Shin Itagaki is an animator and animation director who has worked on such notable titles as Berserk, Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter, Teekyu, and Basquash! to name a few. Currently, Itagaki is directing the new anime series Ulysses: Jeanne d'Arc and the Alchemist Knight, which is currently streaming on Crunchyroll as part of the fall season of anime.
In the first of our multi-part interview with Shin Itagaki, he discusses the challenges in adapting a light novel series into an anime while balancing action, entertainment, history, and myth!
What kind of impressions did you have for each of the characters? Please tell us about Montmorency first.
Montmorency is basically just an alchemy otaku. (laughs) An otaku is someone who is determined and is sometimes capable of achieving something extraordinary, right? But on the other hand, they’re not aware of their surroundings and realize something important too late, which they have no way of fixing afterwards.
Did you have a similar experience?
I used to draw flip books all the time, and I graduated from college before I realized it, so I know how that feels. Montmorency was also like “I’ll end the war with alchemy,” and before he realized it, 7 years had passed while he was messing with his test tubes. (laughs) He was too focused on doing something he was passionate about and avoided reality, then things turned out that way. He’s a very otaku-like character. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but in that sense, I think it’s easy to empathize with a protagonist like him for the viewers.
How about Jeanne?
I see her as a courageous girl. The scene where she embraces Montmorency in episode 11 gave me a strong impression when I was drawing, because it felt like they really “connected.”
What about Astaroth?
Artistically, it’s interesting because she can fly, so we’re free to pick our viewpoints. I was very conscious about presenting the feeling of flying in the air while drawing storyboards. As a character, she would “never die,” so she would fall in love with many men in different eras, but those she loved would always die before her. It was interesting to imagine her happiness and sadness that are unique to being a fairy.
How about Richemont?
She sees herself as someone who wants to be dignified and responsible, but there’s a gap between that and what society considers to be feminine. My impression is that she is a girl who is always struggling because of that. There’s a line she says to comfort herself “I’m a bit too strong to be a princess protected by a knight in shining armor,” when she lets Montmorency pass through a path in episode 8. Personally, I wish I could’ve directed that scene to be more dramatic, which might have changed our impression of Richemont.
Please tell us about Charlotte, too.
I remember having most fun drawing storyboard for Charlotte when she was in knight training school in episode 1. She would get jealous, and she was just a really energetic girl. 7 years later, she fell rock bottom in despair. Circumstance may be different, but Richemont became a prisoner and still never gave up hope, so it shows her mental strength in contrast to Charlotte.
How about Philip?
As for Philip, we debated about whether or not to include a scene where she wet her pants. (laughs) Since such a scene didn’t exist in the light novel. Also, I felt the fragility of friendship and promises when I saw her transform into Ulysses Noire. Philip was the one who suggested swearing the oath to “remain best friends forever” during childhood, yet she was the one who became a traitor.
What did you take serious consideration for while drawing for this anime?
It’s not unique to this series, but I take serious consideration for emotions and subjectivity when drawing storyboards. Actually, I edited almost all storyboards that were submitted by the storyboard illustrators on my own. I think there were only few frames that I didn’t fix. This is because when you want to express emotions in a human drama, it is difficult to sufficiently express it through storyboards drawn by multiple people. It is a very important part of the production, and I put extra care into it to make sure storyboard was consistent.
So the storyboards were that important for this series?
This time it was. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I worked on it as if it was the only thing that mattered. My mentor is Otsuka Yasuo-san, who always said “animators are actors.” That “half of your job may be drawing illustrations, but animators are fundamentally actors.” In that sense, storyboard is acting expressed by illustrations, so I imagined myself as characters in the story, such as Montmorency or Jeanne, and put my body and soul into drawing storyboards.