INTERVIEW: BLUE LOCK Chief Animation Directors Tomoko Mori and Kenji Tanabe Discuss Their Work and Production Challenges

Image Source: Bandai

At Anime Frontier 2023, BLUE LOCK chief animation directors Kenji Tanabe and Tomoko Mori and producer Ryoya Arisawa made an appearance to discuss the TV anime series and its film spin-off BLUE LOCK THE MOVIE -EPISODE NAGI-, which premiered on April 19, 2024 in Japan.

Anime Trending had the opportunity to talk with them at the December 2023 event and discuss Tanabe and Mori’s work on the anime adaptations. Kwok-Wai Hanson conducted the interview, with Melvyn Tan contributing a few of the questions.

In Season 1, were there any scenes that you all were in charge of that left a particularly strong impression?

Kenji Tanabe: I was mostly in charge of the main character, Isagi’s close up shots of his face. The scene that left an impression on me is the first episode. It was after Isagi lost his match at the very beginning and he’s walking near the river before he starts crying. It was a scene that really left an impression on me.

Tomoko Mori: I’m usually in charge of the emotional shots where the characters show a lot of expression. I was in charge of the first episode when Ryosuke Kira was eliminated. It was a very short scene, but Kira being hit with the soccer ball by Isagi and his expression really left an impression on me.


Tanabe-san, you are also one of the three character designers, including the main character designer with Shindo-san for the series. How was the design work divided between the three of you?

Tanabe: For Shindo-san, he’s in charge of the main characters like Isagi, Bachira, Nagi, Kunigami, and so on. I’m in charge of Raichi, Iemon, Kuon, Gagamaru and many members of Team Z. They are very masculine, massively built characters. The more feminine, slender and slime characters were designed by another character designer.


Could you please tell us any parts that were fun or challenging while doing the character design for BLUE LOCK?

Tanabe: One of the hard parts was being in charge of Barou. His face changes depending on the scene. It was very hard to balance which face to use for each scene.


Will there be any notable differences in the animation for the movie compared to the series? Are there any differences between the points you’re careful about when animating the TV series and the movie?

Tanabe: For films, we have to up the quality compared to the TV series because a lot of people expect higher quality animation in films. So that’s one of the points we’re careful with.

Arisawa: When we started on the production, we knew there were going to be a lot of cuts. As of this interview, we have just started production, but we will probably have Tanabe-san and Mori-san be in charge of a lot of cuts. So, it might be a little difficult, but we’re very excited about how it’s going to go.


Are there any notable stories or challenges from the production of the TV anime series that you’d like to share?

Tanabe: In the last scene in the second episode, where Team Z is all walking onto the field for their first game, it was one of the hardest scenes, not just from BLUE LOCK, but from my entire animation career. This was because it was all in one cut, so it was very difficult for me.

Mori: As I mentioned, I work on a lot of emotional shots and expressions so when I work on those shots, it’s as though I am depleting my life and HP to convey the BLUE LOCK characters’ emotions and expressions..


As Tanabe-san mentioned, there is one scene from Episode 2 that was done in one cut. Could you elaborate more on that? We heard it took him two months to do.

Tanabe: Each character was a different layer that I had to make, and in that shot, there were almost 2000 frames that I had to work on, and they were all different. It was a very rigorous and long drawing process. Each character had several frames and then those were layered on top of each other.

For the line art, it was about 100, close to 120 that I had to write for the scene.


Tanabe-san and Mori-san, how did you feel when you first heard that you would work on BLUE LOCK?

Tanabe: I was very very happy when I got the offer. And for the character design role, I was very happy to be working with the other two character designers, including Shindo-san and Mori-san.

Mori: I started reading the original manga after being asked to join the project, and I really liked how interesting it was. I was happy to be part of such an interesting story.


Did your impressions of any of the characters change from when you read the manga compared to after you finished producing BLUE LOCK?

Tanabe: While I’m working on the anime, I work on a lot of the characters, especially the ones eliminated from Team Z. So, while I was working on it, I started liking them and caring for them after spending so much time on them. I have different feelings toward those characters compared to when I first read them in the manga.

Mori: When I read the manga, I had the impression that Ego and his egotistic way of thinking was bad and selfish, but after working on the anime, I viewed it as not necessarily always a bad thing.


Is there anything you would like fans to look out for while watching BLUE LOCK THE MOVIE -EPISODE NAGI- when it comes out?

Tanabe: Isagi, the main character from the TV series, is going to be portrayed as the bad guy of the story. I hope fans can look out for Isagi being painted as the villain in the story.

Mori: Similar to what Tanabe-san said, but with the change of the main character, there’s going to be a different kind of story and a different kind of atmosphere for the movie compared to the TV series. I want fans to look out for that.


Could you share a final message to the fans of BLUE LOCK?

Tanabe: We want to thank fans, especially those who live so far from Japan. We’re just happy that everyone is looking forward to and sharing their passion for the series.

Mori: A lot of people have differences in enjoying the series. We would like to work hard as staff members and as a team to allow many different fans to enjoy the series in their own way.


BLUE LOCK is now streaming on Crunchyroll.

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