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Zambot 3 is a classic example of a decent series dragged down by bad animation. It's easily the worst animated of the classic Yoshiyuki Tomino shows. And yet, it rises above the shoddy drawings and movement to be one of his best pieces due to the good directing, hard-edged story and surprise ending, which were a milestone in the day and certainly influenced a a number of popular shows in later years. It's not that I blame the animators, although many of them probably weren't that talented. None of the episodes had an animation director (sakkan), and many of them were drawn by a single person, presumably in about two hours. The series has some touchingly dramatic moments thanks to Tomino's storyboard, but their impact is unfortunately lessened by the crude animation.
Standing out dramatically amongst this cavalcade of botchery are the episodes with animation by Yoshinori Kanada - 5, 10, 16 and 22. The most notable of these in terms of the animation, among other reasons, is episode 16, the infamous "human bomb" episode, which is still shocking even seen today. If you only see one episode, it should be episode 16, because it was only animated by two people - Yoshinori Kanada and Kazuo Tomisawa - whereas these two are joined by Osamu Nabeshima and Masakatsu Iijima in the other episodes. It's the episode with the most distilled essence of Kanada in the series, or of anything I've seen by Kanada from this period. (his work on Gaiking from a year earlier in 1976 is also among his best and worth checking out)
Kazuo Tomisawa had worked as an inbetweener on an episode of Dokonjo Gaeru with key animation by Kanada a year or two before. The credits in Zambot only say "animation", without splitting it into key and inbetween, so I'm not sure what the breakdown is - whether Kanada drew the keys and Tomisawa inbetweened, or they both just drew straight animation - but I'm willing to bet that it's more the former, because the episode looks and feels like it was entirely drawn by Kanada.
This episode is one of the best episodes to watch to get a sense of what Kanada's style was like in the mid-70s period, when he was already starting to develop his personal style and really having fun with the TV work, but hadn't quite reached full maturity. The drawings are rough and quick like most episodes, as befitting uncorrected animation, but the facial expressions and poses are always rendered skilfully rather than sloppily as in other episodes, and more than anything, there's lots of fun little movements and gags littered everywhere.
This episode happens to contain one of my favorite sequences of animation by Kanada - this one. I love this sequence because of its combination of dynamic action with bold line work and quick cutting. The timing and choreography of the movement here shows what it was that set Kanada apart from the other animators of his day. He had an instinct for creating motion that felt exciting to watch, and his animation communicates expressly via movement and drawing. His movements and drawings were always doing something, and were a delight to watch, even when they weren't particularly highly worked. Kanada could do a really quick and sloppy drawing that felt spot-on and was absolutely hilarious. Most animators in TV anime in the 70s used limited repeats and jumps of the kind that Kanada uses, but none of them quite seemed to know how to make them interesting and fun until Kanada showed the way.
It's instructive to compare the movement and drawings of this episode with the other episodes. It will show you immediately what I'm talking about. You don't see the characters in the other episodes making the kind of amusing faces and little movements you see them doing here. An example is this shot of the robot swinging the sword, in which he inserts lots of drawings with a zippy timing that makes it fun to watch and interesting as animation, followed by a funny pregnant pause before the laser swats him away. It's a world apart from the stiff, boring animation of the robot battles in the rest of the series. It's an innocuous shot, but it distills the essence of Kanada's innovation - the attitude of having fun with the work, and of turning what many animators seemed to treat as rote drudgery of having to churn out TV animation quickly and badly into an opportunity for personal expression and fun. Kanada showed that even limited animation could be an art form. Kanada's masterful manipulation of timing and drawing developed over the course of the early 70s to me exemplifies Japan's unique contribution to animation.
Zambot’s last episode (Nobuyoshi Sasakado) is not so bad.
Also Daitarn has very great work from Kanada (ep 2,6,12,16,22 )
I re-watched the last two episodes last night after writing this post, because I remember loving them, and indeed they’re great episodes, in terms of both animation and story and directing. Great stuff foreshadowing the ending of Ideon. (particularly in terms of all the dying) I wish I’d mentioned episode 22 in the post, because it shows off a different side of Kanada’s skills - the dramatic side. Those drawings like this one in the climax (presumably) by Kanada are absolutely excellent and make the goings-on even more powerful than they would have been otherwise. Solid directing and cool story backed up by good animation.
You’re right that episode 23 is really solid animation-wise, although I don’t know whether that’s because of or despite Sasakado’s involvement. There are moments when I felt some sharper drawings would have benefited, though, especially right at the end. Also, I think the script could have been a little better honed. It’s a great concept for the climax, but the little details of what the brain said weren’t quite convincing enough. Simply repeating that nobody on earth cares what they’re doing seems kind of easy to refute. Another episode that I thought had really great storyboarding and drama that was hurt by the animation was the ending of episode 17, where we get this great slow-burn overhead shot of a kind only Tomino would come up with of the protagonist in agony after his buddy was just blown up. That and the whole section leading up to it I felt could have been really great if the animation was a little sharper. Not that it’s not still good and exceptional as it stands.
I still haven’t seen Daitarn, but I’ve heard good things, so I’d really like to check it out one day. It’s one of the few Tomino pieces I haven’t seen anything from.
I agree with you about episode 17. Zambot could be a visual masterpiece with Yoshikazu Yasuhiko as sakkan.
Sadly,also Daitarn has high and low points in design/animation quality,but the high moments are very High : Kazuo Nakamura (1,4) , Tomonori Kogawa (20) , Norio Shioyama (40) , and of course Studio Z episodes. I hope to read sometimes your opinion on this series.I’d like to know your view about the good and underrated director/storyboarder Shinya Sadamitsu