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Interview with Kazuya Tsurumaki

When Kazuya Tsurumaki, the director of FLCL, visited Baltimore to speak to American fans at the Otokon Convention in 2001, many of the questions were along the lines of, “Hi, I really loved FLCL [or Evangelion], but could you please explain this part of it to me?” Tsurumaki answered all questions genially with a self-deprecating and often mischievous sense of humor.

director of flcl

Why does Haruko hit Naota over the head with her guitar?
Kazuya Tsurumaki: Naota is trying to be a normal adult and she belts him to make him rethink his decision.

Why does Evangelion end violently, and somewhat unhappily?
KT: People are accustomed to sweet, contrived, happy endings. We wanted to broaden the genre, and show people an ugly, unhappy ending.

Why is the character of Shinji portrayed as he is?
KT: Shinji was modeled on director Hideki Anno. Shinji was summoned by his father to ride a robot, Anno was summoned by Gainax to direct an animation. Working on Nadia [Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water, one of Anno and Tsurumaki's earlier projects] he wondered if he still wanted to work like this. He thought that working on Eva could help him to change.

Is there any particular reason why so many Gainax series feature very anxious, unhappy young male protagonists with no parents?
KT: Yes, the directors at Gainax are all basically weak, insecure, bitter, young men. So are many anime fans. Many Japanese families, including my own, have workaholic fathers whose kids never get to see them. That may influence the shows I create.

Could you explain the mecha bursting from Naota’s head in FLCL?
KT: I use a giant robot being created from the brain to represent FLCL coming from my brain. The robot ravages the town around him, and the more intensely I worked on FLCL the more I destroyed the peaceful atmosphere of Gainax.

Why doesn’t FLCL follow one story?
KT: In the third episode Ninamori was almost a main character, a kid who, like Naota, has to act like an adult. After episode three her problem was solved so we wrote her out. She has many fans in Japan and we got plenty of letters about that decision. For FLCL I wanted to portray the entire history of Gainax, and each episode has symbols of what happened behind the scenes on each of Gainax’s shows. Episode one has many elements of Karekano; episode two, a lot of Evangelion references, etc.

Where does the title FLCL come from?
KT: I got the idea from a CD in a music magazine with the title Fooly-Cooly. I like the idea of titles that are shortened long English words. Pok√©mon for “Pocket-Monsters” for instance, and an old J-pop band called Brilliant Green that was known as “Brilly-Grilly.”

After the panel, Mr. Tsurumaki sat down to speak with Akadot.

Do you enjoy confusing people?
KT: I have a twisted sense of humor. I’m an Omanu Jacku, a contrarian. [Writer's note- Omanu Jacku is a folk character a bit like Puck, a mischief maker]

What do you see differently now that you’re working as a director rather than only as a visual artist?
KT: As an animator I have only the art; as a director story is really big. I still feel as an animator and I often have trouble putting the needs of the story first.

Did you intend from the start for FLCL to be as bizarre as it wound up?
KT: From the very start I wanted a different flavor. To achieve this I had to re-train the animators to be as stylized as I wanted them to be because I wasn’t drawing it. I knew that not everyone would get it. I deliberately selected very obscure J-pop culture and anime sub-culture jokes and references. Because Eva was so somber I always intended to make FLCL outrageous and wacky.

Why the choice to break out of conventional animation and use manga pages? Was it at all a response to how many anime are using computers to achieve smoother and more realistic visuals? Were you trying to go the opposite direction?
KT: I like manga, not only to read, but the visuals. The pen drawings, the frame breakdowns and layouts . . . This is the first time I have used digital animation, and those bouncing manga shots wouldn’t have been possible with cel animation. Personally I’m not interested at all in using computers for realistic animation. I’m impressed by it sometimes, but I’m interested in using computers to do what was once impossible, not to do smoother versions of what has already been done. I want to be less realistic.

Has using digital animation techniques changed the way you work, or the way you feel about your work when you see it? Does it still feel like it’s yours if a computer did much of it?
KT: Before I got into digital animation I saw other shows that were using it and I felt that there was no feeling, it was empty. As an animator, there’s a sense of release when you draw a cel. There’s something there. Working on FLCL, though, I learned that computers can do more, and, most of all, that they allow room for trial and error and revising, more freedom to experiment. That is why I now feel that cel art cannot win against computers. For actual animation everything is still drawn on paper. That work hasn’t changed. It’s the other stuff, the touchups, and coloring. If we didn’t use paper, maybe the feeling would change.

Earlier today you said that you were trying to broaden the genre by giving Eva a sad ending. Does the sameness of much of today’s anime bore you?
KT: First of all we didn’t use a sad ending to annoy fans. When they’re upset, that really bothers us. Personally, I think a happy ending is fine, but not if it is achieved too easily. That’s no good.

For all the fans that are confused at all, if you had to define in one sentence what FLCL is about, what would you say?
KT: FLCL is the story of boy meets girl. For me it is also about how it’s ok to feel stupid. With Evangelion there was this feeling that you had better be smart to understand it, or even just to work on it. With FLCL I want to say that it’s okay to feel stupid.

Even though it may be strange to us, do you have in your head a logic behind it? Are you trying to portray a story that follows the logic of dreams, or is it supposed to make sense symbolically?
KT: I’d like you to think of FLCL as imagination being made physical and tangible, just as it is for me when I take whatever is in my head and draw it.

So what are you working on next?
KT: Right now Gainax has told me that they’ll support anything I choose to create, but I’m having trouble coming up with any ideas.

Why is that?
KT: Releasing titles for market, I know I have to make something to please fans, but I’m not a mature enough person to accept that fact. If I’m not amusing myself I can’t do it. I feel bad that fans have to put up with such behavior from me. I apologize.

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