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Category: Yoshinori Kanada

Sunday, September 8, 2013

10:39:00 pm , 726 words, 3446 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Yoshinori Kanada

Ippatsu Hicchuu!! Devander

Tatsunoko released a TV-episode-length one-shot OVA called Ippatsu Hicchuu!! Devander at the end of last year to mark their 50th anniversary. It was headlined by two figures who have been mainstays of Tatsunoko since their founding: Director Hiroshi Sasagawa and mecha designer Kunio Okawara.

It's a gag sci-fi mecha action show for kids in the spirit of their Time Bokan series. It exhibits the same outlandish concept and over-the-top, tasteless design sensibility as those shows, with the horse mecha and silly hero suit complete with spurs, and the whole concept of the hero having to pedal the mechanical horse to get a new lotto ball out that turns into a robot to fight the enemy mecha.

It references their past work and features brief cameos by a number of well-known Tatsunoko characters like Hakushon Daimao and Kerokko Demetan - and even the studio's own mascot, the sea horse or baby dragon. It would be an uninteresting, self-serving trifle of an advertisement for the studio it weren't for the quality of the production.

Jun Arai acted as the mecha sakkan, and he turned the show into an all-out bash of Kanada-school mecha action and effects. Most of the smoke and other assorted effects scream his hand, while an array of well-known Kanada-school animators or otherwise talented mecha animators fill out the mecha animation and make it interesting at every moment.

山下将仁
Masahito Yamashita
橋本敬史
Takashi Hashimoto
大張正己
Masami Obari
城前龍治
Ryuji Shiromae
鈴木勤
Tsutomu Suzuki
柿田英樹
Hideki Kakita
三日月顯太朗
Kentaro Mikazuki
山本裕介
Yusuke Yamamoto
工原しげき
Shigeki Kuhara
新井淳
Jun Arai
松尾慎
Shin Matsuo

Most of these names need no introduction. They've been mainstays of mecha shows for decades. Amazing to see Masahito Yamashita still working on the front lines in a show like this more than 30 years since he drew his most famous bits that made him a legend as the #1 Kanada-school animator in the early 80s. I thought I saw a scene with the 'Yamashita run' and wondered who could be imitating him. It was most likely the man himself.

The more realistic explosions near the end were presumably courtesy of Takashi Hashimoto and Hideki Kakita, who actually aren't very Kanada school at all. The only one that seems out of place is Yusuke Yamamoto, since he's a director. The other mystery is Kentaro Mikazuki - obviously a pen name.

Shin Matsuo was the line director as well as co-storyboarder. I remember him primarily for KO Century Beast, one of the shows that got me into anime back in the day, with its zany, cartoonish sensibility and hyper-deformed designs. His work isn't always identifiable to me, but when he shifts gears into Kanada mode, it's quite obvious what he's trying to do.

The main mystery is why they chose this style for this show. Yoshinori Kanada was never a name associated with Tatsunoko's animation. In fact, he seemed to represent the diametric opposite of what Tatsunoko animation stood for. Happenstance seems to have led to this pairing, but I find it bizarre that for their 50th anniversary they go with this style, as much as I enjoy getting the opportunity to see 25 minutes of nice animation by talented animators. Well, I won't look the gift mecha horse in the mouth.

The Kanada school has gone through many phases, and if Arai's work is any indication, it is now in its decadent phase. It's all carefully polished stylization, where the master was all about dynamism at the expense of polish. The style is just what resulted; it wasn't the goal. Miyazaki's words from 30 years ago about the man and his imitators still ring true today. To be fair, this isn't a new trend. Yamashita Masahito and the 80s followers were the ones who first pushed Kanada's stylization to its decadent extreme, with geometrical smoke and insanely detailed shadows. Arai just updates the tradition. It's not unpleasant to watch. It's just predictable. It was fun back then because it was like they were sneaking it in.

The opening in particular felt like they were deliberately trying to imitate how Kanada might have done it. I know it sounds weird to say that, since the whole show seems Kanada inspired, but it's as if they weren't just doing Kanada-school animation but actually rendering an homage to the man himself with the opening. Maybe that's because it was storyboarded by Masahito Yamashita. It additionally featured a few other nice names: Yoshimichi Kameda, Yasuhiro Seo, Shingo Fujii, Morifumi Naka.

Friday, August 21, 2009

03:13:00 pm , 1896 words, 4616 views     Categories: Animation, Translation, Yoshinori Kanada

Miyazaki on Kanada

By some lucky stroke, yesterday as I was browsing through a Japanese second-hand book shop, I found a copy of the "Yoshinori Kanada Special" book that was published in 1982 by Tokuma Shoten. It's undoubtedly the single best book published on Yoshinori Kanada, and probably among the better anywhere on a single animator. It is jam-packed with Yoshinori Kanada's awesome, loose, free drawings, which are massively invigorating to look at. I find the freedom of his drawings not only appealing, but liberating. It's the same feeling I get from his animation. I hope that there will be an updated and expanded version of this book published soon, supplementing the coverage of his first 12 years in this book with the last 25 years of his career. This book was published before Birth was released in 1984, and contains a lot of conceptual sketches for the film, as well as scads of genga from all of his most important work up until then. Also, I love the tag-line: Now, The Super-Hero "IKO" Shoots Your Anime-Spirit!

There's an essay by Hayao Miyazaki about Kanada at the end. Kanada had never worked for Miyazaki at this time, but was to do so soon on Nausicaa, for reasons that will become obvious below. I like how throughout his career Miyazaki regularly picked out great new animators outside of his circle of connections like Kanada, and more recently Ohira - both animators who stylistically hardly seem suited to a Miyazaki film - and invited them to work on his films, utilizing their skill as animators while allowing them to do work that preserved their individuality to an extent. Anyway, here's my translation. It's quite old, I know, but most of the things he says remain relevant and insightful about Kanada and about animators in general. His imaginary reconstruction of Kanada's development is quite perceptive and continues to apply today to many animators. Miyazaki himself, after all, must have gone through much the same process.


He's been true to himself throughout his work. - Hayao Miyazaki

Around the time we were wrapping on Cagliostro's Castle, I remember one day Tomonaga Kazuhide coming up to me and saying how he thought "This Kanada guy at Z is really good". It wasn't long after that at a get-together somewhere that I first laid eyes on Kanada ("met" isn't the right term). As I watched him go-go dancing amid the fracas of youthful animators letting loose, I thought to myself, "Now this guy is the real thing."

I already suspected him to be the "real thing" for being able to incite such barely concealed respect-combined-with-rivalry in an animator as grounded and professional as Kazuhide Tomonaga, but the way he shook his booty with zealous abandon that night only confirmed my suspicions. All of the great animators I know have some kind of behavioral quirk that sets them apart. With Yasuji Mori it's his subtle wit. Yasuo Otsuka is great at doing impressions of people (he does a good Hirohito - one of these days he's going to get killed by some right-winger). Watch out when Kotabe Yoichi gets drunk, ladies... etc.

So I was convinced that Yoshinori Kanada had to be a good animator. We met a few times after that at various get-togethers, but never really got a good chance to talk, apart from one phone conversation where I did most of the talking. I'd never even really had a good look at his work. Yet I was determined to work with him some day. I made the mistake of saying that aloud one day, which is why I was asked to write this essay. Try as I might to squirm out of it, I got tired of fighting off the repeated video education sessions and decided to give it a go, accepting that what I say here might be way off the mark.

I have no intention of trying to analyze or critique his work. For one, I've never worked with him, and for two, he's obviously doing something that people today feel is relevant, so it's not my place to stand on a pedestal and talk down to him. The only thing I know for sure is that he's a person who seems to have been true to himself throughout his work. I like animators like that.

What does it mean to be a real animator? It's a hard concept to define, and defining it would probably be meaningless. I'm sure there are plenty of talented people I've never heard of, and I'm sure there are new ones developing this very moment.

But if we narrow it down to animators who are able to create animation whose drawings and movement (including their sense of timing) feels good as animation - then the number becomes much smaller. Yoshinori Kanada is one of the few animators who can create that kind of animation.

It's easy to imagine why his unique brand of explosions and wild action has bred a league of followers. But that unique feeling in his work can't be achieved by simply copying a template pattern, as will undoubtedly be illustrated by the stale and stultified feeling of battle scenes drawn by his imitators.

The work of a great animator can only be drawn by that animator. Every element of a piece of animation - in other words, the technique providing the foundation for that piece of animation - is the product of the innate sensibility of that particular animator, which is something unique to that animator.

Very few animators have a firm grasp of how weight, momentum and acceleration affect the properties of objects, and are able to instinctively visualize in their heads how a movement might play out in space. Even fewer are able to not only do this, but go beyond logic, integrating physics with instinct to create animation that can't be explained but that simply works in the eyes of the viewers. The ability to create animation that works comes from first achieving mastery of how the laws of physics such as weight and momentum work, and then going beyond those rules - saying to yourself, "Drawing it this way would feel better", and drawing it based on that feeling. It's a mistake to think that his style can be mimicked simply by surface imitation of his crazy poses and rough drawings.

Gatchaman, for example - sorry to name names - certainly impressed with its various innovations, but in terms of the movement turned out to be a classic example of how, no matter how many quick movements or cuts you might string together, the movement simply doesn't feel good or even convincing if it completely ignores the laws of physics.

You've just started out as an animator. Suddenly you have to draw your first genga. You don't know what to do. You're worried, you're afraid. But you tough it out and just draw. Eventually, you don't know why, but you stat to get a sense for how to do it. You start to get little ideas for how to make a movement interesting in this or that scene in the storyboard. Then you start changing the storyboard. At first it's subtle, but it gradually becomes more prominent. Sometimes the director agrees, other times you have to muscle your idea through. Sometimes what you tried doesn't work and you come out with egg on your face. But you just can't hold back this uncontrollable urge to draw things the way you want.

Eventually, the scenes you animated start to stick out from the other sequences, standing apart for how much more lively and individualistic they look and feel. People start to be able to guess what part you did. Your courage starts to build. Usually with this kind of animator, the characters are way off model. Even if he drew the character designs, they're still way off model. You start to notice that, even when you think you drew a character close enough to model, for some reason other people seem to think it's way off. But you don't let it get you down.

Then you're given the chance to handle a whole episode in a TV series. The episode winds up looking nothing like the rest of the episodes, but it's interesting, so you don't let it undermine your newfound confidence.

You give sakkan'ing a shot, but you realize that you're not cut out for it. All it does is make you want to re-draw everything in your own style. You couldn't do that day in and day out, for one, but more importantly, you want to spend all your time drawing movement that you're satisfied with, not correcting other people's drawings. But sakkan's are at the top of the ladder in the animation industry, so you feel torn. You start to feel troubled by how in magazines and the like even the best animation work winds up being attributed to the director or to the animation director, or even to the original creator.

You start to find that you can predict how a piece of animation will turn out if it's drawn this way or that way. And yet, the more this feeling grows, the more you begin to feel a growing emptiness inside.

You take part in some big name projects. You decide to lay aside your issues with the structure or the storyboard or the subject of the film, and just make your part the best you can make it. Your work even receives recognition as a result. You feel like you've achieved something. Another part of you, though, begins to wonder if it's enough to simply chug along as a cog in the wheel. You begin to awaken to what it really is that you want to express as a creator.

If I may be so bold, that is the kind of animator I imagine Yoshinori Kanada to be.

The work of Yoshinori Kanada and Kazuhide Tomonaga on the Galaxy Express 999 movie (viz) was characterized in some corners as a victory for contract animators. But the issue of contract vs. in-house is beside the point. What's really happening is that a new generation of animators is replacing the old. That's all. The problems faced by the new generation of animators are otherwise the same. If some in-house animator someplace lords their sense of superiority over you, they're not deserving of respect anyway, so just leave and go somewhere else.

When the youthful days of experimentation are past, and you've accumulated experience, and it's time to build on that experience, what kind of projects you will encounter and what kind of people you'll work with will unfortunately remain largely up to chance. But it is also undeniable that what work comes your way will be partially dictated by the kind of work you've done up until now. As we head out of this 'anime boom' towards the age of mass consumption of anime, I imagine that not only Yoshinori Kanada, but also many other animators with talent, ambition and endurance, must be holding out hope that they will encounter work that is truly meaningful. I hope sincerely that they will encounter such work.

I'd very much like to work with him, but so far the opportunity to offer him a job hasn't presented itself. I know how hard it can be to be picky about work without losing heart. I hope he takes care of himself and perseveres.

Monday, August 10, 2009

12:25:25 pm , 324 words, 932 views     Categories: Animation, Yoshinori Kanada

Hommage à Kanada-san

For anyone who can read French, I wanted to point out a nice homage to Yoshinori Kanada just posted by Manuloz on his anime news web site Manganimation.net. There were a lot of things written about Kanada when the news hit the net that he'd died, but I find that very few people seemed to really understand who Yoshinori Kanada was as an animator, and where his true importance lay. Manuloz's article does an admirable job of providing an overview of Kanada's history, which can be a challenging thing to do due to the man's seemingly incessant studio-hopping. I should try to do a similar write-up in the future so that there's a comprehensive overview available in English, too.

In the years to come we'll surely see some text written about Kanada's history, influence and importance in Japanese, but hopefully in English too. His legacy lives on like that of no other animator today. There was a lot of imitation of Kanada-san in the 80s, which in the 90s seemed to diminish a little. In the 2000's, especially in the last few years, it feels like we've seen a resurgence of the style. History often has this kind of cyclic character. What exactly is it about Kanada's brand of playful animation that seems to attract young animators today more than ever? That would be an interesting topic on which to ruminate. Every season I'll see at least a few shots by some brash young animators having fun with the TV animation that reminds me of the kind of animation Kanada was doing back in the late 70s, some of it being pure imitation, some of the more memorable being work trying to develop its own voice much in the way Kanada was doing back then. Maybe that's the secret. Kanada's mindset as an animator seems particularly well suited to permitting young animators to both have fun and attempt to express their budding individuality.

Monday, July 27, 2009

02:45:44 pm , 443 words, 954 views     Categories: Animation, Yoshinori Kanada

More Kanada

As people digest the news, we're seeing more posts and things about Yoshinori Kanada's recent passing, and as I expected, that includes more videos being uploaded covering his work. A nice new video was just uploaded containing extended clips from five key series Kanada worked on in the late 70s, in chronological order: a clip from an episode of Gaiking (1976), a clip from the same episode of Zambot 3 (1977) I mentioned yesterday, a clip from ep 2 of Daitarn 3 (1978), and a longer and better-quality clip from the ep of Don De La Mancha (1980) that I linked. It gives a good slice of some of his best work of this period, and shows his evolution over the years towards even freer forms and richer and wilder movement. One example is the background animation. Birth is rightly famous for its scads of lively background animation. In this sequence of clips you gradually see background animation becoming more and more prominent, culminating with the full-fledged background animation of Don De La Mancha. It wasn't long after this that Urusei Yatsura began broadcasting, and a young Masahito Yamashita picked up Kanada's torch and created some of the wildest background animation sequences of this era. Kanada was probably one of the first ones to make an art of background animation, to turn a background animation sequence into a platform for showing off his animation skills, and to really go crazy with the animation. You feel watching the sequence that he was having as much fun animating it as it is for us to watch. I also like that the clip covers just the TV work he did over this period, as I find Kanada's work more lively in the TV format. His movie work is good in that it's more worked, but it's also more constrained and less spontaneous.

Someone also uploaded the Kanada episode of the NHK TV program Anime Yawa, which is great if you understand Japanese. (no subs) Guests include Takashi Murakami and Hiroyuki Kitakubo. Takashi Murakami talks about Kanada's influence on him, showing one of his art books in which stills from Kanada's work are juxtaposed side-by-side with Murakami's paintings. I like Murakami's positing that single stills of Kanada's intricately gnarled fire dragon or other effects can be taken apart and still stand on their own legs for their abstract beauty and the latent energy they emanate. That's an aspect that seems to have been inherited, consciously or not, by animators like Shinya Ohira - the compelling paradox of animation that is beautiful art in motion as well as frame-by-frame (in an abstract sense quite apart from the question of resemblance to a deliberately designed character).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

11:59:01 pm , 785 words, 1861 views     Categories: Animation, Yoshinori Kanada

Kanada's Zambot 3

Zambot 3 is a classic example of a decent series dragged down by bad animation. It's easily the worst animated of the classic Yoshiyuki Tomino shows. And yet, it rises above the shoddy drawings and movement to be one of his best pieces due to the good directing, hard-edged story and surprise ending, which were a milestone in the day and certainly influenced a a number of popular shows in later years. It's not that I blame the animators, although many of them probably weren't that talented. None of the episodes had an animation director (sakkan), and many of them were drawn by a single person, presumably in about two hours. The series has some touchingly dramatic moments thanks to Tomino's storyboard, but their impact is unfortunately lessened by the crude animation.

Standing out dramatically amongst this cavalcade of botchery are the episodes with animation by Yoshinori Kanada - 5, 10, 16 and 22. The most notable of these in terms of the animation, among other reasons, is episode 16, the infamous "human bomb" episode, which is still shocking even seen today. If you only see one episode, it should be episode 16, because it was only animated by two people - Yoshinori Kanada and Kazuo Tomisawa - whereas these two are joined by Osamu Nabeshima and Masakatsu Iijima in the other episodes. It's the episode with the most distilled essence of Kanada in the series, or of anything I've seen by Kanada from this period. (his work on Gaiking from a year earlier in 1976 is also among his best and worth checking out)

Kazuo Tomisawa had worked as an inbetweener on an episode of Dokonjo Gaeru with key animation by Kanada a year or two before. The credits in Zambot only say "animation", without splitting it into key and inbetween, so I'm not sure what the breakdown is - whether Kanada drew the keys and Tomisawa inbetweened, or they both just drew straight animation - but I'm willing to bet that it's more the former, because the episode looks and feels like it was entirely drawn by Kanada.

This episode is one of the best episodes to watch to get a sense of what Kanada's style was like in the mid-70s period, when he was already starting to develop his personal style and really having fun with the TV work, but hadn't quite reached full maturity. The drawings are rough and quick like most episodes, as befitting uncorrected animation, but the facial expressions and poses are always rendered skilfully rather than sloppily as in other episodes, and more than anything, there's lots of fun little movements and gags littered everywhere.

This episode happens to contain one of my favorite sequences of animation by Kanada - this one. I love this sequence because of its combination of dynamic action with bold line work and quick cutting. The timing and choreography of the movement here shows what it was that set Kanada apart from the other animators of his day. He had an instinct for creating motion that felt exciting to watch, and his animation communicates expressly via movement and drawing. His movements and drawings were always doing something, and were a delight to watch, even when they weren't particularly highly worked. Kanada could do a really quick and sloppy drawing that felt spot-on and was absolutely hilarious. Most animators in TV anime in the 70s used limited repeats and jumps of the kind that Kanada uses, but none of them quite seemed to know how to make them interesting and fun until Kanada showed the way.

It's instructive to compare the movement and drawings of this episode with the other episodes. It will show you immediately what I'm talking about. You don't see the characters in the other episodes making the kind of amusing faces and little movements you see them doing here. An example is this shot of the robot swinging the sword, in which he inserts lots of drawings with a zippy timing that makes it fun to watch and interesting as animation, followed by a funny pregnant pause before the laser swats him away. It's a world apart from the stiff, boring animation of the robot battles in the rest of the series. It's an innocuous shot, but it distills the essence of Kanada's innovation - the attitude of having fun with the work, and of turning what many animators seemed to treat as rote drudgery of having to churn out TV animation quickly and badly into an opportunity for personal expression and fun. Kanada showed that even limited animation could be an art form. Kanada's masterful manipulation of timing and drawing developed over the course of the early 70s to me exemplifies Japan's unique contribution to animation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

08:48:52 am , 391 words, 2736 views     Categories: Animation, Yoshinori Kanada

Yoshinori Kanada passes away

It's a sad day for the world of animation. One of the best and most influential animators of the last 30 years in commercial Japanese animation has reportedly passed away at the age of 57. The news comes from Anido. I don't know how many times I've written about Yoshinori Kanada in these pages. It's not just that I loved his inimitable and delightful work; he was simply that important and influential, and anime would look and move differently today if he hadn't existed. He was really the linchpin figure of the last 30 years in many ways. So many people either became animators because of him or were influenced by him in anime, it's almost impossible to quantify who he influenced or in what way he was an influence. Something like Guren Lagan would be unthinkable without him. Aside from his influence, though, he wasn't just a historical relic. He was still putting out interesting pieces of animation every once in a while, and I was always happy in the knowledge that we could expect continue to see the occasional piece from him. Far from being a distant echo of his past work, he was continuing to develop his trademark style. In many ways, his work was better than ever, as witness the freewheeling awesomeness of the Hanjuku Eiyu 4 game opening. He had numerous very talented followers, but to me, Kanada was always #1. Nobody else could nail that style of animation like the man who invented it, and I never tired of watching his work, old or new. I'm deeply saddened by the thought that we'll never get to see another new piece of Kanada animation. RIP, Yoshinori Kanada.

Here are some related posts.

Karisuma Animators bio
Happy Birthday, Yoshinori Kanada
The Kanada School
Birth
Kanada revisits Gaiking

Here are some Youtube vids featuring his work:

Luckyman opening 1
Luckyman opening 2
Scenes by Kanada from the OVA Download
Hanjuku Eiyu 3D game opening
AMV for Kanada's magnum opus, Birth
Unusual line animation sequence from movie Talking Head
Kanada's animation from the climax of Genma Taisen
A half episode of Plawres Sanshiro by Kanada

On NicoVideo there are two videos collecting opening/ending sequences drawn by him (early ones in full, later ones obviously in part):
One
Two

And here's a short clip from one of Kanada's best pieces, episode 6 of Don De La Mancha.

Monday, July 17, 2006

09:43:10 pm , 434 words, 1798 views     Categories: Animation, Yoshinori Kanada, TV

Kanada revisits Gaiking

from Gaiking #21Yoshinori Kanada is back on TV again for the first time since ep 6 of the new Popolo Crois, which I wrote about long ago. This time he's Saburo Togakushi instead of Isuke Togakushi, and he's animated a bit at the end of the new op for Toei's Gaiking, a remake of one of their own classic giant robot show of the same name of 1976. It's not by chance. Kanada spent the 70s cutting his teeth on giant robot TV shows, and in fact he did a lot of animation throughout the original Gaiking that remains among his most well regarded work of his early period. Many of the animators who are now working on the new Gaiking count Kanada as one of their major influences, so it's full of meaning to have him here doing animation in this op now, exactly thirty years later.

Keisuke Watabe of Studio Hercules did some decidedly Kanada-esque animation recently in ep 28, and indeed the entire 'studio' was present in the ep. Ken Otsuka has been a major force behind the show as one of the mecha ADs, as he was on Bones' Eureka 7. He also storyboarded both 13 and 28.

Among the animators working on the show whom I wouldn't normally have associated with Kanada is Takaaki Yamashita, the man behind the animation side of most of Mamoru Hosoda's early work. After doing the book scene in 13, I noticed he was also in 21 and 28. 21 featured two minutes of excellent work at the end, and in 28 the main female enemy seems to have been animated by the same person throughout, judging by the style, and I have to wonder if Yamashita wasn't the one behind these sections. Or perhaps his protege, Tatsuzo Nishita. I've never associated Yamashita with such vigorous movement, so I can't be sure, but the level of minute detail put into the movement where first Gaiking's hand and then body breaks through the wall of stone, pictured above, was thrilling and the work of a great animator trained in the sort of through-conceived movement I associate with Yamashita and with none of the other animators listed here. Also, the loose, slightly wobbly lines are something I associate with Yamashita. The whole section was quite nice. The last half of 28 was also quite nice overall. It was like the Hercules version of ep 13.

Mitsuru Obunai was among the members credited under Studio Hercules, though I'm a bit confused as to his present location, since he's currently acting as the main animator on UFO Table's new show Coyote Ragtime Show, where he's done some good through brief work so far.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

11:20:02 pm , 1555 words, 4209 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

Friday, May 20, 2005

09:40:33 pm , 933 words, 1669 views     Categories: Animation, Movie, Yoshinori Kanada

Birth

I've been playing catch-up lately. First I was ten years behind on Banipal Witt, and now I've seen the masterpiece from a decade earlier of that other karisuma star of the 80s, Yoshinori Kanada - Birth. Everything I've heard was right and wrong at the same time. It was the insane, nonstop freewheeling extravaganza that everybody said it was, and at the same time I felt they overstated the story problems. Admittedly it's oddly shaped, but as it stands it's an incredible piece like no other from that generation. I felt that in its way it's perfect as it is.

I don't even know where to begin but to say that I haven't been so constantly thrilled by almost every shot of animation in a film since perhaps Dead Leaves or, in a different sense, Mind Game. Because DL is the apt comparison. Birth was the aptly titled mother of DL. It's hard to succinctly verbalize what it is that makes the animation that Kanada developed so unique, but basically it's all about the thrill of animation, of movement, of soaring through the air, animated backgrounds, of packing in as many interesting ideas into every frame as possible, of constantly moving everything on the screen, of messing with the frame rate to make interesting effects, exercising absolute freedom with the shape of the characters, ignoring gravity. He was the one who taught us that thrill. The 80s may well have been the golden age of animated backgrounds in Japan. Three years later Shinya Ohira did that Captain Power video game, which is essentially 30 minutes of nonstop background/FX animation. But something lacking in the latter is the wonderful feeling of momentum in the earlier film. Another film that came to mind was the Fuma Lupin - yes, the famous car chase, which I thought could never be topped.

Even moreso than in DL in Birth I felt like I caught every single solitary animator baton touch, even though I don't know the styles of all the folks in the film so I wasn't able to say who did what except for the probably unmistakable salad sequence by Masahito Yamashita, and yes indeed, that was some good Yamashita. There's something to be said for youthfulness in animation, for not knowing that you're not supposed to draw that way. It's sad that Yamashita has learned that now.

The wonderful thing is, Kanada hasn't. More than 20 years after doing this film, Kanada is every bit as wild as he was then (as an animator), if not more. After trying his hand at some CG animation on the Final Fantasy movie, just to see how it was done and maybe broaden his horizons, it looks like the experience humbled him and he has come back full force to his hand-drawn home turf with a series of openings for console games in the last few years that are must-see to anyone who may have enjoyed follies like this and DL. In fact, he personally picked out Imaishi to animate/direct the opening for the recent Musashi game, after providing him with the storyboard, because he wanted someone who would play it fast and loose and have fun with the drawings. After sampling Imaishi's work over the last few years he knew he'd found his man, according to a recent interview.

This came just after Kanada had directed and animated the drawn part of the half-CG, half-hand-drawn opening for the Hanjuku Eiyu 3D game. And as if two Kanada openings in nearly as few years wasn't enough, the fourth volley of the Hanjuku game is coming out six days from now, with an opening (and ending!) done entirely by Kanada himself. Reportedly the production time for the opening - just the opening! - was eight months. He even drew the backgrounds himself. Very worth looking forward to.

But to get back to Birth, I was also impressed by the directing, and the handling of the sounds, for example the way the entire first ten minutes are almost wordless. You get the feeling he was out to remind people that animation is a visual form of communication, and not verbal, and at the same time you kind of also feel the influence of Nausicaa in that respect, which I suppose he must have done just before or perhaps during. For a film that is practically an 80-minute-long chase scene, the rhythm of the various sequences is amazingly tight and convincing. It doesn't flag. Most amazing of all is, of course, the animation. Another keyword here is playfulness. You really get the feeling of the animators playing around on this film. It's almost overwhelming if you're only used to seeing that sort of animation in small doses here and there, because almost every scene is full of that sort of playful spirit, with the posing, with the little jokes added here and there. They're always trying to come up with something.

And it doesn't feel forced, which is another thing I liked about the film. Particularly the humor, which had an understated quality I really liked. The muteness of the opening continues throughout the film to incredibly good effect, with the little dialogue there is witty and well-timed. Not having seen anything directed by Kanada before, I felt like I'd gotten my first true glimpse at the man as creator and not simply animator. It's a shame he hasn't done any more full-length features, or even short ones. But that's what I love about him, that he's been faithful to his first love without going to another, just like Toshiyuki Inoue.

Monday, February 7, 2005

05:09:10 pm , 767 words, 1950 views     Categories: Animation, Yoshinori Kanada

Happy Birthday, Yoshinori Kanada

If you were to try to pin down the single most famous animator working in commercial Japanese animation over the last thirty years, it'd probably be Yoshinori Kanada, who turned 53 on Saturday. In various ways he fits the bill - influence, uniqueness of style, consistent quality. Regardless of whether people have seen his work, they tend to know his name due to numerous factors including the fact that he's been active as an animator continuously for more than 30 years, during which time he's been regularly covered in animation magazines and talked about among fans because of his revolutionary and inimitable style. This is remarkable considering that he's been active almost exclusively as an animator. There's almost nobody else for whom the same could be said. His fame is based purely on his animation. He was one of the first animators to gain a degree of recognition in the late 70s/early 80s as a unique creator entirely on the basis of his work as an animator, thus paving the way for other 'karisuma animators' who appeared on the scene in the years that followed in the early 80s, including Takashi Nakamura, Yamashita Masahito and Ichiro Itano; and later figures like Takeshi Koike and Hiroyuki Imaishi. He's among the few karisumas who's been continuously active for that long without getting distracted by directing, and there's no sign of him letting up.

Over here the name Yoshinori Kanada will most likely be known more than anything because of the fact that artist Takashi Murakami has included stills of Kanada's work in films like Genma Taisen and Galaxy Express 999 at exhibitions of his artwork, citing his work as an influence. Otherwise there are probably few fans who have a real idea of who he is as an animator. The reason for this is probably quite simply that, despite his massive output, most of the shows on which he worked have not been shown over here, so people haven't had the chance to get to know his work, and to follow its stylistic evolution, the way fans over in Japan have. What is available often does not show him at his most idiosyncratic and interesting; he was the main animator in most of the 80s Ghibli films, but what we see in these films is the ruly, slick version of Kanada, rather than the wild and unruly Kanada of Genma Taisen. There are exceptions; you can see Kanada at his most idiosyncratic best in Genma Taisen and Galaxy Express 999, and Birth was recently released over here. But these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Among the other places one can sample Kanada at his best are the opening of the 1981 TV series Ginga Kifuu Braiger, various late 70s/early 80s TV series like Zambot 3 (5, 10, 16, 22) and Don de la Mancha (6), and the 1992 OVA Download. I particularly recommend the early work, where he was still working out his style. This is when his work felt at its most dynamic and free, as he was in the process of gradually discovering the patented style that makes him so unique, with its rough drawings, extreme perspective, crazy posing and unpredictable timing. His work at its most extreme hasn't lost any of its power to surprise and delight in the intervening 30 years, despite the fact that his style is probably the most imitated in anime. Most of it is pale imitation beside the real thing. Seeing his work helps to understand where the animation in Dead Leaves came from, which is among the first anime successfully based on the Kanada style. It didn't appear out of a void. In 1994 he created the opening for the TV series Tottemo! Lucky Man (coming to DVD in a few months). This is a good introduction to Kanada's work, because it's from his later period, when he had honed his style to perfection, with even more exciting acrobatic posing and extreme perspective dynamism than his early work. Two years ago he did the Popolo Crois episode 6 and opening for the game Hanjuku Eiyu, both among his most characteristic pieces. This year he did the opening for the continuation of that game, which reportedly is no disappointment and goes even further than the previous in pushing the envelope of his style. It's good to see that Kanada hasn't abandoned the personal approach of his youth, perhaps heartened by the appearance of other unruly animators obviously influenced by Kanada's style in recent years. He's less prolific now, but still among the most interesting animators in Japan, and his impressive body of work deserves to finally be appreciated among fans over here.