Anime character designer Masayoshi Tanaka on ‘Your Name’ and working with Shinkai (interview)

Masayoshi Tanaka

During AkibaFest last month, we were lucky to sit down with the renowned anime character designer and animator Masayoshi Tanaka. The round table interview was conducted between three outlets: Nerd Reactor, Hashtag Show, and ConFreaks and Geeks. We spoke about his works, how hard is it to design characters for anime, and his love for zombies.

[Start interview]

Nerd Reactor: How was it working with Makoto Shinkai on Your Name?

In case you did not know, Shinkai used to make anime by himself. He used to do everything by himself, so I felt that he was not used to working with a lot of people. And he’s keenly aware of the fact that he lacks the experience so he’s actually very good with delegating tasks and responsibilities to his staff.

Nerd Reactor: Were you approached by Shinkai, how did that relationship start?

Before Your Name, we previously worked together on a short called Crossroads. And for that title he approached me. After that, he invited me to work with him on Your Name.


Nerd Reactor: Did you anticipate the mega success of Your Name?

Completely Not!

ConFreaks and Geeks: Do you prefer older or teenage characters more?

Older characters are easier. With younger characters, there are higher expectations for that character. Most fans want to see younger character and as such he feels more sensitive to designing them.

Nerd Reactor: As you’ve created original designs as well as adapting designs from source materials, what are the challenges you face for each process?

With the original characters, we’re free to do whatever we want but there is a higher level of pressure. Coming up with something new is more stressful.  With adapting, there is already a fanbase and also the original creator. There’s a different kind of pressure to satisfy that audience and the original creator.

Nerd Reactor: Two really strong movies with impact were AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart. It was a combination of the audio and video that made it a strong anime. How closely did he work with the staff of those productions to bring the shows together?

So for Anthem, the main character is Jun, who can’t talk. That’s the only information I get from the scriptwriters. For AnoHana, Menma was “ghost” and Jintan is “hikkomori.” So those are the word that I get and those are the words I use as inspiration for the characters. For example, Jun. One of the things I did was hiding her face with her long bangs. That’s one of the things used to visualize a girl who does not talk.


ConFreaks and Geeks: Were there any characters you had difficulty designing?

Any Title?


Taki from Your Name was difficult. In your name, the story is about body swapping between a boy and girl. A girl turning into a boy isn’t yucky; however, if a boy becomes a girl, it becomes not so attractive. It’s not socially acceptable behavior. But because Taki is the main character, he has to be attractive.

ThatHashtag show: Is there any existing manga you’d like to work on the anime adaptation for?

I’d like to have a chance to work on Koukoku no Shugosha (Imperial Guards).

Nerd Reactor: On Toradora, who was your favorite character you liked working on?

I love Taiga!


ConFreaks and Geeks: What’s the favorite series you worked on?

Highschool of the Dead. Because it was Zombie and Sexy women.

Nerd Reactor: Did you collaborate with Satou Shouji to design the anime characters?

Collaborating with Shouji-san was very smooth because usually when working on manga titles; there are several versions of character designs and multiple steps before it gets finalized. I felt that Shouji-san drawings were similar to mine so basically there were no retakes.


Nerd Reactor: So do you go to Comiket to buy his comics?

(Pauses) Yes.

[Room erupts into laughter]

ConFreaks and Geeks: In what ways has the anime industry changed since you’ve started working in it?

3D Technology is being incorporated a lot with anime these days.

ConFreaks and Geeks: Do you prefer the new 3D technology or traditional 2D cel?

I’m an old fashioned person, so probably cel. Going back to the previous question. The structure in which anime is monetized is changed. Internet streaming has become big and less physical distribution.

ConFreaks and Geeks: If you weren’t working in the anime industry, what other job would you be doing?

Haven’t thought of anything else.

Nerd Reactor: You’ve worked a lot with A1 Pictures in the past and recently Shinkai company’s Comix Wave. Is there any other animation studios that you’d like to work with?

I do. Whenever you work too long with the same crew, the familiarity sets in and you become too comfortable. When you get into a situation like that, I feel you aren’t growing as a creator. I’d like to be inspired other groups or getting out of the zone. Working with Shinkai was exactly that, people who I was not familiar with.

ThatHashtag Show: Do you prefer working on a TV series or movie?

TV Series. I’m providing entertainment every week. Often the fans of the series will have a deeper passion for a title than a movie.

ThatHashtag Show: Is there anything you’re working on currently that you could tell me about?

I’m working on something but I can’t say it yet.


Thank you to AkibaFest and Aniplex staff for arranging the interview.

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