Berserk Q&A with Naoyuki Onda and Fuko Noda


Transcription of the Q&A session at Scotland Loves Anime with Berserk’s Character Designer and Chief Animation Director Naoyuki Onda as well as one of the producers, Fuko Noda. [Text in square brackets was inserted by transcriber for clarity, or to reflect audience behaviour.] With the exception of the people directly on stage or mentioned in relation to the answers, nicknames were used to keep audience privacy.

There are film spoilers in the text.

Jonathan Clements: …. And here’s the Chief Animation Director and Character Designer Naoyuki Onda, producer Fuko Noda, and our secret weapon Bethan Jones.

We have been very surprised by the number of people who come to this film festival from a long long way, some people do have to get trains back to other odd places [someone in audience shouts Finland] and we have people who came several thousand miles, coming from Japan…. And also, because the guests said when they came here that they wanted to try some Scottish whiskey, we planned to start early here…..

Well, those of you who are not completely aware of Naoyuki Onda‘s work, I’d just like to list a few of the forty or fifty titles he worked on, some you might have heard of, and in fact some might even own them in DVD…. Animatrix, Gantz, Bubblegum Crisis, Witch Hunter Robin, Blue Gender, Dr Slump, Zeta Gundam and Tenchi Muyo are just a few, but before we get to his career, I’d like to start with Noda-san’s career, because she arrived relatively late in the anime business, only 5 years ago.

So, Noda-san, how did you find yourself working at Studio 4°C?

Fuko Noda: Before I moved to Tokyo, I saw Tekkonkinkreet at the cinema and I was really moved by the quality of the animation… It moved me to tears. I was surprised how good that could be and that made me think ‘I’d like to work in the [anime] industry’.

JC: What did you want to be before you saw Tekkonkinkreet?

Noda: I was studying design at university, so I was aiming to be a designer. But I was so moved by that anime that I changed my goal.

JC: Onda-san, you are from Hokkaido right?

Naoyuki Onda: Yes.

JC: As I understand, you went to the same school as Kogawa Tonomori [Mahoromatic / Legend of the Galactic heroes / Hellsing Ultimate] and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko [Gundam series], so this part of Hokkaido seems to be an animator factory. Is there any reason for there to be so many animators from the same place?

Onda:. I think it’s because we are buried under the snow and there’s nothing else to do.

JC: So when did you decided to become an animator?

Onda. At high school I actually wanted to draw manga initially, but then I saw things like Gundam that moved me into anime.

JC: So ultimately, he did end up working on Gundam himself, under Tomino Yoshiuki, the rather scary director of Gundam; is he scary in real life as he appears to be when he is shouting at people?

Onda: I have seem him yelling.

JC: Is it true he hits people when they are at work?

Onda: I’ve heard that rumour, yes….

JC: Okay, so this is where Naoyuki starts and now, he is a freelance, he works for everybody or anybody….

Onda: Yes.

JC: In the case of Berserk itself, would you say this was a particularly tough production?

Noda: [a few seconds of silence] It was really tough.

Onda [after a few seconds after Noda] Yes, it was really tough.

JC: You’re not getting away with that! Why [was it tough]?

Noda: You may have noticed that we used a special technique which we call hybrid, where the face is drawn and the body is CG, and this is pretty much the first time this has been done. So we decided to do it with the armour to be done in CG, but the face we wanted to be hand-drawn. Because it was the first time it was done, it was really difficult and we kept trying, trying, trying and getting it wrong, and then getting backwards and forwards, we just put the effort until we got it right.

JC: Were there any scenes which were a particular headache?

Onda: Most of them.

JC: After Guts kills Adonis, there is a 360 degrees tracking shot around people who are fighting each other; that’s pretty difficult to do in live action, how was it to animate?

Noda: Yes, we were really pressing for time and it’s all CG apart from Guts and at first, the director wanted the camera to go around twice and so I had to shout at the director to do it only once.

JC: So, did the script asked for it, to go 360 degrees twice?

Noda: No it said, ‘Guts kills the soldiers‘.

JC: Is that a common occurence? I’ve seen anime scripts and they are normally scripticised [camera shots]. So is it often that the animators get overly creative with the material?

Noda: Yes, and then I shout at them

JC: Is this what producers are for?

Noda: Yes, that’s my job to get angry with them, so I go and get angry at them, and then later on, I see what they’ve done and it was a good scene, so I feel a little bad about getting angry at them.

JC: And all of a sudden how much of you is in the characters? Because probably in Berserk…. Actually, let me do some check – How many people here have read the comics of Berserk. [loads of people raises their hands] Oh…. How many people saw the original TV series [several keep their hands up], how many people [have] never seen any Berserk ever [a couple people raise hands]. Really? You’ve never seen any of it? So, how much [comes from] him [Onda] and how much is from the original Kentaro Miura?

Onda: That’s a tough one. My intention was to draw it as it is in the manga, but because it is a redrawing, I did end up adding thing in.

JC: It’s [The drawing] simplified in the anime, to make animation easier…. I counted about 28 studios, outsourced studios, whose work goes from 4°C studios all over the place…. Bethan is looking at me like, ‘shut up, stop talking!’

Noda: I don’t remember how we worked this….. I thought it was all done in CG. Intriguing….

JC: A famous question, everybody here would be very interested in your perspective of Europe represented here [in the film]. Would they be able to tell us when they first came to Europe?

Noda / Onda: 2 days ago.

JC: So pretty much everything we see on screen is based on someone else’s location hunt? What kind of material were you working on?

Onda./ Noda: We were given lots of photos and guide books.

JC: And some people actually read those in Japan. [The rest of the questions can’t be heard due to audience noise, but it sounds as if JC was asking how Onda-san likes location hunting.]

Onda: I hate it. It’s really bothersome.

JC: You are not bored with Edinburgh just yet, are you? We were just wondering as a Character Designer if you have seen any faces in Edinburgh you could use in the future? I mean, pretty much everyone here…. [points at audience] they’d be quite happy…. And what do they make of Scotland so far, they’ve only been here for two days, they never been to Europe before, so what are their first impresssions?

Onda: It rains a lot….

JC: Imagine what it would be [like] in the autumn; it’s summer here now….

Onda: Really?

JC: I’d like to open this to the audience, if there’s anyone in the audience that would have questions to throw at the guests, feel free – oh [points at someone in the audience.]

Audience1: The question is …. Obviously the comics have been out for a couple of decades now, and I was wondering how far do they plan on taking the story of the manga with these new films?

Noda: It’s a very hard question for us to answer….. [long pause] [audience laughs….] Well, we just finished the third of the films last month, everyone is actually exhausted, so we will have a little rest and have a thought about it, so it may be sometime later.

JC: Was there any economy of scale in doing three films together, did this make it easier?

Noda: It wasn’t really efficient.

JC: Why was it inefficient? You can tell us, come on….

Noda: It was about 4,500 shots and usually you have 1,600 /1,700 shots, so it was huge! And we just have to put so much into it, we couldn’t see the end of it, it was going on forever and we had to achieve this high quality and Onda-san was sleeping at work [she means at the office, as in not going back home] and it was tough….

JC: I understand that him sleeping at work is a quite regular thing….

Onda: Yes, it is…. [The joke was lost in translation here…]

JC: I’ve asked him earlier if he had any hobbies and he went ‘No….’ [laughs]I understand that the Berserk films were extended…

Noda: Yes, originally the three films were meant to be one, but from the story boards, we could see it was getting longer and longer and it was taking more time and then we we decided to break it down in three [films].

JC: Was there any resistance from the people outside? Was there any resistance from sponsors? Or were sponsors like ‘oh three films? great!’

Noda: They look at our scripts, but they were worried about going over the budget.

JC: Ok, something that came up last week is that a lot of anime set in modern times have sponsorship deals with various sponsors, but that requires product placement and content integration. If you are making a fantasy film set in Europe there’s no way to put a Coke in it. Was that a problem? Sponsorship-wise?

Noda: We did do some sort of merch with a shop chain that sells burgers and cola. And the store had a sign with Griffiths holding shopping bags with burgers.

JC: Is there a roasted dolphin company somewhere?

Noda: No. That was the director that insisted that we had to have that. He read some books about medieval food and there was a mention of dolphin so he said he had to have it.

JC: The original manga has a very large, a very broad period of designs, and materials and the film itself covers a relatively wide number of European artifacts from the Middle Ages. Was there anything that was dropped because it wasn’t really ‘Middle-Age enough’?

Onda: The clothes were really difficult; it was hard to get the period right from the resources we had available. In particular Charlotte’s dress, we had to redo that five times, because it wasn’t the right period.

JC: And who was rejecting them? Was it the director or was it the “evil producers?”

Noda: From my point of view, I just thought that if Charlotte looked cute, that would be fine, but we were told that wasn’t ok.

JC: When they began to work on Berserk, did they read the manga and did they look at the TV show and thought what they could bring from it?

Onda: I think we wanted something fresh and new.

Noda: I was too busy to watch the anime, but I loved the manga before we started [the film].

Audience 2: I wanted to ask if you guys have any favourite characters.

Noda: The Band of the Hawk

Onda: Griffiths.

Audience 3: Were you the first to work on this hybrid technology, because it was used in Tiger and Bunny… Did you work in collaboration with other companies to develop it?

Noda: We started working on Berserk 5 years ago, so I was not sure who was actually the first, but we did talk with CG studios about the fact that we wanted to use this hybrid technology. With Tiger and Bunny they had a smaller area of drawing, just inside the helmet, which makes a bit easier probably, and different from what we were trying to do. So although we did talk about it with other companies, in the end, we went our separate ways.

JC: I think that many companies were trying something similar, but not much came out.

Noda: That’s true, I’ve heard rumours of several companies trying, but……

JC: Problem is that if a company tries and fails, they don’t want to admit it. [looks into the audience for a question] Yes – stranger I’ve never met before, sitting right over there.

ANN reporter: When they started planning Berserk, was there any idea of what portion of the audience already knew the manga and TV series, and what portion of the audience would be new fans?

Noda: From the production committee, of course we wanted people who knew the manga and the anime to come and see it, but we were actually aiming more at people who never came across Berserk before.

JC: Yes [points at audience]

Chaos: So I was wondering about….

JC: I wasn’t pointing at you, Chaos, I was pointing at person beside you who had their hand up….

Chaos: Yes, because I’m writing here, I’ve asked him to raise his hand for me…. [JC: nods Okay] Question for Noda-san – is studio 4°C looking towards crowd-funding, following what Production I.G is doing with Kick Heart. Do they have any plans to do crowd-funding in the future?

Noda: I’ve heard that other studio was working on a crowd-funded project, and I thought it was a really good idea, because you listen to the audience voice, those voices become the money that you need and you have a better idea who your audience is and I think that kind of projects increases their chances to reach out to them.

Chaos: And how much would you need to make another Berserk movie?

JC: I don’t think they are allowed to reply to that…..

Noda: I’m afraid that’s a secret.

Vivisqueen: As a fan of the series for many years and hoping there was a continuation of the original series I was wondering why they chose to do a movie remake. What was the actual reason to make these movies….?

JC: Did you cry, Vivis?

Vivisqueen: I was this close… It was a powerful moment….

Noda: Ah….. Ah….. [audience laughs]

Onda: That was what the writer of the original wanted us to do. We are often asked that and I thought the same thing actually.

Audience 4: Since you mentioned the original, I was wondering if the original creator saw [the film] and if he offered advice or asked for adjustments?

Noda: Well, he saw the finished film and he was very happy with that.

Onda: He also saw the character designs when I did them and he didn’t say anything, it was all fine.

JC: I guess that we have time for one more question TONIGHT, as they will be back tomorrow.

Audience 5: I was just wondering why the studio decided to go for hybrid look instead of using just CGI or traditional 2D. What were the advantages and disadvantages of using the hybrid approach?

Onda: It’s hard to create facial expressions using CG, which is what we were making up for by using the hybrid [technology].

JC: Okay, we didn’t cover everything yet, but that’s all the time we have for tonight, but we will all be back for Battle of Doldrey tomorrow, and, hopefully, there will be time for more questions as well. So now, I’d like to thank Mr Onda and Ms Noda for coming over tonight and thank you all as well, there were some great questions. And obviously thanks to Bethan for interpreting tonight. 


JC: What is the significance of the Battle of Doldrey in the overall Berserk saga?

Noda: The Battle of Doldreyis the biggest human battle that they have in the manga and in the anime. After this battle they they go on to fight monsters. And by winning this battle, this is when the Band of the Hawk are made nobleman, it’s their peak. From that battle it only goes downhill really.

JC: How was Miss Noda approached to tell the story of the Peak of the Hawk?

Noda: What do you mean?

JC: Let me put it another way. There’s lots of interesting effects thrown in this one. I have noticed two things in particular :one is the fur on Caska’s robe and the golden thread on Griffith’s sleeves, how did they achieve that effect?

Onda: Those special effects that you say, the textures and things like that are actually more to do with the CGI than the animation that I was involved with.

JC: The dust particles in the background in the beginning, the snow, and also, the petals. I’m guessing they are all CGI. Do you buy them off the shelf? I do hear about shops in Japan where you can just walk in and ask for ‘two hours of snow, please‘; ‘a couple of hours of fire’, which you can just put into your anime….

Onda: We created them all from scratch: the petals, the snow, it’s a sign that our CG team works very hard.

JC: When this film was released, er…. what was the release date in Japan?

Noda: Production finished in April this year and we released it in June.

JC: Right, so like many of the other films showing at the festival this year, this would have been in completion at the time of the Tohoku earthquake, right?

Noda: Yes, we were working on the second and the third at that point, we felt the quake and it was a very frightening experience, but fortunately everyone was safe and we still kept working on.

JC: But after the quake there were a number of blackouts, it wasn’t an immediate disaster [for the studio], as far as I’m aware, but for the whole summer, there were power cuts in areas of Tokyo trying to save up energy; did that affect the production anyway? I ask this specifically to Mr Onda as he was basically living in the studio. The lights would have gone out all the time.

Onda: We were worried about that, but the lights didn’t go out that much when I was there, so we were able to carry on the production.

JC: Right, did you think that there was someone in the Metropolitan government office in Tokyo thinking, ‘There’s an anime company there. I better not turn off the lights because they are probably making Berserk….’

Onda: Well, maybe there was. It would make me happy to think that.

JC: Are there any questions from the audience? Oh, wow, devourer of shadows ANN REPORTER….

ANN Rerporter: Actually, I was struck with some of the character animation. The first one with the killing of the young boy and the way that’s done and on the second film, one of the scenes towards the end. I was very impressed by the character work. Are there particular animators who worked on both those sequences?

Onda: It was different people involved in those two scenes.

JC: As far as I’m aware, unlike as the American system, it’s uncommon for a Japanese animators to adopt a character each. Am I correct?

Onda: In the case of Berserk, you’re right. It was not one character per person, but there are teams of Key Animators who will decide that between them.

Audience 6: The anime was released in 97/98; what made them decide to make a three movie arc of the anime/manga series. Why now? Why 15 years after?

JC: Were you here yesterday?

Audience 6: No

JC: Okay, because another person asked this yesterday, but the person who asked complained that it wasn’t correctly answered, so we can see her weeping right behind you…. [JC points at person]

Noda: It was the manga artist who wanted it to be remade.

JC: Vivis, is that all right with you, or would you like to be more specific with the question?

VivisQueen: Mmmm, it sounds like the decision-making process was the mangaka approaching the studio and asking, please make it and they said, ‘Yes’?

Onda: Firstly, I was approached by the Studio 4°C [points at Noda]

Noda: As far as our studio is concerned, we were approached by another company to see if we wanted to be involved and we thought it was a very popular work around the world and of course, why not?[We at AUKN guessed that the other company mentioned is Hakusensha, as they are the publishers of Berserk.]

JC: Sounds like the Japanese decision-making process; so now Chaos.

Chaos: So in the battle scene there was a cow being thrown in the catapult, so how do they like Monty Python? Was that a direct reference to the Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

Onda: I’m aware of Monty Python, but the cow had nothing to do with it.

JC: Speaking about medieval history, sometimes you chuck a cow into a siege, a dead cow, obviously, at least by the time it landed, into a besieged area in order to spread disease, that’s why they do it, and they also want to make life as unpleasant as possible for the people inside, so it is actually historically correct. Monty Python accidentally had some historical accuracy. Anyone else?

Audience 7 ….. [hard to hear the question]

Onda: You keep asking difficult questions….

JC: And that’s your difficult answer….

Audience8: How historically accurate were the costumes and the other setting aspects?

JC: Are you asking about the anime in specifically or the original manga?

Audience 8: Manga.

Bethan Jones: Do you mean history as in history, or as in history of animation?

Audience 8: History as in history.

JC: They might not be able to answer as they didn’t write the original [manga]…..

Onda: I pretty much left to the others, so I didn’t do much history studying, but the director and the CGI team did all the historical research.

Audience 9: Are there any plans to further the story of the manga beyond the Golden Age arc?

Noda: Well the next film will bring the Golden Age to a close and we go a tiny little bit beyond.

Audience 10: I was surprised by the scenes you chose to animate as opposed to such as camera moves and battles scenes. How did this affect the choice to include CG hybrid?

Noda: It was down to the directors in charge of each scene really, whether they used hybrid or not, and if they thought the animators would be able to draw it effectively, if they thought if would be efficient to all be drawn manually, but if it was difficult to animate large numbers or in scenes where we had to convey expression through the face, then it would be hand-drawn.

JC: Out of interest, there were obviously several different groups working on this film. So, did they just give them boring names like one, two, three, four, or did they give names like Band of the Hawk, Band of the Awesome….

Noda: We didn’t have funny names like that, but we do say they have all been branded as sacrifices; as maybe some of you are familiar with the manga, you might get this….

JC: I’m not being signalled that we have to stop, so I’ll keep taking questions, there.

Arbalest: In the manga itself, the artwork develops a lot over the twelve/thirteen years. I was wondering if you were trying to capture the newer style of the manga or if you were trying to keep to the old style of the manga.

Onda: We were going for the new style.

JC: Time for more questions… Yes! [points at audience]

Audience 11: It was said that the films are bringing the Golden Age to a close, I was wondering if there will be more films with what happens after that?

Noda: If you spread the word about it for us and get everyone into Berserk, then we might be able to make something.

JC: Let’s just say for entertainment purposes, let’s say there was Berserk 4. Was there anything designed-wise or image-wise that you’re taking home from Scotland?

Onda: I usually hate location hunting, but by actually being here and seeing things that I realised it is completely different thing than seeing things through your own eyes, so there are lots of things I have seen this time that I might be able to use.

JC: Such as?

Onda: More difficult questions….

Noda: For example, we went to the Holyrood Palace today and as we went through a lot of trouble to research Charlotte’s bed, because we didn’t have any photos, we only had drawings and descriptions and we didn’t really know what a royal bed would be like, but in the palace today, I saw the beds and I realised that actually, we made her bed too big! So, that’s something that I’ll be able to use in the future.

JC: We do what we can…. I’m going to hand over to Andrew Partridge, who will be arranging a signing for those of you who are staying, and for those who are not, I’d like you to join me and thank our guests Naoyuki Onda and Fuko Noda for coming all the way over here and sharing the secrets behind Berserk. Thank you very much