Masashi Ikeda, Yoshihito Hishinuma, & Shigemi Ikeda
What impression did you get when you first read the story?
In the comic I saw the marriage of two elements: a love comedy typical of Rumiko Takahashi, and a darker aspect. The two are indispensable elements of Inuyasha. I also thought of this as the complete expression of Rumiko Takahashi.
Before starting the animation project, many were concerend about how we would recreate for TV dark elements like the death matches and themes of those dark aspects by concentrating on Ms. Takahashi's intentions rather than simply translating them technically from the page to the screen.
Kikyo has a dark world within her, and I frequently felt that her position was very important to the story.
In a sense Inuyasha is the hero and Kagome is the accidental heroine. Kikyo is a challenging character because she's so scary that she made me wonder whether I could go that far. She's the one I got most involved with in developing the story, sharing her journey and her agony.
I learned from Ms. Takahashi's vision from the producers. For instance, she said, "I want to express Kikyo's passion. Once she goes through death and comes back, her spirit and soul, which were shaped by the restrictions of the role of the priestess and doing what's right, were set free. Now she can wander wherever her emotions take her. That's what I want to communicate." I've been putting a lot of time into exploring Kikyo, because at this moment I have no idea where the character is heading.
I really agonized with Sesshomaru. Then I got through that and I found myself hitting a wall with Kikyo. When we finally finished reviving Kikyo, I had to deal with Sesshomaru again. I stumbled at the climax to every volume. There are many cases where early character definitions and hints make so much sense later. So I often have to check out the latest chapters and coordinate where I am with them. Inuyasha is a tough piece of work that doesn't let us get away with a patchwork approach to solving problems.
The episode where Urasue brings Kikyo back from the dead nearly sank my boat. This was the reunion of Inuyasha and Kikyo. It's a crucial episode in the early story. Directing it was really hard, because I had to calculate and move and recheck over and over again to be sure they were convincing.
Tell us about another climatic moment. Sesshomaru, maybe?
Inuyasha is a half demon, the child of a demon and a human. This gives the story some really interesting elements, like Inuyasha's inferiority complex toward Sesshomaru and the sibling rivalry over Tetsusaiga. I think these can be presented in a soap-opera-like drama, and I think that's where we'll be heading with Inuyasha.
I thought the first major climax of the animation is the period between Inuyasha's encounter with Kagome and the entrance of Sesshomaru. I've been thinking a lot about this.
Will the animation develop in the same way as the original story?
In the beginning I was asked if I could make the more popular characters appear soon than in the comic. But the original is so tightly structured, I don't want to force that kind of change. Before characters like Shippo, Miroku and Sango appear, we can keep the story interesting enough with just Inuyasha and Kagome. I've never thought we can make the animation better by changing the structure.
It's just one man's opinion, but in turning Rumiko Takahashi's original work into animation, I feel strongly that we must not betray the fans; I have to be as dedicated a fan of the work as they are. My ideal is to have everyone involved in the production work in close identification with the author. We have to aim for that.
Anything else before we close?
The series will air once a week. There are both advantages and disadvantages to that. I want some room for the staff to grow with the series. I think that's what a TV series should be, and that's how we were trained.
What gets your special attention as you redesign characters for animation?
Director Ikeda's first request to me was a tough one: to make "pictures that are exactly like those in the comics, but are beautiful in animation too." What I could do to meet this request was to maintain the attractive features of the originals. I could draw pretty much as I pleased, but the results would no longer be the Takahashi characters, but mine.
For the animation I changed the physical proportions of the characters a little, from a 1:6 head-to-body ratio to a 1:6.5 or 1:7, for instance. This way the characters don't seem so heavy and look real. In the original, hair tends to be bulky and the faces relatively smaller. This is different from characters I've designed before in terms of balance.
What other requests did the director make?
At the meeting, he said, "I've learned that you struggle with designing pretty girls, Hishinuma-san" (laughs). My drawings must have shown my wandering thoughts about creating Kagome.
What character was the most difficult?
Kagome, of course. It was a struggle to retain her original balance and distinctive facial expressions. Also, speaking more technically, the pattern on Sesshomaru's kimono was a big hassle.
I think that subtle balance is the life of Takahashi's drawings. I still haven't done enough to reproduce that.
In V Gundam for instance, which I worked on last year, it was easy to ask questions of chracter designer Akira Tanaka, because he was working in the same studio. With Inuyasha I don't have Ms. Takahashi in the studio.
Inuyasha's ears, for instance, were a problem. Like a dog's ears, they're on top of his head. So when they asked me what to do with the part of his head where human ears ordinarily would be, I would up telling them to just hide that part under hair (laughs).
I wonder about the structure of the traditional Japanese costumes. I've only seldom drawn them, and they drape differently from regular clothes. One difficult thing in production is that a kimono doesn't look good without some sort of pattern so it stays manageable in a TV series. In comics, you only have to put in screen tone. In animation, we can process that sort of thing digitally, but it takes a lot of work.
There are characters that discourage me from drawing them like the original. Urasue, for instance (laughs). It's more fun to draw demons that don't look human.
Kikyo is a difficult one, isn't she?
Inuyasha, Kikyo, and Kagome are the most important characters in the story. The Kikyo character has a subtlety that can be hard to handle. She looks like Kagome and is Kagome's past life, but I intentionally gave them different physical apperances. When I read the original, it didn't feel right to have them look just alike.
The character setup is the springboard for the character, and it grows on its own. I want the draftsmen to draw the characters while looking at the original comics, not my setup (laughs).
Is there a last thought you'd like to share with our readers?
When working on mecha animation, like Gundam, I've had mecha directors. Inuyasha has no mecha elements, so I have to direct the whole thing by myself. To that extent my workload is a lot heavier than ever. Of course, there are a lot of people who can supervise the mecha and the characters at the same time on their own, and that's impressive. I'd like to maintain quality so the characters don't lose their original nuances.
Did the project start smoothly?
After V Gundam, which is in the masterpiece category, I was able to switch very comfortably to Inuyasha. The nature of our work doesn't change much even when the world of the specific animation is radically different.
Do you mean your work is not much affected when the title changes?
Exactly. We have just as much research to do. So when we get a plan for a new title, we have to read and study.
You make an early start.
There's a lot to be done before the character setup and storyboards are done. We have to get an early start on the background research and find out, for instance, the structure of the house from the period of the story. It's like location hunting for a film shoot. For Inuyasha we went to Takayama in the Hida region to look at old structures. We try to pinpoint the time in history, and get to know the lifestyles of the people in that period, for minute details like the shapes of pots and pans and flooring materials.
Are sketches and storyboards done after your research?
This is the blueprint stage, like the design of a theater production. Once the outlines are drawn, we decide on colors. Then we think about the specific season and other effects. We're like stage carpenters.
The director told us to "make it a clean job." He wants it "clean and serene." "You know, it's the Takahashi world," he said. Some people approach this work with the original comic as "just a good ingredient" for animation. I disagree entirely, and so does the director. He says, "Because this is based on the original, what matters is whether we can communicate the original atmosphere without betraying the people who are familiar with it." So we pay special attention to how we express the positive qualities of the original in animation.
Tell us about your progress. Where are you?
Now we're working on Kikyo's first appearance. Isn't she wonderful? She's so human.
How did the original make your work harder or easier?
I really appreciate the reference materials the author provided. There was one strange room in the original, but our research confirmed that such a room really could have existed.
The comic and the animation flow differently. In the animation we have to show the viewer what the comic didn't show. We have to create all this from scratch. That's a lot of work, hard work, too.
My work is like archaeology. It's interesting to look at the original and find its consistencies. Based on the fragments of information that the comic gives me, I have to imagine the complete structure of the house, the shrine, etc. It's facinating brain work. From the entrance to Kagome's house, we imagine her living room.
In the context of the modern story, Higurashi Shrine looks more like the way a shrine should look. We spot key ideas in the original like the particular ways people visit the shrine, and the priest's family living behind the shrine, the assemble the complete picture. That's really interesting. We find ways to include all the original elements in the animation without deviating from them.
At one point we thought it'd be cool to make the bones of Inuyasha's father look like a dinosaur's, and we did it without telling anyone. Then someone checked it and made us change it so the bones look more like the original.
We really get into scenes that imply a specific time.
What do you mean?
So far we have scenes like inside a mountain or a solitary castle on a mountain. They're not tied to specific time periods, and that makes our work harder. We look forward to expressing more period-specific elements.
The Art of Inuyasha
Masashi Ikeda (Director):
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
Lord of Lords Ryu Knight: Adeu's Legend OVA
Midoriyama Koko Koshien-hen
Night Warriors - Darkstalkers OVA
Yoshihito Hishinuma (Character Designer):
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Endless Waltz
Shigemi Ikeda (Art Director):
Mobile Suit Gundam Seed
You're Under Arrest: Full Throttle