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Archive for the ‘Kyoto 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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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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Studio Ordet‘s long-awaited first project as main animation studio is finally here and it turned out pretty much as I’d expected. It’s a well produced OVA with nothing particularly new regarding content, but an enjoyable watch nevertheless. I was mildly impressed with Shinobu Yoshioka‘s directing skills, he did a pretty good job with setting the overall atmosphere. He depicted the characters rather low-key and not as forced as in your average bishoujo anime, which adds a lot to the believability and mood. I would like to see more bishoujo anime going into this direction, so more human-like characters without any disturbing, unbelievable traits. I can live with overly exaggerated characters in comedy series like ‘K-ON!!’ where they aim for a different kind of atmosphere, but in anime with a more serious tone they usually feel quite misplaced. It should go without saying that especially heartfelt and dramatic moments feel all the more stronger if the characters act in a way that the audience can relate to, and not just in the manner which the character category demands.

 

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All four episodes of ‘K-ON!!’ that have aired so far were truly impressive in terms of production quality and very enjoyable as well. Somehow I feel that Kyoto Animation has changed a bit since their last series (Haruhi 2009), maybe it’s the experience of working on a theatrical movie. There has always been this absence of technical limitations in their approach – like how they don’t shy away from animating really complex shots that (nearly) nobody else would dare to attempt in TV anime – which is somewhat more noticeable in ‘K-ON!!’. I guess it’s indeed the spirit of their first movie project that carries over. Judging by the staff’s comments, KyoAni put even more effort than usual into ‘The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya’, so considering that they worked on it directly before ‘K-ON!!’ I’m not really surprised that their directors and animators still seem to stick to a more detail-oriented and movie-like approach.

 

As great as the first three episodes were, I still found episode 4 to be the most satisfying up to now. Katsuhiko Muramoto‘s script moved along in a nice pace and added some nice touches to the characters (particularly to Mio). The staging was really great as well since no one less than Ichirou Miyoshi aka Yoshiji Kigami was in charge of episode direction and storyboarding. As expected of such a great veteran animator with 30 years of experience, Kigami visualized the script with his usual care for details and fine sense for framing. There’s always something going on on the screen plus dense and nuanced movement everywhere, so quite in the tradition of Shin-Ei Douga (Shin-chan, Doraemon, etc.) where Kigami began his career. It’s not just one character that moves at one time (like in most other anime series), but several characters move at the same time which makes for this warm and lively mood. What I’ve always appreciated about KyoAni‘s work is that they keep the typical anime/manga exaggerations at a bearable minimum and concentrate instead on more or less realistic low-key acting. Investing so much effort into the acting makes even ‘K-ON!’s unrealistic characters seem more believable and adds a lot to their personality as well.

 

 

Anyway, Kigami and animation director Futoshi Nishiya filled this episode with wonderful animation that is quite effective in expressing the characters’ comical interplay. Really loved how Mio laughed and such, I felt that they paid extra attention to her drawings in this episode. The countless nuances both in the acting and staging probably originate in Kigami‘s detailed storyboarding. Just have a look at the maniacal preciseness of his storyboard of ‘Kanon 2006’ #17, these drawings have almost the quality and exactness of key frames.

 

 

The key animator list was quite short this time with only seven people credited. Chise Kamoi was there, I’m pretty sure that she animated the scene in the girls’ room near the end when they go to bed and Ritsu scares Mio with the flashlight. Those wobbly lines and red cheeks leave little doubt (the picture at the top of this post was drawn by her, btw). Kigami drew some key animation himself, though I’m not sure which parts he did since the whole episode feels pretty much like him. If I had to bet, I would say that he animated the pillow fight. For some more information on Kigami, check out this post.

 

 

Besides its impressive animation quality, it’s also the background art of episode 4 that caught my attention. They sure drew some beautiful artwork based on Kyoto locations. The backgrounds were created both in-house (Naoki Hosokawa) and external (Anime Workshop Basara). I assume that Hosokawa was in charge of the more recognizable Kyoto locations (like the temples) as they really stood out. And it shouldn’t be too difficult for Kyoto Animation‘s in-house staff to go location hunting in Kyoto…

 

Script: Katsuhiko Muramoto
Episode Director / Storyboard: Ichirou Miyoshi aka Yoshiji Kigami
Animation Director: Futoshi Nishiya
Key Animation: Yoshiaki Urata, Teruyoshi Shidou, Fumie Okano, Kunihiro Hane, Chise Kamoi, Ichirou Miyoshi, Futoshi Nishiya

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I finally watched this 3 episodes long TV special from 1992 which is an adaption of Shungiku Uchida‘s same-named horror manga. The story itself isn’t that remarkable even if Uchida is a talented mangaka/writer and famously associated with the avant-garde manga magazine “Garo“. Howsoever, “Noroi no Onepiece” has a very traditional approach to horror as it wasn’t serialized in latter anthology, but in Asahi Sonorama‘s shoujo magazine “Halloween“. The three short stories are all about a cursed one-piece dress that brings their owner doom, so nothing out of this world. The true reason why I checked it out was the fact that it’s Kyoto Animation‘s first significant work, or more precisely a production by order of Shin-ei Douga and TBS. Latter is a close business partner of KyoAni to this day, and Shin-ei Douga was not only one of their most frequent clients for subcontract work (e.g. on Doraemon, Ume hoshi denka movie and more recently Haré+Guu), but also had considerable influence on their approach. Shin-ei Douga – a studio famous for anime like Doraemon and Shin-chan – still carries on the legacy of the pivotal Toei Douga era (late 1950’s and 1960’s) and has been nurturing many talents over the years. Many anime fans may not be familiar with Toei Douga, so let me explain it with a few words since it’s something very important in anime’s history. The Toei Douga “philosophy” was a trend in Japanese animation to stay closer to Disney’s principles, which means – as opposed to Tezuka‘s limited and over-expressionistic animation – to breath life into the characters through fluid movements and more literal acting. As we all know, it’s Tezuka‘s (cheap) way of producing animation that gained acceptance in the end since it allowed for economic mass-production of animated TV series, but Toei Douga‘s tradition still lives on in certain studios and artists, particularly in Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki himself started out at Toei Douga) and the aforementioned Studio Shin-ei Douga. I see a lot of the Toei Douga spirit in KyoAni‘s works as they always try to make everything move as much as possible and invest much time into establishing character-based movement sensibilities. Both Noriyuki Kitanohara and Hiroyuki Takahashi – who are lecturers at KyoAni‘s animation school – were frequently involved with Shin-ei Douga at the beginning of their careers, which certainly influenced the animators they trained over the years. Yoshiji Kigami, one of the most respected persons inside KyoAni and member of the board of directors, started out at Shin-ei Douga and was probably instrumental in establishing a similiar philosophy at Kyoto Animation. And with Kigami we come back to “Noroi no Onepiece” since he was its director and animation supervisor as well as character designer. The storyboard work was shared with Shin-ei Douga‘s female director Kyoung Park. “Noroi no Onepiece” brought – for the first time – Kyoto Animation to the attention of anime fans due to the high quality work they are famous for up to the present day; the 1992 Animage article at the top of this post introduced KyoAni and was probably one of the first articles ever about them, including a group photo.
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