Interview with Japanese Animation Industry Veterans at Kumoricon

This year’s Kumoricon featured three guests from major animation studios, Hiroyasu Kobayashi, Hiromi Wakabayashi and Shigeto Koyama, who shared their experiences to an eager crowd. All three have worked in the anime industry for over ten years each and have worked on big titles such as Evangelion, Gurren Lagann and Big Hero 6. Unfortunately for Gurren Lagann fans, they didn’t indicate any news about any upcoming projects. However, they provided insight into their current projects and their experiences while working for TRIGGER, Studio Khara, and GAINAX.

With the growing concern over Japan’s animation industry, Wakabayashi, Koyama, and Kobayashi provide a refreshing take on the realities of the industry. They agree that there are challenges in following one’s passion, but in this case, it’s a difference in perspective between non-Japanese fans and those in the industry.

APA: As veterans of the animation industry, what changes have you noticed in your career?

Wakabayashi: The main difference is the digital vs. traditional drawings. Now more things are done digitally and there’s a lot of transfer from 2D to 3D animation.

APA: As all of you previously worked at GAINAX, what was it like move to TRIGGER and Studio Khara?

Wakabayashi: When we started, GAINAX wasn’t that big. It was pretty small.

Kobayashi: In general, people are always coming in and out of the industry. So it’s not changing all that much right now.

Wakabayashi: No matter what size a company is, as long as we’re able to create what we like, we don’t care if the company goes down or not.

Kobayashi: Even if it’s a big company like Toei that produces a lot of anime adaptations for popular Shonen Jump series, it’s the audience that matters. Overlooking the size of the company, there are plenty of people who prefer smaller companies and those tend to be the better fans.

Koyama: Same goes for the staff. There are more people who appreciate animation there and that attracts them to the smaller companies.

APA: You’ve all worked on amazing over-the-top series such as Panty and Stocking, Inferno Cop and Cassette Girl. Where does that creativity come from?

Wakabayashi: To put it simply, we use ideas from lifestyle stuff like people-to-people interaction. We try to stay away from the cliché manga feeling in stories, and rather, we take inspiration from feature Hollywood films. The creation can be very personalized. For Kobayashi, he really likes cassette tapes and that became the idea for Cassette Girl. As for me, I love blonde badasses, so I would try and make stories based on that. The hardest part is choosing the title revolving around something we love and are interested in.

APA: Do you have any advice for animators who are struggling in the industry? There’s been growing concern spurred by articles that talk about Japanese animators who work long hours but receive a low salary.

Koyama: That’s certainly a difficult problem.

Wakabayashi: No matter what, there are always people who prefer to be an animator just because they want to create something they love. There are people who do what they like and get little money, but they’re able to follow their passion. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who do jobs only for salary. Speaking with people from other countries, there is a difference in how our employment system works. For example, in America, people are given fixed salaries. In Japan, that’s not always the case.

APA: I agree, the situation is very different. In Los Angeles, we have animators, producers, storyboard artists, etc. who are under a union and are able to negotiate for other stuff.

Kobayashi: Also, use of CG has increased over the years. But CG artists and animators are different and those people have a different salary level.

Wakabayashi: They’re different craftsmen. To that point, the industry has a bunch of fields that you can find a personal spot in if you wanted. Some people want to be a jack of all trades, and others want to be masters in their craft.

Kobayashi: With that in mind, TRIGGER and Studio Khara are in the midst of figuring out how to solve this problem alongside animators who work in the industry. Not only to better improve the differences we face both culturally, but also how we can fix problems plaguing the industry globally.

APA: Do you have anything you’d like to say to American fans?

Koyama: Please take care of your families.

Wakabayashi and Kobayashi: No, he’s totally lying.

Koyama: I’m telling the truth!

Wakabayashi: We appreciate all of your support and we hope that everyone will continue supporting our work.


Kalai Chik

Pop culture writer focusing on animation, music, and games. Los Angeles native, USC alumni, and contributor for Asia Pacific Arts since 2015. Follow me on Twitter, @kalai_chik.

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