On the occasion of ‘Ōkami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi’ #3, I thought I might as well write a more extensive article on Hironori Tanaka [田中宏紀] (also known as ‘Hiroki’ Tanaka, but that’s the wrong reading), even though I’m aware that he’s one of the most famous and popular animator these days and probably needs no introduction to most sakuga fans. Either way, I’ll begin with some general information about his career/work and later move on to aforementioned episode.
Hironori Tanaka started out at Eagle Nest, a small studio doing subcontract work for other studios. As Toei Animation is one of their main clients, Tanaka was primarily involved with Toei‘s anime early on in his career, particularly with the ‘Pretty Cure‘ franchise. Tanaka first attracted attention with his incredibly fast and fancy ‘Pretty Cure’ action scenes, for which he still returns to Toei Animation now and then, most recently he worked on the two ‘Precure All Stars DX’ movies. Takashi Otsuka, the director of both movies, directed two of the best showcases of Tanaka‘s skills in Precure as well, to be exact ‘Yes! Precure 5GoGo!’ #4 and #18. In an interview he praised Tanaka for his skills and said that he had enough confidence in Tanaka to leave the battle scenes up to him. Otsuka wrote only a general instruction on the storyboard (a battle with the camera rotating around the action, so the kind of battle that has become Tanaka‘s trademark in ‘Precure’) and left the details to Tanaka, even though he said that he usually didn’t do this kind of irresponsible thing. The smooth and well-coordinated choreographies definitely prove that Tanaka had freedom in creating those scenes, I guess some of the other directors he worked with at Toei gave him the same kind of freedom.
Tanaka‘s pretty much an all-rounder, handling everything from character acting to action or effect animation with ease. His style has some striking characteristics (particularly his linework and hair/effect animation), I think his popularity even outside of the sakuga fandom might have come about due to the fact that Tanaka‘s animation has enough individuality to be easily recognizable yet not too offbeat to scare common fans away. His most famous work as animator is probably the awesome musical scene in ‘Kure-nai’ #6, which I still revere as one of the most interesting pieces of character animation in TV anime.
Tanaka tends to draw quite a lot of key frames, sometimes even to an extent that there’s no need for inbetweens anymore (e.g. the scene he did in ‘Bakemonogatari’ #8 wasn’t inbetweened, it was all his key animation), that’s why there’s a richness and smooth flow to his animation that you rarely come across in TV animation. Not only the quality of his work is amazing, though, since the quantity is really incredible as well. There’s been hardly a week in the last two years or so where you couldn’t find his name in the ending credits of latest TV anime. Tanaka has already been involved in an incredible number of shows considering that he hasn’t been active in the industry for that long (about 5 years). What’s more, he usually does even within the episodes or movies he works on a considerable volume of work, 50 to 60 cuts are pretty much common for him like Hiroyuki Imaishi mentioned in an interview over at ‘web anime style‘. For this reason it’s not really surprising that he has already done several solo key animation episodes in his career, to be exact ‘School Days’ #6, ‘Akane-Iro ni Somaru Saka’ #3 and ‘Saki’ #20. Not to forget ‘BLAZBLUE’, which was a game opening, however. This opening was also his directing and character designing debut, thus worth checking out if you want to experience ‘pure’ Tanaka. Here’s a scan of the continuity/storyboard page from the ‘BLAZBLUE Material Collection’:
Recently, Tanaka worked on some big shot anime projects such as ‘Welcome to the Space Show’, ‘Halo Legends’, ‘Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works’, ‘Gurren Lagann’ movie 2 and the 2009 ‘Naruto’ movie. He has noticably been a bit less present in TV series during the last year or so, but it’s still amazing how much work he did on ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ considering that he worked on more sophisticated movie animation at the same time.
His most recent effort was the episode I mentioned in the introduction to this post, namely ‘Ōkami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi’ #3. First of all, it was really good on the technical side of things, but in other respects nothing that stands out from the other episodes (not that I expected otherwise). What held my interest was Tanaka‘s fun storyboarding and animation, which got more out of this dull material than I’m used to. Tanaka‘s flavor was noticable in almost any movement and drawing throughout, understandably so since he was in charge of animation direction. Incidentally, Hiroshi Tomioka – whose style is somewhat similar to Tanaka‘s – was assistant animation director (together with Shiro Shibata). What intrigued me most were the compositions and layouts which were several levels above usual J.C. standard. This breeze of fresh air possibly originates in Tanaka‘s recent involvement in high quality movie productions, I even felt some ‘Tatami Galaxy’ vibes here and there due to the carefully composed shots and unusual angles. The screen had real depth for once, not the usual visual novel-like flatness of most other bishoujo anime.
Based on the nuanced movement and his personal style, Tanaka probably did the part before the opening, the talk between Tarou and Otome after she woke up and the last two minutes or so. I was wondering if Tanaka created the character design of Usumi (the pink-haired girl pictured at top left) himself as it somewhat reminded me of his animation character design of Rachel Alucard (‘BLAZBLUE’). I searched the credits for ‘guest character designer’, but didn’t find anything. I’m aware that both designs are derived from original designs of other persons, but the stylistic traits are strikingly similar. Maybe it’s just his animation direction or he got a rough draft from the character designer and added a bit of his own style to it, who knows. In any case, here’s an extract of the ‘character sketches’ section of the ‘BLAZBLUE Material Collection’ if you want to find out more about the features of his character designs:
Tanaka’s list of works is way too long to mention everything here, so below only those which I consider his best (or most important) efforts:
♦ School Days (2007): Storyboard #6 / Key Animation #6 (all)
♦ Yes! Precure 5 GoGo! (2008-2009): Key Animation #4 #18
♦ One Piece: Episode of Chopper + Fuyu ni Saku, Kiseki no Sakura (2008): Key Animation
♦ Naruto Shippuuden (2007-): Animation Director #131 / Key Animation #31 #131
♦ Kure-nai (2008): Key Animation #2 #6 #12
♦ Strike Witches (2008): Key Animation #5 #10 #12
♦ Akane-Iro ni Somaru Saka (2008): Storyboard #3 / Key Animation #3 (all) #12
♦ Zettai Karen Children (2008-2009): Key Animation #37
♦ Birdy the Mighty Decode:02 (2009): Key Animation #5 #10
♦ Precure All Stars DX: Minna Tomodachi – Kiseki no Zenin Daishūgō (2009): Key Animation
♦ Saki (2009): Storyboard #20 / Animation Director #20 (coop.) / Key Animation OP1 (all) #12 #20 (all)
♦ Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Ragan-hen (2009): Key Animation
♦ BLAZBLUE -CALAMITY TRIGGER- (2009): Chief Animator / Animation Character Design / Storyboard / Direction / Animation Director / Key Animation
♦ Aoi Hana (2009): Key Animation #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #10 #11
♦ Fullmetal Alchemist (2009-2010): Key Animation #14 #19 #25 #30 #32 #43 (uncredited) #51 #52 #55 #60 #63
♦ Bakemonogatari (2009-2010): Key Animation OP2 OP3 #8 #10 #15
♦ Naruto Shippuden: The Will of Fire Still Burns (2009): Key Animation
♦ Fate/Stay Night – Unlimited Blade Works (2010): Key Animation
♦ HALO LEGENDS Episode4 [Prototype] (2010): Key Animation
♦ Precure All Stars DX2: Kibō no Hikari – Rainbow Jewel o Mamore! (2010): Key Animation
♦ Tatami Galaxy (2010): Assistant Animation Director #4 / Key Animation #2 #4
♦ Welcome to the Space Show (2010): Key Animation
♦ Ōkami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi (2010): Storyboard #3 / Animation Director #3 / Key Animation #3