Science Saru Co-Founder and Producer Eunyoung Choi talks about the development of Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, Japan Sinks 2020 and more!
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is a show that's in love with animation. The show is joyful in its depiction of how our favorite anime come to life and the human connections and love behind the scenes that power all of that hard work. At last year's Anime NYC, we had the wonderful opportunity to meet with one of the people behind this very special show! Along with director Masaaki Yuasa, Eunyoung Choi is one of the co-founders of Science SARU, the animation studio behind DEVILMAN crybaby and Night is Short, Walk On Girl among others, where she acts as a producer. In this interview, Choi talked with us about Eizouken, Science SARU's unique approach to animation and the studio's upcoming project!
Miles Thomas: Could you please introduce yourself to the Crunchyroll Audience?
Choi: I’m Eunyoung. I’m a producer and co-founder of Science SARU. I started my work here as an animator first, and then animation director, and director, and eventually I got to producer.
And so what are you doing here at Anime NYC?
Could you tell us about how you first felt when you found out that you would be premiering the first 50 minutes of the series here in New York City?
Choi: I mean, it’s amazing to show the first episode here in New York City, and I love meeting fans. I love to see the reaction of the fans. We worked on Eizouken for about a year and then we completed the first episode. We are pretty happy about the result so I like to see what other people think about it.
The story is about the cast turning their anime dreams into reality, but what does that mean exactly?
They love animation! One character likes focusing on designs or the concepts, you know? The other focuses on characters and animation. They couldn’t output animation as individuals, but with the right team, eventually, it happens! It’s kind of beautiful. I love to experience that process as an animation team. It’s a great concept.
Do you think it makes it easier or harder to adapt a series that’s about the process of making anime?
Choi: I mean, I don’t think it’s easier or harder, but it’s definitely really fun. We talk about the actual animators, how they do what they do. We put those ideas into the project and then...I don’t know, it’s fun. It’s very fun! And of course, sometimes we bring the hard reality into the series as well, but you know, that is reality. I think it's a really unique project.
So how does Eizouken approach the issues in the animation industry? Do you think it’s fairly reflective of the challenges you and your peers face?
Choi: I mean, it’s kind of reflecting the industry, but as a high school student, it's a little bit lighter. Also, they have such a positive attitude toward making animation. It’s good to see a high school student purely enjoying the process of animation. As professionals, that's how it felt when we started, so it was good to see that whole process anew again. It’s a kind of pure enjoyment.
But as a seasoned professional you seem to still have a lot of that youthful passion yourself. Do you feel like you still have a lot of that young energy in your work, working in animation?
Choi: I mean, I still have it, but it's different now. It's like I have a more realistic point of view. You need to have a certain process and talk to the right people or the right team. Sometimes it isn't pure, 100% enjoyment. You need to think logically and deliver the product on time. On the other hand, when you watch the girls in Eizouken purely enjoying the process, it brings back that feeling. It's kind of easy to forget that sometimes.
So, Science SARU has been making a lot of films recently. There’s Night is Short, Walk on Girl which I absolutely adored, Ride Your Wave, which I cannot wait to see... Do you see Science SARU doing more film production, or are you balancing film and television series?
Choi: We're definitely trying to find the balance of more feature films and more TV production as well. Making a feature film is the dream, right? So there's a lot of enjoyment there. And putting something you worked on in the cinema is such an amazing thing to do. On the other hand, making a TV series is like... I really like the speed of the projects and getting to work with new talent, getting to interact with the younger generation of animators. You get to work on some new ideas and there are new visual styles and new vibes. We love them both! By doing TV shows we can renew our talent pool and search for new talent. We're so eager for new ideas and new talent, otherwise, you just get stuck with the same old system and people and you just repeat the same thing over and over again. It's a good challenge!
Speaking of good challenges, Science SARU employs many different animation techniques than most anime studios. Would you care to talk about your thoughts on Science SARU’s unique approach to animation?
Choi: We're sort of different...I mean I guess we are the same as other studios in some ways...actually in most ways, to be honest. Like...70%. It's the same sort of system, the process isn't that different. But that leftover 30% is made up of things like using new software, for example. Like, if we find a more efficient tool, we don't hesitate to test out new tools and processes. We also work with a lot of people outside of Japan, our team is really multicultural. The majority of animators and talent are still Japanese, but on the other hand, we're very open to hiring people outside of Japan. We've tried to keep that mindset of not being afraid to try out new things and work with new people. For example, our first feature film, Lu Over the Wall was done all in Flash animation. Of course, we mix that with the love of traditional, hand-drawn animation. But after that hand-drawn stage, we film with Flash animation. And we do that with a very small team. It's about...8 people, yeah.
Choi: Yeah, without that tool, we wouldn't have been able to get that film out in two years. It would've been impossible, you know? With that tool, we were able to do that, even with a really small team.
So what are some of the artistic benefits of having such a small team working on a project?
Choi: Small teams have a lot of benefits. Of course, the director needs to explain their vision, which no one has seen up to that point, right? Basically, he needs to explain what the project is going to be and what his vision for that project is. But if we have more people, it's easier to miscommunicate or have someone misunderstand what the director means or something like that. If we have a small team, there's a strong understanding among the team members of the project. It's much easier to move forward, so I love working with small teams! On the other hand, when we have bigger teams, we have a lot more ideas flying around. They have really different vibes, but I love them both.
I saw Yuasa-san talking last year in Berkley and he mentioned you in almost every sentence. He continued to talk about you the whole time as you being the big driver at Science SARU for a lot of innovations.
Choi: Oh, he did?!
He acted like you were the one in charge of the way he was talking! I was very impressed. And a lot of us in the western fandom have heard similar things about how you are a big driving force.
What is something special that you’ve brought to Science SARU? What are some of your biggest contributions to the company?
Choi: Well, I'm not Japanese and I'm also an animator. I also handle a lot of the business side as a producer as well. I studied in London and, at that time, I used Flash animation. All that previous experience like working with foreign studios, like French studios, for example, gave me the chance to meet so many talented people. I met really good Flash animators who were super talented. Meeting those people and having those experiences with them helped a lot when we started Science SARU. I had some ideas, I worked in the Japanese animation industry about 15 years when I co-founded the company. My fundamental knowledge of making animation is from Japan, but I also have some European influence and from other countries too. It really helped me to have new ideas and inspiration to look for talent in the next generation and look toward the future. For me, those goals are what Science SARU is all about. Saru means "monkey," so it's like "Science," logic and business and technology, plus "SARU," like intuition, inspiration, art, and like...primal ideas and creativity. That human sort of feeling, you know? It's about the beauty of both of those aspects. It has to be together. To make a film with amazing ideas and that pure enjoyment factor, you need the logical, practical business side as well. With those two ideas combined, we can make animation that makes people happy. Those were the founding principles of Science SARU, and they still are today.
Science SARU's next project, Japan Sinks 2020 was recently announced and you described it as the "latest challenge." Why is this project so challenging?
(Ed. note–Japan Sinks 2020 is an upcoming Scienc SARU series directed by Masaaki Yuasa which will adapt a 1973 sci-fi novel of the same name by Sakyo Komatsu. It tells the story of scientists who discover that Japan will sink into the sea after a series of earthquakes and volcanoes hit the country.)
Choi: With Japan Sinks...the theme isn't really easy to jump into, you know? In the beginning, I was like, are we sure we want to go with that title? It's not easy for people to think "Oh, that must be fun, let's do it!" It's not like that. So, we thought about it really carefully and then after we had the earthquake happen, it felt like it was worth it to try. Japan Sinks 2020 is difficult to talk about, but we wanted to confront it. And we want to focus on and talk about the people, you know? We want to focus on the people instead of the situation or the government or the country. We want to make it more like daily life. Like a personal thing.
Choi: It's a very challenging project. The look and feel of the show is challenging because we haven't tried that sort of realistic kind of vibe with series or films much before. Hopefully, it will still feel like Science SARU even though we're trying out this new direction. I hope you guys enjoy it.
I cannot wait.
Key art for the upcoming Japan Sinks 2020
Could you describe Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! for me?
Choi: So, it's a show about three high school girls trying to make animation. There are a lot of enjoyable moments, and it really shows their imagination. Yuasa used that opportunity to make some really magical moments. There are a lot of instances like that that are beautiful and enjoyable. There are so many ideas at play! I think you all will really enjoy it.
I noticed in the first episode that the world of Eizouken feels very fantastical but still grounded in reality. It feels like the characters of the anime are almost self-aware that they are in an anime, they realize they’re in a fantastical environment. How did you convey that on screen? How did you convey the magic and also the reality at the same time of making an anime in these characters' lives?
Choi: So, basically, those scenes you were describing are what they are imagining, right? Because of that, it's really important if we have one of the characters think of a solution for the animation, for that solution to pop into being right there. It's a way to make that idea special, making the show that sort of reality. It's subtle. We show daily life in a realistic way but then when the characters are imagining something, the setting becomes a lot more fantastical. It's pretty amazing!
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to give to people who either are gonna watch Eizouken or are fans of Science SARU in general?
Choi: If you're already a fan of Science SARU, then you probably know about the projects we're working on, but I would say to you that there are so many cool ideas in the show. Masaaki Yuasa, especially, contributed unique and enjoyable ideas to the series. On the other hand, if you aren't familiar with Science SARU, anyone who is a fan of anime or animation, in general, will get to see the process of how we animate. I think there are so many things animation fans can enjoy in this series!
Is there any other message you’d like to send to anime fans in the West just in general? Anything you’d like to say to the anime watching public at large?
Choi: I studied animation in London, outside of Japan, but on the other hand, I'm working in the animation industry in Japan. There is a big struggle there and it's hard to make anime because there's a very specific, limited timeline and a limited budget. But there's a lot of creative freedom too, and that's where the enjoyable moments are. I hope that people can understand and enjoy those moments. There's so much great animation coming out of Japan, so please keep watching all fo them! They're all amazing, I can't say it enough.
Yesterday at the panel you shared a story about how Yuasa-san had read the manga Eizouken prior to being offered the opportunity to work on it. Could you tell me about how it happened?
Choi: When we talk about a new project, we talk about manga, novels or original stories. One project, Eizouken, came up and surprisingly [Yuasa] knew the title. I said, "Oh, you don’t really read manga because we don’t have enough time to check every single title." But he said, "Oh I know Eizouken." I asked how he knew, and he said "I do 'Ego Search.'" Like, searching for your name. In Japanese, we say "Ego Search." Then he’s looking for his name, Masaaki Yuasa and then Eizouken came up and he said: “What is Eizouken?” Somebody said like, Masaaki Yuasa should make an Eizouken anime, and then he knew about the manga. It was a nice surprise, you know? He knew the title and then said ok, let’s check it out, and then maybe make an Eizouken anime?
I love that story. Thank you so much for everything you shared. This was fantastic, I’m really glad we got to talk to you today.
Choi: Thank you.