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The Saga of ‘Ballmastrz: Rubicon’ - Gaz Digzy, Crayzar, and the Fate of the Earth

Creator Christy Karacas talks about the follow-up to his darkly humorous Adult Swim series ‘Ballmastrz: 9000,’ an all-new special with returning star Natasha Lyonne now airing on Adult Swim and streaming on HBO Max.

Once upon a time, in a post-apocalyptic, ravaged world, a crazed cyborg named (appropriately enough) Crayzar created a roller derby-like sport known as "The Game." After an unfortunate event, Gaz Digzy (Natasha Lyonne), former captain of the best team in the league and one of the greatest players of all time, finds herself forced to lead the worst team of all time to prove herself to Crayzar.

Such was the narrative foundation of the darkly humorous and provocative series Ballmastrz: 9009, which ran from 2018 to 2020 on Adult Swim. Produced by Titmouse and Williams Street, Ballmastrz: 9009 was the brainchild of writer/director/musician/animator/voice actor Christy Karacas, who, in addition to being a founding member and the guitar player for the band Cheeseburger, was the creative force behind the earlier darkly humorous and provocative Adult Swim series, Superjail!.

Now it’s 2023, everyone’s a little bit older, and the successor to Ballmastrz: 9009 has arrived in the form of an all-new special, Ballmastrz: Rubicon, which debuted February 20 on Adult Swim, the next day on HBO Max. Again featuring Lyonne in her signature role, Ballmastrz: Rubicon picks up after the events of the show’s second season. In a nutshell, when secrets from Crayzar's past threaten the future of the planet, will he grow some balls and unite “Team Earth,” or add humanity to the intergalactic endangered species list?

To address the many questions all this naturally engenders, we spoke with the redoubtable Karacas about the inexorable saga that is Ballmastrz.

AWN: Where did the idea come from for the original series?

Christy Karacas: When I was doing Superjail!, Mike Lazzo, who was at Adult Swim, called me and said, "Christy, I want you to pitch a new show and I want it to be nothing like Superjail!” And I said “OK.” I've been an anime fan since I was very young, and I realized there were animes for every single sport. Anything you can think of. There's probably one about chess. And I thought, well, there's no sport show on Adult Swim. Maybe it could be a sport. Maybe it's a messed-up, weird, futuristic fake sport. Because I don't really like sports. I don't know anything about sports.

But I love B movies like Rollerball, musicals like Starlight Express, and things like that. And I just kind of matched it all together and went to Lazzo. It was a very informal pitch. I did it on my Instagram. We had a conversation and he just goes, "I love it. Let's do it." And that was it. We started working on it. That's how that came about.

Making it was another story. On Superjail!, I had co-creators. This was the first show I made alone and I was trying to learn to write better. I also had all this pressure where I was trying to make this perfect anime. I felt really creatively stuck. They kept calling me going, "Christy, when are you going to show us something?" I was like, "Ah, it's just not good enough. It's not working."

Then, for some reason, I watched Mulholland Drive and I read an interview with [director] David Lynch, where he said something like, “Life doesn't make sense. Why should art make sense?” It was about how the movie's flawed, but it's like you're in his brain and you're seeing his vision. And I thought, I just need to make my version of anime and not worry about it looking good or being perfect or being slick. I'll just draw it the best I can and see what happens. And when I let go and let it happen, it just happened.

AWN: And now we have Rubicon. What was it like for you to make the special after the series, and do you think there’s more Ballmastrz to come?

CK: I often don't love what I make, but this special was so fun. I loved it. When I look at Seasons 1 and 2, I see all the things I don't like about them. You're learning as you go and figuring it out. But this one felt right and the whole thing sets up a whole potential third season or more specials. I hope the network wants to make more. I would love to make more.

Rubicon is totally a setup for new things. (Spoiler alert) The game was a fake-out and Crayzar has been hiding out from his family and now they have to fight for real. That was always the plan, to go into more of a Macross/Gundam space anime and change it up. Ballmastrz will become a very space adventure kind of show. Probably spilling the beans too much, but that's the plan.

AWN: The original series was animated at Titmouse, while the special was done by Studio 4, a Japanese studio known for its anime properties. What was behind the move and what did it allow you to do creatively?

CK: I always would've loved to do it at a studio in Japan, I just didn't know how. I'm super-tight with Titmouse and nothing they did was bad. But I was talking to [creative director and producer] Silas Hickey, who’s based in Japan, and he basically hooked it up. As you might know, a lot of these anime studios are very busy and they're really backed up. It was just luck that they could do it. I've been a fan of Studio 4℃ since Mind Game, and it was just a dream come true. They were amazing. I would send them rough sketches of the characters or new characters, and they would redesign them. It was really so fun and exciting. It was an honor.

AWN: I'm always amazed at how many animators are also musicians. How do your musical skills help you in animation?

CK: It might sound corny, but it's rhythm and timing. Animation is a time-based discipline. Sometimes I show my students videos of the Netherlands Dance Theater, an experimental dance troupe, to teach them about movement and timing. Composing for the stage and composing a frame are very similar. Music, animation, dance – they’re all related and you can really learn from them. I tell a lot of my animator friends, "Don't watch animated movies. Watch a live-action movie or watch a dance or look at a tree. Look at other things because they’ll really help you and inspire you."

AWN: Who directs you when you're voice acting and how do you feel about the voice recording side of things?

CK: John Lee, who was one of the executive producers on Rubicon, directed me. He does a lot of comedy and live-action stuff. He did Wonder Showzen and Teenage Euthanasia. He was amazing. John is playful and fun, and he knows how to get something out of you.  It's interesting, this idea of directing people. It's a really unique skill. I don't like telling people what to do. I'm very non-confrontational, and I get nervous. I want to just let them act and do their thing.

AWN: You could probably get away with that with such a great voice cast.

CK: They’re amazing. Joshua Henry, who was in Hamilton, plays Crayzar's dad. This guy's voice is insane. Then the guy who plays Crayzar's brother is Timothy 'Speed' Levitch, who was the subject of the documentary The Cruise. He's a New York City tour bus operator who’s this crazy eccentric, almost like a modern bohemian poet, and his voice is amazing. Natasha's kind of a New York staple. I really wanted to get these real New York people in this. I was just so glad they could do it.

AWN: Any final thoughts?

CK: I just hope people enjoy it and I hope the network picks it up and wants to do more. It's such a pleasure and it's so fun and I love it. All the people that helped make it were amazing. It's such a collaborative thing. I just always feel like it's not mine, it's everybody's. I'm just very thankful that everyone wanted to be part of it.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.