Kaiju Girls is a short anime series which is part of the Ultra Kaiju Anthropomorphism Project (Ultra Kaijuu Gijinka Keikaku), This project features anthropomorphic versions of ‘Kaiju’ (lit. ‘strange beasts’, such as large monsters and aliens) from 5 decades of the Ultra Series, a popular series of superhero shows most famous for Ultraman and his kin. The titular Kaiju Girls have the souls of past kaiju and possess the ability to transform into their inner monster forms. An organization called GIRLS has formed to bring together such girls, and Agira, Miclas and Windom join them. The three become fully-fledged rookie members and face various cases.
We interviewed Ashina, the director of the short anime series, about the process of cultivating kaiju fans anew.
Was it Tsuburaya Productions who gave you the job offer for Kaiju Girls?
That’s right. Originally there was this moe anthropomorphic project titled Ultra Monsters Anthropomorphic Project for which popular illustrators drew different kaiju as cute girls. They wanted to animate them since they already had the drawings, and came to me to talk about producing a short anime series with a properly-formed plot. This project is being developed as a media franchise, and we decided to use the plot setting of one of them released in Kadokawa’s Dengeki G’s Magazine and started this anime series Kaiju Girls.
What did you think when you first got the offer?
The Ultra Series is a beloved series with a history of over 50 years, and I can’t say I remember all of them, nor know any new ones. My concern was how much and how far I could deliver such content with such a long history. Tsuburaya Productions specifically told me to make it an established story about kaiju in their own right, not dependent on the heroes of Ultraman, so that it wouldn’t look like some kind of fanfic series. So, what they wanted was not a simple parody of Ultraman, but an independent plot. That being said, I still needed to know every detail of the kaiju themselves for the reasoning behind their structures, and I had quite a hard time studying them all.
You aren’t actually the right generation to know them well in the first place, are you?
I’m not. I’m now 40 years old, but we didn’t have the Ultra Series shows on TV when I was a kid. We did have reruns of some old ones including Ultra Seven and Ultraman Taro on TV and I watched them, but our generation didn’t get any new ones that could get us all enthusiastic. It made me sad that I didn’t remember them as much as I thought I did.
What is Kaiju Girls like?
Writer Norimitsu Kaiho came up with a plot summary and we animated the series based on his work. In the world of Kaiju Girls, there are some written records of kaiju but people don’t know much about them and thus the monsters don’t live in people’s memories. There are some vague rumors of them but that’s it. However, somehow the souls of these kaiju started appearing in some girls and they started making appearances in public.
Are they wearing clothes?
No, they aren’t. I know people say that they look like they’re in clothes or their clothing is too revealing, but they are in their inner monster forms. These girls share the mind of the kaiju and don’t have the same sense of shame. Those appearances are part of their skin.
What kind of approach did you take as a director?
Kaiju aren’t as evil as you might think, and that is also the theme of the Ultra Series. We keep that in mind when working on this series as well. However, there haven’t been many stories that feature them on their own. There are many ideas out there such as the ‘Kaiju Sakaba’ (Monster Bar) http://kaiju-sakaba.com/, a drinking bar which features kaiju in the interior decorating and the food and drink menu, or ‘Kaiju Sanpo’ (Walking with Monsters), a television show in which a guy dressed as a kaiju walks around to introduce local towns. So, I would like to portray them legitimately in the series in that way. I decided to use Agira as the protagonist, who is a minor ‘Capsule Monster’ from Ultra Seven [NB: capsule monsters were kaiju that could be shrunk down to fit in a capsule and used by Ultraman]. I’m glad to see that Agira has become a lot more recognized now. I made Agira the main protagonist and insisted on doing so while the production committee opposed. As a result, it pleased the fans more in the end. They all wondered why it had to be Agira, who looked the weakest. You know Miclas and Windom were more popular and were brilliant in the original show.
Did the production committee want Miclas to be the main?
That’s right. They wanted Miclas to be the main protagonist. But I insisted, “No, that’s not right.” That would make Agira worthless. [laugh] We had an event the other day with a real Agira in-costume appearing on stage, and that pleased the fans so much. They started taking photos of Agira instead of the cast, and the costumed Agira was the center of the attention. I was the only one insisting on Agira when making the anime series, but I met various fans at events from fans of the original kaiju, to fans who first learned about kaiju and the Ultra Series via the anime. This is what is really great about making spin-offs, I think.
Did Tsuburaya decide which monsters would appear in the series?
They picked most of them for the first season, but we talked with them and arranged ones for the second season. There are too many that we want to use. Firstly, we needed Alien Guts for the story development. Then because of the relation to Alien Guts from Ultra Seven, we used King Joe. Also, we wanted to have some new ones from the Heisei era [1989-present] and since we’re involved with Ultraman Orb, we decided to take the opportunity now to use 2 King Demon Beasts. By the way, Ultraman Orb is a lot of fun. Old-school fans of past Ultraman shows would enjoy it more, I think. They borrow the power of past Ultramen to fight and it has a legitimate Ultraman story. Yes, I’m advertising it. [laugh]
What was difficult for you?
The episodes are too short! [laugh] It’s basically a comedy with a lot of jokes, just like other short anime series I’ve worked on. I would like to add more jokes, but the story wouldn’t advance if I did. I’m trying to establish a legitimate story that pans across the whole series from beginning to end. So, no matter how short each episode is, I implement foreshadowing in different ways and put focus on each theme. Just so you know, the themes are “I’ve gotta do it” for the first season and “I’m not alone” for the second season. It’s too short to convey such themes. [laugh] The scenario’s been cut down quite a lot, but I had a story prepared for a full series of 30-minute episodes for Kaiju Girls. Some say they like it because it’s short and easy to watch, so I don’t mind the current length too much either. To be honest, I do feel like doing 30-minute-shows. On second thoughts, my production studio is not big enough and it might kill my staff if we did that. [laugh]
Did you have any difficulties picture-wise?
Lately, characters are often designed by illustrators and they put a lot of effort in their work… You know how people usually tend to simplify clothing in cartoons to make it easier to animate characters? That is one of the characteristics of foreign cartoons. But Japanese anime tend to have really detailed character designs…
By the way, making super-deformed small characters doesn’t make it any easier. It just means that the detailed parts are also scaled-down, and the details still exist. The characters are deformed with shrunken details. Well, that also appeals to fans and makes the merchandise appealing.
Were there anything unexpected?
There is this fretful spoiled child kaiju, Zandrias, from Ultraman 80 that became really popular. As a result, there was a conversation about bringing Zandrias back to Earth, and fans started a crowdfunding campaign called “Let’s bring Zandrias back to Earth again!”. The campaign was successful in raising more than 300% of its goal, and they held an event to celebrate it. Last year’s Ultraman actually had an appearance by Zandrias. (Note: Ultraman Geed, episode 10)
It’s great to see that such a short anime series has influenced people and started a movement to bring back an old monster. Then it sounds like trying to catch lightning in a bottle again, [laugh] but, after we used Noiseler from Ultraman 80, another crowdfunding campaign called Noisler Come-back Project started and also achieved its goal. Just so you know, the D course of the fundraising campaign was 50,000 yen and had a benefit which is dinner with the VA of Noiseler and myself at Kaiju Sakaba (Monster Bar). Three people bought it. I wonder if they really want me there. [laugh] I should probably prepare some special secret to reveal to them… [laugh]
So, the theme for the second season is “I’m not alone”.
Alien Guts originally had an alter ego or doppelganger, but this story for the second season is that there is another Alien Guts. Just like Jekyll and Hyde, there is a good Guts and an evil Guts. So that is an obvious theme, “I’m not alone”.
What’s shared in common among all the Ultra Series is that it’s produced for kids, and I also try to add that part to Kaiju Girls too. So, I want to add a coming-of-age element as an invisible theme, and I would like to convey that in the series for this season too.
A final comment for the readers, please.
Kaiju Girls is a short series with chibi characters, and we have made it enjoyable even for those who don’t know Ultra Series too. So, check it out, and please don’t have a prejudice without trying.
Born in 1977, from Akashi City in Hyogo Prefecture. Works on digital animation and music production as well performing emergency animal care. A cheerful creator and veterinarian who talks on stage for events. His works include Pure Pure Pleiades (chibi Overlord spin-offs), Re: Petit Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (chibi Re: Zero spin-offs), and Youjo Shenki (chibi Saga of Tanya the Evil spin-offs), etc.