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Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Truth Behind "The Disaster Anime": Game Lab's Musashi Gundoh Interview Translated!

Happy Easter, All You April Fools!

Way back on December 1, 2011, to celebrate the blog's first anniversary, I wrote a review of the infamous 2006 TV "kuso/crap anime" Gundoh Musashi, or Musashi Gundoh (seriously, either order seems to be official), making it the first milestone review (#50). Even back then, though, I had heard of an interview that had been done after the anime had aired in Japan. As the years went on, I managed to actually find where said interview came from: Volume 140 of Sansai Books' Game Labo Tokubestsu Henshu Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyu/Game Lab Special Edition: Modern Visual Culture Research, released December 2006.

While the main feature in this mook was a 36-page article titled "Kono Anime ga Yabai!/This Anime is Dangerous!", likely a parody of Takarajimasha's "Kono ___ wa Sugoi/This ___ is Great!" series of guide books, it actually had nothing to do with what I was looking for. Instead, in the middle of this Volume was a six-page pair of interviews with Nobuyuki Sugaya & Yuki Kinoshita, the respective producer & director of Gundoh Musashi. In fact, these two interviews were conducted literally days after the anime finished airing on satellite network BS-i on October 29; technically, the final episode aired on October 8, but after that came three "summary" episodes. For years, I was curious about what was said in this mook, and since this is a year about "Unfinished Business", I finally found an Amazon Japan seller that was willing to ship a copy overseas (& for cheap, too), & put my money down. So now, with a translation from Anne Lee of Chic Pixel, I give you the raw & (then) fresh feelings about what exactly went down with what I once called "The Anime Equivalent to The Room", & now nickname "The Disaster Anime", starting with the interview done with ACC Production producer Nobuyuki Sugaya. Specific notes by either myself or Anne will be included via italics for clarification, when needed.
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Direct to the Source!
Creator Interview

The worst anime of the century
[Anne's Note: This was written in English in the article.]

It’s been a long time since there’s been a kuso anime this bad-- Musashi Gundoh, the anime that became famous for its poor production quality and still has an incredible presence, even now. We went straight to the director and producer about the work that shocked anime fans, in more ways than one!

Nobuyuki Sugaya, Producer
Born in 1944. Representative of ACC Production. He has been involved in anime production since the black and white era at Toei Animation. He became independent after working with producer [Yoshinobu] Nishizaki on Space Battleship Yamato. Musashi Gundoh is the second original anime his company has produced after Guilstein.

[George's Note: This intro for Sugaya is from the following page, but it fits better here.]

“I feel like, ‘Let’s get them to call our work a kuso anime one more time.’” 
November 1, 2006. At ACC Production

Interviewer: Musashi Gundoh finished airing in the fall of 2006, but please tell us how things are currently going.
Sugaya: We recently showed it at Cannes. We also just had the French broadcast confirmed. We're in the middle of working out deals for the North American, European, Korean, and Chinese television broadcasts, as well. We’re almost done making the mook, and we’re formatting the text horizontally for the Japanese release, so it will be easier to translate into foreign languages.

Is the anime mook finished?
A certain publisher talked to us about doing it together, so we’re already done making it. But they’ve started saying they’re worried the books won’t sell… And here I’m thinking it’s a bit late for that!

Anything else?
There was a pachinko maker on the Musashi Gundoh manufacturing committee. In April 2007, they’ll be releasing pachinko and slot machines.

Will they have new scenes?
Yes, that’s right. The pachinko and slot machines will have new footage in them. So, right now we’re working on foreign broadcast deals. At the same time, we’ve begun to release the DVDs and rentals within Japan. We’ve also gotten offers for merchandising in China and Korea. We don’t know what kinds of things they’ll be making, but we figure why not see what they’ll come up with.

[George's Note: I couldn't find any definitive proof that the anime was indeed showed at Cannes in 2006, nor is there any proof that the anime saw broadcast anywhere outside of Japan. I also couldn't find proof of the mook ever being published, nor the pachinko & slot machines ever being released. Finally, there's no proof of new footage ever being made. Kazé France did release the entire anime on sub-only DVD in 2008, however, complete with French, Italian, & Dutch subtitles.]

A Production Period of Only 2 Weeks
Speaking of Korea and China, you had a number of international staff working on the project, didn’t you?
We didn’t have any room in our schedule, so we used Korean and Chinese animation companies. But I don’t know about, how should I say, their drawing ability…

Drawing ability?
The art they drew. It just wasn’t good. I was shouting at them the whole time. But since we didn’t have any time, we just had to run it as is… You know, they don’t know anything about Japanese samurai clothing. They don’t know whether the kimono’s left side or right side should be on top. I thought they would know, since they have kimono in Korea and China, too.

Perhaps because young people don’t wear them anymore?
And for the Japanese swords, they drew the blade facing the wrong direction.

So, they attack with the blunt side of the sword? (laugh)
That’s right! And there were times they forgot to draw the scabbard, too. On top of that, the protagonist had two pistols, but there are an unbelievable number of scenes where they forgot to put them in his breast pocket.

That’s pretty major…
You know, there aren’t any mid-tier animators in Korea and China right now. The people who worked as subcontractors for guys like Walt Disney, Marvel, and Hanna-Barbera are all in their 60s now. Jobs from America are decreasing, so now they’re doing subcontracting work for Japan. The people working in Korea and China now graduated from animation schools as part of a national policy. They’re about 26-27 years old. As I said earlier, there are a lot of people who can’t even draw properly. But since we don’t have any time, a lot of Japanese projects are getting sent off to foreign animators. 

What was your schedule like?
The Musashi Gundoh broadcast department and the broadcasting channel had a dispute. We didn’t know whether or not it was going to be broadcast until March 2006.

So, one month before the broadcasting started on April 9th?
That’s right, so we only had 2 weeks for the first episode. We were able to do a decent job with the first episode, but we had no time for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th episodes, so it’s not even a matter of whether they were good or bad. Episode 6 was a recap episode, so we were able to get back on track after that.

What was the dispute about?
We thought the online broadcast would start one minute after the BS-i broadcast. But then BS-i started saying they wouldn’t accept that. In the end, they settled on the BS-i broadcast on Sunday, and the internet broadcast on [the following] Saturday.

This Looks Awful, I Should Watch It
The online broadcast caused quite a stir.
It did. That was both a good thing and a bad thing.

How do you mean?
1,800 households were watching the BS-i broadcast, but no one we knew in the anime industry had BS-i. But there are a lot of fans of Monkey Punch. They wanted to watch the live broadcast of our new show, but they didn’t have BS-i. Then, they started to feel resentful. Even if they went to Akihabara to watch BS-i, we were just showing them a bunch of backgrounds, so it’s not like they could really watch the anime anyway.

That's true, it was not very widespread.
And while those people were filled with resentment, the anime was made available for viewing on GyaO. Everyone that was feeling bitter about the broadcast started writing blog posts. They say it’s a kuso anime, and the like. They say that a lot (laugh).  And you know, our friends in the industry took part in it, too. We don’t owns the rights to Lupin the Third, a different company does. Because of that, they think of all Monkey Punch productions as their own. And they were saying we need to kill the new project ACC Production is working on. It’s in that environment that people are writing blogs that said things like Musashi Gundoh is “awful” and a “kuso anime.”

They say it’s a kuso anime, and the like. They say that a lot. (laugh)

Did all the negative comments bother you?
Well, a sponsor on the production committee was asking, “What are you going to do, Sugaya-san?” I told them we were going to fix things from episode 6, so it would be fine. Let them say what they want.

Were you keeping a close eye on things?
Yeah, and the comments on GyaO were full of things about Musashi Gundoh. It was all over the 2-chan anime board, too. It also had the most hits out of any show on GyaO, starting from the first episode. Everyone was saying, “This looks awful, I should watch it,” and then they would! (laugh) But I was worried about whether that was a good thing or not. That’s when we talked to the people at BS-i, and they said it was. They said, “If you’re that worried about it, do something like a recap episode for episode 6.”

BS-i told you to do that?
Yes. But then the second episode 6 went on the air, and we got a phone call from BS-i. They said, “Why did you make episode 6 a recap?” and, “You need to show more!” We also got a phone call asking if that was the last episode. (laugh)

They must have thought you were canceling the series early.
It’s not like we could end it there! (laugh) As a result of that, someone from BS-i said to me, “Sugaya-san, you understand that the audience is watching, right?” But aren’t the blogs saying all these awful things? And they said, “We don’t care about any of that.”

Not from the article, but an image for context.
Cut It Out, Sugaya
How did the original broadcast version box set “Seal” come about?
GyaO told us, “Why not make 1,000 DVD box sets and sell them online? If you put a ‘seal’ on it, it’ll definitely be a big hit.”

[Anne’s Note: This refers to the seal design of the box set. These are going for less than 2,000 yen on Yahoo Auctions now.]

[George's Note: The "Seal" boxset only had the first eight episodes across four DVDs, plus a bonus disc that had the "Afureco" versions of the first three episodes. Unfortunately, the broadcast discs were formatted in letterboxed 4:3, while the Afureco disc was formatted in anamorphic widescreen, so the unfinished versions were in better quality than the "final" versions.]

And what was the result?
It was amazing! We sold out the day orders opened. (laugh) Also, BS-i told us the Sunday 9:30-10 anime slot would definitely be good.

You’re starting a new series in the same time slot, right?
It’s a show for kids called RGB-ADV. Yuki Kinoshita is our lead supervisor, and it’s nearly entirely the same team as Musashi Gundoh.

[George's Note: RGB-ADV is short for RGB Adventure, a TV anime based on an full-CG animation short from 1998 that Monkey Punch came up with for an amusement park ride. While it was planned to run for half a year, problems at ACC Production resulted in only six episodes, plus two "extra" & "summary" episodes, actually being aired; five more episodes had scheduled air dates, however. The anime also never saw a DVD release, with only a drama CD seeing release.]

Why are you doing a special series for two weeks before the first episode? 
It’s normal to wonder why we would do a special before the anime airs. Well, I feel like, let’s get them to call our work a kuso anime one more time. (laugh)

Again?!
A 30-minute special is considered a show advertisement. We did that because we had to pay for the time slot. So, we’re going to unabashedly advertise our show for two weeks. We’ll totally draw it out over two weeks, and then when the anime starts on the third week, they’re going to think, “This again?!” It’ll be all over the blogs! (laugh)

[George's Note: These "summary" episodes were also aired together in place of a 2006 BS-i airing of ACC's 2002 movie Guilstein.]

That’s very different from how you’ve produced anime up until now.
The older anime companies are telling me, “Cut it out, Sugaya.” (laugh) They’re asking why I’m ruining the way we’ve always done things.

Is it exciting to know you’re becoming so hated?
I don’t really care either way. (laugh) As long as our business runs smoothly and we’re making a profit, I don’t care at all.

I see…
As long as you have a company that understands that, an animator or an animation director can become a producer and make a show. The way things currently are, anime companies don’t let animation directors produce shows. A bank or a company listed on the stock exchange is in the producer chair and says, “You work for us, so just do what you’re told.” That’s why even if they make something, it’s not interesting.

And the people who are actually doing the work can’t feel good about it?
That’s right. And that's why the character designer and the director have the proper copyrights for Musashi Gundoh. We stress this at our job; if the product sells, we want you to see royalties. In exchange, we tell people not to make anything weird. Their names are all over the work and they can make what they want. If it sells in North America and Europe, isn’t that enough? Well, it does require funds. But I’ll be happy if new people keep coming into the anime industry because of our hard work.
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Director Yuki Kinoshita
Musashi Gundoh’s director. Chairman of the animation studio Anime ToroToro. Kinoshita has had a long career in the industry. He is currently the animation director of One Piece and Death Note and has worked on the production of Naruto.

[George's Note: Just like with Sugaya, this intro for Kinoshita is from following page, but moved here for better flow.]

“It wouldn’t be strange to see another show end up like Musashi.”
November 2, 2016. In the studio

Interviewer: How do you feel, now that the series is finished?
Kinoshita: I’m relieved. I still feel the frustration of not being able to do what I wanted to, though. It’s not the quality I wanted. Other projects achieve a certain level of quality. But for it to end up like this… If there was a sequel, I’d want to gather a good team to do it.

Its reputation online has largely been negative.
It has, hasn’t it? (laugh) But you know, I really am grateful to everyone online. If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do 26 episodes. I’m sure I would’ve resigned partway through. I thought, I wouldn’t mind if they just got rid of me.

When did you feel that way?
Hm, probably the first 6 episodes. We ended up deciding to do a kind of recap episode for episode 6, and after that we started using some of my staff (Anime ToroToro). We wanted to make it a little better. But even then, the result was the same. (bitter laugh)

The quality of the art differs depending on the episode.
There were about three animation directors who were working on different projects that we had help with ours. We wanted to break out of the current situation. But even with one company trying its best, it wasn’t enough… (Our next project) RGB-ADV is the same, but they don’t want the work to go abroad. It’s staying within Japan. Both the in-between animation and the key animation.

[George's Note: RGB Adventure would utilize Yoyogi Animation School, in place of the Korean & Chinese studios Musashi relied on.]

You weren’t able to fix the work done by the international subcontractors?
No, it just wasn’t possible, because they handed it on the day of the video editing. The following day was the broadcast. Fixing it would make us miss the deadline.

How long would you normally have?
We normally get things 1-2 weeks before. We look over what we’ve been given, and if it’s no good, we’ll have them redo it, and then go into video editing again. If we only have one week, we make some slight modifications.

How Should I Put This… It Wasn’t a Laughing Matter
The production schedule for Musashi Gundoh was quite tough, wasn’t it?
Yes. As the director, the video editing was the first time I saw it. My reaction was kind of, “Oh... Well this is something else.”

What were you thinking at the time?
Well… How should I put this… It wasn’t a laughing matter. What I had before me was a complete joke. I was like… What do I do with this?... I didn’t even want to look at it. I even said if I was only going to be able to watch the video editing, there was no point in me continuing. I was depressed for 2 days after viewing it. That’s why I couldn’t watch the actual broadcasts.

The director isn’t able to decide on the subcontractors for in-between and key animation?
That’s up to production. I can’t decide that for myself. Either way, we didn't have staff in Japan. Everything was all over the place, so we had to let the Chinese subcontractors do more than half of it. From the start, we weren’t able to do preparatory meetings. Even if we did, they wouldn’t understand. They didn’t have enough ability from the get-go, so no matter what we said, they just didn’t understand. That was the situation.

But even under those circumstances, you were somehow able to finish it.
In the end, it was all thanks to everyone who told us to keep going. I could feel them pushing me forward. If I look at it from their perspective, I believe they thought we did the best we could, but… 26 episodes… Somehow, I was able to resolve myself to seeing it to the end.

Were you ever angered by the negative comments?
I was mad at first. I thought, is this some kind of joke? Have they even thought about what it’s like for us? But how things are for us has nothing to do with it. Everyone only sees what’s on the screen. That’s what I realized. So, I decided to learn from what everyone was saying. I’ll have to fix everything everyone said bad things about next time.

Do you have plans to redo things for the DVD?
Of course, I want to fix it as much as possible. If we don’t, people will start to doubt our ability.

[George's Note: A complete collection "MusashiBox" was scheduled for release on May 16, 2007, but was canceled just a month prior to release, resulting in Japan never receiving a complete home video release for the anime; to this day, Kazé France's DVDs are the sole complete release. It is unknown if Kinoshita ever truly had the opportunity to redo the animation. Similarly, a release of the Original Soundtrack that was scheduled for September 20, 2006 was also canceled, prior to the anime's broadcast ending.]

There’s a chance it might turn into something like Musashi again.
If that happens, I want you to give me a good scolding.

The animation issues seem to indicate that there are structural problems with the anime industry.
That’s right. There are too many shows in the anime industry right now. It wouldn’t be strange to see another show end up like Musashi. It’s because they do things like entice people with the power of money. We decided that we won’t do that. We’re going to do things with the staff we have. If the staff remember some of what happened here, they can take it to their next project and be ready to fix things when people say it’s bad. But we won’t be sending things to China anymore, unfortunately. (laugh)

What is Musashi Gundoh?
A few years after the battle of Sekigahara, there was a man who fought with two guns… Musashi Gundoh is an anime series that ran on BS-i and other channels from April 9th to October 29th, 2006. It's the exciting historical anime return of Lupin the Third’s Monkey Punch after 12 years!! …Or so it was thought. The lack of direction in the animation quality and the complete failure of the establishment, not the content of the show, was what put it in the news. The way it deviated from other works gained it more than a few fans, many "MAD" fan videos, and popular quotes such as, “Whoa, it’s so bright!” It’s now a famous series that is destined to be used as a gauge for other anime through comments such as, “This is just worse than Musashi,” or “It’s not as bad as Musashi.”

Original Work: Monkey Punch/Planning Production: Nobuyuki Sugaya/Director: Yuki Kinoshita  Development: ACC Production Studio/Production: Musashi Production Committee/CV: Miyamoto Musashi---Daisuke Namikawa/Ronin---Jin Horikawa/Kaguya---Shiho Kawaragi/Priest Takuan---Soichiro Tanaka

Keep the Critiques Coming
Then we won’t see a situation like Musashi Gundoh again?
I don’t know. (laugh) This kind of stuff happens with Korea, too. Even if we have meetings, we just aren’t able to convey things to them… Well, that happens within Japan too. There have been times I’ve thought, “This won’t do,” on other projects, too. But if we have time, we’re able to fix it. Recently, even on major projects, there have been too many cases where the audio doesn’t sync with the animation. It’s not really acceptable, even though they say it can’t be helped.

It’s primarily a matter of time, isn’t it?
I think so. It’s not like the people who do work for, say, Disney are especially amazing. The major difference is just the fact that they’re given time.

The people criticizing you tend to forget that, don’t they?
Even so, I want everyone to keep the critiques coming. There are animators that I’ve mentored who have become famous that called me after seeing the bad things said about me online. They said that they’re the only ones who are allowed to talk about me that way. Then they offered to redo the opening for me. But just as I was going to let them go for it, it (episode 26) was over. (laugh) I seriously cried. I cried because my super busy juniors would offer to do that, and because of all the people online who talked about the show.

Did you consistently not worry about the criticism you were seeing online?
I was fine, no matter what they decided to talk about. Apparently, there were all kinds of things making fun of me, like “100% Yuki" (see note), but even that doesn’t bother me. Parody is a part of animation culture, too. There are people who do things properly, and people who do things like Musashi. I think it’s because of that that we have the animation industry. I want to treat it like a joke too, like, “Whoa, it’s so bright!”


[Anne's Note: This refers to an infamous line Musashi says that makes no sense in the context of a fight scene (there is nothing bright at all).]

Do you have any final words for our readers? 
I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to talk to everyone like this. I absolutely want to make something good next time. But the truth is, there’s a chance it might turn into something like Musashi again. If that happens, I want you to give me a good scolding.

(Note:) The full line is, “It was 100% managed by Yuki, you just have to laugh~,” which appears in a fan video made using Musashi Gundoh footage set to the tune of Nintama Rantaro’s theme song that makes fun of the people involved in the project.


[Anne's Note: This video.]
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Personally, Anne & I agreed that we were most shocked by Nobuyuki Sugaya's sheer bluntness when it came to how blatantly he was admitting to trying to play up the anime's infamy, even effectively trolling viewers by delaying the debut of his studio's next show by airing "summary" episodes of Musashi. As I noted early on, he even hastily replaced a BS-i airing of ACC's Guilstein movie just to re-air more Musashi! It's also very amusing, via hindsight, that Sugaya felt that as long as ACC "runs smoothly" & is "making a profit", then he didn't care what people thought of him... Too bad ACC Production wound up being declared bankrupt in November 2007, not to mention the problems that lead to that closure were responsible for RGB Adventure's early cancellation, & Musashi never receiving a complete home video release in Japan. Good job, Mr. Sugaya.

As for Yuki Kinoshita, I do feel for the director, as he obviously only wanted to deliver the best that he possibly could, in spite of pretty much the entire production of the anime going against him. It really is a shame that his goal of "fixing" Musashi for the complete collection never came to be, especially since he did seem to have the support of younger & more famous animators, who only wanted to help their "senpai" out. After Musashi & RGB Adventure, Kinoshita would only direct one more anime, late 2007's children series Prince Shampoo, before returning to just working on key animation & animation direction. Since then, Kinoshita has worked on everything from Restaurant to Another World & Shakugan no Shana III (Final) to even the second season of Attack on Titan & Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F'.

Once again, I'd like to credit & give a giant "Thank you" to Anne Lee for helping make this piece a reality; quite simply, without her translation, this wouldn't have been possible in the first place. If you're interested in more translations from Anne, she's shared others over at her own blog, among other various things, and if you like what Anne's doing, you can support her directly through her Patreon.

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