Third and final part of the Twilight Axis interviews withdirector Kim Se Jun, chief mechanical director Abe Shingo, and producer Taniguchi Osamu!
— Was making Twilight Axis different than making any other Gundam series?
Abe: It wasn’t all that different. Of course, it was our first time exclusively streaming to Gundam Fan Club members, but the creation process was the same.
Kim: I think it changed a bit. I had a lot more work!
Abe: You brought that on yourself (laughs). Mister, you can’t accept to do everything and then expect not to do everything.
— So, Kim was given a much more active role than usual.
Kim: I wouldn’t say given a much more active role. Better put, we were able to stay in budget if Abe and I were able to pick up most of the work.
Taniguchi: We certainly had a limited budget (laughs). That’s why these two drew more than half of the project (laughs).
Abe: About 70%, I’d say, but as an animation director, I’ve drawn my fair share of key animations.
Kim: You rarely get that kind of chance. It’s a short, so there wasn’t as much intense work either. I guess what was different was that we were working on such a small scale. During work, I could easily start up a conversation with my good desk-neighbor Abe. Other than that, there wasn’t much different.
Abe: Initially we had talked about just the two of us working on all the key animations, but after seeing the high quality of Kim’s storyboards we knew the amount would be too much for just us to handle and brought in other help. In the end, it wasn’t all that different than the structure of a typical anime.
Taniguchi: If anything, it’s close to how the animation industry used to operate. Back then there was a lot of solo keyframe animating.
On the other hand, staffing was different than previous Gundam series. Usually finishing touches, photography, backgrounds, music, and editing are all contracted through the same company, but this time we tried going through different companies. Note that there was no ill will behind this decision. Because of the scale of the project, we were able to challenge ourselves without it being a burden.
We had the Macross series’s T2 studio on the photography and IMAGICA on editing — both teams working on Gundam for the first time. All the companies we newly contracted with were especially motivated to work with us. They kept asking to confirm that we were letting them work on a Gundam series and we reassured them that we most definitely looked forward to working with them.
— From the first PV, the signs of another Universal Century work were clearly visible. Is there any secret to giving off that UC feel?
Kim: Not really.
Abe: Yeah, I didn’t put any extra effort to make it feel like it was set in the UC.
Taniguchi: What does it even mean to make something fit into the Universal Century? Doesn’t it just all come together through a shared history?
Abe: I’m not entirely sure what makes UC, UC. There are the mobile suit designs, but at the animation level, there isn’t much in the way of making something UC. Although, I guess Obari Masami’s super flashy action scenes aren’t seen too much in UC.
Kim: If the animation style doesn’t match the tone of the anime, it’s inevitable. Probably has to do with the movement of mobile suits in Universal Century. Animators like Naka Morifumi, Nakatani Seiichi, and Genma Nobuhiko are styles that are probably going to become our modern style.
Taniguchi: The mobile suits stem from the same design tree, so if we made sure to keep track of that, we were fine.
Kim: Yeah, we weren’t concerned about standardizing the movements this time around.
Abe: Nope, we just used the equipment of the show as a symbol.
— That’s not the response I was expecting. Moving on, were any of you tuned into other Gundam series (Iron-Blooded Orphans, Thunderbolt, or Origin) being released?
Abe: I wasn’t (laughs).The storyboards Kim sent me and the freedom to animate whatever I saw fit kept me engrossed in my work. My mind was never thinking about other shows.
Kim: I’m repeating myself a bit, but we tried to make battles that weren’t just drawn to be cool. If there was a gimmick we wanted to showcase, we made sure it was necessary for that scene. During the battle inside Axis in episode three, there is a steel beam that gets destroyed. Initially, that steel beam wasn’t present in that scene. When we were staging the battle, I wanted a scene utilizing the surrounding buildings, so we redrew it and added in the steel beam. I think I was most afraid of Abe coming back with the storyboards and pointing out an error.
Abe: Not that I ever had to do that (laughs).
Kim: As long as I got an “ok” from you, I felt content. I didn’t need it from Taniguchi (laughs).
Taniguchi: That’s not a bad way to go about it — nothing wrong with it at all.
Abe: Usually, to bring out that cool factor there are a lot of flashy scenes drawn up in the storyboard, but Kim’s storyboards were compact and to the point. They weren’t something to follow frame by frame and didn’t include every little detail, so it was a blast to draw.
— I see. So it’s something that both of you put in a lot of time and effort. Were there any scenes that you fretted over more than others? Or, if there is any scene that you want viewers to watch out for, please tell us.
Kim: I would say the scenes where Abe drew the Byarlant Isolde. He surprised me with how detailed it was.
Abe: Ah, there’s a reason for that. With Kim as the character designer, the characters had a lot of depth and detail to them — layers of shadows in the keyframes. Initially, we had talked about lightening them up but decided against it. Left at is though, the mechs would be washed out, so I ended up adding more and more detail.
There were a lot of still frames as well, so I could focus on putting a lot of shadowing and details into each of those. The scenes I were especially engrossed in were the ones with the Zaku III Kai. I’ve always liked the Zaku III Kai and was itching to draw it. I wasn’t initially set to be in charge of drawing it, but they let me take over everything for episodes two and three. It was something I liked, but there is just something great about putting love into what you’re drawing.
— What scenes were you in charge of, Kim?
Kim: Well, I wanted to draw everything.
Abe: I mean, you did draw all the scenes for the storyboard (laughs).
Kim: I was a little overzealous on what I wanted to be in charge of, and I think the very thought of me taking on so much was giving Fukushima at the production desk, ulcers.
Since I had a restriction on the number of frames I was allowed to work on, I tried to focus on scenes with mechs. While I was decreasing the amount of character-driven scenes, I was careful not to downplay their strengths as compared to the mech scenes much as possible.
Abe: You certainly fussed over Arlette’s expression when retouching them.
Kim: That’s part of drawing characters. Especially with the time constraints of the show, there needed to be a lot of thought put into each and every cut.
— By the way, was everything in Twilight Axis hand-drawn, with no CG used?
Taniguchi: Correct, no CG was used. However, the amount of Gundam series using CG is on the rise.
Kim: I think the lighting effects were about the only part done in CG. There were no CG models used.
Taniguchi: Yeah, the mobile suits were entirely hand-drawn. CG depletes the budget (laughs), sorry about that. But since The Origin mechs are all completely created in CG, it didn’t seem like a bad idea to hand-draw everything for Twilight Axis.
Kim: I actually asked Yasuhiko Yoshikazu about the CG in Origin. He, in return, asked why there was such an obsession with hand-drawing mobile suits.
— There is just something very appealing about hand-drawn mechs, though. Moving along, does the anime have the same story as Nakamura Koujirou’s novel or does it develop differently?
Kim: They both originate from the same prototype, but the finer depictions differ between the two. In the anime, right after the Zaku III Kai and the Tristan fight, the Byarlant Isolde arrives, and we flash to Danton’s anime original backstory. The scene where he should fire, but can’t bring himself to, is also an anime original. I decided to take out any battle scenes that didn’t seem significant.
Abe: As far as character backgrounds go, you added a lot in for the anime.
Kim: I think the novel did a good job of integrating all the finer details that the Universal Century timeline has built upon, while the anime had more freedom to expand.
—So the mechs and characters are different?
Kim: No, they’re the same, just the details in the fight scenes are depicted differently — like the Byarlant Isolde cuts its legs off in one scene. That was only in the anime. It’s pretty brutal, but I thought it was a perfect way to show just out deranged the Fermo brothers are, and for that reason, we had the steel beam crashing down.
— This will be the last question, but what do you find to be the most fulfilling part of making a Gundam anime?
Taniguchi: Within Sunrise, there are only a handful of people who have been the producer for Gundam series, so it’s a tremendous honor to be given the role. I was surprised we even had a gunpla kit sold. Gundam lends to taking on various mediums, whether it be anime, gunpla or publications. Other franchises can’t extend that far. I think being the producer in charge of a series that could break into each of those mediums is very fulfilling.
Kim: It’s not that I don’t hold Gundam in high regards, but Gundam, for better or worse is a franchise that’s held to higher standards. There are a lot of people that praise your work, and a lot of people that criticize it. However, that criticism has been helpful in my growth as a creator. Of course, I’m happy when people praise me, but in order to grow, I need that critical feedback. When people point out a weird keyframe or a boring storyboard, I get angry, but at the end of the day, I’m thankful.
Taniguchi: You had a hand in a lot of different areas and while that was a plus, do you have some regrets about it?
Kim: I’m sure the criticism will roll in, but I’m going to have to make the most of it. It’ll be depressing to see it all, but I want to get better, so I welcome the critics with open arms.
Abe: Everyone from little children to grown adults watches Gundam, so for my work to be seen by such a large amount of people makes me happy. It’s something unique to Gundam. Also, while I love drawing robots, we are moving into a 3DCG era. Having the opportunity to hand-draw a boatload of robots was fulfilling.
— Do you have a final message for the Fan Club members who were able to see all the episodes before anyone else?
Taniguchi: Oddly enough, Arlette is the first female protagonist in a Universal Century animated series, so I want viewers to see her attitude come to life.
Kim: This project started off as just a promotional video, so it’s somewhat short. Even if you watch all six episodes, I don’t think it’s possible to understand everything, but you’re fine if you only catch half of it. Upon a rewatch you’ll be able to see many bits of foreshadowing. Everything else is in the novel so you can read it there. We made Twilight Axis to work like that.
Abe: The novel develops differently, so for those watching the anime for the first time it might feel a little off, but every single staff member put a lot of work into making this, and I hope everyone can enjoy it.
— Kim, Abe, Taniguchi, thank you for the interview.