FanimeCon 2012: GAINAX Panel
As a recurring Guest of Honor at FanimeCon since 1997, GAINAX founder Hiroyuki Yamaga has been entertaining and informing attendees for fifteen years. Currently serving as the executive producer and project planner for EA's Rock, the company’s first live-action sentai comedy series, Yamaga-san's extensive resume includes serving as executive producer for FLCL as well as the Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth movie. This year is of particular interest as it marks the company’s 25th Anniversary since their commercial debut of the film Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise.
After explaining a bit about the history of his company at the company panel on Monday May 28th, 2012 Yamaga-san discussed how he has seen the anime industry and its fans change over the past twenty-five years. The panel switched to a traditional Q&A format, with fans asking questions and Yamaga-san answering them.*
*note, this transcription is not verbatim, and is instead a general transcription of Yamaga's ideas and fan questions summarized into legible prose.
Question: What's wrong with anime industry at the moment?
Yamaga-san: There's currently too much stuff and animators and producers have now turned the industry into a business. Before, you wouldn't tell your parents you were making anime and as it's become accepted in the mainstream culture, it's lost a lot of its intimacy amongst its staff. After you complete a project, everyone just says goodbye to their fellow staffers and move on.
Fans: How would Yamaga-san improve the current state of the anime industry?
Yamaga-san: By making things I enjoy.
Question: What's next for GAINAX? Any plans to do more live action series?
Yamaga-san: In Japan, you often lose money for shooting live action. However, at GAINAX they currently want to make live action or branching out as they believe that it will help them create better anime series.
Question: What are some of your favorite current anime series?
Yamaga-san: I don't currently have any favorites; for me it's almost like studying. If I had to pick something though, I would say Green Days, a Korean anime series that made me realize that Japan needs to step its game up as a whole.
Question: Do you see an expanding market for overseas collaborations?
Yamaga-san: At GAINAX, we don't get those types of requests so I can't really comment on them. However, I hear of other companies getting them. Especially since American comics are very popular in Japan.
Question: What are your thoughts on the Neon Genesis Evangelion reboot?
Yamaga-san: It's hard for me to talk about the reboot since it's more of Hideaki Anno's pet project. I think that the reboot will be Studio Khara's flagship series. Personally at GAINAX, I would like to make something new that's just as popular as the Evangelion series.
Question: Of all the projects that you've worked on, which project is the most proud you're proud of?
Yamaga-san: I'm usually most proud of whatever it is that I'm currently working on. I derive a lot of joy when I'm working on my projects.
Question: Can you speak of the change in the industry standard moving towards thirteen episodes from the previous twenty-four standard?
Yamaga-san: The change in industry is mostly from producers as they now have to be very careful with their budget. If a series is popular enough, they will make a second season. It's particularly hard to dedicate an entire staff to do a twenty-six episode series now as staffs are thinned out. Currently, the size of the GAINAX production staff only allows for thirteen episodes, but we would like to do twenty-six again sometime soon.
Question: If you could go back in time and tell something to your eighteen year old self, what would it be?
Yamaga-san: I would tell myself to make Evangelion.
Question: What's the most important aspect of making a good story?
Yamaga-san: The first thing that we often plan out is what we want the series to be about on a philosophical level. Unlike other companies that talk about style, we often start with boring stuff first almost like a college lecture. Some staff have even fallen asleep!
Question: How do you decide upon which kind of genre to write?
Yamaga-san: First we create the settings before deciding genre. We define the characters and setting and build a story around them, ensuring that we never run out of stories and that what we produce is original.
Qusetion: Are there currently any plans to continue the Evangelion manga ? Will it go past twelve?
Yamada-san: I don't know exactly when it'll end, but it'll end soon. We will move onto something else after that although the Yoshiyuki Sadamoto wants to continue doing the manga as its still making money. So for Yoshiyuki Sadamoto it would be a risk to discontinue at the moment.
Question: Can you explain where the name GAINAX came from?
Yamada-san: The name GAINAX came from something from somewhat of a foreign language. We heard that there was a festival in the North called Gaina which translated to "huge festival" so we went with that. The president at that time wanted to make it sound international so they added an X at the end, kind of like Xerox.
Question: How does someone get involved with idea creation process for an anime series?
Yamada-san: There is no official set in stone sort of way, so the best way is to become a big producer and make big money. People who draw comics/write stories often have to pitch ideas to producers which makes it hard for just anyone to start unless you want to start your own company. Which is the quickest and easiest way to turn bring your ideas to life.
Question: Are there any future plans for Panty and Stocking ?
Yamada-san : I would like to see it happen, but it's up to director, Hiroyuki Imaishi, as it was his pet project. We get a lot of similar requests for Fooly Cooly (FLCL) but unless the director wants to do it, chances are it won't happen.
Question: Is there any particular media that influenced you early on in your work?
Yamada-san: Nostradamus in middle school. I had originally thought humanity would end in 1999 and that I wanted to find something that I would really enjoy before I died at age thirty-seven.
Question: What are the high points (not involving Evangelion ) and low points of your career?
Yamada-san: My high point would have to be forming GAINAX. My low point would have to be right now. I'm hoping to get back up again soon.
Question: GAINAX is generally known for the GAINAX ending, can you explain a bit about that?
Yamada-san: At GAINAX we don't think of ending during the initial planning stages. Instead, we tend to figure it out as we work on a series.
Question: Do you enjoy making anime with other studios?
Yamada-san: When I go to other studios I enjoy figuring out their process on how they work. At GAINAX, it's common for our employees to watch tv and drink beer while on the clock so it surprises me when I see other companies and I say, "Ah! So that's how professionals do it!"