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Friday, September 25, 2015

05:54:00 pm , 4451 words, 10921 views     Categories: Studio: A Pro, Studio: Tokyo Movie, Studio: Oh Pro, Director: Isao Takahata, 1970s

Akado Suzunosuke

Hello world. I'm back again. Sorry for making a habit of disappearing. I thought I'd pick up where I left off by finishing a post I actually started about a year ago but never finished, about one of the classic Tokyo Movie/A Pro shows.

Akado Suzunosuke (1972-1973) is a bit of an oddity in the Tokyo Movie canon - neither cartoony gag comedy nor a spokon drama, but rather straight-up jidaigeki. Though not perfect, it holds up fairly well to viewing after all these years. It's a fun, if somewhat repetitive, rollicking samurai action adventure.

The production side benefits from work by luminaries like Yoshifumi Kondo, Osamu Dezaki and Hayao Miyazaki, albeit at an early stage in their development. The show is a product of the transitional years of the Mushi Pro/Toei Doga diaspora, when Tokyo Movie/A Pro captured many of these people briefly before they moved on to the gigs for which they're more well known.

Things often come in fads in anime - the sci-fi anime fad of the early 1960s gave way to the gag anime fad of the mid-1960s, which in turn gave way to the spokon fad of the late-1960s/early 1970s. Tokyo Movie is interesting for having originated some of those fads by taking a chance and doing something that went against the dominant style of the day at various junctures. Akado Suzunosuke is such a show, and was in fact quite popular and re-broadcast in Japan over the years, despite not having engendered as many copycats.

Based not on a popular manga of the day but rather an old manga from the 50s, everything about the show is a deliberate throwback, not just the samurai-era setting. The manga on which the anime is based was already old-fashioned when it was released in 1954. The manga was originally drawn by one Eiichi Fukui (and after his death Tsunayoshi Takeuchi) in a style that even in the day harked back to an earlier era of more simple storytelling, with six square panels a page, before Osamu Tezuka revolutionized things with his modernistic experimentation with narrative and paneling. So this anime is triply a throwback

The show's nostalgia factor is apparent right from the start with the show's opening theme, which opens with the big-eyed Suzunosuke striding down a country road. The naive, simple lyrics cheer Suzunosuke on and tell of his dreams to become Japan's best swordsman. The song is actually a children's choir version of the theme song from a 1957 radio drama of the manga released in the wake of the manga's popularity, written in the classic march style that was so popular in early 20th-century Japan right down to the war. (listen to the radio drama's theme song to see its similarity to the famous military gunkan march that makes an appearance in Grave of the Fireflies)

The radio drama adaptation of Akado Suzunosuke was such a huge hit that it was followed in short order by no less than 9 movies between 1957 and 1958, two TV series in 1957 alone, and possibly two other TV drama adaptations. Thus, although Tokyo Movie's version of 1973 was obviously aimed at children, it simultaneously must have played to the nostalgia of adults who would remember its story and theme song.

The 1957 TV adaptations paved the way for the advent of TV anime in a way that might not be immediately apparent - character toys and goods. Akado Suzunosuke was one of the first shows to be accompanied by a massive toy marketing campaign. That may have something to do with its surprising popularity. Shows like Tetsuwan Atom (and most later anime) would tap into that to help boost their popularity by synergy.

Tokyo Movie's Akado Suzunosuke wasn't the only nostalgia vehicle at the time. There appears to have been a kind of mini nostalgia boom in the early 1970s, with various old properties being brought back to life. It's possible that the idea to adapt the Akado Suzunosuke comic into animation was inspired by the 1972 revival anime adaption of the old hero show Gekko Kamen (1957) by the infamous Knack Studio.

In addition to being a jidaigeki, the show also functions as a hero show like Gekko Kamen, with Suzunosuke fighting his way up the ranks of the Kimento or Demon Mask Gang over the course of the show. On top of that, the show also functions as a spokon show, with Suzunosuke undergoing grueling training to master new techniques that will allow him to power up and defeat his increasingly skilled opponents. Thus, despite the different subject matter, Akado Suzunosuke is similar in spirit to the other Kajiwara Ikki spokon shows Tokyo Movie produced immediately before and after.

Cover of original manga (1954) / Poster for movie #4 (1957)

Akado Suzunosuke tells the story of a young man named Suzunosuke in bakumatsu-era Edo. As the theme song says, his goal is to become the greatest swordsman in Japan. His family name is Kinno, but his nickname is Akado after his red suit of protective kendo armor, passed down from his father. In the anime, the armor bears a bell insignia echoing his given name, but this appears to have been added in the anime version.

Suzunosuke was separated from his parents at a young age and raised in the countryside by a family friend. The anime skips this part and jumps right to Suzunosuke arriving in Edo to look for his parents and make his way in the world. He joins a dojo run by his father's friend and begins to learn kendo to follow in his father's footsteps. At the same time, he discovers a gang of bandits calling themselves the Kimento terrorizing Edo, and in his spare time sets about defeating them. This sets the series on its dual path: kendo supokon + jidaigeki hero show.

Just as the spokon shows are hardly purely realistic with the sports, Akado Suzunosuke is liberal with the swordplay. Suzunosuke must learn increasingly improbable waza that have him leaping 20 feet in the air and conjuring up whirlwinds to kill his enemies from across the room. His father was reportedly killed just before mastering the latter, the mythical "shinkugiri" or vacuum cut attack, so Suzunosuke's goal is to find his father's killer and master the shinkugiri attack. He'll need it in order to defeat the bosses of the Kimento.

The enemies fight back with fanciful and entertaining weapons - the first bad guy fires shuriken from his wooden leg. They play up the bakumatsu-era trappings by combining classic swordplay with western-inspired gadgetry. It's basically Japanese tradition valiantly fighting against takeover by the evil ways of the west.

This is a hero adventure in its purest form. The baddies are pure evil with no nuance or motivation, and all wear sneering oni mask to make their dispatch by the good guys impersonal. When the hero is trapped in a dungeon, how does the villain try to kill him? With a slowly descending spiked ceiling. Every fight is preceded by a lengthy introduction, and every line of dialogue by a bad guy is followed by a sinister laugh. There are exactly two women characters in the whole show: Sayuri, Suzunosuke's love interest, and his mother.

The show can't be divorced from its intended audience. When Suzunosuke becomes somewhat well known for his swordsmanship, the neighborhood kids play-fight in the streets pretending to be him and the Kimento. Those kids are the intended audience. Suzunosuke triumphs despite his small stature, and the message to the viewing audience is that they, too, can be heroes. The narrative was kept simple and Manichean no doubt to help kids project themselves onto the hero.

The show can grow a little tiresome and repetitive, as there really isn't much more to it than the baddie-of-the-week formula, but it remains entertaining to watch until the end, as they keep the narrative arc firmly in hand. The show has strong forward momentum from one episode to the next. The show also holds some surprises in store in terms of the animation and directing.

One curious thing about the re-release of this old show is that many of the episodes (at least episodes 9, 10, 12, 14 and 20) are censored. I know the word "kuso" in "kuso bozu" was censored in one episode, but I'm not sure exactly what words were deemed so offensive as to require being sacrificed to the PC gods on a home video release. I don't recall noticing any censorship on the DVD release of the much more potty-mouthed Dokonjo Gaeru from the same year. It's surprising that this should be deemed so offensive considering the far more extreme nature of many anime aired today.

The animation

"Murata-style BS" - self-reference by Oh Pro's Koichi Murata

The production side of things will be familiar from Koya no Shonen Isamu (1973-1974), which actually followed Suzunosuke in the same Monday 7 PM time slot on Fuji TV. The subcontractors that produced Suzunosuke are exactly the same, although the staffing is slightly different:

Oh Pro:Koichi Murata, Toshitsugu Saida, Satoshi Ohjima, Norio Shioyama
Junio:Takao Kosai, Tetsuo Imazawa
Mates:Koizumi Kenzo, Takashi Asakura, Akiko Hoshino, Michiko Takahashi, Shigeru Kogawa, Masafumi Kubota, Kazuyoshi Shimada, Akio Yoshihara
Neo Media:Keiichiro Kimura, Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
A Pro:Hideo Kawauchi, Hisatoshi Motoki, Yoshifumi Kondo, Nobuhide Toyokawa, Toshiyuki Honda, Tsutomu Tanaka, Eiichi Nakamura, Yuzo Aoki
Studio Z:Shingo Araki, Masami Abe, Satoshi Jingu, Yoshinori Kanada, Yukio Suzuki, Tsugefumi Nuno

The main difference is that most of the studios devoted more animators to Suzunosuke than to Isamu, with the exception of Neo Media and Junio. Yoshiyuki Momose was unfortunately not involved here because he went from working on Tensai Bakabon (1971-1972) to working on Dokonjo Gaeru (1972-1974). Junio's Minoru Maeda was still an inbetweener during Suzunosuke and was bumped up to key animation for Isamu. Perhaps most notably, Suzunosuke appears to be Yoshinori Kanada's first credited key animation. Of course, his style was obviously not developed at this point, so his work isn't identifiable.

Someone seems to have made a mistake and misspelled Kanada's (admittedly difficult to read) first name as Isuke 伊助 rather than Yoshinori 伊功. They apparently weren't very careful with the credits in this show, because Toshitsugu Saida 才田俊次 is also misspelled as Shun Saida 才田俊 in a few episodes.

Oh Pro is always playful about inserting references to themselves in the shows they worked on, and Suzunosuke is no exception, although overall I didn't spot as many in-jokes of this kind as in later shows. 80s shows were particularly rife with this sort of thing, but in the early 70s I don't think it was very common yet.

As far as stylistic differences between studios, all of the things I said for Isamu apply here as well. Oh Pro and A Pro deliver the quality work, Neo Media and Z deliver decent work, and Junio and Mates are mediocre. A young Yoshifumi Kondo did some of his earliest work on Suzunosuke. Episode 12 and 19 feature excellent drawings and action sequences presumably of his hand. Oh Pro's work unfortunately isn't nearly as good as it is in Isamu, perhaps because for the first two seasons Murata only does sakkaning without drawing key animation. I'm not sure why that is, but perhaps it's because he was busy working on Panda Kopanda over that period.

As for Neo Media, Keiichiro Kimura had just come from working on Tiger Mask over the last few years, so apparently he still had tigers in his blood, because all of the wolves he drew in episode 22 have what can only be described as tiger faces. As would be expected, the Neo Media episodes have some nice hustle in the movement. The running in particular is distinctive of Kimura.

The Mates episodes feature work by an animator named Shigeru Kogawa. This is the actual name of Tomonori Kogawa, who got his start at Mates before moving on to Tatsunoko and then founding his own studio, Bebow. He also worked on Lupin and Gamba's Adventure from Mates. The credits can be deceptive in anime in general and in particular in Suzunosuke, which is rife with misspellings or pen names or uncredited people.

The opening features a combination of new animation and bits taken from the show. There are two choice bits in the opening. The very first scene with Suzunosuke's rival shouting the show's catchphrase "Chokozaina kozome~ Na wo nanore!" is one of the best in the whole show with its gritty lines and dynamic movement. It feels like maybe the work of Yasuo Otsuka, who otherwise wasn't involved in the show. I wish we could have seen more action like this in the show. The shot later on of Suzunosuke falling into the water feels like Yoshifumi Kondo. He's animated similar sequences on several occasions, most notably one of the panda in Panda Kopanda struggling to hold his balance on the edge of water and finally falling in.

A Pro head Daikichiro Kusube is credited as Animation Supervisor for each episode, as he is on all of his supokon shows. In addition, Yoichi Kotabe is credited as assistant animation supervisor. These are separate from the sakkans for each episode, which always are from the subcontractor for that particular episode. Hence I'm guessing this means Kusube designed the main characters and "oversaw" the drawings (probably didn't do much correcting), while I'm guessing Kotabe designed and supervised the female characters. This would make sense, as these are exactly the same roles the two played on Toei's Kaze no Fujimaru (1964-1965) just before Kusube left to found his own studio. Kotabe had just joined A Pro in 1971 to work with Miyazaki and Takahata on Pippi, but wound up having to do other work instead, like this.

It's not entirely clear what Kotabe did in this capacity, but his style seems to jump out in the delicate drawings of the two female characters, so I'm left to assume he was the sakkan for those characters, superseding the subcontractor sakkan.

Mother in Akado Suzunosuke (1972) / Mother in Jarinko Chie (1981)

On the directing side of things, the series director is Shigetsugu Yoshida, the same as Isamu. Or more accurately, there is no actual series director credit in this show. The opening doesn't have any credits. All of the credits come in the ending. Shigetsugu Yoshida receives an "enshutsu" or episode director credit in each ending. I don't know whether this means his role evolved into a more supervisory one for the next show, or whether the credit merely evolved to more appropriately represent his role. The latter may be the case, as at the very least as late as 1974 on Heidi Isao Takahata was credited as the "enshutsu" of the whole show. Mushi Pro and Tatsunoko began using the "chief director" credit early on in the mid-60s, while Toei carried on with their tradition of having no chief director, only episode directors (who drew their own storyboards) until well into the 1970s. Tokyo Movie actually started out crediting a kantoku, and then reverted to enshutsu for a few years in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and began using the chief director credit in the early 1970s.

One of the most surprising faces in Suzunosuke is storyboarder Kuyo Sai, which is in fact one of the many pen names of Osamu Dezaki. Dezaki has some amusing pen names. This one is a homonym for "SA ikuyo" which means "Let's go". His other big pen name "Saki Makura" is meant to evoke "saki makkura" or "the future looks bleak". Dezaki's episodes aren't particularly identifiable as his style, but they do have a more dynamic feel to the pacing, with some of the more excitingly choreographed action sequences of the show. Many ex-Madhouse people worked at Tokyo Movie in the early 70s before (and even after) Madhouse was founded. Toshio Hirata even storyboarded a few episodes here.

But in terms of storyboarding/directing, it's the third season that is noteworthy and the highlight of the show. Shigetsugu Yoshida had just served as assistant director of Lupin III, on which Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata famously served as the "A Pro directing group". So it's less of a surprise to discover that Miyazaki and Takahata were brought on midway through Suzunosuke to oversee the show, although I'm not sure why. They never receive a credit for this. Hayao Miyazaki receives a storyboarding credit on episodes 26, 27 and 41, but that's all there is to outwardly indicate their involvement. But watching the show, it's clear they were involved much more heavily than this.

The first two seasons plod along on familiar ground, but starting around episode 22 with the introduction of Seidoki, the "Bronze Demon" baddie, the Miyazaki-ness gradually starts ramping up over the course of the next few episodes, finally leading into episode 26 storyboarded by Miyazaki himself. The next ten episodes or so unfold as one continuous arc that feels like pure Miyazaki/Takahata. And then, as abruptly as their presence made itself felt, they seem to disappear and the old show returns to the fore for the last season.

Their presence makes itself felt in many ways. Most notably, all of the baddies from Seidoki on feel of Miyazaki's hand, including bat-man Onigomori in episode 27 and beetle-head Oniarashi in episode 28. I'm not sure, but it feels like Miyazaki himself drew them in each episode. Of course, he never receives any key animation credit in the show, so this is all conjecture.

Miyazaki-isms in the third season

Seidoki is a classic Miyazaki character, and the showdown between Suzunosuke and Seidoki in episode 26 is one of the great unseen Miyazaki episodes in his filmography. It's an explosion of Miyazaki-ness.

Seidoki is a veritable Swiss army knife whose suit of armor is bursting with surprising killer gadgets, including rocket hands, springy shoes, buzzsaw shoulders, flare fingers, and retractable axe arms. The chase sequence in the first half of the episode is easily the highlight of the show. The animation feels like it was done by Miyazaki himself, but I can't be sure about that. Miyazaki was almost certainly involved in some manner in the animation, but Yoshifumi Kondo is credited as an animator in this episode, and he is quite good at zippy action of this kind, so it's equally possible he's responsible.

The funny thing is that, even in episodes where the drawings are otherwise not very good, the bad guys alone seem to bear his imprint, as if he stepped in to correct just the baddies in each ep. It's through the baddies that Miyazaki was best able to express his unbridled creativity. The bad guys have all the coolest toys.

Miyazaki loves to place action in the sky and under water, and this is one of the first places you can see these settings in his oeuvre. He pushes the boundaries of scientific plausibility to the limit for the bakumatsu period, with a bat-shaped rocket ship and a dragon-shaped submarine.

You can spot many things in his "hikidashi" or drawer that he would later pull out on different occasions, including retractable claws of a kind that would be seen in the Cagliostro assassins and the robot winch in Conan; riding a kite like in the first Lupin III show; and the main character performing the amazing acrobatic feat of leaping onto the wing of a plane in mid-flight like in Conan, not to mention falling through that wing like in Sherlock Hound. Episode 31 even features a Lupin lookalike.

But the most obvious Miyazaki-ism is perhaps the strong female lead in the form of Nagisa. Nagisa is a character who goes completely against the macho samurai ethos of this story, in which only male characters are allowed to be intelligent and strong and lead, so she is clearly a product of Miyazaki's intervention. She reminds simultaneously of Cathy in Animal Treasure Island as well as Monsley in Conan, who in addition to being strong female leads are characters who began as enemies and ended up as allies.

Nagisa in Akado Suzunosuke (1972) / Cathy in Animal Treasure Island (1971)

Even apart from the out-of-place character of Nagisa, all of the imaginative gadgetry and complex machinations of this arc set it apart from the rest of the show in a way that suggests it to have been wholly devised by M&T. The arc culminates in a pitched battle on the Kimento's secret island lair that feels like a study for the climactic set pieces of most Miyazaki productions.

Takahata's presence is felt primarily in the complexity and expansiveness of the situation. Where before the stories were all about hissatsuwaza and nostalgic wanking over the samurai code, the third season suddenly breathes a greatly expanded world view, with action grounded in and dictated by a specific culture and geographic locale.

The first half of the arc is about a new formula for more powerful Dutch gunpowder that Suzunosuke fights to keep from falling into the wrong hands. The story shuttles between three different factions - the Shiranui clan, the Kimento and Suzunosuke and gang - as they fight over the formula in an effort to gain control of the country's capital. The analytical Takahata was uniquely adept at this kind of multifaceted storytelling. In the second half, a sea monster destroys ships carrying rice to the capital, leading to a rice shortage, but it's all being staged by the Kimento in order to make a killing on the price of rice. The episode has a strong sociopolitical commentary aspect, illustrating how you can control a populace by controlling their food supply.

Takahata the storyboarder is felt in particular in episode 38, which depicts the moral struggle of a young girl who has sided with the bad guys to survive but whose inner sense of justice bubbles to the surface in spite of her best efforts to suppress it. Sound familiar? It's not just the setup that reminds of a previous Takahata story, even the staging and timing of the dramatic moments seems reminiscent of Takahata. This is by far and away the most sensitively directed episode in the series. None of the other episodes are directed in a style even remotely similar to this, so I'd be very surprised indeed it it wasn't Takahata.

This suggests that Teruo Ishikawa is a pen name of Isao Takahata. Episode 25 features a dream sequence that seems prescient of Heidi, but the early Teruo Ishikawa storyboard episodes don't seem to bear his stamp. Perhaps, as in the case of Lupin III, they had to correct certain storyboards as best they could, but could only do so much, whereas later storyboards like episode 38 they were able to draw from scratch. Combined with the music by Takeo Watanabe, animation by Koichi Murata and designs by Yoichi Kotabe, certain moments in his episodes seem to point ahead to Heidi and indicate the direction in which Takahata was ready to go, given the right opportunity.

I'm not sure why it worked out that Miyazaki and Takahata were involved in Suzunosuke in such a strange location (just the third season), but perhaps they were busy working on Panda Kopanda up until that point and suddenly became free when that was done, and helped out Shigetsugu Yoshida to pay it forward for his work on Lupin III. Yoshida had joined Toei Doga the same year as Takahata, 1959, and left for A Pro two years before Takahata, so they followed a parallel course in these early years. Yoshida would of course go on to direct the non-Miyazaki Telecom episodes of Lupin III series 2 and serve as assistant director on Cagliostro.

So in summary, despite somewhat repetitive storytelling and spotty animation, this is a unique show for the period that remains surprisingly watchable thanks to interesting work here and there, with the big highlight being the Miyazaki-Takahata stretch of episodes 24-38(-ish).

Recommended episodes:

Episode 19 for Yoshifumi Kondo's animation
Episode 26 for Hayao Miyazaki's directing and animation
Episode 38 for "Teruo Ishikawa"'s directing and Oh Pro/A Pro's animation


赤胴鈴之助 Akado Suzunosuke
52 episodes, Tokyo Movie/A Pro, 4/5/1972 - 3/28/1973, Fuji TV, 19:00-19:30

Created by:武内つなよしTsunayoshi Takeuchi
Director:吉田茂承Shigetsugu Yoshida
Animation Supervisor:楠部大吉郎Daikichiro Kusube
Asst. Anim. Supervisor:小田部羊一Yoichi Kotabe
Art Director:影山仁Hitoshi Kageyama
Music:渡辺岳夫Takeo Watanabe

StoryboardSakkanKey Animators
1吉川惣司 Soji Yoshikawa香西隆男 Takao Kosai
塩山紀生 Norio Shioyama
小泉謙三Kenzo Koizumi
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
2斉九洋 Kuyo Sai木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
3平田敏夫 Toshio Hirata香西隆男 Takao Kosai
塩山紀生 Norio Shioyama
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
4高市一男 Kazuo Takaichi小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
湖川滋 Shigeru Kogawa
5岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki村田耕一 Koichi Murata
河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi
近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
豊川信栄 Nobuhide Toyokawa
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋聡 Satoshi Ohjima
6小林かおる Kaoru Kobayashi木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
アベ正己 Masami Abe
中村清 Kiyoshi Nakamura
7平田敏夫 Toshio Hirata香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
8岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
本多敏行 Toshiyuki Honda
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
9斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata塩山紀生 Norio Shioyama
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋聡 Satoshi Ohjima
10斉九洋 Kuyo Sai木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
安部正己 Masami Abe
神宮さとし Satoshi Jingu
11佐々木正広 Masahiro Sasaki小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
湖川滋 Shigeru Kogawa
12平田敏夫 Toshio Hirata河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi本木久年 Hisatoshi Motoki
近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
13岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
14斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata塩山紀生 Norio Shioyama
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋聡 Satoshi Ohjima
15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
16平田敏夫 Toshio Hirata荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki神宮さとし Satoshi Jingu
安部正己 Masami Abe
17岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
18斉九洋 Kuyo Sai小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi朝倉隆 Takashi Asakura
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
高橋道子 Michiko Takahashi
19石黒昇 Noboru Ishiguro河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
豊川信栄 Nobuhide Toyokawa
本多敏行 Toshiyuki Honda
20斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋聡 Satoshi Ohjima
21斉九洋 Kuyo Sai小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi朝倉隆 Takashi Asakura
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
高橋道子 Michiko Takahashi
22岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
23石黒昇 Noboru Ishiguro荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki安部正己 Masami Abe
神宮さとし Satoshi Jingu
24斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋稔 Minoru Ohjima
25斉九洋 Kuyo Sai香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
26宮崎駿 Hayao Miyazaki河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
豊川信栄 Nobuhide Toyokawa
27宮崎駿 Hayao Miyazaki小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
湖川滋 Shigeru Kogawa
28石川輝夫 Teruo Ishikawa木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
安部正己 Masami Abe
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
29斉九洋 Kuyo Sai河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi本木久年 Hisatoshi Motoki
近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
30岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
31斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
32斉九洋 Kuyo Sai小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi朝倉隆 Takashi Asakura
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
高橋道子 Michiko Takahashi
33小華和ためお Tameo Kohanawa荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki神宮さとし Satoshi Jingu
安部正己 Masami Abe
34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
35斉九洋 Kuyo Sai河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi本木久年 Hisatoshi Motoki
近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
36岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetso Imazawa
37小華和ためお Tameo Kohanawa村田耕一 Koichi Murata村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
38石川輝夫 Teruo Ishikawa河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
田中勉 Tsutomu Tanaka
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
本木久年 Hisatoshi Motoki
39小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
湖川滋 Shigeru Kogawa
40斉九洋 Kuyo Sai木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
41宮崎駿 Hayao Miyazaki荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki安部正己 Masami Abe
金田伊助 Isuke Kanada
鈴木幸雄 Yukio Suzuki
42黒田昌郎 Yoshio Kuroda香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
43石黒昇 Noboru Ishiguro村田耕一 Koichi Murata村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
44今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲夫 Tetsuo Imazawa
45小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
46今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
47黒田昌郎 Yoshio Kuroda河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
48石川輝夫 Teruo Ishikawa荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki安部正己 Masami Abe
金田伊助 Isuke Kanada
鈴木幸雄 Yukio Suzuki
49斉九洋 Kuyo Sai香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲夫 Tetsuo Imazawa
50黒田昌郎 Yoshio Kuroda村田耕一 Koichi Murata村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
51小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi久保田正史 Masafumi Kubota
高橋道子 Michiko Takahashi
島田和義 Kazuyoshi Shimada
52吉田茂承 Shigetsugu Yoshida木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
安部正己 Masami Abe

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Animated Tales of Great PeopleAnimated Classics of Children's Literature

In the wake of the success of Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi (1975-1995), Group Tac produced two other omnibus-format TV series that were not as long-lived and essentially disappeared into the pit of anime history, but were equally creative and appealing. These shows are not mere educational throwaways; they're everything you would expect from the creative minds at Group Tac, capturing them at the height of their powers in the studio's stylistically more flexible early days.

The first TV show produced by Tac after MNMB was an adaptation of Huckleberry Finn (1976) directed by Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu. This series was the product of Fuji TV wanting to expand its lineup of animated adaptations of western literature or 'meisaku' anime, but Nippon Animation being at full capacity already. Fuji TV asked film distributor Herald, and Herald in turn appointed Group Tac to the task on the merit of the Jack and the Beanstalk film they had produced for Herald shortly prior. The series did not have good ratings and was canceled early, and Tac was never asked to do another Fuji TV show.

Mainichi Broadcasting, on the other hand, was happy with the ratings of Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, which led to them getting Tac to produce two shows in a similar vein that carried on the 'manga' nomenclature: Manga Ijin Monogatari (1977-1978) and Manga Kodomo Bunko (1978-1979).

Other studios caught on and promptly copied the educational 'manga' format with shows such as Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi (Dax, 1976-1979), Manga Nihon Emaki (World Television, 1977-1978), Manga Hajimete Monogatari (Dax, 1978-1984), Manga Isoppu Monogatari (Nippon Animation, 1983) and Manga Nihonshi (Tsuchida Production, 1983-1984). But where Tac's two shows carried on the artistic and creator-centric approach of MNMB, many of these copycats were merely opportunistic children's pap piggybacking on Tac's example, and have little artistic merit.

'Manga' in this context was of course used to signify 'animated' and not comic books. At this period they still referred to TV animation as 'terebi manga' and animated movies as 'manga eiga'. This usage must have died out around this time.

Unfortunately neither of these shows are currently available in Japan, nor I assume anywhere else. It's a shame. Although definitely for children, they're still visually appealing after all these years and their more compact scale makes them more suited to a DVD release than the MNMB, and even the MNMB has gotten a partial DVD release. Manga Ijin Monogatari at least got a partial VHS release at one point, but that is long gone and the show's delicate visuals would benefit immensely from a pristine transfer. In the case of Huck Finn this may be impossible. It seems that the original stock of the TV show may have been lost in the process of editing together a movie version in the early 1990s. Normally nothing of this sort happened with Manga Ijin Monogatari or Manga Kodomo Bunko, so it would be great if these could see the light of day sometime.

Manga Ijin Monogatari or Animated Tales of Great People (1977-1978)

Clockwise from top left: Alfred Nobel, Nicolaus Copernicus, Gregor Mendel and Robert Koch

MIM is self-explanatory: it tells the story of great historical figures, two 10-minute stories per episode, just like MNMB. Despite telling stories all inspired by reality, the style is never anything close to realistic. Whimsical and imaginative animation is the order of the day. The episodes are like picture books come to life, favoring free-wheeling and playful invention over real-world linear narratives. The stories are thus almost never straight-faced and textbook dry, but rather embellish the stories however necessary to make them entertaining. You can clearly see the hand of the artist interpreting the tales. Their interpretation is the whole point. That's why this series is still worth watching almost 40 years later. Otherwise it would just be another one of the scores of unremarkable educational children's animation made in the decades since.

One of the identifying traits of Group Tac is striking use of sound effects and music. The creativity of Group Tac co-founder and audio director Atsumi Tashiro in this role is presumably to thank for this. MIM is a classic example of how Group Tac's musical creativity helped set its shows apart. The show not only looks but also sounds like no other show out there due to the novel idea to use synthesizer music by synth pioneer Shoji Osamu. Although at moments the primitive synth can sound dated, Shoji Osamu has a remarkable range and isn't limited to cheap imitations of conventional arrangements. The score is quite powerful when it uses the unique capabilities of the synth to create eerie and otherworldly sounds.

The director of the series is Masakazu Higuchi, an ex-Mushi Pro figure who worked at Group Tac between 1975 and 1979 on all of Tac's omnibus shows of this period. The producer is MNMB producer Mikio Nakata and the art director is MNMB regular Koji Abe. The episode directors, animators and artists are a mix of MNMB faces and new faces.

Masakazu Higuchi obviously used his connections to bring in people he knew. In my recent MNMB post I noted how Masakazu Higuchi is the one who invited Studio Arrow's Susumu Shiraume onto the show (his first job was animating episode 35 directed by Masakazu Higuchi). For MIM he got Studio Arrow's Isamu Kumada to animate the show's two openings in the shrewd realization that someone with expertise in ad work was a perfect candidate to produce a catchy opening. I haven't seen the second, but the first is quite lovely and unlike any other anime opening out there (watch). His ad man expertise is evident in the op's economy of means, with its Steinberg-esque line figures and striking minimalistic visual schemes. In spirit it feels closer to the experimental films of the Animation Sannin no Kai than to typical anime.

Susumu Shiraume of course is also present as an episode director. I've only seen his Alfred Nobel episode, but it has the same pleasing animation style as can be seen in his early MNMB work. The character drawing style is closer to something like a cross between Yellow Submarine and Peanuts than to anime. Sharply designed shots like the one of the generals pictured above betray his experience in ad work and working on Topcraft foreign co-productions.

The series is also unique for its creative title cards. The title cards for each episode of MNMB were all done by Hideo Takagu, who also handled the main titles for MIM (pictured above). Normally he was to handle the title cards for MIM, but Masakazu Higuchi convinced the studio to let him do the title cards himself because he had creative ideas for each title card that he wanted to use. Higuchi's title cards each adopt a different visual scheme relevant to the story at hand. It's a nice little touch that adds to the overall impression of the show being very much a handmade product, with careful thought put into what visuals would be appropriate for each figure. For example, the Hans Christian Andersen episode has the letters of his name float down like snowflakes to remind of The Little Match Girl, and the Gregor Mendel episode has peas pop out of a pod and spell out his name. You can see an image of each title on Higuchi's own home page here along with their original pencil designs. (The page also has a lot of his design sheets for MNMB and MKB.)

A nice surprise in the recent reboot of Cosmos was the use of animation to tell the stories of several historical scientific figures, which it did by dramatizing the key moments of their lives. MIM also devotes a large proportion of its episode to scientific figures. Also included are writers, composers and painters who are obvious choices. The series' Japanese origin is evident in the large proportion of Japanese figures. Lacking are more contemporary figures, religious leaders, or otherwise divisive figures. Gandhi is a glaring omission. I thought initially they were put off by all the massacres that are unavoidable in describing his life, but then they do an episode about the deadliest mass murderer in history, Genghis Khan. The laudable omission of other commonly glorified military figures such as Napoleon is less impressive in this light.

One odd name in the list is Babe Ruth. If it doesn't seem to fit in, it's because it was the pilot episode produced before chief director Masakazu Higuchi came onboard. The rest of the list is fairly more 'serious' in its choices (only scientific and artistic figures, no athletes or movie stars or the like), although his inclusion does say something about his popularity in the 1970s.

The series' asset is that it isn't primarily concerned with education, but with visual creativity. This is mostly a good thing, but has a downside. Some of the stories focus on entertainment to the point of obscuring the historical figure's importance. The episode about Wilhelm Roentgen, the winner of the first Nobel Prize in physics for discovering X-Rays, for example, uses a cute mouse character to summarize the discovery, but goes overboard and borders on becoming an episode of Tom and Jerry. The episode about Thomas Edison focuses on his childhood and only briefly mentions his later inventions as a closing afterthought.

The more satisfying episodes manage to effectively convey the figure's importance by dint of the good artistry of their directors and animators, of which a few examples are highlighted below.

Episode #42a: Helen Keller directed by Katsui/Higuchi/Abe

Helen Keller's story is well known and a staple of this kind of show. I was prepared to shrug the episode off as emotionally manipulative schmaltz, but instead I found it honestly and truly moving. The episode went beyond the call of duty in visually dramatizing her plight as a child. I found the episode to be great visual storytelling. A succession of poetic and creative visual schemes are used to represent her isolation and loneliness and the gradual discovery of meaning in the world around her.

For example, in one shot, prior to Helen discovering the meaning of words, a small child sits immobile at a desk in the center of the screen. Dwarfed by her surroundings, the seasons come and go. Children run around playing, and couples blithely walk around on Sunday strolls in their finery. Later, when she discovers the meaning of words, Helen is represented as a wind-up doll walking blindly through a dark room full of abstract shapes, eventually bumping into one and falling on her side. It's a striking visual expression of her powerlessness.

The episode was co-directed, unusually, by a trio: animator Chikao Katsui, series director Masakazu Higuchi and art director Koji Abe. The designs and animation were by Toshiyasu Okada, one of the great unknown animators of the 1970s. (I talked about him a bit in my post on Bannertail.) I'm not sure how the collaboration between the three directors worked, but obviously pitting their collective creativity is what produced such a visually dense episode. The other episodes have more of the quality of a personal creation, with commensurately less of the deliberate and honed quality that comes of the collaborative process. Even though the designs are not particularly realistic or appealing, and are somewhat blandly generic, the animation never feels cheap or inadequate. The episode isn't about animation grandstanding or realistic movement. It's a great example of Mushi Pro-school image-based storytelling.

Shoji Osamu's scoring of this episode is also very effective. His music is at its most dissonant and abstract during the early parts of the episode, and gradually shifts in tone towards more harmonic and melodic sounds as Helen's world opens up. The score is a big part of why the episode is so affecting.

The episode also appears to use Helen Keller's actual writing to narrate the events, which helps to make the episode work. Even in translation the quality of her writing comes through. Jun Sogabe often receives credit for "bungei" in this series. I'm not positive what this entails, but I've translated it as dialogue, to contrast with the episodes in which someone is credited with the more conventional term "kyakuhon". A bungei credit would mean that a plot was written and dialogue was adapted from the source material, whereas a kyakuhon credit would mean the scriptwriter came up with everything himself as would be the case in a conventional scenario. For example, MNMB writer Shuji Hirami is credited with script for the Hans Christian Andersen episode I've outlined next.

Episode #27b: Hans Christian Andersen directed by Tsutomu Shibayama

This episode takes a very different tack from the previous. This episode is an original story based in the real world, featuring an elderly Hans Christian Andersen as the protagonist. He has come to a Mediterranean port city somewhere in Italy on vacation. He notices a young boy waiting on the steps below his window each day. He discovers that the boy is waiting for his father, a seaman, to return home, refusing to believe the news that he was killed. Andersen comforts the boy with by relating the story of a boy named Hans who overcame loss as a young boy by holding out hope and using his creativity to translate adversity into stories.

Andersen apparently traveled to Italy often during his lifetime, the last time at age 67, 3 years before death in 1875. Shuji Hirami must have built up the story around this factual nugget. It's easy enough to dramatise Andersen's stories, but to come up with a way of conveying Andersen's achievement that isn't merely didactic is more of a challenge. The 1971 Mushi Pro TV series Andersen Monogatari animated the stories, while the 1968 Toei version of the same name wove the stories together into a single story, turning Andersen into a kind of Mary Poppins character.

Shuji Hirami's approach is a more low-key and tasteful way of depicting Andersen's legacy. Before his death, an elderly Andersen looks back on his life work through the lens of a chance encounter with a younger version of himself. The message is subtle and not overly sentimental: Creating stories can help us overcome and find meaning.

The narrative style of this episode is more conventional than the Helen Keller episode, which was abstract of necessity to depict Helen's world of darkness and silence. Here, instead, characters are grounded in a specific locale. A few deft establishing shots depict the fishing port environs and its inhabitants. The framing of shots and cutting is more cinematic. Short interludes interrupt the narrative illustrating Andersen's stories in a more colorful and stylized way. Ajia-Do's Tsutomu Shibayama does a fantastic job with the material. His drawings are delectable, as they all are at this period in his career, thanks to great layouts and a brilliant sense of stylization.

The style of the characters is basically in line with the other episodes, but Shibayama's visuals are more technically proficient than most of the other episodes. The characters have the usual bulging, rounded forms, with hatch mark accents here and there. For the section relating the story of the little match girl, he switches to a stark black and red color scheme with flattened perspective and stylized forms like silhouette animation. The ugly duckling section features highly stylized bird forms and scribbly but colorful crayon drawings of vegetation for the backgrounds. Shibayama produced probably his best short-form work for Group Tac on their omnibus series of the late 1970s.

Episode #11b: Vincent van Gogh directed by Hisashi Sakaguchi

The turbulent life of Vincent van Gogh is told in one of the show's most dynamic and intense episodes. Gogh's tempestuous character comes through vividly in this adaptation by the late great manga-ka Hisashi Sakaguchi.

This episode makes for another great contrast with the previous two episodes, indicating the breadth of MIM's graphical and storytelling styles. The pace here is fast and the atmosphere intense. The narrative covers Gogh's entire life from childhood to suicide, and of course dramatizing the events that led to him cutting off his own ear. In the short span of a few minutes the episode does a remarkable job of making us understand the state of mind that led him to make that decision.

The episode also clearly shows how his little brother Theo supported him throughout his life. In someone else's hands, the suicide might have been skipped over, but Sakaguchi knows it's the only possible ending to his story. The scene is depicted tastefully, without being lurid. We see Gogh painting amidst fields of gold. Suddenly, a shot rings out, and crows are startled into the sky. Gogh's own painting of crows flying in a golden field pans across the screen, as if he had captured in painting the last beautiful sight of his life. This episode is a case of an already moving and tragic story with inherent dramatic potential, given the kind of dramatization that does it justice.

The drawings are particularly interesting. The lines are extremely loose. I don't think there's a single straight line in the entire episode. This seems to evoke Gogh's style, without mimicking it, as if everything in Gogh's vicinity were expressively deformed by the intensity of his passion. The animation by Izumi Watanabe is not particularly remarkable, and is in fact somewhat crude, but is a perfect match with the loose background drawings, which often are drawn in the style of his paintings. The design of Gogh himself is perfect - recognizable and yet loose and free.

Hisashi Sakaguchi had a poetic and romantic sensibility that is a perfect match with Gogh. He joined Mushi Pro and worked under Tezuka on all of the classic Tezuka shows of the 1960s starting with Atom and began drawing manga on the side in 1969. Around 1980 he began to devote himself exclusively to manga. His work blended the humanistic passion of Tezuka's manga with the more modern graphic sensibility of new wave manga-kas like Katsuhiro Otomo.

Sakaguchi was high school friends with Masakazu Higuchi, and is in fact the one who invited Higuchi to Mushi Pro after Higuchi had quit Tatsunoko in 1966. The two worked together for a few years before Higuchi quit Mushi Pro and the two went their own way. Many years later, for his debut as a series director, Higuchi called on his old friend to help him out directing a few episodes of his show. The episodes he turned in, from what I've sampled, are brilliant without exception. It makes me wish he could have done more instead of focusing exclusively on manga.

Series director Masakazu Higuchi himself had aspirations of becoming a manga-ka since the beginning, and in the late 1980s shifted towards manga. These are but two examples - many of the early Mushi Pro figures in fact drew manga at Mushi Pro, including Hideaki Kitano, Moribi Murano, Masaki Mori and of course Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Even Osamu Dezaki drew a manga version of Goku's Big Adventure in 1967 for Mushi Pro's famous COM magazine.

Thus this episode captures the dual nature of the ex-Mushi Pro figures, whose creative wiring was a seamless blend of manga and animated expression. The result is some of the most graphically pleasing and dynamic animation of the period.

Incidentally, Hisashi Sakaguchi did his episodes of MIM from his artist collective Garakuta (meaning rubbish), which is credited with the animation in his four other MIM episodes. This is the only time an animator (Izumi Watanabe) was credited by name. The two later married.

As for Hisashi Sakaguchi's other episodes, I've only seen the Gregor Mendel episode, but I can confirm that it is equally brilliant. Hisashi Sakaguchi is one of the few people I've found to have an instinctive understanding of animated expression on par with Osamu Dezaki. He was otherwise not very prolific due to his focus on manga. MIM wound up being one of the few places he had the opportunity to create films from the bottom up. His episodes make me wish he'd had more opportunities in animation. It's high time this tragically short-lived genius got his due.

Manga Kodomo Bunko or Animated Classics of Children's Literature (1978-1979)

Clockwise from top left: The Lily of the Valley, The Friend's Dog, The Fox's Window, The 5 Sen Coin

A new omnibus series from Group Tac started without pause after the end of MIM, this time adapting classics of Japanese children's literature. The director this time was Tsuneo Maeda, who had just handed over the reins of MNMB to Mitsuo Kobayashi. The producer was MNMB's other producer, Ippei Onimaru. The audio director remained, as in all Tac productions, Atsumi Tashiro.

Even moreso than MIM, this series is a beautiful series with tremendous stylistic variety and quality work by talented animators. It has broad appeal and deserves more recognition than it has received. However, it is reported that the original prints of the show may have been lost, which does not bode well for its revival.

Due to the different main staff, and of course the different requirements of the material, the tone and style of Manga Kodomo Bunko is quite different, more realistic than the very cartoony and light-hearted MIM. Many of the stories take place in the early part of the 20th century in rural Japan, and the series has something of a nostalgic, elegiac, bucolic quality. The visuals are earthy, refined, painterly in a way that reminds of MNMB - just without the fantastic elements, and with more sophisticated stories.

The series is steeped in the atmosphere of Taisho-era Japan. It feels like a 1920s children's book come to life, with its simple, rounded characters and pre-modern vision of a simpler Japanese life. Specifically, MKB seems to carry on the spirit of the paintings of artists like Shotaro Honda in the seminal children's magazine Kodomo no Kuni. Even the episodes set in the immediate aftermath of the war still seem pre-war in spirit, as the postwar boom that epitomizes the Showa period had yet to set in.

Visually, the series is a feast of beautiful art thanks to the work of MNMB regulars like Tatsuro Kadoya, Koji Abe and Kadono Mariko. Most of the stories are realistic stories about the everyday life of children in Japan in the early part of the 20th century such as The Lily of the Valley and The 50 Sen Coin (pictured at left above), but there are also a few stories about the war such as the magnificent Song of Hiroshima and The Escaped Monkey, and a few more fantastical stories such as The Adventures of Rainbow Cat and The Fox's Window. This makes for a good variety, and keeps the series from becoming too one-note.

The staff each bring a completely different style to each story. Shinichi Tsuji shines with his more formalistic and highly stylized work in the show. Ajia-Do's Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi create some of their best work of the period in MKB. I've highlighted an episode of each of the latter three below. Even the less technically noteworthy episodes by directors such as Norio Yazawa, who has less of a striking style, remain eminently enjoyable due to the classy style, and the great stories by well-known authors such as Yuzo Yamamoto, Sakae Tsuboi and Takeo Arishima as well as many that I'd never heard of. Reportedly at least some of these stories were culled from the pages of The Red Bird, so it seems probable that Shin-Ei Doga took the idea for their 1979 Heart of the Red Bird series from Group Tac's Manga Kodomo Bunko.

There are even a few surprise faces in the bunch, such as the Shingo Araki-Himeno Michi duo, whose cute drawings of the rambunctious children of The Pee Inari (#18b) work very well against the beautiful bamboo forest paintings of Kazunori Shimomichi. Tatsuro Kadoya similarly produces gorgeous paintings of the countryside in the Brothers episode (#13b). MIM director Masakazu Higuchi directs a few episodes, bringing a notably more retro and cartoonish style to his characters in The Town without a Clock (#11b). His whimsical and colorful Rainbow Cat episode (#42b) is a delight and a real change from the more realistic episodes.

Atsumi Tashiro is presumably the one responsible for the remarkable musical scores that grace both shows. The previous series had benefited from a novel synth music score, and this time they did something equally daring and creative, but going in a different direction. Usually a TV series will have a single person scoring it. To match the omnibus format with different authors being adapted by different staff groupings, this time they called in ten famous modern classical composers to each produce an individual score for each episode.

Composers called in include: Noda Teruyuki, Katsuhiro Tsubono, Shigeaki Saegusa, Tokuhide Niimi, Roh Ogura, Koichi Sugiyama, Komei Hayama, Akihiro Komori, Michio Kitazume and Seiji Yokoyama. Some of these were involved in anime later such as Shigeaki Saegusa (Gundam ZZ), Koichi Sugiyama (Ideon) and Komori Akihiro (Jacky the Bearcub), but many of these are pure classical composers with a harshly dissonant modern style that is at odds with the usual harmonic world of anime. Many of the pieces were played by the Tokyo Quintet, so you can listen to the Tokyo Quintet performing a piece by Noda Teruyuki and a piece by Katsuhiro Tsubono to get a sense of the thoroughly uncompromisingly modernist music these guys produced for MKB.

The scores they produced are some of the most remarkable I've heard in anime. They're so good that it's a shame they haven't been released separately so they can be appreciated on their own. The notable thing is that the scores aren't used as 'accompaniment' in the typical way; they're actual 10-minute pieces of music that play continuously in the background from start to finish, without moments of silence. This gives the episodes a more sophisticated atmosphere than the episodes might otherwise have had.

Among the best of these scores are the solo scores, as this heightens the impact of the music. Episode #1a The Fox is a great story to begin with, about a group of children who go out one night to a festival and fear that one of the kids may have been possessed by a kitsune, and features an incredible marimba score, although I don't know who scored this one. Episode #1b The Festival Kimono features a great solo flute score by Teruyuki Noda to accompany a story about two beggar children who get adopted by a temple. Seiichiro Uno produced a beautiful solo piano score for episode #2a The Lily of the Valley to match the story about a girl who sneaks into a school to play piano at night.

These early episodes with solo scores are perhaps the pinnacle of Group Tac's early work of this period, in the sense that they are the ultimate expression of the 'solo' approach pioneered by MNMB, in which one person handles each creative task. Add to this the fact that the great Kyoko Kishida performed all of the voices in the first season and you have probably one of the most extreme solo anime of all time.

Indicating how important the musical aspect is to this series, the composer and performer/soloist are credited alongside the director, animator and artist at the beginning of each episode. They were part of the creative team, not merely there to provide accompanying tunes.

It seems the station may not have liked the modern music, though, because from season 3 onwards Seiichiro Uno did the music for every episode in a more conventional style. Although he is a great composer (he did fantastic work on Goku's Big Adventure in 1967), it's a huge change and a step down in the musical quality. The show feels more conventional afterwards. The first season therefore seems to capture the show at its height. (which is not to say there weren't great episodes produced later)

The opening is a beautiful and strange creation directed by Gisaburo Sugii, animated by Tsuneo Maeda, with art by Mihoko Magori. (watch) The series is notable for having 12 different endings, one for each month. Again, each is by a different composer. This is yet another indication of the unusual amount of effort that went into the musical side of things for this show.

Episode #43a: Song of Hiroshima directed by Osamu Kobayashi

One of the most moving stories in the series is given a convincingly cinematic treatment by Osamu Kobayashi.

A man is seen riding a train. He reminisces that he is on his way to meet a girl whom he has met twice before in his life: once when he saved her as an infant from the arms of her dying mother after the atomic bombing on August 6, 1945, and the second time seven years ago when he was summoned by a missing person announcement on the radio. It turns out the woman who summoned him is the one to whom he had handed the child that day in desperation. She had raised the child as her own, naming her Hiroko after the daughter she lost that day. Hiroko grew up ignorant of the events of that day, or what happened to her mother.

The story is based on Sukeyuki Imanishi's experiences as a soldier sent to Hiroshima to provide emergency relief on the day after the bombing. This is possibly one of the first treatments of the atomic bombings in anime, pre-dating the anime version of Barefoot Gen by four years.

This story doesn't focus on the bombing itself but uses it as a backdrop to tell a story about the country's recovery following the war. The innocent little girl represents hope that a new generation untouched by the events of the war will bring life back to the decimated country. The Genbaku Dome is an everpresent reminder in the backdrop throughout the episode's three time periods: on the day after the bombing, seven years later when the narrator tells Hiroko's new mother what happened, and ten years afterwards when he meets the 17 year old Hiroko to tell her about her past. After discovering Hiroko on that day, the narrator's first assignment was rebuilding the train station. 17 years later he meets Hiroko at the pristine new train station that shows no sign of the past.

Osamu Kobayashi displays a mastery of film language here that clearly presages his shift towards directing. His formal, tasteful layouts seem like they could have been framed by a lens, and go a long way towards giving the story its requisite gravitas. The film feels very realistic despite his character drawings being loose and far from photorealistic thanks to his brilliantly timed animation. He had a unique genius for stylizing the body and facial expressions with a minimum of lines and yet making the characters feel real. None of the other directors in the show would have been capable of doing this story justice.

The art by Tetsufumi Oyama has a reduced palette that not only conveys the grayness of the aftermath, but also gives the episode a more cinematic feeling.

Episode #20a Stuck on a Cliff is equally brilliant in terms of showcasing Kobayashi's remarkable talent as a director as well as his unique style of cartoonish yet somehow realistic animation. The montage sequence where the children are playing around has an almost documentary detachment and attention to detail. The drawings of the children swimming around at the beginning are brilliant snapshots that capture their lanky bodies thrashing about with a sketchbook realism. The shot around 6 minutes in where the boy walks towards the cliff and starts climbing is drawn with a spare rate that appears to be 3s or 4s, but the timing of the movement is completely realistic, and the poses all natural and believable. You sense a kind of proto-full limited in his work of this period. Kobayashi will mix up the frame rate dynamically depending on the shot. Walking "follow" shots in Song of Hiroshima, in contrast, are in 2s to convey a more cinematic feeling.

Even the strangely shaped, blobby heads feel somehow caricatural, and not randomly shaped out of laziness or lack of drawing skill. Every character in Osamu Kobayashi's episodes feels like an individual. Tsutomu Shibayama was also a brilliant caricaturist, but his style of caricature was more technical and detailed, more about precise comic exaggeration of feature elements. Osamu Kobayashi manages to capture a person's essence in just a few broad and loose strokes.

Episode #3a The Escaped Monkey is one of the other good wartime stories. It starts out looking like a lighthearted story about monkeys in a zoo but turns into a wrenching observation of the misery of homeless children. The monkey escapes from the zoo, but sees the terrible life the kids are living on the outside, and returns to the zoo realizing he has it better in the zoo. Chikao Katsui directs and Toshiyasu Okada animates.

Episode #18a: The Red Shoes directed by Tsutomu Shibayama

A boy named Hiroshi is playing baseball with his friends one evening when the ball goes flying into the bushes and falls into someone's yard. His friend warns him that the place is haunted, but he goes in anyway and meets a little blond-haired girl named Marie. They become friends, and Hiroshi finds out that her parents passed away just a month ago, and she lets a red balloon go every day with a letter attached for her parents in heaven. One day he goes over to play and finds out that she has been taken by her uncle on a ship to go back with him to the US.

Obviously, this is not based on Andersen's famous story. This is one of the episodes that is actually based on an old children's song rather than a story, in this case a song written in 1922 about a girl with red shoes taken away by a foreigner on a boat. Tsutomu Shibayama expands this fragment into a sad, beautiful little story about friendship between a boy and a girl of different cultures.

What makes the episode truly unforgettable is the stunning visuals. This is one of the most highly stylized of the show's episodes, every shot a striking composition fit for framing - from the eerie house in the woods surrounded by the black outlines of tall trees, to the abstract black shapes of the tankers and cranes against the sunset-red water, to the graveyard through which Hiroshi runs on his way to the port to say farewell to Marie. Shibayama's mastery of layout is on full display here, backed up by the beautiful art of Mariko Kadono.

The episode uses its simple visual scheme to create some clever visual tricks, such as when Hiroshi is looking for his ball in the grass, and we see a shot of the red setting sun beside a black outline of a tree. A little later, we see the same shot again, but the sun suddenly rises quickly, and the little girl steps out from behind the tree. What we thought was the setting sun was in fact her red balloon.

Helping to make the episode work is a lovely score by Akihiro Komori that starts out with a children's choir singing the first verse of the song itself. The music then goes on to use the melody as thematic material throughout the episode, making for a through-conceived episode. This score was clearly written closely tied to the visuals, unlike the early scores which come across as being independent compositions that don't directly comment on the twists and turns of the narrative in the conventional sense.

Tsutomu Shibayama directed/animated at least five other episodes for the show, so he was quite busy with Group Tac shows around this time, presumably returning to MNMB after taking time off to focus on Manga Ijin Monogatari and Manga Kodomo Bunko.

Episode #25a The Fancy Dragonfly is a pure fantasy with pared down visuals and cartoonish insect designs that plays out like an Aesop's fable. Episode #45b The Cow Thief is another brilliantly stylized episode about a bumbling cow thief who winds up leading the cow back to its own home. Episode #50a The Rail Car is an enigmatic story about a boy who sets out on a trip by rail car but finds it takes him far from home. Episode #34b The Musical Clock is a more realistic tale that follows a man and a young boy walking along a dark pre-dawn road. Episode #40b The Snowy Wharf is a dark tale about a group of homeless children living in a shanty on the wharf in the immediate aftermath of the war.

All of these episodes are brilliant episodes to be expected of Shibayama, but The Musical Clock and The Snowy Wharf in particular are two of the show's best episodes for their combination of visual prowess and subtle literary sensibility. Whereas many of the show's stories are understandably childish, with a simplistic thematic treatment that can lack depth for an adult viewer, these two episodes are among the more satisfyingly morally complex and gritty. They go in the opposite direction of the more purely visuals-oriented The Red Shoes and The Fancy Dragonfly, showing that Shibayama wasn't limited to picture-book style abstract visual animation. He could handle realistic material just as well. Both stories deal with challenging subjects in a classy and tasteful way.

The Musical Clock is a realistic but somewhat formal morality play of innocence versus guilt. It all takes place in the span of a walk one morning before dawn. A man and a boy meet on the road and converse along the way. The man seems jittery and evasive. As the episode progresses, we begin to suspect that the man is a thief, but the boy remains oblivious to this in his innocence. The beauty of the episode is in how we can follow the man's train of thought at every step of the way as he gradually comes to regret his actions. It comes across as one of the most psychologically probing episodes as a result. It could be my imagination, but Seiichiro Uno's score for this episode seems to quote the Dies Irae, which if it does is a brilliant touch that underscores the themes of doing the right thing or being judged for ones misdeeds.

The Snowy Wharf tells of a woman who visits a group of orphaned children who huddle together in the cold in a shack by the wharf. The episode features devastatingly beautiful visuals of the deprivation of that period. The episode opens with a image that succinctly conveys the setting and situation in the most effortless way imaginable: a faucet juts out from a pile of rubble, the ocean in the background, dripping water into an overturned army helmet. The setting is a port city in postwar Japan, and the overturned helmet placed there by some desperate soul symbolizes how that era was a struggle to survive amid the chaos of devastated infrastructure and lack of material goods.

Ajia-do actually receives an assistance credit in the ending credits, indicating how valuable Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama were to the show. Their episodes are easily the best in the whole show.

Episode #8a: The Illusionist directed by Shinichi Tsuji

The Illusionist is based on a story by literary master Ryunosuke Akutagawa about a man who falls prey to a hypnotist's powers without realizing it.

This episode is like a woodblock print come to life. It has one of the most original and confidently executed visual schemes of the series. The backgrounds are full of the telltale hatch marks of a wood carving, and the characters are also drawn with hatch marks as shadows. The animation is spare 5s or 6s most of the time, and character movement is slow and limited to small motions.

Director/animator Shinichi Tsuji draws the characters in a very stiff, clean way with thick, solid lines. It makes them seem like porcelain dolls. His characters are the diametric opposite of Osamu Kobayashi's dynamic and loosely drawn characters. The story is set smack in the middle of Taisho-era Japan in 1920, so everything is a curious mixture of traditional and modern - rickshaws and automobiles, kimonos and bowler hats. The architecture and furnishings all have a somewhat Victorian feeling. On top of that, the protagonist is an Indian national dressed like a Maharajah, so overall the episode feels very exotic in a disorienting way that is a good match with the mystical subject matter.

The story at first seems to simply be about magic, but its on closer inspection it appears to be a metaphorical tale cautioning against Japan's greedy haste to adopt western appurtenances. At the time, Japan was flush with wealth after choosing the winning side in W.W. I, but India wasn't so lucky. It participated in the war on the promise of independence, but the promise wasn't kept. The protagonist of this episode is actually an Indian freedom fighter named Hassan who uses Japan as his base of operation. Magic just happens to be his hobby. He promises to teach his Japanese friend some magic on the condition that he swears to not use it for personal gain. Hassan then hypnotizes his guest and makes him see a dream in which he is tempted to go against his vow. He finally succumbs to the temptation, and realizes that his greed is too strong.

Shinichi Tsuji is another ex-Mushi Pro figure who has been a regular in Gisaburo Sugii's films, being listed at the top of the animation credits in movies as far separated in time as Belladonna (1973) and Stormy Night (2005). He is perhaps best known as the director of the delicate fantasy The Star of Cottonland (1984). He has also been involved with Nippon Animation productions on and off over the years.

Shinichi Tsuji made several other episodes for MKB, and they all benefit from his unique storybook drawing sensibility, with its clean, elegant, refined shapes. Episode #38b The Echoing Shoes in particular is a pleasing fantasy episode that looks very different from everything else in the show with its castles, princess and bright primary colors, almost like a western fairy tale.


Unfortunately the credits below are incomplete because only a handful of the episodes have been uploaded online. Hopefully if the shows ever get a proper release I will be able to complete these credit listings.


まんが偉人物語 Animated Tales of Great People
Group Tac, 1977-1978, 46 episodes (2 stories per episode)

Chief Director:樋口雅一Masakazu Higuchi
Art Director:阿部幸次Koji Abe
Music:東海林修Osamu Shoji
Audio Director:田代敦巳Atsumi Tashiro
Producer:中田実紀雄Mikio Nakata
1a: The Wright Brothers
1b: Babe Ruth
2a: Ludwig van Beethoven
2b: Isaac Newton
Concept & StructureDialogueArtAnimation
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
阿部幸次
Koji Abe
槌田幸一
Koichi Tsuchida
3a: Amundsen & Scott
3b: Florence Nightingale
4a: Thomas Alva Edison
Concept & StructureDialogueArtAnimation
やすみ哲夫
Tetsuo Yasumi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
サキ・スタジオ
Saki Studio
細谷秋夫
Akio Hosotani
4b: Ryokan
5a: Alfred Nobel
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
仔羊館
House of Lambs
白梅進
Susumu Shiraume
5b: Benjamin Franklin
6a: Marco Polo
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
近藤英輔
Eisuke Kondo
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
槌田幸一
Koichi Tsuchida
6b: Hokusai Katsushika
7a: Heinrich Schliemann
7b: Paul Gaugin
8a: Tomitaro Makino
8b: Christopher Columbus
9a: Leonardo da Vinci
9b: Louis Pasteur
10a: Samuel Morse
10b: Matsuo Basho
11a: Johannes Gutenberg
11b: Vincent van Gogh
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
坂口尚
Hisashi Sakaguchi
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
西村邦子
Kazuko Nishimura
渡辺いずみ
Izumi Watanabe
12a: Edward Jenner
12b: Alexander the Great
13a: Alexander Graham Bell
13b: David Livingstone
14a: Robert Koch
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
秋保富恵
Tomie Akiu
細谷秋夫
Akio Hosotani
14b: Auguste Rodin
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
白梅進
Susumu Shiraume
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
仔羊館
House of Lambs
15a: James Watt
15b: Unkei
16a: Genghis Khan
16b: Madame Curie
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
細谷秋夫
Akio Hosotani
17a: Galilei Galieo
StructureConcept & DialogueArtAnimation
勝井千賀雄
Chikao Katsui
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
サキ・スタジオ
Saki Studio
槌田幸一
Koichi Tsuchida
17b: Charles Darwin
Concept & StructureDialogueArtAnimation
光延博愛
Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
鈴木良武
Yoshitake Suzuki
阿部幸次
Koji Abe
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
18a: Jean-Henri Fabre
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
こはなわためお
Tameo Kohanawa
鈴木良武
Yoshitake Suzuki
仔羊館
House of Lambs
福田皖
Kiyomu Fukuda
18b: Koizumi Yakumo
19a: Ikkyu
19b: Ferdinand Magellan
20a: Stephen Foster
20b: Gregor Mendel
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
坂口尚
Hisashi Sakaguchi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
西村邦子
Kazuko Nishimura
我楽苦他
Garakuta
21a: Sanzo Hoshi
21b: Captain Cook
22a: Sakamoto Ryoma
22b: Wilhelm Roentgen
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
渋谷哲夫
Tetsuo Shibuya
鈴木良武
Yoshitake Suzuki
石津節子
Setsuko Ishizu
23a: Kinjiro Ninomiya
23b: Kobayashi Issa
24a: Yukichi Fukuzawa
DirectingScriptArtAnimation
四辻たかお
Takao Yotsuji
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
内海勇夫
Isao Naikai
24b: Jean-Francois Millet
25a: Hideyo Noguchi
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
山崎和夫
Kazuo Yamazaki
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
宮本清司
Kiyoshi Miyamoto
25b: Nicolaus Copernicus
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
サキ・スタジオ
Saki Studio
26a: The Brothers Grimm
StructureConcept & DialogueArtAnimation
北武
Takeshi Kita
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
石津節子
Setsuko Ishizu
動画工房
Doga Kobo
26b: George Stephenson
27a: Shibasaburo Kitazato
27b: Hans Christian Andersen
Directing & AnimationScriptArt
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
シンエイ動画
Shin-Ei Doga
28a: Abraham Lincoln
28b: Ganjin
29a: Sugita Genpaku
29b: Fridtjof Nansen
30a: Robert Fulton
30b: Archimedes
31a: Auguste Picard
31b: Utagawa Hiroshige
32a: Sesshu
32b: Miguel de Cervantes
33a: Ernest Thompson Seton
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
白梅進
Susumu Shiraume
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
33b: Li Bai and Du Fu
34a: Natsume Soseki
DirectingConept & DialogueArtAnimation
古沢日出夫
Hideo Furusawa
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
石津節子
Setsuko Ishizu
坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
34b: Yamanoue Okura
35a: George Washington
35b: Higuchi Ichiyo
36a: Mark Twain
36b: Saigyo
37a: John Manjiro
37b: Franz Schubert
38a: Charles Lindberg
DirectingScriptArtAnimation
樋口雅一
Masakazu Higuchi
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
田中資幸
Motoyuki Tanaka
渋谷哲夫
Tetsuo Shibuya
38b: Jigoro Kano
39a: Amadeus Mozart
39b: Katsu Kaishu and Saigo Takamori
40a: Sven Hedin
40b: Johann Pestalozzi
41a: Michelangelo
41b: Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy
42a: Helen Keller
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
勝井・樋口・阿部
Katsui, Higuchi, Abe
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
秋保富恵
Tomie Akiu
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
42b: Ino Tadataka
43a: Jean Dunant
43b: Inoue Den
44a: Hiraga Gennai
44b: Shotoku Taishi
45a: Socrates
45b: Aoki Kon'yo
46a: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
46b: Murasaki Shikibu
Directing & AnimationConcept & DialogueArt
樋口雅一
Masakazu Higuchi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
阿部幸次
Koji Abe

まんが子供文庫 Animated Classics of Children's Literature
Group Tac, 1978-1979, 51 episodes (2 stories per episode)

Chief Director:前田庸生Tsuneo Maeda
Planning:藤本四郎Shiro Fujimoto
樋口雅一Masakazu Higuchi
Music:宇野誠一郎Seiichiro Uno (credit appears starting season 3)
Audio Director:田代敦巳Atsumi Tashiro
Producer:鬼丸一平Ippei Onimaru
#TITLEDIRECTORANIMATIONART
1a
The fox
1bまつりご
The festival kimono
藤本四郎
Shiro Fujimoto
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
2a鈴蘭
The lily of the valley
辻伸一
Shinichi Tsuji
亀崎経史
Keiji Kamezaki
2b梅づけの皿
The plate of pickled plums
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
西村邦子
Kazuko Nishimura
3aどうぶつえんからにげたさる
The escaped monkey
勝井千賀雄
Chikao Katsui
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
3bおさくの話
Osaku's story
小林三男
Mitsuo Kobayashi
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
小林光代
Mitsuyo Kobayashi
4a月の輪熊
The moon bear
4b子馬は帰りぬ
The pony returns
5aねずみのかくれんぼ
Mouse hide and seek
5b大造爺さんと雁
Old man Daizo and the goose
6aやなぎの糸
The willow thread
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
西村邦子
Kazuko Nishimura
6b牛のよろこび
The cow's joy
藤本四郎
Shiro Fujimoto
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
7a仁兵衛学校
Nihei school
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
7b犬と友達
The friend's dog
森田浩光
Hiromitsu Morita
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
8a魔術
The illusionist
辻伸一
Shinichi Tsuji
阿部幸次
Koji Abe
8b決闘
The duel
9aさつまはやと
Hayato Satsuma
9b百姓の夢
The farmer's dream
10a化猫退治
Defeating the monster cat
10b港の少女
The girl by the port
11a空気入れ
Letting air in
11b時計のない村
Town without a clock
樋口雅一
Masakazu Higuchi
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
12aおもちゃのマーチ
March of the toys
山田みちしろ
Michishiro Yamada
青木稔
Minoru Aoki
12bごんごろ鐘
The bell
森田浩光
Hiromitsu Morita
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
内田好之
Yoshiyuki Uchida
13a少年駅伝夫
The horse-driver boy
辻伸一
Shinichi Tsuji
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
13b兄弟
Brothers
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
14aどじょっこふなっこ
The loach and the carp
14b梨の実
The pear
15aあめふり
Rain
15b赤いもち白いもち
White and red rice cakes
16aあわて床屋
The hasty barber
16b木馬の夢
Dream of a wooden horse
17a魔法
Magic
17b枝の上のカラス
Crow on a branch
18a赤い靴
The red shoes
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
18bしょんべん稲荷
The "pee" Inari shrine
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
姫野美智
Michi Himeno
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
19a三太カッパ退治
Santa defeats a kappa
19b定ちゃんの手紙
Sada's letter
20aぜっぺき
Stuck on a cliff
小林治
Osamu Kobayashi
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
20b酒屋のワン公
The bar dog
21aけんか
The fight
21bふしぎな山のおじいさん
The old man on the mysterious mountain
22a待ちぼうけ
Tired of waiting
22b梟と幸吉
The owl and Kokichi
23aふしぎなぼうし
The mysterious hat
23bよっぱらい星
The drunk star
24a
The fart
24b片耳の大鹿
The large deer with only one ear
25aおしゃれトンボ
The fancy dragonfly
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
25bなくなった人形
The lost doll
26a一房の葡萄
A bunch of grapes
26b陸軍大将
The army commander
27杜子春
Tsu Te-Chun
28おじいさんのランプ
Grampa's lamp
29a三太子ネコ
Santa and the kitten
29b北風のくれたテーブルかけ
The tablecloth given by the north wind
30a善太漂流記=びんのゆくえ=清坊と三吉
Zenta's travels etc.
31a三日月にぶらさがった男の話
The man who hung on a new moon
31b三匹の小牛
The three calves
32aコーカサスのはげたか
The vulture of the Caucuses
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
青木稔
Minoru Aoki
32b金色の足あと
The golden footsteps
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
門屋達郎
33a三太物語 三太月世界
Santa's adventures: Santa visits the moon
33b池の鯉
The carp in the lake
34aどこかに生きながら
While living somewhere
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
34bうた時計
The musical clock
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
35a多衛門の影
Taemon's shadow
35b大河原三郎右衛門
Genzaburoemon Taiga
36a愛犬カヤ
Kaya the dog
36b清造と沼
Seizo and the swamp
37a火事とポチ
Pochi and the fire
森田浩光
Hiromitsu Morita
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
37b小川の葦
The reeds by the creek
藤本四郎
Shiro Fujimoto
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
38a三太物語 花萩先生と野球
Santa's adventures: Baseball with Ms. Hanahagi
光延博愛
Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
上口照人
Teruto Kamiguchi
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
38b木魂の靴
The echoing shoes
辻伸一
Shinichi Tsuji
阿部幸次
Koji Abe
39a鶴の笛
The crane's flute
河内日出夫
Hideo Kawauchi
石川山子
Yamako Ishikawa
39bくまと車掌
The bear and the brake boy
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
40a村の子
Town children
藤原万秀
Kazuhide Fujiwara
横瀬直土
Naoto Yokose
40b雪のはとば
The snowy wharf
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
41a善太と汽車
Zenta and the train
41b山の小僧
Mountain boy
42a三太物語 三太の動物実験
Santa's adventures: Santa's animal experiments
42b虹猫のぼうけん
The adventures of rainbow cat
樋口雅一
Masakazu Higuchi
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
田中静恵
Shizue Tanaka
43aヒロシマのうた
Song of Hiroshima
小林治
Osamu Kobayashi
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
43bキンショキショキ
The rice-washing monkey
藤原万秀
Kazuhide Fujiwara
亀崎経史
Keiji Kamezaki
44a五銭の白銅
The 5 sen coin
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
44bぽけっとの海
Sea in the pocket
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
横瀬直土
Naoto Yokose
45aだれも知らない時間
Time nobody knows
なべしまよしつぐ
Yoshitsugu Nabeshima
秋保富恵
Tomie Akiu
45b牛ぬすっと
The cow thief
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
46虎ちゃんの日記
Tora's diary
光延博愛
Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
前田実・湯川高光
Minoru Maeda & Takamitsu Yukawa
青木稔
Minoru Aoki
47a三太天幕旅行
Santa's camping trip
47b島の太吉
Taikichi on the island
48茂次の登校
Shigeji goes to school
49aにらめっくらの鬼瓦
The staring contest
49bヒゲの生えたモナ・リザ
Mona Lisa's beard
50aトロッコ
The rail car
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
50b港に着いた黒んぼ
The blind flute player
菊田武勝
Takemasa Kikuta
小関俊之
Toshiyuki Ozeki
51a三太物語 三太とチョビ助の病気
Santa's adventures: Santa's dog Chobi gets sick
藤本四郎
Shiro Fujimoto
八幡正
Tadashi Yahata
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
51bきつねの窓
The fox's window
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
馬郡美保子
Mihoko Magori

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

06:46:00 pm , 7553 words, 37327 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, 14865 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, February 9, 2012

09:07:00 pm , 6753 words, 19909 views     Categories: Lupin III, Studio: Tokyo Movie, Studio: Oh Pro, 1980s

Lupin III Part 3

After finishing the second Lupin III series a while back, I dived right into the third TV series aired March 3, 1984 to November 6, 1985. Whereas the second series felt like a bit of a slog, the 50-episode third series ended way too soon and left me wanting to see much more.

I think it's probably the most unjustly overlooked and underappreciated outing in the Lupin III franchise. It was underappreciated both at the time of its airing - constantly delayed by baseball broadcasts, because of which people probably forgot it was even airing and it wound up not being nearly as long-lived as the second series - as well as in the aftermath, when fans shied away from the most visually uninhibited and playfully designed and animated outing in the franchise, and the clean and ruly look and more conventional atmosphere and storytelling of the first series became unofficial canon.

But the third and last Lupin III TV series is in fact an entertaining show with some of the most interesting animation in the entire franchise. Yuzo Aoki, the great animator who had been a central figure behind every Lupin III outing prior to then, acted as the animation supervisor, designing the characters in a way that brought them closer than they'd ever been to Monkey Punch's manga, through the lens of his own unique sensibility.

The drawings of the second series were different from the first, simpler and more cartoonish. But the drawings in the third series are so different from the second that they're a shock to the system at first. It's like the characters are made of rubber bands. Everything is wobbly. Their limbs bend in all sorts of weird configurations. The clothing is full of curves and ruffles. The face is elongated in that patent Monkey Punch style much more prominently, and the expressions on the faces are more exaggerated and playful than ever.

The best place to get a quick feeling for just how different the character animation is from every other Lupin III outing is the second opening.

The series had two openings, both set to the same song. (Apparently they couldn't get the rights to the classic Lupin III theme song, so they had to use a new song.) The first opening was decent, but it's the second opening that captures the essence of Aoki's drawings in the show. It starts with "Lupin" spelled out using actual Lupins (pictured above), and ends with Goemon slicing up a rocket. From the rubbery-limbed Zenigata running through the door at the beginning to the lanky, banana-headed Lupin in the last shot as the chassis of his car roars off without him... this is an opening that immediately tells the viewer: this a different beast.

The second series had its share of crazy drawings and stories, but nothing this extreme. This series is the high point in experimentation with the drawings in the Lupin III franchise. Once you get used to the style, though, it's hard to go back. The cleaner drawings of the rest of the franchise look boring to me now. In every episode, you can sense how much fun the animators are having drawing the characters, and that's a large part of why the show is fun to watch, as the stories can often be pretty repetitive and predictable.

Apart from the character animation, the tone of the show is rather unique, too. It strikes a kind of middle ground between the first series and the second series - still playful and silly, but not as over-the-top as the second series, grounded by a more adult sensibility and heist/intrigue stories that aren't merely excuses for 25 minutes of cartoonish antics. The quality is far more even than the second series, which had many episodes that could easily be skipped. The directing is consistent and the animation is... albeit not consistent, consistently interesting.

Which leads to another interesting facet of this series: The characters look drastically different from one episode to the next. Characters look different from episode to episode in all anime, of course, but on the continuum of the scale of drawing variation, Lupin III Part 3 lies at one extreme.

Apart from having laid down a basic framework in the form of a set of character designs, Yuzo Aoki appears to have given the various subcontracting studios who handled many of the show's episodes almost complete freedom when it comes to drawing the characters. Even within a single episode, the characters will often look different from shot to shot due to the different styles of the animators.

Of course, what this show is best known for is the pink jacket. This is the Pink Jacket series. The pink jacket seems to capture the ambivalence people feel towards this show, without even having given it a chance - it evokes vague terrors of cheesy 80s coloring and J-pop hijinx that are really quite unwarranted. The pink was supposedly a compromise suggested by Yuzo Aoki. He originally wanted white, but they thought that was too radical, so he suggested pink as a compromise between the white jacket and the red jacket. Lupin sometimes has an afro that feels a little embarrassing, but at other times is drawn in a totally different style. For the most part, the series doesn't feel dated. Its playful animation feels as fresh as when it was made. For good or ill, there were no precedents and no followers, so there's nothing else quite like this series out there, and it's still quite interesting to re-visit today.

Besides the unusual jacket color, most of the main characters look quite different, in a way that took me some getting used to. Jigen's eyes aren't covered by his hat most of the time, and his beard is long and scruffy. They play it fast and loose with the conventions of the show. It's telling that none of the later TV specials or movies ever used the pink jacket - always the red jacket or green jacket. The third series is the crazy uncle who you've heard rumors used to be in the Hell's Angels and snort cocaine and has illegitimate children he's never met in Algeria. He's the bad boy of the family.

If I had any disappointment with this series, it would be with the stories, which fall into a predictable pattern. It's always about stealing some kind of treasure that, when stolen, turns out to be a fake. Zenigata always turns up, only to turn out to have been Lupin in disguise. Fujiko always winds up betraying Lupin. If a guest character is introduced as a good guy, he always turns out to be the bad guy.

I don't mind some patterns in Lupin. It wouldn't be Lupin if Goemon didn't split things clean in half with Zantetsuken, if Fujiko wasn't a backstabbing cocktease, and if Zenigata didn't show up every episode shouting, "I'll get you this time!" Those aren't what bother me. What was disappointing is the writing of the stories. There was never a moment where the drama felt sophisticated or surprising, or where there was any complexity to a character or to an emotion. This series was clearly aiming for a more adult feeling, while still retaining the playfulness of the second series, but it feels like they missed both marks as a result. It's a terrible shame; it feels like they never really explored the potential inherent in Lupin III for more sophisticated and adult storytelling. If this remains a gripe, not a fatal flaw, it's thanks to the quality of the animation.

Finally, it's fascinating to note that this series did not have a director. At least, none is credited. This occurred before: Tokyo Movie's own Gyators did not have a director; only episode directors. And yet it maintains a uniform tone admirably. It holds together as a series just fine. Ironically, it has an animation supervisor, yet he did not use role to make the animation of the series more uniform, as is expected of a chief animation director - just the opposite.

The subcontracting studios that produced Lupin III Part 3

Studio Iruka's private sub

As I noted in my post on the second series, several subcontractors were actually involved in the production of the show, even though they are not credited. In Part 3, subcontractors played an even bigger role. I'd say that the majority of the episodes were produced by subcontractors. And the number of subcontractors is greater. It's easier to figure out who did what this time because the studios are actually credited.

Here is a breakdown of the studios that worked on Part 3. (See the bottom of this post for full episode credits.)

► Araki Production: 1, 7
Shingo Araki, Michi Himeno, Kenichi Araki, Satoshi Sasaki, Makoto Takahoko, Yuji Yamada
► Animation 501: 2, 9, 23 (14)
Hiroshi Ogawa, Isamu Utsugi, Joji Suzuki, Ikuko Ito, Taku Nakaya, Yoshiko Arai, Hiroshi Suzuki
► Ari Production: 3 (13, 17)
Heihachiro Tanaka, Yukiko Michishita, Sayuri Matsumoto, Mariko Saito
► Studio Iruka: 6, 10, 16, 19
Sachiko Kamimura, Jun Kawagoe, Junko Abe, Hinako Komatsu, Takahiko Ayame
► AIC: 8 (5, 13, 17)
Hiromitsu Ohta, Eiji Yamanaka, Nobuyuki Kanejima
► Kusama Art: 40 (5, 11, 18, 22, 26, 27, 30, 32, 33, 36, 47, 48, 50)
Tatsuo Ryuno, Shoji Furuta, Yukihiro Makino, Michitaka Kikuchi
► Studio Unicorn: 29 (35, 48)
Masaharu Morinaka, Yuji Hamano
► Oh Production: 31, 34, 39, 43 (11, 14, 18, 21, 41, 49, 50)
Hidetoshi Owashi, Tadashi Fukuda, Don Abe, Tsutomu Iida, Hirotsugu Kawasaki, Kitaro Kosaka, Hiroshi Shimizu
► Studio Gallop: 42, 46
Hatsuki Tsuji, Toshio Yamauchi, Taku Nakaya, Hideaki Matsuoka, Jiro Tanaka, Takaya Ono, Yoshitaka Nishijima, Yoko Konishi, Miyuki Umetsu

Numbers in parenthesis indicate uncredited episodes. In a lot of cases, the episodes are actually a mix of studios - you have one or two animators from one studio working alongside one or two animators from another studio. In these episodes, they didn't bother to credit the animators by their respective studio.

Uncredited studios

There was one studio or family of studios that played a big role in the series, but that didn't get any credit for some reason: Studio Z5 and Studio Number 1. They are part of a long, complicated continuity of studios founded by people who at one time worked under or were otherwise affiliated with Yoshinori Kanada in the late 70s/early 80s at his Studio Z. Other studios affiliated with this group include Studio Oz, One Pattern, Studio Tome, and Studio Nonmaruto. It's hard to determine exactly who was at which studio when in the case of this group, as membership was very fluid, but here is a rough breakdown of their involvement in Lupin III Part 3. For some reason or other, they are not credited as a studio.

► Studio No. 1: (4, 12, 15, 20, 24, 28, 32, 33, 38, 44, 45, 48)
Osamu Nabeshima (storyboard/director), Kyoko Matsubara (sakkan), Shigenobu Nagasaki, Yasuchika Nagaoka, Masakatsu Iijima, Kazuhiro Ochi
► Studio Z5: (15, 20, 24, 44)
Hajime Kamegaki (storyboard/director), Hideyuki Motohashi (sakkan), Fujiko Ito, Seiji Muta

The Studio Number 1/Z5 episodes are one of the few places in Part 3 where you can find Kanada school animation. I'm really not fond of this style in the Lupin III context, so although the episodes aren't badly done, they're not the ones I like. But it's true that they did a lot to support the quality of the show.

The remainder of the animators not listed above were presumably working from TMS's home studio, Tokyo Movie, which is never credited explicitly since doing so would be redundant. This presumably includes Yuzo Aoki, Toshiyuki Omori, Yumi Machida, Hitoshi Hasegawa, etc.

Oh Pro is obviously the one studio from the 2nd series that came back in the 3rd series, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they do some of the best work on the show. The Oh Pro animators are totally different, however.

People who returned from the second show

Considering the six year gap between part 2 and 3, it would be interesting to have seen more people who worked on the second show working on part 3, to see how they evolved over the intervening years. But there aren't many. It's mostly new faces. Yuzo Aoki is the biggest element of staff continuity. Aoki himself sadly didn't wind up drawing much on the show, except for a few stints as animation director, but the few spots he did are very reminiscent of his work on the second show in terms of the timing of the animation. Even amidst the crazy work done by a handful of the other animators, his work feels distinct. Of course, his template can be seen in the second opening, which he presumably animated by himself. The interesting thing is that not many animators drew the characters quite the way he did. It's like he allowed them to come up with their own interpretation of his designs, rather than forcing them to draw the characters the way he did. Which is smart, because that is probably largely why so much of the animation feels so good.

Sachiko Kamimura worked on the second series as a key animator under the name Sachiko Kodama because she had just married director Kenji Kodama. By the time of the third series, the two had started their own subcontracting studio, Studio Iruka, and Sachiko had reverted to using her maiden name when working under her husband. Studio Iruka's work is quite lively and pleasant to watch, although the drawings are somewhat sleeker and more conventional.

Seijun Suzuki, who supervised the latter half of the second series, wrote a single episode in Part 3: episode 13. There aren't many episodes that stand out in terms of the story in Part 3, but episode 13 is a true oddity, perhaps even the strangest Lupin III episode ever made thanks to Seijun Suzuki's script, with its erratic shifts in tone, non-sequitur of a plot, surreal scenes, and baffling ending. It seems like the closest he ever came to making an anime version of his cult classic Branded to Kill.

It's actually difficult to grasp what the title of this episode means, or how it relates to the episode in any way. 悪のり変装曲 Warunori Hensokyoku loosely translates as 'Variations on Getting Carried Away'. Warunori means getting caught up in whatever you're saying or doing and going too far with it without realizing it. The episode strikes me as a bizarre, dreamlike remembrance of all things Lupin III, a hallucinogenic vision in the vein of Branded to Kill. My theory/interpretation is that Seijun Suzuki was slyly poking fun at the Lupin III anime and its conventions, by creating a story that did not make any sense or adhere to any of those conventions.

Episode 13 was directed by Shigetsugu Yoshida, who directed several of the best episodes of the second series. Yoshida only directed one other episode in Part 3: episode 7. Right after doing episode 13, Shigetsugu Yoshida and Seijun Suzuki together set to the task of directing the Gold of Babylon movie that served as the cinematic companion piece to Part 3.

Hatsuki Tsuji, one of the most prolific animators in the second series, returned as the animation director of one episode, this time from the studio where he new found himself, Studio Gallop. It was nice to see Hatsuki again, as he was one of the best animators in the second show, but his animation wasn't particularly exciting this time around.

Yoshio Urasawa, who wrote several of the most entertaining episodes in the second series, here returned to write two episodes - 26 and 49 - but these unfortunately had almost none of the wit and loony unpredictability that made his earlier work so fun.

Tateo Kitahara, the character designer and main animation director of the second series, paid an honorary visit in episode 36 under the name Takumi Kitahara. I rarely enjoy the work of a sakkan, because I find the job to be fundamentally problematic (I want to see a good animator's work as close to the raw as possible), but there is no denying that a good sakkan is indispensable, especially if you are not blessed with good animators or schedule, and I know that a lot of the nice drawings in the second series (except the Telecom episodes) were of the hand of the hard-working Kitahara.

The animator I most would have liked to see come back in Part 3 is Junzaburo Takahata, but it was not to be. Kazuhide Tomonaga, too, was obviously quite busy by this time working for Telecom. Most of the animators had moved on to very different places in the intervening 6 years.

Which studios/animators are worth seeking out?

The second series is long enough and uneven enough in quality that it's not worth watching the whole thing unless you REALLY like Lupin III. The third series, however, is worth watching from beginning to end. It's short enough and consistent enough that doing so isn't a chore, and there's good work here and there in every episode.

There aren't really any episodes in the third series that stand out as much as the Telecom episodes do in the second series, but there are a few animators and studios whose work is more worth checking out if your time is at a premium and you just want to sample the Pink Jacket series at its best.

Yuzo Aoki of course is the guiding spirit of Part 3, but ironically Part 3 doesn't seem to contain as much pure Aoki animation as the second series. It's other animators who wind up bathing in the spotlight.

Tatsuo Ryuno and Oh Production in my mind encapsulate the opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum of Lupin III Part 3: the one with more playful animation and heavily stylized drawings in the spirit of the Yuzo Aoki animation in the 2nd series, the other with more of a focus on exciting action animation in the spirit of the Telecom episodes of the 2nd series.

Tatsuo Ryuno

My favorite animator in the series is Tatsuo Ryuno, a person I'd never even heard of before watching the show. Ryuno is credited once alongside Shoji Furuta under a studio called Kusama Art, a mysterious studio about which I haven't been able to find any other information. He occupies the spot Yuzo Aoki occupied in the second series: He's the animator with the most deliciously idiosyncratic style in the show.

He has a very peculiar drawing style that can't be mistaken for anybody else. His style doesn't even resemble Yuzo Aoki's drawing style that much, but it's a perfect fit within the template Aoki laid down. I think he's the animator who best grasped and brought to life the direction Aoki was trying to go with this series.

He draws Lupin's face as a long curved arc in a way that reminds me of Monkey Punch's original. None of the other animators go nearly as far in drawing Lupin or the characters in this way, but that's exactly what I want to see in an anime adaptation of a Monkey Punch manga. Even Yuzo Aoki, who brought the drawings closer to Monkey Punch's original style, didn't go quite as far as Ryuno does.

Ryuno's drawings are full of creative poses. His animation is playful, sometimes excessively so. His characters become extremely deformed and exaggerated. He uses a lot of drawings. The animation is very active, and all of the poses in a movement are fun and interesting. Here are some examples of Tatsuo Ryuno sequences packed with lots of funny poses.

He often animates characters in distant shots like this, where the whole character's body is in the shot, so that there's less of a focus on the details of the features, allowing him to focus his energy on coming up with fun poses. There are lots of sequences like these where the characters react to things in a way that is so much more fun and full of playful drawings. He's a genius at packing a reaction shot with lots of comical poses - where most animators would probably have stopped at a single drawing, he puts in 10.

Ryuno's drawings feel effortless. I don't like animation that feels laborious. Despite moving so much, it feels like Ryuno is just pumping out the drawings without much pre-planning or agonizing. Sometimes they can be a little too rough around the edges and spontaneous, to the point that it feels out of control, but that's the kind of animator Ryuno is. His animation is controlled chaos.

Despite feeling very off-hand, the drawings are usually well stylized and laid out on the screen. He angles the limbs and bends the features just so in a way that feels great as a drawing. It's in that sense that he's the same kind of animator as Yuzo Aoki, and I can see why Ryuno was such an important figure under Aoki during this period.

I don't know of many other animators in the spirit of Yuzo Aoki, but Ryuno is one for sure. I wish there were more. There are lots of Kanada school animators who can draw characters in crazy poses, but what I like about Aoki and Ryuno is that they've got their own style totally uninfluenced by Yoshinori Kanada and his school. There are even animators who draw interesting drawings, but there aren't many like these two who seem to have an effortless command of body drawings. They draw the body in all these crazy poses so effortlessly. It's quintessentially Japanese in its focus on speed over cleanness and its disregard for model.

Oh Production

Oh Pro was one of the major studios behind the second series, and they return in the third to play an equally big part. Only this time, they occupy the space left empty by Telecom.

Oh Pro's episodes are the perfect contrast with Ryuno's episodes, just as Yuzo Aoki's episodes were with the Telecom episodes in the second series. Where Ryuno is all about wild drawings, the Oh Pro episodes are all about sleek, exciting action in the vein of Cagliostro. The weird thing is, Oh Pro is clearly emulating Telecom. The Telecom episodes in the second series are their model in terms of the drawings, the action, everything. They even have Lupin riding in a Fiat. The Oh Pro episodes are the only episodes in the third series that consistently depict Lupin riding in a Fiat. It sticks out that Oh Pro goes out of their way to draw Lupin in a Fiat when most of the other episodes don't care about the cars and draw him in whatever.

It's very peculiar, but the results are great. Oh Pro doesn't quite measure up to their model, but the amount of animation they pack into their episodes, and the glee with which they move their characters, is a delight to behold. And it's impressive that a completely different studio was able to create such a good simulacrum when even Telecom's recent Lupin III specials pale in comparison to the Oh Pro episodes.

The Oh Pro episodes are always storyboarded (using the pen name Kogaden) and sakkan'd by Hidetoshi Owashi and directed by Tsutomu Iida, with animation by four people: Tadashi Fukuda, Don Abe, Tsutomu Iida and Hirotsugu Kawasaki. People today may not realize who Tsutomu Iida is: It's the late Umanosuke Iida. Umanosuke Iida started out at Oh Pro concurrently animating and directing.

Hop onto the Oh! Pro express

I don't know who was responsible for the good action in the Oh Pro episodes, or even if it was just a single individual, but I suspect Hirotsugu Kawasaki to have been the main action animator in the Oh Pro episodes, because very soon after Part 3 he was involved in Laputa as the animator of the action scene on the raised railway, one of the best action scenes in the film, followed by the baby room scene in Akira. And of course, he went on to become the director of the action film Spriggan and the just-released Onigamiden. It's amazing how much talent the Oh Pro Express has sent out into the world.

My only disappointment with the Oh Pro episodes is that the story and storyboarding aren't up to the level of the animation. You sense that these animators have the potential to explode if they just had a talented storyboarder and director on the level of Miyazaki to guide them. As it stands, due to the somewhat lackluster directing and stories, the animation is fun to watch, but never quite gels into the cathartic action of the Telecom episodes.

The last two episodes

If you only watch two episodes, you could do worse than just watching the last two episodes, episodes 49 and 50. There is no continuing storyline, and the last two episodes don't tie anything up or ruin anything. They're standalone episode just like any of the others, with the added bonus of being the culmination of all of the experience of their respective animators on part 3.

Episode 49 is by Oh Pro and episode 50 features work by Tatsuo Ryuno and Yuzo Aoki. Episode 49 is definitely Oh Pro's best episode. You sense that they pulled out all the stops on this one. The directing and story are still underwhelming, but it's downright moving how much effort the animators are putting into the animation. The regular team of four this time is supplemented by no less than Kitaro Kosaka and Hiroshi Shimizu, which no doubt helps push this episode to the next level. You have in this episode animation where a story is depicted as unfolding by means of actions performed by the characters, not by a script, as was the case in the Miyazaki Lupin III episodes.

Episode 50 is actually a fairly interesting story as far as Part 3 goes. The Lupin gang steals a nuclear submarine from the Soviets, and a scramble ensues with various spy agencies from around the world trying to out-compete and out-bid one another in purchasing the sub from Lupin et al on the sly. It's got the sort of geopolitical sting and topicality and serious edge to the story that I wish more of the stories in this series had. The stories are too often ludicrous and silly. On top of this, the animation is tremendously fun, the ultimate (literally) example of what Yuzo Aoki set out to achieve with his radical but ultimately doomed re-visioning of the visuals of Lupin III. Ryuno animated the entire first half of the episode, so it's obvious in what regard Aoki held Ryuno. This episode is a good place to start to get a sense of his style. Aoki himself did some animation in the second half.

Odds and ends

In addition to all the regulars, a few unexpected names pop up once in a while. Masahito Yamashita, best known as one of the earliest Yoshinori Kanada followers to make a name for himself in the early 80s for his strange and exciting animation full of odd, improbable posing and lushly animated angular effects, makes an appearance in two episodes: 20 and 27. In both episodes, there's no missing his work, which is in exactly the style for which he is known, with no concessions made to the show whatsoever. It's saying a lot when your work sticks out on a show as permissive of animator freedom as Lupin III Part 3.

Masahito Yamashita's unmistakable drawings

Satoru Utsunomiya made an early appearance in episode 48, many years before he became known for his own unique brand of animation. The work here isn't as identifiable as his later work, but it's still distinguishable from its very different sense of timing, and even some of the drawings that have a more rounded and solid feeling to them than the others in the show.

Studio Iruka stopped working on the show rather quickly, appearing only in the first half, but one Iruka animator remained on through the rest of the show: Shobu Takahiko. I'm not positive, but I suspect that many of the parts I most enjoyed in the show were drawn by this animator. After considerable effort to figure out who did the parts I enjoyed, I've been unable to conclusively narrow it down to him, but he's my best guess going by the circumstantial evidence of his having been such a recurring face. He was even brought on in the last episode, with its small but strong cast of animators. The scene I'm most wondering about is the chase that starts in the park near the end of episode 44. The drawings and timing of the movement there are so good and unlike that of any other animator in the show. The part where Zenigata drives his car vertically through a two-foot-wide alleyway is totally insane and awesome.

Looking at the inbetween credits, you will find latter-day director Akitoshi Yokoyama in episode 46. Yokoyama started out as an animator, and this must have been one of his earliest gigs. Norimoto Tokura is an inbetweener in episode 4.

One of my favorite writers in the series is Hiroshi Kashiwabara, who wrote episodes 32, 34, 44 and 50. His scripts were more witty and believable than many of the others. I can't think of many other writers on the show who stood out to me as being particularly good. His script for episode 50 was supposedly based on a story idea that had originally been submitted as a replacement idea for the Lupin III movie that Mamoru Oshii had dropped out on. Perhaps that's what makes that episode feel a cut above the rest with its clever satirical tone.

Gold of Babylon

A movie version was in planning around the time the third series began airing. It would have been the third movie. Hayao Miyazaki had recommended Mamoru Oshii for the role of director, but Oshii submitted a story idea that was so outlandish and bizarre that it scared off the producers and got him fired. The shards of ideas I've heard include a strange figure reminiscent of the girl in Angel's Egg holed up in a tower, and Lupin having lost his purpose in life because there is nothing left in the world to steal, which brings to mind the strange vision of a depopulated world in Beautiful Dreamer.

Shigetsugu Yoshida was quickly hired as a replacement, assisted by Seijun Suzuki, and Yoshio Urasawa was hired to write the script. This happened while Part 3 was airing, and many of the staff who were working on Part 3 had to leave to work on the film. This is why there seems to be something of a dip in quality around the middle of Part 3, where it feels like they are scrabbling to find the people to make the episodes. Yuzo Aoki is conspicuously absent around the middle of the show.

Released on July 13, 1985, near the end of the unusually extended broadcast run of Part 3, the Gold of Babylon movie is the craziest and most unpredictable and unhinged of the Lupin III movies, both in terms of its animation and its story. Yuzo Aoki is the head of animation, and the animation is close in spirit to Part 3, with Lupin wearing a pink jacket, although all of the main characters other than Lupin are designed in a way that is more of a throwback to the second series. The film had to be produced in a short schedule due to the debacle with Oshii dropping out, and consequently it's rough around the edges in terms of the animation, and the story is half baked, but it's still a memorable film and a great companion piece to Part 3. It's one of the few places where you can find more animation in the spirit of Part 3.

Alice

Despite having technically nothing to do with Lupin III, this obscure OVA released in 1991 adapting an old one-shot manga by Monkey Punch is very close in spirit to Part 3 due to the fact that it was directed by Yuzo Aoki and features Tatsuo Ryuno as the animator/animation director. Although much ill has been said about this bizarre, disjointed and in some ways deliberately ugly piece of animation, it has an abrasive power like no other anime. It's the only anime I've ever seen that felt like a faithful adaptation of Monkey Punch in all of his psychosexual, violent, anarchic glory.

The story is so crazy that it's worth describing. A mad scientist was in love with a girl named Alice, but Alice runs off with another guy, so the mad scientist shoots the both of them up with a machine gun as they're trying to drive off together. To take revenge on Alice for not being faithful to him (since killing her was not enough), the mad scientist proceeds to create a cyborg version of Alice who will be his faithful sexual slave. But as fate has it, the lovemaking kills him. When his son, a mafioso boss, hears news that his pop has been killed by a girl named Alice who was great in the sack, he sends out a call to all the Alices he can find and holds an audition to find the one who's best in the sack so he can kill her and exact his revenge. After nearly wearing off his implement auditioning every conceivable species of Alice including a Martian Alice, a lesbian Alice, and a giant Alice, he finally finds his sex goddess, but right when he attempts to blow her brains out with his dad's gun, the cyborg Alice steps in and saves the girl. After his various attempts to off Alice fail because of her superhuman strength, he clones himself and modifies his clone into an ultra-powerful cyborg capable of taking on Alice. Just as the cyborg is about to defeat Alice and rape her, the Don steps in and saves Alice, realizing he has fallen in love with her. Unable to accept his conflicting emotions, he departs, vowing one day to exact his revenge on his love, Alice.

Don't try to understand it. It's not meant to be understood. It's meant to be experienced.

The combo of Aoki and Ryuno proved that they were the team who understood Monkey Punch best of all the people who have worked on the franchise over the years first in Part 3 and then in Alice. Alice is as a far-removed encore to Part 3 and an upping of the ante. This time it is no holds barred: the OVA format allows them to draw imagery that does justice to the story's nonstop parade of crazy but hilarious sex and violence. The animation is rough around the edges but very lively and fun, the drawings full of wild poses and expressions. The real Monkey Punch in his full glory was too much for the air waves, much less the silver screen. Only in the OVA format was it possible to go as far as was necessary in depicting sex to be faithful to Monkey Punch.

The sexual aspect that played such a large part in the Lupin III manga in defining Lupin's character, with Lupin screwing and/or shooting broads in his patented insanely over-the-top drawings, was completely played down in the anime - to say nothing of the Miyazaki version. Alice, for all the ill you can say about it, is one of the few anime adaptations that did not dumb down the crazed sexuality that was the essence of Monkey Punch. I for one found the story quite entertaining in its wildness. It's a little too episodic, and the story a little too crazy to be able to take seriously, but it wouldn't be Monkey Punch if that weren't the case. It's a rare glimpse into the darkness of what could have been if Lupin III had been made for a more adult audience.

Lupin III Part 3 full episode credits

StoryboardDirectorSakkanKey Animators
1金塊はルパンを呼ぶ
The gold bullion calls to Lupin
荒木プロダクション
姫野美智 荒木賢一 高鉾誠 山田雄二
Araki Production
Michi Himeno, Kenichi Araki, Makoto Takahoko, Yuji Yamada
青木悠三
Yuzo Aoki
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
2大いなる罠を暴け
Break through the big trap
アニメーション501
宇都木勇 鈴木丈司 伊藤郁子
Animation 501
Isamu Utsugi, Joji Suzuki, Ikuko Ito
こだま兼嗣
Kenji Kodama
小川博司
Hiroshi Ogawa
3こんにちは地獄の天使
Hello, angel from hell
アリプロダクション
道下有希子 松本小百合 斉藤真理子
Ari Production
Yukiko Michishita, Sayuri Matsumoto, Mariko Saito
青木悠三
Yuzo Aoki
橋本三郎
Saburo Hashimoto
田中平八郎
Heihachiro Tanaka
4テレパシーは愛のシグナル
Telepathy is love's signal
鍋島修 松原京子 飯島正勝 長岡康史 伊藤富士子
Osamu Nabeshima, Kyoko Matsubara, Masakatsu Iijima, Yasuchika Nagaoka, Fujiko Ito
鍋島修
Osamu Nabeshima
松原京子
Kyoko Matsubara
5五右ェ門無双
Goemon the invincible
古田詔治 太田博光 鈴木秀司 山中英治 牧野行洋
Shoji Furuta, Hiromitsu Outa, Hideshi Suzuki, Hideji Nakayama, Yukihiro Makino
中村亮之介
Ryonosuke Nakamura
板倉則子
Noriko Itakura
高田三郎、柳野龍男
Saburo Takada, Tatsuo Ryuno
6ルパンが戦車でやってきた
Lupan arrived in a tank
スタジオイルカ
川越ジュン あべじゅん子 小松ひな子 菖蒲隆彦
Studio Iruka
Jun Kawagoe, Junko Abe, Hinako Komatsu, Takahiko Ayame
こだま兼嗣
Kenji Kodama
神村幸子
Sachiko Kamimura
7死神ガーブと呼ばれた男
The man called Garb the God of Death
荒木プロダクション
姫野美智 荒木賢一 佐々木聡 高鉾誠
Araki Production
Michi Himeno, Kenichi Araki, Satoshi Sasaki, Makoto Takahoko
吉田しげつぐ
Shigetsugu Yoshida
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
8聖母マリヤの脱出作戦
Plan to free Holy Mary
AIC
太田博光 山中英治 兼島信幸
AIC
Hiromitsu Outa, Eiji Yamanaka, Nobuyuki Kanejima
奥脇雅晴
Masaharu Okuwaki
高田三郎
Saburo Takada
9コピー人間は高くつく
Copied people are expensive
アニメーション501
小川博司 宇都木勇 鈴木大司
Animation 501
Hiroshi Ogawa, Isamu Utsugi, Hiroshi Suzuki
橋本三郎
Saburo Hashimoto
小川博司
Hiroshi Ogawa
10秘宝は陰謀の匂い
Hidden treasure smells of conspiracy
スタジオイルカ
川越ジュン あべじゅん子 小松ひな子 菖蒲隆彦
Studio Iruka
Jun Kawagoe, Junko Abe, Hinako Komatsu, Takahiko Ayame
こだま兼嗣
Kenji Kodama
神村幸子
Sachiko Kamimura
11ルビーは血の汗を流す
The ruby sweats blood
牧野行洋 ふくだ忠 古田詔治 あべどん 青村悦子 飯田つとむ
Yukihiro Makino, Tadashi Fukuda, Shoji Furuta, Don Abe, Etsuko Aomura, Tsutomu Iida
板倉則子
Noriko Itakura
柳野龍男、尾鷲英俊
Tatsuo Ryuno, Hidetoshi Owashi
12バルタン館のとりこ
Prisoner of Baltan House
飯島正勝 長岡康史 伊藤富士子 長崎重信 松原京子
Masakatsu Iijima, Yasuchika Nagaoka, Fujiko Ito, Shigenobu Nagasaki, Kyoko Matsubara
鍋島修
Osamu Nabeshima
松原京子
Kyoko Matsubara
13悪のり変装曲
Variations on a bad joke
道下有希子 高田三郎 松本小百合 太田博光 斉藤真理子
Yukiko Michishita, Saburo Takada, Sayuri Matsumoto, Hiromitsu Outa, Mariko Saito
吉田しげつぐ
Shigetsugu Yoshida
田中平八郎、高田三郎
Heihachiro Tanaka, Saburo Takada
14誘拐ゲームはお好き
Let's play the kidnapping game
小川博司 川崎博嗣 宇都木勇 阿部どん 鈴木大司 飯田つとむ
Hiroshi Ogawa, Hirotsugu Kawasaki, Isamu Utsuki, Don Abe, Hiroshi Suzuki, Tsutomu Iida
橋本三郎
Saburo Hashimoto
小川博司、尾鷲英俊
Hiroshi Ogawa, Hidetoshi Owashi
15殺しが静かにやってくる
Death comes quietly
飯島正勝 長岡康史 伊藤富士子 長崎重信 道下有希子 高田三郎
Masakatsu Iijima, Yasuchika Nagaoka, Fujiko Ito, Shigenobu Nagasaki, Yukiko Michishita, Saburo Takada
亀垣一
Hajime Kamegaki
16黄金のリンゴには毒がある
Golden apples are poisonous
スタジオイルカ
神村幸子 川越ジュン あべじゅん子 菖蒲隆彦
Studio Iruka
Sachiko Kamimura, Jun Kawagoe, Junko Abe, Takahiko Ayame
こだま兼嗣
Kenji Kodama
神村幸子
Sachiko Kamimura
17結婚するって本当ですか
Are you really getting married?
田中平八郎 高田三郎 松本小百合 太田博光 斎藤真理子
Heihachiro Tanaka, Saburo Takada, Sayuri Matsumoto, Hiromitsu Outa, Mariko Saito
曽我部孝
Takashi Sogabe
田中平八郎、高田三郎
Heihachiro Tanaka, Saburo Takada
18ショータイムは死の香り
Showtime smells like death
古田詔治 川崎博嗣 青海房子 あべどん 菊池通隆 ふくだ忠
Shoji Furuta, Hirotsugu Kawasaki, Fusako Oume, Don Abe, Michitaka Kikuchi, Tadashi Fukuda
青木悠三
Yuzo Aoki
柳野龍男、尾鷲英俊
Tatsuo Ryuno, Hidetoshi Owashi
19裏切りの荒野を走れ
Run across the wasteland of betrayal
スタジオイルカ
神村幸子 川越ジュン あべじゅん子 菖蒲隆彦
Studio Iruka
Sachiko Kamimura, Jun Kawagoe, Junko Abe, Takahiko Ayame
こだま兼嗣
Kenji Kodama
神村幸子
Sachiko Kamimura
20過去を消した男
The man with no past
長岡康史 長崎重信 伊藤富士子 越智一裕 道下有希子 山下将仁
Yasuchika Nagaoka, Shigenobu Nagasaki, Fujiko Ito, Kazuhiro Ochi, Yukiko Michishita, Masahito Yamashita
鍋島修
Osamu Nabeshima
飯島正勝
Masakatsu Iijima
松原京子、本橋秀之
Kyoko Matsubara, Hideyuki Motohashi
21さらば黄金伝説
Farewell, legendary gold
ふくだ忠 阿部どん 飯田つとむ 川崎博嗣 北川美樹 佐藤真人
Tadashi Fukuda, Don Abe, Tsutomu Iida, Hirotsugu Kawasaki, Miki Kitagawa, Masato Sato
甲賀電
Kogaden
荻原亨
Ryo Ogiwara
尾鷲英俊
Hidetoshi Owashi
22ダイヤに炎は似合わない
Flames don't suit diamonds
飯島正勝 牧野行洋 道下有希子 古田詔治 北川美樹 佐藤真人
Masakatsu Iijima, Yukihiro Makino, Yukiko Michishita, Shoji Furuta, Miki Kitagawa, Masato Sato
曽我部孝
Takashi Sogabe
柳野龍男
Tatsuo Ryuno
23ベイルート移動銀行強奪作戦
Beirut moving bank heist plan
アニメーション501
鈴木大司 宇都木勇 中矢卓 新井淑子
Hiroshi Suzuki, Isamu Utsuki, Taku Nakaya, Yoshiko Arai
小川博司
Hiroshi Ogawa
24友よ深く眠れ
Sleep deeply, my friend
長岡康史 伊藤富士子 飯島正勝 道下有希子 北川美樹 佐藤真人
Yasuchika Nagaoka, Fujiko Ito, Masakatsu Iijima, Yukiko Michishita, Miki Kitagawa, Masato Sato
亀垣一
Hajime Kamegaki
本橋秀之
Hideyuki Motohashi
25俺たちは天使じゃない
We ain't no angels
OHプロダクション
ふくだ忠 阿部どん 飯田つとむ 川崎博嗣
Oh Production
Tadashi Fukuda, Don Abe, Tsutomu Iida, Hirotsugu Kawasaki
甲賀電
Kogaden
荻原亨
Ryo Ogiwara
尾鷲英俊
Hidetoshi Owashi
26ニューヨークの幽霊
Ghost of New York
柳野龍男 佐藤真人 青海房子 北川美樹
Tatsuo Ryuno, Masato Sato, Fusako Oume, Miki Kitagawa
青木悠三
Yuzo Aoki
青木悠三、柳野龍男
Yuzo Aoki, Tatsuo Ryuno
27暗号名はアラスカの星
Codeword: Alaskan star
山下将仁 柳野龍男 道下有希子 北川美樹 青梅房子 佐藤真
Masahito Yamashita, Tatsuo Ryuno, Yukiko Michishita, Miki Kitagawa, Fusako Oume, Makoto Sato
ケン・タロウ
Taro Ken
荻原露光
Roko Ogiwara
青木悠三
Yuzo Aoki
28アラスカの星は地獄への報酬
Alaska's stars are payment from hell
道下有希子 飯島正勝 佐藤真人 細谷満 北川美樹 三浦嘉友
Yukiko Michishita, Masakatsu Iijima, Masato Sato, Mitsuru Hosotani, Miki Kitagawa, Yoshitomo Miura
荻原露光
Roko Ogiwara
浪花京子
Kyoko Naniwa
29月へハネムーンに行こう
Let's go on a honeymoon to the moon
スタジオユニコーン
森中正春 浜野裕治
Studio Unicorn
Masaharu Morinaka, Yuji Hamano
荻原露光
Roko Ogiwara
森中正春
Masaharu Morinaka
30カクテルの名は復讐
The name of the cocktail is revenge
山崎理 柳野龍男 曽我部孝 青梅房子 蒲木伸男 佐久間清明
Osamu Yamasaki, Tatsuo Ryuno, Takashi Sogabe, Fusako Oume, Nobuo Kamaki, Kiyoaki Sakuma
曽我部孝
Takashi Sogabe
青木悠三、柳野龍男
Yuzo Aoki, Tatsuo Ryuno
31逆転 逆転 また逆転
One turn of events after another
OHプロダクション
ふくだ忠 阿部どん 飯田つとむ 川崎博嗣
OH Production
Tadashi Fukuda, Don Abe, Tsutomu Iida, Hirotsugu Kawasaki
甲賀電
Kogaden
飯田つとむ
Tsutomu Iida
尾鷲英俊
Hidetoshi Owashi
321000万ドルの鍵
The $10-million key
柳野龍男 曽我部孝 青梅房子 佐藤真人 道下有希子 北川美樹
Tatsuo Ryuno, Takashi Sogabe, Fusako Oume, Masato Sato, Yukiko Michishita, Miki Kitagawa
鍋島修
Osamu Nabeshima
飯田つとむ
Tsutomu Iida
松原京子
Kyoko Matsubara
33天才少年の危険な遊び
Dangerous games of a boy genius
柳野龍男 佐藤真人 青梅房子 道下有希子 北川美樹 飯島正勝
Tatsuo Ryuno, Masato Sato, Fusako Oume, Yukiko Michishita, Miki Kitagawa, Masakatsu Iijima
荻原露光
Roko Ogiwara
柳野龍男、曽我部孝
Tatsuo Ryuno, Takashi Sogabe
34マンハッタン・クライシス
Manhattan Crisis
OHプロダクション
ふくだ忠 阿部どん 飯田つとむ 川崎博嗣
OH Production
Tadashi Fukuda, Don Abe, Tsutomu Iida, Hirotsugu Kawasaki
甲賀電
Kogaden
飯田つとむ
Tsutomu Iida
尾鷲英俊
Hidetoshi Owashi
35ターゲットは白銀の果てに
The target at the far edge of the snow
森中正春 曽我部孝 浜野裕治 佐藤真人 道下有希子 北川美樹
Masaharu Morinaka, Takashi Sogabe, Yuji Hamano, Masato Sato, Yukiko Michishita, Miki Kitagawa
曽我部孝
Takashi Sogabe
森中正春、青木悠三
Masaharu Morinaka, Yuzo Aoki
36鷲の舞い降りる時
When the eagle descends
柳野龍男 大森利之 古田詔治 長谷川仁 町田由美 斉藤弘行
Tatsuo Ryuno, Toshiyuki Omori, Shoji Furukawa, Hitoshi Hasegawa, Yumi Machida, Hiroyuki Saito
中野一
Hajime Nakano
荻原露光
Roko Ogawara
北原匠、柳野龍男
Takumi Kitahara, Tatsuo Ryuno
37父っつあん大いに怒る
Pops gets really mad
丸山政次 佐藤真人 山岸宏 道下有希子 北川美樹 菖蒲隆彦
Masatsugu Maruyama, Masato Sato, Hiroshi Yamagishi, Yukiko Michishita, Miki Kitagawa, Takahiko Ayame
荻原露光
Roko Ogawara
小林勝利、曽我部孝
Masatoshi Kobayashi, Takashi Sogabe
38俺を愛したレティシア
Leticia who loved me
大森利之 佐藤真人 長谷川仁 道下有希子 町田由美 菖蒲隆彦
Toshiyuki Omori, Masato Sato, Hitoshi Hasegawa, Yukiko Michishita, Yumi Machida, Takahiko Ayame
鍋島修
Osamu Nabeshima
飯島正勝
Masakatsu Iijima
北原匠、青木悠三
Takumi Kitagawa, Yuzo Aoki
39ライバルに黄金を
Gold to the rival
OHプロダクション
ふくだ忠 阿部どん 飯田つとむ 川崎博嗣
OH Production
Tadashi Fukuda, Don Abe, Tsutomu Iida, Hirotsugu Kawasaki
甲賀電
Kogaden
飯田つとむ
Tsutomu Iida
尾鷲英俊
Hidetoshi Owashi
40一枚のお宝で大混戦
Free-for-all over a single piece of treasure
草間アート
柳野龍男 古田詔治
Kusama Art
Tatsuo Ryuno, Shoji Yoshida
曽我部孝
Takashi Sogabe
柳野龍男
Tatsuo Ryuno
41戒厳令の夜
Night of martial order
長谷川仁 町田由美 牟田清司 道下有希子 菖蒲隆彦 佐藤真人
Hitoshi Hasegawa, Yumi Machida, Seiji Muta, Yukiko Michishita, Takahiko Ayame, Masato Sato
荻原露光
Roko Ogiwara
尾鷲英俊
Hidetoshi Owashi
42ピラミッドの保険金を奪え
Grab the pyramid insurance money
スタジオぎゃろっぷ
山内昇寿郎 中矢卓 松岡秀明 田中二郎
Studio Gallop
Toshio Yamauchi, Taku Nakaya, Hideaki Matsuoka, Jiro Tanaka
飯島正勝
Masakatsu Iijima
戯家六夫
Mutuso Giga
関町北三
Kitami Sekimachi
43さらばシンデレラ
Farewell to Cinderella
OHプロダクション
ふくだ忠 阿部どん 飯田つとむ 川崎博嗣
OH Production
Tadashi Fukuda, Don Abe, Tsutomu Iida, Hirotsugu Kawasaki
甲賀電
Kogaden
飯田つとむ
Tsutomu Iida
尾鷲英俊
Hidetoshi Owashi
44ボクたちのパパは泥棒
Our dad's a thief
大森利之 道下有希子 長谷川仁 佐藤真人 町田由美 菖蒲隆彦
Toshiyuki Omori, Yukiko Michishita, Hitoshi Hasegawa, Masato Sato, Yumi Machida, Takahiko Ayame
亀垣一
Hajime Kamegaki
飯島正勝
Masakatsu Iijima
井上昭子
Shoko Inoue
45コンゲームに乾杯
Salud to the con game
佐藤真人 佐藤雪絵 道下有希子 井上昭子 菖蒲隆彦 長岡康史
Masato Sato, Yukie Sato, Yukiko Michishita, Shoko Inoue, Takahiko Ayame, Yasuchika Nagaoka
飯島正勝
Masakatsu Iijima
井上昭子
Shoko Inoue
46俺の翼はスクラップ
My wings are scrap
スタジオぎゃろっぷ
小野隆哉 西島義隆 小西洋子 梅津美幸
Studio Gallop
Takaya Ono, Yoshitaka Nishijima, Yoko Konishi, Miyuki Umetsu
高本宣弘
Nobuhiro Takagi
辻初樹
Hatsuki Tsuji
47一枚の迷画
A famous painting
兵頭敬 柳野龍男 高橋明信 古田詔治 須貝美佳
Takashi Hyodo, Tatsuo Ryuno, Akinobu Takahashi, Shoji Furuta, Mika Sugai
河島三郎
Saburo Kawashima
柳野龍男
Tatsuo Ryuno
48ハディスの涙
Hadis's tears
菖蒲隆彦 柳野龍男 宇都宮智 長岡康史 道下有希子 飯島正勝
Takahiko Ayame, Tatsuo Ryuno, Satoru Utsunomiya, Yasuchika Nagaoka, Yukiko Michishita, Masakatsu Iijima
奥脇雅晴
Masaharu Okuwaki
青木悠三
Yuzo Aoki
49父っつあんが養子になった日
The day pops was adopted
川崎博嗣 福田忠 あべどん 飯田つとむ 高坂希太郎 清水洋
Hirotsugu Kawasaki, Tadashi Fukuda, Don Abe, Tsutomu Iida, Kitaro Kosaka, Hiroshi Shimizu
甲賀電
Kogaden
飯田つとむ
Tsutomu Iida
尾鷲英俊
Hidetoshi Owashi
50原潜イワノフの抹殺指令
Order to destroy nuclear submarine Ivanov
柳野龍男 青木悠三 菖蒲隆彦 柳田勤 高坂希太郎 尾鷲英俊
Tatsuo Ryuno, Yuzo Aoki, Takahiko Ayame, Tsutomu Yagita, Kitaro Kosaka, Hidetoshi Owashi
青木悠三
Yuzo Aoki
荻原露光
Roko Ogiwara
青木悠三
Yuzo Aoki

A selection of random images from the series:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

07:15:08 pm , 1497 words, 3522 views     Categories: Animation

Dorvack & Dancougar

I've been watching the old Ashi Production TV shows Dorvack (1983) and Dancougar (1985) here over the last week or so. The shows are a good time capsule of the preoccupations of animators around that period thanks to the liberties that the Ashi Production studio allowed its animators.

Ashi Pro is an interesting studio that had their own unusual style and way of doing things. I've long been a fan of them if just for the two first shows they produced entirely on their own: Goshogun (1981) and Minky Momo (1982), classics that both stood out back then for having a sensibility quite different from the other work being done in the rest of the industry. Goshogun brought irony and wit to the giant robot genre, while Minky Momo built on what was achieved in Goshogun and went even further, using the magical girls genre as a springboard for creating parodic, witty, free-for-all fantasy. It was a show with real freedom and variety. The stories in particular were unlike anything out there, covering huge range of material, from sophisticated parodies to serious stories with a heavy message about nuclear war and human suffering.

Dorvack and Dancougar were the next two shows they did right afterwards. Both shows are quite similar to one another in look and atmosphere, but they are quite different from the preceding two shows because of the absence of creator and writer Takeshi Shudo, who was the brain behind the unusual intelligence of the earlier shows. In substance, Dorvack and Dancougar seem more reflective of the trends of the industry than of rebellion from those trends. The character designer of Dorvack and one of the main animation directors of Dancougar was Osamu Kamijo, who had designed Baldios in 1980 and been an animation director on both Goshogun and Momo right afterwards, so all of these shows have a certain stylistic similarity in terms of the characters. Dorvack in particular still bears a heavy feeling of Momo, with this strange combination of Momo-like levity and designs, but Ideon-like seriousness and alien-invasion story. Dancougar improves on this with more sharp animation and a more serious atmosphere and a story lacking the silliness of Dorvack that seems more befitting the material. But both shows are unmistakable as Ashi Production shows.

The animation of Dorvack is interesting despite my not knowing many of the animators. It shows that Yoshinori Kanada's influence was in its prime at the time, with even animators I've never heard of creating animation that is clearly influenced by his approach in terms of the drawings, poses or timing - using weird shapes for the explosions, inserting odd drawings for a single frame at a time, and using extreme perspective and bending the robots in weird, improbably elastic ways. An animator named Masaki Kudo is a regular throughout the series and seems to have been one of the main action animators, and the one responsible for these Kanada-esque parts.

Another animator who drew his first key animation in this series, and was responsible for the other action parts that have less a Kanada flavor and more of a through-conceived approach to the animation, was Nobuyoshi Habara. Habara had debuted as an inbetweener on Minky Momo after having joined Ashi Pro. He had decided he would become an animator when he was in middle school, apparently, and only attended high school to please his parents. As soon as he graduated, he went pro. He had presumably spent most of his time in high school drawing amateur animation at the so-called "manga club" he attended after school, because by the very first episode of Dorvack the animation has a level of detail and assurance that seems unusual for a person's first key animation at this period. In fact, the mature, through-conceived approach he exhibits in Dorvack seems clearly the result of his having studied and copied the animators whom he revered as a younger kid during high school - notably the work of animation director Kazuo Komatsubara and animator Kazuhide Tomonaga on Toei robot shows like Getter Robo. It was seeing their work that influenced him to want to become an animator. Habara's work in Dorvack looks distinctly Tomonaga-esque, as opposed to Kanada-esqe, ie more straight-through and naturalistic rather than jumping about wildly and inserting odd images. So you have a blend of the two distinct Toei approaches coming and going throughout.

Habara's early career is unusual, since right after working as an inbetweener on a single show he was bumped to to working as mecha designer, key animator and animation director on his next show. That's how unique Ashi Pro was. They had a very loose, ad-hoc approach to staff allocation and the animation. Habara notes in an interview that he liked mecha animation in part because it offered more freedom than character animation, because while there was a character animation director who stood over you and usually corrected and modified your animation if you were animating a character, the mecha animation pretty much went through as-is. You could use tons of drawings and nobody would say anything. That's perhaps why the mecha animation is the salient thing when talking about these shows. It's the most interesting part of the animation, to say nothing of the show.

Jump two years ahead to 1985 and Habara's style has already changed and improved dramatically, as can be judged by this awesome shot of a tank being sliced in half by a laser in the first episode of Dancougar, which I presume to have been drawn by him since he was mecha animation director of the episode, although I'm not positive. Apparently Ashi Pro had helped out a little with the mecha animation of Macross on the side immediately before doing this, and Habara was still in a phase of his career in which he was learning and absorbing the 1-2-3s of animation from his sempai animators around him, so it would make sense for him to have been influenced by Ichiro Itano's work on Macross from 1982 to 1983 (although obviously not so much necessarily his circus work per se, as just his more realistic approach to mecha and explosion dynamics), as evidenced by the fluidity and increased detail and 'realism' of the mecha animation in the shot above and the space battle around the 7-minute mark, ending with this shot of spaceships being blasted away. He never mentions being influenced by Itano in any interviews I've read with him, but if he animated these sections, it would be pretty surprising if he said he hadn't been.

It's interesting, though, because like Dorvack, this Itano-school animation is joined later by animation like the dogfight here that looks very different from what came before in space, and if anything looks extremely Kanada-school. I assume Habara did the former and someone else did the latter, but I'm not really sure. Either way, I find the first episode of Dancougar interesting for the way you see the two dominant influences of the day, whose styles don't really mix, side by side in the same episode. I haven't seen the rest of the show yet, but apparently episode 5 is a big bash of the Kanada-school animators of the day, including Masami Obari, who was mecha designer of the show and had himself also been an early bloomer who quickly developed his own take on the Kanada style and became one of the leading Kanada-school figures of the next few years. The rest of the show also apparently has nice work, so overall, Dancougar seems to give a good snapshot of where Kanada-school animation stood in 1985. I'm curious to see how Habara's work evolves over the length of the show. I really like his dense, detailed work here.

Like Itano Ichiro, however, Habara soon quit animating and became first a designer and then a director, having done quite a lot of work for Xebec, where he moved when it was founded, including most recently directing Soukyuu no Fafner. One of Habara's most famous contributions before leaving Ashi Pro was on Machine Robo: Chronos no Daigyakushuu in 1986, for which he was designer, animator and AD. The show apparently had a lot of wild animation from the likes of animators like a young Shinya Ohira, and otherwise sounds interesting. Habara also worked on the Dancougar OVA in 1987 as storyboarder, designer and AD. I haven't seen much of his subsequent work, of which there is tons, but one of the things he did since the early days that I rather liked was that homage to the great 1970s Toei giant robot shows, Gekiganger, for the production of which he enlisted the aid of the very animators who more than 20 years earlier had influenced him into becoming an animator himself through their work on those very 1970s giant robot shows - Kazuo Komatsubara, Kazuhide Tomonaga, Shingo Araki and Michi Himeno. It's nice to find someone who isn't just a Kanada follower for once. There were so many other great animators in the 1970s.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

12:46:17 am , 17520 words, 53389 views     Categories: Animation, Studio

A Production / Shin-Ei Animation

Two years ago one of the most important figures of the Toei Doga generation passed away: Daikichiro Kusube. People over here might not be familiar with him, but he was easily one of the most successful and influential of the Toei Doga figures in many ways. Many of the great Toei Doga animators like Miyazaki and Otsuka worked at his studio at one time or another after leaving Toei during its transformation at the beginning of the TV era in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and the studio he founded and ran for more than 30 years was extremely prolific, producing some of the most beloved and watched TV anime ever seen in the country, including Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, to name but the two longest-lived. Beyond that, even today the animation that Kusube's studio created way back in the 1970s continues to resonate with many of the most interesting animators active today, both influencing and inspiring. The unique style of animation that A Production pioneered at this early period in the history of the medium remains alive to both animators and fans alike in a way that few other productions then or now do.

To continue to think back on this important generation and what they did for animation in Japan, today I thought I would highlight the achievements of the studio created by Kusube Daikichiro, in both its incarnations: A Production, which was active from 1965 to 1976, and its re-incarnation, Shin-Ei Animation, which was founded in 1976 and is alive and well today. I've mentioned both studios often in the past, as I'm an avid fan of the older A Production shows and Shin-chan, but only in scattershot fashion. I wanted to get everything down in a more clear and accessible form so that people over here could finally have a clear idea of the historical significance of this studio.

Daikichiro Kusube: Beginnings

Born in 1934 in occupied Manchuria, Daikichiro Kusube grew up interested in the arts. Upon graduation he decided that he wanted to become a sculptor. However, practical considerations forced him to revise his plans in favor of something more profitable, so he decided to try going into manga, which was booming. One day he visited publisher Kobunsha to see if they needed his services, and met an editor who seemed interested in giving him a chance. But a fateful thing happened. As Kusube was leaving, the thoughtful editor mentioned that a company called Toei Doga was looking for people who could draw. To cover his bases, Kusube headed over to Toei Doga that same day and happened to run into the president, Zenjiro Yamamoto, who gave him a tour of the studio. He wound up passing the entrance examination given a few days later, which forced him to give up his ambitions in manga. In later days he wondered if he might not have been happier working in manga. It was a crossroads in his life, and his future course was set.

Kusube was hired in 1957 in the first wave of public hirings for the purpose of finding animators to work on Hakujaden (1958). Reiko Okuyama came in briefly afterwards in the second wave of hirings. At this early stage, Akira Daikuhara and Yasuji Mori were the only two competent animators in the studio. On the first few films including Hakujaden, Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke (1959) and Saiyuki (1960), Daikuhara and Mori drew they rough keys, which they then handed to seconds to clean up. The seconds consisted mostly of younger animators such as Yasuo Otsuka who had joined Nichido prior to the re-organization into Toei Doga. The seconds cleaned up the rough keys, which they in turn carried to the inbetweeners for inbetweening - which is where Kusube found himself after breezing through basic training in an unusually short time span.

Kusube was full of spunk and stood out right from the start. As an inbetweener he was working alongside people who had joined the studio well before him, and therefore had seniority, but that didn't keep him from making comments about a key animator's drawing being off. If his fellow inbetweeners had seniority, the key animators were considered gods, but Kusube barreled right through the hierarchical mindset of Toei Doga to go where he wanted to go. Soon enough he was modifying the timing of seconded keys by Daikubara, or adding extra actions to a sequence, and people stopped coming to him with seconded keys. So he took matters into his own hands. One day when he was sitting there without work between Daikubara and Mori, the only two people with a copy of the storyboard, he took a red pencil and ticked off five shots of the storyboard, asking Mori to let him animate them. A shocked Mori consulted with president Zenjiro Yamamoto, and they decided to let him have a go at it. If it wasn't usable, they could just throw it away. So it went that, a mere two months after his training period, and without going through a seconding stage, Kusube became a key animator. Otsuka was promoted alongside him, although neither got credited as keys until they turned 25. President Zenjiro Yamamoto, who ran Nichido for many years and was himself a veteran animator with decades of experience in animation under his belt by the time Toei Doga was formed, had a hangup that nobody under 25 should be credited as a key animator. Otsuka is first credited as a key animator in Saiyuki in 1960, and Kusube in Anju in 1961.

In Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke in 1959, Kusube worked with Yasuo Otsuka on the animation of the monster salamander in the lake. Working on action scenes like this got Kusube (like Otuska) pegged as an action animator, and in Saiyuki in 1960 he again animated a big action scene alongside Otsuka. They animated the climactic fight with the bad guy, Kusube doing the first half and Otsuka handling the second half, the bullfight part. Kusube had by this time accumulated an entourage of other studio rebels, including Gisaburo Sugii, who though technically supposed to be his second he allowed to draw key animation. Kusube ignored the seconding system at the studio, handing his keys directly to inbetweeners. After working on both Sindbad and Anju, Kusube was finally given the chance to design and animate his own character. He designed and animated the sequence with the fire god on Yasuji Mori's breakthrough piece as animation director, Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon. Working under him at the time was newcomer Yoichi Kotabe, who had trained under Kusube since his arrival in the studio. Kusube allowed Kotabe to draw his first key animation on this scene, namely the horse. Keiichiro Kimura, an animator who later became known for his free and rough animation in Toei shows like Tiger Mask and later founded Studio Neo Media (which trained animators like Yoshiyuki Momose), also learned the ropes under Kusube, as did Takao Kosai of Gyators fame, who later founded Studio Junio (which trained animators like Toshiyuki Inoue). Both Kotabe and Kimura had been rejected from Toei after their entrance exams, and Kusube was responsible for talking the company into letting them in.

Although Kusube might at first glance seem to have developed more under the influence of Daikuhara than of Mori, Kusube asserts that this was not the case, and that he learned things his own way, watching both Mori and Daikuhara, without being specifically taught by anyone. I think that is the case generally at this early stage in the modern period of commercial Japanese animation. Animators weren't trained to animate a certain way; they developed in the direction of their own proclivities by watching those around them. Kusube and Otsuka, his senior at the studio, happened to live next door to each other, and together helped found the studio's first union, so there was almost certainly a degree of influencing going on there as well.

After this film, Kusube said goodbye to films and set to the task of working on Toei Doga's second attempt at a TV series. Immediately before had come Toei Doga's first TV anime, Ken the Wolf Boy (November 1963-August 1965), headed by Sadao Tsukioka. The follow-up was a ninja anime based on a Shirato Sanpei manga: Kaze no Fujimaru (June 1964-August 1965). Senior animator Yasuji Mori would head the third sally the next year: Hustle Punch (November 1965-April 1966). I wrote about these shows back in 2005 (see last three paragraphs for Kusube's work on Fujimaru). Kusube was character designer and animation director, and was aided by Kotabe as co-animation director handling the sub-characters. Kotabe stayed on at Toei Doga for a few more years before leaving, working not only on the films but also on the TV shows like Hustle Punch, Rainbow Sentai Robin and Mahotsukai Sally, but this would prove to be Kusube's last Toei Doga project. After finally leaving Toei Doga following Ali Baba in 1971, the first place Kotabe went was A Pro to join Miyazaki et al on Pippi, which morphed into Panda Kopanda. After then working at Nippon Animation for a few years with Miyazaki & Takahata, he left, and would have helped out Kusube on The Red Bird, but wound up instead having to do Taro the Dragon Boy for Toei. That was the last intersection in the careers of the two once closely tied Toei Doga animators.

The road to A Production

Around the time Fujimaru was ending in 1965, Toei Doga was incorporated into a separate company. Prior to then Toei Doga had been merely the animation arm of film studio Toei. Now they were a separate company, and management changed as well. I mentioned how conditions had been very tight during production of Fujimaru, with barely anybody trained in animation working under Kusube, and Kusube consequently having to take on a tremendous workload. Conditions were so severe that, a one point, Kusube was asked to singlehandedly animate two entire episodes a month. This meant a lot of work, but also a lot of pay for doing so much work. The pay situation had presumably been considerably ameliorated by the formation of a union at Toei Doga. Kusube reports that he was earning somewhere in the vicinity of ¥1.5 million a month, which I figure works out to something like $20,000 USD a month in today's terms. It's a figure that's hard to believe at first sight, especially compared to what animators earn today (most reportedly earn less than minimum wage). It's a little easier to swallow when one learns that, upon a review of the books following incorporation, management ordered Kusube to take a pay cut because he was earning more than the president. Kusube, unlike the president, had worked for every penny with every stroke of the pencil, so he rightly felt affronted. By that time Kusube was already feeling he was ready to call it quits, so he used the opportunity to tell them what was on his mind and left, despite the fact that they still wanted and needed him to stay. They offered him the next film after Horus, which was in production at the time, but he refused. He took his money and quit in September 1965, the month after Fujimaru ended. Three months later, in December 1965, Daikichiro Kusube founded his own company: A Production Ltd.

But the story of A Production begins the day Kusube quit Toei. Osamu Tezuka had been involved with the studio for some time in preparation for the founding of his own studio, first on Saiyuki in 1960 and then on Wan Wan Chushingura in 1963. Tezuka had used the experience to acquaint himself with not just animation but also with the animators, and many Toei animators defected to Mushi Pro over the first few years of the 1960s - from Kazuko Nakamura to Toshio Hirata to Teruto Kamiguchi to Norio Hikone to Chikao Katsui. The day Kusube quit, he received a phone call from Tezuka as soon as he got home, inviting him to join Mushi Pro. Tezuka was nothing if not a good scout of talent. But Kusube wanted a challenge, and he felt that the animation production system at Mushi Pro already had a good solid foundation thanks to the work of the Toei Doga figures who had defected there like Gisaburo Sugii and Kazuko Nakamura. So he declined Tezuka's offer.

Not long after hanging up with Tezuka, Kusube received another phone call, this time from one Yutaka Fujioka. Fujioka, once the head a puppet theater troupe, had in August 1964 founded an animation production studio named Tokyo Movie at the behest of the TV station TBS. TBS wanted to expand their anime lineup to attract more viewers by capitalizing on the new fad for TV animation created by Atom Boy. They engaged Fujioka to put together an animation studio, which he did by grabbing anyone he could find with experience in animation. The result was Big X, and it was a disaster. Despite featuring early work by figures who would later go on to become great creators elsewhere like Osamu Dezaki and Murano Moribi, most of the people hired, such as Renzo Kinoshita (creator of the classic indie short Pika-Don and founder of the Hiroshima International Animation Festival), had no traditional animation experience, having only dabbled in animation for the likes of independent animator Kuri Yoji. Upon starting production of his second series, Fujioka was eager to find some competent animators, so he jumped on the chance to call Kusube when he was informed by TBS's agency that Kusube had quit Toei Doga.

Kusube and Fujioka had in fact met a year prior to this, in 1964, while Kusube was still employed at Toei Doga. The agent in charge of getting the animation studio set up for TBS had organized a meeting between a number of animation people, trying coercively and craftily to round them up into a team. Most didn't know what the meeting was about, but upon arrival were introduced to one another by the agent, much to their own surprise, as senior management of the new organization. Among the people there at the time were the members of Studio Zero, the legendary group of manga artists formed in 1963 including people like the Fujiko Fujio duo, Shotaro Ishinomori and Shinichi Suzuki. (Suzuki had served as the main animator of Yokoyama Ryuichi's Otogi Pro films in the preceding years.) It was a fateful meeting, although nothing was finalized until after Kusube quit Toei Doga. Studio Zero would go on to be involved in animating the first few TV series for Tokyo Movie alongside A Production, all of which were adaptations of manga by Studio Zero residents Fujiko Fujio, whose works would later play a central role for Shin-Ei Animation.

Kusube and Fujio were in fact prior acquaintances. They had met once before that same year, when Studio Zero had asked Toei Doga to produce Shotaro Ishinomori's Rainbow Sentai Robin. Toei Doga wasn't interested, so Kusube had been sent by the studio to decline. Kusube remembers noting at the meeting where he informed Studio Zero of Toei Doga's decision that the half of the team later known as Fujiko F. Fujio (real name Hiroshi Fujimoto) was the only one nodding in understanding when Kusube suggested that the project was perhaps ahead of its time, and something with simple characters and a comical atmosphere like The Jetsons might be a better project. Fujiko F. Fujio himself was just setting out as a manga artist at the time, but already each was aware of the other as someone with a compatible approach.

1965-1976: A Production

Kusube decided to accept Fujioka's offer, but not in the way that Fujioka had intended. Fujioka had invited Kusube to run the animation department of Tokyo Movie, but Kusube would have no part of it. Kusube never again wanted to be a pawn in someone else's company. Kusube wanted to form his own company to take care of actual animation production, leaving management and planning to Tokyo Movie. Fujioka agreed, and so it was that the two companies entered into what would be one of the most fruitful tie-ups in the history of anime.

The name of Kusube's studio, A Production, had various meanings - A for Ace, A for Animation, and simply A the first letter of the alphabet. When he left Toei Doga, Kusube invited a number of animators to come with him. These animators who were the earliest members at the studio went on to provide the backbone of A Pro over the next ten years, afterwards remaining key players at Shin-Ei from a distance at the studios each of them had founded for themselves. Easily the three most important members at the studio right from the beginning and on through the years were taken from Toei Doga by Kusube at this time: Osamu Kobayashi, Tsutomu Shibayama, and Yoshio Kabashima. These are the three names that define what came to be appreciated as that special flavor A Pro brought to all of their work. It was all about an unparalleled instinct for creating appealing and exciting animation with limited TV animation. These three were among the first genuine geniuses of limited in Japan, and through their work at A Pro they influenced a bevy of other animators who worked on the same shows either at the studio alongside them or at other studios contracted by Tokyo Movie to help on the same shows. Other figures like Eiichi Nakamura and Hideo Kawauchi were among first wave hired afterwards, while others drifted in over the years, like Yoshifumi Kondo in 1968 and Hiroshi Fukutomi in 1971.

Kusube's experience on Fujimaru had provided him with first-hand experience working with this new medium of limited animation, and that know-how undoubtedly provided the foundation for the approach at A Pro in the early years, when these younger animators had their own first chance to play around and figure out how limited animation was made. Unlike Kusube, they weren't trained on the feature films, and therefore had their foundation laid completely within the context of limited animation. They were limited animators through to the bone, and they became experts in the medium like none we've ever seen since.

At the beginning A Pro almost exclusively handled animation and directing, with only a few animators and directors at Tokyo Movie. Right from the start with Obake no Q-Taro in 1965, Fujioka used his puppet theater connections to find prospective directors. Masaaki Osumi, who later went on to direct the breakthrough first Lupin series at A Pro, was there since Obake no Q-Taro, and participated in most of the early A Pro shows up until the debacle with Lupin. Early on in my blog I wrote a bit about A Pro, and in the comments to this post I talked a bit about what happened with Lupin. Another of the important directors of the early years of A Pro was Tadao Nagahama, who also came from a background in the puppet theater. In this case Nagahama had been driven out of Tokyo Movie for some reason or other, and Kusube was the one who wrangled him back into anime, taking him under his wing at the studio and teaching him the ropes in directing. He went on to become one of the great directors of sports anime that A Pro began producing right around this time, starting with Kyojin no Hoshi in 1968 and all the way through Samurai Giants in 1975, when he left the studio and left anime altogether. He was eventually to return and make a name for himself directing giant robot shows at Sunrise.

Eiji Okabe, born in 1931, already had a respectable career behind him in special effects working at movie studio Shin Toho on films like Senkan Yamato ("Battleship Yamato", 1953) and Meiji Tenno to Nichiro Daisenso ("Emperor Meiji and the Russo-Japanese War", 1957) before being dispatched to Tokyo Movie, a subsidiary of Kokusai Hoei, when Shin Toho was reorganized to Kokusai Hoei. Other directors like Shigetsugu Yoshida and Tomekichi Takeuchi, who went on to become mainstays at Tokyo Movie, were trained at Toei Doga on the mid-60s productions after Kusube had already left, and joined Tokyo Movie a little later.

The early shows

Fujioka had originally called on Kusube because he was looking for better animators to staff his next project, Obake no Q-Taro. This series, which ran from August 1965 to June 1967, was the first collaboration between the two studios. It was in fact co-animated with Studio Zero, as was the case for almost all of the anime produced by Tokyo Movie between 1965 and 1969, most of which were anime adaptations of Fujiko Fujio manga. In addition to establishing the precedent of adapting Fujiko Fujio manga, Obake no Q-Taro is the series that set the tone for the rest of the work done by A Production over the decade that followed, with its simple drawings, lighthearted tone and fast-paced slapstick humor. This was the first successful show of its kind on TV in Japan, and was a big hit with audiences, continuing for almost three years. It was also one of most successful early instances of character goods related marketing, with more than 2000 different Q-Taro-related products released by the time the TV series had finished airing. This savvy for successful franchise marketing is something that would reach its apotheosis with Doraemon.

The next Tokyo Movie series that was aired on TBS was Paa-man, which aired for exactly a year from April 1967 to April 1968. Tokyo Movie also began production of another series called Chingo Muchabee at nearly the same time, based this time not on a manga by Fujiko Fujio but on a manga by Kenji Morita, but it was not aired on TV until February-March 1971, when it was belatedly rushed by on TV one episode a day on weekdays for a month. The reason had to do with the fact that, by 1967, it was already becoming difficult to find airtime for black and white programs. Muchabe wound up being the last black and white Tokyo Movie series to be broadcast on TV, although the last black and white TV anime produced by Tokyo Movie was Umeboshi Denka, which aired in 1969. 1967 was the year of Mushi Pro's color breakthrough Goku's Big Adventure, directed by onetime Kusube protege Gisaburo Sugii. Paa-man was co-produced with Studio Zero and A Pro, while Muchabee was co-produced with A Production. Episodes were alternately produced by Tokyo Movie and A Production, with Shinichi Suzuki acting as the animation director in order to address with the variation in drawing style between the two studios.

A new Fujiko Fujio series took over the airwaves immediately after Paa-man - Kaibutsu-kun, which was broadcast from April 1968 to March 1969. It was just as successful as the previous two shows. All three of these Fujiko Fujio series would go on to be remade into successful color series by Shin-Ei Animation in the 1980s, and just a few years later Tokyo Movie would themselves re-make Obake no Q-Taro. It seems clear that this early success with this formula is what led to the studio eventually becoming almost exclusively devoted to the production of Fujiko Fujio anime adaptations. The last in this series of early black and whte Fujiko Fujio anime adaptations came with Umeboshi Denka in 1969. Umeboshi was the first flop of the four, coming as it did at a time when audiences were becoming bored with the formula, which had by that time undoubtedly been copied by other shows on other channels. The series ran for only thirteen episodes, becoming the shortest-lived of the four - one of the few such flops in the history of A Pro.

A change for the studio came in 1968 with a new show called Kyojin no Hoshi, which ran from March 1968 to September 1971. It was a change for one because it was for a new station, Yomiuri TV, but more importantly it was a big change in terms of the content and style - not a gag anime by Fujiko Fujio with simple characters and stories, but an anime about baseball players featuring realistically designed characters and gripping humanistic drama. This was the show that pioneered the fad for so-called "spo-kon" sports anime, as copycats soon overtook the airwaves in droves in the wake of the tremendous popularity of Kyojin no Hoshi. A Pro themselves went on to work on several more shows in this vein for Tokyo Movie. Fujioka's Tokyo Movie was a very interesting studio because so many times they came up with shows like this that went in a totally different direction from everything else out there. Kusube himself was behind the character design and animation directing of the show, and his more realistic characters in the 'gekiga' style were a real innovation in the day. One of the main figures behind the directing side of the show was the abovementioned Tadao Nagahama, whose patented melodramatic style was a perfect match for the material here. Several years later Nagahama would revisit the same material with Samurai Giants, and in 1977 Tokyo Movie made a continuation of Kyojin no Hoshi.

Into the 1970s

Tokyo Movie continued to branch out to new stations and to try new kinds of material never before seen on TV, unleashing the Scandinavian literary fairy tale Moomin on Japan from October 1969 to March 1970 on Fuji TV. The show was a breath of fresh air on the stations, with its slow pace, otherworldly atmosphere, fantastical creatures and refined sensibility - one of those rare moments when something truly new appeared in commercial animation. While it was popular with audiences, the creator Tove Jansson disapproved of the changes made to her work upon being shown a few episodes, and production was switched from Tokyo Movie/A Pro to Mushi Pro after 26 brilliant episodes. The popularity of the show eventually led not only to two separate continuations being made in Japan, but perhaps more significantly to the establishment of the tradition for this kind of literary fare at the Sunday 7:30 time-slot on Fuji TV, which would go on to host similar shows by various studios in the same slot for a few years until Nippon Animation took over the slot for 25 years with the World Masterpiece Theater. The most important early of these, Heidi and Marco, were produced by Miyazaki & Takahata in 1974 and 1976 in the immediate aftermath of their brief involvementat with A Pro from 1971 to 1973.

In charge of Moomin were Masaaki Osumi, director, and Yasuo Otsuka with the character designs and animation directing. Osumi's unusual background in puppet theater was perhaps one of the keys that enabled Osumi to so convincingly convey the uniquely disjointed fantasy logic that underpins the world of Moominvalley. He really got into the characters' minds in a way no other director with thorough technical training in animation would. It was a fundamentally different, more intuitive approach to directing, and one that impressed the more technically inclined Otsuka. While not strictly hewing to Jansson's world and atmosphere, it was an excellent approximation leavened with good doses of the more hardy and biting slapstick humor of A Pro. Otsuka's characters brought the world to life like none ever before, combining limited animation knowhow with his training in traditional full animation to create some of the most polished limited seen yet. He was also active in training the younger animators at the studio. Otsuka's characters were not only completely different but more organic and alive than any seen on TV up until that point. Helping Otsuka in his task were Tsutomu Shiabayama and Osamu Kobayashi, who greatly contributed to the quality of the show with their knack for nuanced acting, and who would go on to become perhaps the two most important animators at A Pro in the coming years.

Otsuka had himself just quit Toei Doga on December 6, 1968 after having helped maintain the quality of the studio's feature films for a decade by that point. The studio was changing focus, moving away from taking the time to carefully craft high-quality feature films, and now all but tripping over itself to keep up with the competition on TV, and Otsuka felt his priorities lay elsewhere. Kusube was one of the pioneers of Toei's new path with Fujimaru. Keiichiro Kimura, who worked under Kusube at Toei, was one of the animators who helped cement the importance of TV work at Toei after Kusube left with the popularity of the work he did for them on Pyun-Pyun Maru in 1967 and then Tiger Mask in 1969. Like Kusube, it was after his experience working on these Toei TV shows that he jumped ship and formed his own studio, Neo Media, in 1969. Neo Media would go on to work on many of the same Tokyo Movie shows as A Pro.

The production floor of TV animation was a new experience for Otsuka. Unlike at Toei Doga, where he worked alongside people he knew very well and established a sort of understanding and camaraderie with his co-workers that benefited the quality of the film, with TV work he was meeting people he'd never seen day in and day out, receiving work from animators not even on site, the quality of which varied tremendously and was basically unpredictable. The production tasks had by this time become atomized by outsourcing as a measure of economy in order to survive in the new market, and A Pro was on that front line.

The day after Otsuka quit Toei Doga, Otsuka set to work at A Pro on the Lupin pilot. Otsuka had originally come to A Pro in order to produce a movie version of Monkey Punch's Lupin, a project that Gisaburo Sugii and Chikao Katsui of Mushi Pro (prior to that both ex-Toei Doga) had brought to A Pro to get produced. They began producing the pilot in order to show prospective distributors. Working on the pilot were Masaaki Osumi as director, Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi as animation directors, Gisaburo Sugii drawing storyboard and helping design the characters, and Otsuka helping out with the animation. Sugii also animated the shogi scene and Mineko Fuji's dance scene. Prior to this, Osumi had directed the pilot for Obake no Q-Taro, and the quality had been good enough that Kusube decided to give him the job of directing this pilot. Sugii had wanted to direct it himself, so he left afterwards, and it wasn't until more than 25 years later that the originator of the project finally got his chance to direct, in 1996, with the Twilight Gemini TV special.

It was in July 1969, after completing the pilot, in the fallow period while they were waiting for something to happen to drive the project forward, that the Moomin project came in and occupied Otsuka for the next half-year, from October 1969 to March 1970. Kusube in the meantime was busy working on the ever-popular Kyojin no Hoshi. Just after Moomin started, A Pro worked on Attack No 1, a shoujo manga updating of the sports anime fad, also for Fuji TV, that aired in the time-slot just before Moomin from December 1969 to November 1971. After Moomin ended, Otsuka occupied himself with various tasks, among them helping Kusube on Kyojin no Hoshi and animating the pilot for Tensai Bakabon (used as episode 32), the show based on a manga by the guru of nonsense gags, Fujio Akatsuka. Bakabon marked a long overdue return to the kind of material A Pro did best. There was probably trepidation to do this kind of material after the failure of their last attempt. They tested the waters by finally broadcasting A Pro's black-and-white Chingo Muchabe in February-March 1971 on TBS, fully four years after it had been produced. Chingo featured directing by Tadao Nagahama and characters by Kusube, who had both since gone in a different direction in Kyojin no Hoshi.

Back to the roots

Late 1971 seemed to signal the start of a new phase in the work of A Pro. The early developmental years were now behind them, and the head animators began to come unto their own with an easy mastery of the form and a new playfulness thanks to a return to old territory. Three new and significant shows for A Pro started at this time. The studio's debut series, Obake no Q-Taro, was remade into Shin Obake no Q-Taro, airing from September 1, 1971 to December 1972 on Nihon TV. Yoshio Kabashima was animation director and Tadao Nagahama director. Shin Obake no Q-Taro marked a return to the style of A Pro's early years, upon which they continued to develop over the next few years in what are considered the canonic A Pro shows. The series was again remade by Shin-Ei in later years, but this version is still considered the best of the three by fans. Next came Fujio Akatsuka's Tensai Bakabon, which replaced Kyojin no Hoshi on Yomiuri TV and ran from September 25, 1971 to June 1972. Akatsuka's edgy/silly nonsensical humor was somewhat blunted by sponsor demands to make the stories more family friendly in this adaptation, and a continuation would be made a few years later, when the animators of A Pro et al. were at the height of their powers, that finally did the material justice. But already in Tensai Bakabon we can see many of the animators who would go on to be the main figures behind the next few classic A Pro series: designer Tsutomu Shibayama and animators like Yoshiyuki Momose and Osamu Kobayashi.

A new development of this period was the involvement of various small studios in the Tokyo Movie productions alongside A Production. Figures who had worked at Toei Doga in the early years had quit and started their own studios, and now young animators who had seen their work on TV were beginning to be attracted to these new studios to learn under the animators they admired. Animators from a number of such small studios worked alongside A Pro on the Tokyo Movie shows of the early 70s, and were in turn influenced by the work they saw being done by A Pro animators Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama, who by that point had a definite sense of how to create thrilling animation using the absolute minimum of means. A Pro members active on these shows throughout this time include: Tsutomu Shibayama, Osamu Kobayashi, Yoshio Kabashima, Toshiyuki Honda, Takeuchi Tomekichi, Yoshifumi Kondo, Tadao Nagahama, Hideo Kawauchi, Eiichi Nakamura, Tsutomu Tanaka, Yuzo Aoki, Hiroshi Fukutomi, Michiyo Yamada and Hisatoshi Motoki.

Another studio of importance alongside A Pro was Studio Neo Media, which was founded by Keiichiro Kimura in 1969 after he quit Toei Doga. All animators from Studio Neo Media were involved in Tokyo Movie shows in the early 70s. Keiichiro Kimura and Yasuhiro Yamaguchi were involved in the more serious, sports-oriented or dramatic shows headed by Kimura's erstwhile mentor, Kusube, such as Akado Suzunosuke, Judo Sanka and Koya no Shonen Isamu. Yoshiyuki Momose and Masayuki Uchiyama, meanwhile, were involved in all of the more gag-oriented shows on which Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama worked, such as Tensai Bakabon, Dokonjo Gaeru and Hajime Ningen Gyators. Momose in particular produced some of the most interesting and vivid animation of the period that was a contrast with the work of the A Pro animators in terms of his freer use of drawings. He relates that the work he saw being done by not just Kobayashi and Shibayama but also the younger Yoshifumi Kondo at A Pro was an influence to many of the animators working at other studios on the same shows.

Other small studios involved in these shows included Studio Junio, formed in 1969 by Takao Kosai following the disbanding of Hatena Pro, a studio formed in 1964 by himself and four other ex-members of Toei Doga. Junio animator Minoru Maeda (later Group Tac) and director Minoru Okazaki were involved in the later shows like Ganso Tensai Bakabon and Hajime Ningen Gyators. Director and erstwhile Hatena Pro co-founder Tetsuo Imazawa along with studio head Takao Kosai were involved in Akado Suzunosuke, Kouya no Shounen Isamu and Gyators. Studio Mates was formed in 1969 by Kenzo Koizumi and Azuma Hiroshi, who in 1972 defected to Studio Junio. Koizumi was involved in the first Bakabon series and Gamba no Boken. Oh Production was formed in 1970 by Koichi Murata, Kazuo Komatsubara, Koshin Yonekawa and Norio Shioyama. Yonekawa and Shioyama were involved in the first Bakabon series, and Yonekawa and Joji Manabe were involved in Dokonjo Gaeru. I wrote a bit about Oh Pro last year on the occasion of Koichi Murata's death. Animator Sadayoshi Tominaga had formed a small studio called Tomi Production in 1970 that did work on a few of the A Pro shows at this time such as Shin Obake no Q-Taro and Dokonjo Gaeru. He would later become one of the main individuals behind Doraemon alongside Tsutomu Shibayama, Eiichi Nakamura and Toshiyuki Honda. Shingo Araki's legendary Studio Z (which went through several incarnations, some of which I talked about here) was even present at various times - in Dokonjo Gaeru episode 42B with animation by Yoshinori Kanada and inbetweening by Kazuo Tomizawa, and later in Ganso Tensai Bakabon with animation by Kazuo Tomizawa in many of the early episodes.

The Lupin gang

Lupin finally saw the light of day, not as a movie, but as a TV series, just one month after the start of Tensai Bakabon, airing from October 1971 to March 1972, when it was cut short. Besides launching of anime's most successful franchises, the series was significant for any number of reasons, from the seminal dark adult atmosphere of the early episodes by Masaaki Osumi, who carried on in the direction of Moomin by bringing new levels of nuance to characterization - to the more atmospherically straightforward and less gothic but more thrilling and catchy later eps by the "A Pro Directing Team" of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, who replaced Osumi at Kusube's request (under pressure from the station) - to Yasuo Otsuka's maniacal attention to detail in drawing the cars and guns and other implements. Otsuka wouldn't tolerate vague drawings of "cars" or "guns", instead basing everything on actual, existing models or brands, and bringing his unsurpassed drafting skills to the task of drawing them in vast quantities. Lupin also benefited from work by many great animators including Neo Media's Keiichiro Kimura and A Pro's Hideo Furusawa, Yuzo Aoki and Yoshifumi Kondo. Kondo had debuted as an animator just before on Kyojin no Hoshi after joining the studio in 1968, but quickly developed into one of A Pro's most interesting animators. Hiroshi Fukutomi can be seen as an inbetweener on the show in one of his earliest jobs. He soon switched paths and moved to directing on shows like Ganso Tensai Bakabon and Hajime Ningen Gyators, where he became one of A Pro's most interesting directors.

Miyazaki & Takahata had just joined the studio after leaving Toei Doga in the hope of doing Pippi Longstockings, but found themselves forced to do Lupin first. Miyazaki had in fact helped Otsuka out on episode 23 of Moomin the year before while still employed at Toei Doga, so this wasn't his first job at A Pro. Astrid Lindgren wound up refusing to let them do the project, and Kusube couldn't afford to let them sit around since he was paying them a hefty salary (having lured them to A Pro with a promise to pay them three times what they were earning at Toei), so he decided to let Miyazaki run with a new idea he'd come up with based loosely on the vast body of material that he (image sketches), Takahata (directing plan) and Yoichi Kotabe (character sketches) had thrown together for Pippi. The two Panda Kopanda short films that followed were also the result of a shrewd idea to capitalize on a fad for anything panda in Japan following a goodwill donation from China to a Japanese zoo. The project was a first for A Pro - not based on a manga, and feature films (albeit shorts). The films were each produced in the span of about one month, but are inspired gems. Yoichi Kotabe designed, Yasuo Otsuka supervised as animation director, Takahata directed, Miyazaki did script and layout, and A Pro's talented animators like Hideo Kawauchi, Yoshifumi Kondo and Yuzo Aoki helped Miyazaki, Kotabe and Otsuka bring the characters of the films to vivid life. The films were shown without fanfare in the theater, respectively, in December 1972 and March 1973, preceding Godzilla films.

Miyazaki, Takahata and Kotabe spent a few more months helping out on miscellaneous shows like Kouya no Shounen Isamu, Akadou Suzunosuke and Samurai Giants before moving to Nippon Animation to set to work on a new project devised by Shigeto Takahashi of Zuiyo Enterprise, who had planned Moomin. Yasuji Mori had already done Rocky Chuck at Nippon Animation, and Takahashi wanted to get the other key Toei Doga figures for a bigger project in that same vein. Takahata and Miyazaki had felt a certain amount of pride in the success of their Panda Kopanda project - not for any kind of commercial success, which the films didn't have, but simply because they had witnessed the children in the theaters paying their films the ultimate respect of not running around during the screening in boredom, but sitting intently and watching in genuine fascination. They felt they wanted to continue build on that. The direct result of their experience working at A Pro, then, was three of the very small handful of towering masterpieces in the history of the TV medium - Heidi, Marco and Anne.

Kusube, in the meantime, had finally finished working on Kyojin no Hoshi and had set to work on a new show called Akado Suzunosuke. It ran from April 1972 to March 1973 on Fuji TV, after a blank of a few months following the end of Attack No 1. Kusube is here credited as "animation supervisor". Kusube would go on to be credited as "Supervisor" on the Doraemon TV series and all of the films. From 1972 to 1974, Kusube was credited as "animation supervisor" on a total of four shows. What the credit means exactly I'm not sure, but presumably he was responsible for the character designs and for overseeing the work of the various animation directors. The first of the other three shows was Kouya no Shounen Isamu, a western drama that ran from April 1973 to March 1974. This series, like many of the A Pro shows around this time, saw the participation of a number of interesting transitional figures. Masami Hata storyboarded the first episode, which boasts thrilling dramatic tension and excellent animation quality. Hata had just left Mushi Pro and this was probably his first job ever for another studio. Isao Takahata storyboarded a later episode. Three animation directors alternated work on the show - Studio Junio head Kosai Takao, Oh Pro head Koichi Murata, and A Pro animator Hideo Kawauchi. The next was Karate Baka Ichidai, which ran from October 1973 to September 1974, and the last was Judo Sanka, which ran from April 1974 to September 1974. These two were a return to old territory for Kusube. Like Kyojin no Hoshi, they were both based on stories by manga writer Ikki Kajiwara, famous for his macho sports epics, but Judo Sanka wound up being the most short-lived of the series, perhaps because the spokon fad was beginning to fade. Kusube in fact became ill as a direct result of working on Karate Baka Ichidai. The show was partly outsourced to Taiwan, and most of the work that came back was so bad that he was forced to redraw considerable amounts, and wound up overworking himself. As a result, he was unable to do any work for about the next two years.

A Pro produced quite a number of classic spokon series around this time. The next big job that Yasuo Otsuka did while at A Pro was another spokon series called Samurai Giants. The series ran from October 1973 to September 1974 on Yomiuri TV, and was directed by spokon veteran Tadao Nagahama and again based on a story by Ikki Kajiwara. Hayao Miyazaki did some animation in the first episode, probably the last thing he did at A Pro before leaving for Nippon Animation. Unfortunately, this was the series that convinced Otsuka that he never wanted to work under a director with whose approach he didn't agree - Otsuka had learned what a director could be working under Takahata on Hols at Toei, and Tadao Nagahama had nothing of Takahata's detail-oriented and logical qualities - but Otsuka nonetheless delivered his usual quality, and brought a different look and take on this material that had previously been dominated by the look of Kusube's characters. The series remains one of the best of Tokyo Movie's sports shows.

The classic A Pro shows

One of the three or four supreme classics of the genre of sports anime is Ashita no Joe, a boxing anime produced from 1970-1971 by Mushi Pro and directed by Osamu Dezaki in his first job as chief director of a TV show. Immediately afterwards, Dezaki quit and became one of the founding members of Madhouse. From there, he and animation director Akio Sugino would go on to be involved in a handful of classic TV series for Tokyo Movie throughout the decade of the 70s. The very first of these came in 1973 with Jungle Kurobee (March-September 1973), a project that had been developed at Tokyo Movie by Kusube's younger brother Sankichiro Kusube, who throughout the years provided a link between planning at Tokyo Movie and production by Daikichiro Kusube himself at A Production. Sankichiro would eventually leave Tokyo Movie and join his brother at Shin-Ei when the split occurred. Dezaki accepted to direct the project partially in thanks to Yutaka Fujioka for having provided Dezaki et al. with the funding to found their studio. The project was co-headed by animation director Yoshio Kabashima alongside Madhouse's Akio Sugino. The project was significant in that it was the first original TV project not based on a manga - the Fujiko F. Fujio duo was actually asked to write a manga based on the idea, and the anime was based on that manga. This established a precedent for the Fujio shows of the Shin-Ei years.

The month after Kurobe, the Sugino-Kabashima-Dezaki team set to work on another project for Tokyo Movie, this time another sports anime - Aim for the Ace, which ran from October 1973 to March 1974. The series was reportedly popular enough with audiences that it caused an explosion in tennis playing among students. The series represents one of Dezaki's supreme achievements. Ashita no Joe presented excellent drama, but with this series Dezaki continued to push the stylistic aspects that had made Ashita no Joe unique. The stylistic daring of this series went further than any anime before and retains its impact to this day, with the vivid, bold, expressionistic use of color and animation, and the hyper-emotional directing that pushed the staple of the genre to new heights. Dezaki was one of the first auteurs of anime, and this series was his first masterpiece. Many of the staff who worked on this and the previous show, such as Masami Hata and Yoshiyuki Tomino, were similarly ex-Mushi Pro figures who would go on to work on the Tokyo Movie shows of the next few years.

The start of two new A Pro gag series in September 1971 - Shin Obake no Q-Taro and Tensai Bakabon - marked a return to old territory for A Pro, territory that was their specialty and forte. Over the next four years they would work on the three shows for which the studio is now perhaps best remembered - the shows where the A Pro staff perfected their unique approach to TV animation, and reached the height of their powers. Those three shows were Dokonjo Gaeru, Hajime Ningen Gyators and Ganso Tensai Bakabon.

Dokonjo Gaeru, an episodic slapstick comedy about the misadventures of a boy and his friends, is the quintessential A Pro anime. One day a young boy, Hiroshi, accidentally trips onto a frog and is bewildered to find that the frog is alive and well but flattened and stuck on his t-shirt. The story is firmly rooted in the atmosphere of lower-class Showa-era Japan, with the characters frequenting sushi shops and getting into fights and flinging foul language left and right. Most of the action takes place alternately on neighborhood streets and the construction sites dotted with piles of concrete piping that were a common sight in postwar 'kodo seicho' Japan. The series was inspired by the spirit of the long-running Otoko wa Tsurai Yo ("It's tough being a man") movie series directed by Yoji Yamada and starring Kiyoshi Atsumi as the gruff but perennially heartbroken traveling salesman Tora-san. The potty-mouth aspect of the series in fact made Dokonjo Gaeru a hard show to re-broadcast after it ended, as stations gradually became more uptight about offending anyone.

Dokonjo Gaeru, though based on a manga by Yasumi Yoshisawa, shares a similar setup, atmosphere and character group to most other Fujiko Fujio series that Shin-Ei would go on to produce, and can perhaps be deemed the spiritual predecessor of Doraemon. Doraemon kind of took up the space left empty by Dokonjo when the studio set off on its own as Shin-Ei Animation, providing the studio with a new vehicle to go on creating work in the same mold. Dokonjo Gaeru features some of the freest and most thrilling animation ever produced by the studio's animators. Yoshifumi Kondo, Osamu Kobayashi (who designed the characters in each episode) and Tsutomu Shibayama were at the height of their powers here, and from episode to episode these characters move with a freedom and inventiveness that has disappeared in TV work today. Some of the most impressive work done on the show was done not by an A Pro animator but by an animator influenced by the A Pro animators - Yoshiyuki Momose of Studio Neo Media. Where Yoshifumi Kondo's work was very effective using a limited number of drawings in the vein of Kobayashi's and Shibayama's work, Yoshiyuki Momose used lots of drawings and created richer movements. As a house animator, Yoshifumi Kondo stayed on at A Pro and worked on all of the shows until the studio disbanded, but the last credit I can find for Yoshiyuki Momose is on episode 44 of the next series, Hajime Ningen Gyators, aired August 9, 1975. Well before they became known for their work as directors, these two were already among the most talented animators of their generation.

Hajime Ningen Gyators began right after Dokonjo Gaeru (although on a different station - on Asahi Hoso/Asahi TV rather than TBS/Mainichi Hoso), running from October 1974 to March 1976. I talked at length about Gyators here, so I won't do so again. The last of the great A Pro series was Ganso Tensai Bakabon, a remake of the 1971 A Pro series based on the nonsense manga by onetime Studio Zero member Fujio Akatsuka. The series ran from October 1975 to September 1977. While Gyators certainly had its fair share of bizarre goings on, Ganso Tensai Bakabon was easily one of the most outrageous and unhinged gag shows to ever grace the airwaves in Japan, at least since Goku's Big Adventure in 1967. Under certain directors and scriptwriters, the episodes attain sublime levels of absurdity tinged with a healthy hue of black humor. The animators truly did the original manga justice in this adaptation, which remains surprisingly funny even after all these years, although there are times when the humor is a little too true to the sort of intentionally inane humor that defines Akatsuka's original manga. The moments where his humor is pushed to a more sophisticated level, particularly in the episodes storyboarded by Osamu Dezaki, are among the best achievements of the studio, with brilliant humor and directing combined with inspired animation by the usual A Pro suspects, joined by new faces like a young Manabu Ohashi and Kazuo Tomizawa. Shibayama Tsutomu again provided the character designs, as he had for the first Tensai Bakabon series, but this time his designs were much more polished and brilliantly stylized in a way that differed from the very loose and soft style of Osamu Kobayashi on Dokonjo Gaeru. His character sheets for this show are among the most delightful and inventive of all the A Pro shows.

I mentioned Osamu Dezaki's work on Ganso Tensai Bakabon. Well, just before this series, Dezaki had in fact directed one of the most brilliant A Pro series, the classic Gamba no Boken, aired April to September 1975. The series, based on a novel by Atsuo Saito about a group of mice who set out to defeat a band of weasels ravaging the area, benefited not only from Dezaki's thrilling directing and great use of a jazzy score by Takeo Yamashita, but more than anything from the work of the main staff. The key elements of the screen were handled by two A Pro veterans - layout was done by Tsutomu Shibayama and animation directing was by Yoshio Kabashima. Each episode was alternately animated by Madhouse staff and A Production staff, so that one episode might feature work by Yoshifumi Kondo and Osamu Kobayashi, and the next episode would feature work by Manabu Ohashi and Yoshiaki Kawajiri. It was a historic meeting of the two schools of animation - Toei Doga versus Mushi Pro - by the descendants of those studios after a decade of battling it out in different corners of the industry, and the results speak for themselves. It is one of the best and most watchable anime TV series of the 1970s. The brilliant light mood of the early episodes was unfortunately curbed for a more serious mood due to pressure by the sponsors, but Dezaki nonetheless managed to make good of both approaches, creating inspired action, adventure and levity in the first half and dark, epic drama heading towards the conclusion.

From A Production To Shin-Ei Animation

For some time now, Tokyo Movie president Yutaka Fujioka had been drifting away from the Japanese market and beginning to make overtures at the American market, ultimately hoping to realize a Japanese-American co-production of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo. Around the time Gamba was starting, he and Otsuka even visited the Fleischer studios in Burbank, CA in a bold sales pitch that local staff later characterized as "Fujioka's raid". By the time of Ganso Tensai Bakabon in 1976, A Production only had one show on the burner, and Kusube was growing worried for the future of his studio because people were leaving for lack of work. Fujioka's neglect had been causing some instability in the management of Tokyo Movie, too, that Kusube feared might leach over into A Production. Tokyo Movie, meanwhile, was finding it more difficult to maintain dealings with another studio like A Pro under the circumstances. This led Daikichiro Kusube to finally make the decision to break relations with Tokyo Movie. By calling back his brother, the Tokyo Movie producer Sankichiro Kusube, A Production would have someone who could manage the company without having to rely on another company for management. Kusube now saw a clear need for his studio to produce its own projects in order to survive as a company, so the answer was obvious. Fujioka was in the process of restructuring the company, which would soon be re-named Tokyo Movie Shinsha or TMS, and he offered Kusube the opportunity to head the animation department of the new studio. Kusube declined and told Fujioka his decision. Fujioka agreed that it was probably best for both companies. As a parting gift, Fujioka presented Kusube with the movie rights to Fujiko Fujio's Doraemon, commenting prophetically that it would probably provide work for everyone at A Production for the rest of their lives.

The break occurred in the midst of Ganso Tensai Bakabon, which was then the last Tokyo Movie production A Production worked on. Tokyo Movie animator Tateo Kitahara took over Tsutomu Shibayama's job as character designer on the show. Kitahara had been at Tokyo Movie since the very beginning, working as an inbetweener on the first few shows. He would go on to be the character designer and animation director of TMS's New Lupin right afterwards.

Tokyo Movie was in the process of re-organizing itself, with a new company called Tokyo Movie Shinsha (meaning "New Tokyo Movie") being founded to act as the managerial brain of the group, and Tokyo Movie itself being relegated to the production arm of TMS. A new company called Telecom Animation was also formed for the purpose of eventually animating Little Nemo, although they became better known for the work they did on foreign co-productions and Lupin films and TV episodes. Kusube broke with Tokyo Movie and founded his new company in September 1976. Taking a hint from Tokyo Movie's new name, he named the company Shin-Ei Doga, meaning "New A Animation". A Production had been a private limited company, but Kusube decided that his new company would have to be a stock company in order to enable it to grow as needed over time. On the occasion, Shin-Ei moved from Yoyogi to Tanashi City.

Shin-Ei began its life as a subcontractor, although Kusube undoubtedly already had plans to develop his own in-house projects. Shin-Ei was occupied with subcontract work for about the first two years of its existence. The first commission Shin-Ei received was for a promotional film for a milk company called Snow Brand Milk Products, to be shown to children visiting their factories. Shin-Ei was actually a last resort. The company had first asked Tezuka Productions to do the film, through documentary production company Sakura Eigasha, but after Tezuka dragged his feet for two years, they lost patience and turned to Tac, who wound up doing the same. Finally Shin-Ei was contacted, with only a single month left until the deadline. Yasuo Otsuka was appointed the job of director. It turned into a bitter experience for him, one that taught him the struggle of a hired gun - having to balance meeting the client's demands and satisfying his creative instincts. The film, entitled Sougen no Ko Tenguri, was completed in April 1977. Yoshio Kabashima was animation director. He animated the cow, and Yoshifumi Kondo animated the traveling priest. The other A Pro animators involved were Eiichi Nakamura, Hisatoshi Motoki, Yuzo Aoki and Noriko Yazawa. Otsuka had maintained contact with Miyazaki and Takahata while they were at Nippon Animation, and Miyazaki in fact drew 1/3 of the layouts for the film. Yoichi Kotabe and his wife Reiko Okuyama even helped with the animation. All of them requested not to be credited. Takahata himself would also later help out by writing the original synopsis for Doraemon when it was in planning at Shin-Ei. Thanks to Otsuka's ties, most of Shin-Ei's subcontract work over the next few months consisted of work on Nippon Animation shows like Ore wa Teppei, Ikkyu-san and Yakyu-shi no Uta. (Otsuka did layout for Ore wa Teppei and Kusube did animation directing on Ikkyu-san.)

One day Otsuka received an offer he couldn't refuse from Miyazaki to join him working on a new TV series he was to direct at Nippon Animation - Future Boy Conan. Otsuka remained employed at Shin-Ei while working as animation director on the project, but Tenguri wound up being his last job at Shin-Ei. Midway during production of Conan, Otsuka received yet another offer he couldn't refuse. Yutaka Fujioka was looking for someone to head Telecom, and he wanted Otsuka for the job. Otsuka was faced with a decision: stay at Shin-Ei to work on Doraemon, which was already in planning at the time, or go to Telecom to help train the animators and, according to Fujioka, probably get to work on another Lupin movie. Otsuka could easily have remained at Shin-Ei, where he had a cushy executive chair waiting, but he wasn't ready to retire his pencil yet, and Lupin had a special appeal to him that Doraemon did not. In the end, despite Kusube wanting him to stay, he wound up going over to Telecom, where he remained from then on out.

Shin-Ei lost a number of other key players from the A Production era at this time. Yoshifumi Kondo, one of the studio's star animators, left with Otsuka to help on Conan, but also wound up never coming back. Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama, the two figures who helped to create what became known as the A Pro style through their innovative work on shows like Dokonjo Gaeru and Ganso Tensai Bakabon, left in 1978 to form their own studio, Ajia-Do. In addition to the above-mentioned Nippon Animation shows, Shin-Ei had also subcontracted some work on Group Tac's Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, and Ajia-Do is the collective pen-name under which Shibayama and Kobayashi had been credited for their work on the show, hence the new studio's name. Both would, however, continue to be intimately tied to Shin-Ei. Other animators who left with them to join Ajia-Do included Michishiro Yamada, Hideo Kawauchi and Yumiko Suda.

The studio's first project to bear fruit after this transitional period was a project conceptually similar to the aforesaid Group Tac series - The Red Bird, an omnibus of Japanese children's stories that ran from February to July 1979. One of Osamu Kobayashi's last contributions to the studio as an animator was the very distinctive opening sequence of the "Red Oni" episode. Kusube himself directed one episode, and this would wind up being the last time he was credited with any kind of direct work on the animation side of things. From here on out he focused on his duties as president of the studio, and would only be credited as "Supervisor" on the Doraemon TV series and movies. (With one exception: An avid fan of the Romance of the Three Kindgoms books, Kusube was deeply involved in the animation side of the studio's TV specials of the series a few years later.) The Red Bird was broadcast on Asahi TV, the station that became the home of all Fujiko Fujio anime produced by Shin-Ei.

Doraemon

The first of the Fujiko Fujio anime to be produced by Shin-Ei was Doraemon, which started airing on April 2, 1979. New weekly episodes continue to be produced, making Doraemon the longest-running TV anime after Eiken's Sazae-san, which is thought to be the world's longest-running weekly TV animation, having been on the air continuously since October 1969. Doraemon tells the story of the inept elementary student Nobita Nobi and his friend Doraemon, a cat-shaped robot sent back from the future by a distant descendant to take care of Nobita. Doraemon's fourth-dimension pouch produces and endless stream of imaginary gadgets from the future capable of anything and everything. The format was three 7-minute stories per episode for the first four years, and then two 10-minute stories per episode from then on out. The characters, animation style and sense of humor were all reminiscent of previous A Pro series like Dokonjo Gaeru, but with more of a down-to-earth and less chaotic tone than the earlier material. Shin-Ei brought the formula to a simple sort of perfection in Doraemon. Doraemon made the studio's name not only in Japan but across the entire Asia region and many other parts of the world, where Doraemon, with his big, blue round head, was probably one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable animation characters of the last 30 years.

Doraemon was first created by the Fujiko Fujio duo in 1969 as a manga, just after Tokyo Movie and A Production had finished producing a number of TV series based on their previous manga such as Kaibutsu-kun and Obake no Q-Taro. A Production soon came back to Fujiko Fujio's manga with a new version of Q-Taro in 1971, and immediately afterwards, Kusube's younger brother Sankichiro Kusube, a producer at Tokyo Movie, approached the duo to have them develop a manga out of a basic concept that Hayao Miyazaki had come up with after arriving at A Production. Fujiko Fujio serialized the manga for Jungle Kurobee, and the anime was aired concurrently. This is a pattern that would come back with the Doraemon films - Fujiko Fujio releasing a manga to coincide with an animated adaptation of that manga.

Doraemon was first adapted to anime in 1973 by an anime studio called Nihon Terebi Doga, which was apparently a makeshift studio set up by the TV station Nihon Terebi for the purpose of producing the series. Various other studios were also involved, and most of the staff consisted of ex-Mushi Pro figures. The series was cancelled after two seasons (26 episodes), but continued to be re-run over the next few years until the start of the new version by Shin-Ei in 1979. Curiously, the cancellation had nothing to do with ratings, but rather to the fact that the president of the studio resigned suddenly after the books showed that the company was no longer in the red. Animation apparently was of no interest to him except as a means of getting the company out of debt. Once in the black, he decided to shut down the company. This resulted in the company's assets having to be sold off in order to pay off various subcontractors. Most of the materials used to produce the show were disposed of when the studio's building was sold. It is therefore highly unlikely that the series will ever see the light of day again in remastered form. Besides this, Fujiko F. Fujio apparently disapproved of the series and refused to even acknowledge its existence.

The staff who worked on Shin-Ei's Doraemon naturally changed over the years due to its long duration. The very first director of the series was Ryo Motohira, who after leaving the job went on to focus on scriptwriting for the studio in various productions from Doraemon to Esper Mami to Crayon Shin-chan. He entered a monastery and became a monk in 2005 following his mother's death. The chief animation director from the very beginning was Eiichi Nakamura, and he remained in the post until just recently when the series went through a big overhaul. Within a few years, Ryo Motohira was replaced by Tsutomu Shibayama of Ajia-Do as chief director. The early episodes of Doraemon TV series retained a bit of the flavor of the earlier A Production shows, like a somewhat sparer and less worked version of the sprightly and inventive movement of Dokonjo Gaeru. But the freedom and excesses of the early shows were unmistakably toned down for a more homogeneous and even atmosphere. Animation production of the series was shared among a handful of subcontractors including Ajia-Do.

The TV series was a big hit, which led to the making of a movie version in 1980 - Nobita's Dinosaur. The original story was a short from 1975, which was expanded into a full-length manga by Fujiko Fujio in late 1979 in advance of the screening of the film version in March 1980. The film itself was a big hit as well, and a new Doraemon film became a yearly staple from here on out, always preceded as here by a manga version by Fujiko Fujio. The director of the first film was Hiroshi Fukutomi. Tsutomu Shibayama handled layout, and Toshiyuki Honda was the animation director. Animators included Sadayoshi Tominaga and Yoshio Kabashima from Shin-Ei and Minoru Maeda and Ginichiro Suzuki from Studio Junio. Just prior to this, in 1979, Tsutomu Shibayama had debuted as a film director with Gambare!! Tabuchi-kun!!, which was also co-produced by a mix of Ajia-Do staff (Shibayama and Kobayashi) together with Studio Junio staff (Takao Kosai, Okazaki Minoru). In 1982, Honda and Fukutomi would leave Shin-Ei and a total of 7 other Shin-Ei animators to form their own studio, Animaru-ya. Animaru-ya was a subcontractor, and from the new studio Honda continued to be involved in subcontracting work for Shin-Ei, primarily Doraemon, while Fukutomi focused on productions from other studios. Honda wasn't involved in the movies during this transitional period. Instead, Hideo Nishimaki was director, Yoshio Kabashima handled layout and Sadayoshi Tominaga was animation director. Honda came back with the fourth movie in 1983, which established the pattern than remained in place for the duration of the 21 films made from 1983 to 2004:

Director (& storyboard): Shibayama Tsutomu (from Ajia-Do)
Layout: Toshiyuki Honda (from Animaru-ya)
Animation Director: Sadayoshi Tominaga (from Tomi Production)

Shibayama became permanent director because Fujiko Fujio had requested Shibayama as director for the Doraemon films upon being pleased with the results of the 21-Emon film he had directed in 1981 (storyboard by Kobayashi/Kawauchi/Yamada and animation director Yamada, all Ajia-Do). Surprisingly, then, the main figures behind the bulk of Shin-Ei's Doraemon films were all at different studios, albeit all being united in spirit by the fact of having long worked together on A Pro productions. Hiroshi Fukutomi, previously one of A Production's most interesting TV episode directors, directed the very next Shin-Ei TV series, Kaibutsu-kun, which ran from September 1980 to September 1982. A remake of the very first A Production project from more than 20 years ago, it was their second in-house Fujiko Fujio production, and their third original TV production. After the series ended, Fukutomi moved to Animaru-ya and went on to focus on directing shows for various other studios. Animaru-ya studio co-founder Toshiyuki Honda, on the other hand, kept working on Doraemon for Shin-ei. Before leaving, Fukutomi also storyboarded the first two Doraemon openings.

Shin-Ei in the 1980s

Buried in the list of inbetweeners at the end of the first Doraemon film was one Masami Otsuka. Masami Otsuka would go on to develop into one of the most heavily relied-upon of Shin-Ei's in-house animators, and a very interesting animator by any standard. The Doraemon films were his training ground. Otsuka drew his first key animation for the second Doraemon film in 1981, and was an animator in each film until the 1989 film. Otsuka then moved to working on Chinpui, which ran from November 1989 to April 1991 and was directed by Mitsuru Hongo. Immediately afterwards he worked on the shortest-lived of Shin-Ei's Fujiko Fujio anime, 21-Emon, which aired from May 1991 to March 1992, before then setting to work on the series that would occupy him from there on out - Crayon Shin-chan. The long-running Doraemon wound up being a training ground to several other great figures in later years, as was Shin-chan.

Shin-Ei went on producing anime based on Fujiko Fujio works throughout the 1980s, up until the start of Shin-chan in 1992, when they became busy with TV episodes and movies for the two runaway hits they had on their hands. Of the 23 extant TV anime series based on manga by Fujiko Fujio, only five were not produced by Shin-Ei. The longest-running of these exceptions was Kiteretsu Daihyakka, which ran from 1987 to 1996, and was produced by the animation studio Gallop, formed in 1983 by ex-members of Telecom.

A figure deeply involved in Chinpui and 21-Emon as well as Shin-chan was Keiici Hara. Hara had his start in the film industry at a studio that produced TV ads. In April 1982 he joined Shin-Ei after being told about the job opportunity by his boss, an understanding person who realized that Hara's true interest was in animation. Hara had no experience in animation, so he did like most people in his situation do - he started out as a "seisaku shinko" or animation runner. He worked as a runner first on Shin-Ei's second Fujiko Fujio anime, Kaibutsu-kun, and then on Fuku-chan, an adaptation of a long-running (1936-1971) "yon-koma" or 4-panel manga by Ryuichi Yokoyama of Otogi Pro fame. Fuku-chan aired from November 1982 to March 1984 and featured character designs by Shin-Ei animator and A Pro veteran Michishiro Yamada.

More interested in directing than animation, Hara was given his first opportunity to draw a storyboard for Doraemon starting 1984, and soon became one of the regular episode directors when Tsutomu Shibayama took over as chief director of the series in place of Ryo Motohira. Shibayama was engaged in any number of other projects and had limited time to deal with the Doraemon workfloor, so he was also appointed to assistant director on the Doraemon films, in which capacity he worked from 1984 to 1987. This gave Hara ample opportunity to hone his skills as a director and storyboarder. During the process, he got to get up close and personal with Shibayama Tsutomu's storyboards, the quality of which both awed and humbled him.

Meanwhile at Shin-Ei, two other new series started around this time. One was another remake of an anime from the early A Pro years: Paa-man, which ran from April 1983 to July 1985. The other was another non-Fujiko Fujio series that replaced Fuku-chan: Oyoneko Buu-nyan, which ran from April 1984 to March 1985, and was based on a manga by Misako Ichikawa. Oyoneko Buu-nyan was replaced by yet another remake - this time the third remake of Obake no Q-Taro, which ran from April 1985 to March 1987. That same month, Shin-Ei also had another new series, and in a first, it was based on a manga written by the half of the Fujiko Fujio team better known for his darker comics. Pro Golfer Saru ran from April 1985 to June 1988. Another Fujiko Fujio series entitled Ultra B started in April 1987 and ran to March 1989. In this way, Shin-Ei kept up a pretty much constant flow of Fujiko Fujio adaptations throughout the 80s to supplement the already successful Doraemon franchise.

In 1987, after having worked on Doraemon for several years under Tsutomu Shibayama, Keiichi Hara was finally given the opportunity to direct his own TV series, Esper Mami, which ran from April 1987 to October 1989. After then going on a tour of Southeast Asia, Hara returned to work as a director on Chinpui under Mitsuru Hongo, and then to direct his second series, the unfortunate 21-Emon. Over the length of time that these two tasks occupied Keiichi Hara between Esper Mami and Crayon Shin-chan, between 1988 and 1991, Shin-Ei produced 8 individual TV series in addition to Chinpui and 21-Emon, which marked the height of variety in their programming. 21-Emon was not only the last new Fujiko Fujio anime they produced, it was also one of the last new TV series they produced. The 1990s marked a period of settling for Shin-Ei, when they became focused on the two shows of theirs that remained popular from year to year. The only new TV series they have produced since the start of Crayon Shin-chan in 1992 are Ninpen Manmaru (July 1997 to March 1998) and Jungle wa Itsumo Hare Nochi Guu (April to September 2001).

The 1990s: Crayon Shin-chan

Shin-Ei was jumping around trying various shows for a few years while still doing Doraemon on a regular basis. On April 13, 1992, another new show started: Crayon Shin-chan, based on a mature audiences comic written by Yoshito Usui. Few people were watching the first episode, but after a month the audience had doubled to garner more than 10% ratings, and by the end of the year that rating had doubled again to more than 20%. Shin-Ei settled on producing Shin-chan and Doraemon on a regular basis from here on out. They have only produced two TV series since then: Ninpen Manmaru, which ran from July 1997 to March 1998, and Jungle wa Itsumo Hare Nochi Guu, which ran from April to September 2001. Since 2002, Shin-Ei has also produced a yearly one-shot hour-long TV special aired in August around the date of the surrender entitled Children's War Stories. Each is based on a story by Akiyuki Nosaka, writer of Grave of the Fireflies.

The Shin-chan TV series was directed by Mitsuru Hongo. Keiichi Hara joined him as one of the regular episode directors after having worked under him in the preceding years on several projects, and Masami Otsuka joined him as one of the regular animation directors/animators after having worked first under Hongo on Chinpui and then under Hara on 21-Emon. Both wound up devoting most of their time from then on out to working on Shin-chan. As was the case with Doraemon more than a decade earlier, Shin-Ei quickly had a hit on their hands and started preparing a movie version. Mitsuru Hongo was director and storyboarder, and Keiichi Hara was co-storyboarder and co-director. This pattern continued for the first four films, with Hongo storyboarding the sections with more fantastic elements and Hara the more down-to-earth sections.

Animators on the first film included Shizuka Hayashi, Yoshihiko Takakura, Masaaki Yuasa, Hiroyuki Nishimura, Masami Otsuka, Masakatsu Sasaki and Yoshiji Kigami. Others who came in later included Yuichiro Sueyoshi and Masahiro Ando. All of these figures would go on to provide some of the best work in the Shin-chan films of the next few years, pushing the animation to never-before-seen heights of quality for a Shin-Ei production. Whereas Doraemon around this time and throughout the 90s seemed to be stuck in a lower gear, basically following a yearly pattern, with no extra effort ever put into the animation or into coming up with something new and interesting, right from the start the Shin-chan films acted like an outlet for all of the imagination and energy of the animators at the studio who were dying to create some more exciting animated films. There was dynamism and real invention in the animation and the directing and the storytelling.

Mitsuru Hongo had an open style of directing where he welcomed input from all of his staff. This is why he had Keiichi Hara co-storyboard the films, and in probably one of the key elements of the films' success, why he appointed an ex-Ajia-Do animator who'd never even worked on Shin-Ei productions before to the unheard-of post of "Settei Design": Masaaki Yuasa. Yuasa had prior to then worked on shows like Chibi Maruko-chan for Ajia-Do under the aegis of his mentor Tsutomu Shibayama. Yuasa grew up a big fan of the classic A Production shows, and he joined Ajia-Do for the chance to work with the people who produced those shows. Those shows were Yuasa's single greatest influence, and his early work was closely based on that style, as he actively studied his tapes of the early A Production shows while he was learning the ropes at Ajia-Do. The influence of these shows then extended far beyond simply those animators from other studios who worked alongside A Production at the time. Many animators like Yuasa grew up watching those shows, and decided they wanted to become animators because of the quality and unique thrill of those shows. In this way, A Pro's legacy continues to be felt all these years later.

Hongo Mitsuru had undoubtedly seen Yuasa's incredibly imaginative animation on Chibi Maruko-chan and was perhaps the person who invited him to the show. Yuasa remained freelance after quitting Ajia-Do around 1992, working on the Shin-chan films and TV series as a freelancer. Each year Yuasa would draw lots of sketches of interesting ideas that could potentially be used in the film, and Hongo would use the ideas he felt could be used. Each year Yuasa also drew a brilliant section of animation in each of the films he was involved in, namely the first 8 films. He also intermittently worked on the TV series right from the very first year, 1992, and after a few years drew his first ever storyboard for the TV series, right after having collaborated with Shinya Ohira on Hamaji's Resurrection in 1994. In Yuasa's work on the movies and TV show the spirit of A Production was alive.

Around 1996, several important things happened at Shin-Ei. First, Shin-chan changed hands from Mitsuru Hongo to Keiichi Hara in 1996. Hara would remain director of the TV series from October 1996 to June 2004, and was the single person who has directed the most films in the history of the series. He directed the 6 films from 1997's Tamatama Chase film to 2002's Warring States film. Second, Fujiko F. Fujio died in 1996 in the middle of writing the manga for the next year's film. Two years later, Daikichiro Kusube's name would no longer be seen in the credits of the Doraemon films as Supervisor. This signaled the beginning of changes that would overtake the Doraemon films heading into the new millennium.

The change from Mitsuru Hongo to Keiichi Hara brought about changes to the Shin-chan films in terms of the style and content. The wild fantasy elements and catchy gags of the first four films were replaced by a more realistic focus, a more even tone, and a more filmic atmosphere. The previous films had something of a cult following among animation fans for their manic energy, but were otherwise seen mostly by children. By the end of Hara's reign, and in particular with the last two films, he had expanded the audience for the films to the entire age range from young to old, achieving a universal, age-neutral appeal that even the Doraemon films had not achieved.

After the explosive success of Keiichi Hara's 2001 Adult Empire and award-winning 2002 Warring States films, the studio in no way wanted to get rid of Keiichi Hara, who had ensured the success of the series of the last 8 years. But Keiichi Hara had other plans. He had had enough, and decided to call the series quits. The loss of Keiichi Hara in 2004 in many ways spelled the end of the most creative period of Crayon Shin-chan. The 2003 and 2004 films were directed by Tsutomu Mizushima, who had a definite talent in the arena of deranged humor, as proven by his cult hit Hare Nochi Guu, which came back as two OVA series after the successful TV run of 2001. However, he also had a definite lack of experience and interest in making feature films that held up dramatically in the way Keiichi Hara's films did, and his two films, like the next three films by Yuji Mutoh, who had taken over from Keiichi Hara in 2004, shared the same problem - they didn't hold up as films. Yuichiro Sueyoshi continued to provide each of these films with the same sort of energy and ideas that Masaaki Yuasa had provided the films in the early years, but it was not enough, and the films had lost the spark that they once had.

2000 and beyond: Doraemon's comeback

As it happens, just as that spark appeared to be draining out of the Shin-chan films, it appeared to slowly be migrating back into Shin-Ei's other big franchise: Doraemon. Since the death of Fujiko F. Fujio in 1996, the studio had been forced to change how they operated with the films, which prior to then had been based on a full-length manga written for the purpose by Fujiko F. Fujio. The 17th film in the series, Galaxy Super-Express from 1996, was the last film to have a full manga written by Fujiko F. Fujio. Fujio died that same year after the release of the film, before completing the manga version of the 18th film, Spiral City, for release in 1997. Starting with the 19th film from 1998, South Seas, the process was reversed. The manga would be written afterwards by Fujio's studio, Fujiko F. Fujio Pro, based on the film version produced by Shin-Ei. This obviously had the effect of suddenly giving the studio much more freedom with the material than before, and the films from here on out began to change in character. The 1998 film was the last Doraemon film on which Daikichiro Kusube's name was seen in the credits as Supervisor. With first Fujiko F. Fujio and now Kusube no longer behind the Doraemon films, it was the end of an era.

Following these events, the once firmly established staff behind the films also began gradually changing over the years. Like Shin-chan, Doraemon had its share of talented in-house staff devoted to the show. One of those was Ayumu Watanabe. Ayumu Watanabe had originally joined Kenzo Koizumi's Studio Mates, mentioned above, in 1986 after dropping out of the Yoyogi animation school. While there, he had a chance to debut as an animator drawing inbetweens on Doraemon, as the studio had become a sub-contractor of Shin-Ei after having worked alongside A Production during the Tokyo Movie era. Two years later, in 1988, he moved to Shin-Ei, where he debuted as a key animator on Doraemon while learning the ropes under the TV series' chief animation director, Eiichi Nakamura. He drew key animation on the 1988 and 1989 films, Parallel Journey to the West and Birth of Japan, and was soon bumped up to helping out movie animation director Sadayoshi Tominaga as the co-animation director. The very next year, in a series first, he was credited alongside Sadayoshi Tominaga as one of the animation directors. For the next six years, Watanabe devoted himself entirely to the TV series, doing every task imaginable - drawing key animation, storyboarding, directing and doing animation directing. He did everything in his power to make the most interesting Doraemon he possibly could, and became known for his devotion and perfectionism.

The next step in Watanabe's career came in 1998, when he was bumped up to directing the short films that accompanied the main features each year. He did this four four years, from 1998 to 2002. The films were undoubtedly an extension of what he was doing on the TV series, as well as a first step towards feature directing. He acted as both director and the animation director of his films, indicating the extent of his technical mastery, feeling for the series, and his strong sense of what he wanted to do with the material. You can sense that he was finally letting loose with the movement and making it as rich as he had wanted to up until then but been constrained by the limits of the TV format. The films, in particular 1999's Night Before the Wedding, are a good place to start to get a sense for what Watanabe brought to Doraemon. Having worked exclusively on Doraemon all his career, Watanabe has a good feeling for the nuances of behavior of each of the characters, making them more three-dimensional and human than ever before. He also has a great feeling for catchy pacing and efficient presentation, an eye for detail, and invests each shot with meaning. The film is a miracle of economy that crams in much material in a way that comes across as not feeling rushed. The animation has a dynamic and catchy feeling that makes ample use of the simply shaped characters to invest each moment with fun movement. His handling of the father-daughter relationship in the film in particular was sensitive, heartfelt and touching in a way that was unusually sincere and went beyond the conventions of the genre. He showed that he had the ability to create drama that had human warmth and depth as well as being exciting and well paced.

While he was doing these shorts, Watanabe was also helping on the theatrical Doraemon films as co-animation director. He then directed and wrote two of the Paa-man theatrical shorts over the next two years, 2003-2004, while becoming ever more involved in the Doraemon films. In 2003 he became the chief animation director for the Windmasters films, supervising the four animation directors, and in 2004 he again acted as chief animation director over the four animation directors, while also being put in charge of enshutsu or line directing.

The 2004 film Wan-Nyan Space-Time Odyssey wound up being the last directed by Ajia Pro head Tsutomu Shibayama, who retired from the series after having directed the films for two decades. The staff of the films had changed in various ways over the preceding years since the death of Fujio F. Fujiko, as exemplified by the accession of Watanabe to higher tasks in the series and the change to a system involving four different animation directors. One of the other big changes was that talented animators from elsewhere began to participate in the movies. In the 2003 Windmasters film, for example, you can find Telecom animators Atsuko Tanaka, Hiroyuki Aoyama and Yuichiro Yano, as well as Yuichiro Sueyoshi from Shin-chan, and even Oh Pro animator Koichi Murata. The 2004 Wan-Nyan again features Koichi Murata and Yuichiro Sueyoshi and various other new faces, one of whom was Ken'ichi Konishi, an ex-Ghibli animator perhaps best known for his work as the animation director of My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999). He had gone freelance after Yamadas and participated in various interesting projects, having just done Tokyo Godfathers prior to working on Wan-Nyan. It was here that Ayumu Watanabe made Konishi's acquaintance, although Watanabe was already aware of Konishi's work in past films such as Whisper of the Heart (where Konishi animated the recital).

One of the other new faces who became a regular in the films around the time of Fujiko F. Fujio's death in 1996 was an animator named Masaya Fujimori. Masaya Fujimori joined Ajia-Do around the same time as Masaaki Yuasa, around 1988. He debuted inbetweening Studio Pierrot's Kimagure Orange Road under director Osamu Kobayashi, and then drew his first key animation on Shin-Ei's Esper Mami under Keiichi Hara right afterwards. Ajia-Do had always maintained ties with Shin-Ei in some form or manner, with their animators working on one another's projects, hence his and Yuasa's later involvement in Shin-Ei's two major series. In 1992, Yuasa and Fujimori worked together on Ajia-Do's video series Anime Rakugokan and on the second Chibi Maruko-chan movie, where they each animated special segments in their own personal styles. Fujimori's first big project came with Ajia-Do's Nintama Rantaro for NHK in 1996, on which he was very active as the main character designer and as an episode director, storyboarder, animator and animation director. His style of very active, fast-paced action flourished on the show. That same year he animated the special pencil-styled animation in Shoji Kawamori's OVA Spring and Chaos.

Starting the next year in 1997, Fujimori began working on the Doraemon films, and was involved in every film right up until Wan-Nyan in 2004. He first started out as just another animator, but soon acceded to animating the openings of the films, first animating the openings for the 1999 and 2000 films. His unique style of animation was on full display in the openings, with strongly angled lines reminiscent of Yuasa, vivid motion, and a great sense of timing. In 2001, he storyboarded the Icarus race that takes place near the end of the film, and just through his 'boarding created one of the most memorable action sequences yet seen in the films. That same year he directed, wrote and designed one or two of the China-san shorts for Ajia-Do, a follow-up to the Melancholy of Miss China OVA from 1992. Finaly in 2002 and 2003 he did the openings for the films again, while also co-storyboarding the 2002 film and acting as co-animation director of the 2003 film. Just afterwards, from 2003-2004, he provided animation for every episode of Ajia-Do's Futatsu no Spica on NHK, directed by Tomomi Mochizuki. The next year, Fujimori would provide the opening for Mochizuki's Zettai Shonen TV series.

Fujimori had already storyboarded an action scene in a previous Doraemon film. With the 2004 Wan-Nyan film, he took it to the next level. As Yutaka Nakamura did the next year for the 2005 Full Metal Alchemist film, he storyboarded, directed and was animation director of the climactic action scene, which remains perhaps the most exciting extended action sequence to grace any of the Doraemon films. Fujimori had already been active as an extremely talented animator for a decade in various places by that point, but this outstanding sequence showed him at the height of his powers. Fujimori created a miniature film within a film that seemed to announce the arrival of a major new figure on the scene. Two years later, Fujimori continued to build on this approach and created another superb film within a film of an action sequence for the 2006 film version of Ajia-Do's Kaiketsu Zorori. Fujimori is undoubtedly one of the most exciting animators active today, creating animation that has the air of nonchalant, simple bravura of the best moments of the last few Toei Doga films, so it will be interesting to see where he goes next.

Doraemon: A new beginning

The 2004 film marked the 25th anniversary of the start of Doraemon. The staff had already changed considerably over the years since Fujiko F. Fujio's death, and the studio undoubtedly felt that it was time to go ahead with some fundamental changes to the staff lineup and production style in order to bring the series up to date with the very different conditions of the industry all these 25 years on. The production staff, voice actors, and overall approach to the series were completely overhauled during 2005, for which reason no film was released in 2005 for the first time since the inception of the series. Kusuba Kozo, once a director of shows like Romeo's Blue Skies at Nippon Animation, was appointed chief director of the new Doraemon TV series, and Ayumu Watanabe was appointed character designer. In this capacity, Watanabe brought about considerable changes to the look of the characters. He made them more round and simple and expanded their expressive possibilities in order to break out of the stale patterns that had become ingrained into the old characters through years of habit.

This would also be Watanabe's goal with the next film in the series, Nobita's Dinosaur, slated for 2006, which he was appointed to direct. As a way of returning to the roots of the series in order to start anew with a clean slate, they would re-make the very first Doraemon film from 1980, re-casting the characters in a more contemporary light and mustering every ounce of their energy to show audiences how far production quality had come in 25 years. Watanabe was determined to go in a completely different direction with the film to show a new way forward with the series that would keep its spirit meaningful.

To meet the demands that Watanabe knew he was going to be placing on his animators and animation director, Watanabe knew that he would have to find someone very special for the job. So it was that he decided to invite Kenichi Konishi to act as animation director of the film. Based on his past work and the short scene he had done for the 2004 film, Watanabe knew that Konishi was an animation director who could probably not only understand what he was trying to achieve with the animation of the film, but even more importantly, be able to do the incredible amount of work that would be required to achieve it within a 6-month animation schedule. Anyone who has seen the film would not be surprised to hear that it took two years to animate, so it seems miraculous that such quality was achieved in just six months.

Viewed from any angle, Nobita's Dinosaur 2006 is easily the strongest film in the history of the series. First and foremost is that Watanabe brought to this film a strong love of the material that no previous director had. He was 100% committed to doing everything in his power to translate the original story into a visual form that spoke what needed to be said through animation first and foremost, and he went through a laborious process of thoroughly thinking about every single element of the story and the screen and the organization of the material to determine how he could best improve it by addition or subtraction to make a screen version that conveyed the story as flawlessly as he could.

Nobita's Dinosaur 2006 is different from every previous Doraemon film in many ways, and truly sets a new benchmark for the series in terms of quality, in terms of how the characters can be interpreted and made to act, and in terms of the more detail-oriented and involved style of the director. In terms of the animation, the most obvious difference is the very hand-drawn style that was adopted for this film. You can clearly see the lines of the animators in almost every scene. Konishi had, of course, been animation director of My Neighbors the Yamadas, where he was presented with a similar task: Bring alive very flat, 2-D characters in a very three-dimensional and realistic fashion. Konishi does exactly that in this film, and he does it by keeping the hand of the animator visible through the line.

Watanabe himself was a brilliant animator in his own right who had his own unique approach to animating these characters, with lots of nimble and fun fast-paced movement with zippy timing in the spirit of the old A Production shows. But Konishi goes in a different direction from Watanabe here, to the benefit of the film. Rather than using spare but catchy movement and clean lines, as Watanabe had done, Konishi's focus was on filling out each moment of the film with richly nuanced realistic acting of a density that had never been seen before in the series. As Watanabe had done before him, he wanted to make the characters more expressive, to make it easier for the animators to move them freely in various configurations and use their bodies as the main vehicle for the communication of emotion.

One of Konishi's strategies for doing this was to keep the line alive. Konishi actually used his corrections of key animators' drawings directly as inbetweens, and had the inbetweeners draw their inbetweens based on those drawings. This can best be seen in the scene Konishi was deeply involved in, the first appearance of the villain. Although not all inbetweeners were up to the task, this process made it possible to retain the animator's line into the final product most of the time. Konishi also called in a handful of very interesting freelance animators who themselves had a very personal style of movement and line - including Shinji Hashimoto, Yasunori Miyazawa and Hisashi Mori - and they provided just the sort of idiosyncratic animation that one would expect. This is a sort of animation that went against everything anyone had ever seen in Doraemon, so it was a big chance to let it through uncorrected, but that is just what Konishi and Watanabe did. This unusual animation brought new richness to the film, and showed the director that more freedom was possible with the characters than he had thought. He realized that bringing in animators like these expanded the expressive possibilities of the series by showing new ways of bringing the characters alive. Their work pointed a new way towards the future. That is one of the most significant aspects of this series - the way it expanded the expressive breadth of the characters thanks to the willingness of Konishi and Watanabe to see their conceit through to its logical conclusion. Their choice to do so created a loop of inspiration that infinitely expanded the impact of the film. This is perhaps the ultimate achievement of the film, that it has created a new paradigm for the animation of the films.

This film is perhaps the first film in the series where every scene in the film comes across as interesting purely in terms of the animation. Watanabe has the eye for detail of an animator, with the ability to make every split second convey something meaningful. This applies to the directing, where every element of the screen conveys something, as well as to the animation, which is consistently interesting as movement as well as effectively conveying the character's emotions. Under his direction, animators who had worked on the series prior to then turned in work of a very different nature from everything they had done up until then. Tetsuro Karai animated the extremely delicate and subtle scene where the egg hatches, and Shizue Kaneko animated the dramatically acted and moving farewell at the end of the film, which reminded me in its boldness of Yoshifumi Kondo's farewell in Future Boy Conan. Shin-Ei regular Masakatsu Sasaki animated the scene where Nobita and Doraemon are attacked in the time vortex and the scene in the valley with the winged dinosaurs. Young animator Ryotaro Makihara animated the second appearance of the villain. Masami Otsuka was given two big scenes involving the dinosaurs, so his patented approach to the characters isn't on display, but his genuine skill as a mover is. The film also includes brief scenes by outside animators like Hideki Hamasu, Takaaki Yamashita and Norio Matsumoto, in addition to the remarkable work by Hisashi Mori, Shinji Hashimoto and Yasunori Miyazawa. So at a more basic level, the film is quite simply a feast of good animation.

Entirely aside from the animation, Watanabe has created a very solid film that stands up to viewing in a way that the previous films did not. Watanabe's film is well balanced dramatically, and is extremely entertaining, with a great variety of tone and excellent sense for pacing. Watanabe is a very detail-oriented director. He has a keen eye for arranging every little detail and piece of information in a particular shot in such a way as to make it meaningful and heighten the feeling of reality in the situation. It is clear that Watanabe has thoroughly thought through every aspect of the material. To convey the notion that Nobita spends more time playing around than studying, in an early shot we see a pink ball lying on the floor, as if it had just been thrown there after recent use, and his desk lamp under the desk. It's all done very subtly but shows the amount of thought Watanabe has put into every detail. Combined with the vivid animation by Konishi, all of these details serve to endow the characters with a strong feeling of presence and weight, something they never had prior to this. It feels like the first time that someone has really thought things through and made a film not as a Doraemon film but as a film. Thematically, too, Watanabe has a made a film that makes up for some of the inconsistencies of the series and that is through-conceived. The original often had the kids being saved in the end by some form of adult supervision. Watanabe's film is emphatically the story of how Nobita, a usually lazy and indecisive elementary school student, is driven to a decision to do something, and takes the steps necessary to achieve his goals, achieving those goals of his own strength, without simply relying on the help of his parents or Doraemon. It's in that sense that this film was perhaps most important to the renewal of the series.

Daikichiro Kusube died on August 27, 2005, at age 70, during production of the film.

The next film continued in the spirit of Nobita's Dinosaur 2006、with the characters animated in a very loose and expressive fashion. In a first in the series, two women were put in charge of the film: Yukiyo Teramoto was appointed director in just her second year working on the series, and Shizue Kaneko, who provided the excellent farewell scene in the previous film, was appointed animation director. Teramoto brought a good sense of pacing to the film and a delicate feeling for the quiet everyday moments, and Kaneko brought to the film a focus on filling out the film with nuanced acting animation and making the characters speak eloquently through body language. Though necessarily not quite up to the level of its predecessor, it was an eminently watchable film, and a step in the right direction for the series. Yukiyo Teramoto had a particular conceit with this film, which she encapsulated by the phrase "soft Doraemon". Her goal was to build on the expressive freedom of the last film by making the characters, particularly Doraemon, much more pliable and malleable and prone to deformation. The opening scene best exemplifies this approach. It is a sharp contrast with the Doraemon of old, where the characters were very static and barely ever veered away from their basic shapes. Here Doraemon is stretched, pulled, pinched and squashed every which way in a manner that is very expressive and fun as animation.

Again the film benefited from numerous very nice sequences by in-house animators, including many portions by Masami Otsuka and an excellent scene by Masakatsu Sasaki. The young animator from the last film, Ryotaro Makihara, provided probably the most impressive contribution of the entire film here. He obviously did numerous sections including the climax, which is full of very subtle character animation, and the very exciting bit where Doraemon is scared by the mouse midway into the film, with an excellent sense of timing combined with daring deformation. Prior to this he provided an impressively dense, very graphically expressive scene in Keiichi Hara's Summer with Coo the Kappa film, so Makihara is obviously one of the most talented young new faces at the studio, capable of creating great work at the extremes of the scale. New faces continue to appear at Shin-Ei taking up the torch of the studio's legacy.

A new Doraemon film is in production at the moment, and rumor has it that Ayumu Watanabe may even be coming back as director. Recently, Keiichi Hara directed what is perhaps the studio's most impressive feature yet with his Kappa film. Forty-some years on, with Kusube now gone, the studio continues to evolve thanks to the work of dedicated individuals like Ayumu Watanabe and Keiichi Hara, who carry on the spirit of A Production in their work. Shin-Ei remains a thriving studio after many changes over more than four decades, which is in itself perhaps the studio's greatest achievement. It has influenced, trained and been home to many of the most important of Japan's animators, produced innumerable classics of TV animation, and today continues to speak to audiences while striving to re-invent itself.