Gainax unlocks Gurren Lagann at FanimeCon 2008, bringing most of the production staff. Coming right off the Meet Gainax event, we trekked a couple blocks back to the convention center for the Unlocking Gurren Lagann Panel. Because the Meet Gainax event ran a bit long, this panel was pushed back to 9:30pm, a mere extra thirty minutes.
The panel kicks off with the guests introducing themselves, aided by two translators. The key members of Gainax's Gurren Lagann team present at the panel consisted of Mech Designer Yoh Yoshinari, Marketing Head Yoshio Manabe, Producer Yasuhiro Takeda, Assistant Director Masahiko Otsuka, and Gainax Co-Founder (not to mention Fanime stalwart) Hiroyuki Yamaga.
The intros immediately cede to what amounts to a jovial Q&A session, or what Producer Yasuhiro Takeda jokingly calls "the anything Gurren Lagann panel".
Inspirations for characters Kamina and Simon?
The character concepts all came from the director. He wanted to put across the concept of "delinquents" in the anime, this was the main concept behind protagonists Kamina and Simon.
Favorite Gurren Lagann Character?
Assistant director Otsuka bluntly answers "Kamina", and the audience cheers. Hiroyuki Yamaga's favorite is Yoko. He follows up by mentioning the characters that cause you the most trouble are usually the favorite, but it wasn't the case for him, as the voice actor for the Yoko character was easy to work with unlike, say, the voice actor for Simon.
Producer Takeda jokingly remarks on his age dictating his character preferences while marketing lead Manabe expresses that he usually struggles whenever he is asked this question during marketing and press junkets. Mech designer Yoshinori shares this same sentiment, the audience laughs.
Takeda warns the audience of a potential spoiler (yes, this is a spoiler), and asks if we really wanted to hear it. Our answer: "YES!" Takeda explains that Boota possessed a lot of spiral power, and that he was like a kid packed to the brim with power. His transformation into a human form signified his power reaching full potential, but was also a hallucination caused by the enemy to reveal the true harsh nature of humanity. That is why Boota eventually returned to his original form.
Will the story be retold in the two upcoming films?
Technically this [the films] isn't officially announced yet. Yamaga pleads for us to refer to this as a "rumor", and as such, he cannot talk about it here. However, he hints that in Japan the first movie is called "Part Gurren"...
How were the cast decided?
Yamaga explains that a CD is provided by a seiyuu (voice actor) agency, the team listens, and then they make a decision. Considerations are taken upon the opinions among them of 5-6 seiyuu, and then they pick the actor who fits the character. Yamaga also remarks on how he'd go drinking with an actor to discuss the part in case they were having trouble.
Takeda asks the audience if they had any mecha questions.
What were the inspirations behind some of the mechs?
Mecha designer Yoshinori was inspired by the robots he built in his youth and desired to bring back the retro bulkiness of the old designs. He is asked about the design process of the Gurren Lagann mechas to which he simply tells us to think about the Russian Matryoshka dolls , but in reverse.
Why do the mechs have 2 faces?
He explains that it's easier to draw 2 faces with arms and legs. It didn't start that way, but it just evolved from there. Also, The director wanted the robot hands to be drills. He interpreted the drill as an oscillating device representing the human DNA "spiral". This is why the overarching antagonists are called "Anti-Spirals". Takeda stipulates that Japanese boys love it. That's why many robots have drills for hands in popular mecha anime. "Blame it on spiral power", he says with a chuckle.
With that, Yoshinori leaves the panel and the person in charge of composite directing (basically the CGI parts), [ ] Yamada, is introduced and takes a seat with the rest of the panel guests. Otsuka praises the beauty of Gurren Lagann as a result of Yamada and the rest of the staff.
Next question: Does Gainax plan on expanding the Gurren Lagann universe?
"We are making a movie, says Manabe. Takeda asks "do you want a new story?" to which the audience shouts "YES!" en masse. "I want to say something, but I can't!" continues Takeda. Audience cheers.
Is Yomoko-sensei based on a non-Gainax character?
"I think it's what you think it is. Yes", says Otsuka. The audience seems pleased.
Who are the characters in the first 2 minutes of the series?
Takeda points to Otsuka, who gives somewhat of a non answer. He mentions that the beginning and ending don't really match. In the beginning we had this idea but during the process of animation, it went beyond our imagination. So think of Gurren Lagann as a series that evolves beyond what the staff can control. Takeda jokes that Gainax's specialty is their inability to control their own stuff.
What was the episode most difficult to complete?
The general consensus among the panelists was that episode 15 was the toughest to finish. Yamada further explains that while a regular episode contains about 300 cuts, episode 15 had around 450 cuts. Extra cuts means extra work. Manabe points the audience to the Gainax blog, where we can read about all their troubles.
This subject segues directly into the next question.
How much of the animation was cut?
"Not many scenes are cut in anime", says Otsuka. "It takes a lot of effort, cutting would be a wast. Storyboarding is very important." And as such, none of the animation was cut in Gurren Lagann.
On a similar note, someone asked about the toughest part of CG animation. Yamada says, "everything". The team took great care in the battle scenes. The director kept a close watch on them. Scrutiny results in good animation.
Now a question about one of the more out-there characters in the series: Leeron.
Why does he appear to never age throughout the series' timeframe?
Takeda proposes several possible reasons. Leeron could be a clone or beastman, who knows. Or maybe gay people don't age. This spurred quite a laugh from the audience. "In youth, you have your fun. In old age, it's still fun, but less brash fun. But you're still happy. It's human, it's happiness", says Yamaga. "Having an ageless character brings greater emphasis on those who do age". Young people viewing Gurren Lagann later in life will portray different meaning.
Manabe ends the Q&A session by mentioning that footage of this panel will be shown to the animation staff back in Japan. He also mentions that the U.S. Gurren Lagann dvd will contain bonus interviews between the staff. "Please buy the dvd. Thank you."
With that, the panelists rise, give a few poses, and that's it, we're done here, folks.
To view these photos in full resolution, check out our gallery , where you can also find our complete photo coverage of Fanime Con 2008.