Attending the event to promote the forthcoming releases of Cowboy Bebop HD and Kids On The Slope, the appearance marked the renowned Watanabe’s first visit to the UK. Well known industry veteran and Anime Ltd representative Andrew Partridge asked questions, with Watanabe generally speaking through an interpreter though occasionally offering English responses.
Things began with Watanabe being asked what his personal favourite project was. He was unable to pick just one as he holds fond memories of all the projects he has worked on, but admitted he had a special fondness for his first ever animation job. Having loved animation and live action films as a child he felt strongly that he wanted to work in one of the two fields, picking animation as he’d heard it was easier. This, he quipped, was a lie and he had to work very hard.
His love of music was discussed next, including how he has occasionally worked as a music producer for other productions. Watanabe stressed his love for music and how he personally selects the soundtrack for all productions he directs. Serving as a music producer was an extension of this love, though he noted that when serving as a director he has more freedom; as a music producer it is his job to instead help fulfil another creator’s vision. The tight schedule for Japanese animation often means scoring based on initial storyboards and discussions with the director about what the combined elements of each scene need to communicate to the audience. Although this may sound like hard work, Watanabe finds it to be a lot of fun and a different experience from the stressful role of being a director.
Continuing from this point he revealed that the average single episode of an animated production will have 100-200 people working on it and it is the director’s role to communicate with all of them to keep them on the same track. Although there are many different ways to handle directing, his preferred style is to speak to as many of his staff directly as possible.
Asked if he was a fan of any British bands, he responded that Cowboy Bebop had been partly inspired by the work of The Beatles. He feels that their body of work shows a great variety and evolution, starting simple early on but showing an increased range later on. This is the approach he attempts with directing his own productions, trying to explore as many themes as possible and balancing out serious with comedy.
Picking a favourite episode of Bebop was another difficult choice but he decided on episode 5, ‘Ballad of Fallen Angels’. Although he had no idea the show would become such a global success, he is happy so many people in different countries have enjoyed it.
In regards to his favourite show of the current 2013 Japanese TV season, Watanabe was unable to offer much input as his own work has kept him from being able to watch any of the new shows. However, he has made time to watch Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil) as it is directed by his friend Hiroshi Nagahama.
Reflecting on his work with Warner Brother’s The Animatrix project, he enjoyed ‘Kid’s Story’ (the origin story prequel for secondary character The Kid) as he was given a lot of creative freedom.
He was drawn to working on the animated adaptation of Kids on the Slope partly due to its focus on jazz music and partly because previously he had only directed animations of his original ideas. As a director he is always looking to do different things in his career, so these factors combined with the ‘coming of age’ nature of the story attracted him.
Asked if older productions had specifically inspired his style he revealed that he held the original Lupin III TV series in high regard but with a wry smile said he found the other versions only “so-so”.
Questioned as to if there are specific themes communicated across his work he responded affirmatively but didn’t think it would be cool to go into detail on them. However, he did comment that a constant theme of his work does involve the divide between this world and the next and that his works commonly involve a character who is somehow struggling between the two.
For those aspiring to become directors and animators themselves he felt that being able to depict people was the most important skill. As a man he believes he can only relate to half the population and as such getting to better know the other sex was vital research. Thus, he summarised for the aspirational, pull more girls!
Having first worked with Yoko Kanno on Macross Plus he found the soundtrack inspiring and wanted the same for Bebop, feeling Kanno was the only one who could do it. Reiterating his desire to always try new ideas he felt that partnerships between himself and Kanno always made this possible. He enjoyed reuniting with her once again for Kids on the Slope and is hopeful they’ll collaborate again soon.
The panel concluded with Watanabe taking a photo of the audience and a final message. Having wanted to visit the UK for a long time he was very happy to be invited for this weekend. He thanked the audience for enjoying his work and hopes they continue to enjoy his future projects.
Cowboy Bebop Part 1 can be ordered on Blu-ray and Kids on the Slope on DVD and Blu-ray through Amazon.co.uk
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