Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Roundtable #1: Hand-drawn Animation Staff

This is a newly translated roundtable featuring the staff involved with the hand-drawn animation portion of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (key animation and in-betweens). It was published in the “This is Who We Are Now!! 2017” book sold alongside tickets to the 2017 KyoAni & Do Event.

“Looking Back at Our Works”

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Roundtable 1:

Director: Yasuhiro Takemoto
Character Designer: Miku Kadowaki
Chief Animation Director: Nobuaki Maruki
Prop Designer: Seiichi Akitake

Using the presentation of a manga source

– What distinct characteristics did this title have for the animation and in-betweens?
Takemoto: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (hereafter “Dragon Maid”) has a manga-ish representation that’s completely different from the titles that had come recently from our studio.
Maruki: It was a complete change from the realism representation of those titles.
Kadowaki: For the first time in a while, I was able to draw manga expressions.
Akitake: Right, right, like thicker linework. I think we made use of those techniques when drawing “Dragon Maid” and so I feel like we made entertaining manga-ish visuals from that.

– How were the character designs made?
Kadowaki: In order to design the characters, I read the manga for around three days straight. I remember other staff members coming up to me and saying “are you in a manga café?” and I’d quickly say back “No, this is for work!” (laughs) That’s how much I was simply reading the manga.
Takemoto: I asked Kadowaki-san to nicely bring out the characteristics from the manga. We talked about “making the characters round and soft to bring out their cuteness.”
Kadowaki: Making the drawings cute was the first conversation we had about this show.
Akitake: The bodies of the characters are nicely plump.
Maruki: Portions like Kanna-chan’s legs are amazing. (laughs)
Kadowaki: That wasn’t just me alone; this was from all the animation directors for each episode eagerly drawing thick legs. (laughs)
Akitake: They were drawn thick when I was designing, so I thought “ah, this must be the new fad.”
Takemoto: Since stout characters is characteristic of the mangaka, Coolkyoushinja’s, drawings, it was also reflected in the anime character designs.
Kadowaki: That’s right. It felt like we thought “we have to chase after that appeal” since the mangaka had nicely drawn those builds. When I first talked with Takemoto-san about the designs, he mentioned “the hips are distinct, aren’t they?” From that hint, I thought about how to distinctly draw the circumference of hips.
Takemoto: Everyone, not just Kanna, has a distinctive hip measurement.
Kadowaki: Surprisingly, Kobayashi-san’s is easy to understand.
Maruki: You feel like she works sitting down.
Takemoto: Elma’s feet and rear are distinctive too. I think that’s well represented in the scene in the opening where they’re wagging their tails from behind.

– There’s a surprising amount of minor characters in “Dragon Maid.”
Akitake: Don’t the other workers at Kobayashi’s office, “Rotating Hell Systems Engineering,” appear in the manga?
Kadowaki: Not all of them, but there are characters we retrieved from the manga. There’s some that only appear in one frame too.
Maruki: I only know about Yamashita-kun and the office head.
Akitake: They’re so individualistic. Drawing them was a lot of fun. Whenever I decided on their seats, I had fun thinking about their posture at work and how they were working. And then seeing the characters come out in the ED was immensely cute as well.
Takemoto: Speaking of the ED, there’s a point where the four dragons are gently swaying and singing. The first time I saw the completed visuals, I thought that was immensely cute. The key animator for that did a wonderful job.
Akitake: Those designs don’t have any highlights in the eyes, right? What did you want to accomplish with that?
Kadowaki: At first Takemoto-san requested “I want them to be partially designed mini characters,” but because that changed to “naturally we should place normal mini-characters there” midway, the lack of highlights was kept from the early stages. As the design of the eyes when I first designed them looked nice, we kept it in the final designs. Eyes without highlights was a bit of a challenge for us.
The mini characters in the bonus shorts, “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon (Blank),” were designed a little different than in the ED. As their expressions had to be easier to understand, they were condensed down from the main story’s designs.
Takemoto: Since Tohru’s design was so cute in those shorts, I absolutely wanted to see her.

– How was designing props for the show?
Akitake: For the props, I worked on them while talking with Takemoto-san. The crab beer can was a favorite of his.
Takemoto: That one took a bunch of time, didn’t it? (laughs)
Maruki: Why was it a crab?
Takemoto: Wasn’t it drawn as a prawn at first?
Akitake: No, I didn’t draw that. (laughs)
Takemoto: Really? (laughs)
Akitake: From the beginning Takemoto-san said “crab beer” so even though I didn’t know why it was a crab, we’ve kept it since.
Maruki: Was it because you shifted crustaceans in your head Takemoto-san?
Takemoto: No, the reason I settled on crab was because a bit of a crab fad had arrived in my head.
All: (Laugh)

The staff’s overflowing fixations

– This time the roles of character designer and chief animation director were split. What was the intention behind that?
Maruki: It was done with the objective of improving work efficiency.
Kadowaki: That’s right. It was efficient to split tasks into “work for chief animation director,” “work for character designer,” and “work for promotional illustrations.” Because of that, I was able to focus as a designer to create a “guide to handle characters” that detailed how to draw hair and angles of characters in addition to my work designing characters and drawing promotional illustrations.
Takemoto: We thought we’d try split the role of character designer and chief animation director this time.
Maruki: For me working as just chief animation director, thanks to Kadowaki-san providing the foundation, I was able to tidy up drawings easily. It didn’t feel like any different from normal animation director work. But having gone through this, I feel it would be difficult to work as character designer and handle chief animation director work. Adding the work of designing characters and drawing promotional illustrations on top of my work as chief animation director would be impossible for me.
Kadowaki: Since you can’t stop working on other things as chief animation director, I concentrated on working on the promotional illustrations this time.
Takemoto: You drew nearly all of the promotional illustrations for Dragon Maid.
Kadowaki: I did. I was in charge of an immense amount of them, but it felt like my drawings got rounder and rounder as time went on…..
Takemoto: There’s no helping that.
Maruki: Every title has changes in designs between the beginning and ending.

– How were things relating to drawing like the amount of work for this title?
Kadowaki: This was a title where the amount of lines and such were decreased……or it was supposed to. (laughs)
All: (laughs)
Kadowaki: Getting used to something is scary. Even though I intended for the amount of lines to go down, I didn’t realize what happened until the key animation staff told me “they’ve not gone down at all.”
Akitake: It takes time to draw things that flutter like Tohru’s maid costume.
Maruki: Because of the frills attached to it.
Akitake: There were cases where the tail’s portion was omitted because the animation director would draw it in minutely.
Takemoto: When we started work on episode 1, Maruki-san told me “since there’s not a lot of lines, this should be easy to draw, right?” And then after that he told me “that’s not the case at all!” (laughs)
Maruki: Tohru’s head is complex as well. Because there’s a headdress, various angles came about. Add in twintails and it’s a parade of complex things to draw.
Kadowaki: Because it’s a title with a “gentle world,” I also wanted the key animation staff to draw with a gentle feeling too. (laughs)
Akitake: Kanna’s clothing was also painful with all the frills attached to it.
Takemoto: Even though I thought “well, it’s just for Kanna’s design,” I didn’t think you’d be saying that to Tohru’s design too.
Akitake: Kobayashi-san and Takiya were easy to draw.
Maruki: Right. Kobayashi-san was soothing. However another troubling thing was the key animation staff filling in too many shadow lines.
Takemoto: That was also troubling. It might have been better if we decreased those.
Akitake: You also said to decrease the shadow lines a lot when we were designing the props, Takemoto-san. But as we worked on more episodes, the staff kept drawing in more because they were probably worried about decreasing that amount…..
Takemoto: That’s wondering “how to prepare this?” If you have times where you think “I want to eat a traditional Japanese meal,” there will also be times where you think “I want to eat a hamburger” or “I want to eat sweets.” They’re different kinds of delicious, but I had wanted to aim for the latter type of delicious this time.
Akitake: In episode 1, Tohru’s dragon form was especially rough. And even though I later remembered, there were times where I forgot to draw in gradiation in her hair.
Takemoto: That part was definitely the one with the most re-takes.

– Which episode had the most amount of work?
Takemoto: Probably episode 1 or episode 13. Episode 13 because….. simply it had a lot of cuts.
Maruki: Both of them were Takemoto-san’s storyboards.
Akitake: Episode 13 had around 500 cuts didn’t it?
Takemoto: I think it did.
Akitake: I remember thinking “Ah, will this ever end?” (laughs)
Kadowaki: When it crosses 500 cuts, everyone’s like “uh….!” (laughs)
Takemoto: But the dragon battle scenes were comparatively short though.
Maruki: It’s easy for the amount of cuts to increase in a comedy gag show like “Dragon Maid.”
Takemoto: It’s very easy for them to increase. I don’t like for there to be a lot of time between comedy and/or gags in shows like this, so I’ll work to add small cuts whenever possible until there’s a nice tempo when I draw storyboards. When there’s situations like that as the amount of cuts increase, you have to do some fine-tuning.

Polishing the content until it’s like fine sake

– What tricks did you use when directing the show?
Takemoto: I wouldn’t call it a trick, but I would convey to all the staff about “this is what I want to do in this title.” Since I would barely revise any of the storyboards and didn’t revise any of the cuts first-hand, I had to rely on all of the staff myself. Because of that, I had to convey to them what I wanted to do with this show.
Maruki: Takemoto-san gathered a character sheet, plot summary, and how he wanted this to be made onto paper and distributed them.
Takemoto: I put the direction of this show as simple as I could onto a single sheet of A4 size paper. I thought that people would hate reading a bundle of pages, so I thought I had to carefully write the truly important things there. If you don’t sharpen your phrasing, it’s bad to be simple. When I say simple, it’s not “make it uncomplicated,” but “push out the essence in short phrases.” For example, when you make sake, you polish the rice to turn it from good sake to top-quality sake. I thought about how to not include that off-flavor portion when writing the document I’d hand over to the staff.
Akitake: I was grateful to receive that piece of paper which concisely summarized things like the character sheet and such. It simply cut down on my mistakes. Whenever I forgot something, it was nice to be able to look it over instantly.
Takemoto: That’s my personality. I don’t like having to have things re-done or making someone do more. However, the finer points in making a title seem to increase throughout the process.

It was rough, but I’m glad I was so fixated

– Were there any rough points during the drawing process?
Akitake: One aspect of presentation for “Dragon Maid” was “broken lines”, but it was rough when I would draw lines here and there when drawing key animation. It would be simple to continually close it too.
Kadowaki: One guideline I gave to the in-between staff was “please don’t connect these lines.”
Maruki: You get into a habit when you don’t complete lines. I was working on a different title right after “Dragon Maid” and I did it there.
Kadowaki: According to the painting staff, there were points when they would scan something and have a difficult decision of “is this a line or is it a mess?” This time the noses were small, so there were many times where those were also thought of as nothing accidentally.
Maruki: As there were lots of times where noses weren’t drawn, there were a ton of times where they had to be puzzled.
Akitake: Noses were erased most of the time.
Takemoto: Things like eyelashes also disappeared sometimes.
Maruki: Come to think of it, you were in charge the scene in the opening where the people spin around and go up, weren’t you Akitake-san? You included many of Kobayashi-san’s co-workers, didn’t you?”
Akitake: I did. Some of the people were her co-workers. Others were students from the elementary school.
Takemoto: The quick sharp turning in that scene was so good.
Akitake: Thank you very much. I mentioned this in the staff commentary for volume 3, but drawing that cut took a lot of time. I greatly boasted “It’s fine. That was so easy,” but I wouldn’t have finished it in time, so I asked some nearby animators to help out. (laughs)
Takemoto: Didn’t I tell you “I think this is impossible for one person to draw” at our meeting? (laughs) I think there had to be around thirty characters there.
Akitake: I did my best to draw the characters near the front, but I asked the other staff to help out for the characters that appeared in the background. Sone-san, the guy who lives in the same apartment complex as Kobayashi-san, was there, right? When his hair rotated, I liked how the feeling of his hair swooshed, so I’m glad I was so fixated on that.

– There were a lot of scenes that weren’t drawn, but had 3D in it too.
Kadowaki: The characters in the mob at Comiket in episode 7 were done in 3D.
Takemoto: Drawing that many characters by hand would have been rough. I had seen that scene at Comiket during scouting, so I wanted to depict that for sure.
Maruki: The reproduction feeling was so amazing.
Takemoto: Wasn’t it? I thought that our previous depictions of Comiket weren’t the most realistic. People who have been to it would see that mass of people there and know “Ah, that’s the afternoon line.” It’s the “just like that” feeling.
All: (laughs)

– With production finished, what are any impressions of “Dragon Maid” that remain?
Kadowaki: For me, Takiya and Fafnir’s stories have stuck in my heart from time to time. (laughs)
Takemoto: Fafnir is so wonderful. Personally, he’s the most appealing character. “How entertaining” and such.
Kadowaki: Episode 6’s story with them was so good.
Takemoto: I was a bit fixated on depicting their lives like “give me a life like this.”
Kadowaki: I knew it! Takemoto-san loves depicting male characters.
Takemoto: For me, episode 12 still leaves an impression. The story of Kobayashi and Tohru first meeting was immensely good. I thought that episode’s director (Taichi) Ogawa-san gave it such a good feeling.
Akitake: Everyone on the staff was so passionate to work on that episode. In particular, Ogawa-san was so fixated on the scene of the thief girl wearing the maid outfit until the very end.
Takemoto: That scene was extremely good!
Maruki: I worked as animation director with Kadowaki-san on episode 1, but I had just moved to “Dragon Maid” from working on the title just before it so I wasn’t used for how to draw those images. People who were watching may know, but there were some cuts in episode 1 where the atmosphere is different. I had intended to give it my best in matching everything, but I couldn’t skillfully reproduce Kadowaki-san’s roundness……
Kadowaki: I didn’t notice that at all. But thanks to how technology has improved recently, even if there’s differences in the line drawings, whenever colors are painted in and through to the composition process, I feel like everything becomes even overall.
Takemoto: Regardless, animation directors are very important. I’ve always immensely respected them. It’s a grave responsibility to have what you’ve drawn move to the finished visuals almost as-is. It’s amazing.

– Thank you for speaking with us today.

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