The Weathering Continent staff interviews – Translation

The following interviews and illustrations are taken from the artbook Dragon Magazine Collection – The Weathering Continent, The Approach of Atlantis, initially published on October 30, 1993.

As I am not familiar with the original novels, I may have made mistakes in the transcription of some names; please excuse me if that is the case.

Mutsumi Inomata, Illustrator

Mutsumi Inomata.

Born in Tokyo on December 23, raised in Kanagawa prefecture. Blood Type O.

She worked for animation studios Ashi Production and Kaname Pro, and is now freelance. She has been in charge of illustrations for The Weathering Continent since the start of the serialization, and the number of fans of her delicate drawings has been steadily increasing. Recently, she has started working on video games. On December 21, the Novelware PC game Yami no Ketuzoku: Distant Memories should come out.

If Sei Takekawa is the parent who gave birth to the characters of The Weathering Continent, Mutsumi Inomata is the parent who raised them. After 5 years of working on the series and observing Tieh and the others, Ms. Inomata shares her feelings towards them.

When you started working on the illustrations for The Weathering Continent, you had already started distancing yourself from animation, isn’t that right?

Inomata. I believe I began working on The Weathering Continent 5 years ago, so I don’t really know… Anyways, for a long time, I was incredibly attached to animation. There were still things I had to do, things I wanted to do, and I strongly felt that I hadn’t given my all yet, so I couldn’t imagine leaving. I was still doing key animation here and there as well.

But, at some point, I realized that I couldn’t do both at the same time and fully invest myself in either, and I had a hard time choosing. In the end, I decided to stop working in animation and only do illustrations. It probably just happened to coincide with the moment I started working on The Weathering Continent.

Before The Weathering Continent, had you ever done illustrations for Western-inspired sword-and-sorcery works?

Inomata. The Weathering Continent doesn’t feel Western-inspired at all. They don’t wear armor or wield swords, even though there are swordsmen. Personally, I tried to reach a balance between Western and Eastern influences. And I haven’t met any particular difficulties since I began.

Has your view of the characters changed in these 5 years?

Inomata. I can’t really tell. It may not seem like a very serious approach, but I’ve never really thought about things that way, so I can’t tell you. Each time I have to draw, I just read the novel, follow my own instincts, and all of the sudden the images come out. I don’t think about it again afterwards. Maybe I’m braindead (laughs).

Then, is there a character you like, or one that’s particularly easy to draw?

Inomata. I like Grawl, but it’s so sad that he shaved his beard (laughs). In the Headorie Chapter, in the August issue, he appears after having shaved and says “doesn’t my face remind you of someone?”, and it ends just as the other characters are about to answer. When I had to draw him for the next issue, I was lost. I didn’t want to, but I had to draw him without his beard (laughs). I didn’t know what to do, what tone to use, I was lost (laughs).

There are no electric razors in this universe, after all, so the shaving wouldn’t be perfect (laughs). But you drew it as if he had shaved really closely (laughs). By the way, didn’t you say before that you wanted him to become more evil?

Inomata. Ah, well, that was half a joke (laughs). But the thing is, reading manga and watching anime, I’ve always felt that the bad guys had more presence: they’re more interesting, as human beings. On the other hand, Grawl is too much of a good guy. If there was an earthquake, he’d immediately think about towns and the people living there, create refugee camps or rebuild houses (laughs).

I don’t think he could do all that on his own (laughs). But perhaps he could, if he used sorcery.

Inomata. He’d make riceballs with the members of the Black Shadow Organization (laughs). Ah, talking about them, I didn’t think they were for real. But there’s this moment when they all gather around Sadanarfin and chant “say it! say it!”, and I thought they weren’t that bad, just pretty mischievous (laughs).

Isn’t just their relationship to Iladel different? At first, they’re just like Tieh, but then Iladel turns out to be the evil side. As the second half of the Headorie Chapter advanced, they started to look better, didn’t they? (laughs)

Inomata. That’s right. They’re Lakshi’s enemy at first, but at some point they become nice, have a meal with Tieh and everybody’s happy about it (laughs).  But I feel sad for Iladel, who got killed before he could do anything.

Talking of bad guys, there’s Mareshiana as well.

Inomata. Ah, you’re right. But I can understand her: both her parents were killed, after all. Until then, she had been raised as a princess, and lived like a butterfly going from flower to flower. But if she had been forced to marry her parents’ enemy, I don’t think things would have gone well either.

In the Empire of the Sun Chapter, Mareshiana doesn’t appear, but Ms. Takekawa said she’d like to twist the characters a bit more. It also looks like Grawl will come back, and the main reason for that is that you like him (laughs).

Inomata. Is that so? I’m happy to hear it (laughs).

Changing the subject, is there a character you don’t like?

Inomata. Not really, but I realize I’ve never drawn Marshal Zerft.

You drew one illustration of him before, didn’t you?

Inomata. He’s someone really prestigious, so he’s always sitting on a chair or something and doesn’t really move, right? And when I draw a spread for the magazine, I want to do something that leaves an impact, so I’d rather draw other characters than someone sitting on a chair and talking (laughs).

And what about a character that’s difficult to draw?

Inomata. That’s Tieh. Though in his case I don’t have to apply tones and solid paint, which I’m really bad at (laughs). He’s got a really unique feel, so I have to focus a lot when I draw him. In the Adorie Chapter, Tieh’s still lost on what he should do or where he should go. As the story progresses, he gets involved in various incidents, so it’s not good, or rather not necessary, to depict him with too strong expressions.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to see how you will draw him in the Empire of the Sun Chapter, where he becomes aware of her own duty and mission. By the way, do you use any models for the characters?

Inomata. I don’t have any restrictions on The Weathering Continent, so not really. Actually, I’m not good at using models for my drawings. It feels like it restricts the image. When I draw pictures for other works, I try to imagine things that aren’t written in the novel, but since The Weathering Continent has been going on for some time now, I don’t need to do that anymore. Characters like Tieh already have a separate existence of their own for me, so I just have to observe them and draw them as they are.

Do you use any references for the clothes or buildings, or the history and geography?

Inomata. I buy a lot of materials that look like they might become useful, but I don’t really use them. I’m too lazy (laughs). Atlantis has an image close to that of Ancient Greece, right? So the clothes should be these very long, thick robes, cut very straight, pulled and tucked in all sorts of ways. There shouldn’t be any drapings, but when you look at Iladel, it’s just that (laughs). In the end, I just draw things as I like, even though it might sometimes be a bit different from the original setting (laughs).

Finally, could you tell us about what makes The Weathering Continent’s charm?

Inomata. I think it’s Takekawa’s sense for drama and ability to make a large number of characters interact. For example, just one broken heart can end up destroying two countries (laughs). Ah, maybe it won’t be published, but the most evil character may be Iladel’s father, Nemos Adel. I haven’t drawn him a lot, but I’d like to draw him when he was young.

“How I see Mutsumi Inomata” – Nobuteru Yûki, Character Designer

Nobuteru Yûki

Born on December 24, blood type O.

After graduating from highschool and working as a civil servant, he joined Artland at 21. He was in charge of key animation on, among others, Orguss, Macross: Do You Remember Love?, Megazone 23, Fist of the North Star and Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise.

He then moved on to DAST and debuted as a character designer and animation director on Battle Royale High School. Then, he was character designer on Five Star Stories, The Chronicle of Lodoss War, Angel Cop and Cleopatra DC, among others.

“When I became Ms. Inomata’s fan, the animation by artists inspired by Yoshinori Kanada, studios Z, OZ and NO.1 was in its golden age. In the midst of that, the girls that Inomata drew had both the cuteness you can find in shôjo manga and the dynamic aspect of Kanada-style animation, and I was seduced by this unbalance (laughs).”

It’s in those terms that Mr. Yûki talks about the appeal of Mutsumi Inomata, whom he discovered when she was an animator on Goshogun. The first half of the 1980’s was the peak of the anime boom, and a new generation of designers, such as Haruhiko Mikimoto and Akemi Takada, was emerging. Of course, Inomata was among them: her female characters were both sexy and cute, and her delicate sense earned her many fans. It was the time when female artists, led by manga artist Rumiko Takahashi, began drawing sexy girl characters. But, as Mr. Yûki explains, Inomata’s style changed as Utsunomiko became a hit and she focused on illustration:

“I think that The Weathering Continent’s illustrations just focus on the elegance, and make the bold move of leaving aside all the rest. So they can’t be used as designs for animation. For example, it’s impossible to draw characters in a Mucha-style without modifying them. That’s why, for The Weathering Continent, I tried something like Leda or Windaria, which were made when Ms. Inomata reached her peak as a designer.” Yûki says that he created the characters based on two images: his instinctive image of “Inomata characters”, and the image that came from a more detached analysis of the work. That way, he could reconcile his ardor as a fan and his precise method as a professional designer.

Kôichi Mashimo – Director

Kôichi Mashimo.

Born on June 21, 1952 in Tokyo. Blood type O. 

Originally a member of Tatsunoko Production, he debuted as an episode director on Time Bokan. He then moved on to work on Yatterman and Gatchaman 2, and then was chief director on Tatsunoko’s two series Gold Lightan and Urashiman. He then moved away from Tatsunoko productions with Dirty Pair: Project Eden and F. His style is famous for its beautiful imagery and dynamic action. After the completion of The Weathering Continent, he has become chief director on the Irresponsible Captain Tylor TV series.

According to director Mashimo, The Weathering Continent is one of the most difficult things he has ever worked on so far, because of how important the depiction of characters’ psychology is. So, what did this energetic director try to accomplish with this film?

(This interview was concluded in May 1992, during the movie’s production)

First, can you tell us how you became the director of this film?

Mashimo. At first, I was approached by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa from IG Tatsunoko (now Production IG). But theatrical works are difficult, and I’m not sure it’s really possible to reach a high level of quality nowadays, so I initially refused.

But then I agreed to at least write a plot, and I ended up doing the whole thing. The problem is that the original novels are a complete series, and that it’s way too long. Personally, I think something like a Kurosawa film about Bois’ backstory would have been great, but that’s impossible because of the length. The 50-60 minutes runtime had been settled at the very beginning of the project, and the only thing you could adapt in that format was the “The City of the Dead’s Treasure” chapter. It feels very occult, but without going into B-horror territory: the content has some depth to it.

Usually, I would write a plot and then hand it over to a scriptwriter. But if I had done that, the nuance would have been lost, so I ended up doing it myself (laughs). I couldn’t really understand the plot I had written myself, so I wrote the script as well… That’s how it felt, and in the end that may be the best way to go. But that’s the first time I tried it, so I was pretty lost (laughs).

Lakshi takes more room than usual in the movie…

Mashimo. I also like Bois and Tieh, but I had to make some choices. Tieh’s circumstances are very long to explain, and it’s a bit frustrating that there’s no explanation of his life before he met the others. Similarly, Bois’ backstory is complex, and he doesn’t really fit well in this chapter. So that’s why it ended up focused on Lakshi, the rejection she faced for cutting her own hair and her search for a new self. The “City of the Dead” chapter may be a better fit for that. Each one of the characters is fighting their own battle, after all. I would have liked to show them living their lives in real-time, and the fact that each one is missing something, but I don’t know if I could achieve it with such a short runtime.

Of course, it’s also an entertainment film, and I took care to keep the most important aspects of the original novels!

What would you say that “most important aspect” is?

Mashimo. Hmm, it’s difficult to put into words… I guess that’s just my own interpretation, but it’s like the future is about to crumble, like an ice lake that may shatter at any moment as you’re walking on it. There’s this sense of transience, or futility in The Weathering Continent. The story takes place on a continent that’s destined to be destroyed, or rather which has already entered that process. And, instead of searching for solutions, the author seems to say that it’s ok, there’s nothing that can be done about it. As if it were about the cycle of death and rebirth, and the impermanence of all things… I asked Ms. Takekawa about this once, and she said that the novels would go all the way until the development of Buddhism (laughs).

As for “The City of the Dead’s Treasure”, I feel like it has a certain twist: it’s not about the three characters discovering the city of the dead, but about the dead and the city observing them.

Originally, the curse placed on the city was about hair, but you changed it and added the masks. What was your intent in doing so?

Mashimo. The original version was very good, expressions like “hair” or “a cloud made of feathers” really carry very strong images. But it would be difficult to show these in a film, and I wanted to try out something else, so that’s how I thought of masks. Actually, when I was in high school, I liked to collect all kinds of masks: tengu masks, the masks used in the masquerade of LA Disneyland, and later folk masks from Korea, where I went on a trip…

I found that really fun: the masks in my collection were hung up all across the walls of my room. But they would give me nightmares. Whenever I’d turn on the light, they would make me too afraid to sleep. In the end I put them all in a box and stored that in the attic. Whether they’re hand-made or industrial, I think that masks are something from another world. This was a very important experience for me.

I told this story to the staff during meetings when we discussed the issue of the curse. And everybody thought we should go with that. The most scary thing there is is something like our own reflection, isn’t it? Something where you can see your own soul. What frightened me about the masks in my room wasn’t just my fear of the unknown. Well, it’s not really something I can talk about in public either… But it’s important. We don’t actually wear masks, but everybody lives wearing a kind of mask of their own.

Let’s change the subject. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the character designs…

Mashimo. For me, what’s most unique in Mutsumi Inomata’s art is the eyes. Since so much is concentrated in the eyes, the biggest issue was how to render that in animation. However, Mutsumi designated Nobuteru Yûki as character designer, and Yûki’s drawings have a different focus. This made the designing process quite difficult: giving shape to the core of Yûki’s art in animation requires even more skill and perseverance than it does for Mutsumi’s eyes.

What is this “core” of Mr. Yûki’s art?

Mashimo. Well, his designs are really wonderful, especially the way he manages to tie all of the accessories together. The characters are just fictional entities, of course, but under his pen they feel like they could really exist in our world. He doesn’t just focus on the sense of presence, but also tries to include the world and period the characters live in, down to their customs and habits. But that’s not very appropriate for animation, where hundreds of people have to work with these designs: everyone in the staff has to understand the intentions, while maintaining things on schedule.

Now, what about the music?

Mashimo. The sound component in animation is made up of music, sound effects and voice acting, but in The Weathering Continent’s case, music played an unusually important role, because there actually is very little dialogue. It’s the kind of story where some things can’t be expressed through dialogue – but on the other hand, what little dialogue there is is very dense. It must be hard on the actors (laughs). But that’s why music and sound effects are so important: they play a supporting role. The composer is Michiru Oshima, who created a unique world through her music – but she’s someone very unique, so it could be a bit confusing (laughs). I mean it in a good sense, though! It’s just that the music is very good, and it requires a lot of skill to be able to synchronize it properly with the images.

This is your second theatrical work, after Dirty Pair: Project Eden. Are there differences with TV series?

Mashimo. Oh, there are – a lot, actually (laughs). You don’t have a lot of room in TV, because the frame is always the same, like that (shows the size of a TV screen). In the case of a film, the screen may be a certain size, but the viewers can sit where they want in the theater, so in that sense you could say that they’re making their own frame, like in theater plays. And in animation, there’s also the matter of the drawings, which you can’t just move all around the place, so that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

The techniques appropriate for film, TV and video are completely different, but for some reason, everybody seems to think that they’re the same. Creators should think harder about those things. I think young staff should first learn the ropes on theatrical works, whereas more experienced people should work on TV. But I’ll probably get people angry at me again for saying that (laughs). It’s what I really think, though.

Kazuchika Kise – Animation Director

Kazuchika Kise.

Born on March 6, 1965. 

Former member of Anime R studio 2, now in Production IG. He did in-betweens on Galactic Drifter Vifam, and then key animation on Super Robot Galatt. In 1989, he was animation director on Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie, and then Utsunomiko and Legendary Armor Samurai Trooper. In the following years, he was animation director on The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Video Girl Ai and Mobile Police Patlabor 2.

Mutsumi Inomata and Nobuteru Yûki’s characters for The Weathering Continent are unquestionably beautiful. But the drawing and animation work to give them life and motion on top of their beauty was “incredibly hard”. This is what we wanted to discuss with animation director Kazuchika Kise.

Animating the characters of The Weathering Continent, which have so many lines, must have been difficult, wasn’t it?

Kise. It’s the same every time, but now that it’s done, I have a lot of regrets. This time, just drawing the characters was difficult. Just drawing a single picture was hard, but imagine having to make them move… 

The biggest problem was that I didn’t have the ability to match Mr. Yûki’s technique. I’m really sorry about this, I think I’ll have to apologize to him some day (laughs).

But shouldn’t every artist put a bit of their own personality in the work?

Kise. That’s true, but this time, the movie was all about the characters from the original work – those designed by Mr. Yûki and Ms. Inomata. So you can’t put in your own quirks or ignore what they’ve done to do something completely different. Moreover, it’s not like this is a new work: all the readers and artists have already made their own images of it, and that’s something you shouldn’t break. On Mobile Police Patlabor The Movie and last year’s Arslan Senki, the directors gave me the opportunity to draw the characters just like I wanted to, but I thought about it afterwards, and this time I closely followed the original characters.

Which character was the hardest to draw?

Kise. They were all difficult, but the hardest must have been Tieh. You never know what he’s thinking, and because you can’t get a grip on that, he’s pretty hard to draw. That’s because in the end, animators are like actors: you have to read into the character’s heart to have him perform. There’s nothing harder than drawing a character you don’t understand. In this film, Lakshi was the easiest to understand thanks to the flashbacks, whereas Tieh gave us a lot of difficulties.

How was it for the rest of the animation staff?

Kise. During the first meeting with the animators, they all said very bluntly that they couldn’t draw these characters (laughs). So everyone did what they could, and the results were all over the place.

Is that because, as you just said, the acting was difficult to do, and you couldn’t understand the characters?

Kise. The acting and movement were all right, but the characters were off-model. Everybody just gave me their drawings, said “good luck with the rest!” and left – it was pretty hard (laughs).

Did you follow any specific technique or method?

Kise. Nothing special for the animation, but there was something we did for the color design. To properly recreate the translucence of Tieh’s eyes, we didn’t use solid lines, but used color tracing. We wanted the eyes to be pale and have this hypnotizing feeling.

How was your collaboration with director Mashimo?

Kise. It’s the first time I worked with him as animation director. He has a very clear image of each scene, to which I only had to respond, so he’s someone rather easy to work with.

As a last word, what’s your final opinion on the film?

Kise. I’m only able to formulate an opinion on what I worked on a couple of years after it’s completed. So I can’t wait to see how I’ll feel about this one in a few years.

Shûichi Hirata – Art Director

Shûichi Hirata.

Born on December 25, 1961. 

He went from Studio SF to Studio WHO. He worked on a lot of coproductions such as Telecom’s Tiny Toons, and then went freelance. Famous works include Ashita Tenki ni Naare (background art), Urusei Yatsura (background art), Ranpô (background art), Meme Iroiro no Yume no Tabi (background art), Five Star Stories (background art) and the TV special Lupin III: The Secret of Hemingway’s Papers.

The Weathering Continent is a story set in the ancient world of Atlantis. It is thanks to art director Shûichi Hirata that we can actually see this world that no one has ever witnessed. How were the unique colors of the background and the round shapes of the buildings and landscapes created?

What was the special feature of your art direction on The Weathering Continent?

Hirata. To say it in one word, it would be the curves. When we were doing the designs, director Mashimo told me that I could feel free, and to search for the beauty of the shapes themselves. So I let my hands move on their own, like an automatic drawing process, and I started creating those interesting shapes. For example, there were objects and all kinds of things coming up from the ground – but it would have been impossible for the characters to walk around, so these were taken out (laughs).

But, well, it’s a fictional city after all, so when you design something like a glass, even if it doesn’t look like one to us, it will still be a glass. Basically, I wanted that modern people wouldn’t be able to figure out the purpose of the objects made by the people of Atlantis.

So you were aiming for this kind of atmosphere, this kind of mysterious feeling, for the entire film?

Hirata. I wouldn’t go as far as call it “mysterious”, but the goal was just making people wonder about what they saw, separately from the plot’s development.

And so what are the things you’d like to be seen?

Hirata. There isn’t really a scene that I’d like people to watch in particular. That’s because animation backgrounds shouldn’t stand out too much: ultimately, they’re just the backdrop against which the characters can stand out. With this in mind, I think that the work of the art director is to manage the atmosphere of the work: it’s very important to unify the overall atmosphere or mood and transmit it to the viewer. More concretely, that means taking care that the lines are properly composed, things like that which are actually very important to do well.

Did you receive any special instructions from the director, Mr. Mashimo?

Hirata. He mentioned that he didn’t want the light sources to be consistent. Basically, he wanted it to be like the spotlights on a stage, which you move from time to time.

Did you use Ms. Inomata’s illustrations as reference?

Hirata. I was afraid that they’d overwhelm me, so I did my best not to. By the point I was making the background designs, I started using completely unrelated pictures of the sea or moon instead.

The entire movie takes place at night, was it a difficulty?

Hirata. Let’s see… I tried out Liquitex paint that I usually don’t use. I spread it with a brush over the paper, to create this sort of transparent, monotone feel. Overall, the main tone was black, but inside that there were a lot of nuances: greenish black inside the city, yellowish inside the rooms, blueish and so on… I was careful not to always use the same color.

The Weathering Continent has a very well defined image. Does that make it easier?

Hirata. On the contrary, it’s works set in the present day, where you can easily get a lot of references, that are simpler. On something like The Weathering Continent, you have to make everything from scratch, and so it’s more difficult. But it’s also the most interesting.

If you had to rate your own work, what grade would you give?

Hirata. It deserves a passing grade, but I didn’t properly take care of some of the details, so I’d say around 8/10?

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