Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: October 2014, 22

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

05:15:00 am , 2489 words, 20799 views     Categories: post-Akira, Studio: Group Tac, Studio Curtain, 1990s

Yadamon and Studio Curtain

Many years on from Manga Kodomo Bunko and Manga Ijin Monogatari, Group Tac produced an unusual magical girls show called Yadamon (1992-1993). The show was produced for NHK, and was hence a somewhat high-profile gig with more personality and verve than your usual template majokko anime. It injected a bit of style and cool into the genre, which gave it broader appeal.

The show announces itself as different right from the opening (watch), with its appealing, somewhat international character designs and driving alt rock song by Lindberg. The show's name also drops the lengthy, cliche'd "Mahou no..." format for a more cool and succinct impact. Although different from the work produced by Group Tac in its early years, the show still had their patented cleverness and personality.

Set in the near future, the show has an optimistic vision of the future in which man uses science to establish a harmonic balance with nature. A boy named Jean lives in a man-made ecological preserve called only the "Land" with his parents Maria and Eddie, scientists and veterinarians who run the preserve. There are mild sci-fi elements that are not too outlandish to be unbelievable. The structure of the show starts off with standalone 5-episode-long arcs, later moves to standalone episodes, and in the latter half gradually becomes serial leading towards the cataclysmic climax. This apocalyptic and openly interpretable climax is also somewhat novel, perhaps reflecting the greater freedom of creators not tied to source material. Yadamon is a great example of a show not based on source material.

The concept for "a new kind of magical girl show" originated in 1991 with NHK production arm Sogovision producer Hiroshi Kubota and screenwriter Minami Oi. Kubota in particular devised the idea of inverting the standard setup of magical girls shows. Instead of a magical girl who lives among ordinary humans but has to keep her abilities secret, the mischievous Yadamon tells everyone she's a witch, but nobody believes her.

In early October 1991 NHK began seeking production companies by competitive bidding. They did this by providing production concept documentation and asking for each company to visualize the characters and their environment in a few illustrations. Group Tac submitted illustrations by Suezen and won the bidding in mid-October. Group Tac producer Kenjiro Kawando is the one who chose Suezen, having worked with him on The Tale of Genji (1987) and then met him in various places since.

I enjoyed the show back when it first aired for its nice style and western atmosphere. It was also one of the first anime I saw in the 10-minute format. (It was aired Monday through Friday in 10 minute chunks.) Revisiting it recently, I found that it's a pleasant show if far from perfect. The animation is a base tone of lackluster with occasional spikes of awesome. The characters and stories are endearing if simplistic and childish.

Although on the surface the show follows the template of a magical girl from a magical land who visits the earth and engages in adventures there, the show's underlying theme is notable for being more based on child psychology. Rather than taking the child's perspective and projecting a fantasy life onto reality, Yadamon seems to take an adult's perspective by placing the crux of the drama on Yadamon's emotional growth from pure self-interest to empathy.

Helping to maintain interest are Suezen's designs. Suezen is the pen name of Fumio Iida, who just prior had acted as animation director of Rojin Z (1991). He's a great animator, and he animated the opening. His designs go a long way to making the show watchable, if just because they're so refreshing. Unfortunately he didn't animate anything else in the show.

Luckily there were spurts of good animation in the show, most of it from subcontractors. To be able to produce so much animation, Group Tac outsourced much of the production work to around 30 different subcontractors. Roughly 20 in-house and outside directors handled the task of storyboarding and episode directing.

Although the subcontractors are not credited in the show, the Roman Album provides a rare glimpse into the specifics of how the contracts were doled out, so it's worth reproducing here. I've often managed to piece together the various subcontractors involved in a show, but I've never seen it laid out explicitly like this. This is a great artifact highlighting the subcontractor-heavy nature of anime.

Group Tac essentially doled the work out to 9 production coordinators, including an in-house team, and these 9 subcontractors either handled the directing/animation tasks themselves or in turn sub-subcontracted the work out to another studio. Inbetweening and finishing was then handled by an inbetweening studio chosen by the subcontractor, except in the case of studios like Anime Spot that handled their own inbetweens.

1. Group Tac (53 eps)In-house
Directors: Koichi Takada, Takuya Sato
Sakkans: Masahiko Murata, Yoshiko Imano
Sakkan: Morio Hitoshi, Akira Takeuchi
Anime Spot
Director: Shigeru Ueda
Sakkan: Masami Abe, Masatoshi Isshi
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house
Studio Takuranke
Sakkan:Hiroyuki Yamada
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house
Studio Koa
Sakkan: Toyami Sugiyama
Key Animation: In-house
Studio Curtain
Sakkan: Hiroko Kazui
Key animation: In-house
Sakkan: Kazuaki Mouri, Tadashi Abiru, Kahoru Hirata, Rie Nishino

2. Aubeck (43 eps)Group Zen
Director: Hiroshi Ishiodori
Sakkans: Masayuki Fujita, Yasuyuki Noda
Studio Mu
Directors: Johei Matsuura, Masashi Ikeda
Sakkans: Harumi Muranaka, Yasuhiro Ohshima
Studio Curtain
Director: Noriyuki Nakamura
Sakkan: Kenichi Shimizu
Sakkan: Shinichi Shoji

3. Tanasawa Office (12 eps)In-house team A
Director: Takashi Tanasawa
Sakkan: Daijiro Sakamoto
In-house team B
Director/Sakkan: Yoshiko Sasaki
In-house team C
Director/Sakkan: Toshiaki Kamihara

4. Jupiter Film (9 eps)Individual
Director: Takuo Suzuki, Kenichi Kuroki
Sakkan: Kanji Hara
Studio Curtain
Director: Hitoshi Namba
Sakkan: Keiko Hattori

5. Ajia-do (12 eps)In-house
Director: Kazuhiro Sasaki
Sakkan: Masayuki Sekine
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house

6. Sunshine (3 eps)In-house
Directors: Shigeru Ohmachi
Sakkan: Isao Kaneko
Key Animation, Inbetweens & Finishing: In-house

7. Project Team Sara (13 eps)Studio Liberty
Director: Akitaro Daichi
Sakkans: Chuji Nakajima, Ryoko Hata

8. Doga Kobo (8 eps)In-house
Director: Kiyoshi Fukumoto
Sakkans: Yuji Takahashi, Tadashi Tsubokawa
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house

9. Mu Film (14 eps)In-house + Animatronics
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Sakkans: Akihiko Yamashita, Miho Shimogasa, Takashi Yamazaki, Hiroki Umeda, Chikayo Nakamura
Inbetweens & Finishing: In-house & Animatronics (Philippines subsidiary)

I wrote about Aubec in my posts on Garaga (1989) and Capricorn (1991). They outsourced everything except finishing (which I noted as being the weakest link in Aubec's productions), which they sent to their subsidiary Studio Bogie.

Yadamon pre-dates the concept of the chief animation director, so one of the things that makes the show nice to watch is seeing what different touch each subcontractor brings to the drawings. The drawings look pretty different from episode to episode.

Studio Curtain

One of the show's best subcontractors was Studio Curtain, the informal gathering of animators active 1990-1995 about which I talked in my posts on Sukeban Deka (1991) and Dragon Slayer (1992). Directors Noriyuki Nakamura, Hitoshi Namba and Kazuaki Mouri and animators Tadashi Hiramatsu and Kenichi Shimizu each did very nice work in the show. The fast-paced directing that made Noriyuki Nakamura's Dragon Slayer so memorable is on full display here. I'm not sure why Kazuaki Mouri is credited separately from Studio Curtain, as I'm pretty sure he was at Curtain during this time. Kazuaki Mouri and a few other Curtain people actually moved to Group Tac in the years after Yadamon. Many of the same people who worked on Yadamon went on to work on Group Tac's later Earth Defense Family (2001).

I was aware that Studio Curtain was involved in the show, but not that there were so many other sub-contractors. The two-stage subcontracting system also surprised me. I imagined Curtain had been contracted entirely by Tac, but according to this they were contracted by different groups.

As best I've been able to gather, here is a list of the projects Studio Curtain worked on and the staff who were definitely involved with the studio (there may have been more).

Studio Curtain projects
Dragon Quest (1989-1991) TV eps & op/ed for part 2 aired 1991
Gatapishi (1990) TV (Mon-Fri 10 min format)
Nadia of the Blue Water (1990) TV ep 11 & 15
Yusha Exkaiser (1990-1991) TV ed (Kazuaki Mouri, watch), eps 24, 30, 35, 40, 43
Pigmario (1990-1991) TV op 2 (watch)
The Two Lottes (1991) TV op/ed (watch)
Sukeban Deka (1991) OVA (production assistance credit)
Jarinko Chie Funsenki (1991-1992) TV op/ed (watch)
Tanoshii Moomin Ikka Bouken Nikki (1991-1992) Mouri chief sakkan, sakkan 1, 12, 18, 22, 26 / Hiramatsu genga 10, 16, 22
Dragon Slayer (1992) OVA
Calimero (1992-1993) TV op (Kazuaki Mouri, watch) & ed (Yuka Kudo)
Yadamon (1992-1993) TV (Mon-Fri 10 min format)
TwinBee: WinBee's 1/8 Panic (1993) game video (Kazuaki Mouri, watch)
Jungle no Oja Taa-chan (1993) TV
Moldiver (1993) OVA ep 1 (production assistance credit)
Metal Fighter Miku (1994) TV ep 2
Tobe! Isami (1995) TV
Alice Investigative Bureau (1995-1997) TV

Studio Curtain staff
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
灘波日登志 (三條なみみ) Hitoshi Namba (Namimi Sanjo)
中村憲由 Noriyuki Nakamura
毛利和昭 Kazuaki Mouri
平松禎史 Tadashi Hiramatsu
清水健一 Kenichi Shimizu
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
工藤裕加 Yuka Kudo
宮崎なぎさ Nagisa Miyazaki
数井浩子 Hiroko Kazui
山本直子 Naoko Yamamoto
小川瑞恵 Mizue Ogawa
田口広一 Koichi Taguchi
服部圭子 Keiko Hattori

Other animators who did good work on the show were Shoji Shinichi and Rie Nishino, contracted on an individual basis, and ex-Bebow animator Akihiko Yamashita, who around that time was working on Giant Robo. Masao Okubo did some of his patented Kanda-style effects in episode 52. Satoru Utsunomiya even makes a surprise appearance in episode 164. The climactic last three episodes are quite well animated, but seem to have been made by people from various studios in the final dash.

Below is a selection of some of the animation by the show's best animators. Rie Nishino and Kenichi Shimizu's personality comes through in their eccentric drawings, whereas Tadashi Hiramatsu and Akihiko Yamashita are more about the movement, although their exceptional drafting abilities come through in the drawings.

Tadashi Hiramatsu #27, 55, 90, 114, 135

One of Tadashi Hiramatsu's earliest pieces at Studio Curtain was the crazy animation of King eating a spicy fish in Nadia in 1990. He returns to work on another Tac-NHK production here, and this time turns in some very nice effects and action animation. He worked mostly under director Namba Hitoshi. His uncommon drafting skills come through in the delectable hand drawings in episode 135, which is a good episode overall featuring work by Kazuaki Mouri and Hitoshi Namba. His strong layout skills and detail-oriented sensibility comes through well in this episode. Hiramatsu has admitted to joining Nakamura Pro in the hope of getting to draw Lupin III, and in episode 55 here he draws some action with the canoe dirigible that seems clearly inspired by Kazuhide Tomonaga's work in red jacket Lupin.

Kenichi Shimizu #11, 26, 46, 68, 76, 90, 105

The first appearance of "data thief" brothers Eddie and Butch in episode 26 is one of the best eps in the show thanks to the combination of Noriyuki Nakamura's fast-paced directing and Kenichi Shimizu's eccentric and dynamic drawings that meet the demands of the fast storyboard with some extreme ghosting and deformation and fast actions. The directing was so fast, in fact, that it reportedly gave the voice actors trouble timing their dialogue during the dubbing session. Episode 68 features some of his most fun animation of the family as they're trapped in the grampa's spaceship and start going crazy. You can see some extreme stretching/ghosting above that reminds of the extreme stretch and squash in Dragon Slayer, so those parts of Dragon Slayer may have been of Shimizu's hand. The hands are a dead giveaway in anime when uncorrected, and Shimizu's way of drawing hands is as distinctive as Hiramatsu. Shimizu's hands are blocky and roughly drawn, and he draws the knuckles as a single line. He draws some of the funniest faces in the show.

Shimizu and Hiramatsu recently teamed up again after many years and produced some wonderful work in episode 1 of Parasyte.

The year after Yadamon Curtain director Hitoshi Namba directed Jungle no Oja Taa-chan at Group Tac with largely the same team as Yadamon, including a few episodes featuring the power combo of Noriyuki Nakamura + Tadashi Hiramatsu.

Kazuaki Mouri #68, 92, 135, 159

Episode 92 is a solo episode entirely storyboarded/directed/animated by Curtain's Kazuaki Mouri and is hence the best spot to get a sense of his style. His drawings aren't idiosyncratic like Kenichi Shimizu, but he can draw some extreme deformation/ghosting as in the sequence of Eddie on the table above, or the cartoonishly exaggerated drawings of Shinui. He can also draw very strong traditional straight-through movement with a great sense of body weight as in the sequence of Yadamon doing a triple lutz above. Mouri is one of those all-powerful animators who can do anything, as evidenced by his huge filmography. Mouri did a lot of openings/endings as well as other special projects like Time Gal (1985) and Pony Metal U-Gaim (1986). He settled at Group Tac for a few years after Yadamon.

Rie Nishino #67, 83, 131

Rie Nishino didn't do much in the show but her few episodes feature some tremendously fun drawings and over-acting. The shot of Yadamon at top from around the 8:30 mark in episode 131 is pretty innocuous, and you can't tell how good the movement is from the still drawings, but it's possibly my single favorite shot from the whole series. Yadamon is basically saying "That's not true!" and she does a full-body swing of the arms to emphasize the words. It's some of the best acting in the show, capturing her stubborn, willful personality and emotion perfectly through believable and realistic body movement. And it does so pretty efficiently, with just a few drawings. The episode where we're introduced to Jean's grandfather, #67, is packed to the brim with very fun exaggerated reaction shots.

I'd never heard of Rie Nishino before this, but her work here makes me want to see more. She was animator in Tatsuyuki Tanaka's Tojin Kit, which gives some indication of her skills - not to mention Arietty. It's not clear if she was at Studio Curtain, but she was involved in a lot of projects alongside Kazuaki Mouri over the 1990-1995 time period, designing Carimero with an opening animated by Kazuaki Mouri as well as Jungle no Oja Taa-chan. Many years later she even directed a few episodes of the cute show Zumomo & Nupepe directed by Curtain star director Noriyuki Nakamura.

Akihiko Yamashita #65, 80, 98

Ex-Bebow animator Akihiko Yamashita did some of the show's most virtuosic animation. He didn't do many episodes in the show, but each one features a certain amount of very impressive animation. Ep 65 features some skating animation that has Yadamon and Eddie dashing around the screen with great energy. Yamashita uses a lot of drawings and moves the characters through screen in a three-dimensional way. His action has the thrill of classic Telecom. Ep 80 meanwhile features almost Hakkenden-inspired molten animation of the sand monster Bagdo zooming around the screen with a transforming silhouette, and some of the most 'kakkoii' Yadamon action scenes in the show. Ep 98 is less impressive but features a few shots of effects work, notably a sand explosion and a splash of water that although short are impressively executed, with an almost Toshiyuki Inoue-esque realistic style.

Kumiko Takahashi? #133

Episode 133 featured some of the most boldly deformed drawings and extreme ghosting of any episode in the show. I can't identify the work based on the style, but if I'd have to guess based on the credits, I would guess maybe Kumiko Takahashi, if only because she's immensely talented and I wouldn't put it past her to have this kind of range. She's an animator whose other work at this period I'd like to explore. I've seen her Tetsuwan Birdy OVA series from this period and it's quite lovely.