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Category: Studio

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

06:46:00 pm , 7553 words, 34957 views     Categories: Studio, TV, Studio: A Pro, Studio: Tokyo Movie, Studio: Oh Pro, 1970s

Tensai Bakabon

The early years of TV anime were occupied mostly by sci-fi and hero-style shows inspired by Tetsuwan Atom such as TCJ's Tetsujin 28-go and Toei Doga's Space Patrol Hopper. By 1965, audiences were getting bored with the formula, so a new type of show was attempted: the comedic home drama. Tokyo Movie had stumbled with their first production Big X in 1964, so in 1965 Yutaka Fujioka set out in a new direction with a new animation team and produced Obake no Q-taro, a Casper-like gag show about the misadventures of a friendly ghost who lives with an ordinary family. This was the first show featuring the recently-formed A Production animation team, who worked alongside Studio Zero, the anime/manga production studio where the Fujiko Fujio creator duo resided at the time.

In the wake of the show's explosive success, copycat gag shows mushroomed in the ensuing years. Notable gag shows of the late 1960s include Mushi Pro's Goku's Big Adventure (1967), Toei Doga's Pyun Pyun Maru (1967), Tatsunoko's Ora Guzura Da (1967) and Hoso Doga Seisaku's Fight da!! Pyuta (1968). Goku and Pyuta in particular featured fast-paced, anarchic storytelling with a healthy streak of black humor that pushed the boundaries of acceptability in the TV format (stations refused to air some episodes) and gives the shows a timeless quality that endures today in spite of the technical limitations of the animation.

Fast-forward a bit to 1971 and we come to a turning point in Tokyo Movie's history. Studio Zero finally disbanded because their staff had by that time scattered to the four winds, so Tokyo Movie had to rely more on their affiliated A Production team. But other small subcontractors had popped up over the previous few years, mostly from ex staff of Toei Doga and Mushi Pro, so Tokyo Movie had many more options now, and were not limited to producing just one show at a time. Hence in 1971, they built on the success of their popular Kyojin no Hoshi and had no less than 3 shows airing concurrently: Lupin III, Tensai Bakabon and Shin Obake no Q-taro. Shin Obake no Q-taro was a safe updating of their first hit while Lupin III was a daring experiment with more mature material. Tensai Bakabon meanwhile was an attempt at a new property with a more hardcore nonsense gag sensibility. (watch an ep)

Tokyo Movie had taken a break from gag shows after their Umeboshi Denka (1969) flopped because, again, audiences has grown tired of the new fad for gag anime that had overtaken the industry. They tried different material like Kyojin no Hoshi and Moomin for a while. Yasuo Otsuka joined A Pro in December 1968 and worked on first the Lupin III pilot and then Moomin. He was then set to work on a pilot for Tensai Bakabon, clearly indicating that Tokyo Movie had not given up on the format, and perhaps trusted Otsuka to create something that would bring it back into favor. That pilot was used as one episode in the show itself, while Otsuka himself worked on the concurrently-airing Lupin III, which was his pet project.

The pilot is an interesting beast. It is quite entertaining, but in animation style and rhythm it has a sensibility closer to Moomin than to Tensai Bakabon, with its strong layouts, languid pace, subtle humor and nuanced character animation. It's almost classy in its restraint and refinement, which is nice, but a little different from what you expect from this material. It doesn't have anything like the anarchy that Ganso would bring to the material.

The pilot begins much like the Lupin pilot, introducing the characters from the manga in black and white and then shifting into a story about how Bakabon and his dad go skiing, but wind up stealing a guy's skis and causing the guy to have a miserable time, entirely unbeknownst to both parties. The humor of the actual show went in a direction a little less subtle and more straight-up silly, but Otsuka's template showed the way to adapt this material: By moving away from the extreme simplicity of the manga drawings, bringing the characters down to earth and animating them three-dimensionally. Gyators several years later would go in the opposite direction and use the simple manga drawings as the template to create animated visuals very close to the sensibility of a gag manga.

The pilot wound up being used in the actual show as episode 16B, with a few cuts for time and with the voice acting track re-recorded (the main difference being they chose a new voice actor for Bakabon). There are no credits for the pilot, but the TV show gives Soji Yoshikawa the storyboarding credit for this episode, which is presumably what led to him directing the show. This is plausible because Otsuka obviously knew of Yoshikawa from Moomin, on which Yoshikawa storyboarded 5 episodes. Yoshikawa afterwards storyboarded the first and last episodes of Lupin III. Yoshikawa's association with Otsuka continued for a bit, as several years later he wrote many episodes of Future Boy Conan and then directed Mamo. Incidentally, Mamo was written single-handedly by Yoshikawa, even though Atsushi Yamatoya is co-credited.

Yasuo Otsuka cameo in episode 5A

After working on the early shows and then Moomin under Otsuka, A Pro's lead animators Tsutomu Shibayama, Osamu Kobayashi and Yoshio Kabashima had by that time matured to the point where they could be put at the head of their own projects, so Kabashima headed the animation of Shin Obake no Q-taro while Shibayama was made character designer and animation director of Tensai Bakabon and Otsuka headed Lupin III. Osamu Kobayashi would work as an animator on those two shows until he became animation head of the studio's next show Dokonjo Gaeru, which started the year after in 1972.

Fujio Akatsuka and Fujio Fujiko were the two creators behind some of the classic gag shows of the early period. The Fujio Fujiko duo was behind the softer, more drama-based comedy shows like Obake no Q-taro and Paa-man while Fujio Akatsuka was behind the more hard-edge straight gag shows Osomatsu-kun (Studio Zero/Children's Corner, 1966) and Moretsu Ataro (Toei Doga, 1969). Tokyo Movie had adapted Fujio Fujiko before with Obake no Q-taro, and would continue to do so extensively, but Tensai Bakabon was Tokyo Movie's first foray into a Fujio Akatsuka show.

The original manga Tensai Bakabon is essentially a home drama about a Japanese family, but told with far less of an emphasis on the everyday life aspect. Rather than telling stories about everyday life injected with humor, entire stories are built around crazy concepts. Dialogue is full of bizarre and unexplainable non-sequiturs, puns and gags that break the third wall. The whole point is to make the audience laugh with a non-stop stream of silly gags of a dark and nonsensical bent, in a tradition that harkens back to the likes of Shigeru Sugiura, albeit without the avant-garde, psychedelic aspect.

The name Tensai Bakabon or Genius Idiot Boy is mysterious nonsensical name that is difficult to rationalize, as it has an ineffable mad Zen balance that just works, but perhaps can be broken down to describe the family members: Tensai is for the boy genius infant Hajime; Baka is for the father, an idiot savant who seems to know what he's doing but in fact operates on a completely different plane of reality; and Bon is for the elder brother, a young specimen of utter mediocrity who despite his chubby frame, snub nose, and slow wits, is endearing for being an otherwise normal, happy-go-lucky, well-adjusted young boy. Year round he can be seen in a kimono with a swirl-pattern that matches the swirl on his cheeks. The other member is the mother, who is the only completely normal character in the set. She grounds the family by scolding the father and de-escalating the craziness when it seems on the verge of spiraling out of control. It's a fascinating family that works as a perfect complement of opposites. It's baffling why a normal woman would marry an idiot savant, and the boy genius Hajime speaks perfect Japanese a few days after being born - the antithesis of the pure idiocy of the father.

The father is something of a parody of a working class father, with his permanent Tora-san haramaki and hachimaki. He caps episode previews with "Watch or you get the death penalty." Recurring characters include Rerere no Ojisan, the ubiquitous guy who is always sweeping the street whenever Bakabon's dad leaves the house. At some point in every episode, he has to ask his trademark line, "Heading out?" only to receive a joke response from the father than makes him go "Rerere?" He has an anachronistic old-fashioned design that seems directly inspired by Shigeru Sugiura - he even makes the same hand gesture as Sarutobi Sasuke. Then there is the local policeman, who has a hair trigger temper and fires his gun madly at the slightest provocation. His design is a great example of Akatsuka's bizarre design sense: his eyes are drawn connected and he has a single square nostril. This was apparently deemed too much because in this first anime adaptation they separate his eyes and give him a regular nose. The second series went back to the manga design. The main characters are each distinguished by their teeth: The son has one top tooth, father as two top teeth like a hippo, and the policeman two bottom teeth.

In the manga this all plays out in a flat, empty world of white space with virtually no physical settings or sense of passing time. To translate this kind of story into animation required considerable adaptation, which Tokyo Movie did in the manner they knew best: They grounded the characters in real Japanese settings and fleshed out their lives in the manner of real Japanese people. Hence, this version feels more like a home drama in the spirit of the Fujiko Fujio anime. Even so, Tensai Bakabon experienced tribulations indicating that nonsense humor, even toned down as it was here, was still not acceptable to audiences at the time. The nature of the show actually changed at about the midway point along with the director.

Originally, the show was essentially grounded in reality, but told silly, action-centric stories packed with gags in the spirit of the manga. It wasn't a completely faithful adaptation of the original in the early episodes, but still retained a lot of its spirit. However, in the second half, that spirit is altogether gone. The gags suddenly get edged out completely in favor of a straight home drama telling harmless, mundane stories, usually about Bakabon the boy and his schoolmates. This sort of change of course happened often in these early days to gag shows, indicating a surprisingly tenacious reluctance on the part of general audiences to embrace straight gag anime - Goku no Daiboken became a dour monster show in the second half, and even as late as 1975 Gamba no Boken was changed from an unpredictable, zig-zagging light-hearted action comedy to a humorless, linear adventure due to station demands.

To give an example of the cynical, nonsensical humor of the early episodes that apparently displeased either the sponsors or the viewers, or both, before Hajime is born, father and son takes a doll out for a walk to practice carrying a baby. They drop the baby onto the street and a cab runs over it. The cab screeches to a halt, and the father screams that the baby has been run over and its brains are all over the street, sending the cab driver into shock. A nurse rushes into the emergency room announcing that a child was in a terrible accident. A huge team of surgeons gather as the doll is rushed into the operating room.

In another instance, after the baby is born, the father is out taking a walk with the newborn Hajime. Housewives gather around to comment on how cute he is, but wonder if the sun might not be too hot for a little baby. Suddenly concerned, the father hits upon a great idea to keep the baby cool: A coffin. After he parades down the street with Hajime in a coffin, weeping neighbors gather at their home in mourning clothes to offer their condolences. He deposits Hajime's coffin in front of the shocked mother, declaring, "Hajime is resting in peace in this coffin." She opens the coffin to reveal Hajime lying on a bed of flowers, resting in peace but perfectly alive. The father doesn't understand why everyone is angry, explaining that it's nice and cool in the coffin.

The second half of the show appears the same on the surface, but is completely absent dark humor of this kind. The father's mad behavior doesn't exist for its own sake, but rather is explained and rationalized away as the well-meaning antics of an eccentric but otherwise good-hearted father. Before he existed in a sort of existential void, like an enlightened ascetic, exempt from fatherly duties and social norms alike, but now all of a sudden he has a 9-to-5 job as a gardener, which grounds him as an ordinary human rather than an expressive symbol who exists merely to upturn social conventions and common sense.

The first half is quite enjoyable in its balance of nonsense humor and everyday drama. It's neither too over-the-top nor too restrained. The stories of the second half, however, neuter the show and render it bland and unremarkable, though not unwatchable by any stretch. A few years later Tokyo Movie would remake the show into Ganso Tensai Bakabon in a way that was much more true to the spirit of the original manga. Ganso is an uninterrupted blast of comedic nonsense and outrageously exaggerated animation to match, in sharp contrast to the tasteful and restrained atmosphere of the first version. But both versions have their virtues.

The animation

Tensai Bakabon is the show where you can see the A Pro style on the cusp of maturity, which was reached in the next show, Dokonjo Gaeru. In comparison, the animation of Tensai Bakabon is generally restrained and somewhat hesitating, if always pleasing to watch thanks to the good layout sensibility of Shibayama. By the time of the second Tensai Bakabon show a few years later, the drawings are much more refined and assured. Despite the two shows being separated only by a few years, the animators developed incredibly over those years and the difference in quality is stark. Tsutomu Shibayama's designs in Tensai Bakabon are nice and stylized but somewhat basic and lacking the refinement they would acquire in Ganso Tensai Bakabon.

That said, there is still much to appreciate in the first show. At a basic level, the show itself is still very entertaining even after all these years. Doraemon is the modern equivalent of a show like this, but unlike a show like Doraemon, Tensai Bakabon actually has a cynical, satirical edge lacking in the completely kiddified Doraemon. It's truly a crossover show that appeals to both kids and adults. The humor is witty and clever without being inane and pandering.

The animation drawings are quite basic compared to today's highly detailed anime, as the show comes at something of a crossroads between the early drawings of the 60s and the more mature style of the mid-70s when the TV-bred animator generation was beginning to mature. The good aspect of this is that the simplicity of the drawings allows the animators to focus on moving the characters around freely, and there is a lot of freedom to play around and deform the characters in novel ways. The characters here have a very caricatural style that makes them fun to look at. That is something Shibayama brought to the table, as his characters are much more tightly stylized than the manga.

For example, comparing the last episode of Toei Doga's Moretsu Ataro reveals what A Pro brought to the table. (watch) This episode was aired Christmas day 1970, 9 months before the start of Tensai Bakabon (and incidentally was directed by Isao Takahata, in his very last job at Toei Doga). The narrative style is more unadorned and close to the manga, seeming to consist of a series of gag panels rather than a story that has narrative buildup and tension. The character drawings are quite different from A Pro's drawings. There is far less creative deformation, and the animation is spare and perfunctory. There is none of the creative timing, artistic license with design, and complicated movements of A Pro's work.

A Pro's animators were great at drawing characters in a loose way that is neither too sloppy and casual like Moretsu Ataro, nor over-stylized. The characters are stylized in a way appropriate to animation, and the layouts are stronger, situating the characters in a more realistic three-dimensional space. Moretsu Ataro feels closer in style to the flat world of the manga, and it is appealing for that reason, but there is something bland about watching that in animation, without something to spice it up. The manga didn't have the sort of narrative tension or pacing you expect of animation. A monotone sequence of gags gets old after a while. Tensai Bakabon seems to successfully translate the world of Fujio Akatsuka into animation in a way that retains your attention by creating engaging stories and fleshing the personalities (and animation) of the characters out. It's something akin to how Isao Takahata brought alive the rudimentary manga drawings of Hisaichi Ichii in My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Aside from stronger layouts and richer and more three-dimensional and vivid animation, Tensai Bakabon also seems to feature more playful and wilful animation that allows animator personality to come through. Thus you can actually identify the different animators at work in the various episodes through their distinguishing features. The pink jacket Lupin III was one of the few shows in the 80s that retained this spirit, with its wild variation in drawing style from one episode to the next due to the different styles of the animators who worked on the show, and the reason is obvious. It's because Yuzo Aoki was a holdover of the 1970s A Pro generation, and he carried on that spirit by laying down a basic template conducive to creativity, and allowing animators to do their thing. The most prominent latter-day animator to carry on this spirit is Hiroyuki Imaishi, and looking back at these old A Pro shows you can see quite clearly where Imaishi got a lot of his inspiration. Kanada is bandied about as his main influence, but to my eyes he is about 50% Kanada and 50% A Pro. Tensai Bakabon is, then, not just a fun show that is still a blast to watch after more than 40 years; it's also one of the earliest incarnations of this school of animation that went on to influence so many later animators.

The subcontractors behind the animation

Self references: Jaggard on the menu (Jaggard) / Newscaster Shioyama (Oh Pro)

On the staff side of things, Tensai Bakabon features many of the subcontractors I talked about in my post on Koya no Shonen Isamu (1973), with a few differences.

A Pro:Osamu KobayashiTanaka TsutomuRyo Yasuoka
Oh Pro:Norio ShioyamaKoshin Yonekawa
Neo Media:Yoshiyuki MomoseMasayuki Uchiyama
Mates:Teruo HandaMasafumi Kubota
Jaggard:Saito HiroshiMasakazu Ikeda(then Masami Abe, Shunichi Sakai, Michiyo Sakurai)
Za In:Seiji OkudaKazuo Iimura

Again, none of the subcontracting studios that worked on the show are credited, but with a little research, I was able to figure out which studios were involved. Each of the show's 40 episodes is broken down into two stories. Each half-episode story is animated by (usually) two animators from a single studio.

Other studios involved in a smaller fashion are Ad 5, Office Uni and Junio. I'm not 100% positive about Ad 5 and Office Uni, as they were transient studios about which it is difficult to find much information.

With the exception of Jaggard (which disbanded in 1972) and the addition of Madhouse (which formed in 1972), this is the same grouping that would go on to work on Dokonjo Gaeru starting the next year, in the same format of two animators from one studio handling half an episode. While Tensai Bakabon was airing, the same subcontractors concurrently had their other animators working on Lupin III and Panda Kopanda: Oh Pro Koichi Murata and Joji Manabe; Neo Media Keiichiro Kimura and Yasuhiro Yamaguchi; Mates Kenzo Koizumi and Takashi Asakura; A Pro Yoshifumi Kondo, Yuzo Aoki and Hideo Kawauchi; and Junio Tetsuo Imazawa. By the time of Ganso Tensai Bakabon a few years later the team was fairly different.

The most interesting thing about Tensai Bakabon is perhaps that there are is a lot of unexpected staff continuity with the earlier classic gag shows I mentioned before: Goku no Daiboken and Fight da!! Pyuta. This is surprising because these shows were produced by different studios that came together under completely different circumstances. It's as if they were naturally drawn together on Tensai Bakabon to work on this material due to their natural proclivities, though for the most part it probably had more to do with the closure of certain studios and the opening of others, and where the work was to be had.

The biggest of these is (first half) series director, Soji Yoshikawa. He was an animator in both Goku and Pyuta. This made him an obvious choice to direct this material. This multi-talented individual is of course best remembered as the director of Lupin III: Mystery of Mamo.(1978), but he was also a prolific script writer who wrote most of Votoms. Yoshikawa had started out at Mushi Pro in the early days, and was part of the group of brash young hotshot animators pulled out by Gisaburo Sugii to run Art Fresh, the studio that animated Goku no Daiboken and then disbanded. Others in this group included Seiji Okuda, who is one of the main animators of Tensai Bakabon. Okuda was also an animator in Pyuta.

Episode 2A director Tameo Kohanawa had meanwhile directed several episodes of Pyuta in addition to being the character designer. Takeuchi Daizo, who worked as an animator in two episodes of Tensai Bakabon, directed several episodes of Pyuta. Both of them started out at Toei Doga in 1963-1964 and left in 1967 to join Pyuta production company Hoso Doga Seisaku. Hoso Doga Seisaku was short-lived studio staffed by a motley assortment of misfits who didn't want to make your typical anime. Sound familiar? There is a spiritual undercurrent connecting Goku and Pyuta despite their surface dissimilarity. Pyuta was the only show they produced entirely on their own, and they disbanded immediately afterwards. One of the studios formed in the aftermath was Office Uni, and I speculate that it's from here that Takeuchi Daizo (and Shingo Matsuo) worked on Tensai Bakabon, but I'm not positive about this.

Takeuchi Daizo in episode 12A

Takeuchi Daizo animated episode 12A of Tensai Bakabon, about a magician picked on by Bakabon's father. It features lots of exaggerated and deformed drawings of the magician and shows off Takeuchi Daizo's unique animation sensibility. His animation is not backed up by solid drawing skills, but rather by the self-assurance that he can come up with lots of fun and clever poses and actions. This is a somewhat different approach to the A Pro school, which is more solid and grounded in fundamentals. You can see more animation in the loose and free style of Takeuchi Daizo in Pyuta.

Both Tameo Kohanawa and Takeuchi Daizo went on to work extensively on Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi and Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi. This episode about an ignorant lion is a particularly nicely animated episode by Takeuchi Daizo, who had a very loose and deformed animation style that is very fun to watch. He seems to draw everything using ink brush lines rather than pencil. Daizo eventually went on to focus on more indie work, whereas Tameo Kohanawa remains active as a director in the industry. These two are exemplary of the unique style of the figures who worked on Pyuta, many of whom had a more indie attitude towards animation that led to them going down different avenues in comparison with the typical Toei Doga/Mushi Pro expat.

Jaggard is a studio that nobody seems to talk about anymore, but they were one of the many studios that mushroomed in the 1960s to meet the growing demand for animators created by the burgeoning TV anime industry. Founded in 1966 by Hiroshi Saito together with Shingo Araki, the studio would only continue until 1972, when both animators went their separate ways. Hiroshi Saito was born in 1936, only one year after Takahata, so he is part of the generation that experienced the appearance of TV anime on the front lines. He started out at Otogi Pro in 1960 and then switched to Mushi Pro in 1963, and left in 1966 to found his own studio. From there, he subcontracted for Tokyo Movie's Kyojin no Hoshi, where Shingo Araki did some of his first work as an animator and Hiroshi Saito debuted as a director. Mushi Pro's Ashita no Joe is one of the lats places that you can see all of the Jaggard animators working together, and Tensai Bakabon was the very last job of Jaggard before Hiroshi Saito moved to Zuiyo. He wound up staying at the studio even after it switched to Nippon Animation, and was one of the studio's main directors for the next two decades.

It's in Hiroshi Saito's hands that Tensai Bakabon switched course to a more family-friendly bent, and he would continue to direct more wholesome, light-hearted, breezy material in that spirit for the rest of his career at Nippon Animation. Perhaps in line with this, the Jaggard episodes of Tensai Bakabon are among the least distinctive. It's difficult to find distinguishing characteristics or quirks in the animation. It's as if they are striving to remain as on-model and ruly as possible. So I will leave them out of this next section.

The different styles of each subcontractor

It can be difficult at times to distinguish the styles of the studios in this show, as for the most part the drawings are not very idiosyncratic. Another factor is Shibayama's corrections. His corrections could be present a lot of the time, which makes identifying animator's styles difficult. Then there is the fact that the drawing style of the characters seems to evolve over the course of the show.

Despite that, there are many moments throughout the show where a more individual style peeks through. Sometimes it's a particular way of drawing a character in certain poses, or a certain touch of line, while other times it isn't the drawings at all but rather the movement itself which is identifiable. For example, Osamu Kobayashi's characters have an easily identified round and bulbous style that moves sparely, while Yoshiyuki Momose's animation has a more restrained look but uses a lot of drawings to create rapid, fluid motions that are easily identifiable in terms of the movement. Also, my impression is that the personality of a given episode's animators seems come through more in the guest characters, because Shibayama's corrections tend to be focused on the main characters.

A Pro

Recommended A Pro episode: 32A (Bakabon goes on a trip by himself)

I might as well start with the work of A Pro, since they were the main subcontractor behind the animation. But surprisingly, apart from Shibayama's corrections, which keep the main characters in line throughout the show, A Pro's style doesn't dominate the show. There are only a scattered few episodes actually animated by A Pro, and the other episodes have a very different style. It is said that although the A Pro shows were sakkan'd by Shibayama and Kobayashi, they actually didn't do much sakkaning, and Yoshifumi Kondo did corrections for the in-house episodes. Kobayashi and Shibayama were mostly occupied with designing the characters, and in their own episodes they laid the template for how the characters should move.

Osamu Kobayashi is the most identifiable animator in the A Pro episodes. All of the images above are his. If you only saw the shots above, you might think you were looking at Dokonjo Gaeru. Even within the A Pro episodes, it's pretty obvious that Osamu Kobayashi's scenes were not even corrected by Shibayama, because the two have a completely different style. You can see the round & bulbous style I mentioned above quite clearly in the images above. Kobayashi doesn't draw wild deformations or funny faces of the kind you'll find in the other studios' episodes. He keeps the characters pretty firm. The mother is super cute, and even Bakabon's dad looks cute in Kobayashi's hands.

Kobayashi keeps the movement very restrained and still most of the time, efficiently bursting into quickly timed full motion only occasionally to keep the drawing count down, which works to very good effect. It never feels like it isn't moving very much, even though he reportedly used a dramatically smaller number of drawings than someone like Momose. In Dokonjo Momose relates that he would be using 3000 drawings per half episode where Kobayashi would only be using a bit over 1000, and yet Kobayashi's animation never felt like it was restrained. It's clear that working with Yasuo Otsuka during the preceding year or so rubbed off on him and he learned how to effectively switch between stillness and motion at the right moment to make it feel natural.

Another key thing that sets the Kobayashi shots above and A Pro's work in general apart is the stronger layouts. The characters are properly anchored to a setting, rather than simply being drawn flat in the middle of the screen without much thought to their relation to the background. If you do a cursory comparison of the basic positioning of the characters by the other animators pictured below you'll notice the difference. Kobayashi's characters seem to actually inhabit a space. They're drawn recessed a little, with proper if rudimentary perspective, whereas the other animators tend to just draw the characters smack in the middle of the screen, full bore, filling up the image. It's not necessarily realism per se, but it gives the characters more of a feeling of reality. Combined with the masterfully balanced drawings, this goes a long way to accounting for what made A Pro such a special studio that stood out from the pack in the 1970s. Kobayashi's work only truly comes alive starting the next year in Dokonjo Gaeru, but this gives a good feeling for how Kobayashi evolved into his mature style between the time he worked on Moomin under Otsuka and the time he worked on Dokonjo Gaeru.

Incidentally, the credits of this show often seem to reverse the A and B parts. For example, the pilot was included as episode 16B in the TV show. But the Oh Pro animators are credited for part A in episode 16, when they should be credited for part B. This happens countless times and makes the credits somewhat unreliable. Sometimes the order is right, sometimes it isn't. You have to have a sense of the animators' styles to be able to tell. Other episodes that seems switched include episodes 12, 16, 19 and 23. The pilot doesn't include any credits, so the TV episode is the only place we have to turn for credits. I know Otsuka worked on the pilot, but he isn't even credited. And the credits that are there are the same as every other A Pro episode, which is suspicious.

Oh Pro

Recommended Oh Pro episode: 39B (Bakabon's father joins a circus)

One of the other great subcontractors of the 1970s is Oh Pro, founded in 1970 by Koshin Yonekawa, Koichi Murata, Kazuo Komatsubara and Norio Shioyama. I've written about Oh Pro numerous times in the past (Oh Pro's Devilman, Little Twins, Koichi Murata, Lupin III series 2, Lupin III series 3, Kazuo Komatsubara) as along with A Pro they are perhaps my favorite animation studio ever. During the first few years of their existence, they split their small force in half to work concurrently on Toei and Tokyo Movie shows.

Thus in the first year Kazuo Komatsubara headed work on Toei's Tiger Mask while Koichi Murata headed work on Tokyo Movie's Attack No. 1. In the next year, 1971, Komatsubara worked on Toei's Genshi Shonen Ryu (watch ep 1) while Koshin Yonekawa and Norio Shioyama worked on Tokyo Movie's Tensai Bakabon and Koichi Murata worked on Tokyo Movie's Lupin III. After a few years Oh Pro's A Pro team switched to working on Zuiyo/Nippon Animation productions.

I already wrote about Koichi Murata's wonderful work on Koya no Shonen Isamu in 1973. Here in Tensai Bakabon in 1971 you can revel in the almost equally wonderful work of Koshin Yonekawa. Norio Shioyama worked alongside Yonekawa, but I believe the characterful drawings in the Oh Pro episodes, of which a sampling is pictured above, are of the hand of Yonekawa. Shioyama wound up leaving Oh Pro immediately after Bakabon to work at Tatsunoko, whereas Yonekawa would go on to be Oh Pro's main rotation animator (alongside Joji Manabe) on Dokonjo Gaeru starting the next year in 1972.

Yonekawa's drawings are very cartoonish in a classical western sense, with wild deformation and fun character drawings. He doesn't use many drawings or create vivid movement per se, but rather uses a small number of drawings effectively to create raucous and lively character animation. His characters twist and turn, stretch and squash, and squeezes out a new playfully exaggerated expression at every moment. His animation is tremendously fun to watch. There's a new kind of looseness and freedom to the drawings, while on the other hand the movement is lacking in the vivid movement of the A Pro school. Even when they're extremely deformed, the character drawings retain a certain tasteful stylization, whereas in the hands of other animators the deformation can sometimes be ugly and lacking in refinement.

Mates

Recommended Mates episode: 1B (Bakabon practices with a doll in preparation for the birth of his little brother)

This is one of the studios I'm not so sure about. I know very little about Studio Mates to begin with other than that it was presumably founded by Kenzo Koizumi, who later worked as one of the rotation animators on Koya no Shonen Isamu. I believe that the episodes featuring Teruo Handa and Masafumi Kubota are Mates episodes, though I am not positive. The previous year these two animators worked extensively on Tiger Mask, so perhaps Mates had also split their forces between Toei and Tokyo Movie shows in the early years.

The Mates episodes stand out in their own way from the other episodes. I actually like the work here, unlike the Mates episodes in Isamu. The drawings are not necessarily good per se, but they are characterful and have energy. Occasionally there will be extreme deformation of characters that is quite fun to watch, if not particularly clean, well stylized or pleasingly drawn. The mouth tends to be drawn in a distinctive way as this wide, craggy, uneven opening. The movement is not particularly well timed, but there are some vivid movements that use a lot of drawings. It's not nearly as static as the A Pro episodes. The Mates episodes have a kind of rough energy to them.

Episode 7A begins with a gangster movie playing in a theater. It's drawn in the hyper-expressive realist style of Tiger Mask, with rough lines and hardcore mean looking manly faces. This was probably a joke inserted by these animators who had just come from working on such material the previous year.

In episode 1B, Bakabon wants to practice on a baby, but has a difficult time finding a good substitute. This is one of the best of the early episodes for its dark sense of humor and extreme drawings. First Bakabon says he wants to practice on a cat, but the cat is too hairy, so Bakabon's father pulls out a razor and offers to fix the problem. Then they go out looking for an idea in the streets when they encounter a mother scolding her child. She says "I'm going to throw you away if you don't stop crying" and Bakabon's father promptly says "I'll take him if you don't want him". The Tiger Mask influence comes through here when the mother busts out some pro wrestling moves and annihilates both Bakabon's father and the policeman who came to arrest her for assault. Afterwards, they make a doll and walk around with it, eventually dropping it on the street in the gag I mentioned earlier.

Neo Media

Recommended Neo Media episode: 18A (Bakabon's teacher comes over and gets drunk)

The Neo Media episodes contain work from a young 18-year-old named Yoshiyuki Momose, who had just joined the studio the same year in 1971. This is essentially his debut as a key animator. Since he was such a green animator, the work doesn't have the strong character of the other animators in the show, most of whom already had years of experience in the industry. And yet it stands out for its fundamental strength of movement. Rather than standing out for the drawings, it stands out for the quality of the animation. The characters actually come alive in his hands.

It's this ability to bring characters alive in movement that set Neo Media founder Keiichiro Kimura apart in the late 1960s. Stylistically, Momose is not influenced by Kimura at all. Momose has none of the strange timing and rough drawing that characterize Kimura. Though working from Neo Media, he developed entirely under the influence of Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi. It was their work that stimulated his imagination and taught him the basics of animation. One of the most important things he learned from them was the importance of layouts. Most of the industry presumably did not have great layout skills, but the A Pro animators always positioned their characters very carefully on the screen, and that is one of the things that set their work apart. You can see clearly that the characters run around their environment in a more dynamic and calculated way in his work compared with anyone else on the show. A little bit later on, it was A Pro animator Yoshifumi Kondo who inspired a spirit of friendly rivalry prompting him to strive to pack as much interesting movement as he could into his shots.

It's quite remarkable that in his debut he is able to create animation that already has so much life. He is just one of those animators who has it in his blood, who has the instinct for it, and he was good right off the bat. Long shots feature characters engaging in minute actions that play out over the entire screen. In one of the best episodes of the show, 18A, Bakabon's teacher comes over to talk about Bakabon with his father, but winds up being tempted by some sake and gets completely wasted. He runs around the house banging his head against the things and running up the walls in one of the show's most lively and entertaining sequences, brought alive vividly by Momose's animation. Momose would definitely be even better by the time of Dokonjo Gaeru the next year, but his work here is still quite entertaining.

Za In

Recommended Za In episodes: 19A (Bakabon's father destroys an airline company), 26B (Bakabon's father enters a singing competition)

The Za In episodes are among the most interesting in the show. They have some of the most fun and entertaining character drawings of all, along with zippy movement. I believe the main animator responsible for the best parts of these episodes would be Seiji Okuda. He started out in animation prior to the TV era, and when Mushi Pro released Testuwan Atom he joined the industry on Tetsujin 28. He worked as an animator for a few years before added storyboarding to his repertoire around 1971. Since then, he went on to focus on storyboarding, and is now reportedly the single most prolific storyboarder in history in Japan, even surpassing the legendarily prolific Yoshiyuki Tomino (who storyboarded episodes of Tensai Bakabon under the pen name Asa Minami). He has worked on no less than 200 individual productions throughout his career. He also directed a few shows like Dancougar and Dream Hunter Rem, though storyboarding is his main thing.

When I saw Okuda's episodes, I felt a sense of deja vu. It took me a while to figure out why that was. I've been a big fan of Goku no Daiboken for many years, and it turns out Okuda was an animator in Goku, and his drawings in Bakabon unconsciously reminded me of his work in Goku, even though I didn't even know he was involved in the show. I don't have my Goku DVD box with me to check the credits right now, so I'm not positive which episodes he did, but I know he was one of the animators brought by Gisaburo Sugii to animate the show at Art Fresh. He also worked as an animator on Pyuta the year after Goku, so I've included shots of what I suspect are his work from these two shows above to give a sense of his style and how it connects with his later work on Tensai Bakabon.

Okuda also worked on Moomin and went on to work as one of the main rotation animators of Dokonjo Gaeru, so he was an animator in many of the best gag shows of the first decade of TV anime.

Okuda doesn't receive almost any recognition for it anymore since he went on to become mainly a storyboarder, but he was one of the best animators active in the early TV era across a number of the era's best shows. His style is immediately identifiable and stands head and shoulders above most of his peers. Pyuta is especially instructive in the quality of his work as most of the show has fairly crummy animation. The half-episode he animated (episode 5A) is full of his distinctively drawn characters, which look nothing whatsoever like the rest of the show. His earlier work on Goku was a little more static, consisting mostly of single drawings with a few extra drawings for movement, but by the time of Tensai Bakabon there is a lot more movement and zip, and yet there is still that great instinctive sense for how to draw funny expressions and poses.

I'm not positive that Seiji Okuda was at Za In (ザ・イン) during Bakabon, but the animator who helped Okuda on his episodes, Kazuo Iimura, along with the inbetweeners who worked on his episodes, Mitsuo Kusakabe & Masayoshi Okazaki, later became part of the actual studio called Sign (ザイン) founded in 1984. They even have their own web site.

I've done something novel this time and broken down the key animation credits by studio to the best of my knowledge.


Tensai Bakabon 天才バカボン
(Tokyo Movie, Yomiuri TV, 40 eps, 9/1971 - 6/1972)

Director:吉川惣司Soji Yoshikawa (1-22)
斉藤博、岡部英二Hiroshi Saito & Eiji Okabe (23-40)
Anim Director:柴山努Tsutomu Shibayama
Art Director:影山仁Hitoshi Kageyama
Music:渡辺岳夫Takeo Watanabe
Asst Directors:向坪利次、田中実Toshitsugu Mukaitsubo & Minoru Tanaka
Asst Anim Dir:竹内留吉Tomekichi Takeuchi
Storyboards:高倉健一Kenichi Takakura (1a, 1b)
小華和ためおTameo Kohanawa (2a)
奥田誠治Seiji Okuda (2b)
岡崎稔Minoru Okazaki (3a, 6b, 7a, 12a, 23b, 27b)
佐々木正広Masahiro Sasaki (3b, 6a, 8b, 11a, 15b, 23a, 25b, 27a, 29a, 31b)
小泉謙三Kenzo Koizumi (4a)
風間幸雄Yukio Kazama (4b, 5b, 7b, 10a, 13a)
出崎哲Tetsuo Dezaki (5a, 10b, 12b)
羽根章悦Yoshiyuki Hane (8a)
新田義方Yoshikata Arata (9a)
北川一夫Kazuo Kitagawa (9b)
高円寺太郎Taro Koenji (11b, 32b, 37b, 39b)
壺中天Ten Tsubonaka (13b, 15a, 17a, 31a, 34b, 35b, 36a)
平田敏夫Toshio Hirata (14a)
山崎修二Shuji Yamazaki (14b, 19a, 22b, 30a, 33b, 34a, 36b, 37a, 39a, 40)
斉藤博Hiroshi Saito (16a, 21b, 28a, 30b, 32a, 35a, 38a, 38b)
吉川惣持Soji Yoshikawa (16b)
南阿佐/阿佐みなみAsa Minami/Minami Asa (17b, 19b/22a, 24a, 26b)
石黒昇Noboru Ishiguro (18a, 20a, 25a, 29b)
遠藤政治Seiji Endo (18b, 20b)
高橋春男Haruo Takahashi (21a, 24b, 28b, 33a)
ひこねのりおNorio Hikone (26a)

Key Animators:

OH PROMATES
1塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
JAGGARDNEO MEDIA
2斉藤 博
Hiroshi Saito
池田正和
Masakazu Ikeda
百瀬義幸
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
ZA INOH PRO
3奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
MATESAD 5?
4半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
羽根章悦
Yoshiyuki Hane
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
OH PROJAGGARD
5塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
斉藤 博
Hiroshi Saito
池田正和
Masakazu Ikeda
NEO MEDIAJUNIO?
6百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
須田 勝
Masaru Suda
渡辺邦夫
Kunio Watanabe
MATESJAGGARD
7半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
安部正己
Masami Abe
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
ZA INNEO MEDIAOH PRO
8奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
A PROMATESJAGGARD
9田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
安部正己
Masami Abe
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
ZA INJAGGARD
10奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
安部正己
Masami Abe
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
NEO MEDIAOH PRO
11百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
ZA INOFFICE UNI?
12奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
竹内大三
Daizo Takeuchi
松尾信吾
Shingo Matsuo
MATESJAGGARD
13半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
安部正己
Masami Abe
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
NEO MEDIAOH PRO
14百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
A PROMATES
15小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
半田輝夫
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
A PROOFFICE UNI?
16小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
竹内大三
Daizo Takeuchi
松尾信吾
Shingo Matsuo
JUNIO?OH PRO
17端名貴男
Takao Hashina
須田 勝
Masaru Suda
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAJAGGARD
18百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
MATESZA IN
19半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
ZA INOH PRO
20奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
MATESJAGGARD
21半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
NEO MEDIAOH PRO
22百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAZA IN
23百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
A PROMATES
24小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
半田輝夫
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
JAGGARDOH PRO
25坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAZA IN
26百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
JAGGARDOH PRO
27坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
A PROMATES
28小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
NEO MEDIAZA IN
29百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
JAGGARDOH PRO
30坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
JAGGARDMATES
31坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
A PROOH PRO
32小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAZA IN
33百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
JAGGARDMATES
34坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
MATESZA IN
35半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
MATESJAGGARD
36半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
NEO MEDIAOH PRO
37百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
JAGGARDZA IN
38坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
MATESOH PRO
39半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAZA IN
40百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura

Monday, September 16, 2013

04:55:00 pm , 5181 words, 13632 views     Categories: Animation, Studio, TV, Studio: A Pro, Studio: Tokyo Movie, Animator: Yuzo Aoki, Studio: Oh Pro, 1970s

Wild West Boy Isamu

While just about every movie genre has its sub-genre in anime, there is a distinct lack of westerns in anime. The reason is obvious enough. The western is a quintessentially American genre and doesn't lend itself well to transplanation to Japan (recent exceptions like Sukiyaki Django Western notwithstanding). One of the few movies or TV shows obviously modeled on the western and adhering to most of the genre's conventions is Toei's Puss 'n Boots II from 1972. However, this film was hardly a hardcore western, but rather a spirited, playful children's film populated by anthropomorphic animals as well as humans.

There is only one real, full-fledged western in anime, and that is Koya no Shonen Isamu 荒野の少年イサム, a 52-episode TV series produced by Tokyo Movie aired April 1973 to March 1974, presumably inspired by Toei's recent foray into the western.

Adapted from a manga by Noboru Kawasaki based on a 1952 novel by prolific pulp fiction writer Soji Yamakawa, Isamu tells the story of a samurai named Katsunoshin who in late 1800s crosses the ocean to study western ways in America. He falls in love with a native American girl who gives birth to his child, Isamu. When Isamu is 4, the mother is killed and Katsunoshin becomes separated from his son. Katsunoshin spends the next ten years of his life searching for his son. Isamu, meanwhile, is raised by a community of gold miners until one day he is kidnapped by a gang of outlaws named the Wingates. They teach him the ways of the west and train him into a skilled gunman in the hope of using him to commit their crimes. However, the naturally just-minded Isamu resists and eventually escapes from them and begins a journey to find his father. Along the way, he puts his unparalleled gunmanship to the task of helping innocent settlers fight against outlaws and bring law and order to the wild west.

The golden age of westerns was in fact not that long past when this show came out. The spaghetti westerns of the 1960s like Serge Leone's Fistfull of Dollars (1964) establish the pattern that comes to rule the series in the second half after Isamu parts ways with the Wingates. Isamu will wander into a new town, only to find it secretly ruled by a gang of ruthless thugs who brutally repress the townspeople. After a bit of investigative work, he discovers the big boss running the town. The boss plays a dastardly and underhanded trick in an attempt to kill Isamu, but Isamu's unparalleled skills with the six shooter and unflagging sense of justice finally win the day.

The series also manages to weave in just about every western convention you can think of. There are stories about migrants making their way to the west in covered wagon trains, Mexican outlaws, high-speed stagecoach robberies, an undercover US Marshall investigating a weapons smuggling ring, cattle rustlers, villainous landowners trying to drive innocent farmers off their land, and life on the ranch. The show briefly touches on the topic of slavery with a story of shotgun-blast delicacy reminiscent of Django Unchained: a child slave became an outlaw named Big Stone after witnessing his mother gunned down by the Wingates, and killing his master in retaliation for doing nothing to help her and then adding insult to injury by insulting her corpse. Big Stone spends the first half of the series hunting the Wingates, leading to a big dramatic showdown with Isamu. The series stays away from the delicate issue of native Americans for the most part, save for one episode in which a native seeks to expose an arms dealer who secretly assaults stagecoaches in the guise of natives in order to incite the local townspeople to rise up in war against the natives.

I had seen the first episode many years ago, but I just had the opportunity to watch this series in its entirety for the first time. As a show from the heart of Tokyo Movie's golden age, I enjoyed watching it, but I must say that objectively speaking it's a mixed bag and it's hard to recommend that people flock to see it. There is some good drama and some good animation, and the characters are interesting enough, if not particularly deeply written. The hardcore nature of the show makes it more enjoyable to watch than a pansy kiddy adaptation neutering the brutality of the wild west. It has its virtues, but overall it was a slog to get through, due primarily to the unevenness of the animation work and the cliche'd and repetitive writing.

Despite being set in the real world, Isamu almost never takes a breath to say something down to earth and believable, and that is the main thing that makes it tiring to watch from a modern perspective. Episode after episode, it's the same thing: Isamu discovers a new gang of brutal bandits terrorizing a town that he drives off before riding off into the sunset. It's a spaghetti western drawn out to Lone Ranger serial length. Isao Takahata had yet to pioneer the idea of neorealism in anime, which he did immediately after at Zuiyo with Heidi. There is no attempt to portray psychological subtlety of character, or to create bad guys who have complex motivations and are anything more than paper thin pure evil, or to enact the kind of detail-oriented realistic directing required to make the events depicted feel believable. It feels this show comes at the historical juncture when the time for more realism was ripe.

As it happens, Isao Takahata storyboarded two episodes of Isamu, and these stand out from the series for their more competent filmmaking language, even if due to the constraints of the material they depict the same world of brute animals in the clothes of cowboys shooting it out as if that's the only way they know how to communicate. This could well be the last thing Takahata did before departing for Zuiyo to direct Heidi.

The show is certainly pleasant for being unflinching on the brutality front, something that was fairly novel and no doubt exciting for the period in which it was aired. Although Isamu attempts as best he can to avoid killing, in the end he does seem to wind up killing a dozen people or so per episode, even though the victims are always depicted as evil, bloodthirsty scoundrels who deserve the fate. The show is not afraid to show people getting shot, including women and children. Even the show's black and white moral vision of the world, which seems to divide the west clean in half into good, peaceful citizens and evil, murderous outlaws, is actually somewhat satisfying, in that it's what you expect of a western. They set about making a pulp serial western in which Isamu encounters and overcomes a new gang of baddies in each episode, and they succeeded eminently in that regard.

Original book with drawings by Soji Yamakawa / Page from manga by Noboru Kawasaki

Noboru Kawasaki was responsible for the manga Kyojin no Hoshi that was adapted into a hit series by Tokyo Movie over the years of 1968-1971. Tokyo Movie was in some financial trouble at the time Kyojin no Hoshi started, and the success of this show along with their concurrently running shoujo version of the 'spokon' genre Attack No. 1 (1969-1971) provided the studio with a windfall. This prompted them to continue to pump out similar shows for the next few years in the hope of continuing to milk this newfound popularity for 'spokon' anime. A Production studio head Daikichiro Kusube is credited as the animation supervisor in all of these shows, up until Karate Baka Ichidai (1973-1974) and then Judo Sanka (1974). Most of Tokyo Movie's spokon shows apart from Kyojin no Hoshi are based on the work of Ikki Kajiwara, who himself was reportedly inspired by an earlier boxing novel by Soji Yamakawa when he wrote the original manga for Ashita no Joe, another one of the big hits of the spokon boom around 1968-1970.

It was presumably due to the success of Kyojin no Hoshi, combined with the recent Toei Doga movie, that Fujioka Yutaka decided to give Noboru Kawasaki's "Japanese Western" Koya no Shonen Isamu a go as a TV show.

The Animation

Playful self-references inserted by Junio's Takao Kosai and Oh Pro's Koichi Murata

The animation was produced essentially by six studios: Oh Pro, Studio Junio, Studio Z, Studio Mates, Studio Neo Media and A Pro. None of these subcontractors are credited, but the breakdown is clear if you know a bit about the animators in the credits.

A Pro founder Daikichiro Kusube acted as the animation supervisor to oversee the very different styles of these studios, although in the end my impression is that he didn't really do much to unify the style, as each studio's style comes through seemingly unmediated by correction. Roughly same group of six subcontractors was also behind the animation of the more 'realistic' shows produced by Tokyo Movie in the surrounding years (as opposed to the more deformed gag shows like Dokonjo Gaeru, which featured a different team), including Lupin III (1971), Akado Suzunosuke (1972) and Judo Sanka (1974).

There are a few mixed episodes in which two different studios worked on part A and part B, but for the most part one studio handled the animation of a single episode, with two of the studio's animators handling respectively part A and part B. One of these animators is credited as sakkan, presumably because he was in charge of maintaining consistency over the episode delivered to Tokyo Movie, but again, it's doubtful how much correcting they actually did. Below is a breakdown of the animators for each studio. Names in bold are the studio's sakkans.

Oh Pro:Koichi Murata, Toshitsugu Saida
Studio Junio:Takao Kosai, Tetsuo Imazawa, Minoru Maeda
Studio Mates:Koizumi Kenzo, Akiko Hoshino, Teruo Handa, Akio Yoshihara, Masayuki Ohseki
Studio Neo Media:Keiichiro Kimura, Yasuhiro Yamaguchi, Yoshiyuki Momose, Masayuki Uchiyama
A Pro:Hideo Kawauchi, Eiichi Nakamura, Yuzo Aoki
Studio Z:Shingo Araki, Tsugefumi Nuno

The interesting thing about this show is that it's a great example of how shows of yore used to vary considerably in drawing style from episode to episode. Below is an overview of the four main studios' drawing styles to give a sense of this. (I won't include A Pro and Neo Media because they play a smaller part)

Oh Pro: 1, 4, 7 12, 16, 22, 26, 27, 30, 34, 38, 42, 46, 51

(click to enlarge)

Oh Pro is the standout studio in this show, and studio head Koichi Murata is the star. Koichi Murata animated 11 episodes half-half with Toshitsugu Saida. I believe Murata animated the first half and Saida animated the second half in each episode. This series thus provides a good place to become acquainted with Koichi Murata's style. He's a name I was familiar with for a long time as the head of Oh Pro and a major contributor to classics like Lupin III, 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, Future Boy Conan and Anne of Green Gables, but not until watching Isamu did I know how to identify his work.

Murata's animation is by far the most lively and entertaining in the show. The rest of the animation frankly looks sloppy and amateurish in comparison. Not only are his drawings technically better, he actually makes his characters act out their emotions. None of the other animators in the show are up to the task of character acting. They're struggling just to draw the characters. Murata effortlessly renders the characters in a few simple shapes and modulates their expressions and posing freely in a way reminiscent of Yasuo Otsuka or Osamu Kobayashi. It's possible he was influenced by Yasuo Otsuka working on the original Lupin III show under Otsuka two years before.

If you look at the second row above, you'll see just how pliable his character acting is. In one shot you can follow the flow of the character's thought patterns purely through the drawings. He had passed out trying to save a girl and just came to his senses. At first he's disoriented, then he finally remembers what happened to him and is relieved to know he's fine. Then he remembers something: he was trying to catch a bag of gold dust. He becomes alarmed and asks what happened to it. The other party tells him to look at his own hand, because he's been holding it the whole time, and his expression changes to one of surprise. Disorientation, relief, sudden recollection, anxious questioning, disbelief.

Only in Murata's hands do the characters feel alive like this. And that's actually one of the problems with the series. The rest of the series would be fine if only the character acting was up to the level of Murata's animation. The reason the show feels stale and cheesy is less because of the unimaginative script than because poor character acting renders the filmmaking flat and lifeless. It's patently obvious why Murata became a staple of Takahata and Miyazaki's work in the 1970s - because he was one of the few animators of the day with the skill to create nuanced and believable character animation with only a few quickly executed perfunctory drawings, as was necessary in the TV format. His animation also happens to be tremendously fun in terms of the movement, with lots of lively and unexpected little gestures and expressions.

One of Murata's little tricks he invented is to draw the eyes as two little black blobs when they're closed, for example when a character laughs as in the image above. I'd seen this in various shows from the 1970s but never realized until now that this was the mark of Murata. Episodes 26 and 38 are particularly good Koichi Murata episodes.

He participated in most of the World Masterpiece Theater series as an animator, and never got distracted by directing or character designing like many animators eventually do. He remained a pure animator to the end. In addition to being a prolific animator while running Oh Pro, one of the industry's most trusted subcontracting studios, he was also active behind the scenes working to improve the conditions of animators in the industry, acting as Vice Chairman of the Animation Business Association since 1990, which had other notable animation figures on its board from other major studios in the industry including Noboru Ishiguro (Artland) and Tsutomu Shibayama (Ajia-do).

Studio Junio: 1, 4, 8, 13, 19, 24, 29, 33, 37, 41, 45, 50

(click to enlarge)

The Studio Junio episodes feature studio head Takao Kosai as sakkan and part A animator and Tetsuo Imazawa as storyboarder and part B animator. Kosai's style is a great contrast with that of Koichi Murata. His figures are lean and elongated, roughly drawn and mean looking. The faces look very bony and gaunt and frankly unattractive. The noses are usually big and pointy. His hands are easily identified - long and lean, very different from the plump and round drawings of Studio Z's Shingo Araki or the curled, almost deformed hands of the characters drawn by Studio Mates' Kenzo Koizumi. Takao Kosai's movement can be rather dynamic in the action scenes, but it's never very realistic or believably timed, and his acting is pretty much limited to either sinister sneering or looking worried.

Takao Kosai began his career at Toei Doga in 1960 and spent 4 years there before leaving in 1964 with several other animators including Kenzo Koizumi and Azuma Hiroshi to form a studio called Hatena Pro. Hatena Pro is not a very well known studio, but it's actually one of the more important 'seed' studios of the period, in that what it produced is less important than the studios that sprung up in its wake. When the studio finally closed 5 years later in 1969, Takao Kosai and Tetsuo Imazawa formed Studio Junio while Kenzo Koizumi and Hiroshi Azuma formed Studio Mates. Kazuo Komatsubara, who joined in 1969, the year the studio closed, formed Oh Pro together with Koshin Yonekawa and Koichi Murata in 1970. Hiroshi Azuma defected from Mates to Junio in 1972, while Minoru Maeda, who would become one of the studio's most important animators, joined in 1972. (Way later when Junio closed around 2000, Azuma, Okazaki and Maeda left when things started getting bad in 1998 to form Synergy SP.)

Tetsuo Imazawa would go on to be Studio Junio's lead director, doing much work TMS including directing The White Whale of Mu (1980), Iron Man 28 (1980) and God Mars (1981). He went on to direct some notable films including The Fox of Chironup (1987), Coo from the Distant Ocean (1993) and Hermes, Wings of Love (1997) for Junio before the studio went out of business around 2000.

Other animators turned out by the studio include Toshiyuki Inoue, Hisashi Eguchi, Fumitoshi Oizaki, Tetsuya Kumagai, Mamoru Kanbe and Masaki Kajishima.

Studio Mates: 3, 5, 9, 14, 20, 21, 25, 28, 32, 36, 40, 44, 49, 52

(click to enlarge)

The Studio Mates episodes feature studio head Kenzo Koizumi as sakkan and part animator. These are my least favorite drawings in the show. Koizumi's characters are amateurishly drawn, with extremely static and unchanging posing and expression. The poses are constricted and unnatural. No character ever seems to evince the appropriate emotion in any given scene, rather adopting an awkward template expression no matter the circumstances. He spends most of his energy drawing evil expressions on the baddies. The deformed-looking hands in particular are very characteristic and easily give away Koizumi's presence.

The drawing above of the baddie holding a rifle is exemplary of the problem with his drawings. What on earth is his left hand doing? The fingers are splayed in odd directions and seem to be floating daintily above the barrel rather than gripping it, and the angle at which the gun is inclined seems very unnatural. The action scenes are embarrassing to watch, as the character don't so much move as hurl themselves around unnaturally and float improbably against the background due to the poor layouts.

Kenzo Koizumi also started out at Toei Doga in 1962 before joining Hatena Pro in 1964. I can only assume that he improved with time, because he continued to get work as an animator down to the year of his death in 2008.

Animators who began their careers at Studio Mates include Watanabe Ayumu and Hiroshi Harada. If for nothing else, Mates can be said to have played a positive role in anime history for guiding Watanabe Ayumu to Shin-Ei and prompting Hiroshi Harada leave the industry to make Midori.

Studio Z: 2, 6, 18, 21, 25, 27, 31, 35, 39, 43, 48, 52

(click to enlarge)

The Studio Z episodes feature Shingo Araki as sakkan and part A animator with Tsugefumi Nuno as part B animator. Araki's drawings are perhaps the most skillful in the series in terms of the actual drawings, with well stylized expressions and a very distinctive rounded drawing style. This is presumably due to the fact that he started out as a manga-ka, and was hence used to drawing stylized characters in exaggerated poses. This wound up providing the foundation for his style, because as an animator, he is inferior to Koichi Murata, who is more pliable and dynamic with the drawings. Araki's characters are cartoonish and mannered rather than expressive and nuanced. The hands are again an easy place to identify this animator - rounded and puffy fingers drawn in a very symmetrical way.

Shingo Araki started out as a manga-ka before switching to animation because he wasn't earning a living. He joined Mushi Pro in 1964 and then switched to a little-known studio called Jaggard in 1966. It was here working alongside Hiroshi Saito that Araki really learned about animation. Jaggard was involved in several earlier Tokyo Movie productions including Tensai Bakabon before they disbanded in 1972, immediately before Isamu. Araki meanwhile had quit a little earlier in 1971 to found his own small artist workspace called Studio Z. It was here that Yoshinori Kanada, after being first rejected by Oh Pro (where he went because he liked Koichi Murata's drawings), began to learn animation as an inbetweener under Shingo Araki. You can see Kanada's name in the inbetween credits for each Studio Z episode, alongside Kazuo Tomizawa and Shinya Sadamitsu, who would continue to be associated with Kanada for years.

Araki of course is known for his work on Toei shows of the 1970s and then primarily Saint Saiya. It was the same year as Isamu that Araki got his taste designing characters for the first time for Cutie Honey, and it was right after working on Isamu that he founded his own actual legitimate studio, Araki Pro, to focus on this work. Kanada, meanwhile, started out at Toei between 1970-1972 on Maho no Mako-chan, Sarutobi Ecchan, Gegege no Kitaro and Mahotsukai Chappy before switching to Araki's Studio Z, where he worked between 1972-1973 on Gekko Kamen, Akado Suzunosuke and Isamu. Kanada did not follow Araki to Araki Pro, but rather went to work under Takuo Noda in 1974 at Studio No. 1. It was the next year in 1975 that Yoshinori Kanada himself founded his own artist collective/studio called Studio Z, totally unrelated to the previous Studio Z, where he worked until 1980, when he founded yet another studio called Studio No. 1. Studio Z went through several other incarnations at the hands of other animators before the founding of Studio Z5 around 1980 by Hideyuki Motohashi.

Other studios and notable names

A Pro doesn't play as big a role in this show because their most important animators like Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama were busy working on the concurrently running Dokonjo Gaeru, which was still in the midst of its long run, and anyway were not typically put to work on the gekiga-styled Tokyo Movie shows like Isamu but rather the cartoony gag shows. Still, Yuzo Aoki and Eiichi Nakamura do show up for a few episodes in the first half drawing half episodes under sakkan Hideo Furusawa. However, their work doesn't shine on this material. Aoki's distinctive style has not yet emerged at this period. That said, the A Pro team does provide the animation for the first of the two episodes storyboarded by Isao Takahata (15 and 19), and their animation almost certainly helps to make Takahata's episode memorable thanks to its precisely timed and exciting action. The reason for the pairing is obvious: Takahata was at A Pro at the time.

Takahata's episode 15 is entirely devoted to the showdown between Isamu and his frenemy Big Stone. Big Stone is actually out to kill the Wingates for murdering his mother, but Isamu is still caught in their web and winds up having to duel Big Stone. The showdown in the ghost town occupies the entire episode as they run around in the dark of the night in a long, drawn out battle that lasts until dawn. It's a fantastic episode that has great tension and does what you want a western anime to do. Takahata's skill as a director comes through loud and clear even though he only storyboarded the episode and didn't direct it, as was the case with Jacky the Bearcub episode 5. Each shot features very precise character actions, and sequences of action play out in a very logical and believable way. Tension builds through long stretches of prowling around the dark streets until it explodes in fast action sequences featuring precisely timed movements by the characters courtesy of Aoki and quick cutting between shots. It goes without saying that if the other episodes were directed in such a masterly fashion, the show would be a classic. We have plenty of realistic slice-of-life shows from Takahata, but it would be nice to have a whole action show like this from Takahata. He shows with this episode that he can do even action better than anyone else.

Ex-Mushi Pro animator Masami Hata at this period was presumably employed at the recently-formed Madhouse, which provided its animators to Tokyo Movie over the course of the 1970s in thanks to Yutaka Fujioka for having provided Dezaki et al. with the seed money needed to found their studio. He was a great storyboarder and produced some of the finest episodes of this period through his storyboards, including the first episode of this show, which no doubt benefits from his instinct for dramatic storytelling. The first episode is definitely the best place to start with this show thanks to its combinatinon of Hata's storyboard and the powerful animation. Part A was done by Studio Junio and part B by Oh Pro, but really their styles don't come through particularly clearly in this episode. The style if well smoothed out over the course of the episode. The characters faces are deeply etched and well drawn, and the gunplay animation is smooth and thrilling. It's a great example of gekiga anime.

The last studio in the rotation is Neo Media, the studio founded in 1969 by Keiichiro Kimura. Kimura had worked under Kusube at Toei, which seems to clearly show the reason Neo Media became a mainstay in Tokyo Movie shows. (That, and there were presumably not that many studios for Tokyo Movie to turn to at that juncture, so they gathered all the forces they could by turning to the ex-Toei buddies known to Kusube.) The drawings and movement in these episodes aren't quite as crazy and rough as you would expect.

Neo Media did two half-episodes and two full episodes in the first half before disappearing and coming back to do an episode near the end and the last episode. Studio head Kimura himself acted as sakkan early on while Yasuhiro Yamaguchi replaced him in the last two Neo Media episodes. Yoshiyuki Momose and his animation partner Masayuki Uchiyama join the team at this point. Momose's style is for the most part not as obvious as it was on Dokonjo Gaeru at the same period, but the very ending of the last episode does have the kind of hustle you would expect to see from Momose. Momose was in the middle of working on Dokonjo Gaeru from Neo Media, so he wasn't used to the style. He relates that he had a hard time re-adjusting to the drawing style of Dokonjo Gaeru after his brief experience on Isamu, which admittedly has the diametric opposite style. Momose did a good job adapting himself to his mentor's drawing style, though, and the Neo Media episodes have that rough and dirty line drawing that you would expect from the man behind Tiger Mask, even moreso than the early episodes by Kimura himself. Incidentally, the name Yoshiyuki Momoyama in the last episode is obviously an amalgam of Yoshiyuki Momose and Masayuki Uchiyama.

One of the main rotation directors is Soji Yoshikawa, who started out as a director at Mushi Pro and then moved to Art Fresh with Gisaburo Sugii & Osamu Dezaki when they founded this studio around 1967. Soji Yoshikawa is perhaps best remembered as the writer/director of the first Lupin III movie about the clones, which to many more hardcore Lupin III fans is the best of the animated statements on Lupin III. Episode 38 is a particularly good example of Soji Yoshikawa's directing in this show, as it features animation by Oh Pro that fills out the nuances in Yoshikawa's storyboard. Yoshikawa soon switched to focusing on writing, and the only other movie he directed was the anime adaptation of White Fang (1982) with designs by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu. One of his more recent big project was Hoshi no Kirby (2001), which was an early integrator of CGI.

Series director Shigetsugu Yoshida began in animation at Toei Doga, where he worked between the years of 1959-1969 before joining A Pro. After working at A Pro in the 1970s presumably most only Tokyo Movie shows, he finally just moved to TMS. He retired from animation sometime after drawing one storyboard for Nippon Animation's Peter Pan in 1989.

Finally, one amusing thing I noticed was that the episode preview at the end of episode 44 includes animation from a completely unrelated episode. In other words, episode 45 is drawn entirely by Studio Junio, but the preview for that episode is mostly animation by Shingo Araki from a completely unrelated episode. I assume this was done by the episode director because the animation for episode 45 wasn't done at the time and he needed to put something together. This certainly gives you a good feeling for how tight the schedule was on these old shows.

Choice episodes

To sum up, here are some choice episodes if you want to sample the show without having to deal with the drudgery of the mediocre-quality episodes.

#1: Great intro to the show with powerful storyboard by Masami Hata and strong gekiga drawings
#15: Exciting showdown action courtesy of Isao Takahata storyboard and Yuzo Aoki animation
#38: Good storyboard by Soji Yoshikawa and animation by Oh Pro


Koya no Shonen Isamu 荒野の少年イサム full episode listing
52 episodes, Tokyo Movie, April 4, 1973 - March 27, 1974

StoryboardDirectorSakkanKey Animators
1波多正美
Masami Hata
御厨恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
香西隆男、村田耕一
Takao Kosai, Koichi Murata
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
2御厨恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
河内日出夫、荒木伸吾
Hideo Kawauchi, Shingo Araki
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
3岡部英二
Eiji Okabe
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
小泉謙三、木村圭市郎
Kenzo Koizumi, Keiichiro Kimura
半田輝夫 Teruo Handa
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
4黒田昌郎
Masao Kuroda
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
村田耕一、香西隆男
Koichi Murata, Takao Kosai
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
5吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
小泉謙三、河内日出夫
Kenzo Koizumi, Hideo Kawauchi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
6波多正美
Masami Hata
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
木村圭市郎、河内日出夫、荒木伸吾
Keiichiro Kimura, Hideo Kawauchi, Shingo Araki
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
7御厨恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
8今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
9黒田昌郎
Masao Kuroda
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
半田輝夫 Teruo Handa
10吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
河内日出夫
Hideo Kawauchi
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
11みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
木村圭市郎
Keiichiro Kimura
木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
12新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
13今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
14みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
15高畠勲
Isao Takahata
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
河内日出夫
Hideo Kawauchi
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
16新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
17吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
木村圭市郎
Keiichiro Kimura
木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
18高畠勲
Isao Takahata
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
河内日出夫、荒木伸吾
Hideo Kawauchi, Shingo Araki
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
19今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
20吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
21新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
小泉謙三、荒木伸吾
Kenzo Koizumi, Shingo Araki
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
22みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
23吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
木村圭市郎
Keiichiro Kimura
木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
24今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
25新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
小泉謙三、荒木伸吾
Kenzo Koizumi, Shingo Araki
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
26吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
27みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
村田耕一、荒木伸吾
Koichi Murata, Shingo Araki
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
28小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
29今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
30みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
31新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
荒木伸吾
Araki Shingo
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
32吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
33今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
34新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
35みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
36小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
37今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
前田 実 Minoru Maeda
38吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
39中村真
Makoto Nakamura
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
40みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
大関政幸 Masayuki Ohseki
41今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
前田 実 Minoru Maeda
42吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
43みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
44中村真
Makoto Nakamura
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
大関政幸 Masayuki Ohseki
45今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
前田 実 Minoru Maeda
46上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
麻岡上夫
Kamio Maoka
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
47石黒昇石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
山口泰弘
Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
百瀬義行 Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸 Masayuki Uchiyama
48中村 真
Makoto Nakamura
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
49みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
大関政幸 Masayuki Ohseki
50今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
前田 実 Minoru Maeda
51石黒昇
Noboru Ishiguro
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
52小泉謙三、御厨恭輔
Kenzo Koizumi, Kyosuke Mikuriya
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
荒木伸吾、山口泰弘
Shingo Araki, Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
百山義幸 Yoshiyuki Momoyama
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Thursday, August 29, 2013

10:47:00 pm , 1080 words, 8006 views     Categories: OVA, Studio, Studio: Kaname, Studio: Giants, 1980s

Bavi Stock

Kaname Production is one of the legendary studios of the 1980s. Their two films Birth and Windaria are classics that embody some of the best aspects of the decade. They made a few other OVAs during their short life, and Bavi Stock (1985) is one of the lesser known ones, not without reason.

Two episodes were released, one in late 1985 and one in late 1986. The first, jointly produced by Kaname and Studio Giants, features some decent work, while the second, produced by Studio Unicorn, is bottom-of-the-barrel OVA dreck with no redeeming value. (Unicorn produced the least well-animated episodes of Pink Jacket Lupin around the same time)

Bavi Stock is not a lost treasure by any means. Apart from an exciting opening chase scene, the 45 minutes of this OVA drag on without ever getting interesting or exciting. The story is messy and not compelling, the characters stereotypes, and the directing is halting and clumsy.

The animation is mostly unremarkable other than the opening chase. Ostensibly a sci-fi racing anime a la Redline, the racing scene isn't very satisfying - all of the racers except the protagonist and the baddie get wiped out at the start without regaling us with any entertaining racing antics. And from what I could tell (I couldn't stand to watch it all), the second OVA takes a completely different tack, dropping the racing premise. The drawings are fairly decent throughout episode 1 (episode 2 is unwatchable) thanks to the Giants sakkans, but it's not quite enough to save the OVA.

This OVA is only worth revisiting for Kaname completists and to see a bit of lively work by the Giants animators.

Studio Giants was another good studio of this period, training a number of talented animators who went on to work at Gainax when it was founded a few years later. Their presence adds a slightly different touch to the distinctive Kaname style that makes this OVA look a little different from the other Kaname OVAs.

Masayuki animated the opening chase, which is the best bit in the episode. It gives a good picture of what kind of crazy animator Masayuki was at this period - part Masahito Yamashita with his breakneck background animation and part Yoshinori Kanada with the playful insertions and madcap posing, but mixed up into a very convincing and pleasingly original style. Masayuki was undeniably one of the most exciting animators of the 1983-1986 period, and his work on the TV shows Sasuga no Sarutobi (1982-1984), Rampo (1984) and Gu-Gu Ganmo (1984-1985) is worth discovering.

Kaname was a short-lived studio founded in 1982 and closed in 1988. They were founded by expats of Ashi Pro including animator Mutsumi Inomata and animator-turned-director Shigenori Kageyama. Inomata became something of a fan favorite of the period with her cute, twee character design style showcased throughout most of Kaname's productions. Shigenori Kageyama switched to directing at Kaname, and Bavi Stock was his debut. He also designed the characters with the assistance of Inomata. Inomata has since retired from animation. Kageyama remains active as a director is likely to blame for the mediocre outcome of this OVA; his later credits include Zeguy, Yamato 2520 and Queen's Blade. Other Kaname outings benefited from Ashi Pro veteran Kunihiko Yuyama's directing.

Kaname started their life working as a subcontractor on the TV shows Acrobunch (1982) and Sasuga no Sarutobi (1982-1984) and went on to create their own show Plawres Sanshiro (1983-1984) before moving into the OVA market with Birth (1984) after their TV project for this story failed to materialize. Thereon out they continued to focus on OVAs. These include Leda (1985), Fandora (1985-1986), Windaria (1986), The Humanoid (1986) and Watt Poe (1988).

It's presumably working on Sarutobi where they became acquainted with Studio Giants, as Studio Giants produced some crazy animation on the show courtesy of their animators like Masayuki and Masahiro Shida. Kaname essentially handled the creative aspects of this OVA while Giants for the most part handled the animation, with their animators Masahiro Shida and Naoto Takahashi (using the pen name Ryunosuke Otonashi) acting as sakkans.

Masuo Shoichi, though not involved here, was another member of Studio Giants at the time, working on different shows from Masayuki et al. Even this early in his career you can see very good work by him in Orguss (1983-1984) featuring the sort of tricky, three-dimensional mecha action that he became known for.

After working on Bavi Stock, Masayuki migrated to Gainax to work on Honneamise (1987) together with Shunji Suzuki, so this OVA is a snapshot of where these animators were at stylistically immediately prior to them becoming amalgamated into the Gainax style. Kazuya Tsurumaki, who initially joined Studio Giants due to his admiration for Masayuki, quit Giants to join Gainax after being denied the opportunity to work on Gainax productions from Giants. Shoichi Masuo also eventually became a regular participant in Gainax productions.

I also found this OVA interesting because the credits are all in (somewhat mangled) English, and the translations they use for the main roles are different from those that have become standard today. Rather than key animator and inbetweener, they refer to animator and assistant animator. These are terms used in western animation that roughly approximate the role of genga and doga. It's not just the credits that are western; the whole production appears to deliberately emulate western sci-fi/action movies in a very self-conscious way. Episode 2 features Ewok lookalikes and spaceships that are a clear knock-off of Star Wars. Writing the credits (and title) in English just completes the impression.


Bavi Stock (2 eps, 45 mins each)
Vol. 1 released December 20, 1985, produced by Kaname Production & Studio Giants
Vol. 2 released November 25, 1986, produced by Studio Unicorn

Episode 1 main credits

(The following is an excerpt of the credits transcribed as-is from the credit roll. The only difference is that, for reference purposes, I've added the studio to which each name belonged in parentheses, to the best of my knowledge.)

Planned by:Hiro Media Associates Inc.
Kaname Production Co.
General producer:Hiromasa Shibazaki
Producer:Toshihiro Nagao
Script by:Kenji Terada
Directed, designed character by:Shigenori Kageyama (Kaname)
Guest character designed by:Mutsumi Inomata (Kaname)
Production designer:Takahiro Toyomasu (Kaname)
Sub mechanical designer:Masanori Nishii
Art director:Geki Katsumata
Music:Yasuaki Honda
Production coordinator:Tetsuo Kadoya (Giants)
Animation directors:Masahiro Shida (Giants)
 Ryunosuke Otonashi (Giants)
Animator:Masayuki (Giants)
 Shuji Suzuki (=Shunji Suzuki) (Giants)
 Hiroshi Kanezuka
 Kouji Fukasawa (Giants)
 Akira Sai (Giants)
 Shinetsu Andou (Giants)
 Takeshi Itoh (Giants)
 Takuya Wada (Kaname)
 Mayumi Watanabe (Kaname)
 Hideko Yamauchi (Cindy H. Yamauchi) (Kaname)
 Miyuki Nakano (Kaname)
Assistant animator:Atsuko Ishida (Kaname)
 Toshiyuki Tsuru (Giants)
 Kazuya Tsurumaki (Giants)
 etc.
Co Production Coopereted By:  Studio Giants
Produced by:Hiro Media Associates Inc.
 Kaname Production Co.
 Nikkatsu Video Films Co.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

01:36:00 pm , 2304 words, 4114 views     Categories: Studio, TV, 1970s

Seton Animal Chronicles: Bannertail, the Story of a Gray Squirrel

I talked about Nippon Animation's Jacky the Bearcub before. It was a 26-episode show about a bearcub raised by a native american boy in the Sierra Nevadas at the end of the 19th century. It aired June 7 to December 6, 1977. Despite being neglected compared with its more famous World Masterpiece Theater cousins, it had some quality work in it that made it worth revisiting - most notably character designs by Yasuji Mori, animation by Toshiyasu Okada, art by Nizo Yamamoto and Kazue Ito, and even some storyboarding by Isao Takahata.

Well, Nippon Animation came back with another sally in the Seton Animal Chronicles series two years later. This time they adapted Seton's Bannertail, the Story of a Gray Squirrel. It was another 26-episode show that aired April 7 to September 29, 1979, also on TV Asahi as opposed to Fuji TV, the home of the WMT, where Anne of Green Gables was airing concurrently.

I just had the opportunity to watch the first episode of Bannertail for the first time, and it was a very nice piece of work fully the equal of Jacky - as it should be; the production staff is nearly identical. The story is about a boy in the northeastern U.S. in the late 19th century who finds baby squirrel abandoned in the forest one day. Back home, their housecat just gave birth, but her kittens were given away, so she takes to Banner and raises him as her own. Banner grows up thinking he's a cat until one day he's forced to return to the wild and re-discover his natural instincts.

Though aimed at a younger demographic, this episode had some quality production that makes it far more enjoyable than shows of a similar ilk, whose crude production makes them of zero interest to older animation fans such as myself. The episode mostly consists of Banner running around being a silly little baby squirrel, harassing the dog, playing with a frog, discovering fire, etc. - the squirrel version of what happened in episode 1 of Jacky the Bearcub. But there's something endearing and enjoyable about the whole thing. It's like a kid's version of the World Masterpiece Theater, with the same realistic style of the directing, which doesn't play up the antics for cuteness, rather playing it more straight than the designs seem to suggest; fluid and nuanced animation; and realistic background art.

I didn't expect to enjoy the show. Judging by the designs, I was anticipating something with the token realism and plain animation of the tepid outings of this ilk that Nippon Animation produced in the 1980s. But in style and sensibility this episode felt similar to the early classic shows in the World Masterpiece Theater.

During the first few years after its founding, between 1974 and about 1980, Nippon Animation was at the height of its powers. It's the shows they made during this period that made them such a unique studio. Those shows are unique because of the particular combination of talent working at the studio at the time. It's not just Takahata and Miyazaki, though they undoubtedly were the magnets attracting the good staff. Their work also clearly had an influence on Nippon Animation's other shows.

The two Seton shows are also quintessential Nippon Animation shows in that they have the same basic sensibility as the World Masterpiece Theater shows: a faithful, reverential portrayal of nature; a progressive but humanistic sense of morality; and a narrative always driven by natural events that could believably occur in the natural world.

The aesthetics are the same, too. The background art and layouts are pared down due to the constraints of the TV format, but naturalistic and believable just like the World Masterpiece Theater. While watching the first episode of Bannertail, I was surprised to find that, despite the talking animals and the cartoony designs, the basic world view felt the same as the WMT.

The way Bannertail is animated is surprisingly accurate, if you go beyond the design. He zips around on the ground in a way that's unexpectedly precisely timed for effect. Finely tuned movement is not what one would expect based on the designs, but that's precisely what Yasuji Mori was about: investing those simple round designs with delicately nuanced personality. Most of Nippon Animation's post-1980 work in the same vein is indeed far more perfunctory and uninspired in its movement. The animation in Bannertail has a feeling similar to Yoichi Kotabe's animation - deceptively simple in its form, but surprisingly nuanced, elegant and refined in its sense of timing. During the first few years of Nippon Animation, even the minor shows like the Seton shows felt great to watch because there was this unique sensibility in the animation. Contemporaneous Toei staff didn't develop in this direction at all.

The movement reminds me slightly of the way the animals move in Gauche the Cellist - pared down but fundamentally true to their species. When you see the mother cat galloping away, you recognize it because you've seen cats running that way. When the house is burning, the flames have a way of flickering and roving that feels familiar and real. It's a style of animating that evolved around this time in the natural course of things through the WMT, and disappeared because there were no shows on which it was needed, or the times called for new styles of animation. It's probably because the material and the characters were so simple here that the animation was able to be made so nuanced. There's no need to waste energy on needless details. You can imagine that each cel in the ep has just one little blob of drawing.

Nippon Animation's basic approach during these years eventually evolved into the Ghibli movies. This series, though not directly touched by either Takahata or Miyazaki, feels inevitably influenced by what they did on the WMT. That's what makes the early Nippon Animation work special - they did all this finely observed realistic work within the confines of TV schedules, which if anything makes it an even more impressive achievement than the more permissive schedule of a big-budget movie.

Yoshio Kabashima came up with a very different way of moving little creatures in Osamu Dezaki's Gamba's Adventure from 1975 that serves as a nice contrast: Kabashima's creatures move in a more dynamic, expressive, limited, staccato way, whereas the animals in the Seton shows more in a more fluid and realistic way. Both are well-realized approaches in their own right.

I've only seen episode 1, and I have my doubts as to whether the rest of the show remains as impressively detailed in its animation, because there's one person to thank for what makes the animation of episode 1 so good: Toshiyasu Okada. Without his touch, this should could very easily fall into the mire of being merely a cutesy kid's show.

I love Yasuji Mori's work both as an animator and designer/illustrator - even his more kiddy later stuff - but his designs for Jacky and Bannertail go in a very different direction from Seton's original. It's testament perhaps to the flexibility and the deceptive richness of his designs that, despite looking so kiddy on the outside, when they're brought alive properly in animation, they feel very realistic. Even if you haven't seen these two series you can imagine what I'm talking about by thinking of the rich movement of his animals in the classic Toei films of the late 50s/early 60s.

Of course, by this time Yasuji Mori wasn't animating anymore. Who is it that brought his animals alive here? Toshiyasu Okada. He wasn't the only person animating the two shows, of course; that would be impossible. But he did a tremendous amount of work, and he did numerous solo episodes, and his episodes are the ones that bring the characters alive in a way that you can never forget.

Toshiyasu Okada is one of the unjustly forgotten animators of yesteryear. He had a genius for rich, realistic movement in the realm of limited TV animation that was quite unlike any other. It's thanks to his animation that Jacky and Bannertail feel like real animals despite their cartoonish designs.

Like episode 1 of Jacky, episode 1 of Bannertail was animated solo by Toshiyasu Okada. His animation lays the framework for Bannertail's style of movement: zippy and fun to watch, but surprisingly nuanced and infused with a realistic sense of timing at the right moment, depending on the shot. It's a different kind of quality from what we're used to seeing today, but just as valid, if not more. The closest current analogue to Okada's style I can think of is Okiura. He uses lots of drawings to create minute acting instead of falling back on inserting deformed drawings to achieve an effect. Much of today's animation by younger hotshot animators feels too self-consciously 'sakuga', striving above all for cool effect. Looking cool has replaced solid acting skills. Flash is in (in both senses of the term), traditional animation knowhow is out. I think Okada's animation has a lot to teach young animators in the Japanese animation industry today.

Also impressive is how Okada manages to do the entire episode himself and there isn't a moment that feels like a throwaway. And he uses a lot of drawings. It's very fluid and rich animation, considering the context.

Toshiyasu Okada was primarily active as an animator in the 1970s, and as a designer in the early 1980s.

Okada started out at Toei, eventually quitting and moving to a subcontracting studio called Ad 5, where he continued to work on Toei shows. He quit Ad 5 in 1973 after doing a lot of sakkan work on Babel II in order to go work under Takahata and Miyazaki on Heidi at Zuiyo. From there, he presumably moved straight to Nippon Animation when it was founded soon thereafter, as he can be seen working on most of the 'big' Nippon Animation productions that followed.

Many people the world over will know Okada, if not by name, from his character designs for the beloved show The Mysterious Cities of Gold (1982-83). He was also the character designer of The Fantastic Adventure of Nils (1980-81).

But personally, it's for his work as an animator that I wish he would be remembered. He isn't necessarily easily identifiable like Yoshinori Kanada (also an ex-Toei animator who developed over pretty much the same period), but he's also a very talented animator, just of a very different kind. His work stands out in the way that I think good animation should stand out: not because it has a self-indulgent, flamboyant visual style. It stands out because of its fundamental quality of movement, his ability to breathe life into characters, not just draw crazy drawings. That's one thing I particularly like about him: he found a completely different and equally valid answer to the question of how to create good animation in a limited TV environment, and his answer bore no resemblance whatsoever to that of the Kanada school. No jagged lines, silly poses, split-second insertions, or effects just for the sake of looking cool - just solid character animation. Deformation is used way too often nowadays to cover up for lack of animation skills or simple impatience to sit down and do the work of animating a character in great detail. This is one of the things I appreciated about Kaiba. Its use of simple, pared-down character designs, intentionally or not, forced more nuanced character animation. Ryotaro Makihara is a rare example of a latter-day animator skilled in this kind of animation.

Episode 1 of Jacky and Bannertail are probably the best place to start to begin to appreciate Toshiyasu Okada's work. I'm not sure if he worked on any other episodes in the rest of the shows. Other places to see work by Okada: He did animation in episodes 1-4 and 9 of Heidi in 1974, even-numbered episodes between 6 and 34 on 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother in 1976, and episode 7 of Future Boy Conan, and he alternated as sakkan on A Dog of Flanders in 1975.


Ernest Thompson Seton in Japan

Ernest Thompson Seton was a great naturalist and writer who published books about animals in the early decades of the 20th century. His stories explained the workings of the natural world to children through the seasoned eyes of a naturalist. He achieved the remarkable feat of conveying the rich personality of his animal protagonists entirely through stories built around their natural behaviors. They speak human because Seton was human, but you can sense that it's just a translation for convenience. He illustrated his own books with lively and realistic drawings that make his books a pleasure to read even now, more than 100 years since their publishing. You can read Bannertail, the Story of a Gray Squirrel online on the Internet Archive, as well as other Seton books including Monarch, the Big Bear of Tallac, which formed the basis of Jacky the Bearcub. Monarch was one of his early books, from 1904, while Bannertail was one of his later, from 1922.

Seton's work has had a lasting appeal in Japan starting around the time of his late books in the 1930s, when his books finally began to be translated into Japanese. None other than Shirato Sanpei made a good gekiga-style manga version of his stories in the 1960s, and an omnibus anime adaptation was made by Eiken in 1989. The Eiken version appears to be drawn in a more realistic style closer to Seton's original drawings than the two Nippon Animation adaptations. But comparing the opening of the Eiken version with the movement in the two Nippon Animation versions is a good lesson in the dynamics of realism in animation: you can have realistically drawn animation that doesn't feel real, and cartoonish drawings that feel real. The more realistic and studied animation of the Nippon Animation shows makes them feel more real than the literal but empty surface realism of the Eiken show.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

06:54:53 pm , 1328 words, 2983 views     Categories: Animation, Studio, Indie, Short

Decovocal

I just discovered the nice little film Lizard Planet created in 2009 by Tomoyoshi Joko. Tomoyoshi Joko has uploaded Lizard Planet and a number of his other films to his Youtube account. Watch it here.

I like the film for any number of reasons: the rich coloring, the bizarre but playful imagery of lizards and octopuses and other stuff floating around in space, the densely layered texture of the visuals, and the ethereal story. It's both beautiful visually and fun to watch, warm and playful, yet it also has a sting in its tail. At the end, the lizard planets plunge into the sun in a cataclysmic orgy of self-destruction. It's a bizarre and creative allegory about how the planets like ours are actually living organisms and we need to take care of them because they can easily be killed.

It's great to see new creators popping up like this creating independent films with an artistic but approachable style. Alongside creators like Mizue Mirai and the animators of Robot's Cage studio, there's a whole generation of indie animators creating accessible and genuinely original and creative new animation in Japan today. They show by their example that it's possible to go it alone the shadow of the industry and create more free and individualistic work. There are a number of talented animators working in the industry who I wish would follow this example and go indie so that they can create films entirely in their own style and not be forced to suppress their irrepressible personalities.

Tomoyoshi Joko was born in 1984 and graduated from Tokyo Polytecnic University's Faculty of Arts in 2007. He then entered graduate school and finished his graduate studies in March 2009. While there, he studied under legendary indie animator Taku Furukawa.

He made four other films before Lizard Planet, which was his graduate school project. In 2006 he made two brief films: Afro, about a guy who suddenly grows an afro and flies off into the sky, and God's Gift, which shows how god took a piss one day and humanity sprung from the ground where his holy water landed. The second film shows considerable improvement over the first.

He made a longer film in 2007, the nearly 7-minute Mr. Cloud and Mr. Rain. This is quite a nice film, beautifully animated and genuinely interesting to watch at every moment as you follow the two curious characters and their interaction. It has a creative concept, thematic unity and strong animation. It took him a year to make and some 5000 drawings. He depicts the first meeting of Mr. Cloud and Mr. Rain. Mr. Cloud is overbearing and beats up Mr. Rain, but in the end when Mr. Rain falls to the ground, Mr. Cloud disappears too. Afterwards we realize that the two are inextricably intertwined. Again, I love the rich colors and how well he brings the characters alive, so that we understand what the two characters are feeling and thinking at every moment despite them not having any features other than a weird cyclops eye.

Next he made Buildings in 2008 as his graduation film. Again he chooses some interesting objects to bring alive - after clouds and water, this time buildings. It's hard to appreciate the film from the linked video, which is footage of the film being played to a live musical score, but it's clear that he gives each building a unique design and personality. The film tells the story of a single building that arrogantly towers above the rest but in the end saves the other buildings from a flood and reconciles with everyone by using his height to bring everyone together rather than towering above them. His films typically have rich animation and creative design work coupled with an incisive moral message or theme, be it about nurturing the living being that is our planet, about the interaction between clouds and water, or about getting along with others in society.

          Mr. Cloud and Mr. Rain by Tomoyoshi Joko                        Musical short for NHK's educational morning
                                                                                                        program Shakiin! by Decovocal

In April of this year, Tomoyoshi Joko formed the group Decovocal together with his partner Hiroco Ichinose (Decovocal web site, where you can see a photo of the adorable couple here). The two of them went to the same school and have been working together since Tomoyoshi Joko's very first film, Afro. As they mention on their site, the name Decovocal was devised by Taku Furukawa. It combines a number of ideas: It's a neologism from the word dekoboko 凸凹, which means uneven. The characters suggest a male-female duo. "Deco" plays on Art Deco. It evokes the notion of singing one's personality in animation with a loud, colorful voice.

Decovocal reminds me of another couple team making whimsical handmade animation - Uruma Delvi. Decovocal is close in spirit to the animators of Robot's Cage studio, creating art animation that's accessible and entertaining, soft and warm, creative visually and full of lush character animation. Decovocal has been very active doing commercial work, as witness the long list of commissions they've already accrued in their first year on their home page. These include a music video for Keiichi Suzuki and two episodes of the French Rita et Machin for NHK.

Hiroco Ichinose was born in 1985 and studied with Tomoyoshi Joko at the Tokyo Polytecnic. She has also been making short films since she started studying. First came A Sad Breakfast (2006), Ushinichi (2007) and Ha P (2008). All three won the best selection on NHK's Digital Stadium - no mean feat. Her latest films since graduating are YOKOHA-MAMAN (2009) and TWO TEA TWO (2010).

A Sad Breakfast tells the story of a dog eating breakfast while crying about a dead bird. Ha P seems to be about a couple who appear happy but in fact are in the grips of despair about not being able to have a child. They are drawn on different animation layers, so despite their closeness, an insurmountable distance separates them. Ushinichi is a bizarre slice-of-life about a group of characters filled with sardonic touches.

All of her films stand at the crossroads between happiness and grief, seeming to tell comical stories but actually being about pain and suffering. Stylistically, the influence of Taku Furukawa is much more obvious in Hiroco Ichinose's work than it is in Tomoyoshi Joko's work. She draws the same kind of spare stick figures with no backgrounds and little movement. Even the tone and storytelling style is similar. Her work also strikes me as having a sense of the surreal slightly reminiscent of Atsushi Wada's work.

What little is shown of her latest film TEA TWO TEA in her showreel (linked below) is quite impressive and shows a new level of stylistic achievement. You can see considerable improvement in each of these still young animator's successive films. Having accrued some experience now, you can see that they're both getting better technically as well as becoming more creatively flexible. Alone they make great films, but they also make a great team. They have a strong synergy. I look forward to seeing what Decovocal does in the future.

Hiroco Ichinose's animation reel
Tomoyoshi Joko's animation reel
Decovocal web site
Tomoyoshi Joko's web site

1 commentPermalink

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

11:51:00 pm , 2465 words, 3855 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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

04:57:28 pm , 4654 words, 8745 views     Categories: Animation, Studio

Koichi Motohashi and Nippon Animation

There's been a spate of more deaths in the industry. I don't know whether it's because we are more informed in this day and age about these things or because it's been a particularly bad year for luminaries in the anime industry, but I'm getting tired of hearing about people who died.

Two producers who had a major impact on the industry have died.

Yoshinobu Nishizaki (1934-2010), the controversial producer of the Yamato series, died after falling off his yacht and drowning. This comes just before the release of the live-action remake of Yamato. I just wrote about his first attempt to revive the franchise with Yamato 2520.

Koichi Motohashi (1930-2010), the president of Nippon Animation and executive producer of Nippon Animation's World Masterpiece Theater series, died of MDS, a bone marrow disease. Nippon Animation and its pre-incarnation Zuiyo Eizo pioneered the yearlong animated literary adaptation concept in Japan, which was quite unheard of and revolutionary at the time.

The World Masterpiece Theater was instrumental in getting me back into anime fandom as an adult, so it has special meaning to me. One of the first things I ever wrote about anime was about the WMT. I doubt I would have gotten into anime as much without the WMT. Other obituaries merely recite a list of shows produced by Nippon Animation, so I thought I would go into a little more detail about why I felt Koichi Motohashi's studio was significant.

I don't know much about Koichi Motohashi himself. All I know is that without his studio, many of my favorite anime wouldn't have gotten produced. On top of that, his studio represented something unique in anime, something no other studio was doing.

Their productions were different from that of any other studio, with a more international and family-oriented bent deliberately tailored to make them safe for audiences the world over. Their productions were intended from the start for a global audience, which is why most of their shows like Maya the Honeybee (1975, German op) were aired in Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. They also collaborated with Europe on numerous productions. Maya the Honeybee was a co-production with Germany and Little El Cid (1984, French op) was a co-production with Spain. Where most studios' productions feel very much like anime no matter what they're doing, most of Nippon Animation's productions felt very deliberately un-Japanese and international.

Their shows seemed deliberately aloof from the trends of the industry, at least in the 70s and 80s (their policy seems to have changed in the 1990s). They followed their own muse. Their shows were somehow kinder and gentler than anything else being produced at the time. They had a kind of European sensibility in the look and feel. The designs weren't as anime influenced. The directing was laid back and easygoing. Their shows weren't about heavy drama or robot action or saving the world. They were lighthearted and easy to watch, with a breezy charm.

Their early work shared a particular styling that is still appealing today, with these simple designs and basic layouts. Sindbad's Adventures (1975, German op) seems to be a good example of the early Nippon Animation style, with the spare, simple characters reminiscent of Yoichi Kotabe's drawing style. Sindbad was designed by Shuichi Seki, who would go on to be one of the studio's main character designers. It's partly his design sensibility that created that Nippon Animation look.

Future Boy Conan (1978) / Spaceship Sagittarius (1986) / Dorataro the Hobo (1981)

Jacky the Bearcub (1977) is another good show from their early period. (French opening with animation by Toshiyasu Okada from ep 1) It was designed by Yasuji Mori, also with these simple designs. It couldn't have been produced by any other studio, with its realistic yet adorable bearcubs animated in a realistic way and shown as actual wild animals, not anthropomorphized bears. A young Indian boy befriends the bear cub, but the story remains realistic in concept - the cub is a wild animal who eventually has to return to nature. Rascal did this material in an even more realistic way. It wasn't just a happy-go-lucky fantasy land; it taught youngsters about the tension between human society and the natural world of the animals. Nippon Animation's shows were wholesome but grounded and realistic about the world.

Among mid-period works, Spaceship Sagittarius (1986) was memorable, and a new direction for the studio. It was like nothing else out there, yet somehow still quintessentially Nippon Animation. The odd and homely alien designs were kind of refreshing for not looking like typical anime. The humor of the show was subtle and witty, the stories smart satire like a bizarro version of the real world. It was a quirky, fun kind of sci-fi that's never been seen before or after - not about pitched battles and space operatics, but sci-fi as whimsical fantasy and a satirical lens on our world.

Chibi Maruko-chan (1990) was another one of their more memorable productions. It signaled a change for one because it was based on a manga. Momoko Sakura's manga was about the everyday life of a grade-schooler growing up in Japan, but told with wry, ironic humor from the perspective of an adult reminiscing about the experience. It had a certain something that belied the childish style and made it appealing to the whole family. It was simultaneously realistic in the details of the specifically Japanese experience of growing up, which made it appealing to me, and stylized in the designs and look in a unique way, not a typical anime way.

Chibi Maruko-chan was produced with the assistance of Ajia-do, which is the studio that then employed the person who did many of Chibi Maruko-chan's creative opening and ending sequences - Masaaki Yuasa. Nippon Animation capitalized on the show's success by producing two Chibi Maruko-chan films around the same time. Another subcontracting studio long affiliated with Nippon Animation was Oh Production.

The 90s saw them shifting in style, keeping up with the times, adopting more popular styles and doing more obviously Japan-centric work based on manga and the like. The range was much broader than before. There was fantasy adventure like Pigmalio (1990, op) and Yamato Takeru (1994, op) and Mahoujin Guruguru (1994, op), cute shows about daily life in Japan like Mikan Enikki (1992, op) and Mama Likes Poyopoyosaurus (1995, op) and then unclassifiable oddball slapstick shows like Shonen Papuwa-kun (1992, op) and Tonde Boorin (1994, op) and Hanasaka Tenshi-kun (2000, op).

I watched a lot of their shows that came out in the early 1990s. They were actually quite original and different and appealing. Poyopoyosaurus is one I particularly remember liking - a family drama with a fun, hip contemporary vibe and style. Mahoujin Guruguru was also fun, a crazy slapstick fantasy adventure with cute SD characters. Tonde Boorin was just strange - a bizarre story about a superhero pig. Nippon Animation had clearly changed their policy in a very drastic way, striving to create series that would appeal to young viewers in Japan by following the stylistic trends of the day rather than being conceived for international audiences. I think a lot of these shows were quite fun and appealing, so in a way it was an improvement, while in other aspects they lost something that set them apart. It was still Nippon Animation in that the shows were good family entertainment. The style was just more trendy.

I didn't watch much of what they made post-2000, but I noticed there are some very bizarre items like Hanasaka Tenshi-kun that seem inconceivable for the company that produced 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother.

Then there are all of the World Masterpiece Theater shows. Nippon Animation is rightly remembered for the WMT. The concept of a serious yearlong animated literary adaptation was a real innovation and produced some of the best long-form storytelling ever made in TV animation.

The World Masterpiece Theater through the years: Marco (1976) / Annette (1983) / Tico (1994)

The WMT was a staple of Fuji TV's Sunday evening programming for more than 20 years, bringing to the screen a new classic of world literature every year. Their shows took a new approach towards animation - neither shoujo nor shounen, not just for children but also for the parents, without superheros, robots, magical girls, or ninjas. The one thing that united the WMT was that they were about everyday life: the excitement, drama, sorrow, happiness and transcendent beauty to be found in the prosaic things we tend to take for granted.

Isao Takahata directed three series that launched the WMT and set the tone for the rest of the series - Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974), 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (1976) and Anne of Green Gables (1979). They are also easily the best in the series, and for having produced these series alone, Koichi Motohashi's studio would have a firm place in anime history. They're unsurpassed masterpieces in the TV animation format, achieving depth of characterization, power of storytelling and realism of detail and directing that will probably never be surpassed in TV animation (if only because nobody seems willing or capable of doing down-to-earth realistic stories like these). See end of post for an ancient writeup I did on what makes Marco great.

Takahata & co. were a tough act to follow. None of the subsequent shows had quite the depth, attention to detail and assiduous realism of Takahata's shows. Despite the later shows still having the trappings of being realistic drama, the WMT evolved in a subtly different direction fairly quickly after Anne. However, the early series that followed Marco, namely Rascal Raccoon (1977) and Perrine (1978), did an admirable job of creating a similar level of quality and realism under the direction of Seiji Endo, Saito Hiroshi and Shigeo Koshi, who would become the main directing figures at Nippon Animation in the ensuing years.

Rascal Raccoon in particular, despite sounding extremely lame going by the title, was one of the most affecting real-life stories in the series. It was even more realistic than Marco in the sense that it wasn't a grandiose continent-trotting adventure. It was just a small-scale story about a boy in rural America in the early 1900s and his day-to-day experiences. It also happened to benefit from a considerable amount of animation from one Hayao Miyazaki.

Tom Sawyer hit the air in 1980. It was an entertaining romp that is actually memorable if light and insubstantial compared to the previous outings. It benefited from great animation by Yoshifumi Kondo. It was an entertaining version of Mark Twain's classic, although the satirical fire and brilliant prose was lost in translation.

The mid-80s shows that followed were more melodramatic and less hard-edged, dropping the brutal neo-realism of Marco to create more accessible and child-friendly period dramas. I've only watched one series in its entirety from this middle period - Pollyanna, which seems typical of the WMT in this middle period with its saccharine tone and overwrought, unrealistic melodrama.

In the early 90s, the tone began shifting again, presumably due to dropping ratings. The first shift was the most drastic one in the series - Peter Pan. Based on literature, maybe, but a far cry from the realistic material that was the whole purpose of the series at the beginning. Yet it turned out to be one of the best WMT shows. It had strong animation thanks to Takashi Nakamura, who was fresh from his stint on Akira and itching to do something freer and more imaginative, and the animators he brought in (viz these old posts). It also happened to stand up fairly well on its own as an entertaining adaptation of this classic story that, despite veering from the story, did its spirit justice in tone and style.

Unfortunately the later shows didn't hold up as well. They desperately tried various measures like creating an action drama that wasn't based on a work of literature with Tico of the Seven Seas (1994), going against the premise of the series, and then switching the gender of Hector Malot's Sans Famille (1996) to a girl to play up to audiences. But ratings kept dropping and the series was finally cancelled afterwards.

Tico of the Seven Seas was, in itself, a fairly entertaining and well-produced series that the whole family could enjoy. Romeo's Blue Skies (1995) came perhaps the closest in spirit to the early WMTs of the 1970s, with its historically believable story about chimney sweeps in a late 19th century Italy at the turn of the century, but zany antics and childish melodrama trumped realism to the series' detriment.

Lassie (1996) was a valiant effort directed sensitively by Sunao Katabuchi. It benefited from the appealing, Yasuji Mori-esque character designs of Satoko Morikawa and nuanced animation work by the animators under her like Osamu Tanabe and Hisashi Mori. But it was sabotaged by the station, Fuji TV, who, dissatisfied presumably by unsatisfactory ratings, kept substituting baseball shows in the show's time slot and forcing the studio to change the story of the remaining episodes accordingly.

Remi Sans Famille (1997), which followed as if in a panic, was a disaster from the start, and was cancelled fairly quickly. With its cancellation, the glorious long-running WMT franchise came to an ungraceful conclusion. You can read an embarrassing little piece I wrote 15 years ago about Lassie and the end of the WMT here.

Ten years later, Nippon Animation returned to their roots, trying to revive the World Masterpiece Theater with adaptations of Les Miserables (2007), Porfy's Trip (2008) and Before Green Gables (2009), but these had little in common with the early WMT, and I don't know if the shows were successful with audiences. A Dog of Flanders earned 22.5% ratings in 1975, while ratings declined with each year until Remi Sans Famille in 1996 earned only 8.5%. It seems to indicate that demand for this material has all but evaporated amidst growing sophistication and variety of animated programming and variety of other, more flashy and exciting, competing forms of entertainment.

Even aside from the WMT, Nippon Animation was a prolific studio since it began with A Dog of Flanders in 1975. As of this year, it has produced roughly 100 TV series, including the 26 World Masterpiece Theater shows.

Besides what they produced, Nippon Animation was important in that it had a lot of talented staff who did great work. Many of the Toei luminaries moved to Nippon Animation after leaving Toei. It was there that Hayao Miyazaki had a chance to flower as a director with Future Boy Conan in 1978.

In addition to hosting Isao Takahata, Yoichi Kotabe and Hayao Miyazaki, the most notable ex-Toei figure to grace Nippon Animation's productions in the late 1970s and 1980s was Yasuji Mori, the mentor figure of many of those same ex-Toei figures. He provided delightful character designs for many series including perhaps most notably Jacky the Bearcub, known as Bouba in Europe. Jacky is one of the few animated productions that brought Yasuji Mori's uniquely rounded characters to life in a satisfying way, as witness the delicate animation in the opening. He also designed Banner the Squirrel (German op) and Dorataro the Hobo (op) and later on acted as layout supervisor on shows like Animal Three Musketeers (op) and Alice in Wonderland (op). He was the character supervisor on the Animated Classics of Japanese Literature show. He stayed at Nippon Animation until his death in 1992.

Between his early A Pro period and his late Ghibli period, Yoshifumi Kondo did much good work for Nippon Animation. As the animation director of Anne of Green Gables, he was the person responsible for doing what has never been done (or at least done so convincingly and realistically) in a TV animation, gradually modifying Anne's design to match her physical maturation over the course of the series. In Tom Sawyer he provided lots of great animation. In Little Women he was the character designer. Nippon Animation also trained a number of producers who would go on to work at other studios, most notably Eiko Tanaka.

I'm not painting a hagiography here, just trying to point out the high points. They had plenty of lows. The World Masterpiece Theater in the 1980s was more a showcase for kitschy melodrama than for serious realism, and by the end in the 1990s, it had degenerated into something of a parody of itself. Their anodyne style could be viewed more harshly as being spineless and conservative, and most of their productions are aimed at small children and are fairly unremarkable. In the 1970s, they produced their fair share of generic spokon and shoujo manga adaptations, and even produced some forgettable robot shows. Their productions in the 1990s became much more tailored towards popular tastes in content and style, so they became kind of like every other studio out there and lost a little of what had once made them so unique. They had to survive.

But all that said, they did produce a series like Takashi Nakamura's Fantastic Children in 2004, which was a sincere attempt to create a series of genuine quality divorced of market considerations. Nakamura had previously been involved with Nippon Animation on their 1989 WMT Peter Pan, which was one of the series' late successes.

TV shows were Nippon Animation's main field of activity, but they also produced a number of TV specials sporadically up until the late 80s. In the early 90s, they produced a series of movies, most of which seem unremarkable. The second Chibi Maruko-chan movie (1992) notably featured some creative animation sequences from Ajia-do animators like Masaaki Yuasa. After the WMT ended, they even tried to revive the franchise with some fanfare by releasing remakes of Marco and A Dog of Flanders, the highest-rated shows in the series, but presumably these films didn't do so hot at the box office, because the series didn't continue afterwards.

One of their recent projects that looks intriguing is a 2007 TV special entitled Miyori no Mori (trailer). It was directed by veteran art director Nizo Yamamoto. It appears to have a more classical look indicating an attempt to return to something of the tone of their earlier work with material with a more broad appeal, an epic fantasy on the subject of ecology and nature.

The really remarkable thing about Nippon Animation is that this post doesn't even do justice to the range of their work. This post only covers a fraction of the shows they did, and briefly, and those other shows are quite wide-ranging in style, far more than almost any other Japanese studio except for maybe TMS. Over the span of 35 years, Nippon Animation has produced a handful of masterpieces and a slew of highly entertaining and unique TV series. They represented an alternative vision of anime far removed from all the cliches that have come to define Japanese animation in the imagination of the world. Many of their shows were watched and beloved by millions of kids the world over during the 1970s and 1980s. Kids of my generation grew up on Nippon Animation anime. They've been a one-of-a-kind presence in the anime industry for well over three decades. For running such a studio, Koichi Motohashi, thank you, and rest in peace.


Click on to see an old thing I wrote about 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother.


3000 Leagues in Search of Mother:
From the Appenines to the Andes


Produced by Nippon Animation, aired on Fuji TV
52 episodes, aired Jan-04-1976 to Dec-26-1976
Based on Cuore (1878) (Translated in English as: Heart: an Italian schoolboy's journal, a book for boys) by Edmondo de Amicis (1846-1908, Italian)

STAFF
Executive producer: Koichi Motohashi
Producer: Nakajima Junzo, Matsudo Takaji
Director: Takahata Isao
Character design & animation director: Kotabe Yoichi
Assistant Animation Director: Okuyama Reiko
Written by: Fukazawa Kazuo
Art director: Takamura Mukuo
Music: Sakata Koichi
Layout & Scene Design: Miyazaki Hayao
Storyboards: Tomino Yoshiyuki (3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, 29, 33, 36, 39, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50, 52), Okuta Seiji (9, 11, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, 32, 34, 37, 38, 41, 43, 45, 47, 49, 51), Kuroda Yoshio (13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 35), Takahata Isao (1, 2, 4, 5, 7)
Assistant directors: Yokota Kazuyoshi, Baba Ken'ichi, Kageyama Yasuo
Audio director: Uragami Yasuo
Photography director: Kuroki Keishichi

VOICE ACTORS
Marco: Matsuo Yoshiko
Peppino (Fiolina's father): Nagai Ichiro
Conchetta (Fiolina's sister): Ohara Noriko
Fiolina: Nobusawa Mieko
Tonio (Marco's brother): Sogabe Kazuyuki
Pietro (Marco's father): Kawakubo Kiyoshi
Leonardo: Kamiyama Takuzo
Anna (Marco's mother): Nikaido Yukiko
Julietta (Fiolina's sister): Chijimatsu Sachiko
Pablo: Higashi Mie
Fana (Pablo's sister): Yokozawa Keiko
Mario: Tomiyama
Clara: Takefuji Reiko
Fernadez: Miyata Hikaru
Narrator: Tsuboi Akiko

OPENING THEME: Sogen no maruko (Marco on the Grasslands)
ENDING THEME: Kaasan ohayo (Good Morning, Mother)
Vocalist: Osugi Kumiko
Lyrics: Fukazawa Kazuo (op), Takahata Isao (ed)
Music: Sakata Koichi
Arrangement: Sakata Koichi (op), Oroku Reijiro (ed)

Adaptation
This TV series is an adaptation of only one tiny portion of Cuore; namely, the story for the month of May, 'From the Appenine to the Andes'. The anime resembles the original story only in outline, as most of the story elements and characters were created specifically for the anime by writer Fukazawa Kazuo (whose only other anime credits are the screenplay of Hols, Prince of the Sun and the cinematization of 1001 Nights)

TV-comp.
A movie compiled from episodes of the TV series was released in theaters on 19 July1980 in Japan.


On the novel

Written following the Italian war for independence by a sub-leutenant who had fought in the seige of Rome in 1870, Cuore is the fictional diary of a boy's third year in a Turin municipal school. It was written to foster juvenile appreciation of the newfound Italian national unity, which the author had fought for in the recent war. The book is often highly emotional, even sentimental, but gives a vivid picture of urban Italian life at that time. A master, introducing a new pupil, tells the class, "Remember well what I am going to say. That this fact might come to pass--that a Calabrian boy might find himself at home in Turin, and that a boy of Turin might be in his own home in Calabria, our country has struggled for fifty years, and thirty thousand Italians have died." The author established a reputation as a writer in various genres after his experience as a soldier, and after having been translated into English in 1895 as Heart and then four years later as Enrico's Schooldays, the novel became internationally popular, and has been translated into over twenty-five languages.

Scattered thoughts about the anime

AnnaThis anime, the second sekai meisaku gekijo series, starts off in Genova, Italy1, and ends up far away across the Atlantic in Cordoba, Argentina2. At the beginning of the series we meet a family of four living in Genova, the Rossis: mother Anna, father Pietro, eldest son Tonio and young Marco... and Amedeo, their little pet monkey. The father runs a free clinic for the poor, as times were tough in Italy at the turn of the century, and there was a national work shortage. The Rossis find themselves in debt because Pietro's work is certainly charitable, but unprofitable. Tough times require tough measures, and Marco's parents are forced to make the difficult but obvious choice between sending mother to Argentina to find work, and starving: she agrees to go for a year. However, Anna and Pietro keep Marco in the dark about their plans until the last minute, for fear of his reaction. On the last day before Anna is to set out, the whole family spends one last idyllic day on the beach together, before revealing the truth to Marco...

Genova...And thus the series begins. After the mother's departure, the series moves on into a number of episodes about daily life in Genova. This development section introduces the father and brother and many other characters not in the book. We meet not just the Rossi family and friends, but perhaps just as importantly, the fin-de-siecle city of Genova. We're ushered through its every nook and cranny through the eyes of Marco, giving us a glimpse of daily life going on all around him. These episodes bring the city alive in a way no other anime does. For the first time in an anime, the city was not a backdrop but an active part of the story. The city of Genova has many faces: dark alleyways which only get five minutes of sunlight a day3, marble plazas where a priveleged minority lounge in the sunlight above the crowded, towering tenements of the inner city4, the splendid and colorful facade of the city looking out on the sea. This series brought documentary realism to anime, and this is a big part of what makes it so much more powerful than typical anime (as is the case with Takahata's other work). Anime dealing with such mundane subject matter, and dealing with its characters in a realistic way had never been attempted before (excepting the earlier Takahata project Heidi). But though Heidi was an anime about everyday life, Marco is more than that.

Attention to detail could be said to be the unifying concept of this series. Every image of the city is designed to seem as realistic as possible, and comes across as intense and vivid. The city isn't just a backdrop; rather, watching the series gives you an impression of walking around a real city you've never been in before. No part of the city exists to fill in space, unlike in other anime. Sounds in the background are also realistic. Now and then you can hear the children singing a game in the distance, or a wife calling to her husband in the distance. And instead of each episode being an adventure story, this series tells of the things which occur every day in real life. The buildings of the city seem like organic creatures affected by the rain and sunlight of the environs. Using sound and lighting, the city's people and edifices are brought alive by these many small nuances, and as a result the 'foreignness' of the city seems very authentic. The real-to-life backdrop itself makes the action seem naturalistic and spontaneous. The fact that one single person wrote the entire script, and one single person directed every episode goes a long way to accounting for this series' sense of unity... because each is an auteur. Keeping the creative power within the hands of one person seems rarer in anime these days, probably because the industry has changed. But I think this tight creative control is precisely what made it possible to create a series which is certainly as much of a masterpiece as any of the other more well-known Miyazaki or Takahata films - but on an tremendously bigger scale. However, the director was not the only person whose creative work went into on this series. Credit should go equally to the various staff members: Director Takahata Isao, screenwriter Fukazawa Kazuo, layout artist Miyazaki Hayao, music director Sakata Koichi, art director Mukuo Takamura, animation director Kotabe Yoichi, and all the storyboarders - all without whose brilliant work these disparate elements would certainly not have come together with such glorious results.

MarcoBut what about the 3000 League journey? It doesn't come until relatively late in the series, after a long exposition; so I think it's clear that the real journey is in fact one of Marco's inner growth. What is it that compels Marco to leave Genova for faraway Buenos Aires5 6, all the way across the Atlantic? In part it's his character: Marco is a stubborn little boy. But he's justifiably worried in light of the sudden lapse of communication from his mother. By the time of the departure, it's obvious to the viewer that these episodes have served to mentally prepare Marco for the real journey ahead. But it's also clear that he has a long way to go. The often heated disputes had with his father, his skipping school to work as a bottle washer - all are symptoms of acute juvenalia. When the father finds out what Marco wants to do, he only naturally refuses even the thought of putting his son alone onto a ship for someplace as far as South America. But as for Marco, the little boy, he is still immature and stubborn. A stigmatized longing for the impossible seems to have a long tradition as as one of the beauties of youth, and Marco fits in nicely in that tradition. Marco takes his anxieties to an extreme that's frightening, even downright pathological, but for all his violent outbursts, he seems like just a normal little boy going through that phase in life. I think this is where Takahata shines - in making young Marco a bona fide, authentic, flawed human being. In fact, this is the part of the series which delves most effectively into the realm of Marco's mind, I think. At certain points in these episodes Marco rebels with an intensity of emotion and mental anguish that would make Jim "Rebel" Dean/Stark quake in his boots. No other anime before this has such a powerful screenplay which put effort into realistically portraying the a child's unstable emotional state during that roller-coaster time called adolescence.

This viewer only recently had the opportunity to experience watching these episodes for the first time, and without hesitation I would say in earnest that no anime tv series has ever been more emotionally riveting to me than merely the first fifth of this tv series. (and that'snot to discount the rest of the series) One could say that 3000 Leagues is the emotional prototype for Grave of the Fireflies, Takahata's film from a decade later. In her article on Isao Takahata in Kinema Jumpo No. 1166, Emiko Okada makes it a point to draw a parallel between the indifferent and cruel adults in Grave of the Fireflies and those in 3000 Ri. While I think such a parallel is partly true, I don't feel that the characterisations of the adults in 3000 Ri were taken to the extreme to which they were taken in Grave of the Fireflies. I think Grave suffers more than anything from this problem. People who lived through this period say that people were charitable and supportive of each other during this time and that the hardship-induced greed and self-interest characteristic of most characters in this film is all wrong. 3000 Ri is more than well balanced by its share of compassionate adult characters, and doesn't suffer any such handicap. The creators of the anime would be to thank for this, because in almost all respects the anime version of this novel is an original story. (One of the more important differences being that the anime version was stripped of the patriotic undercurrent of Cuore the novel.) Whereas Grave, as Okada points out, betrays its origins inautobiography by its sometimes wooden depiction of characters. It's easy to understand that liberties would need to be kept to a minimum in a 90 minute adaptation, whereas liberties would needs be taken in abundancein order to flesh out a 52-episode adaptation.

SlumOne WMT fan at one time astutely pointed out the very noticeable and considerable decline in grittiness in the WMT as the years go by. I think this is a fairly important point, because it helps understand why the WMT was cancelled. Basically, earlier series seem to be a lot tougher and less patronizing than the later series. The harder-hitting and more sober, seminal series from the beginning of the WMT (Heidi, Marco, Flanders, Rascal, Perrine and Anne) got ratings above the 20 mark, whereas the series in the latter half (post-Sara) more light-hearted and formulaic forays into "childrens' anime" suffered a continual decline in ratings (and arguably quality), and that is what eventually led to the demise of the WMT when it was cancelled by its longtime host station, Fuji TV, due to low ratings in 1997. Suffice it to say, perhaps there's more wisdom than meets the eye to a remark made by Shudo Takeshi (creator of Minky Momo) in 1993: "We made the Minky Momo series not by pandering to the kids, but rather with a feeling that if adults could follow, then surely kids will be able to follow as well."

ImmigrantsA film which was an influence on Takahata in 3000 Ri, and seems to have exerted some influence on stylistic aspects of the series, was Vittorio De Sica's film The Bicycle Thief (1948). This movie was the origin of the Italian post-war "neo-realist" film movement, and is considered to be one of the hallmarks of western cinema. There are a number of striking similarities between 3000 Ri and The Bicycle Thief, for example the unobtrusive, longer-than-usual camera shots and scenes depicting characters going through menial daily rituals, which would usually have been skipped over in anime and film alike. The pacing in 3000 Ri is also similar: slow, but always focused and never boring. We follow Marco throughout a whole day, and get to feel as if we were in his shoes. As he goes through the streets, we see the details which make every street and building unique, and we see things from his perspective yet also simultaneously from a detatched 3rd person perspective. Whilst looming buildings are characteristic of Genova, when Marco moves from one town to another later in Argentina, what characterises the cities there is different - they're flat. The cities - and its inhabitants - come alive in both places by fleshing out these radically different conceptions of landscape. Also the director doesn't spare the cities by making them pretty and making Marco's misery into an adventure. The cities are shown to be realistically if unflatteringly dirty and shabby, where needed, and daily life no more glamorous7. Marco's journey itself is authentic, as many Italians fled Italy in search of work around the turn of the century. Oftentimes this assiduous attention to realism is tempered by symbolist touches. At one point a squalid immigrant ship upon which Marco has been forced to board is approaching Buenos Aires (the city where Marco beleives his mother to be) and a hull-level camera-shot displays an object bobbing slowly along the waves towards the ship. It bumps into the hull, then tilts over to one side, and sinks beneath the waves, revealed to be the corpse of a horse. Later on, a grimy slum is ironically juxtaposed with a pristine white city. Scenes like this with more meaning than meets the eye are not uncommon, as are rather creative expressionistic nightmare sequences revealing Marco's psychic state. On the surface these are literary devices. And while not an integral part of plot, they serve, rather, to produce a sense of foreboding, and introduce borderline surrealist elements into the story. This innovative combination of authentic, sparse background music, background art establishing realistic but sometimes symbolically desolate landscapes, and script obsessively fleshing out the psychology of a single character, results in a powerful atmosphere unique to this series. Marco's experiences on the new continent reveal to the viewer people living sad but determined lives upon the vast, flat Argentinan pampas8 9, a place where the grass is no greener than in Marco's remote and overpopulated homeland.

The series is called Marco in the German-broadcast version. It receives frequent reruns in Japan and in Europe (as do many of the World Masterpiece Theater series). However, ironically, in Argentina the series was cancelled before even a third of the series had been aired, though this apparently had more to do with fickle viewers channel-surfing for Dragonball Z than the uncompromising way Argentina is portrayed.

This anime tv series was based on only one chapter of Cuore, not the entire story. The original was a "story within a story", the rest of the book being but a diary-novel about the life of an Italian elementary school student. The chapter on which the anime was based, From the Appennines to the Andes, was a story read by a teacher to the students who are the main characters in Cuore. (Note that the entire story was animated by Nippon Animation five years later in 1981, was the last "Calpis Playhouse" series). On the other hand, the other WMT series which to be based on a diary-novel, Daddy Long-Legs, follows the whole of the original, fleshing the diary entries out to produce a more tangible narrative, a sort of growing-up sitcom.

This was Isao Takahata's second credit as TV series general director. His other TV series are Heidi (1974), Anne of Green Gables (1979) and Jarinko Chie (1981), the latter of which enjoys continual airtime in Kansai. The ri in the Japanese title is an antiquated nautical measure of distance, one ri being equivalent to 2.44 miles, transferring handily to our own nautical measure of distance, the league.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

02:27:08 am , 2298 words, 3551 views     Categories: Animation, Studio

Isamu Kumada and Studio Arrow

This image is from the "Growing Up" episode of Nippon Animation's 1986 TV show Animated Classics of Japanese Literature. I watched most of the show way back when. What was most appealing about it was its omnibus approach to the production, with a different team heading each episode. It even features work by ex-A Pro folks like Osamu Kobayashi and Yoshio Kabashima.

The Growing Up episode was by far my favorite of lot for its unique drawing style. The characters had this stately elegance that I'd never seen in any anime before. The designs were classy and classic, and the movement more weighty and calculated and beautiful. It was all so graceful and lovely, every line so delicate and perfect, kind of like Seiichi Hayashi's drawings come to life. (Seiichi Hayashi incidentally drew the drawings for the end credits) It was also directed very sensitively, complementing the low-key and emotionally subtle story of a young girl and her friends growing up in the late 1800s in Japan. It was one of the best animated literary adaptations I'd seen. I haven't rewatched it in a while, but I suspect it still probably holds up fairly well.

Isamu Kumada was the director, character designer and animation director of this episode. I looked for more work by him because I wanted to see more in this vein, but I couldn't find anything quite like this, though as I discovered upon looking into it, he has been prolific doing all sorts of other things.

Isamu Kumada's start in animation is still a mystery to me. All I know is that he was born in 1940, graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts and started out working on anime in the 1970s and 1980s for the likes of Nippon Animation and Topcraft, and then shifted to doing TV ads from his independent studio Studio Arrow, which was just himself and Susumu Shiraume. Isamu Kumada is today best remembered as a TV ad director. He was very prolific in the 90s and 00s in advertising. It was right before he made the switch to doing ad work, at the end of at least a good decade of working in the industry, that he made the wonderful Growing Up episode.

Studio Arrow appears to go back at least to 1976. I found Studio Arrow credited with the animation for the following six early episodes of Group Tac's Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi AKA Tales of Old Japan.

Waterfall for the Aged (#19A, 1976)
The God of Wind and the Children (#22A, 1976)
The Dragon in the Swamp (#33A, 1976)
The Ghost Ship (#45A, 1976)
The False Idol (#61A, 1976)
The Treasure Geta (#67A, 1977)

I don't know whether Kumada and Shiraume had an official studio at this time or they were just using the title as a collective pen name the way Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama did around the same time on the same show with "Ajia-do" (their actual Ajia-do studio wasn't founded until 1978). But Kumada was 35 at the time, so it's hard to believe he was just starting out in animation. Thus there seems to be something missing, something before this - how he got into animation I'm still not sure.

Kumada and Shiraume were involved with Topcraft for a while around this time, because at the very least I've found them credited with layout on The Flight of the Dragons (1982).

Kumada and Shiraume also worked together on numerous Nippon Animation productions around this time, including Cuore: School of Love (1981) and Hey! Bunbu (1985-86), on which they were credited together with character design. In a solo capacity, Kumada was the character designer of Nippon Animation's Diary of Anne Frank TV special (1979), Meesha the Bear Cub (1979-1980), Alice in Wonderland (1983-84), Blinky the Koala (1984), Aesop's Fables (1985) and 80 Days Around the World (1987-88) while Shiraume designed Mori no Tonto-tachi (Forest of the Elves, 1986) for Shaft. Isamu Kumada and Susumu Shiraume are together credited for the animation of Growing Up.

After this, sometime in the late 80s, Studio Arrow appears to have shifted focus to work mainly on TV advertisement. Kumada designed posters and wrote picture books, and even published a guidebook called Textural Expression for Designers in 1987. From Studio Arrow, he and Susumu Shiraume produced a large number of TV ads for the likes of Daihatsu and Nissan. To name but a few examples, they did the Notte Kangaroo series for Nissan; the Lismo series for mobile phone company KDDI; and this Badger ad from 1990 for Tokyo Electric. I also discovered that Kumada directed two OVAs released in 1992 adapting classic picture books with engravings by Jiro Takidaira - one entitled The Mountain of Flowers and the other entitled Mochimochi no Ki. (Tadanari Okamoto also adapted Mochimochi no Ki.)

In the course of researching this post, I learned that Isamu Kumada died on September 4, 2009 at age 69.

Isamu Kumada's Textural Expression for Designers, a recent picture book, and the video for The Mountain of Flowers

Kumada also participated in this series of 10 "video book" adaptations of classics of Japanese literature. Each story is read aloud by a narrator to a backdrop of illustrations by different illustrators. Many of them besides Kumada are animators. In fact, most of the people seem to be people who worked on Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi - Gisaburo Sugii, Marisuke Eguchi, Hidekazu Ohara, Mitsuo Kobayashi, Takamitsu Miwa, Hirokazu Fukuhara - so it appears to be kind of an offshoot of that show.

Incidentally, Studio Arrow helped launch the advertising career of Hidekazu Ohara, the great animator responsible for Cannon Fodder and Professor Dan Petry's Blues, not to mention a bunch of episodes of Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi. (The delightfully stylized razor blade kitsune episode he did, which I talked about before here, was in fact what got him the job to do Cannon Fodder - Eiko Tanaka showed a tape of the episode to Katsuhiro Otomo, and that is what got him the job offer.) Ohara worked at Studio Arrow for a while before going independent and going on to become equally creative and prolific and sought-after a creator of animated TV ads. It's from them that he learned the stylistic versatility and blend of techniques that makes his work stand out. He did the whole Qoo series, the Gohan ga Susumu-kun series and the famous Aleph ad that vividly brought to life the Slam Dunk characters.

Isamu Kumada and Hidekazu Ohara are an example of a type of animator we don't hear about much in anime - a more flexible animator who is able to switch between radically different styles depending on the subject matter, who doesn't just work as a cog in one post, but switches around doing different things depending on the project, trying out different styles. They're much more rounded and flexible. It's this experience that paved the way for the creative and unusual styles of Cannon Fodder and Professor Dan Petry's Blues. Young animators today who know nothing but anime style drawings could use this kind of exposure to different styles to expand their palette. A large amount of creative animation work in Japan has been done in advertising work, and therefore is mostly hidden away and disappears quickly and doesn't get attributed to the artists, so it's hard to keep track of. It's a whole hidden side of the animation industry that doesn't get talked about as much.


As a supplement to this post, reproduced below is what I wrote about the Animated Classics of Japanese Literature series some 10-odd years ago in the old WMT database I used to run. Just now I tried looking online for information about the staff for each episode of this series, but I couldn't find anything, which is why I dug this up. For some reason, back then I transcribed the credits of all the episodes I had rented. A few episodes are missing, but it's still better than nothing.

Looking over this, I noticed that the Asunaro Story episode that I also liked was done by the Ajia-do team of Osamu Kobayashi, Tsutomu Shibayama and Yumiko Suda.


青春アニメ全集 Literary classics animated
Started airing April 25, 1986
35 episodes
Produced by Nippon Animation/Dentsu Osaka Branch, aired on Nihon TV
Chief Director: Kurokawa Fumio
Character Supervisor: Mori Yasuji
Ending Illustrations: Hayashi Seiichi

An omnibus of famous works of Japanese literature. Each episode of this series was done by a different creative staff, like Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, an anthology of Japanese folk tales, resulting in a refreshingly different look and feel from episode to episode, something which is unusual in anime. The resulting variety of styles well complements the different authors represented. Several episodes stand out from the rest, foremost the well-crafted and stylish Growing Up episode by Kumada Isamu. Asunaro story is one of the more lyrical and affecting stories in the series, and Hoichi, again the work of Kumada Isamu, is also good; but even taking the less well done episodes into account, the fact that this series is original and genuinely interesting to watch makes this one of Nippon Animation's best works of the 1980s, a decade which was otherwise downhill for this studio which created masterpieces like 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother and the other early WMT series in the late 1970s.
Student Days is not listed as having been aired at the time of the original Japanese broadcast in the Japanese database I've consulted for the episode listing. Two previously unaired episodes were aired at the end of 1987, a year after the TV series finished broadcasting, so presumably this is one of those.

English sub: The whole series was released with English subs on VHS by Central Park Media. Their credit translations are incomplete and incorrectly list the same animators and art director in each episode; I've made an accurate episode-by-episode credit list (still in progress).

#1: The Izu Dancer
Original work: Kawabata Yasunari
Director: Takasuka Katsumi
Animation director: Kabashima Yoshio
Character design: Kabashima Yoshio
Screenplay: Yoshida Kenji
Music: Sakata Koichi
Art director: Kawamoto Shohei

#2: Sea Roar Part one - Spring awakening
#3: Sea Roar Part two - Summer storm

#4: The grave of the wild chrysanthemums
Original work: Ito Sachio
Director: Kumada Isamu
Animation director: Iimura Kazuo
Character design: Kumada Isamu
Screenplay: Yoshida Kenji
Music: Sakata Koichi
Art director: Mukuo Takamura

#5: The wind rises
Original work: Hori Tatsuo
Director: Morita Hiromitsu
Animation director: Yanase Joji
Character design: Tsutsui Momoko
Screenplay: Matsuda Shozo
Music: Sakata Koichi
Art director: Shibata Chikako

#6: The fruit of Olympus
Original work: Tanaka Hidemitsu
Director: Matsushima Akiko
Animation director: Yazawa Norio
Character design: Yazawa Norio
Screenplay: Matsuda Shozo
Music: Yamamoto Junnosuke
Art director: Yamamoto Junko
Storyboard: Kasahi Hiroshi

#7: Botchan Part one - The new professor gets mad!
Original work: Natsume Soseki
Director: Kondo Eisuke
Animation director: Kitahara Takeo
Character design: Motomiya Hiroshi
Screenplay: Miyazaki Akira
Music: Shimazu Hideo
Art director: Kudo Ken'ichi

#8: Botchan Part two - Defeat Red Shirt!
Original work: Natsume Soseki
Director: Kondo Eisuke
Animation director: Kitahara Takeo
Character design: Motomiya Hiroshi
Screenplay: Miyazaki Akira
Music: Shimazu Hideo
Art director: Kono Masamichi

#9: From "Harmonium and fish town" in Wandering Days
Original work: Hayashi Fumiko
Director: Okabe Eiji
Animation director: Iimura Kazuo
Character design: Ishino Hirokazu
Screenplay: Miyazaki Akira
Music: Yamamoto Junnosuke
Art director: Kawano Jiro

#10: The dancing girl
Original work: Mori Ogai
Director: Ishikuro Noboru
Animation director: Shimada Hideaki
Character design: Shimada Hideaki
Screenplay: Yoshida Kenji
Music: Sakata Koichi
Art director: Kaneko Hidetoshi

#11: Asunaro story
Original work: Inoue Yasushi
Director: Suda Yumiko
Animation director: Shibayama Tsutomu
Character design: Kobayashi Osamu
Screenplay: Yoshida Kenji
Music: Yamamoto Junnosuke
Art director: Tanaka Shizue

#12: A roadside stone Part one - Dreams of middle school
Original work: Yamamoto Yuzo
Director: Okabe Eiji
Storyboard: Kurokawa Fumio
Animation director: Ishino Hirokazu
Character design: Mori Yasuji
Screenplay: Yoshida Kenji
Music: Shimazu Hideo
Art director: Tojo Toshihisa

#13: A roadside stone Part two - Hard days
Original work: Yamamoto Yuzo
Director: Okabe Eiji
Storyboard: Kurokawa Fumio
Animation director: Ishino Hirokazu
Character design: Mori Yasuji
Screenplay: Yoshida Kenji
Music: Shimazu Hideo
Art director: Tojo Toshihisa

#14: Growing up
Original work: Higuchi Ichiyo
Director: Kumada Isamu
Animation director: Kumada Isamu
Character design: Kumada Isamu
Screenplay: Kuni Chisako
Music: Koroku Reijiro
Art director: Kawamoto Shohei
Key animation: Kumada Isamu, Shiraume Susumu

#15: The priest of Mount Koya

#16: Kwaidan: The tale of Hoichi
Original work: Koizumi Yakumo (Lafcadio Hearn)
Director: Kumada Isamu
Animation director: Kitahara Takeo
Character design: Kumada Isamu
Screenplay: Miyazaki Akira
Music: Sakata Koichi
Art director: Kubota Norio
Biwa: Tsuruta Kinshi

#17: Akagawa Jiro: Hometown casebook
#18: Akagawa Jiro: Voice from heaven

#19: The theater of life
Original work: Ozaki Shiro
Director: Okabe Eiji
Animation director: Kon Shinnosuke
Character design: Murao Mio
Screenplay: Nakanishi Ryuzo
Music: Shimazu Hideo
Art director: Uchida Tatsuhiko

#20: Season of the sun: A dangerous youth
Original work: Ishihara Shintaro
Director: Ishikuro Noboru
Animation director: Shimada Hideaki
Character design: Shimada Hideaki
Screenplay: Nagahara Shuichi
Music: Yamamoto Junnosuke
Art director: Kanemura Katsumi

#21:
#22: Sugata Sanshiro Part 1: Child of fate of Kodokan
#23: Sugata Sanshiro Part 2: Mountain storm special attack
#24: Sugata Sanshiro Part 3: Showdown at Ukyogahara

#25: The harp of Burma Part 1: Noplace like home
Original work: Takeyama Michio
Director: Ishikuro Noboru
Animation director: Shimada Hideaki
Character design: Shiraume Susumu
Screenplay: Yoshida Kenji
Music: Sakata Koichi
Art director: Ito Shukei

#26: The harp of Burma Part 2: Song of separation
Original work: Takeyama Michio
Director: Ishikuro Noboru
Animation director: Shimada Hideaki
Character design: Shiraume Susumu
Screenplay: Yoshida Kenji
Music: Sakata Koichi
Art director: Ito Shukei

#27: Akechi Kogoro: A walker in the attic
#28: Akechi Kogoro: A psychological test
#29: Akechi Kogoro: The red room
#30: The New Story of Tono
#31: Love climbing to heaven

#32: Shiro returns to the north
Original work: Togawa Yukio
Director: Matsushima Akiko
Animation director: Abe Masaki
Character design: Abe Masaki
Screenplay: Kuriyama Shizuyo
Music: Yamamoto Junnosuke
Art director: Yamamoto Junko

#?: Student Days
Original work: Kume Masao
Director: Matsushima Akiko
Storyboard: Kuzuoka Hiroshi
Animation director: Kiyoyama Shigetaka
Character design: Kiyoyama Shigetaka
Screenplay: Matsuda Shozo
Music: Yamamoto Junnosuke
Art director: Yamamoto Junko

Thursday, August 13, 2009

08:32:00 pm , 3414 words, 3717 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Studio

Tomonori Kogawa's Cool Cool Bye

A lot of OVAs were produced in the 1980s, most of which have been forgotten today, usually for the best. Some have been forgotten undeservedly. Cool Cool Bye (1986) is one of the ones that's been undeservedly forgotten.

Not only does Cool Cool Bye boast one of the most awesome titles ever, it also boasts some of the best and most unique animation to ever grace any anime. Cool Cool Bye is one of those OVAs I like to call a 'karisuma animator OVA', referring to a handful of OVAs made in the 1980s as a showcase of a particular animator's genius that remain essential viewing as perhaps the densest example of that animator's style. Birth was Yoshinori Kanada's karisuma animator OVA, and Cool Cool Bye is Tomonori Kogawa's karisuma animator OVA.

Kogawa has left behind a number of other items for which he is better known, foremost among these perhaps his work on Yoshiyuki Tomino's Ideon (1980-82) and Xabungle (1982), but Cool Cool Bye in many ways represents the pinnacle of Kogawa's evolution as an animator. It came at the end of several years of experimentation with Kogawa's approach, and at the period when his studio, Bebow, was at its zenith, and was soon to scatter to the four winds.

Perhaps the thing I like best about Cool Cool Bye is that its animation and designs are a unified whole. The designs were conceived with motion in mind, and in the final product every line of the characters comes alive vividly at the hands of the animators in a boundless variety of exciting movements and poses. It's not just that the action sequences are excitingly choreographed, which they are. It's that every line feels right in every drawing of every movement. The animation feels like the creation of a master animator who not only knows how to draw a character well from any conceivable angle, but who can freely bend the lines used to draw the limbs and and facial features any number of ways in order to heighten the emotion of the expression or the velocity of the limbs in action. Every single line always feels just right and controlled in every drawing, even in drawings that are extremely deformed. It's pretty common to see deformation in anime, but usually it falls at one of two extremes: It's either taken from conventional symbols used throughout the industry, or is deformed too much, in a way that destroys the unity of the character. Kogawa's Cool Cool Bye is one of the best examples I know of a design specifically giving rise to an approach to movement.

Kogawa actually made another 'karisuma animator OVA' before this, Greed (1985), but its animation is somewhat low-key and not nearly as emphatic as the animation in Cool Cool Bye. Partly this is because Greed is twice as long, and they were able to pack every moment of the shorter Cool Cool Bye with great animation. But more saliently, the animation is the specific purpose of Cool Cool Bye, which it wasn't really in Greed. Cool Cool Bye strikes me as a kind of experiment to see how far he could push his animation in a certain direction - in the direction of vivid movement as opposed to low-key acting. It feels like a pilot film also in the very clipped storytelling, which seems there to pitch the world view to a prospective sponsor more than to be comprehensible.

Kogawa is often remembered as one of the proto-realistic animators of Japan due to his more realistic rendering of the character in Ideon and so on (which were even more realistic in the original concept, before Tomino turned them down and told Kogawa to make them more accessible, i.e. cute). But Kogawa struck out in a very different direction right afterward in Xabungle, with its more cartoony and pliable designs and very fast and exciting animation. Cool Cool Bye strikes me as an attempt to perfect that style of animation. Episode 1 of Xabungle (which used 9000-some drawings) is perhaps the closest comparison in Kogawa's oeuvre. They're both one-of-a-kind creations and among the most exciting 30 minutes of anime out there, packed full of exciting animation in a style like no other. So I find it a shame that we never got to see Kogawa build on what he achieved in Cool Cool Bye. Even the people who learned under Kogawa never made anything that pushes the style and approach developed here, which is among the most appealing I've ever seen in anime. A 13-episode TV series made at this steady level of quality would have been a classic for the ages - though it might have bankrupted whatever studio made it. Of course, what makes Cool Cool Bye great is not budget; it's talent. The animation is actually somewhat limited a lot of the time. It's just that what drawings there are are extremely skillfully manipulated.

Simply put, Cool Cool Bye is great animated entertainment. Kogawa showed with this OVA what real animation is supposed to be about. It is extremely fun to watch from start to finish, has a variety of interestingly designed characters, and is filled head to toe with great animation and inventive action sequences. Not a minute is wasted or boring. The characters are fun to watch, and each moves in a way that is unique to their character design and personality - something all too rare in anime. The action sequences are cleverly choreographed, and the characters go through some incredibly entertaining calisthenics, all expertly rendered by the animation. Bodies twist and turn about in all manner of ways, run and leap, stretch and squash. This is a movie that is all about characters running around doing things, reminding a lot of Yasuo Otsuka's Future Boy Conan. But whereas Otsuka's drawings had a sort of loose, anything goes freedom, Kogawa's animation is far more logical, deliberate, thought through. They both, in their very different way, created extremely fun character animation that more than ever seems to have a lot of lessons to offer animators in today's Japanese animation industry. Kogawa's animation strikes a masterful balance between having fun with the animation and maintaining a sense of unity.

We often speak of schools of animation in anime, such as the Kanada school, but Kogawa is interesting because he has been a big influence, but his influence can't be pinpointed to any one style the way Kanada's can. The innovation he brought to anime was more in relation the to technical aspects of how to draw characters, many of which were gradually adopted in the natural course of the overall improvement in the base level of drawing skills over the years in the industry. Kogawa seems to have been one of the people who where there kind of pointing out the little mistakes that people didn't realize were mistakes. Rather than trying to lord a style over people, he was just drawing things right, the way they're actually supposed to be drawn.

The most famous example of Kogawa's innovation is the simple act of looking up. The image here pretty much sums it up. Kogawa was one of the first people to actually think through and properly draw how a face should look from any angle, particularly when it's tilted up like this. Before going on, let me backtrack a little. Kogawa actually came to animation kind of late. The art that interested him growing up had been oil painting, at which he was pretty adept by the time he graduated with a degree in oil painting from the famous Musashino Art University. Nowadays sculpture is what really interests him, an interest clearly reflected in his very three-dimensional characters. Needless to say, most animators working either back then or today don't have degrees in art, and this training in the fundamentals of art undoubtedly permitted him to see things that the veterans with whom he worked had never realized. One of these things is how to draw a face when a person is looking up.

Kogawa started out in animation in 1970 at age 20, when he joined the Tokyo Movie studio. He stayed there for under a year before quitting and going on to do a lot of freelance work for Tatsunoko. It was during his time doing work for Tatsunoko that he began to notice that the veteran animators who were working on the same shows didn't know how to draw a face when it was looking up. The proportions would be messed up. And the funny thing is, when he drew the face the right way, it would often get corrected back to the wrong way, simply because that's how those animators had grown accustomed to drawing things in anime. That's one of the pitfalls of not learning the fundamentals of art, and not observing the world around you and basing what you draw on that (at least in a very basic sense of knowing how it's supposed to be done, and then modifying that appropriately based on the need).

It doesn't take much to get the proportion of the nose, eyes and mouth right. For example, you can draw a box, tilted at the desired angle, and place the features on one surface to get a basic sense of how they should be drawn. If you try to eyeball it without doing this, the features can come out skewed and wrong-looking, which is obviously what was happening with the veteran animators. Kogawa was, then, among the first to draw a character in various poses in a way that actually made physical sense. This is one of the things, I now realize, that made his work feel so different to me back when I first discovered it. Cool Cool Bye is interesting because the animation is very loose and exaggerated, yet at its core it feels solid and real and plausible. It's a perfect example of how grounding in the fundamentals can make even unrealistic animation more convincing.

It was his dissatisfaction with this contradiction -- that the animators who were supposed to be inspiring him knew far less than him about the very basic things -- that led him, in 1979, to found his own animation studio, Bebow. It was from this now legendary studio that Kogawa would go on to provide the animation for which he is most famous today, in Ideon, Xabungle, El Gaim and Dunbine. In the course of this work, he personally trained many of the more important animators of the next generation, including Ichiro Itano, Akihiko Yamashita and Naoyuki Onda, to name but some of the more striking examples.

My favorite work by Kogawa is without hesitation Ideon, particularly the final movie, in which his animation brought the characters alive and made them feel real like virtually no other anime I've ever see, especially back then. His work on this show was revolutionary in its dispassionately real rendering of expressions and poses, even if the designs and situation were not particularly realistic in an obvious sense. This is perhaps one of the first times I'd ever seen an anime in which I always felt I understood why the character was doing any given pose. It always made sense to me. There were other well-animated shows, but this is the first one where the actual drawings and the content of the drawings felt real to me in both the rendering of the drawings and in their psychology. His drawings also had a raw power that I'd never seen before. The characters' emotions came through very powerfully, and their acting was simultaneously more restrained and more believable than anything I'd seen before then.

Another aspect that made Kogawa's characters in Ideon unique is that he determined their color, and did something that was unheard of back then - he based the enemy side (the so-called 'Buff Clan') on a white base, and did daring things like using no highlights in the eyes and using colors rather than black to trace their outlines. This accentuated the already strong drawings to create a truly memorable impression. The Buff Clan's angular hairstyles were distinctive and cool looking, and a match with the appealing design of their clothing, which was rather ahead of its time with its sharp, minimalistic, tasteful style.

One of the things I admire about Kogawa, besides his incredible skill as an animator, is the fact that he always changed his style from show to show, and he challenged himself to try new things every time. He went from the realism of Ideon to the opposite pole in Xabungle right afterward, drawing very soft and loose characters with more heavily stylized features and proportions. In both cases, however, the spirit behind the character designs was suited to the material at hand, as well as playing a major role in determining the show's atmosphere and its impression on viewers. Kogawa's characters in both cases were striking and like nothing that had come before, and in both cases they were extremely beautiful to watch, either still in motion. Kogawa's drawings have the fundamental strength of a sketch by a master's hand. In both El Gaim and Dunbine afterward, Kogawa would again change his vector by 180 degrees each time.

From the very beginning, Kogawa had intended to keep the studio only for about a decade, so that he could train animators for a while and do a few things in commercial animation, and then move on. That is exactly what wound up happening. For a few more years after Cool Cool Bye, the studio switched from doing contract work for Sunrise to doing contract work for Tatsunoko on various shows like Southern Cross, but the most talented animators appear to have left either before or immediately after the last big bash that was Cool Cool Bye. Hence, this OVA comes across also as the final summation of what the studio stood for. Kogawa had achieved his goal of training a lot of talented animators, and those animators scattered to the four winds. A number of these animators went on to do a lot of very nice work in the late 80s and beyond, and remain among the more important animators active today. It's somewhat shocking to hear of the names who passed through the doors of Bebow, because it's a fairly large swath of the most talented animators of the 1980s - Hidetoshi Omori, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Toshihiro Hirano, Ichiro Itano, Naoyuki Onda, Toshiyuki Kubooka, Narumi Kakinouchi, Akihiko Yamashita, Atsushi Yamagata, Tomokazu Tokoro, Junichi Watanabe, Masami Kosone, Keiichi Sato, Satoru Nakamura, Toshihiro Yamane and Shino Masanori. If you watch anime regularly, chances are you've seen work by at least one of these guys in the last week on some show somewhere, old or new.

Akihiko Yamashita is one of the names that jumps out at you these days as being among the most obviously talented of the ex-Bebow staff. He has become one of the pillars of Ghibli's animation since Howl. Hidetoshi Omori and Hiroyuki Kitazume were perhaps the two most prominent Bebow animators in the years immediately following Cool Cool Bye, with their work on Robot Carnival and Urotsukidoji. Robot Carnival is a good place to start to get a quick sense of the style of Kogawa's two biggest disciples, as both created a short in their own patented style. Omori's style is very close to Kogawa, with its angular shapes and more limited animation, while Kitazume is more rounded and cute and fully animated.

Many people in Urotsukidoji used a pen name, so for a long time I wasn't too sure who was behind this show. It's actually very well animated despite the content - it's quite possibly one of the best animated adult titles ever. It turns out that most of the staff were probably ex-Bebow, so it's one of the more important pieces featuring work by the Bebow animators after leaving the studio. At the very least, it included Hiroyuki Kitazume, whose distinctive designs give him away, Hidetoshi Omori using the pen name Zen Kingoji, Yamashita Akihiko, Masami Kosone and Keiichi Sato. It probably included others.

Ero anime was in the air in 1987 for the ex-Bebow staff, because they also made a short OVA called Body Jack, this time virtually 100% using pen names. The only person I know for sure was involved is Hidetoshi Omori, because the characters are unmistakably his. But I'm sure there must have been a bunch of other Bebow people. For an OVA probably nobody has ever heard of over here, it's a surprisingly decently done piece, with a few fun action scenes. Hiroyuki Kitazume, who formed a short-lived studio called Atelier Giga together with some other ex-Bebow staff, is perhaps best remembered for his work on Gundam ZZ and the Char's Counterattack movie. The latter included quite a number of Bebow staff, including Hidetoshi Omori, Shinichiro Minami and Naoyuki Onda. Onda did a lot of good work in his very identifiably refined and lush style after leaving Bebow, especially on OVAs like To-Y, Ai no Kusabi and Armitage, and to this day continues to be very prolific and very talented.

Many of the staff behind Giant Robo were ex-Bebow staff. Tomokazu Tokoro directed one of my favorite series ever - Haibane Renmei. Toshihiro Hirano and his wife Narumi Kakinouchi worked at Bebow in the early 80s before migrating to AIC, where they defined the look of that studio in classic OVAs like Iczer 1, Dangaioh and Vampire Princess Miyu. The late Junichi Watanabe was the monster designer in a lot of these shows. Atsushi Yamagata is perhaps best known as the character designer of AIC's Hakkenden OVA series. You pretty much can't swing a stick without hitting an anime involving Bebow alumi (only slightly exaggerating).

Besides the quality that Bebow stood for, it also comes across as having been very much of a family, with a very warm and healthy atmosphere at the studio. For example, to keep the animators in good physical shape, they all did regular exercise together and had their own baseball team. (though this is of course a very typical thing for Japanese companies) The Cool Cool Bye tape came with a great little 15-minute documentary at the end showcasing a dozen or so of the animators at that time, with brief interviews and playful animations. Some of the interviews were done at one of the studio's baseball games, so in the shots from their interviews above you can see a number of them wearing the studio's baseball uniform.

After Cool Cool Bye Kogawa moved away from being a full-time industry animator. Over the period that Cool Cool Bye was in production he published a set of books on animation techniques (which were recently republished in a new edition), and from then on out seems to have focused more on his work as an educator. He mostly did isolated work here and there, often using pen names, such as Legend of Galactic Heroes (1989), Casshan (1993) and Medarot (1999). His only real big job was Ashita Genki ni Nare (2005), a movie about the experiences of a sister and brother living in the ruins of Tokyo after the end of the war, on which he served as character designer and animation director. He also recently did all the key animation for episode 5 of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (2008). He was heavily involved in the old Yamato series back in the late 70s, most notably as the character designer and animation director of the second movie version made in 1978, and he is reportedly serving as the character designer and animation director of a new movie version that is in production and slated for release in the near future.


GREED (1985, 57 minutes)

Creator/Script/Storyboard/Character Designer/Animation Director/Director: Tomonori Kogawa
Art board: Shinichi Hirao
Animation Directors: Hidetoshi Omori & Hiroyuki Kitazume

Animators

YAKI MasayukiSAKAMOTO Hideaki
SAWADA MasatoKUBOOKA Toshiyuki
ENDO EiichiTERAHIGASHI Katsumi
ONDA NaoyukiONISHI Kiyomi
YAMAUCHI KimikoYAMAMOTO Masafumi
USAMI KoichiTOKORO Tomokazu
MINAMI ShinichiroNAKAMURA Satoru
SHINO MasanoriAKUTAGAWA Yoshiaki
MIYAHARA TakaoOCHI Hiroyuki
WATANABE JunichiNAKA Morifumi
KAWAKAMI YutakaOMORI Atsuko
SOGA HirokoYAMAMOTO Masakazu
YAMASHITA AkihikoYUMOTO Yoshihisa
INOMA Wagako

COOL COOL BYE (1986, 30 minutes)

Creator/Script/Character Design/Director: Tomonori Kogawa
Storyboard: Bebow
Animation Directors: Tomonori Kogawa & Hidetoshi Omori
Mechanical Design: Katsuya Nozawa
Concept Assistance: Akihiko Yamashita
Art Director/Backgrounds: Kenji Matsumoto

Animators

YAKI MasayukiSAWADA Masato
TSUJI KiyomitsuYAMAMOTO Masafumi
MINAMI ShinichiroSHINO Masanori
YAMASHITA AkihikoNOZAWA Katsuya
KAWAKAMI YutakaTAKAGI Hiroyuki
OMORI AtsukoSAITO Akiko
SOGA HirokoYAMAURA Maeko
USAMI KoichiMASA Tomoyasu
KOSONE MasamiSUMIKAWA Toshihiro
YAMANE MasahiroTERAHIGASHI Katsumi
ONDA NaoyukiKUBOOKA Toshiyuki

Inbetween Check
TSUJI Kiyomitsu

Friday, May 23, 2008

12:30:49 am , 1211 words, 2381 views     Categories: Animation, Studio

Tama Pro

An omnibus called Visions of Frank was released last year. It consists of nine animated shorts by nine different Japanese artists inspired by the work of Jim Woodring's comic Frank. Each of the films in the set has a very different style, and I hadn't heard of many of the artists, so it was interesting viewing. The one that stuck with me since I first saw it a few months ago was the one entitled Hi-Rise Hopper, with its vivid full animation, unusual for a Japanese production, and wild amorphous transformations in the Akira blob tradition. Besides being a blast to watch, I felt it did the most justice to the characters and atmosphere of the comic. I was inspired to re-watch it today after reading a great article on Frank (thanks Alan), and got curious to figure out who exactly was behind this piece, as the only credit I could find was "Tamapro/Drop", which meant nothing to me. After a bit of digging, I found the answer, and learned a few other things along the way.

The film was storyboarded and directed by one Saburo Hashimoto with art directing and colors by freelance graphic designer Mizuki Totori, and it dates from 2003. As far as I can gather, Saburo Hashimoto belongs to a small but venerable subcontracting studio called Tama Production, which is where the animation was produced. It made sense to discover that Tama Pro has been involved in a lot of western subcontracting, as that partly accounts for the unusual feeling of the animation. The film represents a curious intersection of Western and Japanese vectors in terms of style, ideas and production, which all converged to brilliant effect here. Studios like this that bridge the Western and the Japanese have always fascinated me. Other examples include Sanrio Films, Telecom, Answer Studio and Topcraft. The results can often be quite interesting when their knowhow acquired through years of working on foreign productions are applied to their own in-house productions, as was the case with Flag more recently.

Tama Production is one of Japan's most venerable animation-only subcontractors, having been around since 1965 and having worked on innumerable shows for all of the major studios. They're still quite active and currently employ 30 people, according to their home page. Tama Pro is more than anything remembered for their close association with Tatsunoko Productions, as they regularly handled the animation for entire episodes of Tatsunoko's shows in wholesale style, and their animators consequently developed a pronounced Tatsunoko influence and understanding of how to render the characters.

The studio was founded by an animator named Eiji Tanaka, who started out at Mushi Pro working on Tetsuwan Atom in 1963. He didn't remain long before leaving to found his own studio, which would go on to work as a subcontractor for not only Tatsunoko but also many other large studios, from Tokyo Movie to Toei Doga to Mushi Pro to Madhouse. Eiji Tanaka himself was quite active as an animator on the front line while also training his studio's animators himself. He had a long career before passing away recently, having been an animator in many shows including Tatsunoko's Speed Racer (1967), Kurenai Sanshiro (1969) (chief animator) and Gatchaman (1972) before moving on to working as an animation director on a slew of shows including, most famously, the first few shows in Tatsunoko's Time Bokan series (1975-). He also managed to do some work as a character designer, having designed Astroganger (1972), Chargeman Ken (1973), Don Chuck (1975) and Little Prince (1978).

The two earliest and most prominent animators to have trained directly under the tutelage of Eiji Tanaka were Takashi Saijo and Jushi Mizumura, who have been involved in almost all of the studio's projects over the years and remain active today. They regularly alternate between working as animation directors and animators. In Tanaka's absence, they are clearly the leading lights at the studio. Other animators who can be seen in the studio's recent work include Akira Watanabe, Hiroaki Kawaguchi, Yoshiaki Matsuda, Naoki Takahashi and Kuniko Yano. Recent episodes they've handled include Black Lagoon #7, Death Note #9 and Otogizoshi #2. I haven't found any credits for the animation of Hi-Rise Hopper, but it seems probable that some combination of these names may have been responsible. I'd particularly like to find out who animated that mind-blowing transformation shot.

Tatsunoko stood out from their peers back in the day for what was known as their "butter stench", as they say in Japan, i.e. their American comic-book stylings. Tama Pro was therefore already steeped in a more or less Western-ish mood when they began taking on subcontracting work for Disney TV and video productions in the 1990s. Whether it's true or not I don't know, but they were apparently known as the only subcontracting studio in Japan up to the task of working in the Disney style, which suggests the unique position they occupied. It's clear that this experience underpins the animation that we can see in Hi-Rise Hopper, which is one of the few entirely Japanese-produced films I've seen whose animation successfully emulates the look and feel of conventional Western 'traditional animation'.

Although I'm not too familiar with the original comic, based on what little I've read about it the virtuosic display of horrific bodily transformation in Hi-Rise Hopper struck me as being exactly what was called for, going back to the cartoon style of animation that is the inspiration for the characters of the comic, where emotions transform directly into stretched bodies, bulging eyes and other extreme deformations. It takes Woodring's whole sophisticated re-interpretation of the classical Western cartoon aesthetic and plugs it right back into an animation mode of expression, completing the loop. The wild card is that it should have come not from some Western studio, but from Japanese animators trained working on Japanese-produced shows that emulated American styled comics using Japanese limited animation knowhow, rather than the sort of traditional full animation tradition that gave birth to the cartoon aesthetic that inspired Frank. Ultimately, they're all connected in the grand scheme of things, and the march of progress continues to this day, with those Japanese animators now emulating Western animation and vice-versa. It's so convoluted a situation that it almost makes perfect sense, like some beautiful ironic comment on the evolution of animation.

Around 2004 a studio called Drop was opened on the third floor of the building in Higashi Kurume that houses Tama Pro, which occupies the first two floors. This new studio was founded by producer Takeshi Hagiwara, who up until that point had been working for Tama Pro. A number of clips from the projects they've undertaken since 2004 can be seen on their home page, including Hi-Rise Hopper. Tama Pro is credited with the animation elements of a number of Drop's other films as well, which seems to suggest that Drop is a production/planning off-shoot of Tama Pro. I that's the case, the naming would make sense - Drop is the English word for Tama. ('drop' as in 'candy drop') Mizuki Totori, who designed the art and colors of Hi-Rise Hopper, more recently singlehandedly created a new short for Drop entitled Drop-kun, which seems to be a sort of mascot character for the studio. Drop-kun was one of the Jury Recommended Works of the 2006 Japan Media Arts Festival.

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