Sound! Euphonium 2 Character Designer Shoko Ikeda Interview

This is another translation that I originally translated in 2017 to run on another site, but due to various circumstances, it was never run. With the recent arson incident, I’m posting these so that they’re out in the public for people to read. This is from the Sound! Euphonium 2 fanbook published by Kyoto Animation in 2017.

Character Designer/Chief Animation Director
Shoko Ikeda

Kumiko as a protagonist

– The key visual for season 2 felt more powerful than the one from season 1. What was your intent when working on it?
When I was at the “rough illustration” stage, it wasn’t that powerful of a design. I drew various tastes of how the characters would be and eventually, director Ishihara chose to present “powerful” as the forefront. Since Kumiko also stands out as more of a protagonist in season 2 compared to season 1, I also remember director Ishihara saying “It’d be great if Kumiko would be more rigid like a protagonist would be.” Rather than drawing it consciously bringing out “powerful,” it felt more like I drew it consciously making Kumiko feel like a protagonist.

– So that’s what it was about. Perhaps it’s because she went through the events of season one and grew….
Maybe she hadn’t grown at all up to this point too. (laughs) In regards to the teaser visual with Kumiko and Asuka standing back to back, I wanted it to be easy-to-understand and exciting, so I aimed for an extraordinarily cool image. Fundamentally, it’s important to keep the realistic feeling and body weight of girls for the illustrations of Eupho.

New Character Designs

– May we ask you to talk about the new characters designs that appeared in the second season?
First, we knew that Mizore would appear in the second novel when we were working on the first season, so I kept that in mind when designing her then. I re-made her design prior to the movie as a new main character. I didn’t create any other girl with a similar hair color as Mizore so she would stand out in the concert band. I was able to immediately imagine her design when reading the novel, so it was easy to design her base design. Director Ishihara ordered her expressions to be the “expressionless small animal type” of character, so I aimed at having her be this lovely person who was poor at communicating with others unlike the usual beautiful girls.

– Speaking of Mizore, the back of her head is certainly impressive.
When I read the description of her hairstyle in the novel, I thought “well, I’ve got to keep that!” When Mizore was feeling unwell by the lattice by the stairwell in episode 1, I drew her thinking “this nape is important!” (laughs) Director Ishihara imagined her body type being the dainty type, but Yamada-san and I pushed back saying “this type of girl would be slightly chubby!” Mizore has that slightly enduring sense to her in her lively expressions.

– How about Nozomi?
Compared to Mizore, she was a much more difficult delivery. When she appeared in the first season, her design was decided to be along the image of the novels, but since she would be a difficult character when she had a larger role in the story, I thought about how best to make her a fascinating character. She’s a bit ignorant of feelings of girls like Mizore and goes straight ahead on her own path. By all means, she’s the type of girl who exhibits leadership throughout her, so I worked while wanting to express that strong core of hers.
Also, she had a lot of vertical poses in the character design sheets, so Nozomi had a bit of lively feel to her in those standing poses. I aimed to bring out that confident charm to her not just in her face or body parts, but in her entire existence. At the beginning, I designed her wit more of a slanted eye feeling, but because I wanted to place that gentle side of her inside that liveliness, I eventually went with more of gentle eye structure. Her hair was a ponytail like Natsuki’s was in the first season, so we had a ponytail festival in that year. (laughs) Also, since Nozomi is conscious of Asuka, I put her socks as black.

– So now I’d like to hear about the visiting instructors. How was designing Hashimoto?
Since I had fundamentally the instructions of “he feels like a pro musician, but in the image of Yuichi Nakamura,” I was able to finish his design immediately. At the beginning, I drew him with his stomach protruding a bit, but as it looked kinda cool, I pulled it back in. (laughs) As he was described as having a peculiar fashion sense in the novels, I asked color designer Takeda-san to “please plaster him with horrible matching colors.” He looks good with flashy colors like fluorescent pink and pea green. I think he and Taki-sensei make good images together.

– And on the other side, how was Niiyama-sensei?
Niiyama-sensei is fundamentally a gentle adult woman. The director ordered that she have a different atmosphere to her in her student days shown in the opening animation. So I had to guess how she changed into the woman she is now from that time. I instantly decided on her standing poses, but I had to seek methods to clear the standard of cuteness the director wanted with her expressions. “Cuter!” he would say.

The secret tale of the creation of the concert band members

– The opening animation has many of the Kitauji Concert Band members appearing in it. Please tell us a bit more about these members, excluding the main characters.
Before the first season began, I innocently completed body designs for characters on sheets of paper. At that time, I added to about 70 characters I casually drew to complete their bodies and would apply the names from the list Yamada-san prepared and assign them to sections. Of all the band members, I only had to revise Hideri Noguchi’s design to match his role. At the beginning, he had a design more like Knuckle. As a result of going to a different direction, he became an easy moving character who also served as a section leader that didn’t practice. When we had to decide which of the few male members that would be Shuichi’s friend, Yamada-san chose the saxophonist Chikao Takigawa-kun. They make a good pair.
Before, when I served as character designer for a work, I limited myself to real high schooler feeling for the classmates of the protagonist, but for Eupho, it was more important to treasure personality. I mixed in the “anime” type designs like the cat ears and twin drills in Taura-san and the giant ribbon for Yuuko and it was a enjoyable performance with them.

The experienced staff and the challenging second season

– Besides serving as character designer, how was working also as chief animation director?
I certainly felt the passion the staff had while watching over everyone work. As this was the second season of this series, they were able to express the attachment to each character and grasp the technicalities of how to draw each character from the first season and the movie, so I think they made the best of everything during the production.
I was surprised at the efforts that the fresh animation directors who had just moved up from key animation underwent. Because they weren’t used to the work that animation directors do, they were pouring all of their energy into correcting so much that the line amounts increased. I felt the passion of our young staff.
In a sequel series, there are portions you are used to at that time, but as each staff member grows, they also seek new challenges, so there are still different processes compared to the first season.

– What were the points you checked each cut for?
Mizore is a new character and one that doesn’t change her expressions much, so she has a narrow window of expressions. I carefully checked those. After her would be Kumiko and Reina. Reina’s a beautiful girl and Kumiko has difficulty since she has no characteristic features besides her hair. A nice Kumiko is difficult (laughs). I prepared another expression design sheet for Kumiko in the second season adding more expressions than the first season and deformed expressions as well. The deformed eye colors also were made different to broaden the range of expressions and to provide a sense of unity in the drawings. These were used freely in the bonus footage included on the home video releases. They’re a must-see! (laughs)
The additional expression design sheet depicts Kumiko becoming more lively as a result of standing independently as a character from what she went through in season 1 and the movie, but because everyone was having difficulty drawing the side of her hair, I wanted to provide a reference for the fluffiness. (laughs) If there’s too many lines, then it’s difficult for the in-betweens to dilute those lines, so moderating it was important.

Ending two seasons of the TV series

– Now that all 13 episodes have finished production, are there any stories that remain with you?
There are some scenes that remained with me, but I remember being filled with emotion while rush-checking the scene where Taki-sensei tells Asuka the message from her father. It was too dangerous…. Even without sound, this was the first time that I had been moved to sympathize with a character during this important visual check. I kept fixating on her. The presentation techniques to make the viewer want to get closer to Asuka and listen to what she thought about hearing her father’s message after continuing for so long was quite impressive. I was so happy that Kumiko was there when this reliable senpai behaved like a spoiled child for once. I really loved those two together at that moment. The impressive and envious relationship that they had built over the past year brought me nothing but happiness thinking about their meeting.

– Looking back, what kind of work was Sound! Euphonium?
I think it shows the process of becoming an adult by accumulating relationships with others like it does and it holds such a realistic feeling for the world the girls live in with so many different ways of thinking. An adult could watch this work and think “that’s adolescence for ya” while reflecting back and those going through adolescence now could feel “though there’s so many worries each of them have, this is a special time in their lives.” I’m happy that it can appeal to both.

– So finally, please give a message to all the readers.
Thank you very much for watching this series. We’ve all run through to the goal line together while supporting the frantic Kitauji High School Concert Band. I’m happy if I was able to make a work stand out where those who watched protected the changing emotions of all the characters and shared in that “giving it everything you have” feeling.

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