Chikashi Kubota (久保田 誓) is a prolific animation director who has worked on a variety of popular anime series and films such as One Punch Man, Space Dandy, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Kubota is also the character designer for FLCL Progressive, the sequel to the beloved FLCL OVA, currently airing on Adult Swim.
Kubota was a guest of honor at FanimeCon 2018 where the CFG team had the honor of interviewing him.
Interviewed by Arlette Agati and William Hong
Translated by Sujay Venkat
What inspired you to become an artist?
It started when I was in grade school where I enjoyed drawing from the very beginning. I studied abroad in England because my parents moved there for job related reasons. During class I didn’t understand anything that was being said, so I didn’t pay much attention and spent most of the time drawing. That lead to me drawing short manga strips and then got caught up in being able to make my drawings move even to a small extent. I learned that people used drawings to create animation. So I drew manga in class and created moving picture comics.
When I got back to Japan, that was around the time of the Dragon Ball boom while the manga was growing in popularity. So I started drawing Dragon Ball characters and they were okay, but I got better and better the more I drew them. Then I saw in a magazine that they were creating the anime. I realized that I could draw, make animation, and actually do this for a living, so it was around 5th grade where I decided I want to pursue this as a career. It’s like creating flipbooks.
Who were your favorite manga artists while you were growing up?
Definitely like I said, from grade school to middle school I was really obsessed with Dragon Ball. Probably the biggest influences for me were the artists for Dragon Ball, Katsuyoshi Nakatsuru and Masaki Sato. As I got more invested into not just learning about animators and artists, but also watching anime and seeing the things I liked. There were tons of other artists I got hooked on. If I gave you the full list, it would probably take up this entire interview. There were a lot of other influences that definitely helped.
What was the most challenging scene you’ve had to animate?
I treat every scene I do as a challenge. Any scene I relax on my drawings become bad. So sort of like doing your daily exercise and taking vitamins, I take them in one at a time. If I don’t repeat that same amount of effort than it’s not good. So each scene is a challenging scene for me to complete.
When I was more green as an animator it would just take a lot more time to complete. In a sense the repetition that everything was completed to the best of my ability and the workload was something I could bear. I’ve gotten pretty used to it, but it was definitely a challenge.
Each scene is filled with its own memories and associations. It’s hard to pick a specific scene to highlight, but there’s one scene that had a big impact. Not just on me, but the the series itself and the audience. It’s the scene in Anohana where the story reaches a pinnacle. Being able to animate that scene had a big impact on me and the story itself.
Space Dandy used a wide variety of animation styles. What was it like working on the show?
My most significant memory of working on Space Dandy were the many different styles used by the animators. The creators were free to do as they pleased with the series, almost too much. The staff also had a lot of liberties so it was a fun project work on. There were a lot of ideas thrown into the melting pot. My role was more traditional in the sense that I was mostly following what the character designer wanted and bringing to a level what the other styles brought into play. In a sense I was matching the other animators and creators with an orthodox style.
So in a continuation of that story, the director of Space Dandy was Shingo Natsume and his next project was One Punch Man. Not only was I able to stay on the same level with the other creators during Space Dandy, since I was also able to match their styles in a unique way, he thought I’d be the best suited to handle One Punch Man. In a sense I owe it to Space Dandy for that job coming to me.
Speaking of One Punch Man, did you receive any feedback from the creator while you worked on the anime?
I didn’t receive input from the mangaka, Murata-sensei, while I worked on One Punch Man. It was a worldwide phenomenon. The quality of the art was so high and he was so skilled in drawing his scenes, so rather than receive direct feedback from him I felt like I had to match his skill and study his work with deep concentration. I had to live up to the expectations of his existing fans and the quality he produced in the series.
Saitama because he’s really easy to draw! [laughs, gestures at his shirt]
Saitama from One Punch Man
Tell us about your experience working on the new FLCL series.
As far as the production of FLCL itself, it happened irrespective of Adult Swim in a sense. It started as any other animation project. The original FLCL is legendary so there may be fans that think it should stand alone and a sequel isn’t necessary. So we thought how can we recreate this project in a modern sense with a new team? I wasn’t really involved in the initial creation process since I was invited to the team by someone I knew. So I joined and worked on the character design.
Was it a big change for you going from Xebec to Gainax?
When I started at Xebec I was busy to the point of exhaustion and I was there for about three years. There was a huge gap between the ideal animator I wanted to become and the effort I was putting in, so I realized I was getting no closer to my goal despite how physically and mentally exhausted I was. So I thought about quitting and actually did quit. Once I did, I thought about what I was so worried about on a daily basis. So in a sense I felt relief to get that off my back. Then I tried to do a different kind of work and it didn’t really suit me, so I went to Toei Animation. There I worked on a Digimon movie (Digimon Tamers Movie 6: The Runaway Digimon Express) with Sushio-san, who of course worked on the original FLCL. He’s two years older than me, so despite our close age, he has a very high level of skill. I looked up to him a lot, so from Sushio-san came the idea that I should join Gainax and work as an animation supervisor. So I participated in the regular interview process and joined. Once I joined, even though the level of work was high, it was fulfilling. I was able to see the gap closed compared to when I was working at Xebec. I definitely saw my skill level go up being surrounded by such talented individuals. It might be an exaggeration, but to me working for Gainax changed my life.
I really looked up to Sushio when I worked with him and seeing that he was so successful as an animation supervisor at his age. When we worked together he walked me back to the station one night and said “Hey, why don’t you join me working at Gainax?” If I were to pinpoint one moment, that would probably be it and I was able to follow in his footsteps. The moral of the story is that if you’re really passionate about something it’s important to stop, take a break, refresh yourself, and then go back to it. I think that’s what happened to me.