0080 War In The Pocket: Experience Because Of Working In The Studio — Mechanical Design Cooperator, Akitaka Mika

The third installment to the six days of Gundam with Mechanical Design Cooperator, Akitaka Mika.

Day One – Producer, Uchida Kenji

Day Two – Character Designer, Mikimoto Haruhiko

— How did you come to join the 0080 team?

Akitaka: At the time, I received a spot at Sunrise Studio 3 to work on their project City Hunter. Thanks to Uchida I was able to work on Gundam Zeta and Gundam ZZ, and when the time came, head over to Studio 5 during my breaks and help out on 0080. Because I worked over in that studio a lot, I was able to talk face to face with the setting producer Horiguchi (Shigeru) and the director Takayama (Fumihiko).

— That’s a pretty rare way for a designer to enter a studio.

Akitaka: I think it was around that time that Sayama (Yoshinori) joined to work on Char’s Counterattack. Probably was the only reason it wasn’t that big of a deal for me to join on too. In my case, one day someone from Sunrise said we were going into the Studio and bam, I was in. A similar thing happened previously when I was working in Studio 1 on the movie adaptation of Dirty Pair. Someone from Studio 2, just upstairs, came down and asked for help on ZZ. I don’t work in a studio anymore, but I was still in my early 20s then and working in an environment surrounded by talented people was essential.

— The hamburger concept art even had a memo on the lettuce that someone from Studio 3 should draw it.

Akitaka: That’s right. That particular part of the art originated from Studio 3, so Ikuhara (Yuriko) from Studio 3 was in charge of that drawing.

— So you worked back and forth between Studio 3 and 5?

Akitaka: My base studio was Studio 3, and if it was necessary, I would go over to Studio 5. If I finished my work at Studio 3, I’d poke my head into Studio. One day Uchida noticed me as he was applying sfx to a cel and asked me what I was doing. I told him, “that might look better if you put less” which landed me a seat working on the Musai antenna’s white highlights. I kind of just started working there after that.

— It looks like you had quite a hand in designing a lot of the concept art.

Akitaka: Yeah. I recently designed the truck in Gundam Origin. The first things I ever designed was the container truck for Alex. I also worked on the hatch that connected the container to the shuttle, which went from original drawing to concept to final. One of the smaller devices that extensively used my first time designing was Al’s video camera. I think Takayama initially said he wanted it to use tape, but it was the future we were working with, I had to make it a disc.


— Can you talk about working on the technology of the Universal Century?

Akitaka: Having taken part in Zeta and ZZ, I didn’t have to think too outside of the box to create a small device befitting the era. It was stuff like school lunches that I remember having to rack my brain for ideas. The desks at Al’s school also needed a tweaking to be bit more SF-like. I added a volume dial to the side for them, so lectures were simply prerecorded audio.

— Did you work on the Alex’s additional armament?

Akitaka: When I joined, the primary mobile suits had already been designed. Afterward, Takayama brought up the idea of drawing the Full Armor, but in the end, Izubuchi (Yutaka)’s Chobham Armor was the design used. I was the one that worked on the design for the fallen Zaku.

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— What are your thoughts on Izubuchi’s mobile suits?

Akitaka: Looking at the Hygogg and the Z’Gok-E, with their wonderfully vivid markings, they are both very Izubuchi designs. You put the Hygogg next to the Gogg, and you are looking at two different design, but it displays the essence of an amphibious suit so well. Izubuchi shows that he is someone who can build characters.

— You also had a hand in designing the Santa balloon?

Akitaka: In places like Europe they have big balloons like that. Takayama told me to use western books on those types of balloons as references. Nowadays you could just look it up on the internet and instantly get a hit (laughs).

— You got some key animation cuts under your belt as well. [Non-plot related spoiler warning!]

Akitaka: Yes, in episode five where they are loading up the Graf Zeppelin with nuclear missiles. The production for episode five was pretty rough, and we were cutting the schedule pretty close. Inano (Yoshinobu), Kuboka (Toshiyuki), and Kawamoto (Toshihiro) were all splitting the remaining cuts so to finish in time. Meanwhile, there were hardly any mechs to draw in episode five, so I took some of the work off of their hands. Uchida regretted that I had assisted with so many of the key animations they upped my pay a bit. I couldn’t have been happier (laughs).

The scene in episode six where it shows Alex’s remaining Vulcan bullet count on the monitor was also me. The decision to have me draw the monitor wasn’t because monitors should be left up to an animator that work with prop concept art, but simply because they wanted me to animate it rather than someone else. I checked my work with Takayama before going ahead with everything. I wasn’t an animator so I would draw only the key animation and Takayama would send in my timesheet. He taught me about managing animation and eventually storyboards in this way, and it went on to be very useful.

— Is that so?

Akitaka: I frequented Gainax during that time as well and remember talking to Anno (Hideaki) about working solo on the monitor graphics. He told me, “There isn’t a point if you don’t work on the monitor yourself.”

— There are a lot of episodes you worked on because you happened to be in the studios.

Akitaka: I learned a lot directing techniques from Takayama. In the first episode in the scene where the Hygogg is swimming through the sea, he achieved the swaying water appearance by applying glue to the top of the cel. There was another scene where Al was looking up at the lights from the battle from the Zaku cockpit. To create those lights you have to make a hole in a piece of black paper, but he broke off a needle from an airbrush to make said hole. When I asked him why he used an airbrush needle he answered, “because you can get the smallest hole with this.” I learned a lot of good and bad things from him (laughs).

— (Laughs)

Akitaka: You know, Takayama was always in the studio. As soon as 0080 wrapped up, apparently there was some trouble with his family, so he was not doing so well. Then, one day at a train crossing near Sunrise I heard someone call out to me loudly, and wouldn’t you know it, it was Takayama. The problem was, he was cleanly shaven with his haircut and a fresh suit on so I had a difficult time recognizing him (laughs). I couldn’t fathom what normal Takayama looked like, so it honestly took me by surprise (laughs).

— What did you think about a Gundam OVA being directed by someone other than Tomino (Yoshiyuki)?

Akitaka: I was floored by the idea. Even if it’s Tomino passing it on, or a new OVA format I hadn’t realized that was possible. The thought hadn’t occurred to me that Gundam could continue in this way. I thought Gundam TV series were ending, Metal Armor Dragonar would be the last real robot show, and that Gundam was finished.

—How do you feel about your time working on 0080?

Akitaka: I’m glad I was able to participate. I was glad to work on Char’s Counterattack, but 0080 was my first time working on an OVA and man, I worked on a fantastic anime.

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