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Tatsunoko released a TV-episode-length one-shot OVA called Ippatsu Hicchuu!! Devander at the end of last year to mark their 50th anniversary. It was headlined by two figures who have been mainstays of Tatsunoko since their founding: Director Hiroshi Sasagawa and mecha designer Kunio Okawara.
It's a gag sci-fi mecha action show for kids in the spirit of their Time Bokan series. It exhibits the same outlandish concept and over-the-top, tasteless design sensibility as those shows, with the horse mecha and silly hero suit complete with spurs, and the whole concept of the hero having to pedal the mechanical horse to get a new lotto ball out that turns into a robot to fight the enemy mecha.
It references their past work and features brief cameos by a number of well-known Tatsunoko characters like Hakushon Daimao and Kerokko Demetan - and even the studio's own mascot, the sea horse or baby dragon. It would be an uninteresting, self-serving trifle of an advertisement for the studio it weren't for the quality of the production.
Jun Arai acted as the mecha sakkan, and he turned the show into an all-out bash of Kanada-school mecha action and effects. Most of the smoke and other assorted effects scream his hand, while an array of well-known Kanada-school animators or otherwise talented mecha animators fill out the mecha animation and make it interesting at every moment.
Most of these names need no introduction. They've been mainstays of mecha shows for decades. Amazing to see Masahito Yamashita still working on the front lines in a show like this more than 30 years since he drew his most famous bits that made him a legend as the #1 Kanada-school animator in the early 80s. I thought I saw a scene with the 'Yamashita run' and wondered who could be imitating him. It was most likely the man himself.
The more realistic explosions near the end were presumably courtesy of Takashi Hashimoto and Hideki Kakita, who actually aren't very Kanada school at all. The only one that seems out of place is Yusuke Yamamoto, since he's a director. The other mystery is Kentaro Mikazuki - obviously a pen name.
Shin Matsuo was the line director as well as co-storyboarder. I remember him primarily for KO Century Beast, one of the shows that got me into anime back in the day, with its zany, cartoonish sensibility and hyper-deformed designs. His work isn't always identifiable to me, but when he shifts gears into Kanada mode, it's quite obvious what he's trying to do.
The main mystery is why they chose this style for this show. Yoshinori Kanada was never a name associated with Tatsunoko's animation. In fact, he seemed to represent the diametric opposite of what Tatsunoko animation stood for. Happenstance seems to have led to this pairing, but I find it bizarre that for their 50th anniversary they go with this style, as much as I enjoy getting the opportunity to see 25 minutes of nice animation by talented animators. Well, I won't look the gift mecha horse in the mouth.
The Kanada school has gone through many phases, and if Arai's work is any indication, it is now in its decadent phase. It's all carefully polished stylization, where the master was all about dynamism at the expense of polish. The style is just what resulted; it wasn't the goal. Miyazaki's words from 30 years ago about the man and his imitators still ring true today. To be fair, this isn't a new trend. Yamashita Masahito and the 80s followers were the ones who first pushed Kanada's stylization to its decadent extreme, with geometrical smoke and insanely detailed shadows. Arai just updates the tradition. It's not unpleasant to watch. It's just predictable. It was fun back then because it was like they were sneaking it in.
The opening in particular felt like they were deliberately trying to imitate how Kanada might have done it. I know it sounds weird to say that, since the whole show seems Kanada inspired, but it's as if they weren't just doing Kanada-school animation but actually rendering an homage to the man himself with the opening. Maybe that's because it was storyboarded by Masahito Yamashita. It additionally featured a few other nice names: Yoshimichi Kameda, Yasuhiro Seo, Shingo Fujii, Morifumi Naka.
I haven’t seen this particular OVA so I can’t comment on it, but on Jun Arai, I think saying that he is an indicator of the current state of Kanada-like animation might be giving him too much credit. I think his very limited animation style is a result of his poor skills as an animator more than him re-interpreting the Kanada style. He certainly likes to put as much detail as possible into his drawings, but I don’t think he would be able to pull off satisfying movement even if we wanted to.
There certainly must be other animators that better represent the current state of the Kanada school.
Jun Arai is a contentious name. People either love him or hate him. He seemed to have caused an argument on Twitter when a certain animator (politely) said that Arai’s work is not representative of Kanada’s style of work. This really seemed to have caused some hurt to Arai who deleted his Twitter account for a few days. Even doing animation work seems to cause some trouble, some cuts he did for the Persona 4 anime were redrawn by the AD because he wasn’t too fond of Arasan’s style.
I thought his stylised action sequence in episode 3 of Ishihama’s From the New World was quite interesting and much better than some of his other output. Especially since one of FtNW’s goals was to use little shadow or shading as possible, in the context of the show Arai’s scene was a flashback and so having a stylised scene made it interesting I think.
Speaking of the Kanada style, have you seen the new animation made for a 2012 Pachinko Slot game based on 70s robot show Combattler? They somehow managed to bring back Hideki Tamura to the animation world and put him in charge of most of the 2D work.
Searching ‘Combattler 2012′ on Youtube should net you various clips and montages from it. Besides Tamura being the lead AD, Yamashita, Matsuo and Hirotoshi Sano all chipped in some KA work. I think these clips show a much better side of the Kanada style brought to the modern era.
There’s a blog post in Japanese that discusses some of it: http://26926725.at.webry.info/theme/8763d42e49.html
True enough. Jun Arai has his own style based on his skills/limitations as an animator, and that’s all. He hardly deserves the mantle of representative of modern state of the Kanada school. It’s just that I keep seeing him over and over in different places, and every time it’s the same exact thing, regardless of the context, which kind of gets annoying. Hiroyuki Imaishi is obviously a much better candidate for representative if I need to chose one. At least in his hands the Kanada style feels alive and well, and he himself seems to have already gone on to influence people through the TV shows he’s directed.
I’ve heard about his antics, and I think that partly colors my feelings towards his work, I must admit. I recall hearing him complaining publicly a while back that a certain sakkan was “picking on him” because she corrected his work. Maybe that’s the show you mentioned. I wasn’t very impressed by that behavior.
I did watch FtnW, and saw that scene. You’re right, it was certainly one of his better ones, and you could say it fit in the context since it was a flashback… though honestly I still felt it looked out of place. It’s hard to make such extreme Kanada school animation not look out of place in the context of a more conventionally stylized show like that.
Thanks for mentioning that pachinko anime. It’s funny, because I was just thinking that the only person missing from Devander to make it complete is Hideki Tamura (and maybe Shinsaku Kozuma). But then I remembered he seems to have disappeared from anime. Great to see he came back, even if it’s for a pachinko game. Would be awesome to see more work from him after this. My internet is acting up so I can’t watch that clip right now, but that’s a dream team for Kanada-school animation.