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Special Talk: Yutaka Izubuchi × Hideaki Anno

Discussion by Izubuchi and Anno of classic mecha anime

This interview was published in the 2003 Japanese book RahXephon Complete (ISBN 4840110190); it has not been officially translated, but the ANF user Vir arranged for a rough translation. At my request, he gave me a copy and I have heavily edited it to what follows. (Names were translated phonetically; I have done my best to figure out what was meant.)

Note: to hide apparatus like the links, you can use reader-mode ().

Izubuchi: “I’m interested in Kirareyaku.”

Anno: “No, I’m only interested in Heroes.”

Primary Experience

— Today I’d like you to talk a lot about anime and Tokusatsu (“special effects”=live action) which formed your primary experience, to explore your roots. First, I want to know about Mr. Anno’s primary experience of anime.

Anno (A): The oldest memory in my heart is Tetsujin.

Izubuchi (I): Actually I think Atom (Astro Boy) was for the people who were a little older than us generally.

A: Yeah, I didn’t go into Atom so much. In Tetsujin I watched robots like Black Ox. I loved Robby. I watched it in LD and I was impressed by myself because I remembered lines like “Tetsujin is strong, but Ox is also strong”, and even cuts. It was when I was about 4 years old.

I: I also liked Ox and Robby, the villains from that age around. And Dr. Furankyo.

— Mr. Anno also drew pictures of Tetsujin in Giant Robo.

A: I wanted to make it as close to Mr. Yokoyama’s picture itself as possible, but I couldn’t because of various concerns in the adult world (laugh). It was decided that we would put in more details in the design, so I drilled a “debuchi-hole” etc. (laugh)

I: What’s that (laugh)? Oh, was it you Anno-chan who did it?

A: Yeah, just the beginning of it. Also Mazinger, based on the original work that appeared in Shonen Jump. The images of human-shaped robots by Mr. Nagai Go, I think, was also inspired by Mr. Yokoyama’s, like the way he drew legs / feet.

I: The nail-tips look like rubber and they are curled outwards.

A: And the way he creates highlights, or shade and luster (gloss) effects. So, I still prefer the robots’ legs and hands to be round columns, even though they have all become square after Gundam. You know, like, here, bellows, round (joint), round, and go (fast) (laugh).

I: Certainly, when I saw the machine weapons in Top o Nerae! [Gunbuster] I recognized the shapes as inspired by Mr. Yokoyama’s. The one who does Gamba-Star is Hitotume getter [?] (laugh).

— Mr. Izubuchi also made a rendering of Black Fox called Griphone1.

A: That’s not a rendering, the original itself (laugh).

I: “No, it has wings” (laugh). It didn’t make airwaves go haywire either. That one (became like that because) to make pictures like Tetsujin, in my mind the villain had to be black.

— Mr. Izubuchi, how did you like Mazinger?

I: I liked it, but I didn’t go into it. At that time things that featured special filming techniques (tokusatsu) were much more popular. It was a period when even the boys’ comic magazines had a “smell” of underground culture, and carried some controversial works. Each issue of those magazines contained an amazing mixture of so many different things.

A: There were tons of Tokusatsu, manga and anime, weren’t there? I think we were born and brought up during the best period. Along with the evolution of the television—the television spread when we were very young and beginning to understand things, and we grew up at the same speed as TV the TV caught on. We were lucky in that we were able to absorb many things, both good and bad. I wonder how the kids who grow up with the anime nowadays are going to turn out in the future.

— You mean they are biased from the beginning?

A: I guess so. They watch those intricate images with shades and everything from the moment they start to be aware. The amount of information their mind has to process is huge. It’s very demanding. And it’s also scary that they begin with a preconception that they can take perfectly done CG for granted.

Combattler And Gowapper

— Mr. Izubuchi said before that Eva was Combattler [Chōdenji Robo Combattler V] and RahXephon was Brave Raideen, didn’t you?

I: You know Eva’s face shows up before [in front of] Shinji in the first episode, right? That made me happy…it was like, “That’s Con-V!”2

A: Yeah, the first episode of Con-V is the standard, orthodox way of doing it. All characters are gathered, and the robot is shown from the face first. In the manga Mazinger, beyond the startled face of Koji, there’s the face of the robot. You have a robot, and it has a face. That’s what the face is there for.

I: I like Chizuru3 too, but what about her did you like most? Panchira (showing a bit of her panties)? No? (laugh)

A: Her traits, like, that she is a spunky woman.

I: But there were many spunky female characters around that time, weren’t there?

A: Yeah, like Yoko Misaki from Gowapper 5 [Goliath the Super Fighter], right? The voice-over by Terumi Niki was good. To think she was just an 8th-grader…! (laugh) Originally the plan was that Eva was to do Gowapper. I don’t know why it turned out like that (laugh). It’s strange.

I: Oh, it was Gowapper! (laugh) I’ve never heard of that. But once when we talked about it after Eva ended, I said “That has become your own Space Runaway Ideon, Anno-chan.” But you said “No, I was aiming for Gundam.” That conversation stuck to my mind.

A: I certainly was aspiring to do that. Actually I was trying to go above Gundam. I couldn’t, though…

— What in Gowapper were you aiming for?

A: The sense of sheer weight (sound). I really liked that kind of robotic movements, especially the episode in which Dr. Mitarai’s hologram computer gets destroyed. You see the missiles in one cut. It was thrilling that Gundam is really pushed into a merciless fight. The next episode where the Gundam Dragon appears was the work of Mr. Funo, and the way the parts are fired in it, looks just like the Gundam’s “transformation in the air” (laugh). In my imagery Gundam [Dragon?] is directly connected to Gundam.

Izubuchi’s Version Of Eva, And The Question Of Just How Many Eyes Should Be There

— Actually I’ve heard that Mr. Izubuchi also took part in the designing of Neon Genesis Evangelion at that time, and I want to know about the story.

I: The initial title was The Flash Argion, wasn’t it?

A: The name changed a few times. The first one was Evan Gerion, but it was hard to remember and so we changed it. Then the next one had no impact (laugh). Finally it was named Jinzou Ningen [Artificial Human] Evan Gerion. It was also trashed because they said “Jinzou Ningen” sounded old fashioned, so the bit was removed.

I: I gave out a couple of designs of Eva’s body. I got the rough sketch and some requests about the details from Anno-chan, and it was more like a (mechanical) robot than now.

A: It wasn’t driven by motor gears or oil pressure, it was presented as an modified human being that moved with artificial muscles.

I: I was told that they wanted a demon-like air. So I put the mouth, and the two eyes that looked like they are raw and staring. I ended up giving it 4 eyes (laugh).

A: With just one eye, it was hard to recognize his face as such when he stood full-screen it as a silhouette. So we needed two eyes in order for it to look like a human shape. Absolutely two, I thought it needed two eyes.

I: I’ve been told that Gundam’s eyes would have looked better and more realistic if they were like Béziers [Bézier curve], but I don’t think so. It wouldn’t have succeeded if we excluded the element of human-like character.

A: In the end, it’s about the difference between the “hero” genre and the “military.” Zaku4 has only one eye, and the reason why people recognize Gundam as a “hero” is because he has two eyes. Jim5 has no eyes at all. Neither does Gancannon nor Gantank. The reason why Gundam is the only one that sells so well is because that’s the only “hero” one among them.

I: Talking about Zaku, the system where his “mono (single) eye” are the only parts that moves in an otherwise immovable neck and head, and the eye glares at you, leaves a lasting impression and will probably survive as a concept.

A: I really liked the idea that Zaku usually has no eyes but only when he looks at something his mono-eye lights up.

Is Being A Director A Rotten Deal?

— Mr. Izubuchi, how was your experience as a director?

I: I did it carefully considering the situations because I am older now. If I did it when I was young, maybe I cracked up and had fun.

A: That’s why you should have done it when you were young, I told you. Me and Sei-chan [Shōji Kawamori] kept telling you to do it but you were like “No, no, no way!”

I: He called me “a coward!”, this guy (laugh).

A: Because he wouldn’t do it himself and just complain about our work from the side. So I told him to do it by himself.

I: I am sorry! (joking) It looked such a hard job to do, and I wasn’t going to bother. Much nicer to look at someone else doing it (laugh). Basically, if someone else created what I wanted to see, that was perfect. But when it got to a stage where no one was making what I wanted to see, I just had to make it myself.

A: It was the same for me actually. But then you should have made Patlabor yourself. Like the Griphone one.

I: That, I did the script, even the conte [continuity?].

A: Not only the conte, you should have directed the whole thing. The director’s job is just to take responsibility. Do it, before you get old.

I: I tried to take responsibility. If it fails, it’s my responsibility. If it succeeds, it’s thanks to the staff.

A: Yeah, that’s the ground rule. But you Mr. Izubuchi are still young, so you’ll be OK.

I: What are you talking about? Is that what you say to an elder?

A: All I want to see is Bucchan having a rough time! (laugh).

— Mr. Izubuchi, did you actually have a hard time?

I: Yeah, so to say (laugh). Everyone hates the director.

A: Anyway when working as a director, you have a hard time. It’s like it’s time you put yourself on the line.

I: When was your debut, Anno-chan?

A: I was 28 or 29 years old.

— Did Mr. Anno aspire to be a director from the beginning?

A: No, not at all. I’d prefer not to do that.

I: It’s the same as me! (laugh)

A: The motivation was that I didn’t want to waste the second episode of Top wo Nerae. Yamaga’s script was in the air, nobody would direct it, so I had to take the job. I wasn’t really hoping to go into directing.

Why Robot Anime?

— Why did Mr. Izubuchi think of making RahXephon a Robot Anime in the first place?

I: Because robots brought me my livelihood. It was like repaying.

— How about the Eva of Mr. Anno?

A: For me it was because I worked best with Robot Anime. In Nadia there were no robots appearing and I thought “Oh a robot would have made it much easier” (laugh). My favorite and best type of work is battleship or robots. With them, I run a good chance of succeeding. And the virtual enemy in Gunbuster is Patlabor.

I: Is it?

A: Yeah. If Labor took the realistic line, I wanted to make a proper giant robot one. There was a background reason within the industry—the two movies were planned around the same time and they decided on Patlabor to go first. So when I saw it, there was no action at all and it ended right before the robots battle started, with a line “Rocket Punch!” I thought “You’ve gotta be kidding.” My plan was being scrapped by something like this? I wasn’t having it. Therefore, the virtual enemy at the time was Patlabor.

I: Hey (laugh). But I didn’t know that. I think I can understand the situation maybe. I like robot works, but I thought I was not so good at it. I became more interested in fiddling around with characters. Trying to visualize fantasies can get very risky indeed, you know. For example the enemy, when they get knocked out, they don’t blow up, they just return to earth or sand like Golem. I wanted to put in that kind of description. That’s why I named it Dolem.

— The soil?

I: It’s the image of Bastodon, the giant fossil beast in the second episode of Raideen. When the body made of grey stone is cut it just “cracks”, inside there isn’t muscles, it’s just a red coloured stone. I originally wanted to do it with that kind of imagery.

— In Eva, Mr. Anno’s work, the enemy is not a human shaped robot.

A: If I made them human-shaped, it would have been much more work. They do battle properly in the first and the second episodes, but that was because at that time we still had resources to employ animators. In the 5th or 6th episode it was just done without.

I: That’s what happens sometimes. If we make an impact strong enough to hook the audience in the first or the second episode, we can survive on it.

A: Then we reduce the number of the character (drawings) and use more in the battle scenes. In Eva we used fewer than 4,500 cels, but it looks like we used 6,000 cels. That’s because we did that trick.

I: Yeah, subtraction is the rule.

The Crucial Difference Between The Two Directors

— Nowadays, the standard, orthodox type of robot animes for children seem almost extinct.

A: The overwhelming factor is the children’s diminishing imagination. That’s one of the reasons why giant robots are disappearing. They can’t imagine like “What if there were huge robots in this world?” As for me, even now, when I’m looking around in town I think to myself “Oh I wish Ultraman were standing right here…”

I: Like, taking a walk and you see a building, and this imagery of a kaiju over there, about this size and with such and such silhouette…

A: When I am traveling on the Chuo-Line and come up to Nishiogikubo, I imagine building a filming set around there (laugh). And how cool it would be if I imagine if the Mighty [Birdy the Mighty; Izubuchi worked on the 2008 anime] made an emergency landing there.

I: Gante [giant stone demon, Brave Raideen] has an imposing figure, so if he appeared from behind the building… The good thing about the Gante is that he has his face on the fingertip.

A: That’s bad. We don’t need a face on the fingertip.

I: Why not!

A: Then it wouldn’t be mechanical.

I: But I keep saying, Gante isn’t mechanical.

A: That is your problem. It has to be mechanical.

I: Then what about the eyes? Are eyes OK? Like the Gabrin6.

A: The eyes are OK. I permit that.

I: Kyowan Gangar (the Giant Arm) [?].

A: OK!

I: There he goes, see? (laugh). I like the balance where they look like the hands and they are not. He’s supposed to be able to control everything, but he hurts when he gets shot. I really liked the hybrid feel, between machinery and living creature.

A: No way! I want robots to be robots.

I: Stop being difficult.

A: Robots are robots. Hybrid? And made of rocks?

I: That’s what’s good about it! I liked it because it was rock, not an organic matter. What’s wrong with that?

A: It’s no good when they have like a lion here (in the chest), or when an animal is a robot. You see like GoLion [from Beast King GoLion], there’s a human face inside the lion’s mouth when the beast opens it. It’s the face of a human being he’s eaten… (laugh).

I: Basically I do not like the kinds like GoLion either, but I like Gante.

A: For me the only gimmick that was OK was when the Dartanias [from Mirai Robo Daltanious] transforms, the joint of the shoulder stretches.

I: I was doing the enemy of the Dartanias at that time. I’m not interested in the main character’s mechanism.

A: I’m only interested in the main characters (laugh).

— Now I see, there is a huge gap between you two…

A: His work is only for “petite mecha”, so he can’t help it…

I: Can’t help it? Excuse me (laugh). When I say enemy, I mean the villain, I’m interested in the backbench guys, the anonymous actors with character who end up overshadowing the hero.

A: No, the heroes! I’m only interested in the heroes.

I: See, here is a huge gap (laugh).

Eva’s Transfiguration From The Orthodox Robot Anime

I: You told me when I helped you with Eva that you would go for a straightforward, standard type of work, didn’t you? How did it end up the way it did?

A: Strange, isn’t it? There was a point when I adopted an anything-goes attitude, and I went with the flow, and the result was something entirely different from the original plan. It was really strange. For me the initial idea was Mazinger and Gundam.

I: You said that you were thinking of a big happy ending. It was a kind of happy end, but wasn’t it different from what you were thought of in the beginning?

A: Yeah, it feels different. I think it’s strange.

I: Strange…? (laugh).

A: It changed gradually…

I: I felt you were a bit worried about the genre itself. The genre of giant robots was almost extinct except the Tokusatsu Sentai Robo at that period.

A: Yeah. I wanted to work with proper giant robots, not designed primarily as toys, but designed with a perspective in the real world. But it’s strange that it turned out like that.

I: I think as a result it was good, but I remember there was a point of time when it was suddenly elevated to a subculture status. And it was becoming irrelevant to the passion for robots you have, and taken out of context to a different direction. Watching it, I felt like “Ah, Anno is getting crushed…”

A: In that way… I didn’t plan it like that. It was very strange.

I: How did you plan it?

A: I planned to do it more like stereotyped. See, it was like, the father is making the robots, and there is a laboratory, and the robot comes out from the basement, it is introduced in the first episode, then the enemy comes out, and they fight… Basically it’s the orthodox line.

— Then why?

I: That’s what everyone wants to know (laugh).

A: Why…? It just turned out like that. I guess it’s because I was trying to incorporate ideas from many people around, it just went in that direction. I didn’t mind, that was OK the way it went too. Maybe I have multiple personality. I don’t even understand myself.

I: Maybe the influence of Makky (Tsurumaki Kazuya) and Masa (Masayuki Yamaguchi) was big, right?

A: Yeah, and also others like Mr. Satsukawa (Akio), Enokido (Yōji), Shin-chan (Higuchi Shinji), and Mr. Honda (Yuu), Mr. Iso (Mitsuo), and lot of others are all mixed in me. Well… I did plan to work in Gundam

— Then, is it possible that you’ll remake a robot anime along the line of Gundam?

A: I want to try. But now it’s like there is no soil for robots work itself to grow…

— Then what did you aim for in RahXephon as a standard of robot anime?

I: Genre movies only gain power when they’re continued. So I thought I could work with Raideen as a response to Con-V of Anno-chan…

A: Raideen, you’ve already done that.

I: Chousha (Super-being Raideen) is different, Chousha is! That’s not my Raideen! (laugh)

A: I see. But wasn’t it possible to do Raideen within RahXephon?

I: The set-up of Raideen, in view of today’s reality it seemed no longer plausible to have ‘the devil’ as the enemy.

A: That’s an “old fart” way of thinking! If you’d done it when you were younger, you wouldn’t have hesitated.

I: I won’t have that from a guy who can’t make up his mind about the enemy in Mighty Jack. Q7, why don’t you go ahead with Q?

A: Q… It’s not possible any more…!

I: See? It’s the same with me.

A: No it isn’t the same!

I: It’s same. How is it different? Say it! (laugh)

A: Well I’m already over 40 but you, Bucchan, could have tried earlier.

I: Because I was over 40 when I did my first direction. I débuted 20 years after Kawamori did (laugh).

A: That’s why you should have done it when you were young.

I: I couldn’t help it. Anno, you should have done Mighty Jack when you were young, too.

A: But I did Nadia when I was young, so it’s OK (laugh).

I: Oh, you say that.

Where Is Robot Anime Going…?

— Do you think the screen experience of you two is going to be passed down to the next generation?

I: Creating something with visual images—what becomes the images are the accumulation of what you have seen and experienced, so there really is no “original”. And then there’s the matter of “continuation”. Nobody starts from scratch, but we all relay down what we have inherited from the ones before us. That is an important function, and one day I came to realise that was fine.

A: I think that there is no one who can create from scratch, except the very few geniuses…[lines missing]…An entirely original work from scratch, I think, is the result of those very few people’s brains short-circuiting or something, producing totally new ideas.

I: If it were presented straightforwardly, it would be seen as mad.

A: Yeah. After all, it’s a simple matter of basing your work on a predecessor’s but not getting too close to the work it’s based on, that kind of level, I think. Like if my parents didn’t speak Japanese I wouldn’t be speaking Japanese, basically that’s the way human life is, and you can’t go forward if you get too stuck in trying to be original. But I can’t tolerate over-sampling (of other’s work).

I: I can take criticism so long as it’s properly analysed going back to the preceding work and the ones before that. But when I get a shallow criticism I feel like telling them “Do your homework!”

I: [not Anno?] It’s OK if it’s analytical and objective, but when they see it purely from a subjective view and show off “Look how much I know”…it’s a bit much.

— What are your views on the meaning of “making robot animes while continuing on others’ footsteps”?

I: After all, towards the things we’ve been influenced by, I mean like towards the heritage…

A: Whether we can beat them…

I: Yeah. It boils down to whether we can beat them or not.

A: I don’t feel any threat from elderly guys today, but the point is that how we can do better than the works we saw in childhood. After all, that’s the only way.

I: It’s maybe too much to say that our boyhood was blessed, but we had the chance to meet the original, the works that broke the ground (“epoch-making”). Precisely because of that, now that we are on the creator’s side, we want to show the children and young people today works of similar standards. In an ideal world I would have liked to give the kids today an experience of spotting, by chance, something amazing on the ground wave (conventional television) in the evening, or something like that.

A: But half past 4 in the evening is too early.

I: Yeah. Even if one goes to school near home and runs back home, it’s hard to get home in time. So it ends up being shown late at night and so forth… reality isn’t easy.

— I think that one of the reason for the decrease of robot anime is the decrease of the number of children.

A: That being the case we just have to make up (for the lack of audience) with big friends (the adults). Anyway I feel it’s OK if it exists as long as we are living. If it lasts 30 to 40 more years.

[missing lines]

A: But Bucchan has not so changed from 10 or 20 years ago. I don’t think you will change much past the age of 40 or 50. I’m not going to change, either.

I: I want to introduce to the younger, not my own, generation, what I think is interesting. I think it’s important to hand down.

A: If you ask us if there is something that only us have or not, no, there is nothing. We admit that we have nothing, but we’ll be happy if we can hand down the “feel”.

I: That’s the point. Won’t you make any more robot anime?

A: I won’t, for a while.

I: It’s been a while since Eva.

[missing lines]

A: The world we are living in today is no longer a world where brute force is the answer to problems. But soon it will be again a “power is justice” world, and then the robot work will revive, I think.

I:Yes, as the world changes for the worse that is possible…

A: All the same, we solve everything with power. The baddy has to GO! by the Specium8

I: I wonder what is that (laugh).

A: In the end it’s like this! (a pose of Ultraman) All the enemy is smashed! That’s it. But not now…

I: Tohoho (depressed)…(laugh)

— Thanks a lot for your time. I’m looking forward to your next works.


  1. Gryphon? Patlabor’s ‘Griffin’ Labor?↩︎

  2. Combattler V; Ornette explains the reference:

    They’re talking about this scene from the first episode of Combattler V:

    Combattler V, episode 1

    Combattler V, episode 1

    Where all the pilots have been gathered (while the big bad guy is outside laying waste to the city), put into a dark room, then the lights come on revealing the big robot at face level. They’re praising Combattler V here, nothing to do with Shinji or Eva. Chizuru is the grand daughter of the white haired guy in the scene and the 4th pilot.

  3. Wikipedia: “Chizuru Nanbara. The 4th member, and only female member of the team, dressed in pink. Chizuru is also the granddaughter of Doctor Nanbara. She pilots the Battle Marine, which forms the legs of Combattler V. Upon learning that she has valvular heart disease, she tries to hide it until it disables her in the middle of a battle. Afterwards, she undergoes surgery to correct the condition and returns to continue the fight against the Campbellians. Eventually, she falls in love with Hyouma.”↩︎

  4. eg. the MS-05A Zaku I Early Type↩︎

  5. RGM-79 GM↩︎

  6. Possibly another Brave Raideen monster, ‘Gabiron’:

    Appears in episode 46. Powers include flight, a pair of spiked tails that act like a buzzsaw, finger missiles, a mouth flamethrower from the dragon head, launchable bull horns from the head on the abdomen with them creating electrical bolts to start fires, 6 missiles in each shoulder, a chained ax on the back that can slice through Mutronium, a launchable jet pack, and a large howitzer cannon hidden in the neck and head. It is a combination of two colossal monsters fused together by Barao named Storigato and Starigalom.

  7. The terrorist organization that the protagonists of Mighty Jack fight. See also Aum Shinrikyo.↩︎

  8. An Ultraman power: “Ultraman crouches slightly forward and crosses his wrists together, with his right forearm vertical and left forearm horizontal in front of it, and the thumb edge of his hands facing his body, to shoot from the outer edge of his right hand a particle/light-ray that kills most opponents. The effect is either an explosion or a fatal burn. The ray can be reflected (see Alien Baltan II) but loses intensity once reflected.”↩︎

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