Apart from the impressive official guests at this year's Anime Expo, English visual novel publisher MangaGamer brough their own all star line of guests including Akio Watanabe. Watanabe has provided character designs for series including Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko, Magical Canan, Nurse Witch Komugi, and Popotan. He is probably most well known for his recent work as Animation Director and Character Designer for the highly successful anime adaptation of Bakemonogatari. Each DVD release in Japan has seen a rough average of 40,000 copies sold the first week of its release! See what he had to say in our brief interview with Watanabe!
T-ONO: How do you feel being a guest here at Anime Expo?
Watanabe: I am really happy and I am really surprised at how many people know of my work.
T-ONO: How did you get involved into working in the anime industry?
Watanabe: In the past, I loved robot anime like Gundam and I thought I could make mech-related anime as well.
T-ONO: How did that lead you to working with the visual novel studio, Front Wing?
Watanabe: I’ve been doing a lot of anime related work for a long time and from that I received offers to work on games.
T-ONO: How did you come up with your nickname Poyoyon Rock?
Watanabe: The name came from Kinniku Shoujoi Dai's [a Japanese rock group] Kenji Ohtsuki's Poyoyon Rock... (laughs)
I guess that's how I came across the name.
T-ONO: What are your inspirations, and are there any particular artists you look up to?
Watanabe: The artists I look up to are Yasuhiko Yoshikazu-san, Inomata Mutsumi-san and Egawa Tasuya-san. Egawa Tasuya-san is the artist for Magical Tarurūto-kun and he might be the basis for my style.
T-ONO: When and what was your decision into becoming a character designer and animator?
Watanabe: I went to a special training school in the past and one of my first works was Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko, after these two, I made the decision to continue work as a character designer and animator.
T-ONO: Now in discussing Bakemonogatari, what were you thinking when designing Senjougahara, for example her hair color? What elements did you take from the author, and what helped you in designing the character?
Watanabe: The author of the Bakemonogatari novel knew me personally, and he gave me a lot of freedom and liberty in designing the her character. All the characters in the original novel mostly had black hair, I thought it would be interesting to have characters with colored hair.
Watanabe: I enjoyed designing everyone, but I especially liked Suruga Kanbaru.
T-ONO: Mii from Popotan has a green bracelet on her right wrist. Mayoi Hachikuji from Bakemonogatari also has a green bracelet on her right wrist. Is there a meaning or a hidden message behind this similar connection?
Watanabe: These two anime series, Popotan and Bakemonogatari, were done by the same animation studio, and since one of the staff in the studio knew that I was the designer, they wanted to copy this quality from Mii onto Hachikuji. It wasn’t my idea, they just thought I might like characters with a green bracelet.
T-ONO: We know a lot of studios have recently outsourced their animation. Was any of the animation in Bakemonogatari outsourced?
Watanabe: Actually Bakemonogatari was done all within the company, it wasn’t outsourced.
T-ONO: Are you currently affiliated with any particular animation studio?
Watanabe: I am actually a freelancer right now.
T-ONO: How did you get the position of being the animation director for Bakemonogatari from studio SHAFT?
Watanabe: The people from studio SHAFT knew me and offered me the position.
Watanabe: Being an animation director was a lot of work! I had to give orders to my staff, but in order to do that I had to first organize my ideas clearly, then give the orders.
T-ONO: Finally, any message for all your American fans?
Watanabe: I am very happy that even my works are not officially out over here yet, but everyone knows about them. I am very surprised that series that are popular in Japan are also popular here. It is almost the same as the fans in Japan! (laughs)
Images copyrighted NisiOisin / Kodansha, Aniplex