Kirara Magica Interview Ume Aoki

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Character Design - Ume Aoki

Madoka, Homura, and Kyubey too. The characters of Madoka Magica are all born from Ume Aoki's pens. What did Madoka Magica mean to her?

Kirara Magica Vol 3 06.jpg
When Animation Inspired Design
Kirara When did Ume-sensei first hear of plans for a sequel?
Ume While the original was still on air, chatter between the production staff would often give a feeling of "let's do it." Honestly, we were merely joking irresponsibly back then (laugh). However, there was definitely a sense of willingness within the production staff.

So even though you ask when, I really can't pinpoint it. Somehow, I was dragged in to work on the sequel films.

Kirara So planning came about rather naturally?
Ume That's right! Not just for Madoka, but my own work as well. Director Shinbo will often ask me, "When do we start working on the next season?" It really doesn't feel strange at all (laugh).
Kirara When did actual discussion began?
Ume The TV series ended rather spectacularly. So when a sequel was decided, we had to think about "well, what's next" again. The plot still has many loose ends to tie up, how do we approach them? Those kind of things.
Kirara Any suggestions from Ume-sensei?
Ume I didn't contribute anything decisive. From what I remembered, Director Shinbo put forth all the possible sequel ideas and asked Mr. Gen to decide on one... Something like that. The rest of the production staff just bickered away in the audience - "Let's not debate whether it's possible yet. Don't you want to see this kind of development?" and etc - This type of discussion. I simply commented "Ah, is that so? I do want to see that." to their suggestions (laughs). Without making judgement, I tried to view it from the perspective of the audience. It reminded me of the joy of watching the TV series and the follow up discussions.
Kirara Any particular details you contributed?
Ume Some of the finer points. Perhaps you have noticed in the movie illustrations that Sayaka was wearing a new hair clip. She actually had one in the original character design of the TV series. Due to various issues, we tried many designs, and in the end it was left out. But this time around it came back again (laughs). I made a suggestion and changed the design.
Kirara The hair clip was in the shape of a musical note.
Ume Before the broadcast while working on the character designs, I didn't have the music motif for Sayaka in mind. I only drew her with an image of a swordsman. In the final product, the animation team added in music notes whenever Sayaka transforms and activates her abilities. This imagery inspired the hair clip shape.
Kirara Magica Vol 3 07.jpg
Madoka Hanten
Benefits of Madoka's Popularity
Kirara The movies will be in theaters soon. Has the overwhelming popularity of Madoka affected your everyday experience?
Ume Almost nothing to my daily life. I work from home, so I know nothing of what's trending outside (laughs). I do receive Madoka merchandise prototypes of all sorts. They just keep shipping them to my house. It's unbelievable. I was running out of living space. Recently, I had to finally rent a storage space (laughs).
Kirara That's ridiculous, how frequent were the shipments?
Ume At least one fully stuffed large shipping box per month! Madoka gets all sorts of awesome peripherals, especially many cute Figma figures. Those are my favorite. There's also a surprising number of Kyubey plushies (laughs). Dolls and other stuff too. I love them all.
Kirara So much merchandising! Was there anything weird?
Ume The weirdest has to be the hanten. I think it was made for the Movic Madoka Magica Exhibit. The outside looks like a normal jacket, but the inside has a huge color print of Madoka!
Kirara A jacket is surprising enough, but one like that is certainly strange (laughter). Anything in particular that you can't keep your hands off?
Ume I use the folders and other stationary, since they're rather handy. There's also a particularly ornate Soul Gems collection that came in an equally impressive jewelry box. I like to leave it on the table and appreciate its beauty~ (laughs).
Kirara What does Madoka mean to Ume-sensei?
Ume The audience's point of view on Madoka is not the same as the production staff's. I feel myself subconsciously distinguishing the two. As a stakeholder, I find myself having trouble remaining calm and objective. I was the character designer, formed the creative lead along with Director Shinbo and Scriptwriter Gen, so I was quite nervous. Luckily, it is well received, and I am very grateful for the praise we received. Still, I feel rather embarrassed for making a "thank you for watching" type of speech. I really doubt whether I am truly qualified to...
Kirara But to us fans, without Ume-sensei's designs there wouldn't be Madoka!
Ume Even though some have praised my designs, I always felt I was just dead weight to rest of the production staff. In short, I am simply grateful towards the others.
Kirara Magica Vol 3 08.jpg
Kirara Magica Vol.3 Insert
Fruits of Success
Kirara Do you feel like you have more fans now due to Madoka?
Ume Even though it's not very clear cut, it seem that more have heard about me. Before now, "people that knew me" = "people that knew Hidamari Sketch". Now even those that don't know Hidamari Sketch have heard of me. They might even check out Hidamari Sketch later. That's quite nice.
Kirara Any changes for you? Has working in Madoka production changed your creative work?
Ume The biggest is pressure. Acting modest might build resentment, but due to Madoka I have received praise beyond my actual ability. So now I feel a constant need to improve my artwork. Also now that my designs are drawn by many artists, I have a lot more art to compare mine with.
Kirara Must be inspiring?
Ume I can't relax anymore (laughs). Look at all the fan illustrations! There are so many excellent artists drawing Madoka. It makes me feel inadequate (laughs).
Kirara What is your opinion of this magazine?
Ume I never heard of doujin compilations published as a magazine before, so it's quite incredible to me. I keep thinking "this can work," "breaking the mold isn't bad," "this character is completely off-character" while reading (laughs). It's all very interesting.
Kirara Each character can be interpreted quite differently from author to author.
Ume Kyubey never changes. He's always the antagonist and suffers an awful fate (laughs). I think all the artists are quite something.
Kirara You illustrated a color insert for us this month. Was your pointer to draw all five magical girls together?
Ume I seem to remember something like that. Regardless of any special requests, I would have drawn all 5 together (laughs). The illustrations I usually draw for Madoka are generally full body portraits for individual girls. This time I wanted to changed the format a bit. I wanted to draw the feeling of all five huddling together.
Kirara Are some character easier to draw than others?
Ume From the design perspective, Kyouko and Sayaka were easier. Madoka was harder, then Homura, and finally Mami-san.

To draw Mami-san, you just add drills and you have Mami-san (laughs). Madoka and Homura's twin tails are totally different. If the size and texture are slightly off, the character would look completely different. The animation design is so ingrained now, that I have to review the production notes to remain consistent (laughs). Sayaka and Kyouko don't have such issues.

Kirara Finally, what are your expectations for the compilation movies?
Ume I look forward to see what art and dialogue changed from the TV series. Even though I know the plot already, I still want to watch the final product (laughs).
Kirara There will definitely be some surprises.
Ume Oh yes. As a hobby, I enjoy visualizing the art while I read. When I read the TV series' script, I was drawing the art in my mind. It was quite fun to compare that with the actual animation. The movie edition has its own style in my imagination, so I can't wait to see how it compares to the real thing, as well as how it differs from the TV series. Even when I can only imagine a simple scene, the final animation is never ordinary. The storyboard would be completely different too (laughs). I very much look forward to betray my expectations.
Retranslated from a Chinese source