Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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« Best of OttawaHiroshi Okubo filmography »

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

10:38:52 pm , 782 words, 2143 views     Categories: Animation, Studio

Studio Torapezoid

As I was taking out the trash today I saw a spiral of birds in the distance, like the cranes in Night on the Galactic Railroad, soaring on a warm updraft. It was a rather bathetic moment.

In continuing with the theme of small 'studios' of the last post, this time I thought I'd mention a small studio that has done interesting work in the recent past: Studio Torapezoid. Some people may remember the impressive animation that opens episode 1 of Noein. Well, it was animated by Hiroshi Okubo, who is one of the five members of the collective, which was formed in 1998. The other members are: Takuya Saito, Susumu Yamaguchi, Manabu Ono and designer Junya Ishigaki.

Ishigaki has been very active as a designer over the last decade on many Sunrise and other shows. He's the one who designed the wonderful floating fortress in Noein. You can see more of his designs on his home page. Okubo and Ono have been associates since the beginning of both of their careers around 1990, working side by side as animators on a number of projects in the years immediately leading to the formation of the studio in 1998, including Kinnikuman 5 & 19 in 1991, Iron Leaguer 19 & 27 in 1993, Yu Yu Hakusho 67 and Hakkenden 12 in 1994, Evangelion 10 in 1995 and Cyber Formula Saga in 1997. Susumu Yamaguchi does not seem to have been involved on the same projects as the others until the formation of the studio.

The first project we see them all working together on is the show that can be seen as the studio's summum opus: 1998's Outlaw Star, directed by Mitsuru Hongo, who also gave the studio its name. I came to the show to see Okubo's work on it, but as I began watching I was surprised to find idiosyncratic and quite good work in a number of other styles obviously differing from Okubo's. It took a while to sort out who was doing what, but eventually it became clear. Okubo's animation was easily identifiable, with its sense of form and timing reminiscent of Mitsuo Iso and Yutaka Nakamura. He was obviously handling the mecha. It took a while to realize that it must be Ono who was handling the other sections of mecha that were also brilliantly animated but had a completely different, much simpler touch. What was left was a style of animation that had obvious debts to Satoru Utsunomiya and Tetsuya Nishio, and eventually I figured out that it had to be Susumu Yamaguchi. Discovering the work of these three animators was a real treat for me. The second and really the last project on which all of the members were involved together would be Angel Links from the following year. After this Torapezoid seems to have gone the way of Hercules, with each member working on his own project.

Outlaw Star offers the perfect introduction to all three of the animators' styles. The highlight of the series is undoubtedly the fast-paced mecha fights in space. The mecha, designed by Ishigaki, were brilliantly animated by Okubo and Ono, and have a rather unique flavor of their own different from the more realistic work of a Masami Goto, who played an analagous role in Bebop. The role of Nakamura in the latter - "main animator" - was played here by Yamaguchi, whose very loose line and dynamic approach to timing is obviously descended from Utsunomiya via Nishio, even though the closest related project he seems to have been involved in would be the Yu Yu Hakusho movie. For a quick intro to their work at its best, episode 20 offers a wonderful bit of acrobatics in the first half by Yamaguchi and solid chunk of work by Ono and Okubo in the second. Okubo's work in the last episode is also not to be missed. The resemblance is so strong that I would be surprised indeed if he denied having been heavily influenced by Mitsuo Iso. The next year in Angel Links you can see them continuing to develop their styles, with Okubo mostly working on beefing up his smoke and Yamaguchi's work now looking downright Utsunomiyan, viz episode 8.

After this the team starts to work on different projects. We can see Ono and Okubo working together for the last time on Risky Safety in 1999, Ono and Yamaguchi on Space Pirate Mito in 1999 and Gear Fighter Dendo in 2001, but unfortunately the animators don't seem to appear much together afterwards, which is a real shame. The teamwork they had going on in that handful of eps was really something. Ono himself actually drifted away from animation afterwards and is now focusing on directing. After this, starting with Arjuna, Okubo becomes more and more involved in Satelight productions.

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