Sato Tatsuo, director of classic anime series such as Martian Successor Nadesico, Uchuu no Stellvia, and the TV version of Ninja Scrolls, as well as recent shows Mouretsu Space Pirates and Rinne no Lagrange, is an industry veteran that has quite an impressive resume of work behind him. Capitalizing on some of his newer series, the buff, almost fifty year old animator came to Anime Expo 2012 to share his experiences on making anime. Listening to him was an absolute treat.
Introduction by Kylaran
Q: What do you feel has changed since you began working in anime?
A: I’ve gone from storyboarding to directing. Now I communicate a lot more with people.
Q: In Mouretsu Space Pirates, there was a difference in pacing and character development. What was your thought process behind adapting the novel and were certain approaches deliberately used that are less common today?
A: The original novel goes on, so I wanted to capture the growth of the main character by a certain point. A high schooler becomes a pirate, and the story goes on and on, but I wanted to provide a solid conclusion to the story. I changed the story a little, focusing on the main character’s development in twenty-six episodes.
Q: So there was a compression of what’s in the original story.
A: Though the series is called “Mouretsu” (intense, spirited, bodacious), the goal isn’t for them to be crazy at first, but by the end.
Q: Nadesico uses certain meta-techniques in anime, such as parody. These techniques have become widely used. What is your opinion on this?
A: For Nadesico itself, the meta stuff was used a lot early in the story, but later on it didn’t really affect the plot of the story much as I used it.
Q: You worked with Yuasa Masaaki. Who else would you work with?
A: He and I are around the same age and are good friends, so I know he’s really talented. Sometimes I wonder how an anime based on him would turn out since there aren’t many people like him. As for working with others, there are quite a few, but no one that I want to work as closely with as I did Yuasa.
Q: How were you involved with Rinne no Lagrange?
A: It’s still going on right now, but right when Space Pirates started I became involved, although not fully. What I did is guide them with the direction and give advice when it seemed like the team may have been treading down the wrong path any time during one of the twenty four episodes.
Q: Do you have any specific examples?
A: It was decided early on that the main character would be a girl that rides a robot and fights, but not everyone knew exactly what kind of girl. Since the goal was to make something unique, so she comes off as cute but also not completely normal. Stuff like have her wear a jersey or tie up her hair with a rubber band. I started off by asking people how they planned to make a story using her.
Q: There are some similarities between Lagrange and Evangelion. Was this purposeful?
A: Evangelion followed the formula where the main character starts off unable to pilot, but decides to get in the robot and sees himself improve, much like previous robot anime. For us, we wanted to take Shinji and make him a girl with a jersey.
Q: Do you think anime should appeal to all ages, unlike how it’s considered to be children’s fare in the U.S.?
A: In the generation previous to mine, the creators would put in their own messages as adults even for the children’s shows of the time. Those of us who watched that growing up clearly emulated some of that in our own work. It doesn’t matter if it’s for children. However, we have to make sure that the format is digestable children, and as long as children are getting the message through that format, things are fine as is.
Q: How did you approach working on Shigofumi? Did you try different things or were you confident in how it would turn out?
A: Shigofumi isn’t for kids, but rather high school or college students. Even so, we didn’t try to do something too excessive, but we wanted the feelings of pain to get across indirectly somehow in the delivery.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of making characters?
A: Balancing the growth of the character while keeping the personality intact.
Q: Which is harder: adapting something or an original anime?
A: To put it roughly, it’s very difficult capturing the feel of the original when adapting, especially since a large part of the audience is the original work’s fans, so we have to be pinpoint.
Q: Is it hard to make the shows you want to in today’s commercialized industry?
A: We tried to adopt an orthodox approach that focused on how the characters made their decisions, as opposed to the storytelling in other recent anime. In that sense, I think more people will start liking that style.
Q: Who decided to bring on Rasmus Faber for Lagrange?
A: We had a competition for this. There was one guy with a foreign name whose made us go: “Who is this guy?” Since Victor Entertainment was handling the music, and they also released his CD, they told him to enter the contest. He is also a huge fan of Nakajima Megumi’s voice, and that was too funny so we decided to bring him on immediately.
Q: How do you think technology has made it easier to make anime?
A: It’s true that it feels like you can do everything with today’s technology, but that means having clear ideas and knowing your own skills is even more important.
Shinmaru Sato Tatsuo‘s panel was a surprisingly intimate affair, taking place in one of the smaller rooms at the Los Angeles Convention Center and filled maybe two-thirds to capacity. There was a clear desire to center the discussion around Sato’s recently concluded Mouretsu Pirates, though of course with Sato one could not help but bring up Martian Successor Nadesico. As always, the hope for more Nadesico is quite slim: it’s mostly a matter of getting the old creative crew back together, as Sato admits he would not be able to do justice to the series on his own.
Most everything else in the panel tied back to Mouretsu Pirates, though one question managed to sneak Nadesico into the discussion. When discussing the depiction of space in Nadesico compared to Pirates, Sato noted that rather than Nadesico influencing Pirates, it’s more that modern technology allows him to get closer to how he truly wishes to represent outer space than it did back in 1996.
There was also a bit of talk about how Sato consciously downplayed romance in Marika’s story in Mouretsu Pirates. Sato is cognizant of how when women are highly involved in any anime, the audience expectation is that there will be a romance at some point. However, he wanted to emphasize the friendship angle as a driving factor in Marika’s growth as a pirate and a person rather than having romantic love as the end goal.
Near the end there was a fun answer given to a query about the scene in episode 25 of Mouretsu Pirates that shows Marika and Chiaki in a recording studio singing the anthem the pirates play as they head to the final battle. Everything from episode 21 on is anime original material, so Sato and crew have a bit more room to play around. Apparently Komatsu Mikako, Marika’s seiyuu, and Hanazawa Kana, Chiaki’s seiyuu, were playing around and singing during a recording session, and Sato was so amused by it that he decided to put it into the anime. It’s definitely an amusing scene, even if it makes little sense why Chiaki would agree to it, and it’s fun to hear about that spark of inspiration.
Sato was quite coy about the possibility of a second season or other extra content for Mouretsu Pirates, noting that fans should watch the finale, and they would be in store for some surprises.