Date: 2023 February 16 19:04
Posted by Joe
Fans of Adult Swim will be aware of Ballmastrz: 9009 an anime inspired animation about THE GAME. The next logical step for the series was to get an anime studio to actually animated it. The result was the special Ballmastrz: Rubicon, animated by Studio 4℃ in Japan (Mind Game, Tekkonkinkreet, Detroit Metal City) with Takashi Nakamura (Robot Carnival, AKIRA, Yatterman, Catnapped!) serving as animation director. Keen to find out more we got in touch with Ballmastrz creator Christy Karacas to talk about this anime space opera.
Ballmastrz: Rubicon arrives Monday, February 20 2023. It premiere at Midnight on Adult Swim and the next day on HBO Max and digital retailers. All episodes of Ballmastrz: 9009 are now available on the Adult Swim hub on HBO Max.
For the uninitiated what is Ballmastrz?
Ballmastrz is an anime inspired animated series on Adult Swim set in a distant future where the only thing that matters is THE GAME, a sport created by the ruler of Earth, Crayzar in an attempt to unite humanity after the Rad Wars nearly wiped humanity out.
Will people be able to watch Ballmastrz: Rubicon without seeing Ballmastrz:9009 first?
Totally. But they would probably enjoy it more if they knew the history of the characters.
It also picks up directly from the Season 2 finale cliffhanger.
But it might also be fun to watch the special first and then go back and discover the original series.
How did you get involved with Studio 4℃?
I knew Silas Hickey from Custom Nuts and he had a relationship with 4C and he connected us. I had always been a fan of 4C. I think they are amazing. Mindgame and Detroit Metal CIty are two of my favorite animations!
What was it like working with Takashi Nakamura?
Amazing! Nakamura San is a legend and I am a huge fan. I love 'Gold Lightan' and so many of the classics he's been a huge part of like Akira, Nausicaa, and Robot Carnival. These were all films that got me interested in animation and anime when I was younger.
Did Takashi Nakamura or anyone at Studio 4℃ have any input / suggestions?
Yes. We wanted to collaborate and give the show a new look so I would submit rough designs-I've posted many on my Instagram and Nakamura San would re-draw them in his style. We discussed different styles/approaches. Originally I wanted to approach it like an 80s Macross/Gunbuster/Mikimoto style, but Nakamura San suggested a more minimal 60s retro look that I thought was more interesting because I never thought of the characters as 'cute' but I think it looks really great.
This is kind of funny-knowing I would be working with the Legendary Studio 4℃ and Takashi Nakamura I was very intimidated. This is the studio that made Mindgame and the animation director of AKIRA and a key animation on Nausicaa!!!! I was really nervous my storyboards wouldn't be good enough and I really wanted to impress them, so I went really insane with the action. It was practically key framed animation. I don't think I've ever worked so hard and been so stressed working on a project. I was so worried they were going to think my boards weren't good enough.
Ironically when I delivered the boards to 4C they were like "this is too much" and they cut a lot of the action. I was shocked and also not too happy about that, but it was a TV schedule and budget and I was boarding the action in a very 'Macross/Gundam' inspired way-we hadn't decided on the more retro style yet. So they cut a lot of cool stuff out. But it still looks and feels great I think. I DO sort of want to make an animatic with the original boards to see how it would have played out tho because there was a lot more crazy Ballmastr action! Haha.
Are there many changes to the character designs?
Nakamura San redrew them in his style with a new color palette but they're pretty much the same. Lulu's design is probably the most extreme of the changes.
Are there any changes to the animation style?
It's a more minimal style than previous seasons and we don't switch up the style like we often did in the past.
It's a more consistent approach I suppose.
One change is if you know my directorial style from Barfight or Superjail! you know I love to do very long shots that don't cut, which can be difficult for layout and animation so there were quite a few sequences I had imagined as continuous and seamless where they added many cuts. That was initially disappointing to me as I think the way I intended the scenes to work would have been a much more exciting and intense experience for the viewer, but I understand why they did it from a practical standpoint and it still looks great.
Did you make any other changes considering it'll be produced by an anime company in Japan?
We definitely wanted 4C to add their creative input to the design so it looked more like a traditional anime.
How is it different working with Studio 4℃ compared to Titmouse, Inc?
Making Ballmastrz at Titmouse was an in-house production meaning it was entirely made 'in-house' at one studio. We were all under the same roof and in constant communication, but working with Studio 4℃, I wrote it the script with Andrew Reuland and I storyboarded it with Veronica Liu in New York, but once we sent those assets to Studio 4℃ they handled all of the layout, animation etc. I still gave notes and approvals and directed but it was during covid so it was all remote. I definitely wasn't use to handing things off as I am a very hands on director, but it all went very smoothly and turned out great.
I also want to add that PFFR was the production company that handled pre and post production and they were amazing to work with-John Lee, Alyson Levy, Lisa Thomas and Parker Cowden were all so great to work with-super creative and fun and they really cared about the end product.
Was it animated in the American style with voices recorded first or was it animated in the Japanese style with audio recorded after the animation?
It was the American style-we weren't too worried about lip sync-i'm not a stickler for exact lip sync I kind of like it when the mouth is sort of just flapping up and down it looks funny to me and kind of plays up the anime vibe.
Also I feel so lucky to have the amazing voice talent we did. Natasha Lyonne, Dana Snyder, Jessica DiCicco, Dave Willis, Eric Bauza-every one of them is AMAZING and I am so lucky-and then we were so lucky to get Joshua Henry and Timothy "Speed" Levitch involved! Really really lucky!
What do you think anime fans will enjoy about Ballmastrz: Rubicon?
I hope they enjoy the story, the characters, and the world of Ballmastrz.
It's also important for me to approach this show like I'm creating an experience for the viewer. The visuals, the sound, the action-it's all just as important to me as the story and characters. I hope watching Ballmastrz or anything I make feels like a wild ride that makes you forget about your problems or the daily grind and stress of life. I hope people watching can escape for a bit and get lost in a strange crazy fantasy world. I was really happy with how it turned out and I really hope we get to do more because the special only scratches the surface of the story we want to tell about Crayzar, The Leptons, the teams of Earth and the new characters and problems that are introduced. We specifically wrote the special as a set up for a bigger new story we want to tell so I hope the fans like it and respond and I hope Adult Swim will support the show and make more.
What did you enjoy most about the production process?
I really enjoy the creative parts-writing and coming up with the ideas, the story, designing the characters and settings and this time seeing how 4C would interpret them was really fun. I also love working with sound and music. Brett Graves who handles our sound design and Joe Wong who creates the score are both so amazing, talented and fun to work with. We created a new 'theme song' my good friend Morgan Phalen performed and that was so fun and awesome to do.
Do you have anything lined up next?
I'll be teaching storyboarding and character animation at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) in the spring and I have some freelance jobs here and there but I'm really hoping Adult Swim will pick up Ballmastrz for a new season or at least two more specials so we can finish telling this story. We've set up a wild adventure and have so much in store for these characters and I really hope we get to share it with everyone someday soon!
Otaku News would like to thank Christy Karacas for agreeing to the interview and giving such awesome answers. This interview was conducted over e-mail.
Ballmastrz: Rubicon arrives in the US on Monday, February 20 2023. It premiere at Midnight on Adult Swim and the next day on HBO Max and digital retailers. All episodes of Ballmastrz: 9009 are now available on the Adult Swim hub on HBO Max.