At Otakuthon we had the privilege of sitting down for a few minutes with Mr. Hisashi Kagawa, an animation industry veteran who has worked on countless anime series, including staples of magical girl genre such as “Sailor Moon” and “Fresh Pretty Cure”.
KKS: Thank you so much for speaking with us today! We’re quite interested in magical girls, and we noticed you’ve worked as character designer and animation director on many of these shows, such as “Phantom Thief Jeanne”, “Angelic Layer”, “Fresh Pretty Cure!”, “Magic User’s Club” and “Sailor Moon”. Is there anything about magical girls that you find particularly interesting?
Kagawa: First, the characters in those types of shows are all really cute. Secondly, the costumes are also very pretty. Being able to personally bring movement to those wonderful characters is something I really enjoy.
KKS: What is one of the more challenging parts of creating character designs?
Kagawa: For the most part, if there’s an original source manga, I just try to stick with the reference material, but when it came to “Pretty Cure”, I was able to do a lot with my own original style. So one of the things I did was research what kind of things were cool and popular with the kids, the girls, who were fans of “Pretty Cure”. Finding and collecting those things as reference and trying to understand them and digest them all for inspiration was quite difficult.
KKS: What sorts of things did you look at? Did you model them after any particular fashion at the time?
Kagawa: Those designs were almost precisely 10 years ago. Around that time, dancing was getting quite popular for young Japanese girls. A lot of them were taking dance lessons. And I wanted them to always remember “Pretty Cure” and dancing go together in their minds, so I figured why not take some cues from dance fashion? Also, some Native American inspired accessories were very popular at that time so I took those into account as well.
KKS: The costumes are certainly really cute and frilly!
Regarding your work on “Sailor Moon”, the series is now a worldwide phenomenon. Can you talk a bit about that series? Did you have a favorite sailor senshi to draw?
Kagawa: Personally, I did a lot of scenes for Sailor Jupiter. For example, I was in charge of her transformation scene, and her special attack scenes, which are cuts used in almost every episode, so I really have a special attachment to Sailor Jupiter. And besides, I’m a pretty small guy, meanwhile, Jupiter’s so tall and stylish, so she’s quite charming to me. (Laughs)
KKS: Jupiter is definitely one of our favorites as well! She’s so cool. Isn’ it amazing that over 20 years later, fans are still watching and admiring your work on that series?
Kagawa: I’m absolutely surprised! When working on anime, we certainly aren’t thinking about 20 years ahead in the future!
Besides magical girls, you’ve also done key animation for series with a lot of action, for example “Rurouni Kenshin”. Do you have any particular method for making action scenes?
Kagawa: Well for “Rurouni Kenshin”, I only worked on a small section of it, but more generally I do enjoy animating action, even though it can be difficult. And I particularly like Hong Kong action movies starring Jackie Chan and the like. I like to observe the flow of the movements, transitions, and the dramatic poses they strike. When I watch these types of movies, I try to think about how I can transfer that type of cool movement to my animation work.
You’ve often worked on both the TV episodes and movies within the same series. The animation in movies often tends to look very polished. Are there big differences with regards to how you approach work for movies?
Kagawa: Nowadays, techniques have advanced so much that there are TV series with animation of such high quality that they are comparable to theatrical productions. But fundamentally, the main difference is the amount of time and budget available. For a TV show with such tight deadlines and budget, there might be a decision to limit or reduce some frames or movements, as long as the overall meaning still comes across. But with movies, because it’s meant to be viewed on such a large and high quality screen, we will put in a lot more movement and flourishes. Still, ultimately, it just comes down to the time limit and budget being far bigger for movies. Although even then, the schedule for movies can still be quite tight.
You definitely have a passion as an animator, and we’ve noticed you’re always working on a sketch of one character or another. Do you still love drawing as a personal hobby? Does anything inspire you to draw?
Kagawa: When working, of course I like it. But when talking about drawing as a hobby, in my free time, well there are many times when I might say “I don’t want to draw because I’m already too tired of it from work”, as is probably true with any profession. But mostly, I do like drawing.
As for inspiration, I get it from everywhere, whether I’m watching TV, browsing the internet, or just going out into the world. I’m always trying to observe things that might catch my attention, and then trying to incorporate that into my work, and whenever possible, adding my own personal touch on it.
What is the most important advice you could give to the next generation of animators?
Kagawa: Hmm…there are so many things…but, first, I’d say that you are fundamentally making entertainment. When you are creating a work, and its purpose is to provide enjoyment to others, it’s important to make sure that you yourself are able to find the same enjoyment in your work. Sometimes the job can be difficult, and there are so many things that can get you down, but it’s important to find at least something, one positive thing, to hang on to so that you can carry on.
And to continue in that thought, even if in that exact moment, you aren’t having fun doing it, just keep your head up. Actually, just to go back to “Sailor Moon,” that was some 25 years ago. Back then, it wasn’t that popular on the internet in Japan, and I couldn’t get much feedback from people around me. But nowadays, on twitter, I’m still getting reactions not just from Japan but the entire world over. For “Sailor Moon”, there were some tough times to suffer through then, but now I’m so proud and glad to have worked on it.