Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

Continuing with highlighting some of KyoAni’s most interesting subcontract work, I’ll discuss one of their collaborations with Gonzo as well as their work on the Tsutomu Mizushima x Shin-Ei Doga series ‘Haré+Guu’.


♦ Samurai Girl Real Bout High School #7

Storyboard: Shinichi Watanabe
Episode Director: Noriyuki Kitanohara
Assistant Ep. Director: Yutaka Yamamoto
Animation Director: Ichirou Miyoshi (Yoshiji Kigami)
Key Animation: Ichirou Miyoshi, Noriyuki Kitanohara, Hiroyuki Takahashi, Tomoe Aratani, Kazumi Ikeda, Shigeki Satou

KyoAni was in charge of episode 7 of this Gonzo series and they did almost everything from the key animation down to the photography work. The storyboard was done by Shinichi Watanabe (Nabeshin), though. Nabeshin’s involvement is pretty much obvious once you see the over-the-top gags, but I guess there are a lot of them in the other episodes, too. KyoAni certainly chose the perfect duo for this episode since Yoshiji Kigami (animation director) and Noriyuki Kitanohara (episode director) are great when it comes to overdone comedy. They even animated many parts on their own. You rarely see the kind of daring layout and animation work they displayed here in KyoAni’s more recent work, but now and then it shimmers through even in their newer anime. Like the ‘top down layout’ or those warped-perspective shots from the ground.



Particularly Taichi Ishidate’s directorial style inherited some of the wildness shown in this episode (like the posing of the characters), he’s a pupil of Kigami after all. Chiyoko Ueno, who was inbetweener on this episode, seems to have absorbed the bold approach of this episode as well. Her style today certainly shares some traits with the one Kigami displayed here in this episode. Speaking of Kigami, he probably animated the parts around the cooking contest (some cuts might be Kitanohara’s work, though). The shots of the audience are pure Kigami, this is pretty much his style once he has no character designs as basis:



One striking thing in the hallway scene at the beginning is that the characters’ hands and fingers are quite active which isn’t the case in the rest of the episode, so it’s certainly the animator who brought this about. It’s probably Tomoe Aratani’s part, who kind of passed this consciousness of hands and fingers in the acting on to Yukiko Horiguchi. Besides this scene, most of the animation is nothing to speak of even though some nice cuts are spread throughout the episode. It’s rather the framing/layout work that stands out in this episode. Once you watch this episode, it’s pretty much obvious that KyoAni didn’t have much time to work on it. There are a lot of stills and such so don’t expect anything outstanding animation-wise, but if you’re curious about KyoAni’s development as anime studio and how their approach changed over time, this is a good point to start.

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I’ve been watching ‘Sasuga no Sarutobi’ (also called ‘The Academy of Ninjas’) up to episode 20 over the last few weeks, an 80s ninja/martial arts comedy that feels a lot like Ranma 1/2 if you ask me. It’s been quite a fun show so far (despite somewhat clichéd story and characters), which stems from the fact that the show really delivers on the animation side of things. It’s not a coincidence that this anime is frequently treated as a classic example of an 80s TV ‘sakuga anime’ after all. Besides the fact that they used an extraordinary number of drawings for each episode (6000-8000 animation frames per episode, so more than twice of a typical TV anime at the time), it’s particularly the animators and directors who used that luxury to do all kinds of interesting things. Studios like Kaname Production (best known for producing ‘Birth’), Anime R and Animaruya worked on the series as subcontractors, and those studios were usually the ones which did the most interesting episodes from an animation perspective. As for individual animators, the two people who renownedly stood out here were Masayuki and Yoshiji Kigami. In Kigami’s case, his animation on ‘Sasuga no Sarutobi’ is probably the work he’s best known for in the anime industry even to this day. When Kigami is mentioned by people within the industry, it’s usually in relation to ‘Sasuga no Sarutobi’, like in this Toshiyuki Inoue x Hiroyuki Imaishi x Yuichiro Oguro discussion. And Hiroyuki Kitakubo seems to associate Kigami primarily with ‘Sasuga no Sarutobi’, too.

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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.

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Anime Industry Overview


So here’s the result of what I’ve been working on for quite a while now, with a long break inbetween, though. A recent tweet by washi gave me the decisive nudge to finish what I had begun. I’ve always been very interested in this meta aspect of anime and animation in general, since art is a cumulative process and you can always see the legacy of the past in every animation you watch. And with a meta perspective on the industry, many things suddenly begin to make sense. Very little in this sphere happens by chance, you just have to look a bit closer to find the connection. It was a lot of work to research all the relations especially between the older studios in anime’s early days, but it certainly was worth the effort since I had several ‘aha experiences’ while delving into this subject matter.


The above chart shows the origins of most anime studios, but keep in mind that I didn’t bother to distinguish between investments in subsidiaries (like I.G=>XEBEC) and producers/directors/etc. going independent (like Satelight=>GoHands). There might be some mistakes as I haven’t carefully looked over it a second time, so tell me if you notice anything. I’m aware that some minor studios aren’t on this chart, and I included some important production companies (such as Aniplex and ADK) which aren’t anime studios, but they play a crucial role in understanding the structure of this industry. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

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I guess it’s time for some words on Hiroyuki Kitakubo considering how much buzz he created recently. Ever since he opened his twitter account he and his tweets have become a regular topic on 2channel’s sakuga thread as he sure talks about interesting stuff. However, as person he strikes me as a bit arrogant and self-aggrandizing, at least judging by his tweets and messages I’ve exchanged with him. Since he’s following me on twitter and he doesn’t want me to make ‘advertisement’ for this Malaysian ‘shit anime’, I refrained from posting a direct link to here. Yeah, you read correctly, he’s hardly enthusiastic about this TV anime, but it’s somewhat understandable. He’s a director that always tries to gather the best people and who values talented staff above all, and now he has to work on a series for Malaysian kids which is produced in Malaysia, Philippines and China. I mean, he’s a high-profile director who won awards at Animation Kobe and Japan Media Arts Festival and now he has to work on this. As opposed to some news on the web he said he didn’t direct this anime, but had just an adviser role and he would protest at GONZO for this incorrect information. It’s obviously a job he doesn’t want to be associated with and also a job he doesn’t want to do but has to due to his financial situation or whatever, so it’s better to expect nothing of this. Yet what really bugs me is that ‘Satria – The Warriors of the 7 Elements’ is slated for Fall 2012 – that’s almost two years away. I hope this is not the only thing he works on in this period. However, I somehow suspect this could be the case since finding other work might also be pretty tough for him. Ever since he directed ‘BLOOD’, he hasn’t done much other notable work. There has been much speculation about the reasons, for example that he was fired from Production I.G. some time after ‘BLOOD’ (which makes sense since he’s never worked again there ever since). And he seems to have blown it with many other studios as well probably due to his slightly bad character. And there’s also a rumor that he was involved with the drugs scene back in 2006 and thus has now a hard time to find a job, but take this with a big grain of salt.

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These two K-ON! key animation collections sure are obligatory purchases if you’re interested in KyoAni‘s animation and want to find out how they breath life into the characters. They cover the most interesting cuts from episode 1 to 13 of the first season, with the only downside that they don’t name any animators and don’t display any time sheets. Of course, these books feature no extravagant action cuts but mostly KyoAni‘s low-key ‘everyday life’ character animation which happens to be the studio’s greatest strength. Among all of KyoAni‘s impressive work on TV series over the last six years, ‘K-ON!’ still stands out as the most interesting in terms of animation thanks to Yukiko Horiguchi‘s designs and her talent in directing the animation. With ‘K-ON! she found a nice balance between cartoony ‘Lucky Star’ aesthetics and the more realistically toned Kazumi/Shoko Ikeda designs. The animation style is somewhere between Shin-Ei Doga, Satoru Utsunomiya and the soft movement popularized by Tetsuya Takeuchi, which makes perfect sense, though. She started out working on a Shin-Ei Doga show after all, and she likes ‘Kamichu!’ (on which Takeuchi did quite some work) and like almost everyone else at KyoAni, she has been influenced by Yoshiji Kigami whose style can best be described as a cross between Shin-Ei Doga‘s philosophy and Utsunomiya. Anyway, I’ll write a follow-up post on KyoAni‘s animation directors and limit myself to just highlighting some of the most interesting shots from the book here, beginning with this one from the opening (bottom left shows the corresponding part of the storyboard):



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The recent NHK special created quite some buzz about Yoshinori Kanada‘s succession and by which standard his ‘successors’ should be determined, i.e. if it’s sufficient to just copy Kanada‘s style or if they have to be ‘men of revolutionary talent’ themselves and expand Kanada‘s style to a whole new level. Many weren’t satisfied with NHK choosing Seiya Numata as an example of a young animator who inherited Kanada‘s blood, even some professional animators mentioned on twitter that Hiroyuki Imaishi would have been a more appropriate choice. However, while I’m an avid fan of Hiroyuki Imaishi, I can also understand why NHK chose Numata for this feature. He’s a bit younger, hasn’t directed any anime yet (as series/chief director) and thus is still more of an ‘animator’, so he’s closer to the image most people might have of Yoshinori Kanada (who never directed any anime). And of course, Numata is also a very talented animator with an unmistakeable aura on the screen and much presence in TV anime in recent years. Following some words on Seiya Numata and his work for those who want to find more about him.



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