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

Television
by Greg Ehrbar
May 22, 2013 6:31 PM
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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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