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Category: Studio Curtain

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

05:15:00 am , 2489 words, 20502 views     Categories: post-Akira, Studio: Group Tac, Studio Curtain, 1990s

Yadamon and Studio Curtain

Many years on from Manga Kodomo Bunko and Manga Ijin Monogatari, Group Tac produced an unusual magical girls show called Yadamon (1992-1993). The show was produced for NHK, and was hence a somewhat high-profile gig with more personality and verve than your usual template majokko anime. It injected a bit of style and cool into the genre, which gave it broader appeal.

The show announces itself as different right from the opening (watch), with its appealing, somewhat international character designs and driving alt rock song by Lindberg. The show's name also drops the lengthy, cliche'd "Mahou no..." format for a more cool and succinct impact. Although different from the work produced by Group Tac in its early years, the show still had their patented cleverness and personality.

Set in the near future, the show has an optimistic vision of the future in which man uses science to establish a harmonic balance with nature. A boy named Jean lives in a man-made ecological preserve called only the "Land" with his parents Maria and Eddie, scientists and veterinarians who run the preserve. There are mild sci-fi elements that are not too outlandish to be unbelievable. The structure of the show starts off with standalone 5-episode-long arcs, later moves to standalone episodes, and in the latter half gradually becomes serial leading towards the cataclysmic climax. This apocalyptic and openly interpretable climax is also somewhat novel, perhaps reflecting the greater freedom of creators not tied to source material. Yadamon is a great example of a show not based on source material.

The concept for "a new kind of magical girl show" originated in 1991 with NHK production arm Sogovision producer Hiroshi Kubota and screenwriter Minami Oi. Kubota in particular devised the idea of inverting the standard setup of magical girls shows. Instead of a magical girl who lives among ordinary humans but has to keep her abilities secret, the mischievous Yadamon tells everyone she's a witch, but nobody believes her.

In early October 1991 NHK began seeking production companies by competitive bidding. They did this by providing production concept documentation and asking for each company to visualize the characters and their environment in a few illustrations. Group Tac submitted illustrations by Suezen and won the bidding in mid-October. Group Tac producer Kenjiro Kawando is the one who chose Suezen, having worked with him on The Tale of Genji (1987) and then met him in various places since.

I enjoyed the show back when it first aired for its nice style and western atmosphere. It was also one of the first anime I saw in the 10-minute format. (It was aired Monday through Friday in 10 minute chunks.) Revisiting it recently, I found that it's a pleasant show if far from perfect. The animation is a base tone of lackluster with occasional spikes of awesome. The characters and stories are endearing if simplistic and childish.

Although on the surface the show follows the template of a magical girl from a magical land who visits the earth and engages in adventures there, the show's underlying theme is notable for being more based on child psychology. Rather than taking the child's perspective and projecting a fantasy life onto reality, Yadamon seems to take an adult's perspective by placing the crux of the drama on Yadamon's emotional growth from pure self-interest to empathy.

Helping to maintain interest are Suezen's designs. Suezen is the pen name of Fumio Iida, who just prior had acted as animation director of Rojin Z (1991). He's a great animator, and he animated the opening. His designs go a long way to making the show watchable, if just because they're so refreshing. Unfortunately he didn't animate anything else in the show.

Luckily there were spurts of good animation in the show, most of it from subcontractors. To be able to produce so much animation, Group Tac outsourced much of the production work to around 30 different subcontractors. Roughly 20 in-house and outside directors handled the task of storyboarding and episode directing.

Although the subcontractors are not credited in the show, the Roman Album provides a rare glimpse into the specifics of how the contracts were doled out, so it's worth reproducing here. I've often managed to piece together the various subcontractors involved in a show, but I've never seen it laid out explicitly like this. This is a great artifact highlighting the subcontractor-heavy nature of anime.

Group Tac essentially doled the work out to 9 production coordinators, including an in-house team, and these 9 subcontractors either handled the directing/animation tasks themselves or in turn sub-subcontracted the work out to another studio. Inbetweening and finishing was then handled by an inbetweening studio chosen by the subcontractor, except in the case of studios like Anime Spot that handled their own inbetweens.

1. Group Tac (53 eps)In-house
Directors: Koichi Takada, Takuya Sato
Sakkans: Masahiko Murata, Yoshiko Imano
Sakkan: Morio Hitoshi, Akira Takeuchi
Anime Spot
Director: Shigeru Ueda
Sakkan: Masami Abe, Masatoshi Isshi
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house
Studio Takuranke
Sakkan:Hiroyuki Yamada
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house
Studio Koa
Sakkan: Toyami Sugiyama
Key Animation: In-house
Studio Curtain
Sakkan: Hiroko Kazui
Key animation: In-house
Sakkan: Kazuaki Mouri, Tadashi Abiru, Kahoru Hirata, Rie Nishino

2. Aubeck (43 eps)Group Zen
Director: Hiroshi Ishiodori
Sakkans: Masayuki Fujita, Yasuyuki Noda
Studio Mu
Directors: Johei Matsuura, Masashi Ikeda
Sakkans: Harumi Muranaka, Yasuhiro Ohshima
Studio Curtain
Director: Noriyuki Nakamura
Sakkan: Kenichi Shimizu
Sakkan: Shinichi Shoji

3. Tanasawa Office (12 eps)In-house team A
Director: Takashi Tanasawa
Sakkan: Daijiro Sakamoto
In-house team B
Director/Sakkan: Yoshiko Sasaki
In-house team C
Director/Sakkan: Toshiaki Kamihara

4. Jupiter Film (9 eps)Individual
Director: Takuo Suzuki, Kenichi Kuroki
Sakkan: Kanji Hara
Studio Curtain
Director: Hitoshi Namba
Sakkan: Keiko Hattori

5. Ajia-do (12 eps)In-house
Director: Kazuhiro Sasaki
Sakkan: Masayuki Sekine
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house

6. Sunshine (3 eps)In-house
Directors: Shigeru Ohmachi
Sakkan: Isao Kaneko
Key Animation, Inbetweens & Finishing: In-house

7. Project Team Sara (13 eps)Studio Liberty
Director: Akitaro Daichi
Sakkans: Chuji Nakajima, Ryoko Hata

8. Doga Kobo (8 eps)In-house
Director: Kiyoshi Fukumoto
Sakkans: Yuji Takahashi, Tadashi Tsubokawa
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house

9. Mu Film (14 eps)In-house + Animatronics
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Sakkans: Akihiko Yamashita, Miho Shimogasa, Takashi Yamazaki, Hiroki Umeda, Chikayo Nakamura
Inbetweens & Finishing: In-house & Animatronics (Philippines subsidiary)

I wrote about Aubec in my posts on Garaga (1989) and Capricorn (1991). They outsourced everything except finishing (which I noted as being the weakest link in Aubec's productions), which they sent to their subsidiary Studio Bogie.

Yadamon pre-dates the concept of the chief animation director, so one of the things that makes the show nice to watch is seeing what different touch each subcontractor brings to the drawings. The drawings look pretty different from episode to episode.

Studio Curtain

One of the show's best subcontractors was Studio Curtain, the informal gathering of animators active 1990-1995 about which I talked in my posts on Sukeban Deka (1991) and Dragon Slayer (1992). Directors Noriyuki Nakamura, Hitoshi Namba and Kazuaki Mouri and animators Tadashi Hiramatsu and Kenichi Shimizu each did very nice work in the show. The fast-paced directing that made Noriyuki Nakamura's Dragon Slayer so memorable is on full display here. I'm not sure why Kazuaki Mouri is credited separately from Studio Curtain, as I'm pretty sure he was at Curtain during this time. Kazuaki Mouri and a few other Curtain people actually moved to Group Tac in the years after Yadamon. Many of the same people who worked on Yadamon went on to work on Group Tac's later Earth Defense Family (2001).

I was aware that Studio Curtain was involved in the show, but not that there were so many other sub-contractors. The two-stage subcontracting system also surprised me. I imagined Curtain had been contracted entirely by Tac, but according to this they were contracted by different groups.

As best I've been able to gather, here is a list of the projects Studio Curtain worked on and the staff who were definitely involved with the studio (there may have been more).

Studio Curtain projects
Dragon Quest (1989-1991) TV eps & op/ed for part 2 aired 1991
Gatapishi (1990) TV (Mon-Fri 10 min format)
Nadia of the Blue Water (1990) TV ep 11 & 15
Yusha Exkaiser (1990-1991) TV ed (Kazuaki Mouri, watch), eps 24, 30, 35, 40, 43
Pigmario (1990-1991) TV op 2 (watch)
The Two Lottes (1991) TV op/ed (watch)
Sukeban Deka (1991) OVA (production assistance credit)
Jarinko Chie Funsenki (1991-1992) TV op/ed (watch)
Tanoshii Moomin Ikka Bouken Nikki (1991-1992) Mouri chief sakkan, sakkan 1, 12, 18, 22, 26 / Hiramatsu genga 10, 16, 22
Dragon Slayer (1992) OVA
Calimero (1992-1993) TV op (Kazuaki Mouri, watch) & ed (Yuka Kudo)
Yadamon (1992-1993) TV (Mon-Fri 10 min format)
TwinBee: WinBee's 1/8 Panic (1993) game video (Kazuaki Mouri, watch)
Jungle no Oja Taa-chan (1993) TV
Moldiver (1993) OVA ep 1 (production assistance credit)
Metal Fighter Miku (1994) TV ep 2
Tobe! Isami (1995) TV
Alice Investigative Bureau (1995-1997) TV

Studio Curtain staff
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
灘波日登志 (三條なみみ) Hitoshi Namba (Namimi Sanjo)
中村憲由 Noriyuki Nakamura
毛利和昭 Kazuaki Mouri
平松禎史 Tadashi Hiramatsu
清水健一 Kenichi Shimizu
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
工藤裕加 Yuka Kudo
宮崎なぎさ Nagisa Miyazaki
数井浩子 Hiroko Kazui
山本直子 Naoko Yamamoto
小川瑞恵 Mizue Ogawa
田口広一 Koichi Taguchi
服部圭子 Keiko Hattori

Other animators who did good work on the show were Shoji Shinichi and Rie Nishino, contracted on an individual basis, and ex-Bebow animator Akihiko Yamashita, who around that time was working on Giant Robo. Masao Okubo did some of his patented Kanda-style effects in episode 52. Satoru Utsunomiya even makes a surprise appearance in episode 164. The climactic last three episodes are quite well animated, but seem to have been made by people from various studios in the final dash.

Below is a selection of some of the animation by the show's best animators. Rie Nishino and Kenichi Shimizu's personality comes through in their eccentric drawings, whereas Tadashi Hiramatsu and Akihiko Yamashita are more about the movement, although their exceptional drafting abilities come through in the drawings.

Tadashi Hiramatsu #27, 55, 90, 114, 135

One of Tadashi Hiramatsu's earliest pieces at Studio Curtain was the crazy animation of King eating a spicy fish in Nadia in 1990. He returns to work on another Tac-NHK production here, and this time turns in some very nice effects and action animation. He worked mostly under director Namba Hitoshi. His uncommon drafting skills come through in the delectable hand drawings in episode 135, which is a good episode overall featuring work by Kazuaki Mouri and Hitoshi Namba. His strong layout skills and detail-oriented sensibility comes through well in this episode. Hiramatsu has admitted to joining Nakamura Pro in the hope of getting to draw Lupin III, and in episode 55 here he draws some action with the canoe dirigible that seems clearly inspired by Kazuhide Tomonaga's work in red jacket Lupin.

Kenichi Shimizu #11, 26, 46, 68, 76, 90, 105

The first appearance of "data thief" brothers Eddie and Butch in episode 26 is one of the best eps in the show thanks to the combination of Noriyuki Nakamura's fast-paced directing and Kenichi Shimizu's eccentric and dynamic drawings that meet the demands of the fast storyboard with some extreme ghosting and deformation and fast actions. The directing was so fast, in fact, that it reportedly gave the voice actors trouble timing their dialogue during the dubbing session. Episode 68 features some of his most fun animation of the family as they're trapped in the grampa's spaceship and start going crazy. You can see some extreme stretching/ghosting above that reminds of the extreme stretch and squash in Dragon Slayer, so those parts of Dragon Slayer may have been of Shimizu's hand. The hands are a dead giveaway in anime when uncorrected, and Shimizu's way of drawing hands is as distinctive as Hiramatsu. Shimizu's hands are blocky and roughly drawn, and he draws the knuckles as a single line. He draws some of the funniest faces in the show.

Shimizu and Hiramatsu recently teamed up again after many years and produced some wonderful work in episode 1 of Parasyte.

The year after Yadamon Curtain director Hitoshi Namba directed Jungle no Oja Taa-chan at Group Tac with largely the same team as Yadamon, including a few episodes featuring the power combo of Noriyuki Nakamura + Tadashi Hiramatsu.

Kazuaki Mouri #68, 92, 135, 159

Episode 92 is a solo episode entirely storyboarded/directed/animated by Curtain's Kazuaki Mouri and is hence the best spot to get a sense of his style. His drawings aren't idiosyncratic like Kenichi Shimizu, but he can draw some extreme deformation/ghosting as in the sequence of Eddie on the table above, or the cartoonishly exaggerated drawings of Shinui. He can also draw very strong traditional straight-through movement with a great sense of body weight as in the sequence of Yadamon doing a triple lutz above. Mouri is one of those all-powerful animators who can do anything, as evidenced by his huge filmography. Mouri did a lot of openings/endings as well as other special projects like Time Gal (1985) and Pony Metal U-Gaim (1986). He settled at Group Tac for a few years after Yadamon.

Rie Nishino #67, 83, 131

Rie Nishino didn't do much in the show but her few episodes feature some tremendously fun drawings and over-acting. The shot of Yadamon at top from around the 8:30 mark in episode 131 is pretty innocuous, and you can't tell how good the movement is from the still drawings, but it's possibly my single favorite shot from the whole series. Yadamon is basically saying "That's not true!" and she does a full-body swing of the arms to emphasize the words. It's some of the best acting in the show, capturing her stubborn, willful personality and emotion perfectly through believable and realistic body movement. And it does so pretty efficiently, with just a few drawings. The episode where we're introduced to Jean's grandfather, #67, is packed to the brim with very fun exaggerated reaction shots.

I'd never heard of Rie Nishino before this, but her work here makes me want to see more. She was animator in Tatsuyuki Tanaka's Tojin Kit, which gives some indication of her skills - not to mention Arietty. It's not clear if she was at Studio Curtain, but she was involved in a lot of projects alongside Kazuaki Mouri over the 1990-1995 time period, designing Carimero with an opening animated by Kazuaki Mouri as well as Jungle no Oja Taa-chan. Many years later she even directed a few episodes of the cute show Zumomo & Nupepe directed by Curtain star director Noriyuki Nakamura.

Akihiko Yamashita #65, 80, 98

Ex-Bebow animator Akihiko Yamashita did some of the show's most virtuosic animation. He didn't do many episodes in the show, but each one features a certain amount of very impressive animation. Ep 65 features some skating animation that has Yadamon and Eddie dashing around the screen with great energy. Yamashita uses a lot of drawings and moves the characters through screen in a three-dimensional way. His action has the thrill of classic Telecom. Ep 80 meanwhile features almost Hakkenden-inspired molten animation of the sand monster Bagdo zooming around the screen with a transforming silhouette, and some of the most 'kakkoii' Yadamon action scenes in the show. Ep 98 is less impressive but features a few shots of effects work, notably a sand explosion and a splash of water that although short are impressively executed, with an almost Toshiyuki Inoue-esque realistic style.

Kumiko Takahashi? #133

Episode 133 featured some of the most boldly deformed drawings and extreme ghosting of any episode in the show. I can't identify the work based on the style, but if I'd have to guess based on the credits, I would guess maybe Kumiko Takahashi, if only because she's immensely talented and I wouldn't put it past her to have this kind of range. She's an animator whose other work at this period I'd like to explore. I've seen her Tetsuwan Birdy OVA series from this period and it's quite lovely.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

06:19:00 pm , 1663 words, 5432 views     Categories: OVA, Studio: Anime R, post-Akira, Studio Curtain, 1990s

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes

I wrote about Toei's fantasy adventure OVA Xanadu: Dragon Slayer Densetsu (1988) before. It was a slight outing redeemed by early work from Koichi Arai and ex-Bebow animators.

Well, a few years later, a two-episode OVA with a confusingly similar title was released: Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes (1992). It never seems to have made it over to the west like other good OVAs of the period, and you'd be forgiven for assuming that to have been because it was a crummy video game tie-in. But despite its obscurity, it's an impressively well-made action piece with a unique style. It might be the best fantasy/action OVA of the period that nobody has ever heard of.

A Wizardry OVA was released one year earlier in 1991 as a tie-in with the popular dungeoner video games, but it was boring and uninspired. Despite the talent at TMS's disposal, and despite TMS staple Kenji Kodama's storyboard, it was nothing more than a walk through a dungeon straight out of the game, with disappointingly staid animation.

Dragon Slayer bears little resemblance to the latter. It doesn't even feel like conventional fantasy anime. The fantasy plot seem like merely an excuse for the director to string together a series of action scenes of hair-raising intensity. With its frenetic pacing and expressionistic drawings, its post-Akira pedigree is obvious. The animation is lively and intense and highly worked. If anything, it feels closer in spirit to the manic Crimson Wolf (1993), with its speedy and dynamic animation and breakneck momentum. Another reference point is Sukeban Deka (1991), which featured thrilling, wildly deformed action animation by Masayuki Kobayashi. The action in Dragon Slayer is similar in style to Kobayashi's animation in Sukeban Deka - the timing ultra-fast and the drawings laden with deformed insertions to heighten the impact of the movement.

The film actually has had something of a cult reputation among Japanese fans due to its unusually fast pacing and animation. The animation at times seems excessively fast, as if the timing on the animation sheet had actually been kicked up a notch at the processing stage to give it more punch. Even the overall directing is unexpectedly fast. Scenes proceed at such a breakneck pace that dramatic moments like the boy's separation from his mother at the beginning border on the comical. That said, it's not badly done. It actually works. Sure, the budget is obviously not extremely high, and the drawings have a rough edge, but this isn't one of those shows that you would watch to laugh at it. The action sequences are creatively and excitingly choreographed, and the lightning-fast pacing of the narrative makes the otherwise generic fantasy plot far more entertaining than it rightfully should be.

The OVA was apparently not well received by fans of the game because the story was extensively overhauled for the anime. But who outside of a handful of Japanese fans from 1992 remembers (much less still plays) the game? They did the right thing to make the anime stand on its own two legs rather than make a faithful but impotent anime adaptation like Wizardry. As a result, twenty years on, Dragon Slayer still holds up pretty well.

Adding to the film's atmosphere are the character designs, which have a nice 'angry' feeling to them courtesy of onetime Nagai Go associate Ken Ishikawa, who also gave us the delightfully fierce and bloody Majuu Sensen AKA Beast Fighter. Yes indeed, this is anime as the lord intended it: fast, dynamic, and brutal.

Stretch and squash indeed

The Curtain-R-Nakamura connection

So, what studio produced this OVA? You'd be hard-pressed to say going by the credits. A variety of big corporate entities like King Records and Amuse Video are cited in production roles, but none of them are actual animation production studios. It takes some knowledge of the staff to extrapolate that informal artist gathering Studio Curtain was probably the 'brain' behind the show, and animation subcontractor Nakamura Production was probably the main production floor of the show's animation. One other subcontractor was also involved: Anime R. (The earlier comparison with Sukeban Deka is even more apt because Anime R was behind Sukeban Deka.)

What ties all of these together seems to be the old Sunrise cooking anime Mister Ajikko, which aired from 1987 to 1989. Most of the main staff of Dragon Slayer worked on (and presumably met one another working on) Mister Ajikko. The style of Dragon Slayer may even be indebted to the directing style of Mister Ajikko.

Dragon Slayer director Noriyuki Nakamura (no relation to Nakamura Production) may not be very well known, but he's a veteran who has been directing since at least 1980 and who continues to be very active on the front line storyboarding TV episodes.

Noriyuki Nakamura was the chief episode director of Mister Ajikko. By the time of Dragon Slayer in 1992, Noriyuki Nakamura was part of an informal animation studio called Studio Curtain, run by Masahiro Kase. Studio Curtain receives a "Special Thanks" credit in Dragon Slayer. Masahiro Kase, an animator in Dragon Slayer, was the chief animation director of the first 3/4 of Mister Ajikko. Masahiro Kase was at Osaka subcontractor Anime R at the time. Kazuaki Mouri, one of Anime R's hotshot animators, was the chief animation director of the last 1/4. Mouri is co-storyboarder and combat sequence supervisor of Dragon Slayer.

Perhaps the most recognizable name in Dragon Slayer is Tadashi Hiramatsu. He co-storyboarded and animated. I already wrote a bit about his early years in my post on Sukeban Deka: He started out at Nakamura Pro and eventually moved to Studio Curtain. Hiramatsu met Kase while working on Mister Ajikko. It's during Hiramatsu's period at Kase's Curtain that Dragon Slayer was produced. Hiramatsu relates that he learned a lot about directing from Noriyuki Nakamura.

The Nakamura Pro team of Tadashi Hiramatsu, Hiroyuki Okuno, Hisashi Hirai and Tetsuya Yanagisawa is credited together in Mister Ajikko episodes 38, 43, 48, 53. These four animators are present in Dragon Slayer. Hiroyuki Okuno is an animator, Tetsuya Yanagisawa is the monster character designer, and Hisashi Hirai is the character designer and animation director.

There's even a tangential Nippon Animation connection. Noriyuki Nakamura and Masahiro Kase both started out at Nippon Animation in the early 1980s, so it's possible they met there or at least recognized one another from that period. Meanwhile, Tadashi Hiramatsu wound up working on several Nippon Animation productions in the early 1990s after he joined Noriyuki Nakamura and Masahiro Kase at Studio Curtain.

Nakamura Pro

As I wrote in my post on Dirty Pair (1985), Sunrise has always made heavy use of subcontractors for their animation, ever since their founding in the early 1970s. Several other subcontractors helped with the animation side of Mister Ajikko, including Studio Live and Animaru-ya. But Nakamura Pro has always had a particularly close relationship with Sunrise, due to their shared origins.

Nakamura Pro was founded in 1974 by Kazuo Nakamura, who had started out at Mushi Pro. His studio was one of many, like Sunrise, founded in the aftermath of Mushi Pro's failure in what I've referred to as the Mushi Pro diaspora. It's ironic to think that Mushi Pro inadvertently influenced the course of anime history in probably exactly the opposite way they intended: Sunrise learned from Mushi Pro's mistake and did not let the artists run the studio. They instead turned to toy tie-ups as a way to ensure the studio's continued prosperity. This resulted in their becoming a robot anime studio. Nakamura Pro did most of its work for the robot shows of Sunrise and Toei in the early days, resulting in a whole generation of animators trained there and elsewhere becoming specialists in a sub-genre of animation that is unique to Japan. Some of the more famous animators turned out by Nakamura Pro include Ken Otsuka, Eiji Nakata, Shuko Murase and Hiroyuki Kitakubo.

Nakamura Pro has its own official web site, where they say they are hiring. Both Nakamura and Anime R are still alive and well doing subcontract animation work on today's TV shows.

It's all very complicated, but here is a basic breakdown of the studios and their animators in Dragon Slayer:
Curtain: Noriyuki Nakamura, Masahiro Kase, Tadashi Hiramatsu
Nakamura Pro: Hisashi Hirai, Michinori Chiba, Ken Otsuka, Hiroyuki Okuno, Shuko Murase, Yasuhiro Irie, Akira Nakamura, Tetsuya Yanagisawa, Kazuhiro Itakura
Anime R: Kazuaki Mouri, Masahide Yanagisawa, Takahiro Kimura, Takahiro Komori

Aside: Although Noriyuki Nakamura bears no relation to Nakamura Pro, the other Nakamura credited in the show - Akira Nakamura, who is credited as enemy character designer - is the younger brother of Nakamura Pro founder Kazuo Nakamura.

Just to further confuse you, I'll close by briefly evoking another of the artist collectives that were so popular in the early 1990s - Gabo Miyabi (画房雅). It was founded by Masahide Yanagisawa after he left Anime R and moved to Tokyo. I don't know whether or not the group existed at the time of Dragon Slayer, but four animators credited in Dragon Slayer were part of the group: Masahide Yanagisawa, Shinya Takahashi, Takahiro Komori, and Yasuhiro Irie. The Sukeban Deka animator I mentioned before, Masayuki Kobayashi, was also part of the group. Other animators involved in the group include Kenichiro Katsura and Tatsuya Tomaru.

Other notable names in the credits include Masami Obari and Masashi Ishihama.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes ドラゴンスレイヤー英雄伝説 (1992, OVA, 2x25 mins, dir. Noriyuki Nakamura)

Director & Story Framework:中村憲由 Noriyuki Nakamura
Script:松崎健一 Kenichi Matsuzaki
Art Director:脇威志 Takeshi Waki
Original Character Design:石川賢 Ken Ishikawa
Animation C.D. & Animation Director:平井久司 Hisashi Hirai
Storyboards:中村憲由 Noriyuki Nakamura
難波日登志 Hitoshi Namba
毛利和明 Kazuaki Mouri
平松禎史 Tadashi Hiramatsu
Combat Supervisor:毛利和明 Kazuaki Mouri
Enemy Character Design:中村明 Akira Nakamura
Monster Character Design:柳沢哲也 Tetsuya Yanagisawa

Key Animation:中村プロ Nakamura Pro:
柳沢哲也 Tetsuya Yanagisawa
板倉和弘 Kazuhiro Itakura
2nd Key Animation:千葉道徳 Michinori Chiba
大塚健 Ken Otsuka
石塚貴之 Takayuki Ishizuka
Key Animation:加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
平松禎史 Tadashi Hiramatsu
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
竹内昭 Akira Takeuchi
柳沢まさひで Masahide Yanagisawa
高橋しんや Shinya Takahashi
大張正己 Masami Obari
村瀬修功 Shuko Murase
毛利和明 Kazuaki Mouri
山川瑞恵 Mizue Yamakawa
入江泰浩 Yasuhiro Irie
工藤裕加 Yuka Kudo
数井浩子 Hiroko Kazui
青木哲郎 Tetsuro Aoki
灘波日登志 Hitoshi Namba
清水健一 Kenichi Shimizu
木村貴宏 Takahiro Kimura
重田智 Satoshi Shigeta
石浜真史 Masashi Ishihama
小森高博 Takahiro Komori
亀井隆 Takashi Kamei

Cover of LD Vol. 1

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

11:51:00 pm , 2465 words, 4558 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Studio, Studio: Anime R, post-Akira, Studio Curtain

Sukeban Deka and Anime R

The manga Sukeban Deka about the yo-yo-wielding delinquent detective was adapted into a two-episode OVA in 1991 after having been adapted into live-action movies in the late 80s. The live-action stuff appears to have been done by Toei, but the OVAs seem to have been the product of a consortium that outsourced much of the work to different studios, among them chiefly Osaka's Anime R.

Anime R is a subcontracting studio founded in Osaka in the late 1970s by Moriyasu Taniguchi and Hiromi Muranaka. It was one of the first Japanese animation studios to be located outside of Tokyo. They are best remembered for their contribution to raising the quality of Ryosuke Takahashi's first two 'real robot' shows for Sunrise Dougram and Votoms. They had a unique style in the 1980s, with exciting and detailed animation like no other studio. They were one of the most relied-upon studios for mecha animation. That flavor receded in the 1990s, after many of the 1980s staff left, but they're still a prolific and relied-upon studio.

The credits don't mention Anime R. But it's obvious that they're involved if you read between the lines. There are a bunch of Anime R animators involved.

Anime R president Moriyasu Taniguchi is credited as an animator in Sukeban Deka alongside Anime R animators Hiroyuki Okiura, Toru Yoshida, Takahiro Komori, Takashi Fumiko, Masahide Yanagisawa, Hiroshi Osaka, Hiromi Muranaka, Masahiko Itojima, Takahiro Kimura and Kazuchika Kise. Masahiro Kase, another Anime R member at the time, is the sub-character designer and the main animation director (sakkan).

This OVA thus seems like a good place to get a sense of what kind of work Anime R was doing at this mid-period in their history, after their most famous period but before all of the cool animators had quite left. I've heard of Anime R forever and known who was involved there, but I couldn't put my thumb on their defining look.

Nobuteru Yuuki is the character designer of Sukeban Deka, but he's not the sakkan, so it doesn't have that patented Nobuteru Yuuki density of animation and highly worked drawings. Masahiro Kase was the sakkan of episode 1, assisted by Yuka Kudo and Hiroyuki Okuno. All three are credited as sakkans in episode 2.

The drawings in Sukeban Deka are actually all over the place, maybe not as much as Hakkenden, but still pretty uneven. That's actually one of the things I most liked about these two OVAs. The story is otherwise quite stupid and obviously not meant to be taken seriously. It's a kind of shoujo action mystery, and it's mildly entertaining, but nothing about the characters or story ever grips you. It's about a cute girl in a sailor fuku kicking ass, and hey, that's enough for me. It's a shoujo anime, but it feels more like a shounen anime. The action scenes are actually fairly nice, with an appealing looseness and rawness appropriate to the style of this period, so it's a pretty decent action show.

The main characters aren't drawn in a particularly interesting way, but the crowd drawings I really like. The faces have a surprisingly appealing, quasi-realistic style that kind of comes out of nowhere. They look nothing like the protagonists. They seem to have had more freedom with the sub-characters. The bystanders vaguely remind me of the bystanders by Koichi Arai in 3x3 Eyes from the same year. I like that they don't look like the sort of cliche'd anime/shoujo designs you'd expect in an adaptation of a shoujo manga. I don't know who would have been responsible for these. I thought maybe Masahiro Kase, since he's credited as the sub character designer in episode 2, but he's not credited with that in ep 1.

I know Masahiro Kase had started out at Nippon Animation in 1978 and worked on Pelline (1978), Anne (1979), Tom Sawyer (1980) and Lucy (1982) before leaving to join Anime R. While there, Kase was one of the main animators of Votoms alongside Anime R animator Mouri Kazuaki. Kase left Anime R around 1990 to form his own subcontracting 'studio' called Studio Curtain, from which he went on to continue to be involved in Nippon Animation's World Masterpiece Theater shows. He was character designer of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair as well as Mahoujin Guruguru.

Tadashi Hiramatsu had joined animation subcontractor Nakamura Production sometime around 1986 and done his first key animation in 1987 in Mister Ajikko, where he met Masahiro Kase, who was the character designer and chief sakkan of the show. Hiramatsu joined Studio Curtain when it was founded in 1990 and from there worked on the WMT for a bit. I suppose that's the reason Hiramatsu is involved, because he never worked at Anime R. Normally, Kase was at Curtain by the time this was done, so presumably he got the work because of his Anime R connections. Strangely, Studio Curtain gets a small 'assistance' mention in the credits, but there's no mention whatsoever of Anime R.

Anyway, the only sequence that I felt right away I could pin down to an animator was the opening scene of episode 1, where the girl is chased through the market and into the alleyway by the group of thugs. I'm guessing this part was done by Hiroyuki Okiura. What makes me think so is first of all just the skill of the drawings, layouts and movements. It's not super-detailed like his more recent work, but every detail is just right - the folds of the clothes, the way the girl's shoulders arch up realistically when she's struggling. Little things like this just show the hand of someone who has an uncommon skill at accurately visualizing the body in motion and being able to execute it in a way that feels nice as animation.

Opening scene in episode 1 by Hiroyuki Okiura?

Also, I get the feeling I sense a bit of a distant echo of both Akira and Peter Pan in the way the baddies are drawn - their mouth, their expression, the way they gesticulate - which Okiura had just participated in recently. There's even an overhead shot here that has a similar layout as a shot in the mob scene he did in Akira. The smirk of the baddies and the way of drawing the eyes reminds me of Peter Pan, while Akira comes through in the more detailed folds of the clothing, the Takashi Nakamura-esque faces and hands, and the more realistic poses. It actually doesn't feel much like the great action sequence he did in The Hakkenden OVA 1 around the same time, but it's the only sequence in the episode that stands out to me as having good enough animation that seems a fit for him.

I can't pin down any other sequences to any particular animator - except for one. It's the main reason I sought out this episode. Discovering the Anime R connection was actually a surprise and a bonus. The sequence in question sticks out something incredible. I've seen a lot of crazy animation from Japan in my day, but this one was up there with the craziest. And it's ironic because up until a while ago I'd never heard of the animator who did it.

It's the action sequence on the school grounds, which you can see here. It was animated by an animator named Masayuki Kobayashi, who did a lot of similarly styled action in Ranma 1/2 around the same time.

Action scene in episode 1 by Masayuki Kobayashi

Just look at these drawings. You don't notice that they're this insanely deformed when the animation is in motion - all you notice is the incredibly awesome effect the drawings achieve. Like many good animators, Masayuki Kobayashi is a great action animator who knows how to effectively insert deformed images at the right moment to heighten the impact of the animation. People have criticized Norio Matsumoto's animation on Naruto by picking out a single drawing that seems deformed out of an amazing shot of animation, and criticizing him for not being able to draw. Not only is it not true - he can draw really well - it betrays astounding ignorance of how animation is made. The skilled use of deformation within a movement like this is something not many animators can pull off. All the more so when it comes to really extreme deformation of the kind Masayuki Kobayashi busts out here.

As soon as Masayuki Kobayashi's action scene starts, it's like a different show. Everything is suddenly extremely fast and fluid - and rubbery. I love the way the characters limbs seem to bend under the very momentum of their superhuman leaps and lunges. The characters leap and stretch something incredible. It's really exciting to watch, as an action sequence should be. It's full of verve, momentum, punch, and insanity. It's the kind of action that made me fall in love with anime in the first place. You don't find this kind of action animation anywhere else in the world.

And the particular style of Masayuki Kobayashi's animation seems like something that couldn't have emerged at any other period. It seems the product of the various tendencies floating around in the air at the time. You've got a bit of Akira-esque realism, leavened with Satoru Utsunomiya's elastic style, multiplied by the wackiness of mid-80s TV action animation from wild children like Masayuki and Hideki Tamura. I like that it's not just a mere copy of Yoshinori Kanada or Satoru Utsunomiya - he's cooked together all these various tendencies into his own crazy stew. We're seeing a resurgence of the influence of Yoshinori Kanada these days among young animators like Jun Arai, but what I don't like is that it feels like they're just imitating him outright instead of coming up with their own style like Masayuki Kobayashi did.

I don't know where he came from or where he went. This is all I've been able to find that he's done:

Ranma 1/2 Nettohen 2, 4, 6, 10, 14, 18, 21, 25, 28, 31, 39 (1990)
The Hakkenden 2, 3, 5 (1990-92)
Sukeban Deka 1 (1991)
Rojin Z (1991)
Run, Melos! (1992)
Gunm (1993)
Nana Toshi Monogatari (1994)
X2 (1999)
Jin-Roh (2000)

Action scene at the end of episode 1

Another scene I liked was the brawl in the arcade near the end of episode 1. The drawing style is really distinctive and totally unlike everything else in the episode, but I can't identify who did it.

It had some fast, fluid and excitingly animated action, without being wildly deformed like the Masayuki Kobayashi scene. It's a classic example of the sort of animation I most like in the productions of this early 90s period like Hakkenden. In fact, the movement seems suspiciously similar to the demon army scene animated by Hiroyuki Okiura in episode 1 of Hakkenden. It's got the same style of pared down drawings combined with really quick action with lots of movement constantly going on. I started wondering, maybe Okiura did this part?? But I notice the same kind of movement near the end of episode 2, and Okiura isn't credited in that episode, so I suspect both may have been done by the same animator.

This is another good example of the unique style of movement that so many animators were doing at this time. Realistic, but not Jin-Roh realistic - more fun and exciting and action-packed. Everyone seemed to be trying their hand at this style. One of the things I remember seeing pretty often in the early 1990s was this thing where the arms kind of hung down limply and wobbled around, as if they were asleep. I loved that. This whole style faded away pretty quickly moving into the mid-90s.

The reason I checked this out was to see Masayuki Kobayashi's work, because I'd heard he was involved. But when I checked the credits on the AD Vision release, I didn't find his name. I found only one "Masanori Kobayashi". I figured it had to be him and the translator just goofed a little. Then I noticed other names that seemed suspiciously familiar. Hironori Okuno? That couldn't be Hiroyuki Okuno, could it? Satoshi Hiramatsu? I only know one Hiramatsu, and that's Tadashi Hiramatsu. I was really curious to know what was going on, so I got my hands on the Japanese credits and did a comparison.

My jaw dropped at what I found. Now, Japanese names are a pain to translate. Often, if you don't have information directly from the person in question, you can't know for sure how a name is read. After all these years, there are still names I'm not sure of. And there are names that I thought I knew how to read for many years that turned out to be read differently. So in that sense, I don't really blame the translator. But on the other hand, there are some names whose readings are clear. The translator who did these credits didn't just goof, he f*ed up big time. In the case of 'Hironori Okuno', "Nori" isn't even a possible reading of that character. Worse than that, Tadashi Hiramatsu appears in both episodes, and is translated differently in each episode - Satoshi Hiramatsu in the first episode and Eiji Hiramatsu in the second episode.

Here are the credits, with corrections, to serve as an example of how important it is to properly translate credits, and how misleading and useless a bad translation can be. Who would have known that Koji Ayazaka was in fact Hiroshi Osaka? But hey, at least they translated the credits and didn't omit the key animators. That's already better than most releases I've seen.

Sukeban Deka Episode 1 main credits

Created & Supervised by:和田慎二 Shinji Wada
Chief Director & Script:ひろた たけし Takeshi Hirota
Character Design:結城信輝 Nobuteru Yuki
"Animation Director":難波日登志 Hitoshi Namba
"Sakuga Kantoku":加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase

Sukeban Deka Episode 2 main credits

Created & Supervised by:和田慎二 Shinji Wada
Chief Director & Script:ひろた たけし Takeshi Hirota
Storyboard:三條なみみ Namimi Sanjo
"Animation Director":難波日登志 Hitoshi Namba
Character Design:結城信輝 Nobuteru Yuki
Sub-Character Design:加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
"Sakuga Kantoku":加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
工藤裕加 Yuka Kudo
奥野浩之 Hiroyuki Okuno

Episode 1 animators

Koji Ayazaka Hiroshi OsakaHironori Terada Hiroyuki Terada
Yasunori Okiura Hiroyuki OkiuraToru Yoshida
Takahiro KomoriTakanori Kimura Takayuki Kimura
Tenshi Yamamoto Takashi YamamotoHironori Okuno Hiroyuki Okuno
Makoto YoshidaMegumi Abe
Sanae Ohe Sanae ChikanagaToshiki Yamazaki
Yuka KudoTabae Ogawa Mizue Ogawa
Kinuko Waizumi Kinuko IzumiNagisa Miyazaki
Takao YoshinoSatoshi Hiramatsu Tadashi Hiramatsu
Asami Kondo Asami EndoSumomo Okamoto
Masanori Kobayashi Masayuki KobayashiShinya Takahashi
Satoshi Murase Shuko MuraseTerumi Muto
Yukio NishimuraNaoko Yamamoto
Kei TakeuchiMasahiko Itojima
Yoko Kadowaki Yoko KadogamiFumiko Takashi Fumiko Kishi
Shinichi Tokairin Shinichi ShoujiKazuaki Mouri
Masahide YanagisawaYukio Iwata
Haruo OgawaraHidenori Matsubara
Keichi IshiharaKazuya Ose Kazuchika Kise
Atsuko Nakajima

Episode 2 animators

Masahiko ItojimaShinji Ishihama Masashi Ishihama
Kinuko Kazumi Kinuko IzumiKazue Ogawa Mizue Ogawa
Sumomo OkamotoHiroyuki Okuno
Hiroko KazuiKeiichiro Katsura
Fumiko Takashi Fumiko KishiNorifumi Kiyozumi
Yuka KudoTakahiro Komori
Ken SatoTakuya Saito
Hirohide ShikijimaMitsuru Shigeta Satoshi Shigeta
Kenichi Kiyomizu Kenichi ShimizuKazuhiro Sasaki
Moriyasu TaniguchiShinya Takahashi
Noriko Nakajima Atsuko NakajimaEiji Hiramatsu Tadashi Hiramatsu
Makoto FurutaMiki Furukawa
Kazuhiro FuruhashiAkiichi Masuo Shoichi Masuo
Nagisa MiyazakiHiroaki Maroki Hiroaki Korogi?
Terumi MutoTakashi Murase Shuko Murase
Hiromi MuranakaMasahide Yanagisawa
Akihiro Ketsushiro Akihiro YukiHitsuji