This is the third in a batch of interviews from The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya guidebook that I’ll be posting. Some of these were previously posted in 2011/2012 and I’ve gone back and edited them. This short interview is the first of three previously translated pieces with some edits for readability. Please enjoy hearing from the original designer of the Haruhi characters, Noizi Ito!
Original Character Designer
Noizi Itou, illustrator. Birthday: August 9th. She’s known for her work on the Haruhi Suzumiya and Shakugan no Shana seriess. She’s a member of the PC game brand UnisonSoft and was the original designer and artist for the game Natsuiro★Drops among others.
She uses a vivid brush to bring life into Haruhi Suzumiya and the SOS Brigade.
What did the original illustrator think when she saw Disappearance?
The animation you longed for
―Firstly, would you please tell us your impressions of the movie now that you’ve seen it?
Itou: It was so good! You can’t say anything other than that. I’ve been associated with this franchise for a long time, but I’m truly blessed to be able to see such a lovely movie. The actresses’ performance in the altered world was amazing. Especially Haruhi’s low and disinterested voice. Nagato was so timid, it was like she was another person! Once all five of them had gathered after the world changed, my eyes became passionate. Kyon had gone through so much until then. Even after Mikuru glanced at him like he was a pest (laughs). Like Kyon, once everyone was gathered together, I felt as though our SOS Brigade had returned.
―Kyon certainly was handsome wasn’t he?
Itou: He really was! In the original work, I didn’t draw him that way at all. I wanted to portray him like a comedian instead (laughs). But Kyon was very handsome this time. I think it was really on display in this movie in scenes like his own question-and-answer monologue.
―In the rooftop scene, Nagato is in the same pose as illustrated in Editor in Chief ★ Straight Ahead! It wasn’t just in Disappearance; Itou-san’s illustration has been used many times now.
Itou: I was really happy to see it. I was moved when I saw it used in the television series, but it really made me happy to see the scene this time. I’m sure the readers were moved as well. It may only be a small part that was animated, but perhaps more will come.
Illustrating freely moving characters
―What were your impressions when you read Haruhi for the first time?
Itou: I’m not familiar with sci-fi, but this story was really interesting! I think it’s because the characters were really charming. When I first sent my request for illustrating, something like “Please let me illustrate this story,” I immediately started drawing after getting the response. Tanigawa-sensei has such good taste. For example, Haruhi goes “You have to have a maid moe character!” I think that gives a little of himself away there. While I think something like that is decent in a story, it can overwhelm it sometimes. I think he handled that very problem very well.
―How do you illustrate the images in the novels? The Nagato biting scene is a little erotic, don’t you think?
Itou: That scene is bizzarely beautiful isn’t it? (laughs) I’m instructed what scenes to draw, but usually, I’ll draw other scenes in case plans change. I usually draw how they’re written and so they turn out pretty good.
―Ryouko Asakura’s reappearance was really impressive, wasn’t it?
Itou: Instead of just being a beautiful girl, she has the “class leader” motif, doesn’t she? She reminds me of an actress from some time ago who didn’t take care of herself, but worried about her eyebrows. Since she’s cute, she gave me that impression. She’s a little different from the beautiful Haruhi and cute Mikuru; it’s like the difference between models, swimsuit models, and actresses. (laughs) I drew Mikuru cute, but somehow every character became that way. My characters aren’t finished until I see they fit their world and I’m satisfied with it. I’m very happy when the readers see them and are able to go into their world.
―In this story, we can understand why Haruhi’s hair is still long, but Nagato is strangely the same (with the glasses). Did you illustrate them differently?
Itou: She has very different facial expressions. With her eyebrows angled differently, she looks a little more frail; and so that’s the difference between her and the usual mechanical expression she has. I talked with Super Chief Animation Director (Shoko) Ikeda-san about this and she was able to portray the nervous feeling so well. When I first illustrated The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, it was my first time illustrating in a light novel and in monochrome. I was inexperienced then and it’s a bit embarrassing to look back on them.
―Would you say you were still searching for your style around that time?
Itou: Yes. I’d also say I was still trying to be able to get a grasp of the characters too. Now I feel that I understand them better and that influences me when I draw things like posters. It was my plan when illustrating the Nagato poster in the January 2010 issue of Newtype to take revenge on my earlier drawing. I’ve don’t think I’ve improved on the horrible Koizumi from then though. (laughs)
― I’m sure fans will be delighted when it comes. (laughs) What do you take into consideration when you illustrate poses and such?
Itou: Koizumi’s poses just come to me. (laughs) Actually, everyone is such a good character so their poses and patterns just pop into my head. I just illustrate what I feel.
Uniting boys’ and girls’ styles
―The front cover of the booklet for the movie version of Disappearance is Nagato. What image did you have in mind when illustrating it?
Itou: I depicted the image of her reflection from a window in her apartment. I was free to draw anything as long as it was Nagato. Initially my impression of Nagato’s illustrations was that she was a doll, but I wanted to depict her differently here. The coloring looks somewhat like a picture book. I used colors I don’t usually use, and yet it still looks like Nagato.
―And in the glass is a new different Nagato, right?
Itou: She’s in her apartment, looking at herself in the window, looking outside… I imagine she’s a little embarrassed at doing something girly. (laughs)
―And in the window she’s looking in is another Nagato. How did this girlish image come to mind?
Itou: It just came to me. Perhaps I was influenced by the girl manga Ribbon when drawing it. (laughs) There was a time when I would read my younger brother’s Shounen Jump manga, and even though I don’t read it anymore, I’m sure it’s influenced me. I’ve somehow combined the different styles. But there’s still points where I’m very worried even after I’ve become familiar with the characters.
―And when would you say that was?
Itou: About 2009. Until then, even though I drew Haruhi, I felt like I didn’t really know Haruhi. I re-read the novels, watched the anime, and remembered the time when I really liked her and suddenly my senses returned. I don’t know any other way to illustrate than to just depict my feelings. They’re not just ordinary illustrations, they’re Haruhi somehow. That pressure is a big component inside me. My style has been constant, but at times it hasn’t been fun. Before I would draw what I felt without constructing a new Haruhi. Every time I drew something, their faces would be different. It might be wrong, but that’s how I draw. My characters’ facial expressions have always changed. I’m just thankful that’s the only part that I’ve allowed to be changed.
―When drawing, would you say drawing characters is fun?
Itou: It depends on the story and how much I’m attached to it. Even though I’ve been drawing her for a while, Haruhi is particularly difficult. For Mikuru and Nagato, though I’ve gotten their faces down pat, their sides are difficult to depict. But I don’t have a good grasp on Haruhi at all. So when you see a Haruhi I’ve drawn, it’s easy to say it’s her, but it’s difficult to draw her cutely. Whether it’s a determined or malicious spirit, I put my best effort into her facial expression. I shouldn’t draw her angered face, but you can’t draw her without a strong spirit. I just try to depict the character that’s I’ve set inside me.