Before Kyoto Animation started producing their own anime (with Munto OVA in 2003) resp. started serving as a prime contractor, the studio had mainly been known for the high-quality subcontract work with major studios like Pierrot, Sunrise and Tatsunoko entrusting them with crucial episodes. It’s interesting that they often worked on early shows of directors who are big shots today, such as Seiji Mizushima (UN-GO, Gundam 00), Tsutomu Mizushima (Blood-C, Ika-Musume), Takahiro Omori (Durarara!!, Baccano!), Hiroshi Nishikori (Index, Azumanga Daioh) and so on. I want to highlight some of the most interesting instances of KyoAni‘s subcontract work here, starting with episode 3 of ‘The Soul Taker':
♦ The Soul Taker #3
Storyboard/Episode Director: Yasuhiro Takemoto
Animation Director: Mitsuyoshi Yoneda
Mecha Animation Director: Noriyuki Kitanohara
Key Animation: Noriyuki Kitanohara, Hiroyuki Takahashi, Tatsuo Kamiuto, Yoshiaki Urata, Masashi Tsuji, Tomoe Aratani, Mitsuyoshi Yoneda, Shouko Ikeda, Yasuhiro Takemoto, Mariko Ueno, Shinobu Yoshioka
Two episodes of ‘The Soul Taker’ were subcontracted to Kyoto Animation (#3 and #6), and ‘subcontracted’ means in this case that KyoAni was in charge of storyboard, episode direction, key animation, inbetweens, finishing/coloring, backgrounds and photographing, i.e. they did almost everything. It’s KyoAni‘s first and only collaboration with Akiyuki Shinbo, and as such it sure is different in style compared with their other work. I have the feeling that particularly the episode director, Yasuhiro Takemoto, has been influenced by working on this Shinbo show. Takemoto usually stands out in KyoAni shows for his tricky directing as can be seen especially well in his AIR and Nichijou episodes. And Takemoto was also the one who storyboarded a certain scene with Kyon near the end of KyoAni‘s ‘The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya’ movie that stood out for the unusual approach (at least for KyoAni).
I’m not sure to what extent Takemoto‘s storyboard was corrected as this episode is marked by Shinbo‘s characteristic directing, but there are certainly some scenes where Takemoto‘s good sense for depth and layout organization shimmers through. In any case, the directing is quite impressive, particularly the daring Kanada-inspired colour coordination makes for a very unique look. Shinbo‘s bold direction is certainly the main reason why ‘The Soul Taker’ doesn’t feel dated at all for a show that originally aired more than 10 years ago.
KyoAni‘s involvement in episode 3 is especially apparent in the nice character animation, even though the storyboarding doesn’t leave that much room for extensive character acting. The key animation list of this episode includes many of KyoAni‘s most important staff members at that time (and even today). Most of them went on to become directors or animation directors, with two of them (Noriyuki Kitanohara and Hiroyuki Takahashi) even playing a pivotal role in shaping the newcomers at the studio by serving as lecturers at KyoAni‘s animation school. What’s interesting is how KyoAni handled the action scenes – they are known for their detailed depiction of everyday life and not for action stuff after all. While the action is definitely worth watching, I have to say that it’s rather thanks to the good directing than anything else (there are some nice bits of action animation, though). ‘The Soul Taker’ #3 is also one of the few instances where KyoAni had to animate mechas, which were probably handled – for the most part – by Noriyuki Kitanohara (who was the mecha animation director). In this sense, it was somewhat a warm-up for Full Metal Panic.
♦ Tenshi ni Narumon #20
Storyboard: Katsuyo Hashimoto (Mamoru Hosoda)
Episode Director: Yoshiko Shima
Assistant Ep. Director: Yutaka Yamamoto
Animation Director: Kazumi Ikeda
Key Animation: Tatsuo Kamiuto, Noriyuki Kitanohara, Masaharu Sasai, Hiroyuki Takahashi, Yasuhiro Takemoto, Shouko Ikeda, Mariko Ueno, Masatsugu Morimoto, Yoshiaki Urata, Masaya Makita, Shinobu Yoshioka, Tomoka Morisuna, Tomoe Aratani
This one is quite an interesting combination with Mamoru Hosoda storyboarding and Kyoto Animation in charge of processing/animating. ‘Tenshi ni Narumon’ (1999) was kind of a reunion of ‘Utena’ staff, so it’s not surprising that Mamoru Hosoda is involved in this Studio Pierrot show. Yoshiko Shima – who had directed many of KyoAni‘s subcontract episodes during this period but resigned later – was the episode director, and she was assisted by no one less than Yutaka Yamamoto aka Yamakan. Besides Yoshiji Kigami, Shima was probably the biggest influence on Yamakan early on in his career. Heck, she definitely had also quite a lot of influence on the other directors at KyoAni, seeing how some typical stylistic traits of KyoAni emerged around this time in her episodes (e.g. ‘Fancy Lala’ #23 B Part: the way conversations are staged, close-ups of mouthes and legs and so on).
There’s a strong Utena feel to Hosoda‘s storyboarding in this episode due to the frequent use of same-perspective shots and characteristic horizontal compositions. The layouts are reused to a degree that is almost bothersome, though. Hosoda usually uses same-perspective shots very effectively as can be seen in ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’ where he fused the narrative structure with the visuals really well by using that technique to establish a connection between key scenes. There’s also a sequence in ‘Tenshi ni Narumon’ #20 that could be straight out of an episode directed/storyboarded by Shigeyasu Yamauchi. As for the animation, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, but quite okay for that time. About half of the key animators credited have already left KyoAni, such as ‘Black Rock Shooter’ director Shinobu Yoshioka or Tomoe Aratani. That said, KyoAni‘s style sure had been different back then before the change to the soft movement of today that came with the rise of Yukiko Horiguchi.