Dragon Ball Z animator Takahiro Yoshimatsu on why story is king

The celebrated artist says he always thinks about the audience when he's creating stories

Japanese animator Takahiro Yoshimatsu was at the Sharjah Animation Conference last month. Photo: Chris Whiteoak / The National
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The universal appeal of anime has often bewildered Takahiro Yoshimatsu.

“For me as a Japanese artist, I'm just doing my work in Japan in Japanese,” he tells The National. “But coming to events such as this and seeing people from different parts of the world loving our work, it's not weird but it's something different, unexpected and I love it. I’m happy to see everyone loving the Japanese anime.”

Considered one of the best animation directors in the industry, Yoshimatsu, who was a guest at the recently concluded Sharjah Animation Conference, is known for his work on some of the world’s most popular anime series.

His portfolio of work as a director and a character designer includes Trigun, Ninja Scroll: The Series and Hunter X Hunter.

“From the beginning, when I was young, I was in love with drawing characters or pictures,” he says. “I was thinking … I don't have to be rich, but as long as I can put food on the table I would love to be a manga artist or an anime artist.”

Globally, Yoshimatsu is best known for his work as a key animator on Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Based on the original manga series of the same name by Akira Toriyama, the TV series aired in Japan from 1989 to 1996 and has since been dubbed and aired around the world.

Translating manga into moving images can be a complex process that takes a whole team of talented people, Yoshimatsu explains.

As an animator who has created a number of memorable characters, Yoshimatsu stresses the importance of artists thinking about their audiences while creating stories.

“The main point is that when I draw, I don't draw for myself, I draw for people to enjoy,” he says. “Whenever I draw something I put my feelings, I put myself into it. However, I'm also doing it for other people too so it's kind of within me and the audience.”

One of the reasons Yoshimatsu has had a prolific and successful career as an animator is that aside from thinking about his intended audience, he is always aware of what young animators are doing and what is trending in the animation world and incorporating it into his work.

“The new art that comes from the young people can be very surprising,” he says.

“Because Japanese trends in anime keeps changing with the times and me as an artist who is over 50 years, seeing what the new artists are creating, seeing something new, is different and surprising and I have to follow the trend, I have to keep up with what's happening.”

He's also curious about the emergence of artificial intelligence and its use in animation.

“I don’t think that AI will affect animation in the way people think,” he says. “I find it interesting and I’d like to see how people would see or use AI.”

Because what it comes down to, he adds, is capturing your audience's attention through storytelling.

“You need to combine image, sound, and the goal of a story together,” he says. “And you have to also make it entertaining, and only then will you be able to create an emotional reaction in the audience.”

Updated: June 02, 2023, 3:03 AM