This series on the sakuga community is going to be half articles, half interviews of members of the community. The goal of these interviews is to provide some individual and personal accounts of the growth of sakuga, to accompany and contrast with the more general articles.
To start off could you tell me how you discovered animation ?
To begin with, I don’t think I can remember any real moment in which I “discovered” animation; for me, animation has always been one life-long period of eternal discovery, which goes on to this day as more information and things I hadn’t known or realized come to light.
My memories of animation go all the way back to my childhood, as anyone would expect; as a kid, I loved Tom & Jerry (don’t shoot me for this, but my favorites were always the Chuck Jones entries from the 1960s, not that I didn’t enjoy the original Hanna-Barbera cartoons), and also watched a lot of Looney Tunes and of course the various original/new series that aired on Cartoon Network in the early 2000s.
In early 2009, I was in 4th grade and my class was reading the classic children’s novel “The Cricket in Times Square”, and I found out Chuck Jones made an adaptation of it in the 1970s. Having already known his name well at that point from Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry, I convinced my teacher to get the DVD with it and Jones’s adaptation of “The White Seal” so we could watch it in class, and those films would fascinate me enough that, by the end of the year, I had become obsessed with Jones’s late career from the 1970s onwards; that was probably my very first instance of digging deeper into animation just to learn more about the people behind it. I noticed he was such a legend as far as his work in the 1940s and 50s was concerned, but few people seemed to know or care about his later stuff, so naturally I was curious.
By the beginning of 2014, having already been a semi-regular reader of the old GAC Forums (the center, as it were, for classic cartoon discussion online) when they were still active, I had begun regularly reading and posting on their successor, the IAD Forums, and my 15-year old self became quite fascinated with exploring the wider world of animation out there; so, I began regularly watching various short films from the National Film Board of Canada, instantly becoming a devotee of the likes of Norman McLaren, Co Hoedeman, Ishu Patel, and Zlatko Grgić, among others. At the same time, I kept my foot in classic American animation, regularly reading blogs like Tralfaz and Michael Barrier’s and Thad Komorowski’s websites. At the end of the year, I received the third Looney Tunes Platinum Collection on Blu-ray for Christmas; re-visiting the cartoons on the set in HD gave me a new appreciation for the Warner Bros. cartoons as genuine cinematic masterworks, and bolstered my interest in taking animation seriously as an art form.
In 2015, I became a contributor to the Internet Animation Database proper, adding screenshots and manually inputting the staff credits for everything from the NFBC films to episodes of Ren & Stimpy to various Looney Tunes that weren’t on DVD; this was an indelible experience that made me even more interested in the unique talents and staffers behind the cartoons I loved (or, in some cases, hated, aha). That March, I also decided to check out Sanrio’s unsung classic Joe and the Rose, having already heard about how Sanrio, in the 1970s and 80s, was one of the only Japanese studios that tried to create animation that could live up to the standards of the American cartoons I loved—I should start by saying that, before then, I was generally very ill-disposed towards anime, simply because I didn’t think much of it could be as good as (or even better than) what I had already seen in animation, and it didn’t help one bit that the likes of Dragon Ball Z and Hunter x Hunter and even Nichijou were very well-liked amongst my siblings, such that a strange desire to be different from them fed into my anti-anime prejudice, haha.
Suffice to say, watching Joe and the Rose blew me away; even without subtitles, I was touched by Takashi Yanase’s beautiful, poetic, lyrical, *musical* storytelling, combined with the lively and fun animation by Shigeru Yamamoto, Kazuko Nakamura, and Toshio Hirata. Around this same time, I also became friends with ibcf, who used to post on the IAD Forums; his “Who animated that?” thread, devoted to trying to root out who animated particular scenes in cartoons, was another major influence on my desire to learn more about individual animators. Towards the end of the year, I became curious about what else he did online—and so I discovered that he and magnil, another great reel-maker who was on the IAD Forums at the time, were a part of Anitwitter, and that they, along with a number of others like tamerlane420, Adanusch, and Xiaoyi, seemed to be successfully promoting international animation amongst anime fans!
Toadette was kind enough to share some insight on the mysterious process of identifying animators :
Drawings respectively by A Production animators Yūzō Aoki and Eiichi Nakamura, from Hajime Ningen Gyatoruzu 28A (directed by Shigetsugu Yoshida). In one particularly major flub in the credits – which Toadette first found out about thanks to this interview with legendary animator Toshiyuki Inoue – the key animation credits for this episode were SWITCHED with those of Hiroshi Fukutomi’s episode 27A from the previous week; as Toadette puts it, “27A was in fact animated by A Pro’s star trio of luminaries Yoshio Kabashima, Tsutomu Shibayama, and Osamu Kobayashi, whereas 28A was by A Pro’s ex-Samurai Giants unit consisting of Aoki, Nakamura, Hideo Kawachi, and Michishiro Yamada, joined on this series by newly-promoted inbetweener Shinichi Ōtake!
Is that when you started On the Ones ?
Well, it was in 2016 that I began trying to write my own articles, which at first were posted on the IAD Forums; at the same time, I began an extended e-mail correspondence with ibcf, which finally led to me joining Anitwitter in February that year, right around Lunar New Year. To try and get to know anime better, I read Ben Ettinger’s article on Toshio Hirata, whose name I was already familiar with from Sanrio; this led me to discover Kōji Nanke (whom Ettinger had mentioned was responsible for the musical sequence in Hirata’s The Golden Bird), and resulted in my earliest efforts to try and compile all of Nanke’s Minna no Uta segments in one place (eventually leading to ibcf’s reel and my own article on him); and Ettinger’s write-up on Nanke, in turn, led me to the great independent animation filmmaker Tadanari Okamoto, who remains my personal favorite filmmaker in Japanese animation to this day.
My breakthrough article, of course, was an extended write-up on Sanrio’s Takashi Yanase trilogy (Little Jumbo, Joe and the Rose, and Ringing Bell) in May, which drew quite a bit of attention from tamerlane and others on Anitwitter; eventually, in June, tamerlane invited me, ibcf, and magnil to help him start a blog devoted to international animation, On the Ones, which launched to some fanfare the following month (alongside the Sakuga Blog, to boot!). Ultimately, I was the only one who contributed besides tamerlane, and once he left the animation community in August I was left to inherit the blog—there have been many ups and downs since then, but through it all I’ve continued trying to write detailed articles about international animation and lately even gotten into translating films, for the sake of those out there who still care. If I don’t do it, after all, who else around here will at this point ?
You told me that the purpose of OTO was to introduce world animation to anime fans. Do you think that worked in some degree ?
Mmmmm, I would say only to a relatively limited degree, mostly amongst certain folks who care enough (and who I’ve generally already made the acquaintance of) and their buddies. Truth be told, I often wonder if all the intensive writing I’ve done is worth it, and that goes even moreso for the ridiculous amount of time I spent on the 11 Cats project… Ultimately, though, I can only be glad if anyone out there cares about what I do, especially if they’re friends I love and admire.
And have you ever tried getting into more contemporary or commercial Japanese animation ?
The subject of more “mainstream” anime came up frequently in conversations, especially with ibcf – and of course I always kept up with anything ibcf twitted about in those days of 2016 and early 2017, whether it was Doremi or Nichijou or K-On or Flip Flappers or Little Witch Academia, and was well aware of the high esteem directors like Naoko Yamada and Masaaki Yuasa were held in – but at the time I only slightly dabbled in watching more modern things that were recommended to me, like Gurren Lagann and Ping Pong and Mob Psycho and the first six or so episodes of Flip Flappers, not to mention Inferno Cop (the latter as a total joke on ibcf’s part – not that I realized until I actually saw it). It was not until I began conversing with Xiaoyi and Adanusch in March 2017 that I truly started opening up to more modern anime – both were fans of Hyouka, of course, and I fell in love with what I watched of it at the time as well, and it was also on Ada’s suggestion that I watched some interesting earlier Makoto Shinkai works (She and Her Cat, Voices of a Distant Star, the first segment of 5 Centimeters per Second, Someone’s Gaze) and even saw Your Name in theaters.
I think the real breakthrough, however, was when I became close friends with Mew. By the end of 2017, we had (re)watched Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress, and Masaaki Yuasa’s Mind Game, and in August 2018 we saw Michael Arias’s Tekkonkinkreet (just before then I also finally got around to watching Takahata’s Gauche the Cellist). Things really took off on July last year, as in relatively quick succession Mew and I (re)watched Space Dandy, Hyouka, Casshern Sins, Bakemonogatari and Kizumonogatari (please don’t ask me how I was roped into those, hah), Penguindrum (after we watched Night on the Galactic Railroad together with our friend Meizhan – ibcf was the one who first recommended that film to me back in my early Anitwitter days in the first half of 2016, and watching it in turn was what made me interested in seeing more from Group TAC and Gisaburo Sugii, eventually leading to my bizarre obsession with Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi and The 11 Cats, haha), Revolutionary Girl Utena (and Adolescence), and then Jin-Roh, Redline (and a number of other shorter Koike works like Trava), the 1999 Hunter x Hunter series….during this period, I also took some time to watch Mob Psycho II, and with Meizhan we even (re)watched Yuasa’s Kaiba. Earlier in 2019, as a trio Meizhan, Mew, and I also watched Kenji Nakamura’s Mononoke (and the preceding Bakeneko arc in the Ayakashi series) and of course FLCL, as well as Osamu Kobayashi (the younger)’s Someday’s Dreamers II. Now that the 11 Cats project is over with, Mew and I are currently watching K-On and the 2011 Hunter x Hunter series (picking up where the 1999 iteration left off), and we are also watching Ojamajo Doremi with Meizhan on a monthly basis (three or four episodes in one night) – anime, I’ve come to realize, is indeed quite good sometimes, and Mew’s own passion for learning everything he can about the artists behind these works has been enormously helpful in this regard.
Many sakuga fans highlight how different Japanese animation is, but I guess since you know about other kinds of animation you’d be able to say what you think about that ?
Aaaah, I’m not sure if I’m qualified to speak on how different Japanese animation is, considering I’ve seen so much of a wide range…
For instance: Tadanari Okamoto is in many ways the Japanese equivalent of Hermína Týrlová, both specialized in children’s films animated in stop-motion using very creative materials. Similarly, you had ex-Mushi Pro animators like Shigeru Yamamoto (at Sanrio) and Teruto Kamiguchi (at Group TAC) who were very much influenced by American cartoons and really didn’t define “anime” as a lot of people know it. Even Gisaburo Sugii himself, really, at least on Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi…
When it comes down to it, it’s rather dangerous to make generalizations about the animation of *any* country.
Hmm, so with your perspective you’d say that “anime” as we mean it in the West isn’t really a unified thing ?
Even strictly speaking in terms of more commercial anime, it wouldn’t be unified : Hunter x Hunter is something else altogether from Liz and the Blue Bird, which in turn is nothing like Ping Pong… And to stretch back really far, all three of those are incomparable to Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi. A film like Jin-Roh or Tekkonkinkreet doesn’t merit comparison to the average seasonal LN adaptation, and none of those are like Koji Nanke’s animation, which in later years clearly took after Frederic Back’s films… etc etc, I could go on endlessly at this point !
That’s really interesting. I think anime fans tend to overlook stylistical differences but yes, the definition of anime becomes quite a problem… And in regard to that, what do you think about the concept of sakuga ?
Personally speaking, I do like how it tries to draw more attention towards the animators themselves.
Ideally, though, I’d like to see good animated *films* (or series) being analyzed as a whole, taking everything into account – particularly if the animated work in question merits that kind of deep analysis. One need only look at what Ettinger had to say, for instance, about Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya – he didn’t just say “wow Osamu Tanabe is impressive”, he also delved deeper into the film’s themes and how it related to the rest of Takahata’s career : he actually cared about Takahata as a visionary and a person and how the animators helped contribute to the whole.
One very positive direction that sakuga discourse from kVin and the Sakuga Blog has been taking lately, I should say, is how much more is being brought to light about the horrible working conditions of the industry.