Wit Studio Animation Producers Share How ‘Spy x Family’ Is Made by Two Studios at Once
Splitting work in half, and then half again, with the best possible results.
In the months leading up to the premiere of the Spy x Family anime in the winter 2022 block, I found myself deeply curious and intrigued. My curiosity had two main instigators. One was that I was shocked by how much hype there was for the anime the instant it was announced. The other matter making my brain dance was a simple question: “What do you mean, co-production?”
Indeed, Spy x Family is co-produced by CloverWorks Studio (known for The Promised Neverland, My Dress-Up Darling, Persona 5: The Animation) and Wit Studio (known for Ranking of Kings, the first three seasons of Attack on Titan). As I poked around the internet, waiting for the series to premiere, I absolutely did not think that—months later, after falling in love to the point that I think Spy x Family is the best anime of the decade so far—I would have the chance to ask the co-production question to two of the animation producers of the series. But Anime Expo 2022 (and specifically Crunchyroll—thanks, everyone!) always has a surprise in store.
Kazue Hayashi and Kazuki Yamanaka both work at Wit Studio as animation producers for the series. I explained to them in nervous, breathless Japanese that my listening comprehension wasn’t great, so one of the two representatives from Toho who were present kindly acted as an interpreter. (I literally ran to this interview on the busiest day of the oversold Anime Expo from the One Piece Film: Red panel, which came up because the aforementioned Toho representative amusedly noted my Luffy Original Stitch shirt.) The interpretations were more like summations of what they had said. In other words, I don’t really have “direct quotes” from this interview.
They explained to me that the decision to co-produce Spy x Family came from the good personal relationship between head of Wit Studio, George Wada, and a Cloverworks producer. Names were not named, but I’m going to make an educated guess that the “Cloverworks producer” in question was Yuuichi Fukushima, who had a major hand in co-forming a new production company, JOEN, with Wit. For their part, Hayashi and Yamanaka came to Spy x Family fresh from their work on the film Bubble, which you can stream on Netflix and features positively stunning animation.
The two studios split Spy x Family cleanly in half: Cloverworks takes the even-numbered episodes, and Wit takes the odds. (Before you even ask: The header image is, indeed, from Episode 5.) From there, the episodes are made entirely within the realm of a single studio, without much involvement from the other. The only exception is for next-animation-stage effects like lighting or other special effects, which Wit and Cloverworks work on together to ensure the process is consistent. But there are several tools to ensure that both studios are producing a single show with a consistent feel. In fact, there’s a “rule book” on how to treat the characters and world of Spy x Family that both studios abide by. Furthermore, Director Kazuhiro Furuhashi oversees and controls the production of the whole series, which includes “checking for quality.”
But as it turns out, Hayashi and Yamanaka split responsibilities of the show into two, even under the single roof of Wit Studio. Normally, there’s only one animation producer per series—although Hayashi noted, to laughs from the room, that work is usually too much for one person. So for Spy x Family, Hayashi focuses on pre-production, and Yamanaka focuses on “main production,” meaning the actual process of animating an episode.
Hayashi, as the head of pre-production, is in charge of storyboarding. She therefore makes it her job to be an expert on the original Spy x Family manga—its settings, its characters, its rules, everything. Her knowledge even rivals mangaka Tatsuya Endo’s. “She is a kind of Bible of the original work,” Takaaki Nakazawa, the translator, told me. Hayashi and her team transfer this knowledge into storyboards and other methods of laying out an episode’s scenarios. She then gives the results to Yamanaka to animate.
“Do you use the manga as a point of reference for the storyboards?” I asked her. Once this was translated, Hayashi looked me straight in the eye, for perhaps the first time in the interview, and delivered an incredibly emphatic, one-word response: “Shimasu (I do).” Hayashi further elaborated that she considers what scenes and layouts fans of the manga would want to see in the animation, and she pays careful attention on how to materialize these scenes into animation.
In fact, the Wit staff considers Endo’s manga to be “perfect” (which … yes). When I asked about how the popularity of the manga made them feel when they took on the project, Hayashi responded that it was actually the “high quality” of the Spy x Family manga itself, specifically, that impacted their emotions most. They were both excited and nervous. After all, they were faced with the formidable task of rendering a “perfect” world into animation. I daresay they succeeded with flying colors.
But that’s not to say Hayashi and the Wit team weren’t nervous about whether or not the fans would accept their rendition of Endo’s manga. Being at Anime Expo and seeing the show resonating with people from across the Pacific Ocean made both Hayashi and Yamanaka very happy—and breathe a sigh of relief. Less relieving: the crowds. I asked about the gigantic crowd in a sideways kind of way (Saturday was so busy that you could barely move around the convention hall). They didn’t answer directly, but when the translator said the phrase “hito mechakucha konde’ru (huge crowds of people),” everyone laughed nervously—myself absolutely included. That peculiar mix of joy and quiet overwhelm was kind of Anime Expo in a nutshell.
Hayashi and Yamanaka’s work is far from over, because only half of Spy x Family‘s first season has premiered. Season 1 Cour 1 is currently on Crunchyroll, and you can catch Cour 2 when it begins airing in October. In the meantime, catch up on the “perfect” manga and appreciate the animators who make the anime transformation happen, because damn do they work hard.
(featured image: Wit Studio / Cloverworks Productions)
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