A panel with MCM Scotland Comic Con’s Guest of Honour – Space Dandy director Shingo Natsume

MCM Scotland Comic Con’s guest of honour this year (other than Dracula) was Space Dandy director Shingo Natsume. Shingo attended a panel on Saturday afternoon hosted by Andrew Partridge, the president of Anime Limited, with translator Bethan Jones. Andrew started by having Shingo tell the audience a bit about himself. Shingo explained that he played a lot video games and read manga as a child. Being brought up on Dragon Ball Z and Studio Ghibli, he pointed out that Ghibli was introduced into his classes at school.

“I wasn’t particularly aiming to work in film or anime,” said Shingo. “That all changed in high school when I saw Evangelion. It showed me how cool anime could be. I was watching it with fresh eyes. There are quite a lot of people in the film industry who are directors, unit directors that are all part of that Evangelion generation like me.”

He attended film school, learning effects in 3D and computer graphics, explaining it wasn’t the animation side that fascinated him in Evangelion – “It was impact and the energy that impressed me. I still think the impact that work has was huge.”

When he first joined a studio he insisted that he become a director, but they told him he would need to learn how to draw first. “I became an animator without ever having known how to draw,” said Shingo. “It turned out I was surprisingly good at it and quickly became an animator. I think because I read so much manga as a child I knew a lot about the structure and how it worked and the rest is history. I got on with my career and here I am.”

Dandy, Meow & QT (AKA The Idiot, The Slob & The Piece of Junk)

Andrew asked Shingo to talk about his anime series Space Dandy to those unaware. “Well there are three main characters, Dandy, Meow and QT. They are alien hunters, they hunt down rare aliens. They’re a bit unusual, they are known as the idiot, the slob and the piece of junk. So it doesn’t go well, but they go around having fun!”

Andrew followed up asking how he became involved with Space Dandy. Shingo explained that he was the unit director on Fullmetal Alchemist and the president of Studio Bones saw that the way he worked was different, and he liked what he saw. “It wasn’t the work itself, Full Metal Alchemist, but the atmosphere and the animation,” said Shingo. “When this plan for Space Dandy came around in the studio, it was slightly different, a weird one. They needed a weird director.”

When asked if there were any difficult moments during production, Shingo noted that each story was standalone. “There were a lot of settings and an awful lot of aliens and characters, which is interesting, so it’s really hard to come up with them all, design them all and put them in the story.”

Shingo directed Space Dandy with Shinichiro Watanabe. When asked what that was like, he explained, “I loved Cowboy Bebop, so he was someone I really respected when I met him. I realised he wasn’t as cool as Spike!”

Talking further about his working relationship with Watanabe, Shingo said, “I got the impression he was a hard worker. He really talked a lot, both on the tech side and how to come up with the details in the story. It was really like a lesson for me in making this anime and I’ve learnt from it. I also had complaints; it was stressful, like he would forget what he said and show up late. I would have to call him and pick him up. All good memories!”

Andrew finished his questions by asking, “What’s next? More Dandy?” Shingo answered saying that they’ve finished work on the TV series and there might be a film at some point, since his producer wants to make one.

When the questions went to the audience, the first one came from a fan looking for advice on how to become an animator for Japanese anime. Shingo’s advice was clear: “We’ve got animators working on Space Dandy from Austria and Argentina and they are all good animators. All they have in common is passion for what they are doing. As in any line of work, hold onto your passion, originality and work hard. Have a clear idea of what you want to create, which has to do with learning yourself. Having that awareness of yourself will make a difference of what you create. You will be able to create something you weren’t enthusiastic about in the beginning and make it great.”

Shingo continued and said, “We’re not aiming for perfection, it happens in the process of creating the best thing you can. I think you just keep on doing your best and coming up with the best you can.”

Our panelists gazing at the screen as the teaser for Space Dandy Season 2 finishes.

Another audience member quizzed our guest by asking, “Where would you like to see the anime industry in a few years time?”

“National boundaries are shrinking,” answered Shingo. “The gap between east and west is lessening thanks to globalisation, internet etc. Everyone is making similar style of things wherever we go. I don’t know what direction a lot of things will go in the future, but maybe one thing is groups of artists specialising in particular things and original ideas working together, rather than country based groups, east and west groups.”

One fan pointed out episodes of Space Dandy where they paid homage to zombies and musical comedy genres. They questioned whether these were inspirations shared by him and Watanabe. Shingo went onto explain that they both took inspiration from those kinds of genres. There were some areas they didn’t share though, given that there is a generation gap between himself and Watanabe. Though for those types of inspirational sources he studied and tried to find out where Watanabe sourced his inspiration from.

Another con-goer asked Shingo what the most stressful part of directing an anime was. Shingo laughed and said, “The human relations, it could get quite irritating. ‘Why is he not doing what he’s supposed to be doing? Why is she not listening?’ etc.”

Being raised on Studio Ghibli and later Evangelion, Shngo was asked whether any of his present work has any nods to those inspirational titles. “I didn’t deliberately put references in there,” he answered, “but they could be in there, especially in the episodes I directed myself. It would be in the direction and the layout. There is quite a bit of action that may have Evangelion influences.”

Wrapping up the panel they took one final question from a young fan sitting close to the stage, asking Shingo, “Do you relate to any of the characters?” Without hesitation he answered, “QT, because I’m a piece of junk too. I can empathise with him!”

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