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Kazutaka Miyatake Interview from Megahouse Variable Action Hi-Spec Orguss

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Hot on the heels of the recent translation of the Kazutaka Miyatake interview from the SDF-1 book, comes yet another Miyatake heart-to-heart, this time the big man is talking about his work on Super Dimension Century Orguss, or as I like to call it, “Kei Katsuragi’s Adventures in Wonderland”.  I hope you find it as fascinating as I did, giving an insight into the state of mind he must have been in during that entire 1982-84 period.

This interview is from a booklet that was included with the first edition of the Megahouse Variable Action Hi-Spec Orguss toy from earlier in the year.  I chose to tackle it at this time since it would be perfect to brush up on our Orguss trivia as this year’s Macross World Convention will have a dedicated ORGUSS panel for all your Space-Time Oscillation needs!

The translation starts after the jump.  Enjoy!

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Kazutaka Miyatake Interview from Megahouse Variable Action Hi-Spec Orguss (Translated by Renato)

“I wanted to inject the taste of a racing bike.”

It’s quick, but “Orguss” is also now a thirty-year-old show…
“Orguss” was, in many ways, a really tough show to work on. Even aside from my role as designer, it was a mountain of hardships that I had never endured up until then, especially at that particular timing in my life.

What kind of situation was it at the time?
After the “Macross” TV series wrapped up, I was working on the Macross movie while developing the next TV project, “Super Dimension Century Orguss”, and at the same time I was offered to work on “Aura Battler Dunbine”. I already had a relationship with director (Yoshiyuki) Tomino going back a long time, so he told me, “this project is probably going to be a little difficult. We will run into trouble if we do it in the same style as a [typical] robot show, so we need to think up of the setting and world-view together from the start”, so I responded, “Sure, let’s do it.” With the “Macross” movie, I was doing the Macross ship and some of the Zentran ships, but I really wanted to work hard mainly on the art [here, “art” refers to “background settings/designs”. If you look at the credits for DYRL, you’ll notice Miyatake is actually credited as “Production Design”, not simply “mecha design” –Renato], so I split the work with Kawamori. Thus, I could concentrate on my work for “Dunbine”. For “Orguss”, we got Yasushi Ishizu a young designer who had just joined Nue. He’s got a certain particular sense about things, so I just gave him a few words of advice and left him to handle it. That’s how I dealt with the three works.
Just at that time, my mother, who had been minding our self-defence-related items shop in Yokosuka all by herself after my father died, also collapsed. The work at the shop involved a lot of complicated contracts, and so it all got thrown into confusion what with her hospitalization and subsequent emergency surgery. It got to the point where I couldn’t just be holed up in a studio in Tokyo, I needed to go over and stay at Yokosuka several times a week, and as a result, got very little work done.

So that is what you meant by “that particular timing” in your life.
I no longer had the time to be doing designs for three shows, so I had to concentrate on one, and since I couldn’t just leave the new guy Ishizu-kun alone, I had to focus on “Orguss”. I needed to reorganize, so I greatly reduced my amount of work for the “Macross” movie, and I left the remainder of work on “Dunbine” to Bucchan (Yutaka Izubuchi [Please Google him if you have not heard of him! It’s worth it! –Renato]). As for the shop in Yokosuka, I ended up cutting all the governmental contracts, and only renewed the ones that I couldn’t run away from. So I had to get in a car and run all over the place to make deliveries and whatnot. My parents had told me that they didn’t need me to continue to run the shop, so I had chosen to do design work [as a career -R], but with both of my parents in such a situation, and me being the only son, I had to close the shop myself. So as I had to go to a solicitor’s office and do all the legal proceedings to get that sorted, my work week totally halved in productivity. Since I could only make progress during the nights, but trains don’t run late, I had to keep driving back and forth between Tokyo and Yokosuka, drawing designs during the red light stops. I would sleep two to three hours, at times only 30 minutes. I thought, this is not good, at this rate I will also collapse. I had manage my health first, and manage my time second.

How did you take over the design work on “Orguss” from Ishizu-san?

Firstly, I wasn’t originally supposed to do it myself, I was just supposed to be a supervisor. I asked Ishizu-kun to design some rather odd-looking mecha. I told him not to worry about the 4-step transformation, or to bring out too much of a weaponized look, rather, just concentrate on making a floating mecha that would be quite different from robot designs up to now. I thought it might be a little difficult for him to handle that, but just then, Kow Yokoyama [again, look him up! –R] came over to Nue to hang out, and he sat in on one of the project meetings. The stylings of the floating mecha in “Orguss” have a strong Yokoyama-kun look to them. Even when they are not moving, they have a presence as they float, and that Orguss feel owes a lot to the power of Yokoyama-kun’s influence. On the other hand, the first thing Ishizu-kun tried to do was the reverse-joint. He tried to make a humanoid mecha with a reverse-kneejoint. “I don’t mind, go ahead and do it,” I said, “It’s after “Macross”, so we can do it now. With the popularity that the reverse-kneejoint design got thanks to the Gerwalk, if you do it with a humanoid type, you’ve got it made.” So, I left it up to Ishizu-kun and Yokoyama-kun, and as I watched them from the side lines, I saw some weird thing begin to emerge. I thought, this could be interesting. The problem was, there was no time to put all of that together. We wouldn’t make it. It really is a total shame, but I ended up taking over from that point, placed Ishizu-kun into a “sub” position, and tackled the Orguss design once more from scratch.

From scratch?

Yes. We had brainstorming meeting with Kenichi Matsuzaki, and we knew that it could be an interesting project. So what to do about the mecha? If it is coming right after Macross, then it has to have multiple modes. On top of that, parallel universes are fusing together, creating a “mosaic” Earth, so the main mecha should also be a patchwork of sorts. If we did not do that, it would not fit in the world setting. The main character had an Earth-type mecha which would exist normally in a post-Macross future setting, where Gerwalk is the standard. He would ride in on this Gerwalk and then another race would come in and change it into something else. If the main character is riding around in a Gerwalk, which is a “legs” mecha, then the other race he meets up with would have to have “arm” mecha. So if we combine the main character’s leg mecha with the Emaan arm mecha, then we would have a mecha with both arms and legs. We made it so that the Emaan are so technically advanced that they can make this conversion to the mecha before the main character realizes it.

So you joined the Earth-type Gerwalk with the Emaan-type Drifand, right?

The Drifand is a mecha that floats in the air. In that sense, the Chilam, which is the name given to the Earth of that time period, control leg mecha. This is after Macross, so it’s anti-gravity. I don’t mean that it’s the same world as Macross, but in terms of the time period, it is a future after Macross, so the viewers would accept anti-gravity naturally. Well, in that case, if the Emaan’s arm mecha, the Drifand, comes from a completely different race of beings, we cannot make it have the same thing. So we went with the idea of “inertial control”. But the problem now is that neither the viewers nor the producers were familiar with the term. Even for sci-fi fans, it was a concept that was still rather new, and had not yet been used so much. So, in order to demonstrate what kind of movements would be possible with a mecha using inertial control, I decided to put the two mecha that are piloted by a couple of cute girl twins into the show. The way they pilot it is like riding a motorcycle – and a European racing bike at that. You can see them through the canopy that they are lying on their bellies. It was also a rather cunning idea because you could take advantage of camera angles to show the movements and cuteness of their bottoms (laughs)!

Lieea and Maaie’s M-Lovers, yes?
From our perspective, we were basically done with militarism after Macross. So what next? We wanted something more impressionistic than military stuff, something fun that is always moving dynamically, that the viewers are going to go “whoa!” Like a motorcycle race. There’s no point in making it like F1 – even if a car drifts on four wheels, it doesn’t really have much movement. With a bike, you are controlling it with your body, so you can make many flashy poses. So I decided to “graduate” from military taste, and went for an image of circuit racing in my designs. I made the contours of the body all from a completely different approach to those of a weapon, and focused on curves to make it into something glamorous, with a silky smooth finish, and if it is given a beautiful paintjob, it would become extremely appealing. Also, the model kits would be pretty, and toys would also come in various colours. I thought that could become one of the sales points. For the M-Lovers, it was a canopy bike design with arms, and on one type there was a heavy weapon, on the other a lighter weapon. During high speed dogfights in the sky, they would fold up the arms and use these weapons. But I also wanted them to unfurl the arms during flight – they could fold up and fold out. The Orguss transformation also basically worked like that.

The Orguss transformation has no sliding, it is surprisingly mostly all just joints.

It’s just rotations on axes. Actually, that’s the easiest way to do it. If I wanted to make it really elaborate, there’s no limit to making it as complex as I want. I can stretch, rotate, switch positions and fold parts around. And that can be done as a drawing and as a real object. However, that takes time. You have to consider parts-fitting and various links, so it just constantly takes up a lot of time. In the case of Orguss, frankly, we just didn’t have any time.

Was it you who suggested it be a four-step transformation?
Yes. I knew that I could do four modes just using the joints for the robot mode. Our robots following Macross: the Orguss and the Dunbine also [have a common trait]. The legs are directly attached to the side of the body. There are no hips. In other words, you can say they’re not wearing any pants. Up until then, it doesn’t matter who designed it, robots wore pants and legs just grew out of those pants. At the time, all you heard in the design industry, the toy industry and the anime industry was “Robots are all about the hips”, “the movement is all in the hips”, “they stand with the hips”, and even if you look at the way Yoshikazu Yasuhiko-san draws Gundam, it stands with the hips. It is a design that in centred on the hips. That standing pose is very beautiful, but as long as robots have hips there will be limits on the transformation. In Macross, we got rid of those hips. By getting rid of the hips, we gained a lot more freedom, and we opened up the future of never-before-seen robot designs. Orguss is also part of that bloodline, so it would not be able to transform like that if it had hips. However, there just wasn’t enough time to refine it into something like the Valkyrie, which had a perfect jet mode, a perfect robot mode, a perfect Gerwalk… Well, there’s not really such a thing as a perfect Gerwalk mode (laughs)… But even so, it does still transform into four modes. When I drew up the sketches for it and showed them to Takatoku and Imai-Kagaku, they said, “Oh, OK, we can do this” and then sent it to their teams, then did clean copies, and we refined the design, but even with that everyone remembers three of the four modes and always forgets the fourth! (Laughs bitterly)

We watched it thinking, “When is the Orguss Tank going to show up?” (laughs).

“Orguss” is a story about a guy who has to travel to a specific point in a world which is made up of different dimensions mixed together, right? But in that future, with such advanced technology, they should be able to arrive instantly. If that’s the case, we can’t make a story out of it, so we came up with the setting of the “conflict field” [soukoku-kai「相剋界」, which, Neil Nadelman has divulged, will be known as “The Divide” in the new Discotek Media translation]” as a boundary, formed as the multiple parallel universes cover the Earth. Since he can’t fly and is effectively being chained to the ground, I thought I could introduce the tank mode. However, nobody drew it. The people at the production even forgot that there was another mode. It was so tough just to get this show on the air that even the directors (演出家 enshutsuka) didn’t even have time to look at the basic setting sheets.

So your intentions did not get through to them.
Even the main premise of the project didn’t get through. For example, the characteristics of the Drifand – since it uses inertial control, you can reduce the weight of things. With anti-gravity, all you are doing is counteracting the force of gravity, you’re not actually controlling the weight of the craft. Therefore, you’re flying with great weight and great power, but to slow down you also need to use vast amounts of energy, and if you ram something, the force of all that weight colliding will come back to you. However, with the Drifands, you can fly out at full speed, grab a tree branch in front of you, and swing yourself around to fly back the way you came. Looking at it, one can imagine the Orguss to weigh dozens of tons, but it can fly, swing itself around on a branch and come back without anything happening to the branch. It can even stand on top of a thin branch on one leg. Matsuzaki also thought that that would be fun, so he wrote it into the script, and I even drew rough sketches explaining it many times. Even after discussing it so many times with the directors [both kantoku 監督 and enshutsu演出] at the production studio, it didn’t turn up in the storyboards.

Perhaps they can’t direct something they’ve never seen before.
It’s that, and the fact that TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha, now known as TMS Entertainment) had not had the experience of producing a tie-up show with a toy company in this way before, so it was difficult to stay on the same page. When it came to making the Nikick into a toy, we knew it just couldn’t be done in plain khaki colours, even if it was supposed to be an enemy mecha belonging to the Chilam. The Orguss and the M-Lovers are mecha from the merchant race Emaan, so their colours are flashy. We wanted to use clear colours like black, gold, red and blue, so they wouldn’t pale in comparison. Takatoku and the kit companies were pleased and got on board with that, and made some wonderful models. We sent all those colour setting materials to the production, but over there they went off and did their own thing, making it a different colour. And it became a very plain, khaki colour. The product development gradually progressed, and since the box art was already at the completed stage, of course it had to be changed. Even then, they wouldn’t tell us why they needed the colours to change.

Maybe they thought that the show should stand on its own.
But it’s not like that. We told them that it’s a visual media project and at the same time a toy project and a plastic model kit project, and all of that makes up the whole work. They responded with, “well, if that’s how you feel, you try being the chief story editor [shiriizu kouseiシリーズ構成, series head writer, or script supervisor] by yourself and keep everything together.”

Part-way through, you do get credited as the story editor.
It was an incredible ordeal. Up until then, at all the animation houses I had been involved with, be it Tatsunoko, Sunrise or Toei Doga, toys and merchandising tie-ups were the norm. At the very least, I had never had any problems at the stage of product development. And yet, we had so many issues here. In the end, I had to pretty much half function as a producer and deal with all these hardships. I finally understood why Kawamori hardly ever came back from the studio all the time we were doing “Macross”. You have to constantly keep your eye on what they are doing out there on the floor so that the finished film doesn’t become a mess. It seems that Kawamori learnt that during “Macross”. In any case, someone has to be on the ball and in control. Matsuzaki did that with “Gundam” and on “Ideon”. He constantly made claims from the storyboards through to every other stage, and he fixed the bits that were wrong from the side-lines. He was like “I’ve had it with all this!”, and I was like, “Hey, wait a second..!” (laughs)

So the baton was passed from Matsuzaki-san, to Kawamori-san, and finally to you, Miyatake-san. (Laughs)
Somebody has to get in gear or the whole project will crumble. It was really tough. The job of story editor involves checking the abilities and the level of understanding of every staff member, and once aware of that, plan out the work. I had no idea at the time of the timing at which to give out advice if there was any lack of understanding. If at the storyboard stage I notice something and say, “No, this is no good!”, by that point it’s too late. Later, I realized that I have to actually speak to the director [enshutsuka演出家, not the chief director] before the storyboard is done. That was repeated over and over. From “Macross” to “Orguss”, and of course I was watching from the side while Matsuzaki was doing “Gundam”, with every new show there is always some struggle, so I always learnt a lot. Of course, if everything had gone well I wouldn’t need to have learnt all that (laughs), but I learnt the hard way how to respond in case things do not go well.
When you looked at this product [the Megahouse Variable Action Orguss], I believe you also gave various orders.
As I was checking the Orguss sculpt, the main point I considered was, how to reduce the military taste and increase the coolness factor of motorsports in the design. The vital point in each is totally different. Different people occupy different worlds. If you look around at the various modellers and sculptors, there are things which some are skilled at, and not so skilled at. It’s not always the case that someone specialized in military motifs is going to be the go-to guy for a robot design. For example, when making the Macross ship, it is not enough to just have a military guy, you need to involve a ship modeller guy, too. When designing something, you need to have an understanding of the world-view, so to bridge those kinds of gaps, you need to gather different types of sensibilities, and you have to be able to deduce which ones of those are the correct, necessary ones. In the case of Orguss, I wanted a bike modeller’s sensibility. So I requested things like, “Stretch this line a bit more”, “Cut this down a little”, “Make this line a little softer”, “This curve needs to be richer”, and such. I think the result is a wonderful product. When we were making “Macross”, we made the expression “culture shock” into a natural phrase, to the extent that we even made up a word for it, “Deculture”. To get someone to make something you desire, you need to overcome cultural conflicts and convince them that something can be fun and interesting. When demanding something new, you need to make them think that it is appealing. That process is important. That is what is known as overcoming the walls between worlds, and I believe that is how you create new things. You might think that’s just idealism (laughs), but at the end of the day, the most important thing in “Macross” and “Orguss” is the “idea”.

I heard that you included details to highlight the sense that this is a mecha of a “merchant race” in the hands and knee-joints.
Well, it’s just cosmetic, really, but yeah, I voiced my opinions in the hope that perhaps it could be made that way. Whether it’s on bikes or racing cars, the coolest things about them is seeing sponsor logo stickers everywhere, right? That’s what I wanted to do on the M-Lovers, in fact. I thought it would look really cool if those kinds of stickers were on the parts that have star designs and stripes on them. That would have been the first clear indicator that this is a world quite different to that of “Macross”. I talked to Imai-Kagaku about this, too, and they said that unless I designed the settings for those stickers myself, they could not be realized. On “Macross”, I handled all the markings for the Destroids and stuff myself, but on “Orguss” there was just no time. If that had been possible with the M-Lovers, then we would have been a major breakthrough.

Over 30 years later, now the Orguss is finally being realized into its true form.

Well, not really, its true form is the animation. The finished film itself is the final mode. However, if there were developments, or a requiem of sorts to the original dream, ever to be reflected, this is what it might have been. Whether that’s good or bad, is another issue. I’m not sure if I should put out something saying, “It’s really supposed to be like this” or “At the time, this is what I was thinking”. I think it’s probably impolite to the readers of today and the fans from that time. That’s what I contemplate the most. I still have that kind of psychological distance from “Orguss” today. You know, it’s just embarrassing to keep repeating the same old grumblings. It doesn’t matter what the situation was like, at the end of the day, what’s left is the truth of what I couldn’t do. That’s what I’ve thought since then, and after decades of doing this kind of work, I am still not satisfied with a single one of my works. Whichever work I look at, there are infinite places where I feel I could have done a better job. But for creators, if they don’t have that kind of desire, they cannot move on to the next work. To tackle the next project, one must use the stress of the previous one as a spring and just release it to move forward. I think the creators who have willpower all do that.
(January 19, 2015, Yokosuka)