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Scenes from Nagahama, Part 2

Revolutionary Girl Utena, Sexy Commando, and Jubei-chan

Director Hiroshi Nagahama wasn’t always a director. Like anyone else in the industry, he had to work his way up. Read on as Ani-Gamers presents transcribed segments from one of his Otakon 2019 panels – Inside the Creation of Mushishi, Flowers of Evil, and Reflections with the Creator Hiroshi Nagahama – wherein the director himself explains what he’s contributed to various titles and the crazy circumstances that led to his involvement.

Revolutionary Girl Utena

Cover of Revolutionary Girl Utena featuring Utena and Anthy dancing.

Nagahama: I’m so happy you guys recognize all these titles! Since this was an original title, we had no idea while making it that it would have such a big impact with anime fans. It was directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. This title, there are many things that are unforgettable about it. Shinya Hasegawa, the character designer, was actually a classmate of mine at an animation school. When I was feeling like, “What more can I do at Madhouse,” he contacted me and said, “Hey, Mr. Ikuhara’s making a new title. Why don’t you come onboard with us?”

So he said, “You wanna be an animation director, right? You wanna be the animation director?” First I got the script for the first episode. “Why don’t you create some image boards for what you think this episode will look like?” So I took four images to the meeting with the director, Ikuhara: the forest of battle, the greenhouse with Anthy, outside of the school, and the tower of the student council.

So I met Mr. Ikuhara at the studio, and he’s just sitting back in the sofa. He flips through the boards and says, “Gimme a minute,” walks into the back room, and I could hear him making a phone call. He came back and said, “You’re in charge of the art design.” (General sounds of awe and applause from the audience) I imagine this in my head like a manga panel progression, but it’s true!

“I was told that I was being brought in as a key animation director…”

So Mr. Ikuhara said, “You can do that too!” (Audience laughter) “…but you have to design the entire Utena world.” (More audience laughter)

I was a bit shocked, since I’d never done anything like that, but three of the four boards I created were used, as is, for the series: the forest of battle, the tower of the student council, and the greenhouse. As is! So I guess what I created sort of just fit perfectly with the image Mr. Ikuhara had in his head.

Sexy Commando

Cover of Sexy Commando Gaiden DVD, featuring a bunch of young men. One is wearing a red balaclava.

I met Mr. Hiroaki Sakurai, director, while working on Utena. He was the director of Di Gi Charot and … Psychic Tsuo’s Tragedy? – it has something to do with ESP? He has candy things on top? Pink hair? That’s Sakurai’s project. I thought it was really funny. He came on as an episode director for Utena. So in the middle of that, he brought me this manga. (Shows slide of Sugoiyo!! Masaru-san, and a few people clap.) You know this one? Is there an American title for this? (Audience member shouts out “Sexy Commando”)

(In English) Sexy Commando?! Sexy Commando. Sexy Commando! (Audience laughter)

So he asks, “Have you ever read that manga?”

(Nagahama chuckles to himself… Sexy Commando)

So I said, “Yeah, of course I read it.”

And he asks, “What’d you think?”

“It was really funny!”

“Then I want you to be the episode director. I’m making it right now.”

And the director was Akitaro Daichi. Of course, I’ve never been an episode director. So just like becoming the concept and art designer for Utena, I was told, “Just do it.” (Audience laughs)

Moderator: You’re one of the luckiest people I’ve ever seen in this industry. The number of opportunities you’ve had are amazing.

Nagahama: I think so too! I live a lucky life it seems.

I said no. I turned it down and said I couldn’t possibly. But Sakurai said to me, “But you thought the manga was good and funny, right?”

I said, “Of course!”

“Then you can do it,” he said.

I kept turning him down, and he says, “So what do I have to offer you, for you to be the episode director?”

Thinking back, I was an idiot, and I was stupid. I said, “I’ll do it if you let me do all the key animation.” (Audience groans) Right?! (In English) I think so.

So it’s only seven and a half minute short stories, but I did all the key animation. Because the manga artist has this particular style with this manga, I had to come up with a new way of creating the animation. Back in those days, you’d do pencil art and then you’d use cels to paint on top of. So there’s this special brushstroke-like pen that lets you draw on cels. I did all the animation with a brush pen on the cel directly. It’s not a pencil; you can’t erase your mistakes. (Audience groans) So the in-between animation, you couldn’t really ask a normal animator to do, because it’s done with a brush pen. There was one person who actually agreed to do the in-betweens with a brush pen.

Moderator: I hope you paid them more than 210 yen. (Audience laughter)

Nagahama: I don’t think it was more than 200.

Moderator: Are they a famous director now too?

Nagahama: Their name is Kyuta Sakai. They’re a character designer now. Higurashi no Naku Koroni? They’re amazing. They did all the in-between animation all on their own. (Audience applause) I thought, “I wanna share the words my senpai told me down to them … ‘You’re crazy.’” I really thought so. I really thought everything comes full circle. Because of this, I got to work with Akitaro Daichi on other titles. So the next show I worked on under Mr. Daichi was this show…


Cover of Jubei-chan, featuring a young girl on a bike and a female ninja with a heart eyepatch.

If you haven’t seen Jubei-Chan The Ninja Girl – Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch, you really should check it out. I was the episode director for two of the episodes. Daichi was involved and so was Sakurai. I started to think, “Being an episode director is kinda cool.” So I ended up becoming an episode director for many other titles. Daichi-sensei said, “Hey, I have another show I’m doing. Will you come and help?” [It was] this one. (Shows slide for Fruits Basket (2001)). I was a big fan of the comic.

Daichi comes to me and says, “We’re going to do an animated version of this, but I have no idea how to do it.” The biggest thing was that the manga hadn’t been completed yet, but we had to animate it. So how do we do it was the question at hand. I went to meetings with the original manga artist as well as the director. I was asked if I would do the opening animation for the show. He said, “I trust you, so I’m going to leave the opening credits just to you … and you have two days to do [the storyboards].”

And I said, “Two days?!”

“Yes, two days.” He looked at me directly and said, “If you can’t do it in two days, I’ll do it.”

“I’ll do it!”

I did the storyboards within two days. So I made the opening to this show, flipping through the manga, trying to find the best images to use in it. And the singer who sang the song for Fruits Basket, Ritsuko Okazaki, had the biggest influence on it.

[Note: This is the English dub of the song; Ms. Okazaki’s version does not have a legal upload.]

Shortly after that, she passed away. She was a wonderful person. So I still protect everything we created together. She believed that if you put everything you have, all the love, into the thing you’re working on, those feelings will reach someone else. I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not, but the opening to this show doesn’t really feel like an opening. She kept on telling me, “What you’re trying to do and all our feelings will reach the viewer.” And it was an amazing song I think.

So after that one, I went to this! (Shows slide for Jubei-Chan 2)

Cover of Jubei-chan 2, featuring the same ninja with the heart eyepatch.

This one was a title [for which] I was doing the most director-like job. So Daichi says, “Will you be the director to Jubei-Chan 2?” But at this point, I had already decided what my first directorial title was going to be.

“I can’t be the director on Jubei-Chan 2, but I’ll do the job of the director as long as you don’t credit me.”

So he said, “Ok!”

(In English) CRAZY.

Moderator: You have a history of saying yes to things that challenge you and just make you better.

Nagahama: I can’t help not saying yes!

Moderator: You should join con staff. (Laughter from all)

Nagahama: I didn’t think this was gonna go here.

Yoshihiko Umakoshi came on board as the new character designer for Jubei-Chan 2. So basically, two of us controlled the production.

As I said, I already decided what my directorial debut would be. That was this title…

Don’t miss the next and final installment of Scenes from Nagahama, where he discusses his directorial debut, Mushi-shi, and his directing work since then!

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