“I like the line ‘Well, whatever’. There’s a strength in Goku which enables him to say that.” — Yamamuro
What do you think is the appeal of Son Goku, the protagonist of “Dragon Ball”?
I suppose it’s his easy-going spirit. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff, the sort of things which regular people get hung up on. He’ll just say “Well, whatever”, and let it slip on by (laughs). That’s why “Well, whatever” is one of my favorite lines. I guess you could say that something strong seems to emanate from Goku just by saying those words… His greatness of heart, perhaps. Sorry to be so abstract.
So you did the designs for some of the original movie characters.
Often the pattern was that we’d have [Toriyama] sensei look at the rough designs we had drawn and add corrections. For instance, with the transformed Janenba (note: the enemy character from “The Rebirth of Fusion!! Goku and Vegeta”), the order from the anime staff was for a “demonic-looking character”, so I drew a rough design with spiral shapes entwined around his arms and legs, which I showed to sensei. He checked it and sent it back, and that became the real design for transformed Janenba. So the faint blood vessel-like things on his arms and legs are remnants of the rough draft.
The appeal of Toriyama’s works is his varied designs.
I’m really surprised at all the things that pop out about Toriyama-sensei’s designs. Speaking of the movies, there’s the design images Toriyama-sensei did for Bojack and his men (note: the enemy characters from “The Galaxy at the Brink!! The Super Incredible Guy”). Normally you’d think they’d end up with futuristic costumes, but right from the bat he gave a pirate air to them. But there are proper rules to his design. You’ll notice if you look closely that each of the members have the same design of boots and belts in common, so even though they all have different silhouettes, you can still tell at a glance that they’re part of the same crew. Sensei’s designs are so complete that it doesn’t feel odd to not change them at all for the anime, and just use them as-is for the anime character reference materials. I just have to photocopy them (laughs). Obviously, Toriyama-sensei’s ability with pictures is incredible. The way he sets up the layout for just a single panel is very skilled, so that even in the midst of all the action, you can still easily tell where the enemies and allies are in relation to each other.
When did you first encounter Toriyama’s works?
I did key animation for the latter half of “Dr. Slump Arale-chan”. I actually used to attend a Shaolin temple, so when a kempo fighter called Tsun Tsukutsun was introduced, I thought about how I’d really like to do an action series like that. That’s about when “Dragon Ball” began, and I went “alright!!” (laughs)
Do you think your experience with real martial arts has influenced the way you draw action scenes?
Since I have experience, it comes in handy when characters take a fighting stance, and perhaps my martial arts serve as a reference when drawing muscles. However, with action movements, if I drew it just like it is in martial arts, it wouldn’t really look right. Even in live-action films, I’ve heard that the famous action star Bruce Lee had to slow his fighting style down a bit for his performance.
Toriyama-sensei seems to be a big Bruce Lee fan. Are you one as well?
I love “Enter the Dragon”, Bruce Lee’s best-known work, so much that I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen it (laughs). When Goku first becomes a Super Saiyan, his slanting pose with that scowling look in his eyes is all Bruce Lee. The fact that I really wanted to draw Goku then was probably because I sensed that the look in his eyes was the same as Bruce Lee’s (laughs). That’s why that scene where he scowls after first becoming Super Saiyan left an impression on me.
Goku evolved from a boy, to a young man, to a Super Saiyan. Which is your favorite type of Goku?
I like the first Super Saiyan most of all. Each week during the battle with Freeza, I was so excited as I read along, just like the regular readers. However, those of us on the anime staff got to see Toriyama-sensei’s rough drafts, so I got to read it before the regular readers (laughs).
On the flipside, which form of Goku was hard for you to draw?
Super Saiyan 3 Goku was tough. I didn’t mind his bushy hair; it was his facial expressions. Even though his face had changed, I had to draw him so that you could still tell it was Goku, and that was tough. I had to draw him strongly thinking “This is Goku!” (laughs). Also, though I liked Goku as a boy, I was still pretty green at that point, so I had trouble with him too. With animation, you have to make it look like the characters are moving in 3 dimensions, but it’s difficult to convey that with round lines. With manga you can demarcate the 3D looking portions with major lines, and depict movement that way. For instance, when kid Goku’s face turns around, it’s difficult to see where his plump, round cheeks’ major lines have moved to, in relation to where they were before.
What other characters do you like besides Goku?
There’s Piccolo-san. I liked how even though he was an enemy at first, he was influenced by Gohan, and became their ally. Vegeta’s the same way too, but I think that the manner in which he goes from enemy to ally appeals to boys. When he crosses his arms, he kinda looks like a little boy (laughs). With Freeza, a flat-out enemy, I liked his initial form, but his final form was harder to draw, so it left more of an impression (laughs). His final form has a simple design, so if the positions of his eyes or nose is just a little bit off, it feels wrong. With a character who has lots of lines, you can cover this up.
A character chart made by Mr. Yamamuro showing Goku around the
time of the Boo arc (same as the one above). These were used both for
the movies, and for the TV version as the latest reference material.
Mr. Yamamuro also designed many of the original movie characters.
You drew a lot of movie posters too. Is there any that you are particularly fond of?
It’d have to be the design poster during Janenba’s time (see pp.72-73
). It had an air to it that was different than the posters up until then, but I had been thinking about how I wanted to do something new, so I challenged myself with the penciled image. I drew it on a large board, so I guess it took me an entire week just to draw Goku and Vegeta in the background.
It really is one impressive picture. What do you think is good about your involvement in the “Dragon Ball” anime?
I suppose that I was involved with it for so long, and that I was able to become animation supervisor. When the anime ended, I thought that it would be the last time I drew Goku, but then after that I drew Goku in calendars and cards, and I thought “OK, I guess this will be the last time”. But now I’m drawing Goku for games and DVDs… (laughs). I’m glad that I’ve been able to continue drawing Goku even after thinking “this is the end” so many times.
“Dragon Ball” has maintained its popularity, with new goods constantly being sold. As a member of the anime staff, what do you think is the reason for that?
Perhaps it’s how it overcomes the generations, so that anyone can feel the same way about it. Everyone loves strong people, right? And Goku fought to become strong. He’s unquestionably strong, and I think his appeal is the fondness people feel towards that. Also, being an animation director involves combining the original animation frames from the other animators. Looking at them, it’s strange, but you could say that there’s “ki” remaining in those pictures, and that I get energy [genki] from them. It’s not the Genki-Dama, but I think “I’ve doing this job while receiving ki from the rest of the staff. Amazing!” This energy-like thing remains in Toriyama-sensei’s original work, and the readers can sense it. I believe this is why it has remained popular.