This year at Otakon, Manga Mavericks writer Varun Gupta had the pleasure of interviewing producer Yoshihiro Watanabe from animation studio Orange. Orange has been behind popular 3DCG anime productions such as Land of the Lustrous and BEASTARS, and they are currently working on the highly anticipated Trigun Stampede. Watanabe has been at Orange since 2019 and has previously worked with other prolific animation studios such as Madhouse and P.A. Works.

Check out our full interview with Watanabe down below:

Manga Mavericks: CG has often been divisive among anime fans, but Orange’s titles are well beloved. What do you think has allowed Orange to succeed with CG, where other studios seem to have failed?

Watanabe: I can’t really say for the success and failure of others. For our CEO Inomoto (Eiji Inomoto), he really cares about how the picture is seen by people. So, his primary focus is, “How can we eliminate unusualness from our pictures?” So in that sense, we’ve spent so much time on that, even to adjust a single shadow on a character. We spend much more time probably than other studios, and I think that’s an attention to detail that makes our animation special.

Manga Mavericks: And that’s what goes into that three year timeline that most Orange projects have, correct?

Watanabe: Well, the animation process itself is usually the last one year, but in that last one year, we’re spending most of our resources to create and produce that show.

Manga Mavericks: Since Inomoto is usually going through every single part of the animation process, have there ever been any issues of the production being bottlenecked by that?

Watanabe: Yes, there’s always an issue of being bottlenecked, but quality management is essential to our studio’s work, so that’s why we try to get that three year span. No matter what the client says, we always try to get the three year span.

Manga Mavericks: Since the tools of animation are always continually improving, is there ever a concern that older Orange productions, say like Land of the Lustrous, may feel outdated in the long term? Like they might not look as visually appealing?

Watanabe: I don’t really think that is the case, but for our sense of CG animation, we keep on doing system updates and tools updates. We might not have the same environment to recreate the same exact animation, because even though we’re using primarily the same tools, it’s been updated. So, we can’t exactly do what has been done in the past.

Manga Mavericks: What are the biggest challenges in adapting a classic series like Trigun?

Watanabe: I’m handling the business side. I’m not creatively involved for Trigun Stampede, but well it’s actually more of a personal problem. I’m originally from Madhouse and I love Trigun, and that’s one of the reasons that I joined Madhouse. And even though I’m not creatively involved with the current Trigun, I think Waki (Kiyotaka Waki, Animation Producer at Orange) is also the same. He’s originally from Madhouse. That’s why he brought me over to Orange to work with him. But we don’t want to overwrite the things that our mentors and people we’ve respected have done, and I think Waki has the same mind, so I think the approach started from there and that’s how the current Trigun is being developed.

Manga Mavericks: On the business side of things, how did the project come into fruition?

Watanabe: I think a lot of it was talked about at Anime Expo, but the producer from TOHO Takei (Katsuhiro Takei) went to Nightow (Yasuhiro Nightow, creator of Trigun), and he was a big fan of Trigun so he wanted to work on Trigun. And he said “Is there any way we can work on a Trigun animation?” That’s how it started, and then Takei came to Orange, asking us to do the animation.

Manga Mavericks: Orange is implementing a lot of their previous innovations into Trigun Stampede, and as you mentioned on your Otakon panel earlier in the week, that’s kinda been difficult in a way. Is that mainly because of the amount of rendering it will take or is it just the actual workforce of it?

Watanabe: Well actually, not just limited to Trigun, but we do a lot of tests when we’re developing a project. Some of the tests that I’ve seen that have come from inside the studio have been amazing, but we came to the conclusion that with our current resources, that’s the current technology resources or schedule resources, we can’t achieve this level of quality. So, that’s why we had to adjust the quality to make sure that it’s something that’s possible to do as a series or a final product. I think for Trigun, the first two years of the five years was basically finding that level.

Manga Mavericks: In Land of the Lustrous, Orange was focusing a lot on facial expressions, and in BEASTARS, the focus was on textures and furs. Is there anything of that type of focus for Trigun Stampede, or will it be culminating all of those previous ideas?

Watanabe: I mean Trigun has been going for five years, and during that time, Land of the Lustrous was nearing the end when Trigun started, so it’s any project that falls after it that this applies. For example, we knew that we were going to work on Trigun, so when we were working on BEASTARS, we were trying to find what we can implement on Trigun as well. That’s not the primary reason we chose BEASTARS, but if we’re doing a project, we would love to take that experience to pass it on to our other shows. So, we always have that in mind whenever we take on new shows.

Manga Mavericks: So, there are currently 70 animators working at Orange, correct?

Watanabe: About that, yeah.

Manga Mavericks: And are all of them presently working on Trigun Stampede?

Watanabe: Yes.

Manga Mavericks: Have there ever been any considerations to expand the amount of animators to work on multiple projects at once, or is the intention to just have a focus on one project to improve the quality?

Watanabe: Right now, Trigun is in the prime time of production, so that’s why everyone is solely focused, but soon after, they’re gonna start working on other projects. So, not necessarily everyone will be working on Trigun from start to end.

Manga Mavericks: HOME! was the first time that Orange built out a full 3D environment. Was it the intention from the outset to do that, or was it something that just came about during the development?

Watanabe: We had always wanted to do that, and we wanted the challenge of it. The budget and various constraints were always a big thing, and then for the technology, we had never done it before. Doing something new takes a lot of effort, and that was something that we were trying to find the right timing and we thought that HOME! was a good timing to do that. We knew that we were about to develop Trigun’s backgrounds around that time, so that’s why we did it as one of our early experiments.

Manga Mavericks: You used to be an Otakon staff member. Do you have any favorite or memorable moments from when you were on staff?

Watanabe: Conventions are something that I’ve been participating in ever since college, and I always really liked the experience where fans and industry professionals get together to bring this fun event. So, I always enjoyed coming back to Otakon and other conventions as well. I staffed three conventions, Anime Expo, Animazement, and Otakon, and I saw people from all these backgrounds celebrating anime. I thought there were so many possibilities in anime, so that’s why I wanted to choose it as a career.

Manga Mavericks: What was it like working with Masao Maruyama?

Watanabe: I mean a lot of it you could probably see from Shirobako, haha. But in many ways, I learned a lot. He’s his own personality, and his personality is what makes it possible to do the things he does. So, unless I copy his personality, I will never be able to do the things he’s done as a producer, but there’s so many things that he inspires me to do. And the fact that he’s even still working in animation. He’s right now 78, and I don’t want to work in animation that long, but the fact that he’s always spending his mind on animation is such an inspiration.

Manga Mavericks: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on?

Watanabe: Actually, it’s the current unannounced project that I’m working on. I’m really excited for it!

Manga Mavericks: I’ll be looking forward to when that’s announced then.

Watanabe: Thank you.

About The Author Varun Gupta

Varun Gupta is an analyst residing in Minnesota. While his professional interests have led him on the path to the business world, he has always had an immense love of animation and comics. An obsessive manga collector, he spends his free time attempting to read through his massive backlog of series, hoping to one day finish them all. Will he succeed in his perilous quest? Probably not, but at least he’s having fun doing it!

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