TV SPOTLIGHT: “Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters”

TV SPOTLIGHT: "Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters"

Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters
is an animated action/adventure TV series developed by Henry Gilcrest  and Andrew R. Robinson for Wizards of the Coast. It is produced by Hasbro Studios, animated
by Moi Animation
in South Korea, and premiered last year on The Hub – and Shout Factory has just 
released a second compilation, Dragonstrike, on DVD.

The
main character is Ray, a creative boy who first bridges the gap between the
trials and challenges of being an adolescent in suburbia to an amazing world of
dragons, spirits and heroes known as the Kaijudo – a hybrid word meaning “the
way of the strange beast.”

He
and his two friends, Allie and Gabe, live between the two worlds and are
trained to become Duel Masters. The series expands on the environments and
creatures of the dragon world as well as the equally challenging real world.
Stories are not only very heavy on action but also touch on issues such as
bullying, integrity and what defines a family. The show also has a cool title
song, reminiscent of the original “X-Men” theme.

We
talked with members of the creative team: co-story editor Henry
Gilcrest, co-story editor Andrew Robinson and art director David Colman. One of
the things they wanted to make clear was that this is not just another “Pokemon.”


HENRY GILCREST: It is a brand new,
original series. That was one of the first things I asked Hasbro Entertainment
about when we were developing the series. They agreed that we did not have to simply
transfer the cards into the whole concept. There have been so many card game
inspired shows; there would be no point. Instead, we used the creatures themselves
to create a mythology for the series, plus develop new characters. That way
we were—and still are—able to expand the boundaries as far as we can dream them
up.

GREG:  Did you create the “real world” aspect of it?

ANDREW: We created a new dimension
in which these creatures exist, apart from ours. But another question also
arose: what if a creature doesn’t want to fight? You have to develop the
relationship with it and acknowledge that it is articulate and
intelligent.  Given that fantastical
premise, we wanted to ground it as strongly as we could in the real world. You see
situations that very much occur in the real world, such as bullying situations
and interpersonal play.

HENRY:  The studio was
really supportive. The goal was, once David and Andrew were brought on and I
was brought on later, that we were going to do something that will blow
everyone’s minds—part Star Wars, part Lord of the Rings. They were blown away,

GREG:  The characters are not perfect.

HENRY:  By any means. They are very human with a lot
of faults and foibles.

GREG:  And because of that, they are relatable. Do
you get feedback from kids that say, “I sometimes feel just like Gabe,” and
things like that.

ANDREW: One mom said that her kids
had never ever seen a character like this on television that resembles them. I
can’t tell you how meaningful it is to them. This was very gratifying. I hope
that kids identify with the journeys of the young characters, sort of the
emotional arcs that each of the characters take over the course of the season.
They each go in a very different arc and they arrive at a better place. 

HENRY: The kids, and the creatures
they end up dueling with, represent their own strengths and weaknesses.  If you’re type A you might probably really
relate to our main character, the more bookish audience might relate to Gabriel
and then we have Allie, who is kind of a wisecracker and has a really cool
creature that travels with her.

DAVID:  People have said many times, “We wouldn’t know this was a card game show unless you told us.” It doesn’t have any resemblance to any of the other shows that fit that genre.

GREG: What’s the challenge in
translating these extremely complex dragons and creatures in something that can
be animated?

DAVID: Well if you notice the
cards are very richly illustrated, done very painterly. My main goal was to
bridge the gap between the cards and the show in such a way that we won’t lose either
its existing fans or its new audience. I looked at the shape of the creatures and
their dominant features.

GREG: What is the basic process
when you are creating a show like this, especially when you must have it animated
overseas? 

DAVID: I created the look of the
show, all the way down to the style of the horns for the show, how we do hands,
even the costumes the creatures are going to wear. We had huge pitch boards
that took up a whole room that I photocopied and cut and clipped along with
Gary Hartle—the wizard of our show—our Supervising Producer and Director. We
drew on a lot of cinematic types of philosophies and the works of the great
Hans Volker of Disney fame. I flew to South Korea to train our team in the
style of the show.

GREG:  You mentioned story. This series is not just slam-bam lasers and all that there is a kind of gripping little story that you can get all caught up in.

DAVID:  We were very lucky.  I have been working in animation 10 years,
from art director to character designer and story artist. If you get 80% back
from overseas, that is really good. I was allowing these artists a creative
freedom that they definitely enjoyed. They made some great suggestions to make
the show even better.  When Ray summons a
creature from fire and a big fire motif effect comes off the ground and shoots
up into the air right in front of him to create the seal that summons the creature
that was their idea. We am starting to wrap preproduction on season two and
they have done a marvelous job

GREG: With Kaijudo almost entirely
done in hand-drawn, 2-D animation (with some flash and CG) do you feel as if,
in a sense, you’re carrying the torch for the technique?

DAVID: All of us in the business
still love 2D. There is still a place for it and now shows are becoming more
hybrid-based.  I don’t know that we are
holding the flame, but it still very much has a home. Those who love the art
form still have a strong, strong affinity for 2D. It is not necessarily the
medium that is making it more attractive—it is the storyline and the
writing.  A lot of the successful TV
shows like “Adventure Time” at Cartoon Network or “Gravity Falls” at Disney still
done in 2D.

GREG:  You mentioned story. This series is not just
slam-bam lasers and all that there is a kind of gripping little story that you can
get all caught up in.

HENRY:  You probably see the subtext we put in.  There is this amazing character that blends
the fire civilization and the nature civilization, so she really is a direct
parallel of our main character Ray who is bi-racial. That episode really
harkens back to some of the bullying themes that we wanted to communicate. In
that episode we really wanted to say that you have the best of both worlds.

ANDREW: We also wanted to design the huge creature, Bob, to reflect our hope that Bob is the product of two civilizations as Ray is.  Viewers take heart that they are not
alone and one person’s experience can help inform another person.  Over the course of the season, Ray helps Bob come to terms with what he is, just as Bob helps Ray in the same way, and become heroic as well.

GREG:  I noticed in “Into the Fire,” Bob has
dysfunctional family issues too with his sister. Almost all of us have family
issues.

HENRY:  You will see that in most of the choices,
even with Gabriel. He is the smart kid in his family who is bullied by his
punkish, more athletic brothers. We weren’t shy about that and you will see
more of that in the “Like Father, Like Son” episode.

ANDREW: And again I want to credit Henry with taking that
theme into the fantastical world of the fire realm where Bob sheds light on the
nature of his relationship with his father and having made a different choice
to not consciously go against that grain. Bob is the one who is stopping the
cycle of abuse. I am still very affected by that.

GREG: You have over 50 characters to juggle. It’s sort of
like “Downton Abbey
, but that show only deals with about 20 people
at a time.  How do you do that?  Do you have charts?

(LAUGHTER)

ANDREW:  We recognized
early on setting things up required a lot of story arcs and complicated story
telling. 

HENRY:  By the same
token the focus is on our three human characters and their favorite creature
characters.  Then we have the Kaijudo
Duel Masters on another level.

HENRY:  Actually you
are right! How did we keep fifty characters straight? I have no idea.

ANDREW:  Then you’ve got the bad guys as well as the parents. You want the kids to identify with the young characters more than anybody else.  And by the way any comparison of our show to “Downton Abbey,” I have to say, has got to BE an historical first! 

GREG: You all have a very eclectic resumes. How do you go
from a whimsical, comedy cartoon, or a preschool show, to “Kaijudo?”

DAVID: I am a thinker. I am an idea guy. I enjoy comedy a
lot. I had never worked on an action show before this, so I was so excited.
Frank Frazetta is the reason I became an artist, but on the other hand, I also designed “Sofia the First for Disney.” I am very proud to see it become a big success. But
I can’t remember the last time I’ve been as passionate about a project as I
have with Kaijudo. We really do amazing things with this show.

ANDREW:  When you get
hired to write for a show you do everything you can to learn the characters,
the voices and the types of storytelling that they want. I did “Dragon Tales” and all kinds of superhero action shows. 
Writers write what they are given to write.

DAVID:  We also want
to inspire the audience. I wanted to get the kids outside, to look at the
clouds and imagine that they look like creatures or dragons. They start
seeing shapes in the natural rock face or look at a building and think it could
be a creature—to really grow their imagination and allow them to look at the
world around them instead of always being satisfied with being spoon fed
information in the digital age.

GREG:  I think that is
a great way to put it.  I think kids yearn
for that.

DAVID: I think so too, and I think it is just a matter of
showing it to them and sharing it.  I
think this show does so much of that.


Inside Kaijudo, Part
Two: Annotated episode guide to the latest DVD

The following post refers to
the new “Kaijudo DragonStrike” DVD release, but if you want to get a good
tutorial in the saga, you might want to check out the first release, Creatures Unleashed, which sets up the
format, introduces the main characters and includes a behind-the-scenes bonus
feature.

Kaijudo: Rise of the
Duel Masters – DragonStrike

Executive
Producer: Stephen Davis
Art Director: David Colman

Story
Editors: Henry Gilroy, Andrew Robinson

Voices:
Scott Wolf, Phil LaMarr, Kari Wahlgren, Freddy Rodriguez, David Sobolov, Grey
DeLisle, Dee Bradley Baker, Oded Fehr, Andrew Kishino, John DiMaggio, Jason
Marsden

Music
by Carl Johnson; Theme by John Jennings Boyd and Eric V. Hachikian

Hasbro
Studios / Moi Animation Co. Ltd. – Shout!
Factory DVD

DRAGONSTRIKE
DVD EPISODE GUIDE

Episode 6 “Into the Fire, Part
1″
July 7, 2012
In the Fire Realm, Lord Skycrusher kidnaps Allison; Bob has family issues.

Episode 7 “Into the Fire, Part
2″
July 14, 2012
The senior Duel Masters enter the fire realm to assist the acolytes.

ANDREW ROBINSON (Co-Story Editor):  “Into the Fire, Parts 1 and 2” are the first
episodes in which we take our characters into the creature world, across the
dimensional divide, across the veil. We wanted it to be pretty mind-blowing and
really worth the trip. Certainly we hope that we accomplished that. 

Episode 23 Heavenly Creatures
November 24, 2012
The Choten seeks a “arc of light” artifact from Sasha and the Angel
Commands.

ANDREW: “Heavenly Creatures” begins with the only time in
Season 1 that we got to see the light civilization in a crisis moment, the
title of the DVD is “DragonStrike” and there are four dragons here, so they are
sticking to a theme.  It’s a big action
packed episode. 

Episode 25 The Rising, Part 1
December 8, 2012
Ray learns the truth about his father, who, along with Bob, are mutated by The
Choten’s serum.

Episode 26 The Rising, Part 2
December 15, 2012
The Choten gains everything he needs for evil domination unless the Duel
Masters, creatures and acolytes can stop him. 

ANDREW: “The Rising Parts 1 and 2″ make up the season one finale so we
pulled out all the stops.  You get to see
the Monarchs for the first time and hopefully it is overwhelming and huge.

GREG:  That one was especially fascinating because
it had Ray’s father in it but he got mutated. Is his father stuck like that?

ANDREW: What did you think of that
element of it? 

GREG: I thought it was kind of
neat because he found his father and yet he kind of lost him, so again you get
bittersweet sort of thing.

ANDREW:  Yeah, I think over the course of season one
we didn’t make life easy on Ray.  All the
kids had to go through a certain amount of grief and just when you think things
are getting good, we pull out from under them.

GREG: You have the big battle at the end where the evil CHOTEN seems to be getting everything he wants, the “all seems lost moment,” so it does make a great finale and final arc for the season and for the DVD. How do you come to select the total of 10 that are on DVD or will there be a season one and two?

HENRY:  That is a really good question. I wish I knew
the answer.

DAVID: I just noticed they weren’t in order and thought
what’s going on here? That’s not up to us.

HENRY:  Though, what is cool about the “DragonStrike” collection of stories is that you kind of have a story arc that pays off
at the end of Season 2.

GREG:  So, is Ray’s father stuck as a mutant like he
was in “The Rising?”

HENRY:  You’ll have to watch season two to find out!

GREG:  So you’ve got another
season coming? 

DAVID:  Oh yeah, and
Season 2 is awesome!  That’s all we’re
really allowed to say.

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