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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Thursday, June 7, 2012

01:49:00 am , 1886 words, 7548 views     Categories: Studio: Anime R, 1980s, 1990s

Anime games

I don't play games anymore, but I'm interested in the dynamic between animation and games. Games owe a lot to animation. Yoichi Kotabe brought Mario alive. Animated openings to games remain common, and many narrative-style games incorporate cut-scene animation (Popolocrois IMO being the crowning example), but most interesting to me are games where the actual game play consists of hand-drawn animation. LD games were the first of this kind.

After the release of Don Bluth's groundbreaking Dragon's Lair laserdisc arcade game in 1983, there was a brief fad for this new format up until about 1985, when it fizzled out due presumably to the limitations of the gameplay. Between 1983 and 1985, several Japanese games were made in the same mold as Dragon's Lair using LD technology. Although obviously none of them were anything near the level of the amazing animation in Bluth's game, some of them had impressive animation.

Initially, in 1983, the releases were hacked together from previously extisting movies: Cliffhanger from bits of Cagliostro (and also Yuzo Aoki's car chase scene from Mamo) and Bega's Battle from Harmageddon (Yamato and Galaxy Express 999 also later got this treatment), but in 1984 they started putting out original titles. Some of these like Ninja Hayate and Badlands had bad animation and generally sloppy production of the kind you'd expect from a cheap knockoff made as a quick cash-in, but Cobra Command, Road Blaster and Time Gal had impressive animation.

Time Gal (1985, Taito/Junio, Arcade LD Game)
Director:今沢哲男Tetsuo Imazawa
Character Designer:我妻宏Hiroshi Wagatsuma
Animation Director:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
Animators:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
井上俊之Toshiyuki Inoue
うつのみやさとるSatoru Utsunomiya

Full Game Play: Past - Present - Future

Time Gal is my favorite of the Japanese LD games. It features a girl travelling around different eras of history, riding on the wings of Zero fighters, fighting pirates, dodging asteroids and aliens and dinosaurs and giant robots. Stylistically it's closest of the Japanese laserdisc games to the Don Bluth originals. It's a lighthearted romp starring a spunky heroine running around evading various colorful enemies, whereas the other games tend to be dry affairs without humor or personality, with you just driving or flying around shooting things. The creators admit to deliberately modeling Time Gal after Space Ace.

Time Gal also has some of the best animation of any of the Japanese LD games. The animation comes courtesy of none other than the selfsame Kazuaki Mouri I just talked about, who was the animation director. In addition, the animators include no less than Toshiyuki Inoue and Satoru Utsunomiya. The animation appears to have been produced by Studio Junio (The Fox of Chironup, Hermes, Wings of Love), although they are not credited, because the director and animation director are Junio people, and of course Toshiyuki Inoue was at Junio at the time. As it happens, so was Utsunomiya. He had apparently just joined Junio because he admired Inoue's animation on Gu-Gu Ganmo and wanted to work near Inoue. These two had an interesting rivalry going at the time. Inoue had similarly become aware of Utsunomiya at the same time. He had wondered who the amazing animator was behind the good genga he'd seen turned in on Around the World in 80 Days, whose chief animation director was Junio founder Takao Kosai, and later discovered it to be Utsunomiya.

The game has 16 stages, five each of which take place in the past, the present and the future. Satoru Utsunomiya's section is Stage 4 with the mammoth, while Toshiyuki Inoue animated Stage 7 with the god of death, as well as possibly Stage 13 with the giant robot in the tunnel and Stage 16 with the last boss.

I particularly like Inoue's stage with the giant zombie skeleton swinging a scythe. The forms are beautiful and the timing feels incredible, and the whole thing takes place in the middle of this slow animated panning effect, as if it wasn't challenging enough to just draw the action by itself and he wanted to pose himself the further challenge of maintaining proper proportion and perspective in motion. It's a great snapshot of just how amazing an animator Toshiyuki Inoue already was at this early stage in his career. (he had just debuted a year before)

Satoru Utsunomiya's brief but intense segment with the mammoth is quite an eye-opener and reveals a side of him that we're not used to seeing anymore. This was before he developed the distinctive solid style for which he's become known. At this stage he was still drawing very wild and free animation full of comically exaggerated effects and timing.

I suspect Kazuaki Mouri may have animated some of the other sections, but I don't know for sure. The very first stage with the dinosaurs, for example, has some very nice movement that was perhaps of Mouri's hand.

Cobra Command (1984, Data East/Toei, Arcade LD Game)
Director:高山秀樹Hideki Takayama
松浦錠平Johei Matsuura
Animation Director:亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
Assistant Animation Director:今隅眞一Shinichi Imakuma
Animators:亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
白土武Takeshi Shirato
白浦烈Baik Nam Yeul
佐々木正光Masamitsu Sasaki
大島城次Joji Ohshima
八島義孝Yoshitaka Yajima
本橋秀之Hideyuki Motohashi
青鉢芳信Yoshinobu Aohachi
Road Blaster (1985, Data East/Toei, Arcade LD Game)
Director:高山秀樹Hideki Takayama
Chief Key Animator:稲野義信Yoshinobu Inano
Background Design:Yoshiyuki Yamamoto
Animators:白浦烈Baik Nam Yeul
今隅眞一Shinichi Imakuma
的場茂夫Shigeo Matoba
金大中Kim Dae Jung
Kaoru Shinbo

Full Game Play: Cobra Command - Road Blaster

These two titles were produced by Data East, who farmed the animation out to Toei. Toei had actually prior to this been put in charge of the animation of Ninja Hayate, but they had really botched that one. These two are in a different league. Both are challenging and fast-paced games packed with nonstop action. The animation also doesn't stop in either one. There isn't a still moment - every moment is animated, because the motion of the vehicles is all depicted by hand-drawn animation.

It would have been inconceivable to animate a conventional anime production the way these are. Storyboarding long shots that go on for upwards of a minute and consist entirely of nonstop animated backgrounds would have been a sure ticket to being fired. These games were in a unique position of being able to be lavished with an unprecedented density of animation for a Japanese production. There were occasional moments in TV productions where a wild animator like Masahito Yamashita would create a crazy sequence of background animation, but these games pushed background animation to a whole new level.

The person behind the quality of Cobra Command was Hajime Kamegaki, the Kanada-school animator who together with Hideyuki Motohashi (here also present as an animator) did so much good work on TV shows in the 1980s from their legendary Studio Z5.

The person behind the quality of Road Blaster was Yoshinobu Inano, one of the greatest animators nobody has ever heard of. He was one of the most talented animators at Toei in the late 1970s/early 1980. He pioneered a unique kind of quasi-realistic animation that went on to influence many later great animators including Mitsuo Iso. You can see his style most clearly in the opening of the game where the punks wreak havoc in the city, sending bystanders running.

Captain Power: Battle Training (1988, 3 VHS tapes, AIC)
Animation Directors:大平晋也Shinya Ohira
矢野淳Atsushi Yano
Key Animators:Vol. 1
西井正典Masanori Nishii
伊藤浩二Koji Ito
田野雅祥Masayoshi Tano
生亀信幸Nobuyuki Namakame
山中英治Eiji Yamanaka
Vol. 2 & 3
逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
濱川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
貴志芙美子Fumiko Kishi
太田雅三Yuzo Ohta
伊良原正也Masaya Irahara
山中英治Eiji Yamanaka

By 1988 when the three VHS tapes of this game were released, LD anime games were dead. This game is basically just straight animation without any branching or death scenes. You were supposed to aim your toy gun at the screen and a sensor in the gun would detect when you had properly targeted the flashing missiles on the screen and eject the pilot from your toy if you had not.

Captain Power: Battle Training picks up where the latter two titles left off: it's one long, extended, nonstop torrent of background animation and explosions. I'd go so far as to say it's the crowning achievement in background/effects animation in anime. Where the previous two titles were actually pretty iffy in a lot of the background animation, almost all of the BG animation here is impressive, and much of it is downright stunning. I already wrote about this a long time ago, so I won't re-hash my gushing, but I really love this thing. It's my bible of anime FX animation.

Shinya Ohira is of course the big name behind the incredible beauty and power of the animation here, but the fact is that he was backed up by some of the best mecha and effects animators of the day. Most significantly, Anime R was behind the animation of parts 2 and 3. Hiroshi Osaka, Fumiko Kishi, Masahiko Itojima, Hiroyuki Okiura, Toru Yoshida, Kazuaki Mouri - all the best Anime R animators worked on parts two and three. That makes this another great introduction to the style of Anime R at their peak after U-GAIM (and SPT Layzner if you have a little more time to spare), although in this one it can be a little difficult to distinguish between the Anime R bits and the Ohira bits.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, the entirety of Captain Power: Battle Training can be viewed online.

Yarudora series (1998-2000, 6 volumes, Production I.G, PS & PS2)

Vol. 1: Double Cast (1998, PS)
Vol. 2: Kisetsu wo Dakishimete (1998, PS)
Vol. 3: Sampaguita (1998, PS)
Vol. 4: Yukiwari no Hana (1998, PS)
Vol. 5: Scandal (2000, PS2)
Vol. 6: Blood: The Last Vampire (2000, PS2)

Many years after the LD game boom, Production I.G. picked up the torch of animated games with their Yarudora series from 1998-2000, plugging animation into the popular formula of anime-styled but illustration-based sim games. Rather than a reflex-based adventure game where you were dodging foes like in the early days, this time you were guiding your character through a complicated story. You made choices at key junctures, which led to different possible outcomes: anime via Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. The stories were alternately psychological and violent. The last two volumes Scandal and Blood were action outings as opposed to the more psychological preceding quartet.

The highlight of the series is Yukiwari no Hana, which looked very different from all of the other volumes due to the beautiful Jin-Roh-esque pared-down realistic character designs and dark-hued visual concept of Masatsugu Arakawa. I'd still like to see more anime that look like this.

The last outing in the Yarudora series was a game tie-in with Hiroyuki Kitakubo's Blood: The Last Vampire movie. In a curious coincidence, it happened to be Shinya Ohira's comeback to animation after several years of absence. He animated the scene here and his style is unmistakable. The animation is reminiscent of Hamaji, which was the last thing he had done before leaving the industry a few years earlier. Anime games have marked two significant points in Ohira's career - the peak of his FX period and the start of his current character-as-FX period.

Bringing things full-circle, Ohira was even behind the next step in the evolution of animated gaming: He directed a playable animated stage of the recent Asura's Wrath game that is not only a monumental new piece of animation in its own right (a worthy companion piece to Wanwa), but that also pushes the neglected genre of traditional animated gaming forward into the new millennium, with its more involved gameplay and the fact that it is an online download. The short seems to hark back to the LD games of yore, since it involves an extended sequence of fast action requiring quick reflexes.



aaron_long [Member]

Recently I played Catherine on PS3, which has anime cutscenes by Studio 4C. I really don’t like it though, mainly because of the storytelling. It’s anime alright, but it’s like watching the stupidest harem or fan service show imaginable. The gameplay itself is fun, but completely isolated from the story in every way, which only makes the cutscenes feel even more intrusive. The animation up to where I am in the game has been pretty dull as well.

I love Time Gal though, and Captain Power’s pretty interesting as well.

06/07/12 @ 05:34
Hew Dyer
Hew Dyer [Visitor]  

Awesome post as always!

I agree with you that the animation Quality in parts of Time Gal is far superior to Ninja Hayate.

I think Ninja Hayate works better as a video game because the player is clearly shown what your enemy is about to do and Ninja Hayate usually does not react until the players input has been accepted.

You feel more in control of the main character unlike Time Gal where she is bouncing all around the sceen constantly and will occasionally die if you don’t press the right direction when something flashes on screen.

06/07/12 @ 11:18
melchizedek [Visitor]

Oh my gosh, Time Gal! Never played it, but found it a while back, and enjoyed the death scenes because of how humorous and creative they were. And Captain Power Battle Training would’ve been an awesome game to have.

My favorite animated OP/ED for a videogame would have to be from Sonic CD. That was another Studio Junio one, with Toei.

And I gotta agree with Hew Dyer, in that there isn’t a lot of player input when it comes to these games. It’d be nice to find more games that feel well animated with enough actual gameplay, to strike both of these things pleasantly. Games like Eric Chahi’s Another World. Ah, but alas, I digress. It’s good that they have stuff like Asura’s Wrath, where they can have displays of cinematic prowess and animation showcases. It’s a good thing to expose gamers to.

06/07/12 @ 12:55
kraker2k [Member]

This genre always seemed to be one full of the most possibilities but also the hardest to create. I really enjoyed Ohira’s recent outing on Asura, that was just amazing.

By the way, animator Koji Ito mentioned on twitter a while back how crazy the drawings they produced for Captain Power were. He said they had masses of drawings that filled up a room(I think, he used a measurement for Tatami mats that I didn’t quite understand) and those were just for the moving backgrounds!

After which Obari Masami chimed in and said he also assisted on the episode as he worked on the Storyboards - he described them as being so detailed that they were practically genga themselves.

I’m guessing Obari lent a hand as he had joined the freelance studio Minamimachi Bugyosho around that time, according to a list of their works drmecha posted, Minami members lent a hand on episode 1 and I do see Masanori Nishii in episode 1 who was also a Minami member. I’m not sure why he was uncredited though, then again, I don’t think anyone else is credited with storyboards for Captain Power.

06/07/12 @ 13:38
Ben [Member]  

Aaron -

I saw the preview for Catherine and was curious about it, although I’m not surprised to hear it’s dumb. I’m a little curious about it, just to see what it’s like, and to see the modern descendant of these old LD games, but I don’t think I’d have the patience to play one of these adventure games anyway. That’s what I like about the games like Dragon’s Lair - the gratification is instant and every moment is awesome.

Hew -

Thanks. :) Ah, that makes sense. I didn’t really think about the games from the perspective of the gameplay, but I can totally see what you mean. Time Gal is such a blur of crazy action that it almost seems kind of random what you’re supposed to do. With the Captain Power games I’ve heard the system was really flawed in terms of the power of the sensors to detect when you’ve hit your target, and of course the visuals don’t actually respond. Even if you missed, the enemy ships still blow up…

melchizedek -

Yes, I forgot to mention the death scenes. They’re quite comical. She shrivels up into an SD character. I don’t think that sort of thing would have been popular in the west at the time. The Badlands death scenes were also pretty comical. I think I’ve seen that Sonic opening, though I can’t remember for sure. I’ll look it up, especially knowing it’s Junio/Toei.

I totally agree about the gameplay aspect. I’m not a gamer, but I can see how these games would not be satisfying to play, or at least, not more than briefly. It would be nice to see a system created where they could have full animation and more interactivity. It was great to see them continuing with this sort of thing with that Ohira piece in Asura’s Wrath. I’d like to see more games like this produced.

kraker2k -

Ooh, thanks for that. I suspected Koji Ito was the big animator behind volume one. I think he was still at Graviton at the time, though I suppose Shoichi Masuo left after Project A-Ko to do Aim for the Top at Gainax, hence his absence here. I’ll have to look those tweets up. Amazing what secrets are revealed after all these years. I had no idea Obari was involved. No, I haven’t seen any storyboard credit either. You could be right about the Minamimachi Bugyosho connection. There was a lot of fluidity between these studios, with people coming and going between different studios.

06/07/12 @ 17:01
kraker2k [Member]
06/07/12 @ 19:18
aaron_long [Member]

melchizedek brought up the Sonic CD animation– can’t believe I forgot a Sonic game! I love that intro and ending, both as a Sonic fan and as an animation fan. The Engrish rapping doesn’t hurt either.

06/08/12 @ 04:17
drmecha [Visitor]

LD games also drew my attention when, around 1995, I met and played the Road Avenger game on the Sega Mega CD.
As for the Cobra Command, I had seen the staff. And if I remember correctly, one of the stages was animated by Tomonori Kogawa.
As for Captain Power game, I had the entire staff, thank you for publishing it Ben.
I recognize some animators as belonging to the permanent staff of AIC since his foundation (Nobuyuke Ikegame, ex.) not to mention the other animators belonging to the usual freelance studios subcontracted by AIC (Graviton, Minamimachi, Break, etc) for these years.
As Obari involvement is rare if not proven a charge of “stoyboard artist.” This is more normal in “key help". Obari would storyboard asistant or collaborator?
Other animators present on the Captain Power staff that I recognize in works of Pierrot in the 80s, but every so often saw in some work of AIC. I do not know if they are of Pierrot or any other freelance studio.

Finally, there was another classic game animated by Toei LD: Arbegas, based on one of their super robot series from the

06/08/12 @ 08:54
Ben [Member]  

Thanks, kraker2k.

For reference, links to Sonic Boom:

Very impressive, definitely one of the best. Makes sense knowing the animation director was Hisashi Eguchi, animation director of Spriggan & Order to Assassinate Lupin special.

Here’s a link to some Albegas game footage. Interestingly, it has lots of long background animation. It was released in 1984. Supposedly it was made using footage from the just-aired TV show of the same name, although it seems weird there would be such footage in a TV show.

06/08/12 @ 17:10
h_park [Member]

I haven’t played any of Anime games mentioned above, but I did played Dragon’s Lair once. Game play was just too quick for me.

Upon reading the post, we’re still seeing how Japanese animation still playing major influential role in their video games and PC games. Animation visual and games are so intertwined that it’s hard to ignore their symbiotic relationship.

Thank God that I still have Yarudora artbook…

06/09/12 @ 00:48
Leedar [Visitor]

Funny, I came to the conclusion a while ago that Japanese video game animation often diverges strongly from TV/film animation; that if you told me it wasn’t made in Japan or even greater East Asia, I could believe you.

For instance, the posting on the forum (IIRC?) of 90s Capcom animation that has more bold 3D forms and is more ‘cartoony’ in a Western sense (squash and stretch, etc.).

I think the reasons for this are complicated, and different for 3D CG and hand-drawn/pixel.

06/09/12 @ 03:41
h_park [Member]


People make Capcom video games are influenced by classic anime titles, but not as blatant as PC ADV game types. Everyone knows that Capcom’s famous Mega Man is loosely based from Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy. They made series of games based from popular anime and manga genre, but they just don’t copy and paste like Tokyo.

In case of Tokyo area, the cycle of PC game and animation influencing each other is far stronger due to Otaku fan base. In terms of corporate level game production, it’s pretty much normal for Japanese video games to have traditionally animated cut-scenes and anime/manga style game characters. They haven’t diverged much; they just compliment each other with their own strong points.

I think it’s more of a regional thing than plain cultural difference. From what I read from various sources, Osaka/Kansai based Capcom is more open to foreign ideas and its creative team is heavily influenced by American comics and media. More relaxed is probably the best way to put it.

Artists who shaped anime and manga came from Osaka/Kansai area. Many Golden Age manga artists, including Osamu Tezuka, are originally from that area.

On the other hand, majority of animation studios are based in Tokyo/Kanto area. Their animation professionals are too caught up in their works and don’t have much time to step back and look outside of their tight, rigid Tokyo environment. I think that Tokyo/Kanto animation scene is more business-like & tight general consensus than bold, loose expressions from Osaka scene. One reason why animations from outside of Kanto, notably Kyoto Animation, get well-received attention because they’re not afraid to express themselves more freely. I believe that Kansai characteristic attracts many fans and professionals who yearn a breather from deviant, but rigid presentation that Tokyo/Kanto scene is known for.

Another comparison I can think of is New York vs Los Angeles animation scene.

06/10/12 @ 02:01
Leedar [Visitor]

I see. That is quite interesting.

But then is it true that Osaka produces more notable games? Almost every time I have seen concept art for a game, as opposed to concept art by manga/anime artists, the aesthetic is much more original, and that does carry to the final product (although perhaps more in older games).

06/11/12 @ 16:54
pete [Member]

H Park, also a similar comparison would be the US video game scene. After the demise of Sega, the US Sega department in California was merged with that of Microsoft and it is there were the most notable Microsoft games were developed.

06/13/12 @ 02:27
h_park [Member]


What I’m trying to say is that environment and local culture have great influence over the outcome of art. It could be animation or video game. Aesthetics are influenced by environment and people too. If Osaka/Kansai concept arts tell you anything, probably local people value substance over style. If a foreign idea works well with them, then they will accept it openly.

I don’t know Osaka produce more notable games, but Capcom’s R&D is in Osaka. If they want to hire someone for illustration, then they would likely to hire someone with real substance rather fan artist type who cannot see outside of trends. Also being a video game company that makes millions for themselves, they have ample resource to do experiment.

06/17/12 @ 02:36
h_park [Member]

Is it possible to add more security on your blog? Last 2 posts sound like spam to me.

06/22/12 @ 22:27
Ben [Member]  

I know, it’s awful. I’ve been deleting spam comments every day lately. I’ll try to add better security if I can…

06/23/12 @ 16:28