The conversation, conducted a month after the Otakon panel at Synch-Point's offices in Los Angeles, was preceded—as these often are—by the ritualistic presentation of a copy of the magazine. While everyone was getting settled with the equipment, Tsurumaki made an untranslated comment on a certain manga therein—a good place to begin.
PULP: Actually, I believe you made a remark a few moments ago about one of the artists in PULP—Naoki Yamamoto…?
Kazuya Tsurumaki: Yeah, because he's a pretty popular artist in Japan, and he draws a lot of the, y'know, very sexual-oriented comics. So I was wondering what the targeted audience of the magazine is.
P: College-age. It's interesting, because earlier this year I showed our magazine to Mr. Yamaga from Gainax, and again, the title that he commented upon was Dance.
KT: A lot of the people who work at Gainax like Naoki Yamamoto. Mr. Anno, the director of Evangelion, is probably a personal friend of Mr. Yamamoto. Yamamoto has drawn erotic manga for a long time, and he has this unique, subcultural world.
P: Can you tell me what it's been like to do the English-commentary track for FLCL—because you didn't do one for the original Japanese version?
KT: Usually I'm not very good at doing that kind of commentary stuff. The project has already been completed as a film, so I thought it wasn't necessary to further describe—in words—any of the details of the series. But, thinking again, there were some things in FLCL that were very difficult to understand, and it would be good to follow up with some commentary on certain of its ambiguities.
P: First of all, I'd like to say that I am an otaku [barest suggestion of a laugh from Tsurumaki] and I like anime that are complete crap. But with FLCL, I get to enjoy the rare sight of an anime that isn't good just for otaku—it actually looks like what's happening.
KT: Thank you. Maybe it looks hip because ordinary anime has certain rules that they all follow; however, I made FLCL so it doesn't follow that tradition.
P: And what was the response of the fans in Japan? Did they appreciate the departure?
KT: FLCL has different layers. When you watch it for the first time, it looks very interesting on a surface, visual level. As you watch it again, you'll begin to develop a deeper appreciation of the story—and even if you don't understand the story, you're at least going to enjoy the characters. Having said that, there were a few fans who couldn't enjoy it at all because it didn't follow the rules.
P: Another element here is the choice of music, the act of choosing a contemporary Japanese band. There are plenty of good bands in Japan, but it seems you rarely hear them on an anime soundtrack.
KT: Normally, anime uses a background music that's classical—strings, pianos. I don't listen to that—I like electric guitars, drum sets; i.e., bands. Now, I thought, is there some reason they don't use bands on anime soundtracks? I thought I'd give it a try and see if it worked out for my show. The Pillows are my favorite band, so even before we started production, I contacted them and asked if we could use their music. And they were very willing.
P: What's the age difference between yourself and Gainax's founding directors, Hideaki Anno and Hiroyuki Yamaga?
KT: Anno's in his early forties, and Yamaga turns forty next year, I believe. I'm thirty-five now, whereas Anno and Yamaga became well-known directors at a very young age. Even when I was in school, I knew their names—they were two of my ideal artists.
P: Gainax is perhaps the best-known studio among U.S. fans, but one of the reasons why that's so is that it's a studio from which people always expect innovation. You seem to be the "younger face of Gainax," even though, as you say, there's only five years difference in age—the younger generation, as it were. Throughout most of Gainax's history, their projects have been either written or directed by Anno and Yamaga. Do you feel your work must necessarily reflect a creative departure?
KT: Well, I never really thought of becoming a director on my own until just recently. So for that reason, I didn't see myself as "the new face" or "the next Gainax director." However, in making FLCL, I did incorporate a lot of the studio's creative history—its past and characters from the past twenty years.
P: At this year's national SF convention in Japan, it was said that you would be directing some sort of remake of Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. Is that true?
KT: Not a remake—sort of a sequel. That'll probably be my next project.
P:< i>Will we see the FLCL style, then, applied to Gunbuster?
KT: Nothing's been decided yet—but I can say that if you're expecting "the sequel" to Gunbuster, your expectations will probably be broken [grins].
P: Well, seeing as they blew up the center of the galaxy at the end of Gunbuster, I wouldn't think that there was much room for an encore.
KT: Yet there will be a sequel [laughs]. And I'll try to make it so that it appeals to both the partisans of Gunbuster and the regular fans.
P: Do you have any involvement with Gainax's new TV series, Mahoromatic?
KT: I'm doing some of the storyboards.
P: I've seen the first episode. It doesn't seem very much like Mr. Yamaga's first work, The Wings of Honneamise.
KT: Well, it's based on a manga that they're trying to adapt as closely as possible, so that's probably why it doesn't look anything like a Yamaga original.
P: Do you think, then, that the distinctive Gainax projects are the ones which actually originate from within the studio, rather then their adaptations of someone else's work?
KT: It depends on the time in which it was released, but yes, works like Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, Gunbuster, Nadia, and FLCL would be considered the ones with the true Gainax flavor, their milestones.
P: Rather than full-color cel painting, FLCL uses for each episode's package cover a different monochrome scheme; and to go with them, six different "hand-rolled" versions of the FLCL logo. It all seems to go contrary to standard marketing wisdom. Was this your idea, too?
KT: That was my idea, but all of the actual work has been done by a small design studio of three young artists, called TGB.
P: "TGV?" Like the French trains?
KT: T-G-B. As in A-B-C.
P: FLCL also has a distinctive voice-acting style, especially in the case of Haruko. What do you think about the challenges of adopting such dialogue, often full of nonsense, into English?
Interpreter: That's our problem [laughs].
KT: Since FLCL has a lot of "domestic" gags and references, it'll be very difficult for the English staff to adapt it, so I can only say, good luck to them [laughs].
P: A strange thing about FLCL is that some Americans I know that've seen it, who weren't at all familiar with anime, have felt it often looks more like an American-produced cartoon, like something you'd expect on MTV.
KT: That's probably right, and they're viewing it correctly. When making FLCL, I wanted to have it more the style of a Japanese TV commercial or promotional video—it's short, but it's dense-packed. That's the look I was aiming for.
P: FLCL often seems to be one of the few anime of today that looks like it really belongs to today, rather than just another variation on the last twenty years of the medium. Do you yourself perceive this lack of originality, an unwillingness to take chances in the industry?
KT: Of course, I tried to make it as exciting and innovative as possible—because I'd be very disappointed if FLCL turned out to be something that wasn't recognized in its own time, something that had to wait ten years to be noticed. I wanted to surprise people right now, as soon as it was released. I'm sure there are a lot of people in the anime industry who want to break barriers. But there's only so far you can get with a project as an individual. There's got to be an organization, an anime studio liberal-minded enough to incorporate new ideas. I was very lucky in that respect, because that's just the kind of an organization Gainax is. If it had been some conservative studio I was with, FLCL would never have been any more than an idea.
P: Looking back on FLCL right now, what would you say you learned from the experience?
KT: I've worked as an animation director on other shows, such as Evangelion, but there was always a supervising director who was above me. But for FLCL I was the one at the very top, and I was the one responsible for everything. The weight of that responsibility is what I learned from making FLCL.
Special thanks for this article to Otakon 2001 and Synch-Point, both of which were kind enough to present Mr. Tsurumaki, to Jason Kananen (traumatic.nu/nerv/), and to Max's Scooter Page. One last note: When Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash was finally published in Japan last year, in two volumes through Hayakawa Bunko, Tsurumaki drew the covers for each.
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