Free! Guidebook interview: Hiroko Utsumi x Futoshi Nishiya part 2

In 2011, Kyoto Animation published a list of encouragement award winning light novel entries from their second Kyoto Animation award contest. Included on that list was a title called High Speed!, something no one noticed at that time. In April 2013, the studio announced that they were going to be animating an original sequel to the novel that would air in the summer season. This is an interview that details how first time director Hiroko Utsumi and character designer Futoshi Nishiya took that content and Free!ed anime this summer. This interview is divided into two posts due to length. A link to the first part is included at the beginning. Giant thanks to irrevilent, Goggen, and TMSIDR for editorial contributions.Continued from part one

Initial images of Rin. The jagged teeth were already in place in this image.

Early images of Rin. The jagged teeth were already in place in this image.

To finish the main cast, please tell us about Rin.
Utsumi: I was determined to have the cool character who would enforce his will on others. He’d be curt, but once you get through the coolness, you have a stylish character who can’t help having his faults. A somewhat bad boy type of character, wouldn’t you agree? Don’t girls find those types of characters cool for some reason? We made sure his face would be pretty as well. He’d also be the type of cool older brother a sister like Gou would be fond of. We ensured that he would have a very cold feeling around him and would be and speak very roughly like a real boy. Rin has certainly changed from when he was younger. I wanted the audience to watch and wonder what it was that caused him to change so much. His uniform, that of Samezuka Academy, is white. They have a more traditional uniform look than Iwatobi does. I was worried about whether it should be black or dark blue, but our color coordinator, Yoneda-san, advised me it should be white when we talked. Amazingly, it matched beyond what I had ever imagined.
Nishiya: Actually, the traditional style of uniform Rin wears is rare.
Utsumi: Though you see it in the production materials, the uniform only shows up in episode one of the anime.
Nishiya: The season instantly goes to summer, so we couldn’t show the winter uniforms.
Utsumi: Generally we see him in his jersey, so the first episode had a rare appearance really.
Nishiya: Originally it wasn’t going to appear, but one way or another it showed up in episode 1.
Utsumi: In the end, it was a relief seeing him in his uniform in episode 1.

When you were designing Rin, did you cooperate with other staff members to compete against his design?
Nishiya: I’ve already been beaten by him. (laughs) For Rin, while we were going down the standard route suggested by his personality and such, I did get advice from the female staff about how to make him cool.
Utsumi: Rin’s hair was really difficult….. Everyone on the staff was like “the center part is just impossible.” We carefully obtained opinions, made various changes, and then had more discussions once production had begun. Happily, Rin didn’t make many appearances early on, so we could quickly make changes. Since he and Haruka are the protagonists of this show, I really didn’t feel like compromising on this issue.
Nishiya: At the beginning, every picture we drew had Rin wearing his goggles. His hair looked good when they were on, but once he took off the goggles, something was lacking.
Utsumi: Once he took off the goggles, he became this very weak rival character. Since nothing was coming along, could we decide he’d always be wearing goggles?!…. But that wouldn’t fit his character. We continued to compete against him after that.
Nishiya: Rin was based around wearing goggles to begin with.
Utsumi: Now that it’s been settled, when he wears the goggles, he feels most like “Rin.”
Nishiya: That strand of hair coming down the middle is difficult to gauge.
Utsumi: Delicately balancing his bangs is a point of note for Rin.
Nishiya: In the beginning, we had something like a headband on him. One of those bands you’d see on athletes like soccer players. When we changed the goggles he wore, we all agreed it looked very unfashionable. (laughs)
Utsumi: We had already decided on it, but I was thinking about it on a train ride back to Osaka and it didn’t fit at all. So I called Nishiya and said “Let’s think about it a little more!” When we asked the female staff if wearing a headband fits his character, everyone instantly said “NO!” (laughs)

These are early hairstyle images of Rin. This version replaced goggles with a hairband.

These are early hairstyle images of Rin. This version replaced goggles with a hairband.

What are points you’d like people to notice about Rin’s design?
Utsumi: What I personally people recommend to watch for is when he’s wearing a tank top. It’s something that people don’t wear if they don’t feel comfortable with their body. We were easily able to draw lines illustrating his back muscles, so that looks extremely good. Also we made sure that Rin’s feet weren’t shown in situations where other characters like Nagisa would wear shorts or short pants. They illustrate more childish notions, which doesn’t fit Rin’s character.
Nishiya: And also the teeth.
Utsumi: Nishiya-san asked earlier if his teeth could be jagged. I easily rejected them.
Nishiya: I felt his teeth should be jagged from the very beginning. They’ve broken through now.
Utsumi: They wouldn’t convey that his image is supposed to be a shark. It’d feel like his canines were protruding as an infant. Somewhat like a shark child.


Nishiya’s rough drafts of the four elementary school swimmers.

Nishiya’s rough drafts of the four elementary school swimmers.

How did you design the cast as children?
Nishiya: I wanted the children to appear just as they were depicted in the novel.
Utsumi: Initially, the children were unpopular and had a bad reputation internally. Once we had imaged them and made them a bit more childish than the older anime versions, their reception had improved.
Nishiya: We tried to clearly differentiate between the two ages. The elementary school group were the very beginning of the project yet it felt like the high schoolers were the ones commonly used.  Listening to the staff, they felt the same, though none of us had realized it. Only the swimsuits were changed from the high schooler look, so we altered the length of the inseam and brought out the differences to make them appear more childish.
Utsumi: Everyone but Rei had a elementary school design, but perhaps later…..?!

I’ve heard you’ve adopted an animal motif for each character.
Utsumi: Haruka is like a dolphin, isn’t he? He naturally coexists with the water. I think his “enjoying” appearance is very much like a dolphin. Their swimming club’s motif was a dolphin, so perhaps he seems to have carried those memories with him since then. Makoto is an orca. At first glance you wouldn’t think either of them could be so gentle. In the original novel, he’s described as having a “violent swimming motion.” In reality, I think he’s the type of person who swims powerfully and violently through the water.
Nishiya: Initially we also included that he likes to view the sky as well.
Utsumi: Swimming while viewing the sky would easily indicate that he swam the backstroke. Nagisa is a penguin. Constantly moving around with quick motions in the water feels like Nagisa. Rin is a shark. With his glare and his sharp teeth, you instantly feel so, but of course he swims like one too. He’s always been like that. He even goes to a school with “shark” in its name. As for Rei, please watch the series and see with your own eyes.

Nishiya’s rough drafts of Gou. At this time her hair was still rather short.

Nishiya’s rough drafts of Gou. At this time her hair was still rather short.

Next, would you please introduce us to the two female characters, Gou and Amakata-sensei.
: They’re really supported by the male staff members. (laughs)
Nishiya: At her core, Gou has that “girl” feel to her.
Utsumi: Her expression is similar to Rin’s. Her eye angle is also similar.
Nishiya: Perhaps its her drooping eyelashes.
Utsumi: Her hair isn’t exactly the same color as Rin’s, but they resemble each other’s. Matching siblings are cute, wouldn’t you agree? You sense that she really became emotionally attached to her older brother. I didn’t want to have her feel like a character who relied on anyone else, so I made her the kind of girl who’s got her own independent will. She’s a kind of girl who does whatever she wishes. She has her own reasons for joining the swimming club. It’s not that she’s weak as a character; she joined because she would enjoy looking at muscles. Thus we also depicted her discovering her own reason to enjoy the swimming club.  Her personality is feminine yet clearly cheerful. I requested to Nishiya-san that I wanted her hair to be long.
Nishiya: Having her wear her hair down would overdo the “girl” feeling, so we put it in a ponytail.
Utsumi: And her hair also moves around a lot too.
Nishiya: I think she’s a character who splendidly stands out amongst the cast.

Are there any points you want people to see about Gou?
Utsumi: Since she’s a girl that likes her older brother, we initially had her wearing shark accessories….  but they weren’t cute when we put them on Gou, so we changed them to ordinary cute fish accessories. Also, her ponytail moves around a lot and feels light; be aware that it doesn’t feel heavy. Actually, Gou is really poor athletically. If she and her brother were both athletic and swam, we would have to insert differences between them to show weaknesses. The amount of repetition between them jumped out at me. She’s also poor at running. So, Gou only joined the swimming club to watch them swim.

Gou also gets into arguments with Nagisa about her name in the anime…
Utsumi: That’s because Nagisa won’t change how he calls her. “Don’t call me Gou, call me Kou.” They’re the same age, so there’s no hesitance for her to speak like that. Gou has some aspects of her that are childish, so the two of them together feel like a couple of kids arguing with each other. At any rate, Gou is in an important position as a character. She’s Rin’s sister, so she acts as a bridge between him and the Iwatobi swimmers. I also contributed things I clearly wanted in her personality, like how she loves looking at muscles. And so it was immediately put in. (laughs) I hope there may be a surprising amount of women who love looking at muscles.

What made you think there may be a surprising amount of women who love looking at muscles?
Utsumi: The commercial that aired before we announced this series. At our internal preview screening, I asked the staff if we had overdone Nagisa’s muscles… I was worried that we may have, but after looking at the reaction of the staff members and the amount of people who said they enjoyed that difference in characteristics, there may be a surprising amount of women who like muscles! (laughs) I had resigned myself to feeling disappointed, but I was shocked at the good feelings I got from that preview. Perhaps that may a hidden side of all women throughout the world… (laughs)

Nishiya’s drafts of Amakata-sense. Her hair is short due to the decision to give her a slightly childish feeling.

Nishiya’s drafts of Amakata-sensei. Her hair is short due to the decision to give her a slightly childish feeling.

Continuing on, would you please tell us about Amakata-sensei?
Nishiya: I, happily, was able to put a lot of my own preferences in her. However, utmost was that she feels like a teacher.
Utsumi: Initially, she was supposed to have straight hair so she would appear a little immature, but that settled into her current look. Her character was determined quickly. Gou is the beauty, so we considered Amakata-sensei to be the cutie. However, we trimmed down points and trimmed down her character. A good literature teacher would be able to quote suitable phrases, so we thought it’d be cute if she wasn’t able to do it well.

What are points you want the viewers to look for in her?
: Both the sense of her wavy hair as well as her protruding forehead.
Utsumi: I’ve trusted Nishiya-san with her character.
Nishiya: I wanted to depict our rare female characters very cutely.

A swimmer needs three items: a swimsuit, goggles, and a cap. However, I think that would be difficult to include all three to represent each of the swimmers. As a director, what did you advise the episode directors?
Nishiya: The biggest problem was that we couldn’t distinguish characters when they had their gear on.
Utsumi: Even though it’s done in real swimming competitions, I was very worried that viewers wouldn’t be able to distinguish between characters and tell what was happening when they put on their caps and goggles.
Nishiya: Usually swimmers tuck their hair inside their caps, but in order to distinguish between characters, we had a little bit of hair protrude out.  Also, we wanted the audience to empathize for the characters, so we had to make them different somehow.

How did you decide on the design for the swimwear?
Nishiya: It wasn’t that complicated to think about.
Utsumi: We wanted the swimwear to be stylish, however we were really picky over the logos that appeared on them. The marks’ design had to be similar to what was used in reality and be simple. We were also very particular on the length of the swimsuits. Especially Makoto’s due to his height. We determined each character’s swimsuit based on variables like how they would appear length-wise, each character’s physique, and so forth. Rin’s goggles changed from what we had first decided. The Iwatobi club’s goggles are all different colors. We also had to consider balancing everything with the caps.

This is an image illustration drawn by director Utsumi that was posted on the Animation Do homepage.

This is an image illustration drawn by director Utsumi that was posted on the Animation Do homepage.

How did you decide the color for each character’s swimsuit?
Utsumi: Each character’s swimsuit reflects their image color. However, Haruka’s eyes are blue, so we changed his to purple. In return, Rei obtained Haruka’s blue. Only those two’s colors changed.

I imagine reflecting male emotions would be difficult for a female director. What did you do?
Nishiya: Speaking from a male point of view, I think she was able to depict male emotions well.
Utsumi: I became worried that I was depicting a misinterpretation of emotions, but as the story continued, I deeply considered each character’s emotions and how those feelings would be reflected. Properly showing those were very important to me.

Nishiya-san, speaking from a male point of view, please tell us what points you want us to look for in the show.
Nishiya: Since it’s a sports series, the bonds between characters and the fiery competitions of course. Though it’s a sports series with characters having different color hair and rivalries, I think we’ve enjoyed this sports series like anything else we’ve done up until now.

As a representative of the male staff, how does it feel to work on a series which features a lot of male characters in it?
Nishiya: I think it’s a good series for us; it’s one that we can depict a male point of view. I’d like to hear about the opposite though. Up until now, we’ve done a lot of series that had a majority female cast. How did you feel during those series?
Utsumi: As a woman, I knew how those characters would act, so I knew how to draw them. Because of that, it was easy to imagine how their posture would be when I started drawing.
Nishiya: I also haven’t felt like this series has been that difficult for me. I’m not talking about gender relations; it feels very fresh to draw a lot of guys.
Utsumi: The staff has also enjoyed drawing the male characters. Since this project features a lot of muscles on the characters, it’s important that we not falsify their bodies.
Nishiya: It’s certainly difficult to pay attention to that. We can’t cover them with clothes in this series.
Utsumi: It’s important, yet it’s fun. The key animators are also saying “I want the muscles of these guys!” (laughs) We can’t falsify the muscle tissue and how it moves on top of the body. The staff has also been independently training for this series. I see books of poses on desks.They have been very ambitious about depicting upper bodies.

Finally, please give a message to the viewers.
Utsumi: This work is about the bonds that were born from swimming. I want to thoroughly depict those emotions. Also for those tuning in, please notice the fascinating upper bodies!
Nishiya: I think we’ve depicted a cool high school student life. This time the goal we wanted to pursue was coolness!
Utsumi: I’ll be pleased if the female audiences watches and are shocked by how cool they are.

And that’s it for this interview. Thank you for taking the time to read through all 5,000+ words of this one. I hope it gives you a better outlook on the series.

11 thoughts on “Free! Guidebook interview: Hiroko Utsumi x Futoshi Nishiya part 2

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