These could be the most difficult words to hear for anyone who has come to Tokyo with dreams of becoming an animator. Production I.G's Niigata Studio started when one of the busiest key animators at I.G Tatsunoko, Koji Komurakata, was asked to return to Niigata and live with his folks 15 years ago. When Komurakata made up his mind and told Mitsuhisa Ishikawa that he was actually packing and going back, Ishikawa asked him to come up to the rooftop of the company building. Ishikawa then asked him, "Would you like to continue working for I.G in Niigata?"
At the time, a courier system was fully established all over Japan and some anime studios were starting to appear away from Tokyo, in places like Sendai. It might be that people were beginning to feel confident that a one-day delay due to transportation caused no hindrance. "I had a small ambition to make anime locally too. Ishikawa told me about it in February and by May, I was already in a big office room in Niigata sweating on key drawings all alone," says Komurakata. It was a start "all by himself." He advertised in newspapers to hire new people. Takayuki Goto contributed cute illustrations for that. Those who joined the team at the time were all inexperienced except for one. Komurakata trained each one of them and now there are thirteen staff at the studio. Some had even become animation supervisors for feature film level works. Komurakata comments, "I think we can do even better. It's been fifteen years now and I think we should be producing more talent, you know."
The studio is located three stops by train from Niigata Station. The air is clean and it's also near the sea and the Shinano River. "It's strange how they started a convenience store, a video rental shop and everything else around us." They seem to enjoy the all inclusive environment, and are quite confident about meeting the tight schedule to send in their inbetweens on time. The challenging part is that they have to dispatch their drawings by 6 p.m. if they are to send them to Tokyo. The staff only has eight hours even if they start at ten in the morning. They feel it's a big challenge to create high quality inbetweens within that time frame. "Since we are far away, we can only communicate with inbetween checkers with notes and phone calls when we make mistakes. It's better if you could actually meet them in person for better understanding. I am trying to create opportunities to have personal meetings in order to improve this."
Although they are a part of Production I.G, it is hard for them to keep that in mind at all times since they are not close enough. The company organizes a gathering with the people at the headquarters in Kokubunji at least once a year, so that the Niigata team could actually meet with the active key animators in Tokyo and feel that they are a part of a company that continues to create high quality work. Some of them even get a chance to temporarily work at the studios in Kokubunji to participate in a production.
"In the future, when we get connected to the optical cable system, we won't have to rely on couriers to send our work. Then we could try our hands at competing with other studios without worrying about wasting time in transportation." Some anime companies already use optical cable to send their completed works. He says they might some day be able to do the entire production at I.G Niigata and send completed works to Tokyo. The development in ICT made the world smaller and it certainly is the case in the anime industry.
"It might still be difficult for people from other prefectures to stay here, because those who stay with us are mostly from Niigata. Some people we trained here had quit and gone to Tokyo. But it is not a bad idea to dive into the wide world to try out your skills. Those who are thinking of pursuing a career as an animator in Niigata tend to go to Tokyo where most of the professional training schools are located. We are seeing an animation school starting up in Niigata, so people are trying to establish a system of training animators locally. I'm really excited to see how this turns out."
Komurakata tells us of his dreams for the Niigata Studio. "Our goal for now is to be able to get subcontracted work to complete an episode at our studio. I hope to make our studio one of the pillars supporting Production I.G. Well, if I say this, Ishikawa-san might get upset and say, 'You should aim even higher!'"
Koji Komurakata (proxy)