In the mid-2000s, a group of three young animators were making waves in the anime industry: Ryo-Timo, Ken’ichi Kutsuna, and Shingo Yamashita. Nicknamed the “web-generation”, they had started as amateur animators on the Web before entering the animation industry, where they pioneered an expressive, individualistic style whose influence can still be felt today. All three members of the original webgen remain some of anime’s most interesting creators: Kutsuna and Yamashita have specialized in openings, while Ryo-Timo has recently directed his own shorts such as Night World or the commercial Anata no France wa Donna Tokoro?

Following our meeting with Ken’ichi Kutsuna in Japan, we had the chance to meet Ryo-Timo last Fall in Germany, where he demonstrated the tools he’s currently working with: VR and 3DCG modeling. As he showcased in our interview with him, he’s extremely curious about new technologies and always willing to experiment. But that’s not all: he is also extremely sensitive and kind. He granted us nearly 2 hours of his time, during which we had an open-hearted conversation about him, his career, and the past and future of the webgen and animation in Japan.

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This interview is available in Japanese. 日本語版はこちらです

“I did my performance without asking for anyone’s permission”

First, I’d like to talk about a precious memory of mine. Could you explain the “happening” you did on the night of June 16th, 2019, at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival?

Ryo-Timo: Oh, sure. When I came to Annecy at that time, the idea was that Japanese creators would bring some of their work and present it to the public. That’s also what I had in mind, but ultimately, I couldn’t finish the project I was working on in due time. I still haven’t, actually, and won’t for the time to come because of various circumstances with the company I’m making it with… Anyway, I could still participate in the event, but I had nothing to show. 

So I planned on doing something “educational”, a lecture to French people who’d want to become animators. They would’ve understood that I had nothing to show, right? But I was kind of frustrated with that and really wanted to show something, which is why, just before going to France, I bought a projector and brought it with me along with a tablet.

This way, even if there was no other place to display my work, I could always create one of my own using projection mapping to draw animation, and so without asking for anyone’s permission, I did my performance. The people with me just told me not to get caught by the police. So I went ahead with it.

What I did, then, was use my projector to display live animation on the wall of a building – a bar, I think – in Annecy. And the attendants didn’t expect that at all, there was no information whatsoever of such a show happening, nobody had said anything to them, so at first they were like “Wait, what’s he doing?”. 

As for me, I just wanted to use this as a place to express myself, so I went on anyway. At first, I had to draw through the public’s total absence of reaction, but as my drawings started to move with cute little animations, the attendants began to respond.

I ended up having a lot of fun with the audience all through the performance.

And then I called some friends! Yasuhiro Irie [1] was also there, right?

Ryo-Timo: He was! The thing is, I had been tweeting about this “guerilla live show”, like “I think I’m gonna do it here”, “Hope it works”, “There I go”… And seeing that, anime director Yasuhiro Irie, who’s a friend of mine, responded “What’re you doing? Sounds like fun!”, and he came to see it. That’s how we ended up drawing together, sort of like a jam session. The public loved it when it appeared on the projector. 

But really, we didn’t plan any of this. It’s a work that took form as we were drawing, simply because we thought it was fun.

A lot of people came to see it. There was Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan’s director Hiroshi Kobayashi, and our friend Yukio Takatsu [2] too!

Ryo-Timo: Yeah, plenty of people just kinda came on a whim. 

They even treated me to beers! At first, I almost got a little angry, though, because someone — I don’t know who — splashed me with beer while I was drawing alone. But the equipment wasn’t broken, so I figured I could still go on this way, and I resumed drawing until, eventually, it got to the point where people were offering me beers. I remember thinking it certainly tasted better than having a fight and getting punched!

(laughs) All’s well that ends well, then!

Ryo-Timo: It was really fun.

A friend of mine from Belgium, Nancy Phelps, did the same sort of happening. She revealed a bunch of films that she couldn’t show at the Annecy Festival. Bill Plympton[3] even came.

Ryo-Timo: Oh, yeah?

Except she actually got caught.

Ryo-Timo: Ouch! I guess it was pretty reckless… 

Well, Nancy’s a nice old lady, so they didn’t take her to the police. Anyway, I’m glad you didn’t get in trouble!

Ryo-Timo: Personally, this fixation on “making the presentation myself” turned out to be a very good learning opportunity. How could I say… an occasion to reflect on what it meant to “make” something. The whole thing was a lot of fun, and I’m glad it happened. Although, if the police had come, I probably would’ve been done for!

Don’t worry, I would’ve protected you! (laugh)

Ryo-Timo: Thank you very much!

“Osamu Kobayashi is the one who made me ‘look outside’”

Next, I’d like to go through your career a bit. Did you go to university? Or a technical school?

Ryo-Timo: Neither of those. I wasn’t even an animator to begin with. Originally, the early 2000s in Japan saw the beginning of a new trend of illustrators uploading their works on their own self-made websites. 

A lot of currently very famous illustrators started at the time by showing their drawings on such “homepages”. And I, too, started like that by posting the stuff I drew on my homepage. Back then, I had just graduated high school and was attending a night school. Which, to be honest, was the sort of place people who didn’t go to high school would study in. Normally, in Japan, you go through elementary school, middle school, high school, and then after graduating high school, you enter a university. Except in my case, I didn’t take the entrance exam to any university. 

But I did like science and wanted to study it a bit more, so I went to night school. I spent my time there studying science and the rest delivering newspapers and uploading drawings on my homepage. Eventually, I was invited by a video game company to do illustration work for them, and that’s how I first came to Tokyo.

Where are you from originally?

Ryo-Timo: From Hyogo, born and raised. I was still living there at the time, so being invited to Tokyo really meant a lot of new possibilities for me. Rather than being invited really, I should say I went and charged right at the capital!

Were you employed at that video game company?

Ryo-Timo: I was. Back then, I thought that I’d be recruited this one time and then make my career at that company. But there, I was approached by director Osamu Kobayashi[4] , asking me if I’d be interested in making animation. He made that offer after seeing my homepage, but my beginning in animation was pretty rough.

You know, when you learn animation in Japan, there’s a certain order you have to follow: you start by drawing in-betweens, then you move on to key animation, and finally, animation direction. Despite that, I kinda just started with key animation.

What kind of titles did you work on at the game company?

Ryo-Timo: Oh, nothing famous, really. 

For example, there was this game called Power Pros, for which I designed the backgrounds and the logos. I also did the designs for a mobile phone game in pixel graphics. It’s not like I was involved in some big projects for a major company; it was just simple subcontracting work.

Could you tell us a bit more about your encounter with director Kobayashi, then?

Ryo-Timo: Sure. So, as I explained, back then, I had that homepage on which I uploaded my drawings, much like a lot of other people who then became illustrators.

Like Ken’ichi Kutsuna[5] , right?

Ryo-Timo: Absolutely. Although in his case, he wanted to become an animator from the beginning, not an illustrator. A lot of young people were doing this at the time, so naturally, I made a lot of friends in these circles. One of them introduced me to Mr. Kobayashi, who took an interest in my activity and invited me to work with him. So, in a way, friendship is what got me into animation.

Osamu Kobayashi was kind of eccentric, even by the standards of the anime industry. Of course, he was creative in a unique fashion, but his way of thinking was just as unusual. He believed that Japanese animation was too self-centered. That all of its works were the products of its own closed world in which even the talented creators were raised, and would continue to evolve. And he hated that. He was saying: “Let’s take a look outside. There are many more interesting things out there. Let’s bring people from there here.”

I was one of those people. Mr. Kobayashi taught me to ignore the established method and to make animation the way I felt it. I followed that teaching to create my own style of expression. He really was the one who made me “look outside”.

Kobayashi’s Animestyle events and music-related events in clubs and such were both deeply interesting. 

Ryo-Timo: To be honest, I don’t know much about his international activity, but I do know that beyond his work in animation, he was also involved in video games. He had friends from that industry with whom he ended up making a lot of stuff. His style was to “enjoy creating”. And I inherited this, too. I hate to be told to follow a certain set of rules, I much prefer to have fun trying different things.

Which I think goes to show how big an influence Osamu Kobayashi was for me.

He was also really knowledgeable about animation and explained this stuff very clearly. When he talked about it, he was like an otaku performer!

Ryo-Timo: Yeah, that’s true. He was always talking about this animator being super talented, this one being able to draw things in a certain way, or how we should ask that other one to do this specific thing… He taught me a lot of things about animation. He’d often say stuff like, “You know Timo — he called me Timo — you’ve got a strange timing.” “Normally, that would be animated on the 2s. Why are you doing it on the 3s?” or “There, you’d want to slow it down by animating on the 3s, but you do it on the 2s. That’s a really peculiar timing, huh?”

But since I wasn’t familiar with other animators’ work, I did mine without knowing if this was the good way to go or not.

And that seemed to amuse him, so we ended up together on a lot of projects.

Now that Mr Koyabashi is gone, there are even fewer people who can properly discuss animation. I wonder who the next one’s gonna be. Mr. Kutsuna, maybe? 

Ryo-Timo: He might be. What’s amazing about Kutsuna is, of course, his deep knowledge of animation, but more importantly, I think it’s the “love” he has.

Because he loves animators so much, he’s constantly thinking about being with them, so whenever he’s on a new project, he’ll always consider calling everybody, just because he wants to work with them or because he knows they’re out of a job right now and it’s tough so he wants to help.

He’s really nice, a wonderful guy.

“Norio Matsumoto was the one who taught me to think for myself”

Well, now we’ve covered Osamu Kobayashi, so I guess I’d like to hear about Norio Matsumoto [6] next. 

Ryo-Timo: Oh, sure. So, when I was done working with Mr. Kobayashi, I found myself with no other choice but to wander from job to job as a key animator. I was anxious that I might have to go on working like this all by myself even though I was giving it my best. 

And there, the one to take an interest and welcome me aboard was actually not Norio Matsumoto but Satoru Utsunomiya[7]

Oh, he was next on my list, so that’s perfect.

Ryo-Timo: Well, originally, Mr. Utsunomiya became aware of the person called “Ryo-timo” after seeing my work with Mr. Kobayashi and the stuff I made soon after. It’s on that basis that he decided to invite me to his latest project. He was a very strict person. 

When I first started working with him on his Aquarion episode, I still didn’t know how to time my animation properly or how other animators did it. So I thought I’d go ask people around for their opinion and learn from it, which is why I went to see him. He explained very clearly how to approach timing in a given situation, like “Here, you’ve got 3 monochrome frames, so you end up with this kind of image”, or “If you change the timing this way, it becomes like that”, and he illustrated it by putting the images together into a short animation.

But of course, he too was busy with his work, so one time, I went to ask some other animators. And he got so mad. He blamed me for taking advice from other people and not even listening to his. Once he was done, he just left without saying anything else. 

The thing is, I didn’t grow up in a very healthy environment, so I was a bit needy for other people’s approval. My father was a violent man who drank a lot. He was really scary. I think because of that, I fell into the habit of asking around for everyone’s opinion. And there, Mr. Utsunomiya’s reaction of getting angry and leaving must have overlapped with the memories of my father. 

For me, that was terrifying, to the point of becoming an obsession. I stopped asking him to teach me animation because I thought he’d get angry again and hate me, and eventually, I just couldn’t take it anymore and became unable to draw. I had a phase where I’d suddenly lose consciousness as soon as I’d put down my pencil. And it was there, as I started to question my ability as an animator, that I was rescued by Norio Matsumoto. I did finish my work on Aquarion with Mr. Utsunomiya, but drawing had become painfully difficult, and I was worried about what I’d do in the future.

That’s when Mr. Matsumoto came in and invited me to work with him. So naturally, he took over teaching me animation, but in a… kind of unique style. You see, when I went to show him my drawings, with the same “Do you think this works?” approach I had used up until then, he’d simply reply something like, “Hum… I guess?” and that was it.

But since I didn’t know if this was supposed to be good or bad, I’d say, “I’ll rethink it”, and then show up once again to ask him if, now, it seemed good, only to get the very same answer!

And that little game could go on and on and on.

The reason is Mr. Matsumoto refused to get in the way of what I wanted to do. He thought if I wanted to try something out, then I should just do it. But then again, while listening to me, he improved the quality and the style of my drawings. He was the type to say, “Maybe you could do it more like this”, but never “You should do it like this”, or “This is the right way”. Norio Matsumoto truly was the one who taught me to think for myself about what I wanted to draw and how I needed to draw it. Now, having the opportunity to be at his side watching him work, of course I gained sympathy for his style, which became an important influence for me. But he himself is on a whole other level, one people simply cannot reach. His drawings are excellent, his animation powerful, and most of all, he’s extremely fast. He seems to have a certain set of rules in mind that translate to pictures at incredible speed. It’s like every time I thought something was just past the preliminary stage, he was already done with the clean version. I just can’t follow that pace!

What’s more, I’ve never seen him hesitate. He seemed to come up so easily with images I had a hard time figuring out. Working with him, I admired how freely yet accurately he handled spacing and realized I had a lot to learn. Strictly skill-wise, both Mr. Utsunomiya and Mr. Matsumoto are amazing. But their respective personalities and ways of thinking are completely different.

And human relations are important.

Ryo-Timo: Right. Of course, Mr. Utsunomiya is fascinating in various ways, but he can also be pretty scary. What’s remarkable about Mr. Matsumoto is how humble he stays despite being this incredibly talented animator.

He’s the type of person who, when you’re with them, talks to you as an equal, very naturally. When needed, he can also be firm, especially when it comes to keeping one’s word. That’s why he’s so trustworthy and supportive, but he’s also the one who taught me not to depend on other people. This is why I felt I had to keep a reasonable distance between us two: if I started taking him for granted, he’d eventually get angry with me and leave. 

This was when you were still both at Satelight, wasn’t it?

Ryo-Timo: That’s right.

Back then, it was an incredible studio. There were all kinds of people there.

Ryo-Timo: Yeah, including a lot of incredible animators. Back then, I didn’t know it, though, so I’d often find myself taking a look at a cut from some guy I just casually greeted and thinking, “Wow, this is amazing!”. Everybody was completely freestyle, and most of us were like, always drawing, without even going home, really living in the studio!

I was one of those, actually. I wasn’t even thinking about leaving to go home: whenever I felt tired and sleepy, I’d just crawl under my desk and fall asleep there. Waking up, I’d grab something to eat and then resume drawing.

I lived like that for a while, thinking it was completely normal. A lot of us did.

Did you meet the French artists who were working at Satelight back then? People like Thomas Romain and Stanislas Brunet?

Ryo-Timo: No, I didn’t really “meet” them.

At the time, I didn’t perceive people from overseas as “French people” or such, but rather as “people not from Japan”, like they were from Hollywood or something. I thought they were artists coming over from Hollywood or Disney, and I was too scared to go talk to them. I didn’t feel I was in any position to tell them about Japanese animation, so that’s why… 

By the way, do you know who brought all those various people over to Satelight?

Ryo-Timo: Funny story, actually! We had one really eccentric production assistant, Yoshinori Nagamine, a naughty-looking man with an afro. One day, he said he had a call to make, and then he proceeded to call Hayao Miyazaki to ask him if he wouldn’t do some key animation for us! Later, without a care in the world, he got back to us saying, “Well, Mr. Miyazaki said he’s not working as a key animator at the moment, so it looks like he won’t be lending us a hand with that!”.

But the truth is that he loved animators, and he was just the kind of person who’d casually call and invite anybody he’d found interesting to come to work with him, which is how we ended up having a lot of talented people over at Satelight. That included specialists such as Norio Matsumoto and Satoru Utsunomiya, who were among the firsts. Out of those, there was one central character that made everyone want to join in.

It was Takahiro Kishida, HAIKYU!! and Noein’s character designer. He’s truly amazing. And I’m not saying this because he’s a skilled animator. He is, for sure, and his own unique animation style is nothing short of impressive, but that’s not all there is. He’s also a smiling, music-loving guy who’s constantly playing his bass, drawing to the soothing sound of his music, and whenever he played, everyone felt so comfortable. It was awesome. He was almost like a father figure to us.

Animators were quite fond of him, so, him being at Satelight brought a lot of people. Back then, he’d started a band with Mr. Matsumoto and some other animators, which was also very attractive to people who played music and wanted to have some fun at work. It was thanks to such extraordinary characters that all those people came to Satelight.

Birdy is what made me realize I couldn’t express myself in this erratic style”

Regarding Satelight, Birdy the Mighty: Decode[8] wasn’t produced there, although most of the main staff was the same as Noein’s. Why is that?

Ryo-Timo: Oh, well, that’s a whole other story. Surely, you know Shôji Kawamori, who directed Aquarion and Macross. Well, he’s collaborated with another director, Kazuki Akane. The both of them worked together on the anime Vision of Escaflowne

It’s one of my favorites! I like it more than Dunbine!

Ryo-Timo: It’s good, right?

I think it’s a wonderful series with excellent drama, the kind that moves you to the bottom of your heart. Anyway, its director, Kazuki Akane, is originally from Sunrise, and he’s… quite the angry type. He’d often yell at people, like “What the hell were you thinking?!” and even went as far as coming down to a reunion between production assistants to kick them and hit them with a paper-made tube, blaming them for slacking off. He’s that kind of… “rogue” director.

It must be because he’s from Sunrise! He’s like Yoshiyuki Tomino[9] ! (laughs)

Ryo-Timo: Yeah, that’s probably the influence there. He must be one of those “Tomino children”!

Well, even though Mr. Akane can be aggressive, for me, he doesn’t have the same frightening presence my father had. 

He has these impulsive outbursts, but in a way that makes you understand he just hates to make errors. As a director, he’s passionate about what he does and makes it very clear that he wants things to follow his particular vision, and even when he got angry with someone because they weren’t living up to it, he had no trouble compromising or admitting that he was going a bit too far. So I personally didn’t find him frightening or anything, but he did get angry a lot, and that made him widely unpopular on the studio’s side. Eventually, when the time came for him to move on to his next project, he had to leave Satelight for another studio.

Mr. Akane liked webgen animators a lot, didn’t he?

Ryo-Timo: Hum… I didn’t feel like he especially liked or didn’t like the webgen. What’s sure is that he liked Mr. Kishida the most. Whenever he had trouble with something, he went to ask him for advice, which he did on plenty of occasions. It’s not like everyone on the production was afraid of Mr. Akane, either. A lot of people talked back to him when he “attacked” them. Actually, he felt those were the people he could trust and work with. Despite this, he eventually found himself with no choice but to leave Satelight and go make his next work elsewhere. I think it was just time for him to move on so he could follow his inspiration.

Regarding Birdy, you could say dark stuff happened. When the webgen emerged, you tried to break a lot of barriers, but that caused some controversy. For instance, there was episode 7 of season 2: it was really bold and experimental, but it went too far, and a lot of people started saying it was just “bad animation”. What are your memories from that incident?

Ryo-Timo: This is actually related to what I was saying just before: Mr. Akane held “super animators” like Takahiro Kishida — with whom he got along very well — or Norio Matsumoto in high regard, and his own style relied heavily on them.

And it just so happened that Mr. Matsumoto had taken a liking to the webgen’s formal experimentations. So Mr. Akane followed his wish and welcomed us with an open mind.

Back then, they were still in the process of finding a character designer for the series. And I don’t know if someone recommended me or something, but I got a call from Mr. Akane asking if I wanted to do it. Maybe Mr. Kishida or Mr. Matsumoto suggested that, but I’m not sure. Anyway, I didn’t have any other job on the line, so I asked Mr. Akane, “Are you sure you’re ok leaving this to me?” to which he replied, “Your drawings have appeal. Why not try this out?”, and that’s how I ended up being chara-designer for Birdy the Mighty: Decode.

Being from the webgen myself, I tended to make stuff in my own selfish way, so this production quickly became a gathering place for free-minded people, including Mr. Matsumoto. And I wasn’t in any position to stop them from making animation however they wanted to since that’s what I was doing myself! All the animators were looking for new forms of expression, and I couldn’t help but sing along, you know, because it looked so interesting. And as a work of animation, it truly was, so I thought it’d be fine. But considering it as a product, it was a whole new problem.

The thing is, from the very first episode, we established a style that spectators liked — which was the reason they watched — and this way, both parties reached a sort of agreement. Then suddenly, in the middle of this, we threw in something completely different. So, the audience must have felt like this wasn’t what they had come to see and probably didn’t want to hear about it. This is why some started talking about an “animation collapse” and judged that it was lacking in technique or even lacking as animation. This came as no surprise to the animators who worked on the episode, though. They were happy with the episode, and some even wanted to go further. The only thing is, the TV staff who were overseeing the production and the marketing team in charge of selling what we made weren’t so happy. They made clear to us that we’d gone too far and needed to stay on track. And that included me.

I think on Birdy, we had Mr. Matsumoto, Kutsuna, Shingo Yamashita[10], and Tomoyuki Niho[11], who had gone completely wild. I was doing my best to keep up as well!!

Although, in the end, my animation wasn’t really like theirs. Birdy is what made me realize I couldn’t express myself in this erratic style. That I wasn’t — if you had to choose — one of those “wild” animators. They say the webgen originates from Ken’ichi Kutsuna, Ryo-Timo, and Shingo Yamashita. But I don’t know if my name actually belongs there. Ryo-Timo is just the guy who entered animation without knowing his left from his right because Osamu Kobayashi told him he could just barge in and do some keys. Kutsuna’s different. From the very beginning, he’d done a lot of research on animation, and he built his own style based on his knowledge of other animators’ work. The same goes for Yamashita. Those two grew together by learning upon animators they admired. That’s what the webgen is.

And while I do think I’m webgen in how I became an animator, I differ in how I approach animation. I’m a science enthusiast with a knack for technology, and I don’t think in terms of “expression” as an animator would. I think things like, “How do I handle the movement here?”, “What about this kind of reaction?”, “It’d be interesting to make it move like that,” “How do I make the characters cuter?”, or “What if I used 3D to do this?”, which goes to show that I’ve somewhat drifted away from the animator mindset. That’s why, for me, the idea of being tied to the webgen doesn’t really feel right anymore. 

When people think of the webgen, essentially, the image that comes to mind is more that of a helpless anime lover who must ignore the current animation trends for the sake of expression, right?

“People came saying they wanted to be ‘webgen’ too, and it all became a mere fashion”

But did you read Mr. Kutsuna’s sakuga thread?

Ryo-Timo: I did.

Well then, you were a full-fledged sakuga otaku yourself, weren’t you?

Ryo-Timo: Well, at that point, Kutsuna already had a knowledge and a love for animators deep enough to make this thread, and when people saw that, they massively contributed to the thread, making it grow really big.

It was made for the sake of animators, really. 

But socially speaking, there’s no real structure made for animators in Japan. They contributed to the thread simply because they liked it, but it didn’t offer any sort of “social protection”, nor did it constitute a “work” that people would want to see. I think it was the feeling of anarchy, the sort of cool, rock ‘n’ roll style it had, that kept it growing despite these odds. That, in my opinion, is where the webgen takes root, where its heart lies.

Were you hurt by the replacement of some scenes from Birdy 02’s seventh episode for the DVD release?

Ryo-Timo: Not by that, no. 

What did hurt a great deal was that I finally came to realize I wasn’t a full-fledged animator. I did my best as character designer, animation director, and chief animation director. But I’m not fast enough to compete with the likes of Mr. Matsumoto. I can’t draw at the same speed, and I can’t draw as well as them. I can only do things my own way.

So, at first, I thought I could still keep up by working with Flash. I’d use it to make models of the characters before animating them and set up the camera work so I could test it. Because of my everlasting love for technological tools, I had this idea that, by using them this way, I could still make it. But it turned out to be of no help: there was just too big of a gap between my tech-centered way of thinking and what “expressive” animators like Mr. Matsumoto, Kutsuna, or Yamashita wanted to do.

I felt within myself that I wasn’t walking the same road as those people who always wanted to search for new forms of expression. The realization that I couldn’t call myself an animator in this regard is what hurt me the most. On the other hand, stuff like the animation being redone or the director refusing something didn’t affect me at all. We were doing whatever we wanted without a care for the overall coherence, so that actually sounded about right. We got scolded a lot for that.

I didn’t mind it, because I could just apologize and go on, but it hurt that I got to say, “Let’s do this!!” and go wild with these guys only to be shown that with my ability, I could never become one of them. Coming to terms with this was my most painful experience on the show.

Did you draw anything for the DVD rework of the episode?

Ryo-Timo: I corrected some stuff on my end, but the director was furious. 

He went like, “You said you could do it, and this is the result I get?! Well, from now on, I’m not listening to you anymore, so just stop that. I’ll correct it by myself.” So, in the end, I didn’t get involved. I feel like Mr. Akane couldn’t really get mad at the animators anymore at this point, so he settled things by getting mad at me. As for me, I’d managed to make both the director and the animators hate me for this, so people saying, “I’m not working with him anymore.” is pretty much all that came out of it.

The same sort of thing happened with Kobayashi’s episode 4 of Gurren Lagann. Were you involved in this episode?

Ryo-Timo: No, I wasn’t able to; I had a pneumothorax. I did plan on drawing a little anyway and set out to work, but collapsed before I could produce anything. Mr. Kobayashi didn’t have any choice but to handle the scene I was supposed to draw himself… It was tough. Well, that’s how I ended up not helping on this episode.

One last well-known example would be the Shingo Yamashita-animated Pain vs. Kyûbi fight in episode 167 of Naruto Shippuden.

Ryo-Timo: I wasn’t involved in the series anymore back then.

Right, but do you think this sort of “webgen incidents” — so to speak — had an influence on the anime industry?

Ryo-Timo: Well, the word “webgen” itself was quickly associated with a kind of “rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle, given the trouble it caused on works like Birdy the Mighty.

It became known for a style that basically said: “Let’s ignore the rules and do what we like. We animators are asked to be expressive, so let’s find out for ourselves what that means.” You probably know the original meaning of the word, though.

It was used to talk about people with a homepage who learned animation by watching it and ended up becoming animators. “Webgen” was sort of a diss, coined to point out people that got into the anime industry because they were like, “famous on the internet”. But I think around the time Birdy came out, it started to grow from a disrespectful expression to a synonym for this rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle I was talking about. It’s like what happened with Daft Punk, right[12]? There was this same sort of value shift, and the webgen suddenly became cool.

But I feel like it also turned into some sort of game of make-believe, pretty much at the same time. People came saying they wanted to be “webgen” too, and it all became a mere fashion.

I see. In recent years, we saw more and more foreign animators make a name for themselves on the internet and enter the anime industry. I’d like to hear your opinion on that matter.

Ryo-Timo: This was precisely Osamu Kobayashi’s wish, so personally, I’m glad it’s coming true. The webgen was disregarded at first, and now it’s a given. Instead of starting as in-betweeners, we kind of barged into the anime industry because it looked interesting. We saw its appeal and stayed to work there. I feel like that’s really what animation is about. I love how this story goes, and I think it’s great we get to hear more of it.

It’s funny because French animation schools actually teach that way: first, you understand movement through learning to make key frames, and only then do you learn about other stuff like in-betweens. 

Ryo-Timo: If you think about it, that’s the right way. It’s why these days, more and more people are starting their careers in animation by doing second key animation. This method, where newcomers sort of come and go between in-betweens and second key, is slowly penetrating the industry. The whole mood around the importance of starting off as an in-betweener has been lightening, and people are more free to take other paths. Still, while I do think this is progress for Japan, in France, of course, it’s been like that since the beginning… 

That’s right… 

Ryo-Timo: So when you look at the state of Japanese animation, it’s like, “Hey, you finally noticed!” Do you see?

This doesn’t come without problems, though. Recently, animation directors have been complaining about foreign animators who couldn’t do proper work.

Ryo-Timo: Hum… I’d say the problem here is that we rely too much on animation directors to do everything.

I see what you mean.

“Webgen animators can’t assume this role of setting the trend forever”

Ryo-Timo: I did a little 3D display at the event yesterday (Connichi 2023 – Ed.), but I think it’s about time I start using 3D as a regular tool in anime making.

Frankly, this system where the animation director has to take all responsibility for keeping the faces properly detailed and maintaining body proportions is just too much trouble for everybody. Of course, having super animators able to somehow draw everything is important as a way to improve their skills. But ultimately, you just end up relying on one talented person to do all the work.

It’s problematic for everyone, and I think we need to move on to a system where the animator makes 3D figures and distributes them to everybody so they can use it as a base to draw their part and, from there, put it in motion the way they want. Then, if the faces are a bit off, just throw in the 3D model again and use a ruler to adjust them. I think if used like this, as I do it myself, 3D is a good tool.

Recently, I heard that the Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim movie by director Kenji Kamiyama will use this kind of method. The production is still far from over, though.

Ryo-Timo: Oh, so they’re actually doing this?

Well, they start with some 2D groundwork, which serves as a basis for the 3D models that the animators work with. So it’s not exactly rotoscoping like you described.

Ryo-Timo: Yeah, I see. I’m not sure, but I think Demon Slayer used a lot of 3D too. It looks like they made 3D layouts that served as a basis for animation and probably also as a guide for the character’s movements. I don’t think they went as far as using them to map the action scenes or, for the animation director, correcting the faces.

But they probably did use them to place the roughly drawn characters at the beginning of the animation process. What’s sure is that 3D is becoming more and more common. Yesterday at the event, I said that I’m not here to save the people working in the industry. I’ve experienced working with 3D. It’s better paid, and the system is much more polished.

There’s one thing in particular that’s very surprising. Every person in the production could explain how the whole pipeline went. Animators and other staff on 2D productions often can’t do it that well. They just go with the flow. I was really shocked by that gap.

So if people from the anime industry, animators included, don’t change the way they approach their work, we’ll never be able to break free from the current situation. And this can’t happen if they don’t stop “going with the flow” once and for all. And that’s… unfeasible. Now that I understand it, I know it’s not my place to tell them to learn to use 3D because it’s “the right way”, or to stop using 2D at once. They have their way of doing things, and if they like it, then it’s ok to continue.

It’s just, you know, pretty much hell. But if that’s fine with them, then there’s no reason to stop. Don’t have any problem with that. And if they end up dying of it, then be it. If that’s how they want things to go, that’s how things should go. But I, for one, don’t have it in me anymore to go die with them, not to mention I don’t think it’s the right way to create animation. For me, animation is about using every tool you can to make your work easier and trying whatever you find interesting however you want to. There’s nothing wrong with having the 3D staff make models for animators to use as a reference, and if an animator doesn’t like the way the eyes or the nose look, they can make their own models. If they’ve got a simple T-posing model that they want to bend and move to guide the animation, it’s probably fine for 2D animators to add the “bones” and movement by themselves.

I like the idea that they would create their own models to serve as a guide through the animation process and use both 2D and 3D as they wish.

Back to your career, could you tell us how the Yozakura Quartet: Hoshi no Umi OVA project was born? Since there had already been a Yozakura Quartet TV series, why remake it?

Ryo-Timo: Well, first, you need to know that the original mangaka, Suzuhito Yasuda, is originally one of those illustrators from the website days. One day, he brought together about 50 of them for a drinking party, including me. Several famous mangakas and people who still did illustration were here having fun, and I soon found myself talking with Suzuhito himself. From there… well, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was officially directing a whole new adaptation of Yozakura Quartet!

What’s more, you also ended up doing the animation direction and storyboarding all by yourself!

Ryo-Timo: I sure did.

And you also animated some scenes yourself, right?

Ryo-Timo: Yeah, it was kind of a mess. I did everything.

How did you pull that off? Earlier, you said you weren’t quick at work, but there’s no way that’s true now, is it?

Ryo-Timo: It absolutely is, though!

Then I’m guessing you didn’t get a lot of sleep?

Ryo-Timo: That I did not. I was swamped with all I had to do and stayed at the studio to work until dawn, after which I came home to rest a bit and then back to the studio. That was my life all through the production. But you know, at this point, I was married with a kid, so living like this was a huge problem for me. It became a matter of whether or not I’d stay together with my wife, and I felt that everything could very well fall apart if I didn’t put a stop to this situation.

On Yozakura, I was always walking a tightrope: if I didn’t give it all and overdo myself, I wouldn’t be able to complete my work, but if I did, I’d end up getting a divorce. To this day, my family still holds it against me. Like, my wife sometimes reminds me how I wasn’t there for her or my son back then, how I abandoned them to focus only on my work… 

But on the other hand, at work, I was the guy who says he’s gonna do his best but then goes home without finishing his job. I thought I was doing everything I could, but everyone kept telling me I wasn’t doing enough… Those were really tough times. I was able to see it through, though, and in the end, it all came together. But this made me realize how important balance was. You can’t just dive in thinking you’ll do everything you can and make it work somehow. You gotta have a system where you can entrust the different tasks to people you know will be able to handle them.

But you still pursued your work on Yozakura with a sequel OVA (Yozakura Quartet: Tsuki ni Naku), and a TV series (Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta).

Ryo-Timo: Actually, what I described happened when I was making the TV series. I was already married at the time of the first OVA but didn’t have a child yet. So, the situation got worse throughout the production of Yozakura as a whole until the pressure got too high and problems arose. 

Do you agree with Kutsuna when he says Hana no Uta marked the end of the webgen? Like, at this point, it wasn’t “rock ‘n’ roll” anymore, but just normal anime?

Ryo-Timo: Honestly, I don’t understand this stuff too well.

The thing is, being a webgen reject myself, I can’t be the one to decide on that. But from where I stand, I wouldn’t find it too surprising if it did: the webgen animators can’t assume this role of setting the trend forever.

If they’re constantly trying to create new, different stuff, they’re bound to end up realizing that, ultimately, they’re only making animation, and this will become just another page in the book of their life. 

With this in mind, I wouldn’t say it’s the webgen itself that has ended, but rather it’s the webgen as a movement — what observers were asking from the webgen — that has. Those involved might think of the webgen as a thing of the past, but it doesn’t mean they can’t carry its spirit on. The spectators are probably the only ones to consider it dead because I’m pretty sure the actual webgen animators never stopped striving for newer, interesting things to try out.

And given how both Kutsuna and Yamashita are still obsessed about this, too, I choose to say that no, nothing’s over yet.

“Kôji Takeuchi is a sweet old man who was ready to break all the rules for the sake of others’ happiness”

On your end, it seems you’ve been teaching young animators a lot.

Ryo-Timo: Have I?

At least, that’s the impression you give off. At the event earlier, you talked about raising the newcomers at your studio. There’s also that Annecy presentation you had in mind, not to mention back in Japan, you gave classes at Kôji Takeuchi[13]’s animation boot camp. Did you start “teaching” young animators this way when you were in charge of Yozakura?

Ryo-Timo: To be honest, I quickly gave up on that.

Really??

Ryo-Timo: Well, what animators need in order to go from in-betweeners to key animators to super animators is the ability to observe their environment with care so they can fully understand each of its elements and then be able to reproduce them, much like they do at Ghibli. And I do approve of the method itself, but… I mean, it’s kind of a pain, right? So I don’t feel like going around telling newcomers that they have to do that, or else they’ll never become full-fledged animators. I think they’ll be fine drawing the way they want, or even — to take it to the extreme — just basically copy-pasting. 

There, I haven’t changed a bit since my webgen days. I still don’t believe in a “rule” that says you have to draw to make animation, so you’ll understand I can’t possibly be teaching animators, which is why I never think of doing so. The only reason I accepted to do the boot camp is that I was invited by its main organizer, Kôji Takeuchi. 

Back in the 1990s, he was instrumental in bringing the ink & paint step of animation production into the digital era.

Right. That was on Princess Mononoke, wasn’t it?

Ryo-Timo: It might have been, yeah.

He was really angry with how ink & paint was handled. He, too, was worried about the state of the anime industry and sought a way for animators to be able to express all their potential and make a living out of it. So he stood up against what was being done up to his days and made a big breakthrough by improving the process with digital tools because he’s a sweet old man who is ready to break all the rules for the sake of others’ happiness. 

And it just so happened that this man felt sympathy for my personal way of throwing the regular approach to animation overboard and doing my own thing instead. 

He said to me, “You know, I can acknowledge this. You want to break free from the current trend, just like me. If you think that way, then you can teach, too. Could you lend me a hand teaching young animators?”. Well, I couldn’t say no to that, which is why I ended up helping with the boot camp. There, I saw super animator Takeshi Inamura[14]. He’s working at studio Ponoc these days, right?

I think so.

Ryo-Timo: Well, in his class, he discussed what makes animation neat-looking and polished, something he was in a good position to teach as he is himself very skilled at this sort of thing. But of course, I am not. Plus, even when it comes to serious stuff like becoming a first-class animator, I find myself thinking: “If you don’t understand, just use rotoscoping”, or “If you want to study a movement but can’t picture it in your head, why not take a video and play it frame-by-frame? That’s fine, right? Like athletes do to review their own matches. Nothing wrong with that.”

I also approach the “soul” of animation from a slightly different angle, but Mr. Inamura never gets angry with that; he seems okay with letting me do my thing. 

You know, the teachers at the boot camp are mostly older. Compared to them, I’m actually quite young, so they’ve been kind enough to accept my way of thinking as part of the program. And to this day, I’m still teaching there.

I intend on staying as long as old man Takeuchi’s still doing well. I guess I don’t go there to teach as much as to have some fun! At this point, I’m just like, “Live however you want!” “Be free!”.

Are your classes anything like yesterday’s event? Or is it something more traditional, 2D animation-oriented?

Ryo-Timo: It actually depends on what I’m asked.

If I’m asked to teach 2D, I’ll teach 2D, and if I’m asked to teach 3D, I’ll teach how to approach 2D concepts using 3D. I can’t go teaching stuff that’s not on the program, though. If I did, I’d cause trouble for old Takeuchi. He’d say I’m always randomly talking about whatever I want and that I can’t teach anything properly. Well, in exchange for following the program, I get to do it my own way and tell my own thoughts.

“This industry can eat shit”

From what I hear, the lack of serious training provided by the studios to young animators is one of the industry’s biggest problems at the moment, isn’t it?

Ryo-Timo: It is. I actually started a company myself so I could make the project I was supposed to show at Annecy. There, working with the president Yûki Sokoda, I was able to put my thoughts in order and learned a lot. And I think lately, the concept of the “anime industry” has become irrelevant.

Take CG film firms, like Shirogumi or Sanzigen. There’s one called Robot. They’re a company that makes 3D footage, but if there’s one thing you have to remember from this, it’s the “footage” part. It’s not about the “anime industry” or the “CGI industry”. Their business is “moving images”. That’s what you’d request from them if you were to work together.

Take Kenji Itoso’s talk today: he was saying something about “making a wall”. Well, it’s more or less the same thing. It’s not like he’s only ever going to make anime because he’s an animator. Whatever image he wants to make, he can.

So, with this in mind, must training new people “only” mean training animators? Do we have to cling this much to animation as a measure of what’s right or wrong? I, for one, don’t think it’s that important.

I think people just need to practice regularly so they can accomplish whatever they set out to: if it’s drawing, draw until you’re actually good at it; if it’s singing, exercise your voice; if it’s playing the guitar, learn sheet music; and if it’s 3D modeling, get to know the software.

Now, to someone who would want to understand movement in animation, I could teach stuff like how a character would stand up. But what is the way to become a super animator? If you ask me, you just have to go straight to someone you think is a super animator and beg to be their apprentice. See? That’s why I can’t teach anymore.

It’s just that each of us animators thinks, “Well, I’m not like that other super animator, so there’d be no value in me teaching anything.” And it’s precisely the idea of an “anime industry” that allows this mindset to exist.

So let me be clear: this industry can eat shit. If I want to create moving images, it’ll be at a film company, and if I want to make music, it’ll be at a music company or whatever name fits. I’m simply searching for the best way to be able to create what I want every time. Also, not being able to teach is no big deal. If you don’t want to teach, then don’t, and if you do want to, then go ahead. As long as you want to make interesting things, just searching for how to do so is perfectly fine. At least, that’s what I think. And that’s why if I don’t want to make “anime”, then I won’t.

So, to the ones who can’t guide the new generation, I’d probably say, “Why don’t you just do your thing?”

You really take after Osamu Kobayashi, even more than Norio Matsumoto, don’t you?

Ryo-Timo: I think so too!

“I’d rather impress the overseas audience”

(laughs) By the way, is the company you were talking about studio daisy?

Ryo-Timo: No, it was another company of the Twin Engine group called Studio Pancake. As one of the founding members, Sokoda was CEO, while I was an executive. Back then, studio daisy didn’t exist; it was still the Twin Engine digital animation section. I was already working with them, but it hadn’t been made into a company yet.

I see. Now then, I’d like to hear about your commercial for the Explore France 2022 campaign. But first, let me just say, on behalf of all French people, thank you for doing this.

Ryo-Timo: I should be thanking you! It was a really fun work, I’m glad I got to do it.

So, how was location scouting?

Ryo-Timo: Well… I really wanted to go, but COVID got in the way… 

Oh, that’s a real bummer… 

Ryo-Timo: What I did was hire French people as staff members to visit the different locations and take pictures. I’d talk to them via the internet, ask all kinds of things like take a picture of this or that, from below, from above, climb up there to see the scenery… In doing so, I’d take notes and immediately get to work. It would’ve been more realistic if I’d been there myself, of course, but since that was impossible, I made a more “objective”, well-organized film. But still, I really wanted to go… 

Did you also do your own research with tools like Google Maps?

Ryo-Timo: I did. I used Street View to see what Mont-Saint-Michel would look like if seen from the beach. 

How did you decide on the places that would be shown in the commercial?

Ryo-Timo: Our French client initially funded the commercial by asking different localities — like Paris — for support, and those contributors were then featured in the video, each in their own dedicated scene. That’s how the department store La Samaritaine in Paris ended up getting two different ones: they gave twice the normal share.

Could you tell us how the project started and how you got involved yourself?

Ryo-Timo: It was initially an order for a completely different studio, which ended up dropping it because they were too busy with theatrical releases, among other things. It’s there when the project was going to be abandoned that studio daisy stepped in and undertook its making. The reason I got involved is because I’d already made Night World at studio daisy and was offered to try the same approach on this commercial.

Night World was also excellent, by the way.

Ryo-Timo: You really thought so? Thank you so much!

I found the first episode deeply moving. I didn’t cry — because boys don’t cry — but it was hard not to.

Ryo-Timo: It was Rei Takaku, a young woman working at Twin Engine’s planning department, who came up with this project. We had a long talk, which allowed me to get a grasp of what her current thoughts and worries about the world were, and we summed this up into Night World. Takaku was actually one of my students back when I was a part-time lecturer at university. Seeing this girl doing her best at Twin Engine and wanting to make her own project into film, I decided to help her, and so I did on Night World.

The designs were especially striking. And the whole vibe felt slightly different from what we usually see in anime. The independent works at the Annecy Festival give off the same kind of impression, that of “artistic films”. Have you ever tried sending your short movies to such festivals?

Ryo-Timo: Well, I don’t know if I’d be a good fit for film festivals, plus I never really think about them, so no, I haven’t. This time, it was Itoso who suggested we submit the Ryan’s World short to a festival. He said we should definitely register for the competition. It hadn’t crossed my mind, but then I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

I see what you mean. There are a lot of web animators in Japan these days, and even though they make their own short films, they never submit them to dedicated festivals despite actually winning prizes. It’s as though this exiguous conception of the “anime industry” prevents animators from the very idea of reaching out to a film festival.

Ryo-Timo: Absolutely. It’s the reason why studio daisy made this France commercial in the first place. Works made only for the national market won’t ever cross the border, as they can only appeal to a Japanese audience, which is why we wanted to work with people from overseas. And that’s when the France commercial came in. So, now you know why we took the job. I’m not even that interested anymore in how Japanese viewers feel about what I do. I’ve come to the point where I’m simply glad those who want to watch my work do so, which they should be able to since it’s in the Japanese language.                   

I’d rather impress the overseas audience, so from now on, that’s who I’ll be targeting.       

It’s the same for that Ryan short; it’s not made for the Japanese public. In fact, this one’s entirely in English. So, I leave it to the Japanese to see if they like it or not. I’ve already quit this game. Even if people are still looking for the crude, webgen-style violence of battle scenes in my work, I’ve myself been long excluded from the webgen and have stopped fighting as they do. They’re fine doing that on their own.

What I want to do instead is use technological tools to solve rising issues in animation production. Animation is a process that involves many people, so, of course, time-consuming problems are bound to appear. It would be great to be able to solve those quickly by using various tools, which for me means 3D. 

On Night World, for example, I chose to use 3D as a support to draw on. This is a method that probably disqualifies me as a webgen animator, if not as a Japanese animator altogether. But that’s the kind of technique I want to explore. It’s sort of my last weapon, too. So I’ve thought about it and decided to go down this road. And all are welcome to join me if they want to try it too! 

See, that’s why I don’t understand when people ask me if I think I can save the anime industry using this approach, or put another way, why I won’t use it to save the anime industry. I always think: “It’s not like you guys ever listened to me on this. What do you want now?”. If it’s to hear that kind of stuff, I’d rather not be part of the industry or even be an animator. At least right now, I’m doing what I want.

Anyway, at this point, you already have solid experience as a charisma animator… 

Ryo-Timo: I don’t, though! (laughs)

Well, at least as a director! You created some very interesting series.

Ryo-Timo: Thank you very much.

“I learned what it means to feel like ‘that’s it’”

So then, what’s the next step? Do you plan on winning a prize at some film festival and becoming more of an “artist”?

Ryo-Timo: I wonder… Could be nice, huh?

Then again, I’m past the idea that one day I’ll become someone incredible. If anything, I’m better off only making fun stuff with the right people. Currently, I’m just gathering the things I need for that to be possible. Hum… I guess I’m kind of drifting away from our technology talk now, am I not?

But if I think of it, “making fun stuff” with people who instantly understand me — and the other way around — also means, probably, having the opportunity to train them to use now vital technological tools. There’s a good chance that’s what I’ll be doing from now on and for the rest of my life.

Speaking of, could you give us a word about director Shigeyoshi Tsukahara, whom you’ve been working with?

Ryo-Timo: He’s a long-time collaborator of Sokoda’s, so he was also involved in Studio Pancake. That’s where I got to know him.

We bonded quickly; he’s a really cool guy. He’s very interesting in a different way than an animator would be, like how he sometimes ignores common sense completely!

He’s got this touch that makes a creator truly unique in the eyes of others. Having worked for so long in an industry that associates animators with business, a world that considers there’s only one good path to animation anime, I’ve myself lost most of what made my website days so fun and carefree. 

So, eventually, I became possessed by this idea that “there’s a right way to make animation, and you have to follow it”. In contrast, Tsukahara seems to be always discovering new stuff, he’s actually making what he wants. Whenever I watched him work, using Flash just like I did, I always got the sensation that I’d wasted too much of my time and energy on useless stuff.

It was a good sensation, though. I learned what it means to feel like “that’s it”, like I’m looking at what it means to “create”. I think he’s among those who are contributing to the rising power of “individual creators”.

Thank you. Next, I have a question about Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO. Why is it that you were credited in the “special thanks” of the movie?

Ryo-Timo: Oh, that’s because I was involved in creating the visuals at an early stage of pre-production.

Originally, I was learning 3D know-how by working on Polygon Pictures’ Ajin. After that, I went on to make KADO: The Right Answer at Tôei. But I actually got involved in Dragon Ball just before. At that point, they were still figuring out what they wanted the movie to look like. It was a sort of brainstorming phase, and I was there to give my opinion as someone who’s worked with both 2D and 3D. But then, I didn’t take any part in the writing, cinematography, or even animation. So, I was simply credited under “special thanks” for my involvement in helping out with the initial visuals.

I see.

Ryo-Timo: It was Tetsurô Kodama, from ECHOES, who was truly instrumental in shaping the visuals. So I’m glad he was able to go on and direct the movie, too.

He made the kind of film Tôei couldn’t have. To think that such a unique mind in the field of 3D animation directed such a commercial work… He really proved that the most important thing of all is that individual creators get to express their ideas, didn’t he? Once again, I realize that it was bound to turn out this way.

For me, it’s those “individual creators” who make the most interesting stuff right now. And as I turn to them, I also lose interest in animators themselves.

Now, moving on to animation softwares, you seem to use a lot of them. Flash (currently Animate), of course, but also Blender. Blender is very unique, isn’t it?

Ryo-Timo: I found out about Blender when I was doing 3D work and wondered if there wasn’t software that would allow me to open 3D data and write memos. 

Back then, it was all about Maya, but the license fee was too expensive for me to pay. Only, the projects I was working on were entirely made with Maya, so I had all the data saved in FBX and was looking for a software that could process it when I finally discovered Blender. I thought I’d be using it as a simple tool, but the “Grease Pencil” function caught my attention. At first, I was just using it to write memos, so it didn’t seem any different from Flash. 

But then, a new version added the possibility to apply shading using the pen’s pressure sensitivity. To this day, there are only two vector-based softwares that have this function: Mischief and Blender, that’s it.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve wished that they’d add it in Flash, and I even requested so from an executive of the firm who came over to Japan for the Adobe forum, but in the end, it never happened. I’ve been hoping for them to finally implement this function since Flash 6, all in vain, whereas Blender did so immediately.

So you went from Flash to Blender?

Ryo-Timo: Yeah, at that point, I said goodbye to Animate and completely made the switch to Blender. It’s made for 3D movie production, but because it’s a vector-based software that can handle both 3D and added camera work, I’m perfectly fine using it for 2D animation with 3D as a guide.

For me, that’s the whole point of Blender and the reason why I started using it as my main animation software.

I heard something about Mitsuo Iso[15] becoming a Blender addict thanks to you. Is it true?

Ryo-Timo: I think he’d get angry if he heard that! (laughs)

This time, you’ve been called to work with the production company Arch. Could you present it to us?

Ryo-Timo: It’s an interesting company led by CEO Nao Hirasawa.

They absolutely refuse to follow the path of regular animation production companies. They’ll get funds from international sponsors like Dubai or such, instead of Japanese ones, enough to actually support the costs of making animation. This way, they can properly pay every animator. 

They downright say to the client that they need a said amount of money so their animators can get high wages, and if the client agrees, then the production can start. It’s that kind of organization.

“Just do what you want”

I see. Well then, thank you so much for today.

Ryo-Timo: It was nothing.

It was truly an excellent interview. Probably the best I’ve ever done! Maybe even better than Kutsuna’s!

Ryo-Timo: Wow, that’s a surprise! Thank you very much!

You know, Kutsuna is really an epoch-making character. He’s not just the creator of the webgen, but he actually paved the way for a complete reimagining of the anime industry down to its roots. That’s one of the reasons Osamu Kobayashi liked him so much. On some level, Kustuna’s very presence brought sudden and radical change to the anime world. And the one who felt his influence more than anybody else was Shingo Yamashita. That’s why those two laid the foundations of what would be known as the webgen. It wasn’t just some faction they’d come up with; they actually changed the face of the anime industry for good.

That’s why they’re so essential to the industry’s current structure. And they’re still working at it to this day. As for me, well, I’m glad to be considered as one of them, like we’re all part of this trio, but frankly, I wouldn’t say so myself. I can’t really picture myself becoming like them. I don’t have their ability, and our respective styles don’t match. 

I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s for you to decide!

Ryo-Timo: Hum… I don’t know… I feel like that’s impossible for me.

I’m sure it’s not! I mean… you have good memories of Mr. Kobayashi, anyway.

Ryo-Timo: For sure.

He was the best, right?

Ryo-Timo: He really was.

He really looked like he had an eye for animation. And in that sense, we might think of Kutsuna as “Kobayashi’s disciple”, but I think when it comes to his artistic side, you’re his true disciple.

Ryo-Timo: I might be! (laughs)

You’re still rock’n’roll! Whereas Kutsuna is…

Ryo-Timo: Today, he’s the one who’s making animation in the truest sense of the word.

Maybe not in the way Mr. Kobayashi did, though. See, he was pushing animation towards the outside, while Kutsuna is pushing it from the outside.

In my case, I’m not even going inside anymore, I’m just making trouble outside! So we’re fighting on different battlefields. But we’re all rock ‘n’ roll in our own way. It’s what makes Kutsuna incredible. The same goes for Mr. Kobayashi. He was rock ‘n’ roll, he was great. 

This is what I love, all those rock ‘n’ roll people. That’s why I’m saying the anime industry can eat shit. I mean, who even gives a fuck, right? Just do what you want.

What a perfect way to end this interview!

Ryo-Timo: (laughs)

We don’t have enough words to thank Ryo-Timo, whose passion, kindness, and availability are incomparable. Our thanks also go to Mr. Hamanaka, the staff at Connichi, and Nathan Souris for providing supplies.

Interview by Ludovic Joyet.

Assistance by Matteo Watzky.

Transcription by Isuzumi.

Translation by Lilo Chiche.

Introduction and notes by Matteo Watzky.

Notes

[1] Yasuhiro Irie (1971-). Animator, director. Artist close to studio Bones, he collaborated to many of the studio’s works since its foundation and served as director of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. On top of working as an independent storyboarder and director, he is president of the Japanese Association of Animation Creators (JAniCA). Read more about Yasuhiro Irie on fullfrontal.moe: Interview #1, Interview #2

[2] Yukio Takatsu (1971-). Animator, director. Independent animator most famous for the openings and endings he directed on Naruto Shippuden, the Monogatari series, and March Comes in Like a Lion. Since he moved to France, he’s been a good friend of the fullfrontal.moe team. Read more about Yukio Takatsu on fullfrontal.moe

[3] Bill Plympton (1946-). Director. American director famous for his rough linework and his tongue-in-cheek movies. Some of his famous works include the short series Guard Dog or Eat.

[4] Osamu Kobayashi (1964-2021). Director, designer. One of the most independent creators in Japanese animation of the 2000s, famous for his collaborations with Studio 4°C and for directing series such as Beck and Paradise Kiss. He is the one who “scouted” the web-gen artists.

[5] Ken’ichi Kutsuna (1983-). Animator. One of the three original members of the webgen. One of the main action animators of the late 2000s and 2010s, he has recently moved to directing openings on series such as Vlad Love, Magical Destroyers, and The Fire Hunter. Nicknamed “the sakuga critic”, he is also acknowledged as one of the most knowledgeable persons on animation in Japan. Read more about Ken’ichi Kutsuna on fullfrontal.moe

[6] Norio Matsumoto. Animator. One of the most influential artists in the history of anime, he contributed to rewriting the vocabulary of action animation in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a focus on deformation, fluidity, and heavy inspiration from real-life martial arts techniques. He is particularly famous for his work on the Naruto series.

[7] Satoru Utsunomiya (1959-). Animator. One of the most important animators in anime history, notably for his work as character designer and animation director on Gosenzosama Banbanzai in 1989. He revolutionized realist animation by liberating movement, deforming shapes and moving away from the reproduction of real movement or the use of reference.

[8] Birdy the Mighty: Decode. 2008-2009 TV series, A-1 Pictures, dir. Kazuki Akane. A 2-seasons adaptation of an SF action manga by Yûki Masami, it is generally regarded as the most important work produced by the webgen. Episodes 7 and 12 of season 2 in particular are regarded as epoch-making but were particularly controversial at the time. Episode 7 in particular was largely redrawn for the DVD release because of complaints about the off-model animation.

[9] Yoshiyuki Tomino (1941-). Director. One of the most important directors in anime history. Starting his career on Astro Boy, he is most famous as the creator of the Gundam series and one of the greatest SF creators in Japan. In recent years, he has been busy on the Gundam: Reconguista in G series, after which he is said to maybe retire.

[10] Shingo Yamashita (1987-). Animator. One of the three original members of the webgen. A key action animator of the 2000s and 2010s, he has recently become famous for his openings on series such as Ranking of Kings, Chainsaw Man, and Jujutsu Kaisen.

[11] Tomoyuki Niho. Animator. An action animator close to the webgen, who worked a lot with Masaaki Yuasa on Ping Pong or Lu Over the Wall.

[12] Daft Punk. Originally named Darlin’, this famous French electronic music duo renamed itself to Daft Punk after a critic called their music “daft punky trash”.

[13] Kôji Takeuchi. Producer. A veteran producer, former president of Telecom Animation Film, who was instrumental in the transition of anime cel painting to digital in the late 1990s. In recent years, he’s become president of the Tokyo Anime Awards festival and overseeing multiple animator training projects. Read more about Kôji Takeuchi on fullfrontal.moe

[14] Takeshi Inamura (1969-). Former animator from Studio Ghibli, who then moved on to Studio Ponoc. He has mainly been animation director on Tales From Earthsea, From Up on Poppy Hill and Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

[15] Mitsuo Iso (1966-). Animator, director. One of the most important animators in anime history, known for the extreme realism of his animation. He has since then moved on to direction with SF series such as Dennô Coil or The Orbital Children.

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