Studio Z: An in-depth interview – Translation and commentary

This interview was initially published in Japanese in Monthly OUT Rendez-Vous n°6, September 1978 issue. All my thanks go to dragonhunteriv for providing the raws. The notes are from the original text.

People who have seen Voltes V have probably not forgotten the intensity with which Hynel draws his sword. People who have seen Zambot 3 surely remember these times when episodes felt like they had the quality of a movie. And also that moment in “Butcher’s Last Day” when Kappei looked like Remi. All these moments come from a company which has been growing popular these days: Studio Z. For this issue of OUT Rendez-Vous, we wanted to investigate what Studio Z is all about, and conducted an in-depth interview. The ones who agreed to answer are Z’s core animators: Kazuo Tomizawa, Yoshinori Kanada, Masayuki Uchiyama and Shigenobu Nagasaki. Now, let’s see what stories they have to tell…

Kedaman. When was Studio Z created?

Tomizawa. Around May of last year? But actually, 6 years ago, at the time of Akadô Suzunosuke, there was this place called studio Z which was Mr. Shingo Araki’s headquarters. It had a dozen members and only existed for a year, but when we created this studio here, it happened that there were a lot of members from the old Z, so that’s why we decided to name it that way.

Kedaman. What has Studio Z worked on so far?

Tomizawa. Our first work was Voltes V’s opening, then Danguard Ace, Candy Candy, Guyslugger… Then Zambot 3 came in, and now we’re on Nobody’s Boy Remi, Daitarn 3 and Starzinger.

Kedaman. Why did you create the studio?

Tomizawa. Originally, we’re all from different studios, but we all happened to go freelance at the same time, and when I heard that, I thought it would be good to gather everybody to do things the way we liked. So there wasn’t any deep reason or anything…

Kazuo Tomizawa, key animator on Nobody’s Boy Remi. He is doing his best under the mountain of drawings.

Kedaman. Before joining Z, what were you all working on?

Kanada. My first work was on Mahô no Mako-chan. I did my first key animation on Sarutobi Ecchan, and then Akadô and The Gutsy Frog. After that I moved on to Tôei’s mechas like Getter Robo, Gaiking and Danguard A, and recently I’ve been on Zambot and Daitarn.

Uchiyama. You worked on Yamato too, didn’t you?

Kanada. Yamato? What’s that? (Note: Kanada worked on the last episode, until the point when Dessler crashes. He’s also on the sequel. Oh noooo, he’s been found out!!)

Nagasaki. My first work was Lupin the Third. Then I was on Mazinger Z, Zero Tester, Getter Robo, Grendizer, Ga-Keen, Barattack and Harlock. Now I’m working on Daitarn. These are all mechas now that I think about it (laughs).

Uchiyama. In my case, around the end of Tiger Mask, I joined Keiichirô Kimura’s Neo Media and did in-betweens on Attack Number One, and then my first key animation on the first Lupin series. I also worked on New Obake no Q-Tarô, The Gutsy Frog and Yamato. After that I was on Getter and Gaiking, and we did Danguard #28 together with Kanada. That was the time when Z was created, I think… And now I’m on Starzinger.

Tomizawa. I worked on Akadô, Gutsy, Jim Button and did my first key animation on L’Etoile de la Seine. After that it was Ganso Tensai Bakabon, Machine Hayabusa, Candy and then Nobody’s Boy Remi. It’s really nothing special.

Nagasaki. You haven’t only worked on mechas like the rest of us, that’s amazing!

Kedaman. How many members does Z have right now?

Kanada. If we include the people who don’t have a desk in the studio, we’re around 10, right?

Tomizawa. Including 4 girls.

Kedaman. I’ve heard that Z didn’t allow girls in… So that was false?

Uchiyama. Complete lies. No girls would come so we made that up to look good (laughs).

Kanada. There’s also a lot of us who come from Tokyo Design Academy, right?

Tomizawa. Considering how things are going at ToDe right now, it kinda makes sense. It’s full of people who just watch anime all the time. Maybe it’d be better if we had more people who know nothing about animation instead.

The bikes of Z’s members. Tomizawa’s is the Arcadia Mk.1, Kanada’s the Arcadia Mk.2 and Uchiyama’s The White Bird
Z is located on the third floor of this apartment building, called Corp Minori.

Kedaman. Did you come to Tokyo just to become an animator?

Kanada.  You know, I did enter ToDe, but I quit after 3 months and passed Tôei’s entrance exam. I left after a year and a half, moved to Mr. Araki and then Mr. Takuo Noda’s places and worked there for some time, and then I entered this studio where it’s just us youngsters.

Kedaman. Mr. Nagasaki, I’ve heard that you originally wanted to become a singer. Is that true?

Nagasaki. It is, and I haven’t given up on it yet! I’m drinking lots of coffee and building up my power, so whenever the time comes I’ll be ready (laughs).

Kedaman. From your position as animators, what do you think of the current anime boom?

Tomizawa. It’s a good thing. When you think about it, just the fact that animation could obtain even a bit of recognition is amazing. Until now, people didn’t even know that animation was drawn one frame at a time, so it’s great that they’re starting to realize it now. But well, we’ll see how long that lasts.

Kedaman. What do you think about the currently airing series?

Tomizawa. They’re all good.

Kedaman. Have you been watching Future Boy Conan?

Kanada. It’s really good!

Tomizawa. But you know, making things like that is fine for the people who developed their skills on features, but we’re a generation of pirates, aren’t we (laughs)? We’re a sort of mix of people coming from Mushi Pro, Tôei and whatnot, so we wouldn’t be able to do things like Conan, which is on a feature film level. If producers asked us to do something like that, we’d be in trouble. But as a viewer, I don’t think I’ve seen anything that powerful.

Kanada. We’re doing TV, so we have to stick to a TV feeling, is that it?

Uchiyama. You’re saying that, but we can’t help wanting to get on that level either. But yes, it’s really a feast for the eyes!

Tomizawa. We probably all feel the same way about it.

I wanted to see what was inside, but it was empty…

Kedaman. Mr. Kanada, when you draw robots, you always use very special poses. Where do these come from?

Kanada. Well, I’m trying to draw them right, but they always end up that way all by themselves.

Tomizawa. Isn’t that just because you’re always wearing sunglasses?

Uchiyama. No, I just think something’s wrong with his head (laughs).

Kedaman. Can you tell us a bit more about your work on Zambot 3? (Note: the episodes Z was in charge of are #05, #10, #16 and #22)

Kanada. I didn’t dislike it, and I really liked Mr. Yasuhiko’s characters, but… At first, I had heard that it was supposed to be something like Beeton, but then I saw the robot, and it had so many lines, which really got me down. When I watched Raideen, I already felt that, but it was even worse this time.

Tomizawa. Well, they only showed you the characters the first time, the robot wasn’t there yet.

Nagasaki. These characters were really good, though.

Kanada. What’s the point if they’re all going to die?

Nagasaki. Yeah, it ends up in a massacre.

Kanada. Really, everybody dies… 

Nagasaki. That’s the first time a show ends that way, right?

Kedaman. Some people are saying it’s like Marine Kong (laughs).

Uchiyama. Isn’t that really old?

Kanada. The voice actors were very well chosen, though. The music as well. Even if the drawings are bad, if the music’s good, you can enjoy it.

Kedaman. How long does it take you to make an episode?

Kanada. I’d say more-or-less 40 days. Sometimes I do it in a month, and sometimes I’m slower and do it in two, so 40 days sounds like a good midpoint.

Kedaman. How much time do you work in a day?

Kanada. Well, I also play around a lot, so around 6 hours?

Tomizawa. Soon, our first truly unique production will come out. That’s Daitarn 3 #14 (Note: it was broadcast as #12): none of the animation was done by other people, it’s all in-house.

There are all kinds of things pasted on the walls, which is very fun

Kedaman. In the future, would you like Z to become a bigger studio?

Tomizawa. Eventually, I’d like it to, yes. But the thing is, when you’re doing an entire series, it’s impossible to do everything in-house, so unless we have enough time, that’s probably going to be impossible. We can’t do too many things at the same time, so that could only happen if we are given that time.

Kedaman. So, what do you think you’re going to work on next?

Tomizawa. Well, we’ll do anything we’re asked to.

Nagasaki. I want to work on something with nice characters.

Uchiyama. Yeah, I think that’s all we’re asking for. We have to go against the flow.

Tomizawa. Something simple without too many lines would be good.

Kanada. Things like the old Jetter Mars, or Soran, Tetsujin or Wolf Boy Ken, these are nice. There aren’t a lot of simple, round characters like that anymore. Really, I don’t like it when there are too many lines. But even now, I tend to make things simpler when I draw (laughs).

Uchiyama. The only thing I don’t want to do would be something that doesn’t move. An action comedy just needs to move, that kind of thing would get me really fired up.

Kanada. Something like that with a really cheesy story would be nice.

Tomizawa. Yeah, something like Yôko Shôji’s works, right (laughs).

Uchiyama. Or Hideo Azuma, please! (laughs) I’d really want to work on Yakekuso Tenshi, for example (laughs). There aren’t many lines and the characters look fun.

Kanada. Yeah, but the atmosphere is really special, though. Something like Wild Seven probably won’t happen, but if it ever came out, that’d be interesting as well.

Kedaman. We have little time left, so let’s move on to the Q&A. First, what’s your favorite anime?

Kanada. Flying Phantom Ship and 3000 Miles Under the Sea.

Nagasaki. For me, it’d be Animal Treasure Island.

Tomizawa. I don’t really have any favorites. But in live-action, I like Fighting Elegy and Seijun Suzuki’s movies.

Uchiyama. I really like the first Lupin and Conan. But if we’re talking about stuff that’s just “impressive”, there’s a lot.

Kedaman. What about anime that you hate?

Kanada. There’s a lot, but things like Perrine (that’s because I can’t draw stuff like that).

Nagasaki. Same. Things like A Dog of Flanders or Laura the Prairie Girl.

Tomizawa. Maybe Umi no Triton?

Uchiyama. Yamato. It was annoying to work on.

Kedaman. Your favorite books?

Kanada. Romeo and Juliet, travel logs and train timetables.

Nagasaki. The books by Jirô Nitta and Hiroyuki Itsuki.

Tomizawa. I like Kyuzo Kobayashi, and Juko Nishimura. Also Yôko Shôji and Candy Candy!

Uchiyama. Out Rendez-vous. That’s because I get them for free.

Kedaman. Who’s your favorite female actress?

Kanada. Jane Fonda.

Nagasaki. Definitely Sayuri Yoshinaga.

Tomizawa. Ikue Sakakibara and… Ayako Wakao.

Uchiyama. I’d say Keiko Takeshita and Hiromi Murachi.

Kedaman. What are the TV programs you watch the most?

Kanada. The new Comet-san and Ohayô Kodomo Show. (Note: Of course, that’s just for Kumiko Oba)

Nagasaki. Yoru no Hit Studio and Akarui Nôson.

Tomizawa. 11PM, Otona no Jikan and the old Migoro, Tabegoro, Waraigoro.

Uchiyama. Onna no Roku Juppun and Uwasa no Channel.

The key frames are being checked by Shin’ya Sadamitsu before they’re sent to the in-betweeners

Kedaman. What’s a thing that really moved you recently?

Kanada. A Bob James concert.

Nagasaki. The movie Furimukeba Ai.

Tomizawa. Nothing in particular. I don’t have feelings.

Uchiyama. Being interviewed. I still can’t believe this is happening (laughs).

Kedaman. What’s the thing you like most about working in animation? 

Kanada. For me, it’s year-end parties.

Nagasaki. New year parties as well.

Tomizawa. The award ceremony for Nobody’s Boy Remi.

Uchiyama. The parties we do after a production is over.

Kedaman. Wait, isn’t that just partying? Now, what’s your favorite food?

Kanada. 250 yen yakisoba. (Note: pudding and Yoshinoya’s gyudon as well)

Nagasaki. Anything as long as it’s edible.

Tomizawa. Tororo soba.

Uchiyama. 300 yen curry rice, I guess?

Kedaman. Do you have anything to say to aspiring animators?

Kanada. (Silence)

Nagasaki. Nothing in particular, really.

Tomizawa. Give it up. Once you get in, you can’t get out. If you’re a girl, find a good husband instead!

Uchiyama. There are better jobs out there, you know.

Kedaman. Last question: what are your dreams for the future?

All together. Creating something I’m happy with! (Ignoring the in-betweeners) And to open a Studio Z snack bar! (roar of laughter)

Kedaman. I can’t believe this… Well, thank you very much.

Masayuki Uchiyama (left) and Yoshinori Kanada (right)


Translation notes

TV shows titles. I gave up trying to translate the names or look if they had English ones; please forgive me for my laziness.

“Blondie girl”. The Japanese is 金色ちゃん (kin’iro-chan), so more literally “little/cute blonde girl”. To address a grown woman that way would be borderline sexual harassment, and even to a child would sound disrespectful. In this context, however, it definitely frames Kanada as a lolicon.

“Girls”. The Japanese is 女の子. It’s not a particularly exceptional way for young men to address young women (let this be a reminder that all of Z’s members were in their mid-20s), but given the complete erasure of these 4 women in this interview, I do feel pressed to note that there could be a slightly patronizing tone to it; in that context, I think “girls” conveys that feeling well.

“Big studio”. The Japanese reads メジャー的にやる事. What especially interests me here is the use of the word メジャー, “major”, which seems to refer to large studios such as Tôei or Sunrise able to produce shows of their own instead of subcontracting to others. While the use of the term might be inspired by organizations such as the Major Baseball League, it is also historically loaded: in film parlance, “majors” would mean studios that commanded the box-office, but also handled both production and distribution channels – like Tôei in Japan. The analogy doesn’t completely work with animation studios, of course, but it feels interesting to bring up.

While not very dense in terms of content, this interview is both interesting and important for the context that surrounds it. It is the first ever interview featuring Yoshinori Kanada and the only one, to my knowledge, gathering as many members of his close circle around him – in this case, the leading team of studio Z2. Moreover, while he has denied being Kedaman himself (a pseudo taken from an obscure 1970’s Gô Nagai manga), Ryûsuke Hikawa, now a famous anime and tokusatsu critic and historian who would become a friend of Kanada’s, was involved in this interview.

Taking a step back, this interview was published in the 6th issue of Monthly OUT Rendez-Vous, in September 1978; Rendez-Vous was a bimonthly offshoot of OUT magazine, which had started publication in May 1977 and is considered to be the first anime magazine proper. Although it progressively ceded the spotlight to other publications such as Animage, OUT was at the forefront of the anime and otaku scenes for its early years, spearheading the Yamato and Gundam boom with its nude pin-ups of both series’ heroines (Mori Yuki and Sayla Mass) in June 1977 and March 1980 and the publication of the Gundam Century series, as well as the lolicon boom thanks to its August 1978 special issue on Hideo Azuma. Unlike Animage, however, OUT never quite focused on what we would now call the “sakuga” side of anime – that is its technical and human aspects. It is therefore quite interesting to find the first interview of Kanada – the first true “charisma animator”, who would become one of Animage’s top creators – in its pages.

Signs of how early into the “charisma animator” wave this interview came out abound, especially in its structure: the members of Z2 are all very young, not really famous yet, and most of the interview is spent on self-introductions and miscellaneous questions, such as the concluding Q&A. Still, precisely because of this laid back tone, there are a lot of things to learn that one wouldn’t get in a more technical interview about specific works.

The first thing isn’t present in the text of the interview itself, but in the drawings and photos that surround it. Accompanied by comical, somewhat deprecating comments, these provide an excellent image of what small animators’ collectives were like. From the beginnings of the anime industry and throughout a large part of its history, freelance animators (a large part of the overall workforce) assembled in such organizations, which were studios by name only. In truth, these were more akin to coworking spaces rented by groups of friends or acquaintances. They were therefore most often located in perfectly normal apartment buildings, and bystanders would never acknowledge them as animation studios. This is quite clear in Z2’s case, just a normal apartment with its kitchen and bathroom, in which as many desks as possible have been crammed. But, while the pictures of the inside make it look like a cramped mess, the overall image is not that different from that of larger animation studios. Even the fact that key animators and in-betweeners work in different rooms speaks to the almost natural way work hierarchy was reproduced and enforced.

We also get some quite direct, genuine questions and answers about the daily lives of animators. In that regard, by far the most interesting is when Hikawa asks Kanada about his working schedule and rhythm. As Kanada somewhat acknowledges in answering that he “plays around a lot”, the numbers given here are probably not representative of all animators’ at the time. Indeed, if Kanada’s comments in the Yoshinori Kanada Special are to be believed, just before that interview was made, he put Daitarn 3’s schedule in trouble twice, once by going in Bali during the production of episode 2, and another time by going to Okinawa while he was supposed to work on episode 22. 

This clearly plays into Kanada’s nonchalant image, which contributed to make him a cool and charismatic figure; but in any case, 6 hours of work per day appears to be quite a leisurely pace for Japanese animators, even at the time. On the other hand, the amount of time he claims is necessary for an episode’s production sounds rather normal. Sadly, Kanada doesn’t tell how much time he spends on a single cut or how many cuts he does in a single month; but if we do the math, taking a solo-KA episode of 250-300 cuts made in 40 days as a base, we can reach a rough estimate of around 50 minutes/1 hour per cut. It’s hard to make any definite conclusions based on such numbers, since like all animators, Kanada would have drawn easy cuts fast and spent more time on difficult ones. Moreover the complexity of characters and the expectations put on key animators were very different, and even in his “solo” episodes of Zambot, for instance, Kanada would still have been assisted by the other members of Z2 to some degree. Still, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that, in terms of speed, Kanada didn’t stand out that much in either a negative or positive fashion.

The expectations and the simplicity of the drawings I just mentioned are important to consider as well, since they are topics that take up a large part of the interview. Focusing on Kanada himself, we get the confirmation that mecha animation was never really his thing, something that we would state again, 2 decades later, in another interview with Ryûsuke Hikawa:

“I didn’t feel anything special towards mecha, I didn’t particularly like or hate it… […] But I felt that robots had too many lines and I didn’t want to draw them. Before I helped out on Getter Robo, I had worked on Akadô Suzunosuke or The Gutsy Frog, and I liked these characters a lot more.”

Besides Kanada, however, what I find most interesting about the discussion are two things. First, that you get a good sense of the difficulty of animation, or at least of the difficulty animators felt they faced. Then, there’s the fact that some expressions or ways of approaching animation don’t seem to have changed between 1978 and today: the two most prominent here are the complaint that modern shows have “too many lines” and are too difficult to draw, and the equation of particularly impressive animation to “movie quality”. That tends to confirm a thing I’ve been increasingly noticing by reading old anime magazines: the way we talk about animation today, even in very knowledgeable sakuga circles, isn’t that fundamentally different from the way it was discussed 30 or 40 years ago among Japanese journalists, fans and animators.

Of course, this interview also contains a lot of detailed, sometimes anecdotal, information on Studio Z2 itself. We have a relatively precise date for its creation (May 1977 and the production of Danguard Ace #28), a list of its works, its rough location and the number of members it had at the time. I have myself given up on trying to make a detailed chronology of Z’s successive iterations, as all testimonies are either too vague or contradictory. But this interview provides a few answers, as well as some more questions. 

We are told that Z2 counts 10 members. Tomizawa, Kanada, Uchiyama and Nagasaki make up 4, to which we should add the 2 in-betweeners that appear besides the interview, Hajime Kamegaki and Satoshi Hirayama. To these 6, the current Studio Z webpage adds Shin’ya Sadamitsu, Osamu Nabeshima, Asao Takahashi and Masakatsu Iijima. Future Studio No.1 member Yoshifumi Nuno seems to have participated in Z as well. (We may as well add Kazuhiro Ochi, who probably joined just after this interview was published)

This “official” list also completely ignores the 4 women mentioned in the course of the interview. The names of the 4 aren’t given, but in the drawing of the studio that opens the interview, we can read two: (Kimiko) Sugimura and (Michiko) Saitô. In the credits of Z2’s Nobody’s Boy Remi, we find 3 other names, which may belong to other potential members:  Akane Kuni (?), Kumiko Hida and Yumiko Miyazaki. Sadly, their credits are too few or too dispersed to ascertain their status. We may also add one Keiko Uchiyama, whose last name invites one to think she may have been Uchiyama’s wife. It seems that Kanada met his future wife, Makiko Yoshimura, at the time when this interview was made, but she doesn’t seem to have joined Z2 and only started working in animation during the second No.1 era, at least one or two years later (note how she isn’t mentioned in Z’s “official” list either).

Besides all the other, personal factors (people misremembering, preferring to not be included or to retrospectively exclude others from the Studio Z lineage), the interview provides a partial explanation for how such listings are so difficult: because of the multiple statuses of Z2’s members. While regular studios make a difference between in-house, on-contract and freelance staff, freelancer collectives such as Z had their members distinguished alongside more informal lines, which mostly depended on how much people the studio itself could accommodate: some people would be considered “members”, but had their desk and their actual work done at home. For these “outside members”, the collective was therefore probably more of an additional networking agent or occasional help structure rather than a real coworking space. Obviously, this organization would create hierarchies and a sense of priority between members: it is possible that the “official” Z list only considers the “inside” members in order to provide a clear, linear view. This would be understandable, but makes us miss the complex network structure of such groupings and of the anime industry as a whole.

Reading this interview with anime credits in mind, it’s also possible to get a good idea of how work was organized in Z2. First, it is clear that, while Kanada was already the most prominent artist in the studio, the creator and leader was Tomizawa: for a good part of the interview, he’s always the one to answer first, for instance. Work was then divided in teams, each of which subcontracted for different studios or series: here, we have a good example of the flexibility of these freelancers’ structures. There were basically 3 teams: one, led by the Sadamitsu-Tomizawa-Kanada trio, worked with Sunrise on Zambot 3 and Daitarn 3 and would go on with Gundam. On the side, Tomizawa and the female in-betweeners also made up a second team working with TMS/Madhouse on Nobody’s Boy Remi – a connection which would continue on The Rose of Versailles, allowing Satoshi Hirayama and Hideyuki Motohashi to meet and setting the base for the future studio Z5. Finally, a third team worked with Tôei on Starzinger; but, as I do not have access to its credits at the moment, I can’t tell who were its members.

This makes us move to the last point I want to address, which is that of animators’ networks. Although all the members of Z had different origins, they all worked in the same sector of the industry: the one centered around Tôei and Tokyo Movie/A Productions. Both studios were historically connected, as most of Tokyo Movie’s subcontractors were ex-Tôei members; but it is interesting to see that the link kept being relevant even for later generations of animators. The real question would then be to know how Z came into contact with a studio that had quite a different network, that is Sunrise. Admittedly, shows like Voltes V were commissioned by Tôei. But, in Kanada’s case, it is quite clear that it is his departure from Studio No.1 during the production of Danguard Ace (as is clearly confirmed in this interview) that opened new possibilities beyond subcontracting for Tôei’s mecha series.

It would also be interesting to know whether the Tokyo Designer Academy school had any connection with Tôei, thus explaining the connection between the members of Z2 and the studio. While many pro animators over the years have criticized the teachings they received in animation school (the dropout Kanada being just one example), people from the industry would have come to do lectures in ToDe: it is perhaps thanks to them that aspiring animators like Kanada were encouraged to join specific studios like Tôei. While the interview mentions that a lot of Z2’s members had come from ToDe, it sadly doesn’t provide any definite answer to the question that naturally follows: was this pure chance, or made possible by senpai/kôhai relationships or alumni networks?

Clearly, then, this interview leaves us with more questions than it actually answers. But it remains a valuable document, and the fact that it does provide more things to investigate in the first place is part of what makes it so precious. 

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