Takao Koyama and Makoto Koyama Dragon Ball Screenwriting Panel at Waku Waku NYC (Part 1 of 2)


Last week, I attended Waku Waku NYC. This brand-new convention was located in Brooklyn, New York and was held on August 29-30, 2015.  The panel here featured Takao Koyama (小山 高生), screenwriter for dozens of Dragon Ball Z episodes, 13  DBZ movies, Dr. Slump, and more. His son, Makoto Koyama (小山 真), was also a featured guest. He began his scriptwriting career in 2009, and he has worked on shows such as Saint Seiya Omega and Dragon Ball Super. I attended the panel as I find myself with a new interest in DBZ. The new movies have been part of the reason behind that, but I’ve gone back and rewatched the old DBZ show. So far, I’ve only managed to complete the Saiyan arc, but that storyline is still thoroughly enjoyable after all of these years.

The following is a transcript of the panel and of the separate Q&A session that followed the screening of the movie Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan. The panel itself was held at Verboten. As an aside, the featured guests were okay with attendees recording and taking photographs of the panel, but not of the screening of the movie (obviously).


Takao Koyama (TK):  (in English) I am Takao Koyama. I am the biggest screenwriter in Asia. I mean, the tallest. I’m very honored to be here. (in Japanese) Am I reflecting too much light off of my head? [audience laughs] This is my son.

Makoto Koyama (MK): (in English) Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming today. Thank you because we love New York, and so (in Japanese) I’m been looking forward to this day for a very long. (in English) I hope you enjoy.

TK: I wish I could speak to you directly in English, but unfortunately I’m merely an average Japanese person so I will require the assistance of my interpreter who is sitting with us. And unfortunately, our time will be cut in half because of that. But I wanted to give you a gift that will not weigh you down physically at all, but is worthy of the ticket price you have paid to be here. So for maximum efficiency, I have prepared a script ahead of time that I intend to follow. It will be great if we are able to go back and forth very smoothly, as we have already.

So let me start off by explaining how we will spend out time here today. For the first half an hour or so, I will relay you exclusive vignettes that you would never hear anywhere else and then we will watch together the movie Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan, one of the movies for which I wrote the screenplay.

So this is the first of three movies centered around Broly, who, at the time of the movie’s release in the spring of 1993 was decided to be the most powerful Saiyan ever. After the end of the movie, we will have about 15 minutes of Q&A.

A Lucky Opportunity

Now, onto the meat of my talk. I entered the anime industry on March 1st, 1972 when I joined Tatsunoko Production’s writing department. Yeah, 43 years ago. However, joining Tatsunoko Pro was not part of my original plan. I was actually an aspiring song lyricist at the time and neither interested in anime nor had any intention of becoming a screenwriter. But considering I’ve been in this industry for 43 years now, life sure can take an unexpected turn.

I was schedule to graduate from college in March of that year, 1972. But I had no job lined up yet as of January of that year. And this is because I failed the entrance exam of every company that I deemed would allow me to progress towards becoming a lyricist: record labels, sports papers, entertainment publishers, television networks, et cetera, et cetera. However, at the start of the new year my fate underwent a huge shift.

Starting on New Year’s Day, my family changed newspaper subscriptions. And as fortune would have it, I happened to spot a wanted ad for Tastunoko Production in that new paper. Thinking that there may be chances for me to write lyrics for an anime production as well, I decided to take the entrance exam.

As luck would have it, a good friend of mine already happened to be in Tatsunoko’s writing department. He heavily promoted me to the company president, saying “If you don’t hire Koyama, it will be a great loss to the company.” He was so honey-tongued, I thought he could have been the world’s greatest marriage con artist. And thanks in part to his help, I passed the exam and was ordered to report March 1st for duty.

I was overjoyed at passing, but a huge problem remained. During my interview, I was so intent on getting in that I lied that I could write screenplays when I had never done so before. So thus in February, I heartedly attended a four-week lecture course with eight classes at a certain screenwriting school. As each class was two hours long, it was 16-hour crash course.

So such eleventh-hour tactics are referred to in Japanese as doro nawa, or, braiding the rope after you have already caught the thief. And so, I studied screenwriting doro nawa and I reported to work on March 1st before my graduation ceremony had even concluded.

Beginnings at Tatsunoko Production and the Legacy of Tatsuo Yoshida

Back then, a large sign was erected near the studio’s entrance. On it was written in large letters, “Dreams for the children of the world.” So this was the catchphrase for company founder and first president, Tatsuo Yoshida, which had become the company motto. At the time I thought, “‘ Dreams for the children of the world?” What a bold statement.” in this day and age, many people all over the world enjoy Japanese animation, but back then only a very small number of works such as Astro Boy and the Tatsunoko-produced Speed Racer had managed to get exported.

I don’t think anyone back then ever imagined that a time would come where children the world over would be watching anime. But Mr. Yoshida had vision, foresight. I believe he already saw in his mind’s eye a vision of children across the world accepting anime.

Unfortunately having passed away at only 45 years young, President Yoshida’s name is not very well-known. However, many, many incredible talented individuals have struck out on their own from the company he had founded. And examples include: illustrator Yoshitaka Amano, who was a character designer for Final Fantasy, a game I’m sure all of you know. Kunio Okawara, who many of you may know as the mecha designer for Gundam. And Mamoru Oshii, the director of Ghost in the Shell, among countless others. And I too, who worked alongside them, would never have entered the anime industry–and thus, now be standing before you today–if Tatsunoko not been founded.

While he was only able to interact with his employees for a mere 15 years, Mr. Yoshida had the power to discover talent and [nurture] it into full bloom, especially when it came to illustrators and animators. Mr. Amano, who was Mr. Yoshida’s favorite disciple, still says to this day “my drawing school is no match for the President’s,” despite already having lived almost 20 years longer than his mentor.

I am thus introducing to you President Yoshida also with many feelings of gratitude. Born in 1932 in Kyoto, he lost both parents very early, taught himself to draw, and then moved himself to Tokyo at around 20 years of age to work as a book illustrator and picture book author. Later, he turned to manga drawing and became a popular mangaka. He possessed some genius drawing skills.

When he was 30, he was an inspired by Ozamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy to found Tatsunoko Production Company along with his two younger brothers. Until his death at age 45, he was extremely active. Not only in running the company but as a character designer designer. All sorts of people flocked to him and his company from all across Japan, and Tatsunoko Pro developed into a representative anime production company.

Again, it is extremely unfortunate that he passed away so young, and I fiercely wish that I could have shown him, even once, this current era where his vision of “Dreams for the Children of the World” has become reality. In fact, while looking out at the crowd of anime fans gathered at the Marriott Marque Hotel on Broadway at Anime Expo New York back in 2002, to which I had also been invited as a guest, I murmured “Pres, the era you envisioned has arrived.”

At the time, there were folks from other fields who sought to enter and did enter the anime field thinking, “There is money to be had in anime,” leading to an explosion of works created for profit rather than for quality. And thus, the anime industry was overrun with inferior products. I became thoroughly disgusted with this development described perfectly by the proverb, “Bad money drives out good money.” To the point where I felt, “I can’t keep working in this industry anymore” and I resolved to stop writing. That is when I participated in Anime Expo New York. That is when 10-year-old Jamaican-American Rodriguez asked me a Dragon Ball-related question with shining eyes and caused me to recall President Yoshida’s face and his motto “Dreams for the Children of the World.” It helped me realized that these children like him, like Rodriguez, is the one I should be creating works for–changing my mind and leading to my return to screenwriting. I am really grateful for that boy. The anime industry has since been free of that era of mixed bag, mass production, and inferior goods and reverting back to its proper state. It is good.

I was under the care of Tatsunoko Pro for three years and five months and then went independent as a screenwriter in August of 1975. I was 27 at the time. Ever since then to the present day, I have worked as a freelancer. For the 17 years spanning from 1980 to 1997, especially, I was furiously churning out scripts left and right, even ruining the need to sleep. I have penned over 800 scripts for 80 titles but the vast majority were written during this time.

In 1986, I happened upon the title that would seal my destiny. This was Dragon Ball. I was 38 at the time. My life and fate were changed greatly by it. And this was all due to a very complicated, yet profoundly mysterious turn of events. Unfortunately, we don’t have much time left today, so I’m going to expound on that tomorrow. Please look to it and come back tomorrow as well.

Starting this July, Dragon Ball Super, the first new series in 18 years since the end of Dragon Ball GT began airing in Japan. Being 67 and part of the old guard, I was not able to be part of its writing core. However, my son, Makoto, here is participating as one of the screenwriters in my stead. And thus, we have become a two-generation, father-son Dragon Ball-involved duo. We have unofficially called August 2nd, when the episode 4 that Makoto penned aired, “Dragon Ball Commemoration Day.”

Makoto debuted as a screenwriter in 2009, writing for Toei Animation properties such as Saint Seiya Omega and HappinessCharge Precure! for 3 years, and is still quite a novice, but he is on Team Dragon Ball Super. Since he has come all the way from Japan with me today, I will have him say a word as well.


MK: It seems my turn has finally come at last. Having traveled all the way to New York as well, I’d like to share some stories with you too. I started on the screenwriting path about 8 years ago. That is when I began thinking of my father as my teacher. Until then, I had actually been studying to become a politician in college. And just like my father, long ago, I never dreamed that I would become a screenwriter. It was only the winter of my senior year when I was facing seeking employment that I finally began to hold pride in my father’s “Dreams for the Children World” work as a screenwriter. And that is because I actually had trouble liking anime up until then.

As a screenwriter, my father had been busy day in and day out, and had little time to spend time with me, his son. Thus, in my opinion, anime was that which stole my father from me. However, once I was in the position of having to find a job, somehow my father’s work that I had once detested so much seemed quite splendid. I ended up abandoning my goal of becoming a politician and aspired to apprentice myself to my father instead. And thus, the father and son who had drifted apart due to anime were brought back together again by that very same anime.

8 years have passed since then and I was blessed with getting handed the enormous baton known as Dragon Ball Super. Currently, this big project based on Akira Toriyama Sensei’s ideas is once again setting out to excite people across the world. And I might get chided by some of you fans out there for saying this, but I do think of my father as Goku, and myself as Gohan.

And just like how Goku and his friends continue to save Earth, I hope to keep working hard to being a father-son duo that continue to entertain the world. I’d like to end about here. (in English) Thank you very much.

TK: Honestly, I think of myself as Piccolo rather than Son Goku. So let us now watch the movie, Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan. This hit thearters back in Spring of 1993, as I mentioned before. The script was penned by myself, Takao Koyama, and it was directed by Shigeyasu Yamauchi. In addition, Mamoru Hosoda, who is currently active as an anime director [on works such as] The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and Wolf Children was one of the animators on this title.

Translator: We can cue the video please

[movie is screened]

Question and Answer portion after the screening:

[Uncle Yo made some comments before the Q&A. Basically that this had been his first time seeing the movie during all his fans as a fan and that he had enjoyed it]

TK: Thank you very much. Do you all agree that Broly is a really scary dude? So, actually, before the movie was released we held a special screening for Shonen Jump readers. I have to say there were quite a few kids that started crying in the middle of the movie. I think it’s about 2:00 am in Japan right now, but this is definitely not one of those movies you want to watch at that time of night.

Translator: What do you guys think? [people quietly agree] Has there anybody who has thought of a question?

Fan 1: So this movie was not based on any of the manga like the Dragon Ball TV series was, so what guidance were you given, if any, by Akira Toriyama or Studio Toei when writing these films?


TK: In Japan, these anime movies that are based on manga, or especially TV anime if they are all done concurrent at the time, are released on a two-movie-a-year schedule. Generally, around March and then July. Of course, we have to start working on these much far ahead of time of where we might even know where the story has gotten. But we have to put on a magician’s hat and predict how far along the story [will be] because the TV series is really prioritized. We cannot get ahead of their storyline. We have to work within the framework that exists or the one we suspect will exist by that time.

Back when we were making these movies, Mr. Toriyama had almost no input, practically no input, or even requests. We were actually left and entrusted with making original stories just on our own. It was only after we had come up with the story ideas and a rough script that we sent it to him for approval. But otherwise, ahead of time he had no input at all.

And of course, as you all know, he is a brilliant mangaka. But he had a very clear compartmentalization in his head: “Manga is manga, anime is anime. I am a manga artist. Therefore, I will entrust the anime to those who are anime professionals.” So he really was very forward-thinking.

The only other thing we relied on with Toriyama-sensei was that once we came up with the new villain, we would ask him to design the character design for that villain.

Uncle Yo: I imagine the idea for that design was “bicep” and went from there.

Fan 2: Hello, I’m not really a Dragon Ball Z fan. This is really the first time I’ve ever seen any part of this movie. I was more on the Sailor Moon side when it came out. But now I see that Sailor Moon came out with a new show and Dragon Ball Z came out with a new show and another movie, is Dragon Ball Z ever gonna end? Or are we just gonna keep remaking it all over again from the beginning?

TK: (in English) Maybe. [audience laughs] (in Japanese) Well, of course, we mentioned earlier that a new series, Dragon Ball Super, started airing in Japan. But I suppose it might continue. We’d actually really like it to continue. I’m no longer involved, but at least for my son. I hope that he continues to have income.

Fan 3: Hi. At the L.A. screening of the new Dragon Ball movie, Resurrection F  there was a Q&A with the original voice [actress] for Goku, Masako Nozawa. Someone asked a question: what, in her opinion, makes Goku such an iconic character in the entire anime industry? So I was wondering what do you guys think makes Goku the most iconic character?

TK: I believe, personally, that there are two great animated characters in the 20th century. In the West, we have Mickey Mouse. In the East, Son Goku. What do you feel? Do you feel the same? [crowd agrees]

I think, first of all, that credit has to be given to Toriyama-sensei who really has genius drawing skills, especially at designing characters. In terms of that character design, [I’m not only talking about] the drawn character. but also the background story and how this character develops over time. For example, I don’t think that if the story had stayed with just the boy or the youth, the young Goku, that we would have gotten this far. It’s only because the story progressed to Dragon Ball Z, where we see him as first an adult who then becomes a father, who keeps trying to fight, who keeps wanting to protect the Earth or wanting to protect his friends that we were able to see the story last as long as it did.

MK: For me, I would say I’m not quite certain as to Goku’s global appeal, but as a kid what I loved about Goku is that he’s always cheerful. No matter how strong or scary his next opponent was, you could always trust that things would be okay in the end because Goku was there to fight that person.

TK: Back when this movie was released, my son was actually an 11-year-old grade-schooler. Back then, the Dragon Ball manga was still running in the magazine and there were times when I would receive a rough draft of that upcoming chapter to help me write the scripts for the anime. In fact, I want to say, I might be wrong, but I want to say that it was about three weeks ahead of when the chapter would be in print in the magazine. So, my son here and Toriyama-sensei’s eldest son, Sasuke, were probably the only two children in the entire nation of Japan who knew the story ahead of time.

I mean, of course, there were folks at Shueisha, the publisher, that did, but in terms of kids who were avidly reading the series, the fans, they had a leg up in school. In fact, at school he would gather his friends and say “oh, you know, I think this is going to happen” and sure enough a couple of weeks later, it would. They would say “Oh my God. You have the power of prophecy” or something. So I think it really helped him be popular at school. [audience laughs]

MK: Yes, I was definitely a hero at school. [audience laughs]

TK: Now in return or to reverse the situation, I actually want to ask you what was Goku’s appeal to you?

Translator: So if we could take a few comments about that, Uncle Yo.

Fan 3: To me, first of all, Masaki Nozawa’s answer to that same question was that Goku always tries to be everyone’s friend, no matter who he fights. [He has] such a friendly smile, such a joking aroma. I think that’s basically why a lot of people love him around the world. It’s just a hero that really isn’t serious, but can be serious at the moment that it’s needed. I think that’s basically why.

[Translator translates to TK]

Translator: Does anyone else want to share what Goku means to you?]

Fan 2: I feel bad because Goku’s not my favorite character. It’s actually Vegeta from what I saw and from what I remember.

Translator: And why?

Fan 2: I like his English voice actor, actually. He has that attitude, “whatever, I’m gonna help you, but you owe me back twenty times over.” But when I was watching the movie, I liked that even though they went through this whole thing and saved the world [Goku] was just like “ha ha, just kidding, guys I’m okay.” So I thought that it was pretty cool that he can make light of the situation before his family and everybody who are obviously worried about him, [who think] he’s gonna die, but he comes back at the end. So I think that’s pretty cool.

Translator: (after translating Takao the part about Vegeta) That’s actually very common in Japan too. Of course, with the original Japanese voice actors. But that’s very common: to like a character because of who is doing their voice.

TK: (after the translator finishes translating the rest) (in English): I see. [audience laughs] (in Japanese) Although, I do apologize. There are quite a few pitiful scenes of his in this movie. I will admit, we received a lot of negative feedback like, “how could you do this to our favorite character?!” [audience laughs]

Translator: Anyone else?

Fan 4: Goku’s definitely one of the most influential people in my life. While I was growing up, I didn’t really have a father figure there. So I was looking towards video games and anime for that type of inspiration. That’s exactly what Goku was for me as I was growing up. So definitely seeing those moral implications and how he acts towards other people, that’s what [I would copy] as I grew up. And definitely going into Dragon Ball Z, I had friends who were into the anime and we would all get together to talk about it. I don’t know of anybody my age at that time who [wouldn’t try to] embarrass themselves by trying to do Fusion with their friends and those kind of things.

It also got me into fitness as well, so I even grew up me to the point where I became a fitness instructor using Dragon Ball Z in mind and teaching kickboxing to people. That definitely influenced me to continue even improving myself more. So that’s why Goku is a very influential person to me. So thank you guys for inspiring, and creating, and improving that character for not just me, but for everybody throughout the world. So thank you. [audience applause]

TK: I would love to take your story back to the creator, Mr. Toriyama, if that’s okay with you.

Fan 4: Yes.

TK: (in English) Thank you very much.

Fan 4: You’re welcome.

Translator: So we have time for maybe only one question.

Fan 5: What was it like working in the studio with Akira Toriyama?

TK: So, actually, I personally never really worked directly with Mr. Toriyama. I certainly have met him kind of outside the sphere of the studio or the workplace. Unfortunately, he had all of these stories about how he couldn’t actually see any of the movies when they came out in the theater, because if he were to show up, it would be become a mob scene and he didn’t want to cause trouble. So he would have to end up waiting until the video[cassette] came out and watch them that way.

In fact, he’s actually not the type of person who really goes out in public a lot. I get the impression that he likes to stay at home and build plastic figures and so forth. So he’s more of a stay-at-home guy. Partly, perhaps, because he is afraid of being mobbed or causing trouble by creating a mob scene.

There was this one time I was actually invited over to his home and got to visit him there. This was right around the time that Goten had been developed. I have to say, it was a pretty impressive house.

A funny thing I got to observe when I was there, his son, Sasuke, and the neighborhood kids who were his friends would often come over. He would say “come in, come in.” And I actually got to see the great Toriyama-sensei interacting with kids with no hero worshiping. There were just interacting like a normal adult with his son and his son’s friends, and that was pretty amazing.

MK: So first, I have to say that working on Dragon Ball Super, Toriyama-sensei’s working style has really changed. In fact, he gives us a lot of ideas. Not drawn, but written. From those ideas, it is our jobs as screenwriters to fill out and flesh it out into a full story. I was like, “oh, maybe he’s not that busy then.” He doesn’t have a manga series currently anywhere. But then I found out otherwise because he’s been doing a lot of character designs for games such as Dragon Quest. So sometimes it’s really hard. [We sometimes go], “uh, Toriyama-sensei. We kind of need the next story’s ideas.”

And yet, when we do finally get those ideas, they are so wonderful that we keep hanging on and patiently waiting for the next batch.

[end of Q&A]

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