Shinichi Watanabe, AKA Nabeshin, is a man whose mere presence can invoke smiles on just about anyone around him. With his trademark afro, sunglasses, and red jacket the Excel Saga director knows how to stand out from a crowd of average Joe's. (Come to think of it, he stood out from the crazed and colorful crowd at Anime Boston, which really, really says something.) This year Nabeshin visited Anime Boston for the first time, less than two months after a heart attack almost took him out for good. Myself, Issues Guy, the Anime Herald, and the Otaku Momentum sat down with the director and discussed his current health, his work, and his hopes for the future.
King Baby Duck: I think the first question everyone wants to know is, "How are you feeling?"
Nabeshin: Well since I've got here I've gone to the bathroom three times. (laughter)
King Baby Duck: This is your first convention since you had those heart issues, so ever since then have you been given the good clean bill of health? Did it teach you anything after that health scare?
Nabeshin: Yeah, you're right, I did recently have some heart problems. I suddenly wasn't feeling that well, then I collapsed, and the next thing I knew I woke up and saw that I was in the hospital. I looked up and saw the light and though, Man, I'm cool. (laughter) I was actually there in the hospital for two weeks, but when I was there I learned how to control the heart monitor. If I clenched my body I was able to control the beeping of the machine. So yeah, I gained a new skill. So at that point they were like, "Dude, you're clearly fine. Get out of here!" (laughter)
So one of the things I asked the doctor, which was very important to me, "Excuse me, Doctor, but I know I've had these problems, but what I really need to know is how many times a day can I have sex?" (laughter) [The doctor said] "Umm, I guess as much as you want. Just be careful." (laughter) So yeah, I think I'm fine now.
King Baby Duck: Let me just say for all of us here in the anime community, we're glad you're still with us and bringing smiles to everybody. (applause)
Nabeshin: Thank you very much.
Anime Herald: Mine's actually a two-parter. When did you first develop an interest in animation and filmmaking, and how did you first get involved in the anime industry?
Nabeshin: I actually enjoyed watching anime since I was little, probably since kindergarten, so even since then I just loved anime. When I got around to my second year in elementary school I started thinking, Well it'd be cool if this story existed, so I just started drawing my own manga. And when I finally got interested in manga and started thinking about becoming a manga artist, I was around eighteen and graduated from high school.
A year later when I was nineteen I learned that it was a lot easier to go into the anime world than it is to become a manga artist. So I went to technical school where I learned to become a manga artist, and I was about twenty-two when I started after studying in-between. When I think back on it now, and if I had chosen a regular path and became a salaryman, I think that this point I'd be a company president or something like that, so when I think about that I kinda regret becoming an anime director just a little bit. (laughter) But then on the other hand I then think about how I get to come to these awesome conventions and meet all of these awesome people, and I have such a great time with that, I then think, Yeah, I was meant to be anime director, and I love my life. It's awesome!
Otaku Momentum: In Excel Saga [manga creator] Koshi Rikdo and yourself fought for control of the show throughout it. What was your actual interaction with him during the production of Excel Saga?
Nabeshin: As you guys know in the first episode of Excel Saga the main character kills the director of the show, and before we did this I asked him if it was okay if the character kills the director, and he said, "Yeah, sure, that's totally fine!" (laughter) At that moment I thought, Man, I really respect this guy! He's the best manga-ka ever! So this ability for us to talk about killing each other like this in our works, I don't think you'll find another relationship like this between a director and a manga artist. So I think it's pretty special. In real life, when he was getting married, he invited me to his wedding, we mail each other, so we're friends. In real life, we're not trying to kill each other.
Issues Guy: You kinda answered this in jest before, but if you weren't in this industry what else would you like to have been doing, like in an alternate world?
Nabeshin: I think if I hadn't become an anime director, I would've become a great anime director. (laughter) Or maybe a super director. From the beginning it wasn't like I specifically went out there to become an anime director, I just wanted to do something that was related to anime. If I didn't become a director I would've been something else in the anime world because I enjoy anime, but yeah I'm pretty happy I became a director. I might've become an artist, or the coloring person, or a recorder, but it would've been something anime-related. So that just shows how much I love to make anime.
King Baby Duck: Excel Saga has this unique sort of humor. Japan itself has its own style of humor. When you do a show that's mostly comedy of sorts, do you try and make it so it's centered on just the Japanese audience, or do you have this sort of worldwide mindset when it comes to showcasing your works?
Nabeshin: It's certainly something you think about when you start. For example you think of the age of your target audience, and yeah the location of your audience is something you do think about. But then, for example, the anime companies that are doing the sales will say, "Well this is probably going to be sold overseas, so you might want to take this out," so those things come in also. For me it's not like I try to specifically target specific people or countries, because if I do that I don't think it's gonna be that interesting. What I try to do is express myself to other people, and that way I think something does get expressed if I do.
Anime Herald: When did you begin inserting yourself into your works, and how does it feel to be known for that combination of your work, your character, and your magnificent afro?
Nabeshin: When I started out, I wasn't doing my own. I was actually helping out another director with his anime. At the time when I was working with that director he said he had this interesting work and wanted to know if I wanted to try some voice acting for it. I thought about it, and I decided I didn't want to make it just a voice. I wanted to express a sort of personality and originality into it, so I did, and I found it to be a lot more interesting that way. At that time I was actually starting to have the afro, wearing the red jacket and yellow necktie, so I thought it would be interesting to put that into the character as well.
Animation is fundamentally about drawing pictures as a form of expression, but what I think is important is to put myself into these pictures, and therefore creating a form of expression. For me, that's what's really important about it. I really like animation, and I also really like myself, so combining the two you get animation of myself, which is something that I really, really like. So yeah, it's great.
Otaku Momentum: It's been awhile since fans have seen Nabeshin in anime. There was Excel Saga, Puni Puni Poemi, and there was a cameo in Nurse Witch Kogumi that I vaguely remember. Is there a chance we can see him again soon, perhaps in his own anime as the main character?
Nabeshin: Up to now my point wasn't trying to become the main character myself. My point was to become a character that would support or compliment the main character. The problem was that it wasn't until I was done when I realized that there were times I overshadowed the main character sometimes. At the time that wasn't my main intent at all. So in order to not let that happen I have been thinking lately about creating an anime where Nabeshin is, in fact, the main character so I don't accidentally overshadow the main character.
Reporters (in various ways): We would love that!
Nabeshin: It takes a lot of money to make anime, so now I'm kinda in the market for a sponsor.
KBD & Anime Herald: There's Kickstarter!
Nabeshin: Ah, that would be a little difficult, but it's not a bad idea, so I'll consider it. Of course we will accept personal donations in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars range. (laughter) It would be welcome. So if you see the afro, just give me several thousands of dollars. It will all fit in [my afro]. (laughter)
Issues Guy: You've talked about how your style influenced your work. Were there any people or images from your childhood that influenced you?
Nabeshin: There's a Japanese actor named Yusaku Matsuda. He was in a TV drama that was about a detective. In it the actor is wearing a suit and a tie, but he does everything in that suit and tie. He can be walking down the street and he'd be in the same suit; he'd be sleeping and he'd be in the same suit; or he'd be in an action scene wearing that same suit. I thought it was amazing that he'd be doing these things while wearing that outfit.
As you guys know there's the Lupin III anime where, again, you've got a character that's doing all these things while wearing this suit and tie. Lupin is a great example of a character that does everything while wearing a suit, but at the end of the day he's just an animation; whereas Matsuda is a real-life person who was actually doing these things. So I thought, Man, I would love to become someone as cool as Matsuda who can do all these things while wearing a suit every day. I'm actually not copying nor was I inspired by Lupin.
So actually, and this kind of broke my heart when I read it, I was reading an interview with Yusaku Matsuda, and one of the questions was, "Why do you wear a suit in the show?" and his response, much to my chagrin, was, "Because Lupin was always wearing a suit." (laughter) So that was a little heartbreaking.
JC Riley: What kind of music are you listening to nowadays, and does it influence your anime creations?
Nabeshin: I like a lot of kinds of music. I love fast tempo hard rock, but I also like very quiet, kind of relaxing music, so I listen to a lot of stuff. I actually think that feeling and speed and energy in that music does help when I'm trying to do the same thing in the anime. It helps to direct the flow of the energy. I do actually think that there are a lot that I do enjoy. For example, at a time I'll be into a certain thing, but I realized that depending on what I'm listening to at the time, maybe what I make in terms of anime the flow will be very similar. If the music is a little fast-paced, maybe the anime is also fast-paced. It does happen sometimes.
I actually did recently make a short animation that's set to music, but I can't say anything about it right now. Because there are some copyright problems, that's why I can't say anything about it right now, but recently when I was at karaoke I heard a song and thought, Man, that's a really cool song, and I really liked it, and it just got put into the work. Again, because I can't say anything about it due to copyright issues, but we did do something music-related recently. I really, really, really want to tell you guys all about it, but if I do then they'll cancel it. So please be patient, and as soon as I can announce it I will definitely do that.
Anime Herald: On the subject of music, Nerima Daikon Brothers is one of my absolute favorite shows. What lead you to adapt the show as a musical, and do you see yourself doing another series in that format?
Nabeshin: You're definitely right! At the very beginning we were set to make Nerima Daikon Brothers as something where the entire thing was sung, every single line. It was very difficult to be producing and recording these episodes every week where we had to do so much singing. I think no one has done a show like that where every week you get a new episode, and you've kept that thread of singing all through the time. I think it's the first time a show like that has been made. I think only Nabeshin, only I can make something like that.
While the energy and the feeling in my heart is there, I would like to do another musical while I have that energy going, so we'll see. In reality, as much as I would like to do it, it was a lot of work and it was really difficult, so there isn't an animation company that wants to do that, so I don't know if it's going to be possible. I'd like to, but I don't know. I'm really looking for sponsors, so again if you guys know anyone, please. (laughter)
Otaku Momentum: Please donate to the Afro Fund!
Nabeshin: We're now accepting donations to the Afro Fund, so please donate! (laughter) All that money that you will donate, all that money will be returned to you as their dream-come-true anime, so please, please donate! Please give me your money! (laughter) I think I'll eventually make an anime! I promise! But just give me your money anyway! (laughter)
King Baby Duck: We've talked a little bit about some of the cameos you've made in anime. My favorite cameo you've done so far has to be Hayate no Gotoku!, which was a big surprise for me to see you in there. Who approached whom for you to appear in that series?
Nabeshin: I got the request from the director of Hayate. I think he saw some of the stuff I made, and decided that he liked it. He wanted to make a full thing with me, but I told him I'm not a really good voice actor. I'm not great at delivering or reading or something like that, so if we cut it in half maybe. Ultimately what happened in the last half of was in the next two episodes in the last part was where I ended up.
King Baby Duck: What did you think of Norio Wakamoto's intro for you?
Nabeshin: They basically took the old intro and thought it would be funny to put Nabeshin in the same sequence. At the time it was actually a different opening song, so it turned out to be a totally different thing anyway. I hadn't watched any of Hayate no Gotoku! at the time, so when they put it together I thought, Eh, that's probably all right. (laughter) I'm actually really grateful because the director of Hayate basically said I had free reign, and that I could do whatever I wanted with that episode. So I did, and had a great time, and so technically if you're looking for someone to blame for those episodes, I would say just don't think of it too much. (laughter) Just let it go.
Otaku Momentum: If you could interject Nabeshin into any shonen fighting show, which one would you put him in?
Nabeshin: Well I kinda want to fight a weak opponent. (laughter) So who's the weakest?
King Baby Duck: Kinnikuman!
Nabeshin: Kinnikuman?! He's not weak, he's strong!
King Baby Duck: Not in the beginning!
Nabeshin: He looks pretty strong, I think. I need a weak guy. Can you think of anyone who's weaker? Maybe if Goku didn't do the Kamehameha, then maybe that one.
Anime Herald: You can always beat up Toriko's sidekick.
Nabeshin: I dunno, maybe. I do have the Nabehameha, but I still would like to fight a weak person. (laughter) Just bring it! Is that the final question?
Issues Guy: Just going back to the first question, how many times did the doctor say you could have sex?
Nabeshin: He didn't go into that much detail. I just figured, Eh, that sounds pretty good. (laughter) I have managed to rise from the ashes and come back, even with a broken heart, and come to Anime Boston. I'd like to think my presence here has helped make the convention a little bit better. Thank you very much, and call me again next year. (laughter and applause)
King Baby Duck: And may I say, I hope your trip to Boston has influenced you creativity, as well.
Nabeshin: Thank you very much.
Special thanks to Shinichi Watanabe and Anime Boston for giving us this interview opportunity.