SakuraCon 2022: Hisayuki Tabata Interview

SakuraCon 2022: Hisayuki Tabata Interview

By Sean Cruz, Jun Hong Pua, Lisa Su, & Matthew Fu

Transcribed by Lisa Su

Edited by Sean Cruz

*note: This is a repost from April 2022 as the original article seems to have disappeared

Hisayuki Tabata.
Hisayuki Tabata

Japan-A-Radio was granted an exclusive interview with longtime animator and character designer Hisayuki Tabata during Sakura-Con 2022. As a couple members of our team were from Canada, our first question, naturally, was about the Canada anime commercial he worked on. (“Attakai, Fuyu Canada.”)

Hisayuki Tabata (HT): When I first heard about this project, I actually heard about it from the Canada Tourism Board. They contacted me and this was through Comix Wave Films. Canada is not a country that I had ever been to, but it’s a place that I really wanted to go to. So when I was asked to work on this project, I immediately replied, like with a 2-line e-mail, “Yes! I’ll do it, I’ll go!”

As for how long the project took, it was about 3 years ago, so my memory is a little bit hazy, but I think it took around 6 months from start to finish. Before it started, we went location-hunting in Canada to find the locations and that took about 2 weeks. We went to Vancouver, Banff, Toronto, and Yellowknife. We also went to Niagara Falls. It was incredibly fun. And actually, I enjoyed location-hunting in Canada so much that I went again to Canada 2 years ago. So this was right before COVID started, in January 2020, and I was able to visit some of those places. If I start talking about Canada, it’ll be a while before I stop (laughs).

Japan-A-Radio (J): I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your time in Canada! How did you pick the locations to feature in the commercial? It must’ve been hard to include everything in 30 seconds. Are there scenes or locations that you had to cut from the final product?

HT: To answer the first part of that question, the locations where we shot were all actually given to us by the Canada Tourism Board. And the reason behind the list of places that they gave us was that different provinces donated money for their provinces to be featured, so this was true in the cases of Northwest Territories and British Columbia. That’s partly where the list of locations came from. As for myself, I didn’t have any particular places that I wanted to go to in Canada.

And, of course, the length of the commercial was only 30 seconds. As for why it was limited to 30 seconds, it was partly because of the budget, and partly because the tourism board said it should be only 30 seconds long. I actually wanted it to be longer. I asked for it to be longer! I wanted at least 1 minute, 2 minutes, 10 minutes… When the time came to take the huge amount of footage that we had assembled from all these locations in Canada and actually cut it down, get it down to 30 seconds, it was very, very difficult to do. When we finished, I felt, ugh, “I didn’t manage to fit in the true attractiveness of these places, I didn’t manage to capture them.” I’m sorry! 30 seconds is really too short.

J: As the character designer for the Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works TV anime series as well as the Heaven’s Feel movies, how did you produce your designs? Did you receive any specific input or collaborate with the original game’s character designer?

HT:First, I wanted to capture and convey the nuances of the characters from the original movie, and Mr. Takeuchi (the character artist for Fate/Stay Night) was involved with that. I was also able to talk a lot with the staff of Ufotable and they helped me when I was doing some of the design work.

J: Was there any collaboration with the original visual novel creators, did they want something specific to the style or tone when it came to adapting ‘Fate” for TV

HT: In the case of the Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel movies, it was mainly the director of those projects who set the tone and who I directly talked to the most about the designs. The Ufotable staff is really good at adapting Type-Moon works and their relationship with Type-Moon is close. Talking to the Ufotable staff was a good way for me to proceed, and I wanted to respect the original works, especially in the designs that I did.

Hisayuki Tabata with a fan
Hisayuki Tabata with a fan

J: You’re currently working on a new project, is there any info you can share at this time?

HT: I did ask, since I was coming all this way, I asked if there would be anything that I could share, but unfortunately I haven’t received an answer yet, so there’s nothing that I can share at this time. If I just talked about it, I think I’d be scolded later, so I’d better refrain from it. But I am working on a new project now and I am doing design work for it. As for when you might hear more about it, this fall, maybe? (Laugh) Maybe I can say that? Please look forward to it!

J: You’ve been in the anime industry a long time, are there any positive or negative trends that you’ve come across recently.

HT: In my industry, it’s easy to start talking and complaining about the negative trends, so I’m going to focus on the positive trends. A recent positive trend is that I think that the quality has greatly increased. In particular, I see many companies are now working at quite a high level of quality, such as Ufotable and MAPPA. I think these places are really collecting extremely talented animators. And I’ve also seen that there are far more overseas animators then there used to be, and I think they’re incredibly talented as well.

A bit more about overseas animators—until very recently, it feels like there were only Chinese and Korean animators, considering from the Japanese perspective. But now, it has really become global. I’ve seen animators working from Canada, the US, Germany, Italy, and Brazil. It’s truly global and I’ve been very surprised by this development. I can keep talking about that for a while as well! (Laugh)

We started being able to employ these animators from all over the world for the production of Japanese anime. As for how it happened, I think it’s partly because of the introduction of digital techniques in the animation industry. We don’t have to send paper back and forth anymore, instead, we can transfer the data digitally and that allows us to be able to employ these animation studios that are based globally. They’re so good!

J: And regarding negative trends, or things that could be improved?

HT: Okay, so negative things. This isn’t particularly just my opinion, this is something that is an overall problem—and I do agree, it’s a problem—for the industry as a whole, and that is the shift to digital. With digital, you can do anything, it really frees you up in many ways, but currently there are no rules for how to approach it. So it means that everyone starts doing things in their own way, which makes it harder to have the consistency and standards that you need in an animation. Many people may work on it but we need to have one consistent product. Enforcing that consistency becomes very difficult when everyone is doing their own thing in the wild, free, unfettered world of digital work.

I think that’s the biggest issue I’m feeling right now. As an industry, we are trying to deal with that and apply some standards, but we’re only at the very beginning of the effort concerning how we make rules for digital work. I guess that’s the only negative.

J: Is there also a issue with drawing technique going from hand drawn to digital? Do all those skills transfer over or is there something lost in that transition?

HT: As far as the techniques for drawing, those are all pretty much retained, because we’re drawing on tablets. We aren’t using paper and so that does affect us but tablets with backlights instead, but as far as the actual drawing motion, we’re retaining all of the techniques that are used there. Because we’re still drawing with our hands, the animators are hand-drawing these things whether on tablet or on paper. I’m not worried about those techniques being lost. However, I am seeing such incredible drawing talent in China and in the overseas global animation studios that I’m worried that the Japanese talent will be overtaken by these other global studios. We really can’t rest on our laurels.

J: What are your thoughts on the ongoing trend of isekai & light novel adaptations and do you see it as detriment if a trend like that continues for such a long time?

HT: I do worry about the loss of creativity if a trend like that continues for so long, and also if works are based on something from another medium. Something I consider to be a problem is that currently original anime works aren’t usually very well received, they still exist but are less popular and are becoming more rare. I would like to see more original anime so that new ideas can be explored.
As for the current trend of adapting light novels into anime, I think it doesn’t have much longer in it, I think it will shift to a different trend. As for what that will be, I don’t know (laughs).

J: Mobile games?

HT: Mobile games don’t have that much of a story to begin with, so I would prefer something with a little bit more story to start with. One of the issues with mobile games is that there is such an emphasis on advertisements within the game so that becomes a complaint that I could keep going on about.

J: How do you feel about international co-productions and how have companies like Netflix impacted the anime industry?

HT: Speaking about the industry overall, whether these developments have been good or not I can’t really tell yet. I can definitely say that due to the international co-productions and Netflix there is more money moving around than ever before, but whether that is moving around in the right direction, I personally don’t have a feeling for that yet. I think I need to wait and see before I can make a judgement.

J: Going back to the visual novel question, they have a lot of stories, would that be a better material for adaptation? It’s still a niche but for western audiences its been picking up steam.

HT: In Japan, visual novels aren’t something that I have personally seen a lot of lately. If visual novels are a growing trend in America definitely talk to Aniplex or one of the other production companies. As for genres in Japan right now I think the isekai genre is getting less popular because too many of the light novels have been turned into anime, I don’t think that is going to continue for much longer.
What are the visual novels you see becoming more popular in the US?

J: Games where you experience the story, like What Remains of Edith Finch or Alan Wake, games that are like walking simulators, games where you can experience the story and the flow, that have some mystery to them.

HT: Those games are popular in the US?

J: Yes, even the new Resident Evil, the focus is more on the story and less on the action.

HT: If those games were imported to Japan and were popular enough to make into an anime that would be something I could see Production IG doing, it’s not a concept I’ve heard presented to me though. (Looks up Alan Wake) Oh… If that’s popular here I’d love for it to come to Japan and see it being presented to Japanese audiences. Also, I’m not a gamer at all so it just could be that I’m not aware of it, but it could be familiar to Japanese gamers. Yeah, I don’t play games at all. For example I’ve been involved in drawing for Fate/Grand Order but I haven’t played that game at all. I don’t play mobile games (laughs).

J: I assume you haven’t played the original Fate/Stay Night visual novel then?

HT: I did play the Fate/Stay Night visual novel. One of the few games that I played through. I played the original version, the R rated version.

J: Is there a dream project that you would like to work on?

HT: Maybe this is not a genre that is very popular in America, but I would like to make an anime that focuses on everyday life. That is a particular style of animation that I am good with, not fight scenes or action or giant explosions, but carefully drawn depictions of the everyday life of the characters. Something with a really good story, I don’t write stories but I would like a really good story, something that would touch the hearts of the viewers. That’s something I would love to work on.

J: What brings you to Sakura-con? I understand travelling in and out of Japan is difficult at the moment?

HT:Honestly, I’m so grateful to be asked to come, I was in the opening ceremonies just now and I thought I was going to get teary eyed, I was so touched. So really, I was just happy to be invited. In terms of Covid, it wasn’t actually that difficult leaving Japan and coming to the US, but I have heard it’s going to be difficult going back to Japan.

J: Do you have any final thoughts?

HT: To wrap things up I just want to say that I’m so grateful and so happy to be here. Coming here and experiencing the atmosphere of the convention, the feel of anime fandom in the US has been a really good experience for me and it’s just the first day, its not over yet, I’m glad I could come over directly and experience this atmosphere.

Hisayuki Tabata Artwork
Hisayuki Tabata Artwork