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Saturday, October 29, 2011

06:48:00 pm , 1807 words, 3998 views     Categories: Animation

The seconding system at Toei Doga

Toei Doga's animators at work circa 1960

Animation in anime is simple in structure compared with its western counterparts. Basically speaking, you have genga and doga, and that's it (plus quality checkers in the form of the sakuga kantoku and doga check). It's not like in the west where a single character might be animated by a dizzying array of people. But in the early days of Toei Doga, when the role of sakuga kantoku that's unique to Japan was invented, they were using a seconding system, like in the west, though it came about as a product of necessity and was not modeled after the western system. It's just that it wasn't credited, so it's not a very well-known fact. Then for a long time in anime seconding disappeared (though there were certainly a lot of instances of rough genga being given to a key animator), until recently when seconding has resurfaced in the form of the increasingly common roles of daiichi genga and daini genga.

I thought I'd write a bit about the early version of seconding at Toei Doga since I just talked a bit about daiichi genga and daini genga.

The seconding system was adopted for the first time during production of Hakujaden in 1958. It was adopted purely because of the lack of experienced staff. Only Yasuji Mori and Akira Daikuhara, carryovers from Nichido, were experienced animators. Most of the 30 animators they'd just hired had less than a year's experience in animation. The only exceptions were Chikao Katsui and Takashi Yamauchi, who had worked briefly at Nichido before the takeover. Many of the rest were still in basic training.

Animation began on December 10, 1957. Sanae (previously Zenjiro) Yamamoto, ex-president of Nichido, conferred with top management and came to the conclusion that the only way they could make a film with this shortage of experienced staff was to appoint seconds who would clean up the rough key animation of the two key animators, as well as drawing some of the more difficult poses, before handing the key animation to the inbetweeners. Six of the more experienced animators were chosen for this role:

Yusaku Sakamoto, Shuji Konno and Masatake Kita were appointed seconds under Yasuji Mori.

Kazuko Nakamura, Chikao Katsui and Yasuo Otsuka were appointed seconds under Akira Daikuhara.

Each second in turn had four or five inbetweeners working under them. The desks were arranged into six groups, one for each second. The seconds were the leader of the group. They would go to the key animator to get the key animation themselves and bring it back and distribute it to the inbetweeners in their group.

The key animators were given scenes according to their style and personality. Yasuji Mori handled mostly the scenes involving the animals and the male protagonist Xu Xian (Shuu Sen) that required more delicate and nuanced animation. Akira Daikuhara handled the scenes involving fights and other scenes involving more broad and loose action.

Yasuji Mori's keys tended to be more nuanced and detailed about the actions in a shot, whereas Akira Daikuhara's keys were rougher and more spare, leaving more to the imagination of the second.

Seconds working under them were also assigned based on their skill and tendencies. Akira Daikuhara gave shots with more vivid movement to Chikao Katsui, gave shots of natural phenomenon to Yasuo Otsuka, and gave Kazuko Nakamura primarily shots involving the characters Bai Niang (Pai Nyan) and Xiao Qing (Shao Chin). Yasuji Mori gave his more movemented shots to Masatake Kita, and gave Shuji Konno more quiet and delicate shots requiring less broad movement due to his more detail-oriented style. Consistently assigning shots in this way helped maintain consistency despite the absence of an animation director.

In Hakujaden, after the inbetweeners finished their work, the key animators Yasuji Mori and Akira Daikuhara checked their animation, essentially also serving as the animation directors for the film. Daikuhara was less strict with his inbetweeners. He gave them more freedom to draw what they wanted. Mori was more strict. He's reported to have almost never accepted an inbetweener's work the first time, often asking for two or three retakes. After a few retakes he would say, "OK" because it would be awkward to continue asking for retakes, but later on you could spot Mori surrreptitiously fixing the inbetweens at his desk. He was exacting but kind about it.

Even in later years, seconds were never credited as seconds. They were credited as inbetweeners. Only when you acceded to key animation were you credited as a key animator. The only exception to this rule was the rebellious Daikichiro Kusube. After he had alienated all the other seconds with his bluntness and work was no longer coming to him to be inbetweened, he leapt over this hierarchy and, a mere 3 months after having been hired, convinced Yasuji Mori to let him draw key animation for certain shots of Hakujaden, without going through the seconding stage. In Hakujaden Kusube drew the key animation for those shots entirely by himself, and handed his key animation to the inbetweeners working under him.

So even though Kusube is credited as an inbetweener, Kusube actually drew key animation in the first three Toei Doga films - Hakujaden (1958), Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke (1959) and Saiyuki (1960). He first gets a key animation credit in Anju to Zushiomaru (1961). In later films he gave his inbetweeners some of the shots he had been assigned, and they drew the key animation for those shots. Sadao Tsukioka and Gisaburo Sugii drew their first key animation under Kusube on Saiyuki even though they were still credited as inbetweeners. Kusube gave Yoichi Kotabe his chance to draw his first key animation on Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon (1963) even though he's also still credited as an inbetweener in the film.

Makoto Nagasawa, the animator who would later go on to animate the impressive cave dance scene in Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon, was an inbetweener in Shuji Konno's section under Yasuji Mori on Hakujaden, but starting with Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke the next year was transferred to Yasuo Otsuka's section because he was deemed more suited to that style of working. I've heard it often said that Mori's drawings look simple and easy to draw, but can be wickedly hard to get right, and Nagasawa relates that he felt the same way: he liked Mori's drawings, but didn't like having to draw incredibly detailed movement. He was an animator more suited to working under Yasuo Otsuka. It was because he was working under Akira Daikuhara and Yasuo Otsuka that Nagasawa, still an inbetweener, was able to experiment and play with the timing of his shots a little in Saiyuki and inject some personality into the animation. He inbetweened the key animation of Sagojo writing in pain after Goku shrunk down and entered his body.

The strictures became looser starting with Saiyuki, just as the more old-fashioned look of the old films began to be modernized with Tezuka's flavor in this film. The last scene of Saiyuki features some of the more fun work on the film. Five of the animators more interested in movement were apparently given freedom to do whatever they wanted with the scene, as the storyboard for this scene was sparse and there was a big crunch on to get the film done. Those five were: Yasuo Otsuka, Kusube Daikichiro, Gisaburo Sugii, Makoto Nagasawa, and Sadao Tsukioka. Makoto Nagasawa drew some of his first key animation here, even though most of the rest of the work he did on the film was inbetweening. Otsuka famously drew the bullfight, and Tsukioka drew the striptease. Nagasawa officially became a second in the next film, Anju to Zushiomaru (1961), skipped Sinbad's Adventure (1962) to work on a short, and then became a key animator and did the dance scene in Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon (1963).

Yasuo Otsuka was the only one of the seconds in Hakujaden who acceded to key animation in Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke in 1959. Two other experienced key animators were brought onboard for this film: Masao Kumakawa and Hideo Furusawa. (Furusawa was another ex-Nichido animator.) Thus there were five key animators on the second film, each with their own seconds and inbetweeners under them. The first five inbetweeners listed in Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke were in fact the seconds on that film: Daikichiro Kusube, Chikao Katsui, Kazuko Nakamura, Shuji Konno and Masatake Kita.

Accession to key animation happened slowly, and could take a few years. Dissatisfaction with this is partly what led Gisaburo Sugii and many others to leave for Mushi Pro before they became key animators (on paper). Many others were weeded out by this stringent trial period and gave up on animation altogether, realizing that they were interested in the drawing side of animation, but to work in animation you had to be fundamentally interested in and capable of creating movement the way Sadao Tsukioka and Yasuo Otsuka were.

Saiyuki (1960) featured the same 5 key animators plus Osamu Tezuka. The first 7 inbetweeners listed were probably the seconds on this film: Shuji Konno, Masatake Kita, Daikichiro Kusube, Reiko Okuyama, Chikao Katsui, Michihiko Yoshida, and Kazuko Nakamura.

Anju to Zushiomaru (1961) saw Kusube bumped up to key animation alongside the aforesaid five key animators. Makoto Nagasawa and Reiko Okuyama meanwhile were bumped up to seconding. The first six inbetweeners listed in this film were presumably the seconds: Shuji Konno, Masatake Kita, Reiko Okuyama, Makoto Nagasawa, Chikao Katsuio, and Michihiko Yoshida.

Next year's Sinbad's Adventure (1962) saw three of those seconds bumped up to key animation: Reiko Okuyama, Masatake Kita and Chikao Katsui.

Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon (1963) featured the seven key animators of Sinbad minus Akira Daikuhara and plus Makoto Nagasawa. From this point on I'm unclear who the seconds were.

The seconding system continued at Toei Doga until at least Wan Wan Chushingura (1963). I'm not sure at what point it was abandoned. It's possible it happened around the time of the start of TV anime, as there were considerable staff changes that occurred over the next few years, with many people moving to doing TV work and the studio abandoning the focus on quality animated filmmaking of the early years.

Interestingly, during the first few Toei Doga films, key animators were responsible for drawing the storyboard for their sections. Hence, they had the freedom to expand their sequence as they wanted to fill it with all sorts of shots and actions. People took this to such extremes that director Taiji Yabushita was obliged to call in an editor from Toei's Kyoto photography studio for Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke (1959) to have a non-partisan third party produce the film's final cut. In Gulliver's Space Travels (1965) you could even say this freedom and absence of directorial control made the film uneven and lacking in narrative force. Each section is drawn with great freedom and vivacity, but little is done to unify the film.



jrsmith [Visitor]

Thanks for this. It answers a lot of my questions and makes the fact that only two people are credited as key animators on Hakujaden a lot more understandable. In the credit sequence of Wanwan Chushingura, which is a bit more stylized than previous Toei credit sequences, only nine people are credited as Doga. Is it possible that these are the seconds, and the actual inbetweeners are uncredited (presumably to leave the screen uncluttered)? I’m sure that not all inbetweeners got screen credit back in the days of opening rather than closing credits. For example, jmdb lists 71 Doga for Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon, but only 19 are actually credited on screen.

10/30/11 @ 22:26
Ben [Member]  

My pleasure. Glad it helped. Your question got me to wondering about it and in the course of looking into it I realized it was all rather complicated and it was a good idea to write a post to sort through what I knew. There are still questions I don’t know, for example when the seconding system stopped being used, and who the seconds were, if any, after 1963.

About the inbetweeners, you raise an interesting point that I hadn’t caught. I didn’t realize that was happening. I don’t have original Japanese versions of the early films on hand right now, so I wasn’t able to check the actual credit sequences in the films. I was relying on the book I mentioned, which lists ALL of the inbetweeners. I assumed that was what was shown in the film credit sequences.

From what I can figure, from Wan Wan Chushingura onwards, you’re seeing the full inbetweener credits on the screen. The book I have lists 9 inbetweeners for Wan Wan Chushingura, whereas in contrast it lists 50+ inbetweeners for the previous six films (the first six films from Hakujaden to Wanpaku Ouji), so if as you say only a small number of inbetweeners are listed on the screen in the first six films, then you’re right, they weren’t credited for some reason, perhaps due to clutter or some bizarre whim on the part of Zenjiro Yamamoto. But from Wan Wan Chushingura onwards, I suspect you’re seeing the full inbetweener list. If the list is small, it’s just because they put less effort into it (Cyborg 009, Andersen, Wan Wan), or they didn’t need as many inbetweeners anymore to acheive the same fluidity (Horus, Animal Treasure Island). I’ve been able to check the original Japanese credit sequences in the film for Horus and Animal Treasure Island, and the inbetweener list matches what’s listed in the book.

11/04/11 @ 13:15
Marie [Visitor]

That’s indeed very interesting! May I ask what is the book you are refering to ? Is it where you found all the information you used for this article ?

08/07/12 @ 01:55
Ben [Member]  

The book with the credits I was talking about is 東映動画 長編アニメ大全集 上巻. Other info came mostly from Yasuo Otsuka’s books plus a few other sources.

08/12/12 @ 22:00