Read part one of the interview with director Kim Se Jun, chief mechanical director Abe Shingo, and producer Taniguchi Osamu here!
— Can you tell us the whole planning process from start to finish?
Taniguchi (Osamu): The reason we were able to make it this far is mainly thanks to all the connections we had. This all started some two years ago with the idea from Sunrise inquiring whether Ark Performance would join us on a project. From there I had to think about how to go about staffing. Initially, I thought of inviting many animators to work on different parts. Something like splitting it up into four groups, each with different themes, characters, and entirely different staff. That’s when I started consulting with Kim (Se Jun), Abe (Shingo), and a couple of others. We went back and forth about how to bring this all together and ended up settling on the format brought to you today.
We initially talked about creating a picture drama, but I felt that the equivalent of a voiced picture book seemed a bit boring. I had to think of a good compromise between how to present the story and our budget, leading me to a single continuous narrative. I had to lie a little to get things moving (laughs).
— Lie? You mean you told them it was going to be a picture drama?
Taniguchi: Yeah, I lied about that (laughs). When I continued consulting with them, they looked at it and said, “was it always like this??” Essentially, we gave it the traditional Gundam treatment. I’m thankful to Kim and Shingo.
— Kim, how did you feel when you were brought onboard for this project? Was there anything that made you particularly excited or anxious?
Kim: When I received the call from Sunrise about an independent picture drama, I honestly wasn’t that interested. However, when the story turned away from four separate stories and into one overarching story that I would be directing, storyboarding, and writing the screenplay for, I was onboard to participate. I wanted to try writing a screenplay for once. Although, it’s kind of strange that someone like me, with no directing experience, was brought into this project.
There was nothing I was especially excited or worried about with working on this new Gundam show. I’m often invited to work on Gundam series, so I thought of it as another job.
Taniguchi: There was a lot to manage. He had to be the total package, not only directing but the screenplay and storyboarding as well. Not just visuals either, Kim had a prominent role in the music and did a darn good job at it, too. Although, his Gundam level isn’t very high (laughs). That’s Shingo, no doubt about it. You need people like Unicorn Gundam’s Genma (Nobuhiko) and Origin’s Katoki who are knowledgeable about the Gundam universe on your team. For Twilight Axis that’s Shingo. Also Sunrise management division’s Nakashima (laughs).
Abe: Ark Performance knows the most about Gundam, though!
Taniguchi: Yeah, Ark Performance is the highest level of us all!
— Ark Performance has been publishing in Gundam Ace for a long time now, haven’t they? Shingo, what about yourself?
Abe: The story is pretty much what these two have been saying. When I heard Kim would be directing, I asked if I could work on the keyframes and they accepted.
To be honest, I’ve had many occasions where I was the key animation director, and Kim helped out, but I’ve never had the opportunity to participate in a project where Kim was the key animation director. I was the most worried about whether he would be ok working with me (laughs). Would I be able to live up to his standards?
— Thank you very much. Staffing seems like a difficult first step. Next, I’d like to ask Taniguchi how do you choose what works get anime versions? Are there particular points you use as a deciding factor?
Taniguchi: No doubt, when working on a project you have to entrust everything to the people working on it, so it’s easier to work with people that want to work on the project. Talking to them about stuff like making an anime version eventually or proceeding the story in a specific way is far less stressful.
A couple of times in the past, animators have found specific works appealing enough to encourage publishing companies to serialize them, which eventually led to production companies picking them up for anime versions.
In my line of work, you have to be able to sell a product, so I often worry whether something it will or not. When a production company says they want to make an anime and some people want to make it, there are probably other people that want to watch it, which encourages me to persevere. On the other side, if there is no one interested and I’m forced to plead and persuade, then I’m in a real pinch. So for me, I’ve come to use the animators’ interest in working on projects as a gauge.
— I see. That’s not the answer I was expecting. But thinking about it, the animator Naka Morifumi initially brought up the Gundam Thunderbolt manga to producer Ogata. Gundam Thunderbolt and Gundam The Origin were both manga originals, and Unicorn Gundam was formerly a novel. Did Twilight Axis proceed in the same format?
Kim: Actually, the plans for the anime were decided first, with the novel following after.
Taniguchi: Yeah, it’s an anime original. The body of the story was written up as a prototype by Ark Performance for the anime and novel used that as their base.
— Really? I was sure the novel came first.
Kim: I received several of Ark Performance’s prototypes and wrote the scenario while drawing up the storyboards. Once the storyboards were done, we decided to create a novel too. Opposite of the usual flow, the book referred to the anime’s battles. In this way, the anime production wasn’t held down by constraints of the novel.
Taniguchi: With Ark Performance’s prototype as a base, the anime and the novel were able to be their own stories.
Kim: With a single prototype the anime and novel were able to thrive under different perspectives.
— Next, I’d like to ask if there was any particular reason for having this project streamed exclusively for Gundam fan club members?
Taniguchi: While Gundam fan club is where you can find the highest concentration of passionate Gundam fans, we exclusively streamed there to liven up the fan club. Up until now, there hasn’t been any anime that was exclusive to Gundam fan club. I think it would be great if these kinds of projects could continue.
Watching Twilight Axis while reading along with the novel brings out an intriguing part of the story. The fan club is optimum for streaming while reading the digital novels available on Sunrise’s Yatatebunko site.
— Twilight Axis was only six episodes but do you think there will be more, or that Gundam fan club and Yatatebunko will team up to create another anime? Do you think fan club exclusive anime will increase?
Taniguchi: Those are some good questions (laughs). I do hope we get more opportunities to create anime for the fan club — the story’s continuation. I don’t want it to be just me either. I want other producers to get in on how this framework is laid out. It’d be great. Nowadays, movies and TV series aren’t our only option. There are quite a few online series streaming, and I would be happy to establish Gundam fan club as another place.
Yatatebunko is currently publishing the novel, but in actuality, this project started before Yatatebunko was established. It’d be nice if they could grow together with us. They are a place where Sunrise can release original works, so they’re bound to get big. I think they’ll be the ones to write the next big Gundam series.
— By the way, episodes one through five were three minutes each, while only the last episode was eight minutes. Why was it structured like this?
Kim: Originally they wanted each episode to be shorter, but when I started working, I needed to make it longer for it to remain as my composition. The novel has three battles, in the anime we were able to get two done. To make up for that, and not alienate the audience, I added in the Zaku III Kai and Byarlant Isolde fight, not in the novel.
I also didn’t want to sacrifice any of the drama. No matter how I edited and cut the storyboards, I couldn’t fit all I wanted into the initially desired minute and a half episodes. On the other hand, I wanted to keep the PV format no matter what but wondered if people might find a five-minute battle PV too long. After thinking it through we ended up with the three-minute episodes.
Taniguchi: I think there will be more short series in the future. Everyone is busy, so we have the challenge of making something digestible enough for people to watch while they’re commuting on the train and what not.