A brief history of Kaname Pro

Cover image: a 1983 (?) Birth concept art by Yoshinori Kanada

This article is part of the History of the Kanada School

Unlike other great and influential studios with a distinct animation philosophy, like A Pro, Ghibli, Sunrise or Kyoto Animation, the Kanada school never had a single, durable place to call its home. This was probably largely due to the individualistic nature of Kanada himself and of many of his students: they preferred to go freelance or jump from one small structure to another than affiliate themselves with a single production company. However, in the course of the 80s, there was one studio which often united many members of the school, including Kanada himself: Kaname Production.

Kaname Pro was established in the spring of 1982 by seven members of the studio Ashi Production; the most notable were the producer Yoshiaki Aihara, the writer Junki Takegami, and the animators Shigenori Kageyama and Mutsumi Inomata. Ashi Pro, called Production Reed since 2007, was then a company affiliated to Bandai, that specialized in mecha series (most notably Uchû Senshi Baldios and Sengoku Maijin Gôshôgun) and magical girl anime (they were the studio behind Minky Momo). It’s important to note that Ashi Pro produced many shows to which Kanada and studios Z2 and Z3 would contribute, most notably Kujira no Josephina (1979) and Zukkoke Knight: Don de la Mancha (1980). It’s no doubt there that Kanada met the future members of Kaname Pro.

In its first year of existence, Kaname started doing some outsourcing work, as most small studios would have at the time, notably on Sasuga no Sarutobi. There, Kaname’s staff would come into contact with many young Kanada-style enthusiasts such as Shôichi Masuo, Masayuki or Kazuaki Môri. From the credits of their episodes, it seems that they had already recruited one Studio Z alumnus: Kazuhiro Ochi, who would probably be instrumental in bringing in the rest of his comrades on the studio’s productions. However, even if it was small, Kaname and its staff were ambitious: just one year after its creation, they would make their first production, the TV series Plawres Sanshirô.

A flamboyant debut: Plawres Sanshirô

Sanshirô was a manga adaptation, and probably an early instance of the subgenre of mecha where the robots are toys which fight in tournaments, something which would develop later in Medarots or Gundam Build Fighters. It is no surprise, then, that the series’ chief director, Kunihiko Yuyama, was one of Ashi Pro’s most important staff who would go on to direct many entries in the Pokemon franchise from the late 90s until today. Its writer, Fujikawa Keisuke, was not a minor figure either: initially a novelist, he had started writing television by scripting episodes for tokusatsu series such as Ultraman or Ultraseven. In terms of anime, he would mostly be remembered for being the main writer of Space Battleship Yamato

The designs were handled by the studio’s core staff: Mutsumi Inomata was the character designer, while the mechanical designers were Takehiro Toyomasu and Shôhei Obara. This trio would keep the same positions for most of the studio’s productions, and played a large part in their trademark aesthetic. Their work was already quite unique. Inomata’s character designs were very different from the original manga and already attractive, with the large, expressive eyes that would quickly become characteristic of her drawing. But they were also simple, and their long limbs and large heads made them very friendly to the cartoony Kanada style character animation. The mechanical designs were all striking in their own ways, and the main one, Juômaru, was pretty original: very thin and slick, he looked nothing like a toy.

As for the animators, there were many future big names which I won’t have the time to completely cover here: Kanada himself, Shinsaku Kôzuma, Shôichi Masuo, Hideki Tamura, Kazuhiro Ochi, Takashi Sogabe, Atsuko Ishida, Tsukasa Dokite, Toshihiro Hirano, Ichirô Itano, Kôji Itô… What you might notice at first glance is how many of these names also appear in Urusei Yatsura, and that’s not just because the industry was cramped. Both shows were produced at the same time, but I believe the key factor was Studio OZ, created by Masahito Yamashita and Shinsaku Kôzuma. Kôzuma is probably the most important common factor between the two series, and he might have encouraged some of his peers from Urusei Yatsura to cross over. And it’s no surprise if he did: whereas Urusei Yatsura was Yamashita’s major gig, it’s on Sanshirô that Kôzuma gave his all, animating on seven episodes.

But let’s go in order of seniority and start with Kanada himself. He animated on 2 episodes, 1 and 11, having also storyboarded the latter. Besides this, the show was also the occasion for him to meet many of his followers who hadn’t gone by Studio Z2, Z3 or N°1. For example, on episode 1, Kôzuma animated most (if not all) of the A part, while I believe that the fight in the B part was a two-men collaboration between Kanada and Shôichi Masuo. There, Kanada’s most notable contribution was an incredibly original bank sequence. What strikes me as really powerful here is the early part, when the screen splits into many different forms, and the characters slowly become made of little squares, perhaps imitating pixels.

Episode 11 is, however, by far the most interesting. First, it’s one of the very few TV storyboards Kanada did himself—the other major one being on Zukkoke Knight: Don de la Mancha. These two episodes have one thing in common: they’re very bad. The animation is often awesome, but they both show that Kanada was completely unable to storyboard anything except action. In other words, he couldn’t make a story interesting, something which will be important to consider when talking about Birth. On the other hand, in terms of animation, both of these episodes could be considered transitional works, and Sanshirô #11 is a good case study.

In terms of lighting and effects, Kanada was clearly playing with the same tools he would use for the opening of Genesis Climber Mospeada, which started airing just a few months after Sanshirô: dense layouts, abstract backgrounds, split-screens, flares… But in terms of animation proper, it looks like a complete return to his 70s style, with lots of speed lines, black backgrounds and white flashing images, and most importantly rougher lines on some of the punches. Considering Kanada wouldn’t do similar mecha fighting animation in the following years, it’s very nice to see him go back to his roots there.

Before going into Kôzuma’s many contributions, it’s also worth discussing the opening in some detail. Animated by Hajime Kamegaki and Osamu Nabeshima, it’s in close dialogue with Kanada’s own openings, and stands the comparison pretty well with its lively animation and catchy song. What especially stands out is Kamegaki’s innovative work on shadows. It was iconic enough to inspire yet another great opening of the 80s, the one Hideki Tamura did for Chôju Kishin Dancougar (produced by Ashi Pro). As in many things, Kanada had already laid out most of the fundamentals, but the way the shades multiply and freely change shape would prove one of the devices most reused by later Kanada-style animators.

Beyond this forgotten but apparently influential opening, the real star of the show was, as I said, Shinsaku Kôzuma. Meeting Kanada in person and being given what looks like complete freedom seems to have been a turning point in his career, as the comparison with Urusei Yatsura shows: his early works on the latter can’t be distinguished from those of Masahito Yamashita, who must have left a strong impression on him. But as soon as Kôzuma started working on Sanshirô he would lay out the fundamentals of a style that would stay consistent for the next twenty years—while always feeling new. 

On episode 1, he was given all or most of the A part to animate, and showed all his talent for character acting. In this sequence, Kôzuma still owes a lot to Kanada’s comedic character animation of the 70s, but he goes even further in the silly expressions. The shapes of the smoke that comes out of the cars in the first shot is also very distinctive: it’s much rounder than what Kanada and Yamashita were doing at the same time. His acting slowly evolved over the course of the series: by episode 9, the focus is less on exaggerating the motion in itself, but rather on the parts of the face, most notably the mouth. Moreover, it’s much more fluid than before, the man in the first shot of this sequence being animated on 2s.

His best contribution to the show was probably the fight in episode 15. There, he went all out with his unique kind of smears, while playing effortlessly with complex layouts, large camera movements, and stark perspectives. He also innovated greatly in the timing, animating mostly on 2s, but creating sudden slow-in/slow-out effects on the jumps of the robots. His extremely idiosyncratic animation was a perfect fit for the slim mechanical designs which were really given an opportunity to shine. This synergy between designers and animators probably played a large part in making Kaname Pro so special.

A failed masterpiece? The Birth problem

Birth is probably the most infamous name in Kanada’s career, and in Kaname Pro’s history. It is, indeed, a unique work, in both good and bad ways. Rather than going over its incredible and often-discussed animation, I will just focus on its production history, which is important to understand many aspects of Kanada’s career, and also the development of the OVA market, in which Kaname Pro played a decisive role. It will also be one of the most speculative parts of this series, as making sense out of the mess that is Birth with the little information I have is not an easy exercise.

Yoshinori Kanada and Mutsumi Inomata signing copies of the Birth picture book in 1982

Birth’s history starts in 1982. The first real production by Kaname was a Birth picture book, with images by Kanada and text by Junki Takegami. Considering how early the date of publication is, it’s very probable that the Birth project was what led to the creation of the studio and Kanada’s collaboration with it. The next year, it was followed by the first volume of a manga with the same title, still by Kanada and Takegami. From what I’ve been able to read of it, it clearly brought out all the strengths of Kanada as an illustrator, with striking page compositions and strong paneling. The story promised to be ambitious, much richer and complex than what it ended up being in the OVA. But it would never live up to the promising first chapters because, according to Kazuhiro Ochi, Kanada threw away his drafts of the second volume of the manga after the failure of the OVA adaptation.

A page from the first chapter of the Birth manga: the meeting between Monga and Rasa. The fragmentation of the page into many irregular panel shapes that spread all over, sometimes confusing the reading order, seems to have been a characteristic of Kanada’s manga style. This is also the case for the merging between panel, gutter and illustration, as is visible in the two panels in the bottom right and bottom left.

After that first try, Kaname tried to get Birth adapted into a TV series, and that’s where things started going off the rails, because they couldn’t get the funding. In that meanwhile, they made Sanshirô, which seems to have been pretty much the test run for the hypothetical Birth TV series. It was, also, a manga adaptation, with Kanada and his students working on it, and maybe a way for the studio to gain time and financial stability while they tried to get their real passion project started. Considering this, a first guess about Birth would be as follows: it might have just initially been a pilot episode for a TV or movie project, showing off the talent and the staff without care for all the little finishing touches.

This theory is further supported by the origins of another similar project, the so-called “first OVA”, Dallos. A project funded by the toy company Bandai which was animated by Studio Pierrot, it was initially intended as a TV series; four episodes were made, directed by Mamoru Oshii who was still working on Urusei Yatsura at the time. However, Bandai producers quickly realized they wouldn’t be able to market many toys with it, and instead offered only to release the four completed episodes directly on video. In the end, they got the final word and the first (or second, if you include Daicon III) OVA in history started coming out in 1983. Megazone 23, the third major early OVA, shared a similar fate.

Birth’s release must be understood in such a context: it was one of the very first OVAs, and the first to be sponsored by a records company, Victor Music Industry, which used it to promote its insert songs. This would go on to become a recurrent aspect of the OVA format. It might also be Victor Music that brought on the composer Joe Hisaishi, who would become famous for his collaborations with Hayao Miyazaki—unless Kanada brought him in from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. 

Before its video release, Birth came out in some small Tokyo theaters on July 21, 1984. Interestingly, the storyboard was initially planned for a sixty-minute run. However, it was extended to eighty minutes, probably to market it as a movie rather than just a pilot or an extended TV episode. This decision was probably fateful, as it must have led staff to extend the already lengthy chase scenes and to water-down what little plot there was. Moreover, it surely messed up with the original production schedule and made the workload of the animators and animation director even heavier. In spite of all these issues, Kaname and its producers put all their bets on Kanada’s name and expected around 30,000 sales; it barely got above 5,000 (compare with Megazone 23 and Genmu Senki Leda, which did 25,000–30,000 sales each—and even then they too failed to recoup their costs despite remaining some of the best-selling OVAs for the years to come).

With all this being said, it’s time to take a look at the credits. Their most striking feature, as in all subsequent Kaname Pro works, are the animator credits, which do not follow the standard genga/dôga distinction. Instead, they credited “Main Animators” and “Animators”, in katakana, that is in transliterated English: メインアニメーター and アニメーター. But where it gets tricky is that while the Main Animators were always key animators, Animators weren’t always in-betweeners. For example, Hideaki Anno was credited as Animator on Birth—he was probably brought in after having met Kanada on the production of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. But when considering how recognizable his work is, there is absolutely no doubt that Anno did key animation, and not just in-betweens. What this seems to indicate is that those credits were purely meant to discriminate between ‘important’ and ‘unimportant’ animators: the Main Animators represented the core of the Kanada school, while the others were only secondary assistants. There is a possibility that both Main Animators and Animators were key animators, and that in-betweeners were simply not credited. This would be very strange but cannot be ruled out.

Another specific aspect of Kaname Pro’s workflow is the central role they seem to have given to the “Animation Coordinator” (again credited in katakana). Generally, they are the people in charge of scheduling, handling the communication between animators and resolving any possible conflict. Shigenori Kageyama was the animation coordinator on all of the studio’s OVAs, and on Birth, he was assisted by Mutsumi Inomata, who was already a central figure at the studio. Besides her, it’s also interesting to note that Shôhei Obara was joint mechanical designer.

Finally, there’s the director credit. Even though Kanada had done the original story, the character designs, the animation direction, the storyboards and some key animation, he didn’t direct the OVA himself, but left it in the hands of his longtime friend Shin’ya Sadamitsu. Sadamitsu had started animating alongside Kanada, was probably something like his best friend, and had directed all of Kanada’s solo episodes on Tomino shows. But they had gone their separate ways sometime between 1979 and 1981, as Sadamitsu, while still a member of Kanada’s Studio N°1, preferred to work with Sunrise. In 1984, he was working in Tatsunoko, but Kanada apparently persuaded him to go back working with him for this project. That was their last major collaboration, though Sadamitsu did bring in Kanada for some of the minor OVAs he later directed.

Sadamitsu has always downplayed his own involvement, especially on Birth; he probably played a key role in spreading the idea that this was Kanada’s passion project on which he did what he wanted, whereas Sadamitsu himself was just there to pick up the pieces and try to make sense of it all. But how much of that is the humility you see when creators talk about their work, and more importantly, fueled by a desire to avoid the responsibility of such an infamous work? It seems Kanada was completely unable to direct anything on his own, and that’s why he relied so much on Sadamitsu. On the other hand, Sadamitsu knew Kanada well and how to challenge him in the right directions. It’s not just Kanada that produced some of the best episodes in Tomino’s entire filmography, it’s the Sadamitsu-Kanada duo, plus some work from Tomino behind them. Tomino wasn’t there then, but even though I have nothing to really support it besides guesses, I think Sadamitsu’s involvement in the entire project has been largely downplayed.

But at this point, you might be asking yourself: what is it that makes Birth so bad? The paper-thin, confusing story might have been forgivable in what is essentially an animator’s project, but the problems run deeper. For starters, it is simply impossible to believe that Kanada really did anything that resembles animation direction: the characters are consistently off-model, to the point that you wonder if there were any models in the first place. And there is more, down to the most basic technical aspects of production. The voice acting is awful—which can be forgiven—but it is also completely out-of-sync, much more than what is usual in anime. It’s as if the animators didn’t care that people would be saying lines over their drawings and just did what they wanted.

If you look closely, you’ll see the unpainted edges of the cels from 0:21 to 0:24 and from 0:26 to 0:27

And finally, the photography seems lax. It’s not uncommon in cel-era anime for unpainted areas to appear at the edges for a split second, where they would normally have disappeared into CRT televisions’ overscan zone. But this was also projected in theaters, and sustained, seconds-long spells of such flaws suggest unusual pressures on photography, especially in shots where the whole image is changing frame-by-frame so that the quirks at the frame’s edge cannot be blamed on just one cel. To put it bluntly, the half-amateur production that was Daicon IV, released just a year prior, looks more professional than some parts of Birth.

It’s hard to give definite explanations for all of these issues, but there are at least two clearly identified ones. The first is that 1983 and 1984 were busy years in the anime industry, and especially for Kanada. At the same time as Birth, he was working on no less than three high-profile movies, two of which would become some of the most important in his career: Genma Taisen and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. He probably animated as much runtime, if not more, just on Genma Taisen than Birth, and you must add to all that his work as joint animation director on the 1983 Yamato movie. There might of course have been other factors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kanada just didn’t have the time to give proper supervision to his OVA. Even if it was his passion project, I don’t imagine it was as financially profitable as these three other ambitious productions; he might have had to leave Birth a bit on its own just to earn his bread.

The other reason is that Birth’s production was simply rushed. In an October 1984 interview, Kanada did his mea culpa of sorts, and went back over all of what he himself thought was wrong with Birth. Although he cared deeply for the idea of a long chase scene, and didn’t reject the first half of the OVA, he admitted that most of the exposition sequences ended up being cut off, which resulted in a muddled plot. In the same interview, he addressed the OVA’s production schedule, saying: “I wish I had had three months to do the setting, and at least six months to do the entire animation”. This naturally implies that the animation was completed in less than 6 months. To give a point of comparison, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s animation was completed in 8 months, and even this was relatively rushed for a production of this scale (19 key animators for a 120 minutes movie). If, as a rough estimate, we say that Birth’s 80 minutes were made in between 3 to 4 months, this is very little time and explains a lot of the OVA’s problems.

Birth ended up being a commercial failure, but did make some waves in the small world that was budding otaku culture and the developing animation fandom. After all, OVAs would always be something of a niche market, and it was mostly Kanada fans who went to see this one. However off-model it was, Rasa’s design was pretty attractive and probably played a part in the lolicon boom that had started in the late 70s and that Kaname would contribute to with its round, plump and cute girl characters. In terms of animation proper, Kanada pushed further the limits of what you could do with background animation in one of the most amazing chase sequences ever made.

Besides Kanada, I feel like the other star of Birth was Shinsaku Kôzuma; even though he wasn’t a member of Kaname Pro, he was one of its most important assets. If I say “the star”, it’s because, behind Kanada, he was probably the animator with the most cuts, and even had the honor of animating the opening scene, where he had loads of fun with squash-and-stretch, smears, and his unique kind of triangular debris. It might just be because I’m more partial towards Kôzuma, but it feels like by that point he had not only freed himself from Masahito Yamashita’s influence, but had even taken his place as the most prominent and talented member of the Kanada school.

In a way, Birth was the end of an era for the school. It was the last (and only) moment when all of its members were reunited in one place: Kanada himself and his alumni from Z2, Z3 or N°1 such as Yamashita, Kazuhiro Ochi or Osamu Nabeshima; members of Kaname such as Mutsumi Inomata and Shigenori Kageyama; but also outsiders probably recruited on Urusei Yatsura like Takafumi Hayashi or the future Madhouse animator Toshio Kawaguchi.

Pros and cons: Genmu Senki Leda

With Birth’s commercial failure, and facing the impossibility of turning it into a full-length TV series, Kanada and Kaname’s relationship broke down. It was as if they would never work together again, and most of Kanada’s direct students would imitate their master. In a way, it was an opportunity for him, since it allowed him to focus on the more prestigious collaborations he had going with Rintarô in Madhouse and Miyazaki in the soon-to-be-created Ghibli. But it put a definite end to any ambitions Kanada might—we do not know—have harboured to become anything more than a well-known and influential animator. On Kaname Pro’s end, Birth was but the first in a series of failed projects: the studio also planned an adaptation of Monkey Punch’s manga Mechavenger and an original anime project titled Spaceship Gallop, but none of them saw the light of day. Moreover, considering the dates, I believe Birth’s failure (or its production) played at least some part in Inomata’s departure from the studio in 1984: she’d keep being one of its constant contributors, but as a freelancer. However, it did put Kaname at the vanguard of the OVA market, where it would remain until 1986, producing five OVAs in just two years.

Birth was therefore quickly followed by what could be considered the studio’s best production, Genmu Senki Leda. The core team was the same as Sanshirô, and it was as if Birth never happened: Kunihiko Yuyama was director, Mutsumi Inomata character designer, and Takehiro Toyomasu on mechanical design. Leda was Inomata’s real breakthrough and revealed her talent for unique and appealing character designs. Her characters were very different from Kanada’s simple, animation-friendly, almost liquid shapes: as round and cute, but even more detailed, especially in the hair and accessories. The large, shining, jewel-like eyes quickly became her speciality, and Yôko’s  bikini armor quickly became iconic.

A Leda illustration by Mutsumi Inomata, featuring her take on one of Toyomasu’s designs

In terms of direction, Yuyama had definitely more of a vision than Sadamitsu and Kanada ever had. The standout is definitely the OVA’s silent opening sequence, with its washed out colors and almost abstract compositions which set a romantic and melancholy tone. This was a notable change from Birth, or even from Sanshirô, but it had its problems. Leda is a very fun OVA, and probably one of the best examples to show what this new format had to offer. But its story remained a bit bland and unoriginal. Like Inomata’s designs, Leda is a beautiful and polished little thing, but it utterly lacks depth or nuance. Birth was a failure, but it could at least stand out through that, whereas Leda has nothing really special in its neatness.

However, it was the occasion for yet more amazing animation. Kôzuma did his last major contribution to a Kaname Pro work there, animating no fewer than seven minutes of the first part of the OVA, delivering some of his best work ever on the occasion. Besides him, it brought on some new faces who would take the place of Kanada’s close circle who had gone on other projects: Tsukasa Dokite and Kazuaki Môri, as well as three of the four members of Studio Graviton, Shôichi Masuo, Hiroaki Gôda and Kôji Itô, who was promoted from Animator on Birth to Main Animator on Leda. Itô and Masuo formed a great duo, and seem to have tried, like many others did, to confront themselves with the master. Most notably, their collaboration on the climax looks very much like Kanada’s work on the two Galaxy Express 999 finales; it was both a homage and an attempt to do better.

More generally, Leda is emblematic of a certain kind of otaku production from the time, in that it keeps referencing and borrowing elements from other major anime. Birth set a standard in chase scenes and background animation, but the daring Hiroaki Gôda tried to replicate the same level of quality with resounding success. Narratively, it seems to borrow some elements from Nausicaä, especially in its female warrior announced by a prophecy and proliferating flying machines. These are one of the best aspects of the OVA, taking from Miyazaki the impossibly heavy aspect and adding to them an even stranger, archaic kind of design in some very weird robots, which is what makes Toyomasu one of the most original mechanical designers of the period.

Some of Toyomasu’s designs, from Leda (top) and Bavi Stock I (bottom)

The Inomata project? Windaria

Leda certainly represented Kaname’s peak in terms of animation, but it was also the occasion for some staff turnover. It was Kôzuma’s last real work with them, but Itô would come back on the first episode of (the very forgettable) Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora while Hiroaki Gôda and Kazuaki Môri kept working with the studio until it closed down. After Leda, it would keep itself afloat by doing some subcontracting and by producing three very slight OVAs: the aforementioned Fandora in 1985, and The Humanoid and Bavi Stock I in 1986. The staff were clearly not putting as much resources or passion into these; instead, all of the studio’s energy was going into their latest major project: Windaria.

Rather than being a wholly original work, Windaria was an adaptation of a fantasy novel by Keisuke Fujikawa, who was brought back for another collaboration with the studio. Accordingly, the plot was more complex than in many comparable productions, with two parallel storylines, significantly inspired by the eighteenth-century collection of tales Ugetsu Monogatari (one of these was also adapted by live-action director Kenji Mizoguchi in his 1953 film of the same name). Another sign of the production’s ambition was its length: this was not an OVA, but a full movie that screened in theaters and aimed for a wider audience. In another callback to Plawres Sanshirô, Sanshirô’s voice actor played the part of Izu, Windaria’s central male character: this was Tôru Furuya, most famous today for playing Amuro Ray in Mobile Suit Gundam and Mamoru in Sailor Moon.

The art direction by Geki Katsumata was lavish and the settings were beautiful. Windaria is probably one of the very few productions from the time that could rival Hayao Miyazaki’s movies; this makes sense since, like Leda, it seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from them. Its meditative opening scenes especially have a lot in common with some of the slow and poetic moments from Nausicaä or Laputa. The fantasy world was rich and detailed, with its canals, windmills, and strangely archaic flying machines designed, as always, by Shôhei Obara and Takahiro Toyomasu. On the characters, Inomata was in peak form, and probably delivered some of the best work of her career. The eyes were larger and more expressive than ever, while the costumes were original and lavish.

Some backgrounds from Windaria

I think Inomata played a very large part in Windaria and in its striking aesthetic: indeed, the movie doesn’t have any instances of Kanada-style animation. This evolution can be discerned in the designs themselves: whereas the Kanada style animators liked wide and gaping mouths for the funny expressions they could create, Inomata took a lot of care to give her female characters small mouths with colored lips, one of her trademarks and one she’d already tried out in Leda. More generally, the movie favored a more realistic, detailed animation that could flourish with Inomata’s rich designs. 

If this was possible, it was for mostly two reasons. First, most of the talented Kanada school animators that had collaborated with Kaname were absent from the movie. The only credited one was Shinsaku Kôzuma but, in fact, he didn’t participate: he left the work to his assistant and student from Studio OZ, Hiroyuki Ikegami. The other reason is that, while Windaria featured twice as many Main Animators as the studio’s previous OVAs (twenty-four on Windaria against eleven for Birth and twelve for Leda), many of them were beginners who had started their careers under Inomata herself. The most emblematic figure was Atsuko Ishida: although she was never a Main Animator, she was Animator for all Kaname Pro works, and on Windaria, she was promoted to in-between check; in other words, she was Inomata’s assistant. It must also be noted that Inomata was probably a factor in Kaname’s (relative) feminization: besides her and Ishida, another woman rose to the post of Main Animator, Ami Tomobuki.

Windaria was an ambitious production, probably a bit too ambitious. Moving away from OVAs to produce a film was the first mistake: the movie didn’t work out that well commercially. Once it was done the OVA market revealed itself to be crowded, to the point that Kaname’s hypothetical productions wouldn’t have found their audience, while producers turned their eyes towards other companies. In terms of staff, Inomata slowly started retiring from the studio: while she would keep making character designs for anime until the mid-90s, she had already started to distance herself from the industry to work as an illustrator. She would then work mostly in the video games world, her most famous contribution being her designs for Bandai Namco’s Tales of series. Having lost its audience and most important creative figure, Kaname Pro survived two more years by subcontracting on other productions, such as Dirty Pair: Project Eden, Dancougar, and Kimagure Orange Road. Their last attempt after changing their name to Diva Production was the OVA Watt Poe to Bokura no Ohanashi in 1988, which, exceptionally, brought back Kanada for a short and unimpressive sequence. But this children’s story was closer to 1979’s Kujira no Josephina than the dark SF series that flooded the market at the time, and was a complete failure, leading the studio to close down.

Kaname’s story as a studio has been mostly forgotten, because its works were never that successful and it didn’t exist for that long. But it is in fact quite representative of the state of the industry in the 80s, especially during the OVA boom. A pioneer in creative-led short works like Birth, it aimed for more ambitious and original works but then found itself a victim of the collapse of the first OVA bubble at the decade’s end. There were many others like it, a testament to the fragility of studio structures in the anime industry. But if Kaname stood out, it did so thanks to the talent of its members, who had made it one of the industry’s most important meeting-places during the middle of the 80s.

5 thoughts on “A brief history of Kaname Pro

  1. I’m not sure how else to get in contact, but a comment seems good enough for now! I’m dabbling in putting together an academic article that looks at the works of Kaname Production. While desperately searching for English language resources (and, as you might expect, finding next to nothing), I happened upon this post.

    I was wondering whether you might be able to point me in the direction of any sources you came across in your work on Kanada that might help give a fuller sense of Kaname’s history, ethos, etc.? I’m also fairly literate in Japanese with the help of a dictionary, so any and all sources would help greatly.

    I’d be happy to pay if putting these togther requires more time and work than you might be able to devote to it (although I’m a poor grad student, so I grant promise a great deal).

    Do let me know!


    1. What a coincidence! I am myself planning a new series of articles for this blog that will go more in depth into Kaname’s prehistory, and an academic article as well that will cover them to some extent. I’d be very curious to hear more about your own research!

      As for sources, I have since the article here gathered a lot more, but they’re not necessarily easy to get by – it’s mostly interviews and columns from 1980s anime magazines, mooks and artbooks. Since I’m mostly interested in Kanada, Birth and Leda I only have stuff that covers those, but if you’re interested we can discuss this in further detail. I think you can find my e-mail address by looking at my WordPress icon, so if you do send me a mail so we talk about this a little more!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rereading this for a bit of research and one line jumped out at me:

    “It might also be Victor Music that brought on the composer Joe Hisaishi, who would become famous for his collaborations with Hayao Miyazaki—unless Kanada brought him in from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. ”

    Although I’m skeptical on how much overlap they may have had, Kanada and Joe Hisaishi had both contributed to an even earlier project, Mospeada. If nothing else, it’s fascinating that Kanada and Hisaishi would have worked on the same projects three times in such a short period of time.


    1. You’re right to point this out, thanks!

      I guess that both Kanada and Hisaishi shared a similar profile in their respective areas – the young, promising artist, representative of a new generation.
      Congratulations to Miyazaki for getting both of them within his grasp, I must say!


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