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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Tuesday, February 7, 2006

11:20:02 pm , 1555 words, 4257 views     Categories: Animation, Animator, Yoshinori Kanada

The Kanada School

As I was watching ep 60 of Urusei Yatsura to see the Masahito Yamashita part, at one point I was taken by the strange feeling that I was watching Lupin. Not so much because of the fact that the scene in question was an obvious parody of the clock tower scene, but because the animation felt like it could only have been done by a Telecom animator. It turns out it was the work of Toshio Yamauchi. They went to the effort of getting an animator who had worked on Cagliostro to animate a clock tower parody. Now that is dedication.

Yamauchi seems to have started out at Oh Production along with Kazuhide Tomonaga. His first job I can find is Jacky at Nippon Animation in 1977, after which he did some New Lupin and the first movie before working on every episode of Conan after 8 in 1978. Both of them transferred to Telecom sometime after this, where they worked on Cagliostro in 1979, the Miyazaki Lupin episodes in 1980, Jarinko Chie in 1981 and finally Holmes in 1982. Finally around 1983 several Telecom people including Yamauchi and Tsukasa Tannai transferred to Gallop, from where Yamauchi later worked on Grave of the Fireflies and Tannai on several Ghibli films. I suppose it would have been after Holmes that he worked on the TV Urusei episodes. He and Tsukasa were also in the second film in 1984.

Yamauchi was also one of the other two animators in Yamashita Masahito's famous library episode, of which Oshii provided an encore performance in his Beautiful Dreamer film. I remember Shinya Ohira saying that he saw the episode on TV when it first aired and almost choked on his dinner, and it was one of the episodes that influenced his development as an animator. Seen today I think it can be hard to appreciate Yamashita's early work, but if you project yourself into the dominant style of the period you can imagine the shock that Yamashita's deranged drawings and aberrant timing must have had on fans. It's hard to imagine what he must have been thinking when he drew that animation. In any case, it was a most curious thing to see the work of a Telecom animator side by side with that of Yamashita Masahito. I suppose you could compare it to the impact of seeing Ohira's scene in Spirited Away - it's two completely different ways of visualizing movement placed side by side. If you can posit an Otsuka school, which there isn't really, then Yamauchi belongs there, and Yamashita belongs to what you could call the Kanada school.

Masahito Yamashita is the most famous animator to have developed under the influence of Yoshinori Kanada (happy birthday), the animator active throughout the 1970s who came up with an original style all his own that combined strange posing, exaggerated perspective and an original and more dynamic approach to timing. Yamashita became interested in animation in part due to the influence of having seen Kanada's work on TV. In an age before VHS, it's a tribute to Yamashita's determination and curiosity about the art of animation that he took the initiative of filming animated films in theaters using a handheld video camera in order to be able to study it and figure out how it was made. Perhaps it's this bootstraps approach to learning animation that led to Yamashita's very personal and intuitive approach. Indeed, the work we see in his early years feels similar in spirit to work of gif-animators-turned-pros like Ryochimo in Noein who we can see appearing today. The internet has replaced the grassroots con movement that created that sort of fan ferment.

After Kanada influenced the generation of the 70s, then, Yamashita in turn influenced a whole new generation of folks, but ironically over the years he did a 180 and mostly abandoned the indiosyncratic style that had characterized his early work and attracted fans. Probably a lot of that had to do with pressure, as I'm sure there are some directors who didn't appreciate their animators changing their storyboards and designs and overanimating shots into the red. When Ohira started out he was something of a Yamashita epigone, but similarly found pressure on him to abandon that style, which is what led to him discovering his own.

Yamashita himself staged his debut as a key animator at the precocious age of 18 after a few months as an overimaginative inbetweener filling in the spaces with movements the key animators hadn't indicated. This was in 1980 at Studio No 1, a studio Yoshinori Kanada was involved in. After working there for about a year he left with Hirokazu Ochi to form his own studio, Studio Oz, in 1981, to work on Urusei Yatsura. The "studio" was in fact simply a room where the five animators/friends worked together, not necessarily on the same projects. Studio Hercules, which recently handled a large portion of the work on Basilisk, is a contemporary equivalent - not really a studio in the traditional sense but rather a handful of freelance animators with a similar mindset who work together in the same space, often not even on the same project.

Other animators at Oz included Shinbo Akiyuki (!) and Shinsaku Kozuma. They changed their name to Studio Tome (an ironic title meaning the ubiquitous "still") after they were getting too many phone calls mistaking them for another studio with the same name, and finally formed an actual company called One Pattern in 1984, where Yamashita worked for several years before joining Yoshinori Kanada's Studio Nonmaruto in 1989, rejoining many of the people he'd worked with at Studio No 1 years before. The studio actually took over the space that had up until that point been occupied by Studio 4°C, which had presumably just moved to its present location.

Another "studio" formed around this time was Kaname Production, the studio most famous for producing Birth. The studio was formed by seven young people who left Ashi Production in 1982, and worked on the animation of various shows until 1983 when they produced their own show, Plawres Sanshiro, which featured work by Kanada and Shinsaku Kozuma. The next year Kozuma worked as an animator on Kanada's Birth alongside Yamashita Masahito and Hideki Tamura, another animator who was making a name for himself at the time pushing the Kanada style in new directions. Both Kozuma and Tamura then worked on Kaname's Leda in 1985, and in 1986 Tamura did the piece that perhaps best encapsulates his approach, the opening of Prefectural Earth Defense Force. The same year Kozuma created his own summum opus in the opening of Toei's Ikkiman. A great later piece by Kozuma, and the piece that introduced me to his work, is his animation in episode 54 of Yu Yu Hakusho in 1993, where he worked under ex-Studio Oz comrade Shinbo Akiyuki.

A decade later we can still find people carrying on the style, like Keisuke Watabe, who worked at Studio Z5 for some years in the early 90s before forming his own "studio", Studio Hercules. Studio Z5 was formed in 1980 by two people who had learned the ropes inbetweening Yoshinori Kanada's keys at Studio Z - Hajime Kamegaki and Satoshi Hirayama - together with Hideyuki Hashimoto, and was one of the more famous of these small collectives/"studios" active in the 80s, working on shows like Goshogun, Baldios and Cat's Eye. After being involved in shows like Tetsujin 28 FX, Zenki, Tottemo Lucky Man (with an op by Kanada) and Ray Earth, in 1995 Watabe did some work on Idol Project, including the animation near the end of the opening, that is among his more characteristic.

That same year Hiroyuki Imaishi debuted as an animator on Evangelion, and after a whirlwind development directed his first feature film 8 years later, inviting Watabe and other like-minded animators from all over the place to take part, including... Yamashita, which brings us back full circle. Imaishi, of course, also animated the recent opening of the Musashi game storyboarded/directed by Yoshinori Kanada. So in a way the "school", which is not really a school but more a mindset, is very much still alive.

The concept can be a hard one to define, but if the Telecom school would favor a more stable form, even frame rates and realistic treatment of weight and effects, the Kanada school would favor deformation, unusual frame rates and flashy, geometric effects liberally used. Obviously not every animator is going to have the same approach, as everyone is an individual and an aggregation of influences - many seemingly Kaneda-school animators were just as influenced by Kazuhide Tomonaga, to say nothing of the plethora of other animation out there in the world - and the style has infiltrated the vocabulary of anime to such a degree that almost everyone could be called a Kaneda-school animator to an extent. You can see Kaneda touches almost everywhere now. An upside to the overproliferation of programs right now is that the sheer volume seems to give young animators room to play a little, and there are still people appearing on the scene who seem to be carrying on that playful spirit.

Though this is merely a rushed and far from a complete overview, and there are surely a lot of other people who have made their own contribution to the development of the style, hopefully this gives a sense of the interconnections.

Filmographies: Yoshinori Kanada / Masahito Yamashita / Hiroyuki Imaishi

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7 comments

Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Overwhelming. Where on EARTH do you get all this information? This is really awesome. Needless to say, thank you very much. The bits about how various animators started their own ’studios’ and moved here and there really interest me.

02/08/06 @ 01:03
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

oh, and sorry to be rather offtopic, but there’s a bit of Matsumoto in Noein 17 (the fight scene). It’s worth watching for sure.

02/09/06 @ 19:28
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Thanks for the nice words. I checked 17 out and it’s great. One thing I noticed was that the placement of the 2gen in the credits and the look of the drawings would seem to suggest that only Matsumoto’s part was 2gen’d, which is interesting.

02/10/06 @ 00:31
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Well actually I was serious about wanting to know where you find out this stuff, but maybe it’s a trade secret sort of thing… ;)

I wonder if you have seen this particular section of Eureka #35 with this really exciting battle animation… moving background and all, it’s quite impressive although short. I wonder who did it… can’t be Seiichi Hashimoto I guess.

02/12/06 @ 01:48
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Really it comes from all over the place. Bits and pieces here and there. Mostly the internet, but also books and magazines I’ve gathered over the years. And a lot of it is just stuff I’ve figured out by myself by remembering names and using my own two eyes to put two and two together.

Oddly enough, I had the episode but hadn’t watched it. Thanks for mentioning it. The first shot with the missiles and the tower at 7:08 is by Soichiro Matsuda, whom I remember from his work in Futakoi Alternative. The second shot at 7:16 is by… someone who’s not credited. It kind of looks like Chikashi Kubota to me. Wonderful work.

02/12/06 @ 10:05
drmecha
drmecha [Visitor]  

In the episode 52 of Urusei Yatsura in the scene animated by Yamashita (persecution) appears in a segment of repetitive cicle a “OZ” poster (of Studio OZ of Yamashita in these years).

07/26/07 @ 17:28
drmecha
drmecha [Visitor]  

Hideki Tamura is a great animator and designer. I try to find and buy all the illustrations. But it is very hard to find. Its form is obviously encourage Kaneda influenced as much by Yamashita. I love the silhouette of your artworks, with a colorful and eyes similar to Michitaka Kikuchi (with whom he worked at Studio CAM between 1986 and 1989 if no error). But unfortunately Tamura left the animation and ran to the videogame industry in game designing company named Success, especially the memorable game “100%Cotton” for PCE and Megadrive.
Most of his illustrations came in fanzines and some VHS and CD covers of OVAs where she was a character designer (as Le-Dius, Fandora OVA 1 and Madox-01). If anyone is interested I have the complete list of his works.

06/29/10 @ 09:39