TEXHNOLYZE interview

21 June, 2007

INTERVIEW WITH YOSHITOSHI ABe & YASUYUKI UEDA

Interview with Texhnolyze creator/producer Yasuyuki Ueda & character designer Yoshitoshi ABe [length 11:48]
(I’m posting this because my DVD had the wrong subtitles for the interview.)

Q1: HOW DID THE IDEA AND PRODUCTION OF TEXHNOLYZE FIRST GET STARTED?

Ueda: The Texhnolyze project started about two years ago, about four years after I wrote Lain [Serial Experiments Lain]. I just felt like writing it, so I went ahead and that’s how it started. When the story, the content, took shape inside my head, when I knew what kind of story I wanted to do, I went to talk to ABe as usual. I told him, “I’m thinking about this story, would you be interested in designing characters?” And having decided on the main characters between us, we needed to choose which production company we would use, and who would write the screenplay. I wanted to work again with Chiaki Konaka, and the production company called Madhouse, a major studio that anyone who’s into animation knows. So I went to Mr. Maruyama of Madhouse and asked him if he’d be interested in doing an animation. That’s how it started.

ABe: That’s right. It’s been two years already. Right. I haven’t been paid even one yen for this project yet.

[both laugh]

ABe: Incredible.

Ueda: I will pay, I told you.

ABe: Incredible. As if working for free.

Ueda: It’s because you haven’t sent an invoice.

[both laugh]

Q2: WERE THERE ANY NEW CHALLENGES WITH THE PRODUCTION OF TEXHNOLYZE?

Ueda: Middle-aged men.

ABe: [laughs] Yes, for one thing, there are an exceptionally large number of middle-aged men in this story, so I wanted to take the opportunity to widen the variations among the faces – to enrich the picture. The other thing is, with Haibane [Haibane Renmei], I was very conscious about the use of colours to create that world. I thought we could go with a very beautiful world for that particular story, so I tried making things beautiful. There were things such as building ruins and dirty colours as well, but rather than adding lots of small details to the picture, I shifted toward expressing things using colours. Texhnolyze, on the other hand, was more up my alley. It was the type of picture that’s easiest for me to draw, so in that sense I didn’t feel restrained. Not needing the conscious limiter I’d imposed on myself for Haibane, I could add as many details as I wanted into the picture. I like to keep increasing the density of the picture, and the grimy feel this world has is perfect for creating a dense picture. So, in that sense, I felt that I could go back to my usual style and win the game with that.

Ueda: But then it got too scary.

ABe: That’s true.

Ueda: The characters are really scary. [Abe laughs] “Wow, that’s scary!” It was scary even to me, the one who was doing the original plans.

ABe: My characters tend to be evil-looking.

Ueda: [expressively] Evil-looking.

Q3: DID YOU GIVE ANY SPECIAL THOUGHT TO HOW TO MAKE EACH CHARACTER’S DESIGN UNIQUE?

ABe: Hmmm…

Ueda: Well, the fox mask for Ran, for instance.

ABe: Right.

Ueda: And like the coat with the strange flap.

ABe: Right. On the other hand, as far as Ichise and other characters were concerned, because cartoonish details do not go well at all with this world, I couldn’t really do any designing to speak of. The yakuza are all wearing suits. Ichise is wearing a sort of baggy jacket or parka-like outerwear.

Ueda: Like that of a homeless.

ABe: So what it came down to was that we created this particular world using density, or in other words, details, I should say. Not symbolic elements. That was the direction we took.

Q4: WHICH CHARACTERS DID YOU PUT THE MOST EFFORT INTO DESIGNING?

ABe: Naturally, the main characters whom I spent most time working on, Ran and Ichise, required a certain level of effort. And as far as the middle-aged men went, it was very difficult. First of all, I had to be very careful to differentiate them from each other. But there was a limit as well, since there were too many of them. And also…

Ueda: And you did the machines, too.

ABe: Oh, yes. Things I drew for the first time in my life, things that were not exactly robots but robot-like, were going to be delivered directly to the viewers’ living rooms, so I felt a great deal of pressure. They don’t have many people who do machines at Madhouse.

Ueda: No, they don’t.

ABe: That’s right. I guess that’s just the studio’s nature. That was not necessarily the reason, though…

Ueda: Because you, ABe, did the original planning this time…

ABe: Right, right, right…

Ueda: What you drew was what we used…

ABe: True, true, true, that’s very true, but… Well, they were OK’ed, so it’s alright. But when I was drawing them…

Ueda: You yourself were a little anxious, yes?

ABe: Right. Because I had no experience drawing robot-like things, I couldn’t tell if my designs were good or bad. Until you accumulate much experience, you can’t really decide which direction you want to go, right? So in that sense, I felt strong anxiety as to whether I was doing an OK job.

Q5: IN TEXHNOLYZE, WHAT WERE YOU TRYING TO COMMUNICATE TO THE AUDIENCE?

Ueda: [to ABe] Well, what do you think?

ABe: When creating characters, what I tried to be careful about, or what I wanted to appreciate, was that those characters were living human beings. I said just a moment ago that there was not much room for symbolic decorative elements in terms of designing, and that’s the same thing. There are comics out there, for instance, in which you see lots of bloodshed. In that sense, there are stories that are far bloodier that this one, I think. But, in those stories, the bloodshed itself has become nothing but symbolic. There’s no pain, for instance. Characters are mortally wounded but still can go on fighting like hell. In the Shonen Jump-type of world, for instance, that kind of unreality is accepted as completely normal. [Ueda laughs] Something that makes you go, “That’s impossible!” I didn’t want that. In our story, if the main character’s arm is severed, for instance, I wanted the real pain to be conveyed to the viewers. I wanted to design characters that could make it possible.

[pause]

Ueda: Maybe I was too particular about that as well. Retrospectively, I feel that I was too hung up on that point for the first half of the story. But I wanted it to be taken very seriously, that the characters were having their arms and legs severed. For the sake of story-telling, it might have been better to push it forward in a quicker tempo, with “I’ve got my limbs cut off, but I’m OK! I’ll go on!” kind of attitude, but I couldn’t compromise on that point. In the story as a whole, the texhnolyzed limbs are not a mere substitute for lost limbs. The texhnolyzed limbs take a role, as if they are sort of partners to their respective owners – they have a very important meaning. I wanted to express the pain of loss, and the things that happen after natural limbs are lost. So the first half of the story is very dark and dragging [ABe agrees], but once people watch the story to the end, maybe they’ll think, “Oh, so this is what the creators wanted to do, and that’s why they were so persistent in the first half.” I have a feeling that they will understand.

So, when it comes to what I want to communicate to the audience, it’s just like ABe’s works. I have things in my head, and the way I feel about things changes. Various creators get together, and we start shaping what I have in my head into a story, and I can never tell what kind of chemical changes it will go through inside me at that point. That’s one of the reasons it’s so interesting to me, too. I’m not sure at all if it’s interesting to the audience as well, but I always do try to make things interesting for them. But to the question as to what I want to communicate to them, I really don’t have an answer. It’s all about things that change inside myself, things that I validate inside myself, and experiments that I do inside myself. So, though it’s different from Haibane, if the viewers feel some kind of empathy – but if they feel something, if they have a fleeting thought, “Oh, maybe it means this”, or if something stands out in their memories, and if some actions are triggered in the viewers by watching the show, then I will be very happy. My work is nothing more than that. [laughs] I feel very bad for the other creators who are involved for saying so, but personally, I’m happier that way.

Q6: DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING THAT YOU WANT TO SAY TO THE AUDIENCE WATCHING THIS DVD?

ABe: Right, let’s see. About how the story ends, I can only say, “Wait and see”. But Mr. Chiaki Konaka, the screenwriter, had a great deal of difficulty with the last few episodes. It took a very long time to finalise the scripts, and I was worried, but when they were finally completed, I was very impressed. I’d done the screenplay for Haibane myself, and had some understanding as to how difficult it is to write a screenplay, and how much skill it requires to write a story at a certain quality level, and I was genuinely amazed by the quality of the last two episodes, by how great they were. I’m really excited to see how they are translated to the picture.

Ueda: And I wouldn’t have said anything, had they been finished according to schedule.

ABe: [laughs] He was about two months late. Or a month and a half, I guess.

[pause]

Ueda: I’m curious how the very-Japanese yakuza will be perceived, and the fights between men as well. I can only say that I sincerely hope the viewers will enjoy the show. [laughs] But towards the end, where the story builds up towards the climax, I think they’ll enjoy it, even if there are things that they don’t quite understand. We have sort of hidden items worked into the story, such as various enemies and tricks. There are some troublesome incidents that come up due to the conflicts between groups, and we’ve added many twists to those parts of the story, in an effort to keep the viewers enthralled, even in places that are not directly related to the main storyline. So I hope they’ll watch the episodes in order, looking forward to those twists.

[end]

Filmthreat posted a list of their top ten Star Wars stories, including 50 Reasons Why Return of the Jedi Sucks. Now look, this bashing of Return is just no-brain trend following, a trait common to the self-styled “individuals” of geekdom. 

Sure, Return of the Jedi had Ewoks, but it also had Fat Jabba, Leia in a metal bikini, some cool vehicles and effects, and the Emperor. Empire Strikes Back had walkers on Hoth, Cloud City, and the asteroid sequence, but it also had fucking Mark Hamill moping around with fucking Yoda and fucking R2D2 in a fucking swamp for fully half its length (though it felt like a lot more). And where did this idea that Boba Fett is a cool bad-ass come from? Maybe he had a bigger role in the novelettes and comics, which I haven’t read, but in the movies he had four short lines, never shot anyone, and died like a jerk. WTF?

[/rant]