The guests that attend Anime NYC are some of the best in the industry and among them is Shinji Ishihira. Ishihira-san started his career as a production assistant and worked his way up to a director. He has directed such shows as the OVA of Ichi the Killer, multiple episodes of Fairy Tail, Log Horizon, Eden’s Zero, and now Fall 2022's Reincarnated as a Sword. He has spent 20 years in the industry and has a lot of great insight and Honey-chan had the chance to hear some of that firsthand.
Interview with Shinji Ishihira
You have worked on many series and are credited as being the Director as well as the Storyboard artist. Does drawing out the storyboard bring you joy? Do you like to draw or is it just a hazard of your profession?
I am driven by art. It is my passion to create all those storyboard sections. I always have fun working on the storyboard for the first episode of every series. I create storyboards that focus on facial expressions or the motion of the characters and how the camera is positioned, is it moving, is it a close-up or is it a long shot because all those elements should be visible by just looking at a storyboard. I tend to do 70 percent of the storyboarding and leave the rest to the assistant directors and the keyframe artists as a way of letting them play with their adlibs to what they can bring to the table.
You directed more than 300 episodes of Fairytale. How do you manage to stay motivated and create interesting shows when you work on something so very long?
The protagonist in Reincarnated as a Sword is not your typical protagonist. How did you go about translating the written word into the animated action of a typically inanimate object, The Sword?
I find in terms of facial expressions it’s the eyes and that’s about it in addition to the emotional marks like the sweat drops and anger marks. When the sword is moving around it's jumping or spinning and those add to the expressions, but it is the voice actor’s job to bring life to the character.
So, what kind of impact can a voice actor make on a role?
We auditioned voice actors and if a voice actor had limited expression, the depth of the character would be shallow. However, the voice actor we cast, Miki Shinichiro, who is a phenomenal voice actor in Japan, succeeded in making the character infinitely deep.
A lot of fans have an anime that made them fall in love with the medium, did you?
Hayao’s Miyazaki’s Nausicaa. I watched that film when I was in fifth grade, and I was shocked. I had never seen anything like that. I found for a long time I was trying to be just like Miyazaki-san and that was the beginning.
Is there a genre of anime that you’d like to take on that you haven’t tackled such as magical girl or sports anime?
I have actually done magical girl-themed work as a collaborative production with a Korean company. I think the singing idol girls’ group or a sports anime with a large cast would be hard to do. I also find it hard to copy the correct forms for the sports and because the sports have specific forms and rules it doesn’t allow you much space to be creative. I also know that it takes a lot of work to do those kinds of shows and it makes me feel bad for the animators. I’d rather do the kind of work that the animators can get excited about and do things with passion like explosions or kawaii elements. I like giving the animators more chances to express themselves.
What are the skills you need to possess to be a good director?
Listen to people, talk when you need to, never ever push your opinions to others, and make sure the working environment for animators is loveable and not too intense. So, let’s say we are in a production meeting, I play the funny role so that people laugh, and it creates a warm atmosphere. I find a less stressful environment leads to better ideas from the animators. The most important thing is to give them confidence so when I find something that is great, I make sure to complement them and thank them for their time. I find this works for me and other people may have different ways of doing things.