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I talked about the indie animator Koji Nanke a little in an old post. I was happy to recently discover that about half of his videos for the NHK music video program Minna no Uta are available for viewing online. This provides a good chance to finally get to see the work for which Koji Nanke gained such a broad appreciation in Japan. Koji Nanke managed to reach the general public in a way few Japanese independents managed to in the 1980s. His videos were tender and lyrical, with adorably designed characters. He was very senstive with regards to the music and lyrics, always taking great care to fully absorb his source material in order to spin it out using the means of animation into a sumptuous visual form that perfectly complemented and even heightened the impact of the music. At the same time he created his own personal approach to the music video, helping to establish the soft, lulling style that has become synonymous with Minna no Uta.
Never content with his work, but always wanting to do something to push himself in new directions and strive for a new look in his animation (like his contemporary Tadanari Okamoto), Nanke did not limit himself to working in cel, but manipulated materials, sketched in pencil, and even combined these various media. He remained aloof from stylistic trends in commercial animation, instead adhering to his own personal vision and growing gradually closer and closer over the years in both style and spirit to foreign animators like Frederic Back. His videos occupied a special place on TV, softening the hearts of even people who would never otherwise have watched animation, and thus expanding the role and the possibilities for animation. He was one of the few animators in the decade of the 80s who was successful in carving out a niche for himself in this way, and in this way he was a beacon for a more artistic, personal approach in a decade when the growing monolith of commercial animation increasingly seemed to dwarf the indie animator.
Active throughout the 80s and 90s, Nanke produced more than 30 videos for the show over the span of two decades - and this in addition to the more than two dozen openings and endings he produced for Urusei Yatsura and then Maison Ikkoku and then Ranma 1/2. He is certainly unique in that almost all of his work, even outside of Minna no Uta, has been in the form of short music videos. He already displayed an unmistakable inborne genius for animation even in his early work, but this singleminded dedication to a single form has made him one of the masters of the form. He is arguably the most important and certainly the most technically adept Minna no Uta animator.
You can see an interesting evolution in Nanke's videos. The early videos were light-hearted and humorous, with more of a focus on simple but effective character animation. Nobody ever invested as much life as Nanke did into his characters. The lively dance of the old lady in his video from 1983 was filled with rich, bouncy, catchy movement of a kind unusual in anime. (Incidentally, this video was based on the animation for the opening and ending he did for the TV series Spoon Obasan or Mrs. Pepperpot, which is also the only series he ever designed) At the same time he played around with the elements of the screen, integrating the characters into a dynamic and everchanging flow of animation. Around the late 80s you can begin to see a change in his work. The tone becomes more serious, wistful, distant, and the focus shifts from the lively, vibrant character animation of his early work to abstraction and variety of technique. Nanke's animation was always skilful, but now his mastery reaches new heights. Not a frame or movement is out of place, and every sparing stroke and touch of color serves to advance the whole. Frederic Back unmistakably had a major impact on Koji Nanke, and his late work shows Back's strong influence both stylstistically, in the dynamic camera work of I am your tears and the freeflowing pastel/crayon transformations of Deja Vu and me, and in terms of the renewed focus on masterful technique at the service of a strong message. But even shorts with as urgent a message as Who owns the rivers? never come across as overbearing or preachy. Nanke's touch is always as light and gentle as a breeze, as it has always been.
From his early work to his latest, Nanke has made a string of perfect little pearls that you want to come back to again and again. He is a real gem of an animator, equally for his technical skill as a mover and designer as for his determination in continuously polishing his craft while sticking it out as an independent for three decades now.
Daruma-san fell over だるまさんがころんだ
Ahh…I loved his Urusei Yatsura work. He really got the best out of the very simple, idiosyncratic early charachter designs. Lum in particular had this great mischievous pixyish quality about her.