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"I had always had a passion for art and as an artist I had a choice of being either an illustrator or writing manga."
Hello again and welcome to another exciting special edition of DVJ at Otakon 2004! This time we have Yutaka Minowa in the hot seat; as character designer and/or animation director for many popular titles including Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust, Outlaw Star, the Animatrix, and many, many more. Minowa san talks about his life in the animation industry, and even gets a chance to turn the heat lamp onto me and grill me for a few with some questions! as they say in Japan "Hajime!" (let's begin).
Lauren Synger-When was it you first noticed you had a passion and talent for the animation industry?
Yutaka Minowa- In Japan even when I was younger and went to school there was anime for children to study, so by the time I was in high school I had the idea that I would like to do animation.
LS-So this was something you always knew you wanted to do starting when you were very young?
Minowa- I had always had a passion for art and as an artist I had a choice of being either an illustrator or writing manga. But I always liked the possibility of taking characters and bringing them to film and making the characters move.
LS-How did you get into character design and what was the first work in animation you did?
Minowa- (makes thinking noises) Basically, getting the job was all
about timing. So what happened was I originally started with 5 Star
Stories and I was working under a man who was also the head character
designer for Yuki Wars in a company called Madhouse Then what happened
was I became the chief character designer for Ninja Scroll. So that
was the progression. Everything was all about timing and it wasn't
like I had a choice with these works. It just happened and if it
hadn't maybe I would have ended up with a different company and I
wouldn't be here and someone sitting here could be completely
LS-Well, we're glad its you! Its always nice to know good thing happen to good people and your very talented. Would say you are doing what you want to do?
Minowa- (more thinking) I am a very simple guy and I if I don't want to do it I don't do it. So I am doing it because I want to.
LS- Your style is so different and so unique. Do you have any influences or inspiration?
Minowa- That's a tough one. Basically I am influenced by everything around me. Everything in this room here. The water bottle, that desk, the scenery outside and of course some things that aren't even seen and I take all these things I have seen or heard and experienced and put them into this ball or artwork, and then they just kind of take shape as these characters. Of course there may be things I look at and say "this is really pretty" but they don't go through the filters to become the character. It just gets caught there.
LS-You've done a lot of different jobs in the industry including art direction, directing, animation, and character design. Is there anything else you have done that you would like to tell us about?
Minowa- These are the steps you go through. Basically all I have done is go through those steps.
LS-Did you work with any other production companies before Madhouse or was that the first one?
Minowa- In reality I am not actually part of Madhouse. I'm not actually part of the company. It just takes too much time to explain so I write Madhouse on top of my name. But I will sometimes get offers from other companies, but I really like working with the director Kawaseti-san because of the stories and characters and how the characters are portrayed.
LS-When designing a character what mediums do you work with and what medium is your favorite?
Minowa- Pencils. Just pencils (he laughs).
LS- What challenges did you face in staying true to the original style of Vampire Hunter D, and yet giving Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust its own unique flair? Characteristically speaking especially in regards to D. They wore similar clothing in both movies, but they had their own style. Each is very different in the way they look, but you can tell its the same character.
Minowa- Well, I worked on Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust. Actually it was originally a novel and the artist was Amano san who made a very distinctive character with the pointed hat and cape and basically if you had those you could tell what character it is. "You see black cape and large hat its D!"
LS-So you wanted to stay true to the original design of Vampire Hunter D
Minowa- I think with the original I looked more at the pictures of the novel and adapted it to Kawaseti san's liking which was a lot harder because Kawaseti san is very particular about what he likes.
LS- What would you say is your favorite project you have worked on so far?
Minowa- You know, I have been asked this question many times over the years and its always the same answer; Ninja Scroll. Its my favorite because it was my first art direction, but now I think the art direction itself was actually quite low. Of course this was years ago so when I pull out the character designs of ten years ago in comparison to what I am doing now I look at it and groan. "It was bad" But I have many memories associated with it.
LS- So it has special meaning for you. Did you work on it a long time?
Minowa- I only worked on it for about a year. Actually in Japan it
didn't really sell too well.
LS- Its done very well here.
Minowa- I am very happy and thrilled to see it has been taken in so well by the states
LS-We love it!
Minowa- Thank you so much. It sold so badly Kawaseti san and I were very sad.
LS-I'm sorry! I didn't want to bring up painful memories!
Minowa- oh no. I am over it now cause its an older thing, truth be told it sold worse than we had ever expected in Japan. But it sold so well in the states they are thinking of making a second movie. (editors note: at the time of this interview, Ninja Scroll 2 has been planned)
LS- Any idea when production on that will be?
Minowa- Its not in a place that I can even start thinking about it. It would be great if I could. I would like it if it would happen myself.
LS-Well, we all hope its going to happen. We will wish you much luck. So, besides Ninja Scroll 2 as a possibility what other projects can we look forward to from you in the future?
Minowa- I am just trying to do one project at a time. I finish that project, then I move on to the next. But actually I would like to do a sequel to D 2. Vampire Hunter D 2?
LS- I loved the first one! I hope it happens! So, what advice can you offer to future generations of artists?
Minowa-Well, the way that the US and Japan are is very, very different. But if I had to boil it down to the very basics I would say take something from everything. Be able to look at a water bottle and appreciate it or the cap and appreciate it and use it somehow. Take everything in and make it a part of you. You have to work at it. For example if you want to draw a certain picture draw it 10 times, and if you draw it 100 times of course that person will be better than the person who only drew it once. Of course there are people that have this amazing talent and are just naturally talented. But basically you have to get your muscles to work and to get you used to drawing. I am often asked "how do I become what you are?" and I always tell them you have to draw. Draw something 100, 200, 300 times, but you have to draw it, and some people ask me if I actually have to draw it that many times. I tell them of course. You have to go through a process you can't just go from point A to point Z. You have to go through all the letters. So people who can do it once and do it perfect must be geniuses. I am not a genius.
LS- I would beg to differ. But I would think even geniuses would have to work at it to keep their skills sharp.
Minowa- Yes Absolutely.
LS-Well, I think that's pretty much everything. Is there anything else you want to say?
Minowa- Actually I have a question. Do people like the people at Otakon who watch Japanese animation also watch American animation?
LS- Um, I really think its on a person to person basis. Myself? My favorite animation style without a doubt is Japanese animation. But I also love 80's cartoons. American 80's cartoons, and Japanese animators were the animators for those shows I watched.
Minowa-In Japan there is so much animation out its impossible to watch everything. How is it in the states?
LS-I would say that in the states a lot of animation is either for children or its comedy. Children's animation with like Nickolodeon for example. You have Spongebob Squarepants. There is some adult animation like the Simpsons, King of the Hill, Futurama, but animation for adults tends to be comedy.
Minowa-So are there people who watch everything?
LS-I'm sure there are people who watch alot of different styles. I would say a lot of the fans lets say at Otakon, I don't want to speak for them, but I would say alot of them have watched a lot of different styles. I'm sure they have gone to a Disney movie at least once in their lives, its probably more when they were children that they saw a lot of American animation because its mainly aimed towards children. I think thats a reason why anime is so big here, We don't have anything like it in the states, no serious animations at all on TV, and so I want to take a moment to thank you for sharing your work with us.
Minowa- Oh, thank you so much! I am glad I can. Thank you for appreciating my work! So there is nothing like anime that is American animation?
LS- Well, there are some adventure series like Batman, Teen Titans, Justice League, but those are aimed towards teens and young adults, and of course the adventure shows on Adult Swim are all Japanese while the American shows are comedy.
Minowa- thats interesting. I love comics. Batman, Fantastic Four.
LS-I can see you are wearing a Hellboy shirt. Did you see the movie?
Minowa-Yes, and I liked it. I am a big fan of the comic's creator Mike Magnolia I thought the movie was very good.
LS-I liked it a lot too.
Minowa-Do you know anything about the Fantastic Four movie? I hear they are doing a movie. I am very scared. That was one of my favorite comics.
LS-Really? Who was your favorite character?
Minowa-The Thing. I also like Mr Fantastic. But I hear they are getting the actor who plays Data to play Mr. Fantastic. I like the actor a lot, but I see him more as a comic actor. He is not how I imagine Mr. Fantastic. I see Mr. Fantastic as a very serious character.
(we had just been informed by a staffer to wrap it up)
LS- aw, it looks like we need to go.
Minowa- Oh, yes. "I am going shopping" I am looking for the big out door store. Do you know where it is?
LS-Um, no I dont. I dont live here. Sorry!
(One of the Otakon staffers comes to the rescue)-You mean Outdoor World? (he tells Minowa san how to get there)
DVJ-one more thing. Could we get a picture?
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