Crunchyroll’s Ranking of Kings panel got the crowd emotional by opening with the series’ second opening sequence set to Vaundy‘s “Naked Hero” before welcoming series director Yousuke Hatta and animation producer Maiko Okada. The Q&A was led by Crunchyroll senior brand manager Chris Han and discussed everything from the staff’s inspiration to which characters’ stories they relate to the most.
What inspired each of you to sign on to the Ranking of Kings project?
Hatta: In my case, Okada invited me to the project and it was the first time I read the manga. I thought, “I would like to come on as a director for this.”
Okada: First I was presented with the manga and read it. I thought it was an amazing story and I want to see this animated. We sort of have an internal competition [at Wit Studio] for which project is greenlit, so I submitted [Ranking of Kings] and here we are.
What were some memorable moments you had during the production?
Hatta: I don’t know if this is necessarily a good memory, but I do remember right around when it was greenlit during COVID and everyone transitioned to work from home, but I had to go in to the office and work alone. Of course everyone is back now.
Okada: The original manga is very picture book-like art style and I couldn’t imagine how to animate it initially, but once I saw the first episode completed I really thought, “Oh my goodness, we really have something great here.”
Were there any challenging scenes to animate or direct because of the difference in art styles between the anime and the manga?
Hatta: The original manga had a unique style and trying to retain and recreate that was quite a challenge because it was quite simple. We wanted to carry that over, but it was also tempting to increase the density of details on screen, but we had to retain the same level [of detail] While making sure the story and intention was conveyed. That was quite a challenge for me.
Okada: The simple lines made it a challenge to compose each shot it was a very delicate balancing act to make sure we kept the same quality across 23 episodes. As I recall, it was a lot of work.
As a first time director, what was the experience like for you and how did your past projects inform your decision making?
Hatta: In the projects I’ve worked on through my career, I was fortunate to oversee a lot of components, like on the Boogiepop series or Doraemon film. I carried over a lot of people I’ve worked with in the past and that certainly helped and I was in a very familiar working environment. I was also very fortunate that a lot of team members lifted me up and advised me and supported me in very different ways.
When it came time to discuss which characters or scenes inspired sympathy, Hatta offered the sword instructor Domas. The director explained that Domas looks like a cool character but actually has clumsy aspects that make him endearing. Okada revealed that King Desha is her favorite character as the oldest of three siblings. Okada herself is also the oldest of her siblings and found his struggles relatable.
“There’s a lot of weight you have to carry as the oldest…He had to do a lot of things behind the scenes.”
The opening and ending sequences of Ranking of Kings became very popular. Please tell us what you considered and what you paid attention to when creating the OP and EDs.
Okada: I consider the sequences to be very much a part of the episode, so I wanted it to be a seamless experience when viewers watched the OP lead into the episode, so that’s what we worked on with the composers to package a seamless experience.
Hatta: I wanted to focus on Bojji and Kage in the first opening and ending because the relationship between those two is a key factor in the series.
Okada: With season one the ending had a softer feel overall. In season two it was a little more skewed toward the battles so we wanted to feel more action-packed and energetic.
Hatta himself storyboarded and animated a large portion of the first opening sequence and decided to keep the Bojji’s initially ambiguous fate. He wanted to leave it open ended for viewers whether Bojji would stay in the kingdom or travel with Kage.
“I think it was really nice that the opening connected really well with the last episode when Kage and Bojji travel together at the end,” Hatta said.
He also used the opening to give a “royal feeling” and establish the scenery and feeling of the kingdom where Bojji lives. He also wanted to tease the audience with the possibility that Bojji might become king.
Hatta, who admitted to being rather soft-spoken still quietly wowed the crowd as the panel went over his storyboards for key scenes from the first episode and the first opening sequence. Storyboards themselves are usually general outlines of a movement featuring a notated angle direction or movement. Unless you’re Yosuke Hatta whose storyboards were typically highly detailed pencil sketches of full backgrounds and perfectly rendered perspective shots. Audiences got to see how he expertly drew shots from Kage’s ground’s-eye-view only to switch things up for when Bojji returned to the castle in his underwear and the view shifted to emphasize the intimidation a child might feel around adults. The crowd applauded several times after seeing his art, which seemed to confuse Hatta slightly.
“I imagine there are not a lot of opportunities to see storyboards, and that’s the reason behind the reaction?”
Okada later said, “As soon as I saw the storyboards, I knew this was how Hatta expressed himself, through his storyboards. He’s a reserved guy but he puts his heart and soul into his work.”
Hatta went over in detail the way he and the staff added special visual details to the anime to fully embody the characters. He explained that because Bojji didn’t speak, he worked closely with series’ character designer to pay extra attention to the young protagonist’s facial expressions to define his first interaction with Kage.
“I was really just trying to draw Bojji really cute and I think I nailed it,” he said. “Kage himself also didn’t have the rosiest of pasts so he’s trying to put a tough guy act but, in fairness, that’s for his own preservation. That’s the only way he knew how to fend off bad forces coming his way.”
Both Hatta and Okada emphasize the positive message in the show itself. Simplistically it might be “never give up” and “have empathy for others” but Ranking of Kings offers those lessons in thoughtful ways.
“I don’t know if it’s a recent trend or this culture, but it’s like if you lose once you’re canceled and it’s over. But these characters fail, fall from places of great power, or go on detours but they all work hard to rise above it.
It’s also about the characters around the one who failed and to be accepting and forgiving. It shows how to give support for people going through tough times,” Okada said.