With the Dragon Ball Super TV anime finally heading into its climax this month, you two have been kind enough to come discuss it. To start off with, when did you first become involved with Dragon Ball Super?
Producer Satoru Takami:
I started working on it midway through, a little while before the Future Trunks arc began.
Series Director Ryōta Nakamura: I become involved in individual episodes’ production from the Universe 6 arc onward. Afterwards I also handled individual episodes’ production in the Future Trunks arc, and then with the Universe Survival arc I became series director.
How did you two first encounter Dragon Ball?
I watched the anime every week when I was in elementary school. I remember in sixth grade going to see the Toei Manga Festival, and one of the three movies they had there was “The Incredible Strongest vs Strongest”, featuring Coola1
. My friends and I all liked the series, and it’s an honor that I was able to join Toei Animation and be responsible for it now.
Takami: I also first encountered it as an elementary school student. My friends and I would argue over who was stronger: Goku or Kenshirō2. At the time I never imagined I would one day be involved with it from the animation production side of things.
■ The Characters of the Universe Survival Arc
When did you start making the Universe Survival arc, and what was the process like?
To start off with, Dragon Ball Super
is based on Toriyama-sensei
‘s “original draft.” That’s why it’s not like the original stories that Toei Animation would make back with Dragon Ball Z
. Instead, it’s a question of how Toei Animation will depict the original draft which Toriyama-sensei
came up with. The Universe Survival arc likewise started off with an original draft from Toriyama-sensei
. This draft flat-out said “80 people fighting all in a jumble” (laughs)
Nakamura: That’s right. At that time we also received several character design images drawn by Toriyama-sensei himself. In addition, there was the design image for the Tournament of Power’s arena which the Great Priest built. That arena’s pretty wrecked by now (laughs).
Which characters were in the initial rough draft?
Nakamura: Jiren, Toppo, Dyspo, and the God of Destruction Quitela were the first characters drawn.
Were Universe 11’s Pride Troopers part of Toriyama-sensei‘s designs?
They weren’t in his designs, but since Jiren and co. all wore the same red and black suits, he allowed us to flesh it out like that.
Takami: In sensei‘s initial rough draft, there was no information indicating Jiren’s personality. Since the tough opponents in Dragon Ball Super up until then had been nihilistic, cool characters like Hit or Zamasu, we thought it might be best to make Jiren very talkative, so we came up with the background of him being a hero of justice. Jiren was central to this squadron of heroes.
Nakamura: When we suggested that to Toriyama-sensei, he replied that “Jiren is a character who doesn’t speak.” It was then that Toriyama-sensei sent us the backstory that his parents and martial arts master had been killed. He said that Jiren was this type of character, in contrast to Hit or Zamasu.
Takami: And so the characterization of Jiren that we originally came up with was passed on to Toppo.
It was interesting how Toppo became a God of Destruction despite talking about justice all the time.
‘s background for Toppo included that he was a candidate for God of Destruction, so we fleshed that out a bit. We wondered what to do with Dyspo, but then once Bin Shimada was cast, he naturally took shape as a cocky character.4
With the concept for those three settled, we came up with the other members to match up with them.
Takami: Universe 2 Ribrianne’s fat appearance from after she transforms was also designed by Toriyama-sensei. We took that and added in the idea that a cute girl would transform into that fat person.
Nakamura: The Universe 6 Saiyan Caulifla was another one of Toriyama-sensei‘s character designs.
Takami: She wasn’t part of the initial rough draft. During a story conference, it was mentioned that Broli was very popular.5
Nakamura: From there, we came up with the character of Kale.
Takami: We wanted a Broli-like character, but it would be boring to have it be exactly the same. So we made the character a girl, and designed her at Toei Animation. When we showed her to Toriyama-sensei, he went along with it and drew Caulifla.
Nakamura: So we decided to pair up Kale and Caulifla.
Takami: Those two turned out incredibly well.
Nakamura: I think one reason they were so successful is because they had Yukana-san and Yuka Komatsu-san voicing them.
I was surprised when I heard the Yukana-san was going to be in Dragon Ball Super. It seemed to go against her image…?!
Nakamura: Yeah (laughs). I’m glad that Yukana-san and Komatsu-san were involved. They seemed to work together incredibly well. When Kale and Caulifla used the Potara to merge into Kafla, they had to sync up their voices for the performance. Yukana-san was amazing. Komatsu-san normally looked at the images while recording her lines, but Yukana-san looked at Komatsu-san‘s mouth to sync up with her. Seeing that made me think “hey, these two make a good pair.”
■ The Challenge of an Unprecedented Battle Royale
How much of the story was written out in Toriyama-sensei‘s original draft?
Nakamura: The course of events for the Universe 7 warriors was written out in a document from beginning to end. For instance, who Piccolo fights and loses to, and who ultimately survives. Plus the course of the battle between Universe 7 and Universe 11… all of the main points were written out.
Including Universe 7’s ten contestants…?!
Nakamura: Of course, Toriyama-sensei decided everyone from Goku to Freeza. The surprise of Freeza replacing Boo in the end was also Toriyama-sensei‘s idea. We then added in further details to Toriyama-sensei‘s main story.
I can’t recall any previous anime ever having a battle royale with 80 people. To start with, the character design alone must have been quite a chore, right?
It certainly was; it’s rare for so many characters to debut all at once. It was a challenge to create all their designs and backstory. However, Toei Animation produces One Piece
, and its Dressrosa and Marineford arcs also featured fairly large, chaotic battles, so the staff had experience. We resolved to take this challenge.
Nakamura: We knew from the start that it would be a hassle, so we worked it out methodically. For instance, we would begin by conveying the idea of a battle royale, with lots of scenes of chaotic battles. Then afterwards we would shift to the individual battles happening in various spots.
Takami: With a large crowd you just don’t know where to look, so it’s better to focus on one-on-one fights. Working with this policy in mind also made it easier to create set pieces. I think it was a success.
■ A Series Director’s Concerns
Was there anything you were particularly focused on for the Universe Survival arc?
Nakamura: Frankly, from even before the Universe Survival arc started I’ve been thinking all along about making the image quality better than what it was during the early part of Dragon Ball Super. We’ve gradually improved the quality, with everyone in the staff contributing various ideas. The Future Trunks arc saw considerable improvement. Taking on this job for the Universe Survival arc, I’ve coordinated with the entire staff and spared no effort to make even the smallest improvements to the series. The Universe Survival arc has numerous set piece battles, so to improve them even a little bit, I’ve made considerable corrections to the storyboards myself. I’ve tried to increase the variety of the battles, using live-action fight scenes as a reference.6
The autumn one-hour special (broadcast October 18th, 2017) was surprisingly high-quality.7
It was decided fairly far in advance that we would do that special, so I invested personnel and money into it, and planned it out with the staff. We set our sights on that episode.
Takami: I was happy to hear from many fans online and elsewhere how much they enjoyed it. And of course story-wise as well it was an incredible fight, with that initial power-up. Toriyama-sensei had given us the word “Ultra Instinct” and its backstory and design, so we made Goku and Jiren’s fight the main event for that episode, with “Ultra Instinct: Omen” appearing too.
Nakamura: As we decided on the scenario’s course of events and reported to Toriyama-sensei, he came back with Ultra Instinct as a power-up for Goku. Toriyama-sensei thought it up as a completely different power-up from Super Saiyan.
■ Before the Climax… Vegeta!
Even as things head into the climax, the scene of Vegeta thinking of his family still leaves an incredibly deep impression.
It certainly does. It was like that when he died in the Majin Buu arc too; surprisingly, Vegeta is more family-minded than even Goku. In that sense, even in the original manga he’s the character who’s changed the most from when he first appeared.
Takami: Before the Tournament of Power began, Vegeta was fidgety over when his child was going to be born. He even stopped training for a while, and I felt that once the tournament began it was hard to get a grip on his anxiety at the time. I wondered if he would be able to switch into battle mode so soon after the birth of his child? But as the scenario played out it all started to flow naturally, with him fighting for his pride and his family during the latter half.
Nakamura: If he loses in the Tournament of Power, then his universe might be destroyed and his family wiped out. Viewed in that light, I started to think Vegeta might actually be the most motivated. Although Vegeta would never say so out loud, he’s hellbent on making sure the newborn Bra-chan isn’t wiped out. In that sense, I think he probably has firmer resolution than anyone.
Takami: But you have to be careful not to let Dragon Ball get too sentimental. You’ve got to protect the world that Toriyama-sensei created. Vegeta adds some good flavoring into the mix.
Nakamura: That’s right. Vegeta isn’t the sort of person to hold his own child and go “that’s a good girl”. He’s a man of many faces; while normally he just goes “hmph” and acts standoffish, when push comes to shove he’ll do stuff like hug Trunks. That’s why he’s good flavoring and doesn’t get too sentimental, like Takami-san said. Since he’s a character who doesn’t usually express his feelings, in Dragon Ball this makes him the easiest one to use to express things like love for one’s family.
Is it my imagination, or did you put a lot of effort into depicting Vegeta?
Nakamura: Did I? I didn’t intend to, but… well, obviously Vegeta is right up there with Goku in terms of battle power. But personally I intended on putting more effort into the warriors like the Turtle Hermit or Kuririn, the ones who at first made you ask “why’d they bring these guys along?” Because Toriyama-sensei selected them. If he was just looking for battle power, then he would have only brought along people who could go Super Saiyan, like Goten or Trunks. I think Toriyama-sensei went out of his way to select those people as a way of telling us to have fights that would put them to good use, rather than simply having characters win by going Super Saiyan. I believe that was his aim in selecting those warriors.
It was nice to have Freeza giving Goku some of his ki.
That actually wasn’t part of Toriyama-sensei
‘s original draft.
Nakamura: I thought of having it be the opposite of on Planet Namek, with Freeza now being the one to donate his ki. I think Freeza is a very strict person. If Goku were ringed out, it would be a problem for Freeza, too. After all, before they came to the Tournament of Power, Goku promised to bring Freeza back to life. In that sense, even though Goku and Freeza’s motivations for winning the tournament are different, I think their interests intersect. With that in mind, I didn’t think it would be unnatural for him to act like that. Although he hates Goku, he would judge it more to his advantage to give Goku some of his ki so that he could make use of him later. I view Freeza-san as someone who will use whatever means necessary to get what he wants.
I also personally really enjoyed 18 and Ribrianne’s battle of love.
Nakamura: Ah! Really? I’m glad to hear it! That was another one of our ideas. Frankly, Ribrianne is someone who singlemindedly shouts about ideals. I thought 18 made a good counterweight, as a grounded individual and a mother. I wanted that battle to show the difference between ideals and reality.
I see; the two really are like mirror images of each other. It was great how Kuririn called out “18-san“, “18-san!” during her mid-battle flashback. Kuririn is so kind.
Nakamura: I think Kuririn’s incredible. It just goes to show that while it’s simple to say “love”, love itself is far from simple.
18 and Vegeta are both people who don’t ordinarily express their thoughts.
Nakamura: They certainly don’t. But Dragon Ball characters as a rule normally keep their feelings hidden, only showing them when push comes to shove. They might not say it out loud, but when the time comes they’ll protect or save everyone. Even Goku is normally very curt, but he cherishes his friend Kuririn and his sons Gohan and Goten. 18 as well loves Kuririn but usually keeps quiet about it. I think Dragon Ball is fundamentally a gathering of those sorts of people.
I see; that’s certainly true. The Turtle Hermit might be the biggest example of that.
Nakamura: The Turtle Hermit normally just goofs around, but he’s actually a very serious person. Working on the Tournament of Power has given me an idea: perhaps Goku breaks through his limits because he’s taken to heart the Turtle Hermit’s lesson, back when he beat Goku at the Tenka’ichi Budōkai and told him that “there’s always room to improve.” Ultimately Goku doesn’t fight to kill his opponents, but instead to test his own limits and not lose. I think he’s someone who wants to see new worlds, meet strong new people, and be stimulated so that a new and unknown version of himself will emerge. I think that since the Turtle Hermit’s teachings paved the way for “Ultra Instinct”, this is a theme that runs from Goku’s childhood in Dragon Ball all the way to Dragon Ball Super.
One might say that the ten Universe 7 fighters are all Goku’s various rivals that he’s fought through the years. It all makes sense in that light.
■ Finally Heading to the Climax!
Ultra Instinct goes into operation in ep.129, and everyone’s very interested in what will happen in the final two episodes, but…?!
Nakamura: I’m sure everyone realizes this too, but in a situation like this, the story’s not going to end with Goku simply firing a Kamehameha and finishing Jiren off, like with previous villains (laughs).
After all, Jiren isn’t evil
Nakamura: No, he’s not. Jiren carries a lot of baggage and doesn’t live his life based on malice. Ultimately no matter who wins or loses, though they both have different stances, when the battle is over they might feel something new. A bit like Bushido.8
I see; so they’re letting their fists do the talking.
I want children to pick up on what Jiren learns and feels from fighting Goku. I think it’s probably something that can be applied out in the real world, too. Since others won’t share all of the same sensibilities as you; in fact, most people don’t think the same way you do. In this series it’s a physical battle, but I think everyone has had a time where they’ve felt something when their ideas clashed against someone else’s. I think Toriyama-sensei
‘s Universe Survival arc is that sort of story. I made it with that interpretation in mind.
Takami: Director Nakamura has pulled the Universe Survival arc along up until now, and the last two episodes feature storyboards and direction that he put his whole heart and soul into. I truly can’t say anything else than “don’t miss it!”
Nakamura: No, it’s nothing special… but still, I’ve never fretted over anything as much as this before. Personally I think the ending to episode 131 is very fitting. While the Universe Survival arc may be Goku’s story, I think it might actually be Jiren’s story, too. I think that was Toriyama-sensei‘s intention when he set up someone like Jiren as the greatest rival, someone who’s not simply evil. I made it with that interpretation in mind, but I wonder how everyone else will feel about it.
Takami: I hope people’s eyes are glued to director Nakamura’s full-force direction and the ending which Toriyama-sensei has prepared for this story. Personally I even get the feeling that Toriyama-sensei is trying to set up even more stories.
Nakamura: Even after the story is over, please keep watching to the end and don’t change the channel. There’ll be something special!
Thank you for your time today!