Interview to Kumiko Kakoi

Freelance 2D Animator


Layout and key animator Kumiko sensei is an experienced artist in both in-studio and freelance work. She has also been teaching animation at Tokyo Design Academy.

Featured anime's

- Card Captor Sakura, 1998, Madhouse
- Pokemon, 1997, OLM
- Steins Gate 0, 2018, White Fox
- Donten ni Warau (Laughing Under the Clouds), 2014, Doga Kobo
- Fate/stay night, 2006, Studio Deen
- Arslan Senki (The Heroic Legend of Arslan), 2015, Liden Films and Sanzigen
- Mirai Shōnen Konan (Future Boy Conan), 1978, Nippon Animation
- Sangatsu no Lion (March Comes in Like a Lion), 2016, Shaft
- Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion, 2018, OLM
- Kimi Dake Ga Inai Machi, 2016, A-1 Pictures

Interview Videos

Filmed in 2018

To find part 2-10 of this interview, keep scrolling.


Mar: Thank you for coming today.

Kakoi Sensei: Same here.

Let's start with your name.

Kakoi: I am Kumiko Kakoi.

I am Mar!

Both: *Laugh*

You are a (key) animator. Could you tell me some anime you've worked on?

Ah... it is a long list. There is quite a variety.

Tell me the ones you like.

The ones I like... Are new ones ok?

The one I like the most, because I also like the manga a lot, is "Gintama."


When I got requested to work on it, I was busy. But I had to take it!!

Usually I would have rejected such a tight schedule. But since I love it... And then... It is not my favorite. But I worked on the famous "One Piece."

"One Piece!"

I started working on One Piece with a 2-hour special TV anime. When I got the request, my little brother insisted for me to participate.

Whaaat!? That's cool.

Because "meiko???" likes it, I accepted. But the animation (movements) in One Piece are pretty tough.

In TV anime there are parts with super complex animation. But most cuts are "easy" so it can be done at a fast pace. But in movies or special TV animation, it gets more strict (better animation).

Yes. I didn't do the extra difficult cuts (???), but I did animate a fight between Luffy and Usopp. But it was actually fun!

That is actually cool!

Laugh. It was nice.

Animating a fight... When you animate a fight, do you need to do research?

Oh, it was a "verbal fight" (argument). The key are the expressions. That is what I put emphasis in our classes as well. The facial expressions are as important as the body movements. Like sadness, or (ikai???)... You have to emphasize that right. The levels of expressions.

So the character is not over-laughing, and so on.

For example, in anger. In animation, expressions are more exaggerated than in live-action. But still, it is not easy.

If you overdo it, people would laugh.


Laugh. Yes, it looks fake (intentional???). That is how it is. When you draw, you imagine the emotions. (???) That example is old, but... There was a war. I worked in an anime whose main theme was a war. It was quite a political story. There was a Chinese woman who had a kid but wasn't able to raise him. And she left him at the front door of a Japanese house. Ah, sorry, the contrary.

A Japanese woman left her kid in a Chinese home. She (???) was called Saru. And I drew that scene. Placed in the Manchuria (??). I was literally crying when drawing that!!

Leaving the kid there, and running away.... So I drew with tears myself.

Really, when it is a sad story, it can get to you.

Yes, that is true. It happens to me when I draw a character smiling. And then I draw smiling.

That is how it gets!

And if the characters is worried… (makes a worried face)


And then people ask me "Mar, are you ok?"


Yes, yes. I understand. This really happens, right?

Also, animators tend to have a mirror on their desk. So they can use their expressions as references.


And also to use the hands as reference. Or like "how do I draw this." It is very useful to have a mirror close.

I also do it.

Sounds useful!

About characters with many details and her favorite anime

Are there other anime you worked on? The one you like the most.

The one I like the most... Which could it be...?

(She looks at the list.)

Ummmm. I also liked "Arslan Senki." Although there were lots of mob scenes. Actually, I didn't work on many of them. I did scenes of characters running.

And scenes like that. And then, since it is a historic anime, there were armors. I also drew armors in "Fate Stay Night." That was actually tough. It could take me 1 day to make 1 scene of an armored character running. At that moment you think "I won't do this again." But then you do.

I connect with that.

Do you know Lolita style dresses? Lolita dresses have ribbons and such. They have even more lines than Mechanical characters. And there are lights and so on. And then the hairstyle is also complex...

But the problem with lolita clothes is that you do need to move the clothes accordingly. Armors are rigid (and easier), right?

But then Mecha have complex shapes, and you have to draw them from different angles. You need to imagine that by yourself.

I see.

The Character sheet shows front, profile and back only. You use your imagination a lot.

The animation of 1 character gets divided through various animators. It is not 1 animator drawing a full season. So, do all animators check how others draw these "blind spots?"

Not really. If there is a scene where there needs to be consistency, for example, if this was a scene (the table with the coffee cups). The cup's position needs to makes sense all the time. The animation director does that.

That staff checks there aren't strange things going on. Viewers notice it because it is fast on screen.

Yes, imagine that the cup has a different shape. Or it is turned differently.


Or it turns to milk.

Correct. Lately, viewers are more strict too.


They point out the mistakes.

They Tweet it.

Exactly, this is becoming tough lately.

Has it happened to you? That someone pointed out a mistake online.

I don't think so.

Kakoi Sensei is great!

It is not that!

Both: Laugh.

The producers will also check it. And they would ask me to fix mistakes. For example, you just see one part. (???)

The editor sees the full thing. Which is pretty tough. They will ask you to fix mistakes or, if there is no time... Do you know "ketsuban"(cancellation)? That cut gets deleted. That happens, even if you draw it...

That must hurt!


As a director, I can understand the decision. But as an animator, it is painful.

Right? And that also goes for the voice actor. But that is necessary in the end...

Please tell me about your story in the animation industry

About my role?

Yes, for example: I graduated, I started with in-beetwens...

Ah, the process?

Now you are a key animator.

Yes, Key animator + Layout (Gengaman).

But that is not your first role in the industry. How did you start?

Uh.... The beginning would be at "Sunrise Inc." But back then, it was not as difficult to get in at Sunrise. I just brought some in-between animation I made. And I asked "Can I do in-between animation here?" I wasn't a full-time employee either. (???) They prepared a desk for me and asked me if I would stay there. Now Sunrise is big, they have 5 studios. I started at the 3rd one (???). It is located in Kamiigusa. They let me work there and also taught me key animation.

The reason why I wanted to become an animator is... Well, I studied 4 years at University, majoring in something totally unrelated. In the last year, where you focus on finding a job, they asked me what do I like, I remembered that what I liked was drawing.


During my University years I didn't draw. I kind of forgot. (I had fun at the Uni...). *Laugh* And then... I started attending an anime vocational school at nights. Although now it closed.

That is when I became serious about animation.

Obviously, you need to like drawing to become an animator.

Of course. I draw in middle/high school. I gave drawings to friends, sold them in events... I rested during University.

Did you enter to a manga club at University?

No. But I drew a manga in High School.

What about other clubs related to drawing?

No, I didn't. I did a manga in High School and the story wasn't very good. (??) I am not like you.

I am not great either!

I can't create stories, so I wanted a job where I could just draw. Not "old paintings," but comic/manga style. And I found the animation vocational school. Which is not the one I am teaching at now. The school I went to doesn't exist anymore. There I learned about in-between animation. That was my entry to the animation industry.

Ok, so then you entered at Sunrise. You did in-between animation and then got promoted to key animator?

Yes! I started with in-between animation at Sunrise. I learned key animation while doing in-between animation. Now it might be different but then a superior tutored me. Apparently, this is rare nowadays.

After becoming a key animator, I became a freelancer. Although it was difficult to support myself like that. So I stopped for a time. I did a "normal" job. (I forgot what) But I didn't forget how to draw. And I came back. From then it has been ok. (???)

Your heart wants to draw!

Laugh. Then I could support my lifestyle.

Freelance animators work from home, right? Tell me about that.

Yes! Although, you see... But when I was young it was better to be close to superiors to learn from. So even freelancers could use a desk in a studio.


You didn't need to be a fully contracted employee. Since there are lots of freelancers, studios let you use their desks and work there. This system has prevailed I think.

So even now, you can just enter anywhere?

Only if you work on their animation. So, I am a freelance animator.. I don't have a fixed salary. But I can go to the studio, and work on animations from that studio. This is still common in the industry probably. Even more before.

So, Kakoi Sensei gets work from various studios, right?

Yes, so in each studio, you work on their projects. E.g. At Sunrise, I work on the Sunrise anime.

Of course. But now even if I go to the company I can't do their work there. (why?????) If you get a desk, you need to work on something specific. And I work from home. I get work from various companies.

Yes, I see on the list you worked for anime in various studios.

Yes, I am lucky. I have been getting calls to work for various projects/studios. For example, after finishing ???, I have aligned (??). There are many studios calling for work.

What is the workflow like? Does it always start with a phone call? Email?

Yes, phone call! First, the producer will call me. The production company staff will call. (is there a word for seisaku shinkou???) "We're working on X anime, would you participate?" So, I hear the anime title, and ask for the schedule. There is key animation and second key animation. Yes?


Well, I teach you that.

Laugh. (Yup)

First, I want to know the deadline for key animation. If I see I can do it, then it is ok. But if I see I won't make it, I reject the project. That would be the basic. If I say yes, they will send me the documents. And I start doing it. I can work without going personally to the studio. But sometimes I go to show I am alive. Laugh. We want to see our faces, greet each other... Although now in such a hot summer I wouldn't go.

No way! Let's not show the sweat.

Laugh. So, yes. Sometimes I go say hi to the studio. It is actually nice to go and talk around.

Summarizing: You get a call. Sometimes you meet. Does it evolve into emails, or is it all with calls?

Especially phone calls, but we also use email. Actually the emails are pretty annoying so... So we exchange short emails (chat?). But it is helpful sometimes. "I sent you the documents." Actually.... maybe it is 50% calls 50% emails.

I see. Interesting. Of course, emails are great. So calling someone feels more reliable when you have to give work and responsibility to others.

Yes, that's it. That is why it does start with a call. Actually, meeting in person is the best, but we are all busy. In my case, it is not fully email. I wouldn't like it. I want to talk by phone.

And you want to talk to people!

Exactly. With email it is not enough. But emails are useful since data stays there.

This is good sometimes. Like addresses.


And the deadlines! Yes! From X day to Y.

And also the pricing. It is great to have that "on paper." It is good for that. Yes that's true...

Ah right, as a freelancer, do you do many contracts?

More than contracts, I send invoices. The paper stating that I need to be paid X. Like "Please pay me for X work". Laugh

Ah! I got it. "Invoice."


I got it.

After I send the invoice they transfer the amount to my bank account. When they are late, I call.

"Please, pay me!!"

Laugh. Well, I wait around a week, And then.... this is a bad topic but... Sometimes I discover I didn't get paid because of bankruptcy. That is quite common...

Like, they owed me 100,000 yen. But nothing can be done. Since they're bankrupt.

That is not just for the animation industry (???). It also happens to others. What can I say... It is the life of the freelancer. You have to protect yourself.

Do you watch the TV version of the anime you've worked on?

Sometimes I wait for it, or I catch it by chance on TV. Or I get the DVDs or the anime.

DVD copies.

The producer sends it.


Before they always sent it to me. But now... maybe the production department is too busy. But I don't get 100% of the DVDs anymore. If I get a copy, I definitely watch it. "Oh it was that scene" or I see my name in the credits.

Ahh! That feels great, right?

Yes, of course. Sometimes, I see parts I did that I didn't remember drawing.

"Did I do that?"

"Oh, my name... oh right, that cut."

You do the drawings, so you want to see it fully colored, right?

Of course, but sometimes I am too busy to watch them all. Some are broadcasted during the night, and I go sleep at 10 to be healthy. I would do that in the past but now I would die if I tried. So I don't watch anime at night, although they are interesting. There are many interesting anime, regardless of whether I participated.

It is better to just watch the DVD, so you can manage yourself.

That is right.

When you watch the full chapter of an anime you participated in, do you feel touched?

Feeling moved? Hmm...

Isn't it a great feeling watching it completed?

It would be usual for a director, since they did it all. That must be of course very fulfilling.


Sometimes I do feel "Oh, this is a good anime!" of course.

You're not moved even with Gintama?

Gintama... you got me!

Laugh. I knew it! Somehow I guessed it.

Yes, even if I just did a few cuts, I felt moved. That is why I would like to participate in the movie but... That looks tough.

Movies are tough!

But I love it.

- want to do movies

Right? I want to see my name in the credits!!!

So awesome. Seeing it on the big screen.

Yes, the big screen!

I understand. I want to see my name as the director...

That is really great. I do get moved when I see names of people I know. With yours, I would take a picture!


Although, you can't take pictures at the theater...

Possibly not ok...

Is there an anime that was especially fun to draw? That you enjoyed?

A fun one... More than "having fun," I like the shojo manga genre (comics for girls). When they have many close ups to characters I get more motivated.

Aaah! I see.

Even now!

You can draw pretty people!

You just drawing pretty boys and girls. "So I can get paid for this? How lucky!" I really think that!

When cuts are difficult I think "I won't do this ever again!" But when I draw close ups of pretty people I always think "It is amazing I can draw what I want and get paid."

How cool!

Also, I didn't participate in Kimi No Na Wa. But when I watched it... The first time I wasn't very impressed, to be honest. But the second time I saw how it is amazing. So, even if I haven't participated in it, the fact that I take part in the same industry as Kimi No Na Wa's feels very motivating!!

Oh! I understand.

"I am also here." "I am part of this world."

And knowing that lots of people are watching.

Many in the world saw that movie! Even if I did not participate in the movie, it feels touching.

But Kakoi Sensei participated in many anime that impacted tons of people! I got hyped when I saw Card Captor Sakura in your anime list!

Also there is something that happens quite often. People would ask me "So, what is your job?" "I am an animator." "Oh? What did you do?" "One Piece" And they are like "Kyaaaa!"

Of course they are!! Even if I got "used" to talk with animators, when I saw Sakura's title I got excited!

The other day when I got some new clothes in a small shop, I chit-chatted a bit with the staff, and said I am a teacher. So they asked "What kind of teacher?" "Animation" "eeh?! What do you draw?" "One Piece and others." "Kyaa! I love it!!"

That is so cool...

Really, because I work in animation. It really gets good reactions from people. Not only kids. Adults also like anime. People in their 30s like One Piece.

Or nurses, for example. They work until very late. They watch anime at night when going home. So it is common that if we talk they get very happy. Even if I am not the author of the actual story/manga. I just participated, but they are happy to know someone in the industry.

Actually, it is right that if you find someone who watches the same anime as you, you can connect faster.

It happened to me when I went to Hawaii. I talked with a woman, and I mentioned I worked in Pokemon's anime. "Oh! I love Pokemon!"

Laugh. So cool. Wait, you worked on Pokemon too?!

Yes! And after talking with foreigners like that, I realized that the job I have is pretty awesome. So it is fun. Although there are also very tough parts!

Well.... Yes!

Have you struggled working on anime?

Struggled... It is not that now I am incredible, but there was a season where somehow I couldn't draw. "I can't draw this cut!" It was hard... That is why I quit once. "I can't do it, so there is no point to keep working as an animator."

Also, as a freelancer it must be scary. Since they won't commission you again.

Well, at that point, even if my superior showed me the corrections, I couldn't get it. I just couldn't draw well. "It looks easy, but I didn't think drawing would actually be so difficult." Well, everyone realizes that, but still... So I quit and started a different job. But this industry is flexible. Meaning "loose." In a normal company, once you resign, that's the end. But the animation industry is all connected. A call with requests can still come. "Wouldn't you try with this one?" Laugh. So I would think "Well, I could try I guess..." Because in time you forget how hard it was.

Yes, I see that. So you can't 100% go out of the animation industry.

Exactly! That is what I tell graduate students. If it really is too hard, you can stop. You can always come back!

Really, you can get in again.

That's nice.

If you quit, you can come back anytime. So don't be afraid when it gets too hard.

I see.

When you get to a distance from it, you can decide if you want to do it again. Or, if you tried and you want to do something different, that is ok too.

So it is ok even if you say "no."

Yes, your career is totally personal. But you need to make sure it is a company where you can come back later. (???) Like you, who picked a non-anime company for now. Although we can always have you back to animation. (???)

Thank you! This actually calmed me. Laugh

It's true! It's true!

Right now, I work somewhere else, but I am creating my manga at home.


I think that was the best decision long term (to advance my own manga). But sometimes I have doubts. I was afraid I lost my chance to enter the anime industry.

No! Not at all!

If you think of it, I was off for quite a long period. And I could come back.

So, if something happens, I can come back to Japan and be an animator. Maybe?

Oh, will you return to Spain?

No, I am not going to Spain. But in a few years I may move to Europe, or... Canada? That is my current plan.

Oh, really?

There I would start my anime company.

An animation company! I see.

I want to create an international (team) company. But most Japanese just speak Japanese. And then to the rest, I would speak in English... It could be a mess... Although it is a pity. There are incredible animators in Japan! But probably I should let the company grow somewhere else first.

I see.

That is the current plan.

You want to go worldwide, right?

Also, the comic and animation I created, is mainly directed to North American public. So I want to get closer.

I see. That is amazing. It makes sense. Big scale. I want you to succeed.

Then I can always translate it. So that shouldn't be a problem.

Of course.

What is something Kakoi Sensei learned about life while working in the anime industry?

About life?! Actual life?

Yes! Something you learned, and want to advise others about.

Oh right, I thought of talking about it. I said so when we all met in the dinner. I was affected by Tohoku's catastrophe. (???) I have worked in Tokyo regularly. (?) But during that time, I worked from home in Iwate (Tohoku). The earthquake happened then. And my family was affected (???). Of course... that was a great shock.

But I thought I should keep working. I thought that was the only way to recover my usual self. And I came back to Tokyo. The earthquake was in March. In May I was already contacting companies saying I was available. And I accepted lots of work.

When you draw, you can forget the tough parts of life. I wasn't working for the money. But for my.... how can I say it nicely.... I worked for my own life motivation? I wanted to restore my own core. That is why I decided to focus on work right after what happened. (???) That is what I want to influence the younger artists with. Don't work just for the money. Work because it helps you overcome what you want to overcome. (???) You have this job, so you can actually do something. (???)

Everyone will have rough parts in life. In those moments, think about what you have (drawing). Thanks to the animation work I could recover myself. That made me happy. This can also be very personal for me. Yes... that is what I want to say. Even if life is hard, you have a job you can do.

Yes. So, even if there is something difficult in life, if your core is about drawing, draw. And, slowly, keep going.

Yes, yes.

At that point, it is not about making money. It is about maintaining what you want to be doing.

Plus, when you are depressed, having something to focus on also helps. You forget the problems. The head is full of "I need to draw this." The other sad things can't come in. So, in this sense, starting to work again as soon as possible is good.

"How do I animate this hair part?" "Like this? Hmmm not sure"


You animate hair beautifully though. But yes, that is the point. Young girls marry soon and then leave work. Which is not bad. I just think that having a job that motivates you is so important in live. Of course, if you want to retire, it is up to each one. But that is my advice. I really want to encourage the young women to work in what they want.

Of course!

Make an effort!

You can do it!

Even if something happens, please continue.

Thank you very much! Such great advice.

What is something you look forward to?

Animation wise?

About animation, or in your life.

In my life... There is something I always dream about. And it is why I am a bit jealous of you. I have never lived in another country. Although I traveled a lot. So, my dream is... I want to live in France even if it is just a few months or half a year. Sorry, not Spain.

No need to apologize!

I love France! "Wouldn't it be good to live in France for around 1 month?!" Although I can't speak French at all. But I would go to a ??? school. I really want the experience of living abroad even if it is just for 1 month.

This is so good!

So, after I stop working in the vocational school where we met, I would like to go. If I am healthy, of course.

I have no intention of becoming an animation director and all that. So I would just continue as now.

Well, you can always come back you said.

Yes! So I would just leave it for a while. But maybe I will try with something different than animation. It is not that -.....????

So... yes. My dream is to live abroad. I always think highly of you, the foreign students.

If you want to go, I may be able to give you some advice. Tell me please. I have family in France.

Oh, really?

Yes, write to me.

Blood relatives?


Oh, wow!

The sister of my grandfather married with a French man.

I see!

So, my mother's cousins are French. They live in the south.

Ooh! So cool!!

So, let me know.

I will contact you then.

Now we will talk about my animation graduation project Return the Favor. Since you were one of the tutor teachers.

Oh, Yes. But, I didn't do much.

You did! Thank you very much!

No, you really made an effort.

It was tough.

You really worked hard.

I did...

The last days were challenging.

It was really tough. Like "I don't want to hear this song again."


"I can't see this drawing again."

It was also very tough for Matsubara.

Yes, I am so sorry. This is what I want to do now. First, I want to watch the animation together, and hear your comments if any. And next, I brought paper so... Thank you very much. I would like you to draw.

The main character is ok?


Did you bring the Character Sheet?

I have the Character Sheet. But you can make it your style.

Can it be a close up?

Of course! A close up is good. It will be so good!

(Both start watching the animation.)

So cute! Really, the hair is so well animated.

I thought "Wouldn't it be cool that there is wind so the hair is moving?" But is was so tough.

That was bad? Really, the hair is great.

Ok. This part is also good (???)

Eh? Ah, the sound is the old version. Not the one I corrected.

Oh, really?

I realized now. The dragon's voice changed a lot.

Oh really.

I made it cooler.

Oh, so you changed the voice.

A bit. And the effects.

I really like this part!

Thank you.

The skid is so cool.

After I finished I thought "Did I do something that cool!?"


I got excited myself.

That cut is really good.

Suzuki Sensei helped in that part.

Ah, I see!

Especially with the dust.


He really helped on that.

You used lots of flaps to the wings!


The wing's flexibility is good.

Thank you very much. Oh, ok.

So adorable!


The dragon is smiling!

Yes, this is the old version. In the new version, I wrote the "thank you" to the teachers.

I see.

In the first version, I wasn't allowed to write that. The main teacher said no.

Oh that is right. For school it is not allowed.

Yes. I the new version will have it though. (Note: The one published on YouTube is the new version.) Yes this is the old one. That brown.

Laugh. What is he holding?

He is not holding a thing, it is magic! He can do magic, and looks at that.

Ah, ok!

It is like the "aura" of the hand. The end. Thank you very much!

No no.

You helped so much.

Not at all. What about the shadows? Color pencil?

I don't have colored pencils... A pen...

Then, just highlights.

Another pen... I have red and grey!


I am sorry!

It is ok. Is that ok?

Let's not forget to take a picture together later.


Together. He will be adorable!

You're exaggerating.

It is getting cute.

Getting cute? I haven't made the face yet.

But it is Kakoi Sensei! I can see the cuteness.

It looks like it will be cute...? Ah... pencil... do you have an eraser? The head's proportion is like this, so... Like this... The hair needs to be more...

The eyebrows are quite thick.

Yes they are! I made it so the expression can be seen clearly. I thought it would be more clear that way. Even when the drawing is small.

This way... He will look to this direction. That's the highlight? (red)

Woah! It did become cute! So cool!

How were the clothes again...? Oh like this.

Actually, his clothes are more complicated in the comic version. But I simplified it for the animation.

Yes, exactly! Since he moves a lot.

Actually, on his back he has a... what is the word? Cloak? (Hood!)

Since he is blond, let's do it this way. Like this... Uh... here...

It is a pity we don't have light blue...

I'll do shadows like this. Yes...

So nice! He's cute!!!

Like this... And some shadow to the ears... How about this? Does he have eye lid fold?


"Hitoe", the line above the eye.

Ah... No. But I draw it in close-ups.


So, it is up to you. It can be seen later, so.

Then, like this. Like this should be fine. Ok, like this.

It is so cool! Sorry, the camera was in the middle.

The ponytail is not so big. Like a bit... The head line...

Laugh. His head is quite big...

Laugh. It will be a bit "draft" like.


This hair part is thicker. Ok, finished!

Thank you so much! So cute!

Thank you very much!

Thank you very much Kakoi sensei!

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