Artist Yoshitaka Amano's career began with a letter of acceptance sent to his home in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan when he was 15 years old. The animation studio Tatsunoko Production, famous for Mach GoGoGo and Space Ace at the time, wanted the teenage Amano working for them. A few weeks prior, Amano toured their studio with a friend while visiting Tokyo, bringing with him a collection of loose leaf illustrations he intended to hand over. He didn't see any harm in putting his name and work out there.
It wasn't long before he moved from animation to character design, eventually setting foot outside the world of animation and making a name for himself in fine art—and by designing iconic characters for the Final Fantasy franchise.
His newest anime project, Gibiate, is as much a return to his roots as it is a foreign experience for him. The anime, announced earlier this year, was further teased during a panel at AnimeFest @ NYCC x AnimeExpo. Amano shared stories from throughout his life and treated the audience to a live drawing session, showcasing a variety of styles and passion for his craft.
Following the panel, MyAnimeList sat down with Amano and Gibiate's original creator and producer, Ryo Aoki, to discuss the anime and their motivations behind it. We also had the opportunity to ask Amano questions regarding his influences and career.
Aoki-san, with Gibiate you'll have more control over the creation process than ever. The subject matter is also quite different than that of your previous works such as Girlfriend (Kari) and Bonjour♪Sweet Love Patisserie. What knowledge did you bring to Gibiate, and in what areas did you have to step out of your comfort zone?
Aoki: There's something to reflect on with my previous work, and the work before that, and the work before that—many project leaders have acted in this manner, and I took it too seriously. When creating a strong project, it's a theme in business that you have production committee representatives with various opinions and you need to sort those opinions out. For me to achieve this, I came up with a worldview and spoke with each creator individually about the worldview, as well as the production committee to avoid confusion. As a producer, this is where I improved most compared to my previous projects.
Aoki-san, how did you come up with the idea for Gibiate? Did it begin as a project to showcase Wa (和)?
Aoki: I came up with this project at Marina Bay Sands. At this point, the only thing I had decided about this project was to make it an anime for everyone around the world. Therefore, I went to Singapore thinking about other things. And when I went to Singapore, I looked at Marina Bay Sands, where they put a pool in a ship, with the ship built on top of buildings. As a Japanese person, when I saw this it felt excessive. But Marina Bay Sands is attracting worldwide attention. Therefore, I felt that it was important to go overboard to make something popular all over the world. Amano-sensei's paintings have a good reputation and popularity overseas, and I felt the reason for this is because he does too many things for his paintings. I followed Amano-sensei and this time I thought I would also do too much. When I thought about how much I could overdo it, I wanted to borrow the power of Japanese people who were popular overseas—I thought this was necessary. Therefore, I asked Amano-sensei to join this project and decided to gather other Japanese creative all-stars. On the other hand, when thinking about the contents of this project, Amano-sensei's Final Fantasy is a Western-style worldview, and since this is my first work with the world as the target audience, I decided to make Japan the theme. When we actually wanted to do it together, we had a different meaning of Wa (輪) in mind, so I wanted to make it Wa-themed in many ways. If I was Australian, maybe it would have an Australian theme. (laughs)
TL Note: Though it has other uses and implications, Wa (和) refers to Japan, denoting a Japanese quality or style when used in kanji compounds. Wa (輪) in this context represents wheels, rings, circles, or loops.
Amano: I'm rarely asked to work on productions that cater to the Japanese taste—only when drawing for novels or historical dramas. I've never really experienced animating for the Japanese taste.
Did you have any difficulty drawing for a Japanese theme?
Amano: I could draw Japanese-style paintings when I first started drawing. I was able to do so naturally because I played Chanbara and watched sumo and historical dramas.
Did you realize you were Japanese again?
Amano: Yes, I realized this.
Aoki: When considering what was expected of Japanese taste (和), I thought Bushido would be good.
What interested you most about this (Gibiate) project?
Amano: The world view is interesting and chaotic. It is harmonized with various chaotic elements. It would be bad if it was disjointed, but this time I thought it would be a good mix. I also thought that the producer Aoki himself was interesting.
Aoki: The most interesting thing about this project is the business model. I think the results that can be achieved with this business model are important. It is an honor to be supported by wonderful people. However, I haven't launched the work yet, so I want to make something wonderful that will meet your expectations.
You stated you're targeting foreign audiences with Gibiate. What do you hope your audience takes home from Gibiate?
Aoki: Gibiate's theme is to live. The setting is much more trying than the peaceful world of today. For the samurai who came from even harsher times to the present day of Gibiate... the place where he came from was hell, the place he arrived at is hell; the hell just changed. One of the themes of the work is to show how a samurai from a harsh world lives in a story where modern people feel joy, sadness, and anger from fighting. We want viewers to be energized by showing that there is such a way of life. We want Gibiate to bring attention to people living in harsh environments in developing countries.
Amano-sensei, do you have anything to add?
Amano: No. Aoki-san's answer is perfect. (laughs)
Aoki-san, in this anime, people who are infected transform based on their age, gender, etc. Could you shed some light on how and why their transformations differ?
Aoki: That question is too specific (laughs), it's deeply related to Gibiate's story. Would a question about how the transformation into Gibia occurs be okay?
Aoki: In the story, basically, all humans have DNA sequences, each of which is closely related to an animal. If a person has DNA similarity to that of a bird, those bird elements will become stronger after the transformation. It's a straightforward metamorphosis. So the part that humans share with other creatures is changed. The transformation differs depending on the person.
Amano: Things like madness in a person's mind affect it.
Aoki: Such a thing comes out as various animals. Potentially wild parts of humans have an impact.
The Gibiate Project production committee unveiled the television animeGibiateat Anime Expo 2019. The story takes place in 2030, when humans throughout the world are being infected by a virus called Gibia. The infected mutate into various animals based on their own predispositions. When all hope appears lost, a samurai and ninja from the Edo period mysteriously appear and team up with a doctor to search for a cure.
Gibiateis scheduled to premiere at Anime Expo 2020.
Yoshitaka Amano: Iconic Artist and Character Designer
Amano-sensei, you have been working as an artist in this industry for many successful years and have witnessed first-hand the evolution of technology that is used for illustrations over the decades. What are some of the ways your techniques have evolved over the years that are due to this? Did you have to adjust your particular ways of working for Gibiate?
Amano: There have been changes over the years. For a long time I used pencil, but with paint you add colors, there are different ways to use ink... these are both technical aspects and describe my personal evolution. I still don't use a computer, everything is hand drawn.
Amano: I do all my art by hand. There are things I want to express, and as for how I can express them, there are elements like art supplies that are the method and means. In the past when creating a character I used to do everything by myself, including the facial expressions, the back profile, and so on... gradually it came to be that a third party took my work and turned it into something concrete. It's a bother, isn't it? (laughs)
When you were making those characters, did you have moments where you wanted to say "This is wrong," or "This was unexpected!"
Amano: Naturally there were. (laughs) The first time I worked on a game I was shocked.
Your entry into the world of animation as a 15-year-old working on Mach GoGoGo is well documented, and you became very popular after you joined Square for the Final Fantasy franchise in 1987. Looking back, your current designs and techniques can be seen in the mid-'80s with films like Machikado no Märchen and Tenshi no Tamago, the Guin Saga covers and the Vampire Hunter Dnovels and film. Is this when you found your style?
Amano: For me, because people get accustomed to doing something continuously and it becomes the same, I occasionally change my style. When changing my style, it's interesting because I have to start from the very beginning. I always enjoy new challenges. When I was 23, 24 years old, I thought 25 was the end for me drawing characters, but really it wasn't the end (laughs). But at the time I thought so, so thereafter I wanted to draw illustrations and skipped work to draw them, then brought them to publishers. As a result, I managed to debut as an illustrator when I was around 30. Then there were interesting people on different stages. I thought it would be great to grow within that situation. And then when I was around 36, once again the same process repeated. Job requests came and went, but I wanted something new back then, and what clients wanted of me at the time was too similar to what I'd made so far. There was nothing for me to gain from the situation. Being in the same industry is great, and it's also comforting... but I thought differently. At the time I had my doubts, so as a result I tried many different things.
You've really always been a creator.
Amano: Yes, I guess that's how it is.
I read that your style was influenced by Frank Frazetta and former Guin Saga artist Naoyuki Kato. Are there other artists you feel contributed to your style, specifically in the '80s?
Amano: Katou Naoyuki was active as an illustrator around the time I started—he was around the same age as me and felt like a rival. I thought Frank Frazetta was wonderful around the time I started—when I was in my 20's—and was influenced by him, as well as Alphonse Mucha. I was influenced by various people. Character design is the job of creating a character, and for such a thing, you must create a design nobody has ever seen. That was my livelihood. On the other hand, when I had spare time left, I was wondering what I wanted to do. Then I saw a piece by an artist that I thought was really good and was influenced by it in various ways. When that happened, I gradually began to understand my design.
Do you feel you take in various influences, then filter them yourself to draw?
Amano: Yes but... I don't know my own designs myself.
Amano: I don't know for myself. It's the same for writers, isn't it?
Aoki: That's right.
Then your fans know better? (laughs)
Aoki: If you understand your output, it will follow a pattern.
Who or what have you been looking to for inspiration lately (including for Gibiate)?
Aoki: I get my inspiration from Amano-sensei. With Amano-sensei's line of work, you draw and you get tired, you want to take a break, but for Amano-sensei, there's this insatiable aspect of drawing what he wants to draw that influences me. For now, there's no conclusion for Gibiate, and I've asked myself over and over again how far it will go. "No, I haven't done this yet," whether it's promotion or something else—24 hours a day, seven days a week—I won't know whether or not I can finish it. When I do these things, it's because I'm influenced by Amano-sensei's approach.
Your fans have a clear image of your style—which many would describe as dark though you may disagree—and perhaps your interests too, given the projects you tend to work on. Is there a hobby or interest of yours—it doesn't have to be related to art—that is the complete opposite of your work that your fans would be surprised by?
Amano: I like Tora-san. I don't have very many hobbies.
TL Note: Otoko wa Tsurai yo, often referred to as Tora-San, is a series of Japanese films that follow the protagonist, Tora-san, and depict his miserable luck with romance.
You mentioned before that you take a breather from drawing a picture by drawing a picture.
Amano: That's true, I definitely like to draw cute pictures like Candy Girls. Because I do a lot of rough art at work. When it's requested of me, I can usually predict it will be like that to a certain extent. Drawing something that isn't of that sort is relaxing. However, the art [I do in my downtime] can become animated or used in picture books thanks to such a capable manager. (laughs) For example, some vegetable fairies I drew in the middle of my work became an NHK animation. Things I've wanted to draw becoming work has happened several times up until now—around 20% of the work I do. The remaining 80% have me do what they want to do. So, there's the possibility of work that isn't requested.
Interview was conducted in Japanese and has been edited for clarity.