By Yayoi Kawatoko / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTatsunoko Production Co. has produced a number of masterpieces that left marks on the nation’s TV animation history. Among the popular characters it has created, four iconic superheroes from different animations in the 1970s have now joined forces in a brand-new work to mark the studio’s 55-year history.
Currently showing on the Nippon TV network and others, “Infiniti-T Force” features Gatchaman, Casshan, Polimar and Tekkaman, all showing up in Shibuya, Tokyo.
The story focuses on a high school student named Emi, who is on bad terms with her father and feels lonely because he is so indifferent to her. One day, the girl is attacked by a gang of mysterious robots, but finds herself saved by superheroes, who have traveled across time and space. This incident prompts Emi to set out on an adventure with the four heroes to fight against evil forces that aim to destroy Earth.
To make the work, director Kiyotaka Suzuki used 3-D, computer-generated image technology, while trying to meet the expectations of old fans.
“No work can come under the spotlight today if it just follows the past style without featuring new elements,” the 38-year-old said. “I wanted to make an animation that can be welcomed by all generations.”
As one example of new elements, Gatchaman, Casshan, Polimar and Tekkaman in “Infiniti-T Force” look very similar to their original versions after transforming into superhero form. However, they look totally different in human form thanks to their modern features.
The thick eyebrows they had in the 1970s have now become thinner. One of the four wears glasses, while another gets permed hair. The hand-drawn touches in the serious, dramatic gekiga style in the past works have been replaced with refined CGI depictions to create slim, cool, good-looking characters.
For the special work, Tatsunoko worked together with Digital Frontier Inc., a leading CGI animation production company.
“Infiniti-T Force” employed motion capture technology, which records the actions of real actors to create characters in computer animation. Actors were chosen through auditions to get realistic movements for the characters.
Suzuki, who has made his debut as a director with this work, said he found it “unfamiliar” at first that the work did not employ conventional approaches for animation production. “It was hard for me that I couldn’t use regular animation techniques to express characters’ emotions,” he recalled.
Suzuki used the postrecording method for the characters’ voices in the first three episodes, but for subsequent ones, all characters’ mouth movements were depicted using CGI while lip-synching to the pre-recorded lines of the voice cast so they would look more natural in their facial expressions.
“Infiniti-T Force” has also changed how to depict the inner parts of the heroes.
In their original versions, the four had their own respective conflicts. In today’s work, on the other hand, they are depicted as mentally mature and stronger people who have overcome their challenges.
“The heroes were in the process of growing up in their original versions, but the latest work depicts them as adults who have completed the stage,” Suzuki said. “Instead, the lead character is set as a girl who is growing up by watching the four. I wanted to describe what she learns from them.”
While Tatsunoko’s past works often focused on the relationship between a father and son, “Infiniti-T Force” follows the one between a father and daughter to give it a modern touch.
Of course, the production team did not forget to entertain old fans. The latest work does not change the original settings for the four superheroes’ backgrounds, such as, for example, Casshan having been changed into a cyborg by his father.
“This work has [the lead character’s] growing-up and ties between parents and children as its main theme,” Suzuki said. “First and foremost, however, I hope viewers will rediscover how cool Tatsunoko heroes are.”
“Infiniti-T Force” is being broadcast on the Nippon TV network and others. It is shown on Nippon TV at 1:59 a.m. on Wednesdays. A cinema version will be released on Feb. 24.
Hard work pays off, expanding overseas
Tatsunoko Production was established as a manga studio in 1962 by manga artist Tatsuo Yoshida and his two brothers, and started to make anime two years later after being inspired by “Astro Boy.”
However, the company had no techniques or equipment for anime production. “We had a hard time at first because we were all amateurs,” said Hiroshi Sasagawa, 81, a founding member of the production company who now serves as an adviser.
Sasagawa, a manga artist himself, acquired the necessary techniques by attending an animator training school, while the company hired new employees through newspaper ads and managed to get funds to buy equipment.
In 1965, Tatsunoko produced its first work, “Space Ace,” a story about a child alien who comes to Earth. Two years later, “Mach Go Go Go” (Speed Racer), about a race car driver, was released as the studio’s first color work. Tatsunoko used 4,000 drawings per episode, or 1,000 more than the typical industry figure.
Sasagawa described “Gatchaman,” produced in 1972, as the company’s milestone. “Its meticulous, realistic drawings were so cool,” he said. “And the story described deep human emotions. I was convinced this was what Yoshida wanted to do. I’m certain that this work has contributed to the development of the nation’s anime industry.” “Gatchaman” was followed by “Casshan,” “Hurricane Polimar” and “Tekkaman, the Space Knight.”
Tatsunoko maintained a policy of producing original works, with examples including “The Genie Family” (1969), “The Adventures of Hutch, the Honeybee” (1970) and the “Time-Bokan” series that kicked off in 1975.
Sasagawa described what Tatsunoko has produced over the past 55 years as “beautiful, realistic drawings without cutting corners, as well as storylines focusing on the kindly heart.”
In the future, the studio aims to expand its business overseas, President Yuzo Kuwahara said. “Mach Go Go Go” and “Gatchaman” have already seen success in North America and other places thanks to being shown there.Speech