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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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

11:45:56 pm , 1281 words, 4689 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Ichiro Itano

The first pic from Gisaburo Sugii's new film. Why am I reminded of Ringing Bell?

I love Shinji Hashimoto's shot in the Sci-Fi Harry op, the way he manages to make the person all wobbly and wavy and yet retain a distinct core. There's a bit of this deforming sensation in his work of late, but here it's done quite dramatically and to great effect. I don't know who else was involved, except obviously Shinya Ohira, but it's all great, though Shinji and Shinya are the only two who take the idea of getting as much movement as possible out of the character on the screen to its maximum potential. They place the character there and see how much interesting movement they can come up with. The whole form speaks, not just the face, and there's a thrilling density there that nobody else acheives, whereas in normal animation there's a hurry to get the specified movement done and out of the way. It's really a different way of approaching the act of animating.

I had another look at Riding Bean and was surprised by the quality and the quantity of Ohira's contribution. He was one of the ADs and contributed the most animation. Last time I watched this thing it was over a decade ago and I didn't know who Ohira was, nor what good animation was. Now I see. Any suspicions about Ohira's drawing skills from people who have only seen his late work will be quickly wiped away from seeing his mid-period FX. This would have been right after Akira, when he was still focusing on FX, before moving to characters. There's an incredible density of movement and detail that has no equal in anything that was being done then or now by anyone else. I look forward to seeing Ohira's work in Howl. There's a part of me that would love to see him go independent, but another part that loves seeing him working within the system on these major studio projects, always totally doing it his own way. His presence bring a healthy feeling of tension to the final product, at least in this viewer.

One of the things that made Ohira stand out in his early years was his tendency to pack an incredible amount of detail into short sequences animated at a full frame rate. There was a span of years during which he admits that he went a little detail-crazy, doing such things as drawing a thousand drawings for five seconds of animation. One of Ohira's most famous predecessors in terms of focusing on packing in detail into short sequences of incredible power and density is Ichiro Itano, who created a sensation among fans with his animation of aerial combat sequences in a trio of early 80s TV shows.

Ichiro ItanoBorn in 1959, Itano started as an animator midway through the original Gundam series. While working on the show he came up with a new, more dynamic approach to portraying combat sequences that would wind up making him one of the most famous animators of his day.

The seed of this new approach can be traced as far back as the make-beleive games he and his friends would play out on the street mimicking their favorite TV hero, Ultraman. One day they came up with the idea of tying firework rockets to the back of a bike to spice things up, and when the rockets flew, the young Ichiro was struck by the dynamism and beauty of the unpredictable way the projectiles flew through the air.

When he began to think about the problems entailed in the combat animation he had to do on Gundam, he questioned the static way such scenes had been approached up until that point, looking back to those youthful bike rocket experiments for inspiration. Rather than letting action take place in a fixed frame and cutting between close-ups, he moved the camera into the middle of the fray, dynamically following the various bodies in the frame as they danced around each other in an elegant, intricately detailed ballet. This was like nothing that had been seen before, and it gave his scenes an incredible immediacy. You knew it right away when Itano's animation appeared on the screen, and you couldn't look away. It stood out. At a basic level this is because his scenes were (ideally) done at a full frame rate, which contrasted greatly with the limited animation that necessarily dominated the medium. (There were particularly bad episodes in Macross with literally no animators, only the character animation director and mecha animation director; Itano handled several.) But the movement itself was different in a more fundamental way - it was about the sheer joy of pure movement. Like all great animation, you could see the person behind it. It had personality. You could sense an artist communicating his vision: "This is animation!" He was an animation artisan searching for how best to work the material given him, and you could clearly see the labor that had gone into the final product. The timing of the action was millisecond-precise, the flight paths were unpredictable and full of pinhead turns in a way that convinced you of the reality and the weight of the objects. In the end, what makes his work great is that it is an example of a person pushing the medium of animation to its limit and creating the sort of visuals that are only possible in the medium of animation.

Yoshiyuki Tomino was duly impressed by his invention, and gave Itano an opportunity to continue to develop it in his next series, Ideon, in the movie version of which Itano's approach reached its first peak. Having by now acquired a reputation in his field, Itano handled most of the film's important full-frame mecha sequences (along with Yoshinobu Inano), which, combined with the highly expressive characters of animation director Tomonori Kogawa, contribute greatly to the visceral impact of this blistering, orgiastic vision of mutual assured destruction, which many (including Tomino himself) consider Tomino's peak acheivement. After this, Itano worked on Macross, where his art reached its peak in the various classic action sequences scattered throughout the series, for which he is best remembered today. It was at this time that Hideaki Anno came to work under Itano to learn professional animation skills, which he would put to use in animating the swords in Daicon IV. By this time Itano had become famous among animation fans in Japan - to the extent that they had invented a word for Itano's animation: Itano Circus. To the disappointment of animation fans, however, he soon embarked on a directing career, cutting off a promising beginning as an innovative animator. He was part of the generation right at the border of the digital age, when animation was becoming more and more detailed, and he was one of those who pushed the medium of hand-drawn animation to its height, creating incredible effects by means of arduously crafted hand-drawn animation. Much of it could easily be done on a computer now, and for the last few years that is exactly what Itano has been doing: bringing his art into the digital age, in recent work on shows such as Macross Zero.

Partial filmography
  Gundam TV - key animation
  Ideon TV - key animation
  Ideon movie - key animation
  Macross TV
    mecha animation director (w/animators): 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 31
    mecha animation director (alone): 14, 17
    key animation: 31
  Macross movie - key animation
  Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer - key animation
  Megazone 23 - action director, animation director
  Megazone 23 Part II - director, mecha animation director
  Tekkaman Blade TV - storyboard, director, animation director: 31, 36, 42, 47
  Macross Plus - action choreographer
  Macross Zero - action choreographer



Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Ahhh, I remember translating a couple of the credits for the Macross TV series (though I always left out ADs, for some bizarre reason) at least for about 13 eps before I got so sick of it that I stopped watching…

But he is awesome, the action sequences in Macross Plus are IMO simply breathtaking. I really get the idea of the power fo the battles and the scale of the battlefield sometimes.

12/16/04 @ 04:28
iamNataku [Visitor]

I curious as to how much input Itano had on Macross Plus’ action scenes over co-director Watanabe. The storyboarding seems very similar to his (Watanabe’s) work in Cowboy Bebop.

(Perhaps Watanabe had more input on the flight sequences, whereas Itano focused more on the mech battle sequences?)

12/16/04 @ 11:10
Ben [Visitor]

I’m hardly an expert on these shows, but I’d suspect Itano would have been the one largely responsible for the action scenes in Macross Plus, since he’s credited as the “action choreographer". One thing that might help to account for any similarities between the action in Door to Heaven and Macross Plus is the fact that the mechanic animation director of both was Masami Goto. I’ve heard he’s considered Ichiro Itano’s successor of sorts in terms of flight action style. But I really don’t know for sure.

12/16/04 @ 11:40
Ben [Visitor]

I had a look at the Heaven credits again:

Storyboard: Shin’ichiro Watanabe
Action storyboard: Yutaka Nakamura, Goto Masami, Yutaka Izubuchi

So obviously Goto did the flight storyboarding. Also, I just read an interview where Goto talks about having been the one who animated the roughly 30 cuts in the crater, because the CG department wanted it ahead of time or something. Amazing work.

And of course Nakamura handled the mano a mano at the end. Not sure about Izubuchi.

Also, Shinji Higuchi, one of the storyboarders of Macross Plus, and director of Nadia, has recently been credited with battle scene storyboard on Casshern, so just going from his history I’d suspect he’s the one who did the action in M+, though it’s been years since I’ve seen it, so as usual this is all just me wondering aloud.

12/16/04 @ 18:16
neilworms [Visitor]

Yeah Itano was at a local anime convention where I live sogoi-con unfortinetly I just missed the Q&A session with him…

I was curious there is a scene in End of Eva that seems obviously inspired by him was this done by Goto, or Itano himself?

12/16/04 @ 23:09
Ben [Visitor]

I’ve heard that was done by Yasushi Muraki, who also did the opening in the jungle in Pat 2 and the missile action in ep 1 & the dogfight in ep 4 of M+ - so I hear. He was also in eps 8 & 19 of Eva.

12/17/04 @ 10:21
drmecha [Visitor]  

Ichiro Itano is my favorite animator with Ikou Kaneda.

Ichiro Itano begins his career in Studio Musashi in 1977 and Studio Cockpit in 1978 (in the two studios with the later famous animator and designer Yuji Moriyama). Later in 1978 Itano passes to Studio Bebow (Tomonori Kogawa’s Studio) (meanwhile Moriyama passes to Studio Neomedia in 1980 and later in 1982 to Studio MIN).
Itano forks for Studio Bebow in Galaxy Express ep 30, Gundam, Ideon, Gundam films, Dr. Slump and Xabungle. In this Studio (Bebow) Itano meets his future friends Toshihiro Hirano and Narumi Kakinouchi. In 1982 Itano with Hirano and Kakinouchi (who founded a short lived Studio IO these year)passes to Artland (noboru Ishiguro’s Studio) for works in the Macross TV series.
In Artland works in Macross Movie (1984), collaborating in Daicon IV with hirano, Kakinouchi and other members of Artland of his disciple Hideaki Anno. Works in Crusher Joe Movie (1983) with Hirano and Kakinouchi, Plawres Sanshirou ep 28 with Hirano and Kakinouchi, Urusei Yatsura TV ep 08 with hirano and Kakinouchi. In 1984 releases a short manga in the magazine Lemon Purple Nº 29. Is director of Hokuto no Ken eps 39 and 49 (the two eps animated by Artland)with nobuteru Yuuki key animator in ep 49.
Urusei Yatsura “beautyfull Dreamer” and Megazone 2 3 I and II. In december of 1986 found D.A.S.T (Defense Animation Studio Team) with animators of Artland (Kenji Miyashita producer, Nobuteru Yuuki, Toru Misaka, Hiroaki Motoigi, Yohko Kadokami, Sadami Morikawa, and Toshiaki Hontani), Kazuya Wada of Studio MIN, Miyuki Nakano and Hideko Yamauchi of Kaname Pro, and Satoshi Urushihara with Kinji Yoshimoto (of Studio Waashija? an studio subcontracted by toei for coproductions par example).
Exist a magazine called “Sasa-Nishiki Super Blend Nº001″ with illustrations and interviews of animators of Violence Jack and Angel Cop (the other two works produced by DAST) members of DAST and other studios collaborators in these OVAs.
Itano releases in 1988 the animated scene in the romantic live action OVA “Fantastic Story Shigatsu Kaidan". Is autor and director of a mysterious OVA called “Stardust".
And other much incredible works!!!
(in 1990 yoshimoto and Urushihara founds Studio Earthworks with animators from AIC). The other animators quit DAST. And in 90’s Itano works with de most new animators of DAST.

07/21/07 @ 06:50
drmecha [Visitor]  

Error: Itano, Horano and Kakinouchi works in the ep 108 of Urusei Yatsura (not 08)

07/21/07 @ 06:52
drmecha [Visitor]  

Ichiro Itano is Special Animator / Key Animator in Souryuuden (Legend of Four Kings) created Yoshiki Tanaka (Galactic Heroes, Arslaan) and directed by Osamu Dezaki (Golgo 13, Black Jack, Cobra, Mighty Orbots, etc..)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

06/30/08 @ 12:46
capnsid [Visitor]  

MZ 23 Part 2 is my fave of the three Megazones, though I’ve had a burning question for decades: in the magazine-sized booklet for the Japanese LD of Part 2, there’s artwork for what I assume was a potential roughcut, with different hair color for characters (Dumpi with blue hair with a red streak through it, Yui with longer black hair, uncut, etc.), the original Eve from Part 1, Shogo clocking BD, different color schemes for scenes, and so on.

Is there a way to track down this roughcut, and the dozen or so produced eps of Part 1, which were cannibalized to make the OVA?

09/06/12 @ 00:57
h_park [Member]


So exactly what are you looking for? Are you looking for a pilot film?

Does the magazine sized booklet gave you any clue?

Unless one of us is super hardcore Megazone 23 fan who has bought countless videos and printed publications, there is no way to know for sure.

09/08/12 @ 04:55
drmecha [Visitor]


Yeah, me too I have those first designs. They are in a magazine of 1984, on a billboard. Although the play was called “Omega Zone” (not Megazone).

Here in my blog, I uploaded that page. forum find many people know about it.


12/05/12 @ 03:57
drmecha [Visitor]

Hi Ben and all readers.
I just download all RAWs of the “The Ultraman” (a 1979 tv series with animation produced by Sunrise for Tsurubaya Pro). And i discovered Ichiro Itano in episode 48. The animation is more fluid than most other episodes. Already notice quite detailed action scenes. Although not very surprised.
The last three episodes (the series has 50 eps) are some of the best animated episodes. Although Itano only works in 48. Another curiosity is that Tomino works in the last two episodes (a pseudonym).
Another personality known that caught my attention was Yuji Moriyama (Itano former partner before 1979 in St. Musashi), who was already working on this series for Keiichiro Kimura’s Neomedia Pro.


12/16/12 @ 05:11
ben_the_bear [Visitor]  

I saw Itano at Animazement 2012. He went in place of Noburo Ishiguro who had passed away a few months earlier. He had 3 panels, 1 on Blassreiter, one on his work overall, and one with Hiroshi Nagahama in memory of Ishiguro. The last panel was pretty sad and Itano started crying at a few points.

But during his main panel in one of the ballrooms, he mentioned his work on a ton of stuff I had no idea he was involved with. He said that he gave materials to the men who would later form Gainax so they could make the Daicon IV Animation, and he revealed he animated the part with the flying swords in the Daicon IV animation. If I remember correctly he said that Daicon III was above average. He also told me he did a small amount of work on Wings of Honneamise.

He also mentioned working on Space Battleship Yamato, and told many stories about getting orders from Ishiguro. He and other young animators would make extremely detailed scenes to upstage the older animators. When they met during the production of SDF Macross, Ishiguro said that Itano was “that troublemaker on Yamato.”

As for the Circus, he said he would strap about 100 fireworks to his motorcycle and light them with a Zippo and speed off before the police showed up. He said that “without the American Zippo, there would be no Itano Circus.”

During the panel in remembrance of Ishiguro, he talked about visting Ishiguro in the ICU. Ishiguro asked him to bring him storyboards so he could start working on a new project called “Horanger” when he left the ICU. Horanger would be about 5 Buddhist monks that fought spirits. He didn’t mention Super Sentai (or the interpreter didn’t use the term) but he described it as a satire show.

He still seemed like the “Crazy Itano” I’ve always heard about (think Angel Cop International Jewish Conspiracy). When someone asked about Violence Jack episode 2, he claimed that he made the show better, even though there is a ton of rape in episode 2.

Sorry to post this comment about 8 years after you posted this article. It’s 5 AM and I can’t sleep.

12/30/12 @ 02:05
h_park [Member]


Thank you very much for up bring the behind-the-scene story of Itano and Ishiguro.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s 8 years late or not. You just heard Itano’s story directly from him and this is the best site that talks about art and artists behind Japanese animation in English.

Things like this aren’t widely talked about in Anime fandom. Behind-the-scene stories make us appreciate anime better. We love to know more about this artists and how it affected their works and lives.

The gap between anime artists and fans is so wide in the west and there isn’t much appreciation on what they do. That gap created indifference among fans. Conventions are wonderful because fans can connect with creators and narrow the gap. These people put their precious time, youth, and creativity to produce niche medium to please small number of dedicated fans. It’s not right if there is no appreciation for what they do.

You can’t help yourself admiring their methods because we are the ones who enjoy the fruit of their labor. Plus, their time-honored tradition of drawing thousands of pages art makes it more human and fascinating than ever.

12/31/12 @ 01:24