Sakuracon 2023: Junichi Hayama Interview

Sakuracon 2023 - Junichi Hayama Interview

By Sean Cruz & Lisa Su
Transcribed & Edited by Sean Cruz

Japan-A-Radio was part of a lengthy and wide-ranging round table interview with veteran Character Designer and Animation Director Junichi Hayama during Sakuracon 2023.

How did you start off in the animation industry?

I always liked to draw as a child, and I thought I’d become a mangaka, but I looked at the manga that I drew and I didn’t like how they looked very much, and in my generation in junior high and high school there was a very big boom in animation, it was very popular at the time and that’s why I decided to go into animation.

How was working on One Piece: Film RED?

I had never seen the TV series, but I had read the early versions of the manga, so I was full of uncertainty of whether I could really do it justice, I was constantly nervous and on my toes during that project. It was like everyone knew everything about One Piece except for me. I was so unsure. of myself on that project.

You’ve worked on movie versions of franchises of long running TV shows, how do you make sure you don’t spoil anything in the movie from the TV show, how much leeway do you have in creating original outfits for those characters?

So as an Character Designer or Animation Director, the content of the work usually isn’t up to me, that’s for the planners and the writers, there are times I’m working on a project and I think “is it really ok to do this?”, because you don’t want to spoil the works, but I don’t particularly have to face that challenge. As a Character Designer or Animation Director sometimes there are projects that I do get a lot of freedom and influence over the content, but for example on One Piece: Film Red it was pretty much set in what kind of content we would be doing.

Do you have any advice for any aspiring animators or directors?

It’s important not just to search out or watch things that you like but to also experience many different things, and to build up experience to realize your own vision.

You worked on Golden Kamuy as the main animator, this is in relation to episode 20, with the otter meat, its pretty famous, or infamous, with the fans because there are a lot of muscular bodies in the episode, did you particularly enjoy working on that episode?

Yes it was really fun and I think it’s really a shame that it was cancelled midway through the project, I would have loved for you all to see it. (Golden Kamuy shut down partway through its last season due to a death within the key production staff, and will start airing again starting April 2023).

Do you prefer working on movies or individual TV shows?

Both are fun, but TV episodes, especially when I was younger, we’d complete work on it and it would be broadcast very soon, it almost had this live component to it where we’d see the episodes soon after completing work on them, I think that approach matches my feeling or taste.

How long did you work on Fist of the North Star, and how much did you learn while working on it?

So when I started working on Fist of the North Star, the TV series was just starting, and I worked on it for about 3 years. I feel that I acquired various skills that I needed as an animator, probably a wide variety of skills needed on that project. While we working on the TV series there was also the movie that I worked on as well. That was also how I met Masami Suda-Sensei, that was an important step for me, an important experience.

You trained under Suda-Sensei for the entirety of Fist of the North Star, what was it like working with him and learning from him?

Yes, it was through Fist of the North Star that I had a chance to meet Suda-San, he has amazing skill and he’s fast, very fast, and people who have seen him know, he draws like he’s writing characters, text, that’s how fast he draws, its amazing. I learned a great deal watching Suda-San draw.

You worked with Satoshi Kon on the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure 1993 OVA, could you tell us what is was like to work with him?

At the time I didn’t have a lot of experience with expressing things through animation, so I was working on things like storyboards, but as you know Satoshi Kon-San was incredibly skillful, and it was kind of unbelievable that this was his first work, it was just so well done. While we do have stylistic differences, I really do respect his dedication and work style.

The 2016 Yu-Gi-Oh! movie Dark Side Dimensions there was a bit of a shift in the animation style from Dual monsters, was that a choice on your part or was that a choice made by the team or the Director?

Regarding the visuals for Dark Side Dimensions, I was just the Key Animator, so I feel like the visual style was up to Kagami-san, who was the character designer.

What was your tipping point in continuing to work in the animation industry? Since you started when you were 23.

I actually started when I was 19! So I came from Nagano Prefecture, but in order to work in the anime industry I had to move to Tokyo, most of the anime industry was clustered around Tokyo. I had to move to Tokyo, get my own place, I had to live alone and make a living. At that point I had decided I can’t go back, this is the choice I made and I’m gonna go for it and I was pretty committed at that point.

If you had to start your career in the anime industry today, would you, knowing what you know about the anime industry now?

At my current age? (laughs)

No no, if you were 19 again at had to start in the anime industry.

Hmmm I don’t know. Looking at working in the anime and manga industry as a career, comparing then and now, there’s so many more choices, there’s a variety of different works, there’s games, there’s so many different animation and entertainment choices so I’m not sure I’d put myself as just an animator, I’m not sure. But animation, the concept of these pictures connected to create motion, that moment when I get to see something I worked on complete and on the screen, that’s a really special moment for me, once I saw that I couldn’t quit, that’s an amazing feeling for me, I feel like that would be really hard to leave behind.

Because you’ve worked in so many aspects, Director, Storyboard Artist, Lead Animator, Key Animator, what defines talent? When he sees other animators, what do you see that defines talent?

Honestly there are so many skilled people out there, when I look at my own skill level I’m like mid to high, like the high end of the mid-range, there’s so many skilled people I couldn’t give you a criteria.

If you could animate for any franchise or IP, which one would you do?

I would love to do historical work, a Jidai-Geki, like a samurai film, a period piece.

What tools do you use to draw? What brands of pens, pencils, ink pens etc. do you use?

So for work I just use regular colored pencils, if there’s something I want to make to have a different look or impact, I will use brush pens, like I used in the panel.

Going back to Studio APPP and Jojo, this is a very specific question, how does production art leave the studio and end up online or in someone’s collection?

Hmm… I don’t know… As far as working on the Jojo OVA’s there was no incident of theft or anything while we were working on it, but then I’ll come to an overseas convention outside of Japan and someone will be selling the key art or the key frame and I wonder where did they get that, where did it come from?

How does an animation get from concept to completion?

Um… I don’t know! (laughs) When an original work exists, we read that, we absorb that, we think about the key original elements of the work or the manga. We keep those elements in mind and while there are similar media, there are animation and other forms of media that have similar expression, and we try to take advantage of the unique aspects of that media in order to convey those key points from the original work. The most important thing though is to not piss off the fans.

On the topic of fans, there are a lot of people who are very protective of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series, are you equally protective because you’ve worked on it or are you sort of separated from it because you worked on it?

I myself am a fan of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure so I do feel somewhat protective of it and the creator Araki-San, his original work has a distinct look to it, and when I worked on it I feel that we changed the look of the work in a relatively short space of time, and some of the fans may not have been happy with that because the look and feel of the work changed relatively quickly… maybe.

How do you train or mentor people who want to be taken under your wing, similar to the way you learned from Suda-Sensei?

So I’ve had some opportunities to do that, to start I think it would be easy to give my opinion on their work and to give them comments, but first I like to ask them what they want to achieve with what they’re making. No matter who they are, there’s probably something they were trying to do but there’s a part of that vision that they weren’t able to fully realize, and so I hope I’d be able to give them some hints or advice like “if you’re trying to do this, do this instead, or try this,” and give those hints and advice that way.

How long does it take to complete your part of the production process, you’ve worked in various departments so in general how long does it take you?

It depends on the work, it depends on the project, its really hard to give a general time for everything.

Ok so for example, on One Piece: Film RED, how long did that take.

That was very difficult, and it took a lot of time.

There was also 3D animation in One Piece: Film RED, can you give us your perspective on the move away from 2D to 3D?

I think there are some works that are very suitable for 3D, and some that are less suitable. In general, I think One Piece is a work that is not very suitable for 3D, a lot of what One Piece tries to do, you can achieve better using 2D. So for One Piece: Film RED we had 3D motion that was rendered, and we printed it out and adjusted it to make it look good as a 2D image, this was the first time I had made 2D adjustment of 3D assets. While I was working on it I thought “3D is not quite there yet, it still has a long way to go to be as expressive as 2D.” There are still times you’re watching something in 3D, and its able to present a lot of detail, and a lot of fluidity, but there’s times you’re watching it and you go “that just doesn’t look right”, or “that looks unnatural.” That comes up a lot still.

How has the animation industry changed from when you first started at 19 till now?

Riiight….. so from a technology standpoint of course there was the digital transition, before we were doing everything by hand and now its more digital. There were also may more kids back then so a lot of the anime was targeted or made for kids, there were fewer shows for adults back then, compared to now.

Do you prefer making more mature shows, as opposed to making shows for kids?

Ah no! I just prefer making good, fun, things! I don’t prefer one or the other.

How would you describe the state of the anime industry today?

(Long Breath)….. I think we really need to work to pass along the techniques and the know-how that we’ve built up in the industry onto the next generation, or we’re going to be in big trouble. We really need to pass on what we’ve learned. There are various challenges, but we need to have an approach, an awareness that we need to pass on this knowledge that we have to the younger animators that are coming into the anime industry. I think that’s the most important thing.

About the general direction of anime series, you had mentioned that there were more kids, that was back 20-30 years ago. That was also the time more OVA’s were being made, now there’s not as many. At the time those OVA’s tended to be dark compared to today. Do you feel the same way or do you feel like that was just a trend at the time?

I agree. At the time there were many sort of kid-facing anime. I think a lot of people in the industry started to experiment, to make the kind of works they wanted to see. So I think it was a very active and exciting time, when animators were making the kind of works they wanted, that they would like to see themselves.

Also they were geared to adults because you had to purchase them, essentially, rather than kids anime that were on tv and essentially free.

Yes, yes that’s right.

In the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Dual Monsters, when it was localized in the US by 4kids, a lot of aspects were removed, such as the entire concept of death being replaced by the shadow realm and many cards were censored, the original feel of the show was changed to suit a younger audience. How do you feel about that? Do you feel it ruins the original intent of the show by making it appeal to a younger audience or are you happy it reaches a broader audience even if it’s not as accurate?

Well as long as it’s localized in a way where they take a look at the original world of the work, and they take that into account, when they make changes in localization, I think it’s fine to make changes in localization. Each country has their own challenges, their own societal challenges, their own culture, and I think those kinds of changes in localization are unavoidable.

There are an increasing amount of non-Japanese involved anime production whether in the animation process or planning or music, do you think that would having more foreigners involved in the anime production process would help in terms of passing along your knowledge and expertise?

Yes, absolutely. If I had the chance, I would love to do that, sharing knowledge like we are here. I think that whatever country someone is from is not important, the important thing is to pass along the knowledge.

In terms of an anime adaptation there’s the publisher and the production company, who has more weight when it comes to the adaptation, and the budget for example?

From my standpoint, I don’t know. That’s the job of the producer, that’s a good question for them. You can’t throw those difficult questions at me! (laughs)

Sorry! (laughs)… The publisher I was thinking of was Shueisha, they publish a lot of manga.

Hmm, then maybe they are the ones with a lot of power.

If you had the chance, do you like working for a more independent animation team or a larger team for a major anime that they’re trying to push out, do you prefer working with a smaller team or a larger one?

I really think it depends, there’s merits and demerits. You might have more freedom working on a smaller team, but if you’re on a larger team you might have a better selection of equipment or resources, its kind of like choose your poison, you have to take some bad with the good, I think there’s positives and negatives with both.

If you were to open the “Junichi Hayama School of Animation”, what topics would you want every beginning animator to know, or what techniques would you teach them?

So I think I would start with the human body structure, what muscles look like, the structure of the human body, where muscles go. You may say that you don’t necessarily need that depending on the anime you’re working on or making but in general we draw a lot of humans, we draw a lot of people. So if you start that, if you know the basics, that’ll give you a good base from which you can widen your range and you’ll be able to animate various kinds of things. But I think that’s a good place to start, that’s where I’d start the basics, drawing people and body structure.

There’s a recent trend in Japan that when promoting shows, usually the guests they announce are voice actors and they would be considered the “faces” of the show, so few shows bring out animators, maybe they’ll bring out a producer or a director. Do you feel like this is a trend, do you feel that more animators should be able to represent their shows, do you wish to be invited to more shows to talk about your projects?

Well, I’m in that role and for me, I would very much like to hear from the animators that are doing the actual animation of these works, but not everyone might feel the same way so, animators spend a lot of time at their desks, there’s a certain trend where a lot of them might be relatively shy, they might not be very good or experienced at getting up on stage. They might not be the most able to answer questions in such a way that the fans might be particularly satisfied with. So when you think about who you’re going to put on stage, people like voice actors might be more used to this kind of attention and be able to give that kind of performance in front of large crowds, so the animators might not necessarily be the best people, it depends…. Yeah, we’re all shy.

Do you have any final thoughts?

I really appreciate all your questions, I hope I was able to answer them, I feel like I did the best I could. I’m just really grateful that you all came, thank you very much.

Thank you very much!