Project Bean Bandit Q&A with Kenichi Sonoda, Shujiru Hamakawa, and Marco D'Ambrosio!

Project [B.B] staff host a special Q&A panel and talk older works and inspirations at ACEN 2018!

Gunsmith Cats mangaka, Kenichi Sonoda, recently teased a new project mysteriously codenamed Project [B.B]. It was revealed his new anime Project Bean Bandit, based on his Riding Bandit manga series. This year at Anime Central 2018, he hosted a panel aling with past collaborator on the Solty Rei anime, Shujiru Hamakawa, and composer Marco D'Ambrosio, to talk about the project!

Kenichi Sonoda: My name is Kenichi Sonoda and quite recently I inherited my father's business of a Candy Store. This isn't to say that I have retired from the animation industry and I would like to enthusiastically continue to work on anime and manga so thank you for joining us today.

Shujiru Hamakawa: My name is Shujiru Hamakawa. I'm actually a coordinator and I also do some art direction. Since Sonoda is a mangaka, or a manga artist, I am here to support him in terms of some of the industry norms for the animation industry. So anything that he needs follow up on that's what I'm here for.

Marco D'Ambrosio: Hi, I'm Marco d'Ambrosio. I'm a composer/sound designer and I've been brought into the project to help Sonoda with music and sound and we finished a short trailer. I'm looking forward to working on the rest. You don't need to translate that. *Laughter* My wife says I mumble all the time.

Of all of the films and series you have worked on, which would you most want to see get a Hollywood movie adaptation?

Sonoda: The series that I truly could claim that are of my work are of course Gunsmith Cats and Riding Bean and this is a bit of a sci-fi book that I've done but Exaxxion and also Bullet the Wizard. If there were to be any offers from Hollywood, then I'd love to see any of them. A few years back, I actually got an offer to get a film for Bubblegum Crisis; its not a company in the US, but ever since they made that initial contact, I haven't heard from them, so I don't know what's going on.

If you were tasked with redesigning Bubblegum Crisis for modern TV, what, if anything would you change?

Sonoda: For Bubblegum Crisis, what I was asked to do was character design and what they called the “Hardsuits” or the mechanical designs of the suits that the characters are wearing and as far as the latter is concerned, I really do like how I designed them. So I certainly would like to go into refining it a little bit, but I certainly wouldn't think particularly about doing any major overhauls because again I really like how they're designed.

I'm curious, when it comes to the sound what, when you design sound for a specific scene, is it that inspires you?

D'Ambrosio: Good question! First of all, understanding the full arc of the story, knowing where that scene comes into play and then knowing what is the important thing that you want to relate and having a balance of that. So obviously, dialogue is always sort of the king, so if there's dialogue you wanna make sure that gets heard. Then it becomes a question is a particular sound more important or is the music more important, so you make a creative aesthetic decision as to that. Y'know, a teacher once told me, actually, Walter Murch, famous sound designer, said you need 2 and a half things to make a scene work. So you pick what those two and a half things are and you adjust them proportionally. If dialogue is one of them, then dialogue is the first thing. Then its either a musical effect or a musical part of the score  or a sound that is important. So it could be a car taking off, it could be a some beginning to a fight, it could be a just a footstep that is the most important thing.

Sonoda: I'm actually quite optimistic about what kind of work Marco will do for us, because if we ask for a particular sound, then I'm sure he'll be able to produce that sound for us.

One question I had is in the era of Bubblegum Crisis, do you feel that anime is different than it is now, and if so is it a positive or negative change?

Sonoda: During the era of Bubblegum Crisis, it isn't so much the industry per se but how it was in Japan. Japanese economy had a bubble economy so the economy was great, and because of that, when I was doing Vol 1-8 of Bubblegum Crisis, the economy was good which meant that we had a good budget and we were able to produce a good quality product. After that bubble burst, then, not so much the industry but Japan as a whole turned into a bad economy, that created low revenue, that in turn ended up lowering the quality of the works as well. So again its not so much the anime industry per se but it just has to do with how it was in Japan as a whole.

Hamakawa: So let me speak from the animation industry perspective, or at least the ones behind creating animation. Back when we were kids, if we aired on TV, that basically generated the revenue and turned into budget. During the bubble economy period, that's when selling different mediums, be it  laserdiscs or DVDs, that was basically the source of revenue. And nowadays, we're now turning into the era of streaming or distributing through the internet. This advancement actually brought some negatives in that the speed of which pirated works are created are so much faster now. So then we need to then consider, what would be the best way to deliver our products to customers; how can we make everyone happy became the next question. We figured that the best way is to try to directly deliver these works as much as possible to the people who are wanting it the most. And that's why we figured Kickstarter would be the best way to go about this.

How much creative control are you given when working on key animation?

Hamakawa: Because we're currently working with a small staff, basically whatever impressions or images that Director Sonoda is giving to me, I have more or less full control over how can we present this in an animation and what can be done about it. Now when we do expand our staff, then I do want to start delegating some of these tasks as well. For this particular project, I do want to go with very quality staff. So with that said, I don't intend on expanding the staff base too much for as long as we have that kind of quality staff.

How have advances in technology made your job easier or harder?

Hamakawa: Because a lot of my work is done by hand anyway, in that respect there hasn't been that much that has become easier, but like I mentioned earlier, the advancements, especially with the internet, when it comes down to communication in regards to my deliverables to my clients or what have you, those have become much easier. Its just that, because of that, I feel like I've gotten a much tighter schedule now and I can't seem to secure enough time to do reviews of my work. So that I'm not overly happy about.

It isn’t very common for non-Japanese composers to write music for anime. How did you get started scoring for anime?

D'ambrosio: I got started back in the 90s, I was working at a place called Skywalker Ranch, and then I was doing primarily sound and technical work, but I was also a composer. And the staff and people there knew I was looking to get into scoring. An animation series came to the ranch, for post-production, for sound and music and I was introduced to the producer and the director. It was JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, the original OVAs. So that was my start, that was back in 93, 94, and that just sort of led from one thing to another from there. I was introduced to Yoshiaki Kawajiri and then was asked to score Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust, and then from there did a few animation series primarily in Japan. So it was a pretty big start for my career to work on JoJo. And I've been doing other things, films, documentaries, in this country, but I've always had a love for anime. So, I'm back!

Over time with anime, it always evolves, almost every decade is something different. Compared to the 80s and 90s era of anime, is there anything that you don't like about the modern style, physically or whether it be from the story or the plot? What are your likes and dislikes of modern anime, compared to back then?

Sonoda: I feel like the anime works now feel like, some of the orchestration or presentation feel very much like a bunch of symbols put together kinda thing. Back in the days, what these directors or creators would do is that, if there's a particular way they want to orchestrate a scene, then they'd even act it out themselves. They'd try to get the actual hands on feel of things. At the production side, they might have called it Live-Action even, just so they could actually could physically get the feel of it. But now that so much has been done over that nowadays it feels like creators are just sort of taking those samples from the past and just putting it together. That's maybe the reason that I'm maybe calling it too much sampling or too much symbols, if we may.

Hamakawa: I think, compared to before, there's just a huge abundance of anime that's getting produced,  so its nearly impossible for one person to watch everything that's out on the market, which means that they have to pick and choose what they really would like to watch. I think that's one thing that's creating this phenomenon. And another thing is that works in the past, some of the concepts were really hard to grasp, and they had to think to understand what's going on. But nowadays, rather than spending so much time on the thinking part, they'd rather just get into the story, just quickly absorb and understand what's going on. So I feel a little lonely even that there aren't as many works that go into depth; it feels like the stories are too easy to understand, if we may.

Sonoda: I, of course, have many complaints over anime nowadays, but one of the things that I can't seem to wrap my head around is when there is a serious scene where the antagonist is right about to kill the main character or something. It's a very serious scene but you see the main character and their companions just talking to each other like 'What are we gonna do?' and 'Let's do this' kind of. If its a serious enough scene, where the enemy is seriously going to start killing you, there shouldn't be any leeway for the main character to do that sort of interaction with other characters. Rather than expanding that time and space, I'd rather it be something that's more realistic and for things to be happening in real time. That would be my preference over those sort of scenes.

So if there was a direction that anime could go in the future, what would that be?

Sonoda: First of all, anime should be something that can be understood by a wider audience. It is ok to have some obscure outliers, but there shouldn't be too many of them.

Hamakawa: Of course, maybe you shouldn't be saying that, especially when you yourself are working on that kind of obscure, special kind of work.

Sonoda: When a work is catered towards a particular audience, it still should be leaning more towards an easy-to-understand than a hard-to-understand kind of work. Specifically when it comes down to car or gun action, when there's so much rapid camera switching back and forth, we really should be abiding by the imaginary line rules, so to speak. It shouldn't be a case where we can't determine who did what, who punched the other guy, who shot the gun, etc. Those should be really clear as to where these are coming from.

Hamakawa: Can I also respond? For me, when it comes down to genres, if we may, I'd rather see more anime that is doing something that only anime can do. Not like drama so to speak, but more like sci-fi or fantasy that can only be expressed in anime. When we have a more drama-like anime, then that's just a way to season it. So I really would prefer that we go in the direction where we're producing anime that only anime should be able to do.

Sonoda: I was very excited watching works like Knight Rider or Speed Racer so I really want to really respect that kind of a feeling as well. So I'd like for anime to facilitate that kind of feeling in audience in students or essentially kids.

I don't know what the style is necessarily called, but I've noticed in a lot of recent anime that they're not necessarily hand-drawing things, but its more of a 3D model of anime? How do you feel about this new style, this new look?

Sonoda: I feel that computer graphics or CG are merely a tool more than anything else. If I feel its appropriate to be using them for particular areas or its more efficient to be using those tools then by all means go for it. If there are scenes, on the other hand, that are better expressed when its hand drawn then I would prefer to pursue that method. Its just the matter of securing resources has become much more difficult nowadays, so that seems to be the issue that we need to continue tackling.

How much do music trends affect the way you approach a score and how much do tend you lean in or pull away from them?

D'Ambrosio: There are definitely trends in scoring, and some you like and some you don't like. I tend to not pay so much attention to that as I do my love for the history of scoring and the different genres. Last night we were playing music from 60s and 70s Italian exploitation films as a possible way to go, so to me its a matter of finding the right palette and if its a new palette, that's fine. If you want to do that, that's cool, and then you wind doing that, and then you wind up having a bunch of people that like that and do that as well. I like the fact that it changes, that there are trends. Its the same as the 3D model, if you think that a particular genre, a particular style is right for a scene or to use electronics, orchestra or just to have a small group playing it, I think, you always go 'if it sounds good, it is good'.

If Rally had to trade in her 67 Shelby Cobra, what would she get nowadays?

Sonoda: I feel that cars nowadays lean more towards that muscle car style anyway, so if we were to go for a more modern Mustang or Charger or Challenger, I think we'd be able to make that switch without making it too weird.

Hamakawa: *In English* One Box! Family Car!

Sonoda: Rally driving a minivan? I don't know about that...

What anime composers inspire you?

D'Ambrosio: Oh, certainly Maestro Hisaiishi is one of my favorites, that's really the one I've always admired the most. But I listen to all different kinds of music, so I admire them all, lot of western composers, but he would be one of my favorites.

Aside from your own projects, what is your anime guilty pleasure?

Sonoda: I do like Girls Und Panzer, and that's something I have been personally doing some derivative doujinshi works of as well.

Hamakawa: Ashita no Joe II. *In English* Nice guy only, no girls.

D'Ambrosio: I need some guilty pleasures, I think. I've been working nonstop for a long time; I get out on my riding lawn mower, that's my anime guilty pleasure. I think its some kinda demon machine. I think I'm in Gunsmith Cats or something!

Sonoda: One of our fellow guests of honor, Mr Mitsuo Iso, he's done a work called Dennou Coil, that's something I felt was very well crafted, and something I really like as well.

Hamakawa: Funny story, we actually had a conversation with him about that last night, and he said “I should've released that 10 years later. So I'm sure on my gravestone it'll read 'he was ahead of himself by 10 years'.

Sonoda: Of course maybe we should've gotten permission from him if we were allowed to talk about that or not.

What's the most frustrating thing to have to animate?

Hamakawa: 10 years ago I was working on an anime called Solty Rei and maybe this is because I've become fairly old now, perhaps, I really couldn't seem to cope with really 'green', like lovey-dovey stuff, like something that felt so 'green' to me in those kind of love scenes. So that's why the focus was more on the 'family love'. Nowadays it feels like, rather than going into too much depth in terms of that concept of love, it feels like there's much lighter concepts of love that's within the anime realm. Whenever I have to do anything that's kind of love related, it kind of frustrates me.

What inspired you when you were working on Exaxxion?

Sonoda: I really had a huge liking for robot works but everything I saw wasn't necessarily what I really wanted to see, so when there's such a good design and such a good setting around it, then 'this is how I would do it' was something that was kind of going around in my head. In Exaxxion that's essentially what I threw in, like everything I liked. So if its the type of work that I really like, the more I notice things that I don't particularly like either, so if its something I really like then, when I witness any negatives around it, it just pops out even more. If its something that I don't care for then maybe not so much, but the more I like something the more I perhaps nitpick.

If your projects could crossover with another anime, what would it be?

Sonoda: If its a work that I really like, then I really don't want to distort the existing atmosphere of it, so I would rather not see any more crossovers, because I don't want to break what they have already. And if I do witness anything that I want to break and turn into my own worldview or whatever, I probably don't have enough attachment to that work anyway. Not much of a reason to do a crossover.

Hamakawa: So as far as Bean Bandit, this particular project, is concerned, while there may not be that much of a connection, it does have a crossover like feel between Gunsmith Cats and Riding Bean, so if the audience is able to enjoy some of that connectedness, then I feel like it would be good.

If you could adapt any live-action film to anime, or vice-versa, what would you choose?

Sonoda: I'm not an animator but a mangaka, so I guess my adaptation would be to make it into a comic, but again, if its a work I really like, then I don't want to be distorting the existing worldview settings, and I don't want to get my hands on it in that respect.

Hamakawa: In my case, just doing adaptations of anime into a live-action work, or vice-versa, I prefer not to do that, because I feel that these works are built on a premise that we're making this as an anime, therefore certain things are done. I think the same is done with live-action, so because of that I don't prefer to do that kind of adaptations. And even recently, without naming any names, there have been live-action adaptations which, while they may have a great story, its still not very well received or not as well received.

D'Ambrosio: I kind of agree. You pick a medium, an art form, and you express yourself in that art form. And I think its fine to reinterpret things, and try to make something different, but I don't have anything specific. I tend to agree; that maybe goes back to the first question you said. I was attracted to anime because there was a complexity there in trying to understand the story, and that it never really dumbed down, it rose you up to understand it, as opposed to being dumbed down. And I think that's one thing that happens with adaptations; they tend to get dumbed down, and they lose their magic, and that's one of the things I don't like about it. I think it could be done successfully and I think a few have come close, but I don't have anything specific.



Chris "CJ" Irelan is a Midwestern native who's devoted his life to watching anime from the Reagan administration, and you can find his work on Twitter at ProfessorOtaku or on Youtube as ProfessorOtakuD2!

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