite read them as intended but my approach seemed to fit the way American comics where structured. With manga you read starting at volume 1 and you go sequentially 1, 2, 3, 4, but in American comics you can pick it up at any volume, not necessarily at the beginning because there are hundreds of volumes. You can't expect a child to start at volume 1 of a run of hundreds of volumes so they have to enter in the middle. So for example in Spider-Man you have people who started at volume 1 and people who started when Gwen Stacy got kidnapped and people who started when Spider-Man was fighting Doctor Octopus so you have all these different people exist.

This way of reading manga was really suited to American comics so if I read something that was really interesting then I would read backwards and find out what was going on earlier and how the characters related to each other such as when two characters are fighting each other you read back and find out the source of their friction and their relationship and that was really interesting to me. I think that this is one of the best ways to experience American comic books.

As a child I didn't really like proceeding in a predictable, orderly way the way manga expected you to proceed with the story, I didn't like that, and with American comic books you can't really predict what is going to happen next in the story its really unpredictable and I really liked that aspect of American comics as well.

So if I'm asked what appeals to me about American comics I could go on forever but to summarize one final characteristic about American comics and that is you can have a grandfather and grandson read the same comic but at different volumes and have discussions about the same comic, the same characters and what appeals to them and there is this cross generational appeal in American comics that manga doesn't really have to them, of course there are a few manga like that, like Sazae-San, or Doraemon or Chibi Maruko-Chan but even in those manga there is a difference and that is the settings can't really change, things have to stay stable, there can be small changes but not large changes that can be carried forward after that point like in American comics for example Angel, one of the first X-men had real wings but later on became Archangel with metal wings so if the grandfather says he has real wings and the grandchild says he has metal wings they would have a really interesting conversation.

When it comes to stories I make I want to be able to have that kind of structure so that it has that kind of generational appeal and have big changes in the middle of the story that can be carried forward.

Q: Have you seen all the Netflix Marvel shows?

A: Yes I have.

Q: What are your thoughts about them and what if anything would you change about them?

A: My thoughts about the Netflix series are that they are wonderful and amazing and I'm so glad I got to see them and experience them in my lifetime. For example when Sam Raimi directed one of the Spider-Man movies that came out I was so happy when it came out I really enjoyed that version when it came out in theaters and its been the same feeling over and over again each time something new comes out because I thought it would never happen and they're all really really good and my threshold has been raised over and over again by the succession of works. For example Doctor Strange, who would've thought they would make a movie about that or Guardians of the Galaxy, these are almost throwaway characters and I thought they wouldn't be good but “oh my gosh” they are really well done.

Talking about Daredevil, he's been one of my favorite characters forever, in my heart he is in the top spot but Daredevil as a story is so gory and so raw and Daredevil as a superhero is one of the extreme examples, he's one of the superheroes with the most limitations that he has to deal with but yet he accomplishes so much, in contrast to that he's pretty much a normal human, he can't fly, he's blind, he's a lawyer so he has to act within the law, he can't act as he really wants to, all these limitations he has to face during the course of the story and that makes him a really sympathetic character and I never felt that that could be expressed in a TV series but they really made it come across and I'm so pleased by it.

Also to jump in and explain more about Guardians of the Galaxy. The story I knew from the comics, the characters of the team were completely different from the movie. The only character that is the same is Yondu, the guy with the red stone in the middle of his forehead, but the team is different and the way the team was put together was different. He had found people that had nothing better to do and gave them the name because he was on a team with that name before. This was a really “uncool” comic that I had read way back when and when I heard they were going to make a movie of it I was like “how are they going to do that!”. Then I watched it and I was really surprised and it was really good and when Yondu came on I was like “yeah him, I know him!” to myself and I was very pleased to see him.

In terms of the other Netflix shows, I've watched them all and if there's something you want me to change there is one thing and that is to put Daredevil's nose outside his mask. Right now he's kind of got a nose guard on his mask and it looks similar to Batman's mask. As a mask I think it's practical because it's protecting the nose but it kind of looks like a different version of Batman cause he has devil horns which look like tiny bat ears, and he's red, and the nose looks similar, it doesn't look different enough from Batman's mask, it doesn't look quite right but if his nose was sticking out it would be perfect.

In terms of the costume the movie version of Daredevil was the best, it was really similar to what you saw in the comics, it was all leather and that was what was the best from the comics so far.

*Note: more information about "The Reflection" has been released since this interview took place. See more at The Reflection Website (in Japanese):

Q: With your upcoming work “The Reflection” being released this summer what can fans expect?

A: (At this point, Studio Deen's Noguchi-San pipes in to talk about the anime production). The Reflection is being produced by Studio Deen and will premiere this July on NHK and will air Saturday night at 11pm (Japan time). North American viewers can see it streaming on Crunchyroll, with the simulcast airing at 5/6am.

(Back to Nagahama-San talking about the actual show): Ahh, The Reflection, how do I explain it, its a bit difficult (laughs). The Reflection is an original story created by Stan Lee and myself, a collaboration. There might be characters and settings that seem similar to characters and settings that might be familiar to you but we turn and takes those in an unexpected direction so hopefully there will be some surprises there.

The world building that has gone into this story is extremely extensive, in the anime we are only really going to be able to show a small part of it, you might be familiar with the Marvel Universe which is really large, we were aiming for something on a similar scale, you could call it the Stan Lee Universe. It's not the same as the Marvel Universe but there are many different settings, many different heroes and villains, they all have their backstories and developments that are going to occur, and you might be able to look forward to further developments after this particular arc is finished because in this particular anime we're going to tell one arc of the story, we're not going to be able to go into the backstory of all the characters but that is something that could happen and that's something fans could enjoy thinking about. It's like picking up volume 112 of an American comic book and reading that and then going back or going ahead, that's something that could happen and if fans kept that in mind during the watching of the show that's something the fans could look forward to.

Another thing that fans can look forward to is a group of characters in The Reflection called “The Nine”, that are actually an idol group, they are the group that sings the ending theme. They are actually a group of superheroes, they sing as their secret identity, and so they will appear at some point during the story wearing costumes, having powers, but not right away so you'll have to watch for a bit to see when these people show up and what they do when they do show up and what some of them do might be surprising. This group is more of a traditional Japanese superhero that is on the side of justice, that's where their inspiration comes from and they are the only characters with that inspiration, all the other characters are inspired by American comics, so within the context of the show “The Nine” are actually quite different than the rest of the characters. They were created without much input from Stan Lee, he said that “they're Japanese superheroes, you work on them”. So I created them and they'll certainly stand out from the rest of the characters. I also think that you can look forward to the art style, it will be an unusual art style.

Q: You've done a lot of work with Akitaro Daichi, what have you learned from him?

A: Daichi-san is someone I met after being in the anime industry for a while, so he's not exactly a mentor to me but someone who provided me with stability and supported me in the way that I wanted to create anime. If I wanted to go in a certain direction but wasn't sure 100% if that was the direction I wanted to go then he one of the people who said “that sounds great! Lets do it!”, and really supported and encouraged me to go in that direction and helped me find my own ways of approaching different works. He showed me that partly in his behavior, he would continue to go ahead and do it and I would see the results and think that “ok, this is the correct way to go, I'm not wrong”, and in that way his kind support is important to me in the way that he's helped me develop.

Daichi-San said something that really stuck with me, he said that “there are no limits on you, if you want to do anything you can do it. The only person who puts limits on you is yourself, if you take those limits off there's nothing you can't really do.

Q: What do you think about “ret-cons”, going back into a story and changing the past, its not something that's really done in Japanese stories?

A: The reason why I don't like DC Comics as much as Marvel is that DC does a lot more “ret-conning” than Marvel does. For example in the very beginning Superman was a character that could not fly, also how Kyrpton worked, whether it was destroyed or not also changed a bunch, but Marvel, for the longest time in the universe Stan Lee created they committed to a storyline, people who died pretty much stayed dead for a long period of time. There has been some “ret-cons” more recently but for several decades things in the story that “happened”, stayed “happened”. My favorite era is Silver Age comics in which once things happened it was done, for example the Green Goblin was dead for a long long time before he came back to life so I like that era.

So if you ask me can I allow “ret-cons” my answer is not really, but I can allow them to a certain extent. I think my favorite characters haven't been affected too badly by “ret-cons”. I will say that there will be no “ret-cons” in The Reflection, unless we have something like a post-apocalyptic timeline, or something world ending similar to Age of Apocalypse, if you can't go all out like that then there's really no point to it, but that was a story that was done really well.

Q: Do you have any final comments?

A: I feel like I might have talked to much about my American comics that I like so much after inviting me to Sakura-Con, but I'm really happy to be here to be able to have the opportunity to talk about something I love so much. It's not something that any normal person can experience, this is a special experience for me and I feel like this is a special environment being at this convention, and of course I have to go back to Japan and work on The Reflection, I'd better do a good job now (laughs), I sort of want to stay in Seattle but I'd better go back and do a good job.

Thank you very much!