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Over the last few days I've been re-acquainting myself with Ranma 1/2, another show I watched when I first got into anime. It wasn't my favorite, but it was quite popular with other fans. I remember the show making me uncomfortable back then, and now I can pinpoint why. It was the on vanguard of the tendencies that have come to dominate the airwaves today. Yet at the same time the animation has something appealing about it. The show is a product of the early 1990s, when you begin to see a pared down but three-dimensional style of drawing emerge, with an emphasis on sharp and stylized line, create and zippy timing, and de-emphasis on shadow, together with newfound skill at drawing the body in all sorts of athletic poses and vigorous movements. Animators like Norio Matsumoto, Tokuyuki Matsutake and Masakatsu Sasaki developed their skill animating exciting body movement on this show.
The second movie seems to me to distill the show's contradictions. It's Ranma simultaneously at its best and worst. The drawings and movement are the sharpest and most refined they ever would be. It's the pinnacle of the show's visual style in many ways. It has great line art and catchy movement that's still impressive seen today. And at the same time it's pure fan service. It takes fan service to the level of softcore porn, with its barely clothed girls and erotic layouts and drawings. I think it's around that time that I started to have serious doubts about the direction anime was going, as well as about anime fandom, because it seemed like this was exactly the direction in which the fans I saw around me wanted anime to go.
The show featured early work by a lot of animators who later became better known for very different things. It's enjoyable to revisit their early work to see if you can catch a whiff of their personality. Norio Matsumoto did a lot of early work on here. I wasn't as excited about the show as many of my fellow fans, so I didn't watch that much of the TV series back then beyond the original 18 episode show (which was immediately followed by the 143 episode Nettohen continuation), so I might not even have seen much of his work. But I've seen clips in the last few years and it's actually very good - just as good and identifiable as you'd expect the work of Norio Matsumoto to be. This was 20 years ago, probably one of the first shows where his work started standing out - even before Tylor, which was the first place I became aware of Matsumoto.
In looking up the credits I noticed the names of a lot of other talented animators, and was impressed by how many people besides Norio Matsumoto this show seems to have fostered, so I wanted to just make a note of some of the names that stand out to me for reference. Here's a select list of some of the more noteworthy names involved in the first and second TV series.
Ranma 1/2 TV series (1989)
Norio Matsumoto (9)
Hiroyuki Nishimura (2, 7, 10, 14, 15)
Norimoto Tokura (3)
Akitoshi Yokoyama (6, 11)
Yutaka Minowa (6, 12, 17)
Takayuki Hamana (2, 7, 10, 14)
Hiroki Kanno (6, 12, 17)
Takuya Saito (2, 7, 10)
Ranma 1/2 Nettohen TV series (1989-1992)
Norio Matsumoto (8, 16, 19, 24, 28, 31, 35, 50)
Masayuki Kobayashi (2, 4, 6, 10, 14, 18, 21, 25, 28, 31, 39)
Tadashi Hiramatsu (30, 33, 86, 91, 97, 108, 116, 121, 132)
Masakatsu Sasaki (24, 27)
Masaaki Endo (4, 10, 11)
Akitoshi Yokoyama (9)
Koichi Hashimoto (13)
Yasuhiro Irie (102)
Toshihiro Yamane (60, 95, 100, 107, 111, 117, 124)
Yasushi Shingo (84, 92, 96, 101, 106, 113, 118, 123, 128, 133, 143)
Masanori Shino (95, 100, 107, 111, 117, 124, 129, 134, 139)
Tokuyuki Matsutake & Hirobumi Suzuki (101, 106, 113, 118, 123, 138, 143)
Both Tokuyuki Matsutake and Hirobumi Suzuki actually started out as inbetweeners on this show working under Atsuko Nakajima, and very quickly were bumped up to drawing genga. Hirobumi Suzuki was an inbetweener on episodes 8, 13 and 16 of the first show while Tokuyuki Matsutake was an inbetweener on episodes 3, 6, 12 and 16 of the first show. And in the second show they're always credited together. It's interesting to see that they've had a close relationship from the very beginning. I even spotted Masami Goto as an inbetweener on episode 9 of the first show. Ranma was an early training ground for many cool animators who developed in the 1990s.
The TV show was immediately followed by 3 movies from 1991 to 1993 and bunch of OVAs from 1993 to 1996. Atsuko Nakajima's drawing style defined most of these, while the storyboarding and directing was mostly done by Kazuhiro Furuhashi, even though Junji Nishimura was technically the director.
Movie 1 (1991, 75 min) featured Yoshihiko Umakoshi, Tatsufumi Tamakawa, Norio Matsumoto and Atsushi Shigeta. It wasn't directed/storyboarded by Kazuhiro Furuhashi, so it's very different in feel from the second movie and later OVAs. It's much more conventional feeling than the second movie, almost like an Urusei Yatsura film of yore, lacking the hallmarks of Furuhashi's work like the predilection for conventionally framed close-ups showing off the character drawings. From what I can tell, Matsumoto did this part. Other than this, there aren't many particularly impressive bits here, though presumably some of the climactic fights with the various guardians were done by Umakoshi and Tamakawa. Only Matsumoto's animation really stands out. Even viewed today there's a budding something in the little gestures and poses that makes the movement in his brief scene irresistible.
Movie 2 (1992, 60 min) featured the staff that would go on to work on the first six OVAs - Kazuhiro Furuhashi storyboard/director, Atsuko Nakajima sakkan, and animation from Masakatsu Sasaki, Tokuyuki Matsutake and Hirobumi Suzuki (not to mention Masami Obari, Kazunobu Hoshi and Atsuko Ishida). So it's very similar to these in atmosphere and directing as well as drawing style. Movie 3 (1993, 25 min) was a slight outing compared to the previous two, featuring only the likes of Yasushi Shingo and Shin Matsuo. The others were probably working on the OVAs.
The original 6 OVA series (1993-1994) featured work by Hirobumi Suzuki, Tokuyuki Matsutake, Masakatsu Sasaki and Yasushi Shingo. Masakatsu Sasaki and Tokuyuki Matsutake seem to have been the animators responsible for many of the more exciting bits in these OVAs. Although there's nothing that compares to Matsumoto's work in these OVAs, there are numerous brief spots throughout most episodes except the 5th where an animator with an obviously great sense of timing is at work. I'm assuming these to have been Masakatsu Sasaki and/or Tokuyuki Matsutake. Two "Special" OVAs (1994-1995) followed, episode 2 having work by Tadashi Hiramatsu, Yasushi Shingo and Shin Matsuo. Nothing really remarkable here, but the climax with the 8-headed dragon has a bit of action with a brief flicker of interesting movement. Three "Super" OVAs (1995-1996) followed, but only episode 3 featured work by Tokuyuki Matsutake and Hirobumi Suzuki.