Making Things That Others Wouldn’t: An Interview with Studio TRIGGER President Masahiko Otsuka
At this year’s Anime Expo, Studio Trigger gave the world a taste of their projects coming down the pipeline. Whether it was the premiere of Delicious in Dungeon ahead of the series’ January release on Netflix or details on the 15th-anniversary screenings of GURREN LAGANN THE MOVIE, there was a little something for everyone. What caught my eye was the announcement of the trailer for the studio’s new NEW PANTY & STOCKING project.
Having recently rewatched the original Panty & Stocking anime series, I was excited when presented with the opportunity to sit down with Studio Trigger president Masahiko Otsuka at Otakon 2023. His involvement with Panty & Stocking and many other projects from his storied career made me ecstatic to talk shop with him even more. While we spoke, animators Shunpei Gunyasu, Takuya Saitō, and the studio’s dedicated YouTube staffer Kenta Kawahara accompanied him. We were all a bit nervous at first, but once we started discussing anime, our collective smiles and occasional giggling made for an entertaining chat.
At Anime Expo 2023, Studio Trigger revealed an announcement trailer for the NEW PANTY & STOCKING project. The team addressed this a bit during the panel, but as someone intimately involved with the original series, what is your mindset heading back into PSG over a decade later?
Masahiko Otsuka: When we were at Gainax, we talked about Panty & Stocking and were saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make a Panty & Stocking series in the future?” However, we founded Trigger when we left GAINAX to create a new company. Because the Panty & Stocking rights lie with GAINAX, we probably wouldn’t have the chance to make something new, so we gave up on it. However, we were pretty surprised that we could acquire the rights by a fortunate turn of events since we didn’t expect to be able to make new Panty & Stocking at TRIGGER. It made us all the happier. Because when something happens that you don’t expect, it’s all the sweeter. Since we have different staff at TRIGGER—new blood—I’m looking forward to seeing what new things will come out of this, and I’m looking forward to NEW PANTY & STOCKING that our original and new staff members will produce together.
There’s a constant volley of parody fired off at the audience in Panty & Stocking, so I’m curious how you walk that delicate legal tightrope as an artist. Having recently rewatched the series, the “High School Nudical” title card made me go, “Oh man, the mouse is coming.”
OTSUKA: chuckles We thought that we wouldn’t have the mouse knocking on our door, but we did watch out not to make it too legally dangerous. But then, at the same time, we also said, “Well, making tame stuff isn’t always the most engaging to viewers, right?” So we wanted to make things that other people wouldn’t.
Throughout your career, you’ve used a lot of mixed media in your projects, whether it was the manga scenes, the hand in FLCL, or the various shake-ups in PSG. As a tokusatsu fan, one of my favorites of those PSG shake-ups is the exploding ghosts. After seeing the documentary [featured on the Panty & Stocking Blu-ray] of yourself, Imaishi-san, Koyama-san, and the rest of the team blowing those models up over a few muggy days out in the woods, I’m curious what that experience was like for you? Imaishi-san mentioned that it was a bit nerve-wracking because you only had one chance to get it right with each model and background. Are there any pieces of the models still around in the TRIGGER offices?
OTSUKA: Hmm… So, concerning the explosion scenes. Since we designated staff to handle the explosions specifically, I thought that we would get it right and that we would probably get through it. But regarding the parts of the ghosts, various staff members came in and chose the parts they liked the best… and they might have taken them home. So if you look in the homes of some of the staff, you may find some of those ghost parts still lying around.
While we’re talking about tokusatsu, I’m curious what the reaction was in the studio when you received word from Tsuburaya that they’d make the suits for Gridman and Alexis Kerib. How did director Akira Amemiya react?
OTSUKA: Since we made SSSS.Gridman as an animated series, the design had gone from tokusatsu to animation and back to a suit again. So when we heard about it, we really couldn’t believe it. We were happy but were going like, “Really?” in surprise.
On the topic of SSSS.Gridman, here’s a question I posed to Gunyasu-san and Saito-san during the preceding Studio Trigger press conference: In your time working on Gridman projects as animators, I’d imagine every so often you’d have to go back and reference the original Gridman tokusatsu series. Was there anything you were looking for specifically when looking back at it?
Shunpei GUNYASU: There was a specific note from Amemiya-san saying that “this scene is based on this episode back over here. Please reference these movements.” They were precise notes on what to reference from the original Gridman series.
Takuya SAITŌ: I actually had the pleasure of working next to someone who was a fan of the original series. So when I leaned over and asked, “Hey, what do you think about this scene?” The person provided me with a detailed analysis, saying, “This is based on this specific episode of Gridman.” After hearing that, I could see things in a different light and say, “Oh, that actually makes more sense now.” Those are some of the perks of knowing people with the Gridman know-how.
Otsuka-san, earlier I mentioned time passing with your projects and the upcoming 20th anniversary of Aim for the Top 2! Diebuster comes to mind. As a sequel to a series that initially seemed to be a parody of Aim for the Ace! before gradually becoming its own thing, Top 2 did much of the same with its reverence for Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. How did you best try to balance that love for Top 1 in your episodes while giving Top 2 its identity? Especially when you consider episodes one and four have the most structural similarities to their counterparts in Top 1.
OTSUKA: It was difficult because, before that, I was working on FLCL and was there for effects on episodes one and four, like you mentioned. But when working on Diebuster, I often heard from the director [Kazuya Tsurumaki], “Hey! This ain’t FLCL over here!” chuckles They expected something new to differentiate Aim for the Top 2! from Gunbuster. However, while making a new Aim for the Top, I didn’t really know how to do it. So, after mulling it over, I said, “You know what? I’m just going to make something that I think is the best.” When I did that, the director actually seemed to like it. So, I believe maybe that was the answer I was looking for.
Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to fans eagerly awaiting Panty & Stocking‘s upcoming revival?
OTSUKA: I do know that now that we can work on Panty & Stocking, we can make the best Panty & Stocking possible. So, for fans of the original, please look forward to our new project, NEW PANTY & STOCKING.
Special thanks to Otakon’s on-site translator for their linguistic expertise and assistance throughout the interview.