Ashi Production and the Pers-kun movement

Many thanks to Numidameleagris for their patience and assistance.

Following 1979’s Galaxy Express 999, Yoshinori Kanada had become one of the top animators in Japan and would go on to be an inspiring figure for many of the artists that emerged throughout the following decade. The early 80s especially witnessed what industry members at the time called a sudden “Pers-kun movement” – “Pers” being short for “Kanada Perspective”, and “Pers-kun” the (slightly derogatory) term to indicate young animators who wanted to imitate their idol Kanada. The large-scale effect of this “movement” was to make Kanada-style animation one of the defining traits of 80s anime. But if we look closer, it was anything but a given: Kanada himself had to establish a reputation and contacts, while old and new animators alike did not immediately adopt the new trend. The goal of this article will precisely be to retrace through what channels Kanada’s style exported itself outside of the animator’s immediate circle of students, and in particular in one studio: Ashi Production. In doing so, I will not only follow the work of specific animators, but also paint a tentative picture of the stylistic evolutions in mecha anime during the high point of the “anime boom” and the immediate aftermath of Mobile Suit Gundam.

As I just said, the objective is to move the focus away from Kanada’s close circles. But to do this, it is necessary to understand precisely what those circles were, that is to provide a detailed chronology of Kanada and his students’ studios after 1979. As longtime readers or Kanada fans may know, Kanada’s place in the 70s was called Studio Z, after Shingo Araki’s own Studio Z, which existed between 1971 and 1973 and of which Kanada had been a member. It is customary to call Araki’s studio Z1, and then number the generations that follow Z2, Z3, etc. However, the clear distinction between different generations, especially Z2, Z3 and Z4 is near impossible to make for various reasons. First, there’s the fact that the later testimonies by Z’s members are all contradictory to some degree, and even that the current Studio Z’s official timeline does nothing to clear things up. The other reason is that all these “studios” were never official, clear-cut companies: they were free collectives, where people came and went as they pleased. The following chronology is therefore highly speculative and not definitive in any way.

Z2 was created in May 1977 by 5 friends who simultaneously went freelance and decided to rent a place to work together: Dogakôbo’s Kazuo Tomizawa (who would be the representative director until 1980), Neo Media’s Masayuki Uchiyama, and Studio N°1’s Shin’ya Sadamitsu, Osamu Nabeshima and Yoshinori Kanada. The studio quickly grew and, by October 1978, it counted around 11 members. It’s hard to tell, but it may be that, because of the studio’s growth, it moved out of its original location to a wider place able to accomodate more members – this change may have marked the shift from Z2 to Z3. In addition to the original 5 were Michiko Saitô, Kimiko Sugimura, Yoshifumi Nuno, Shigenobu Nagasaki, Hajime Kamegaki and Satoshi Hirayama. More people would join as time went by. The studio was then split into 3 divisions: the first, led by Tomizawa, worked on Osamu Dezaki TMS/Madhouse shows such as Nobody’s Boy Remi or Treasure Island. The second, represented by Uchiyama, worked with Tôei on Starzinger and Galaxy Express 999 TV. Finally, Kanada was the head of the largest group, which worked with Sunrise on Zambot 3 and Daitarn 3.

One striking element between the new members of Z2/3 was that all of them had studied in the Tokyo Designer Gakuin College, of which Kanada had been a student of before dropping out. But more fundamentally, they were all Kanada fans: the only experienced animator among the new hires, Shigenobu Nagasaki, was from studio Oh! Production and joined Z3 because he wanted to work with Kanada. Similarly, Hirayama and Kamegaki did their first in-betweens on Zambot while they were still college students who frequently visited Z2/3, got a part-time job there, and then became full-time members.

It seems that Kanada left the studio in the summer or fall of 1979 – possibly after his last episode on Ashi Production’s Josefina the Whale, aired September 4, 1979. Following this, the studio’s last work was probably Mobile Suit Gundam #38, with animation direction by Nagasaki and animation by, among others, Nagasaki and Nabeshima. Then this group, along with Sadamitsu and a young Kazuhiro Ochi, followed Kanada to what became the second-generation studio N°1, sometimes nicknamed Studio Z4. However, this nickname is confusing because what was left of Z2/3 is also sometimes called Z4 – which Kanada and Nagasaki often helped out. Both studios grew, but as a result also became slightly more distant. Kazuo Tomizawa tightened his relationship with TMS and Madhouse, leading to the dissolution of Z4 in 1980. Uchiyama created his own place, Last House (also called Z3, but everything seems to indicate that it was created after N°1, making it difficult to understand why it’s considered the third generation). As this happened, some of the members wanted to keep Studio Z’s initial spirit: this would be Z5, created by 2 ex-Z4 members, Hajime Kamegaki and Satoshi Hirayama, and an animator from Araki Production that they had met on The Rose of Versailles, Hideyuki Motohashi (although some accounts also claim that Motohashi had already been a member of Z4).

The array of dates and names may be confusing, but it is important because it is through these quick changes that the initial network of Kanada-style artists developed, and that Kanada himself found new job opportunities. The one that will interest us the most here happened through Kazuo Tomizawa: in 1979, Tomizawa was character designer of the Kokusai Eigasha-Ashi Production show Josefina the Whale. Although the full credits haven’t been transcribed, Z3 was present on at least a few episodes: #08 and #17, storyboarded by Sadamitsu, and #03 and #20, Kanada’s first storyboards. A few months later, Kanada would storyboard another episode of an Ashi Pro show, supported by Tomizawa on animation direction: that was one of Kanada’s masterpieces, Don de la Mancha #06.

Don de la Mancha #06

Kanada’s work on Don de la Mancha is often considered to be one of the episodes on which he had most creative control in his entire career, as he handled all of the storyboarding and key animation by himself. Following Josefina, it was also the work to put in him direct contact with Ashi Production producer Yoshiaki Aihara and artists such as Kunihiko Yuyama, Mutsumi Inomata and Shigenori Kageyama, therefore opening the sequence of events that would lead to the creation of Kaname Production and the creation of Birth. Sadly, there isn’t much information on Don de la Mancha in general – the entire series isn’t even available anywhere I could find. However, we do know a lot about Kanada’s episode specifically.

As mentioned above, the connection between Kanada and Ashi Pro happened through Kazuo Tomizawa. More specifically, it was probably established in 1977, during the production of Angie Girl. Angie was one of the multiple shows that Nippon Animation subcontracted to the newly-created Ashi Pro, which had been created by members of Tatsunoko in 1975. The Z2/3 presence was visible on the opening and ending, animated by Tomizawa and Kanada, and storyboarded by Shin’ya Sadamitsu. Tomizawa quickly proved to become a valuable asset for Ashi Pro, as he would become character designer of the studio’s first independent production, Josefina (though it remained a co-production with Kokusai Eiga-sha); on its follow-up, Don de la Mancha, Tomizawa was animation director for the first two episodes as well as Kanada’s #06.

This episode was initially supposed to be the third one, which would have put Tomizawa in charge of the entire beginning of the show. However, Kanada was unable to finish his work in time, leading his episode to be aired as the sixth. This delay probably explains why it wasn’t fully produced in Z4/N°1, but also received some help by the same team of young Ashi Pro artists which had been on Tomizawa’s #01 and #02.

Zukkoke Knight: Don de la Mancha #06 credits

Screenwriting: Jinzô Toriumi (鳥海尽三)

Episode Direction: Kunihiko Yuyama (湯山邦彦)

Storyboard: Yoshinori Kanada (金田伊功)

Animation Direction: Kazuo Tomizawa (富沢和雄)

Animation: [Studio N°1] Yoshinori Kanada (金田伊功), Kazuhiro Ochi (越智一裕) 

[Uncredited, studio N°1] Masahito Yamashita (山下将仁) [?]

[Uncredited, studio Z4] Hajime Kamegaki (亀垣一)

[Ashi Production] Shinsuke Kasahara (笠原慎介), Shigenori Kageyama (影山楙倫), Izumi Masui (増井泉), Miyako Kubo (久保美八子), Mutsumi Inomata (猪股むつみ), Toshie Oshima (大島利恵)

Production Assistance: Yukinao Shimoji (下地志直)

Note: Masahito Yamashita’s presence is claimed by the Japanese database sakuga@wiki, but no source is given and none that I’ve read or heard of confirms this; similarly, one may ask whether the third member of Z4, Satoshi Hirayama, was present on the episode. Kamegaki’s testimony that Kanada animated the episode from a desk he sometimes occupied in Z4 makes it possible

Although Kanada was “only” storyboarder and animator, the entire episode revolved around him: he was the one to create the original characters, and he did his own settei for the main ones, Don, Sancho and Dulcinea. All the key animation was him, with Kazuhiro Ochi probably just providing assistance and clean-up, a very important task considering how rough Kanada’s drawings were. As animation director, Tomizawa did do some corrections, but he did them in such a way to preserve the look and feel of the original art – something that only he, a longtime colleague and friend, could do. This doesn’t mean that no compromises were made: some sequences were cut off (notably one in which a Zero fighter plane commits a suicide attack, which was deemed a bit too problematic by someone in the upper echelons) and the number of in-betweens was drastically reduced so that the episode could be kept within budget and schedule.

In any case, Don de la Mancha #06 is one of Kanada’s masterpieces, at least in the sense that it provides an exceptional look into his personal world, weird sense of humor and visual creativity. The plot is basic (Don must fight Kaponen, who has stolen the herd of his dear Dulcinea), but provides ample room for gags that often come completely out of left field, such as the recurring motif of the flying saucer, which Kaponen meets in outer space after he has been punched so hard by a cow that he reveals himself to be a cyborg with thrusters inside his body… or something like that.

In terms of animation, it is also particularly interesting: with Kanada completely out of control, it represents the peak of the unique style he was developing in the early 80s. As he started to work on more ambitious productions (movies or opening sequences), Kanada enjoyed the more comfortable conditions to revise his approach to drawing and timing into something more loose and liberated. This is the time in which he developed his iconic liquid fire technique, and also when ambitious background animation became one of his most prized techniques.

But what is most striking about Kanada’s style at the time – between 1979 and 1983 – is how diverse it was: Don de la Mancha’s loose style was reproduced and directly referenced in Farewell Galaxy Express 999, in which Kaponen makes a guest appearance, but it also announced new developments. For example, besides the speedlines which had been part of Kanada’s visual vocabulary since the beginning, we can note a renewed use of smears and dynamic deformations that contribute to strengthen the irregular, unexpected nature of the movement. In terms of effects, it is also visible that Kanada was already trying out new shapes distinct from his own liquid fire style: here, the movement remains similarly slow, but the lines are not as curved and the overall shape is even more irrealistic and abstract. Just a few years later, Kanada would go further down that line, making the timings syncopated rather than just irregular, and using a ruler more systematically in order to create aggressive, angular shapes.

The evolution of Kanada’s effects: from left to right, Don de la Mancha (1980), Galaxy Cyclone Braiger (1981) and Birth (1984)

Besides Kanada himself, Don de la Mancha represented yet another shock for the people aware of it (albeit that was probably a reduced number). Shinsaku Kôzuma, then a freelancer who had barely started doing key animation, contacted Ashi Pro as soon as he heard that Kanada was on the show and asked to join in the hopes to work with him. But Ashi Pro needed animation directors and not animators, leading Kôzuma to refuse the proposal because he didn’t have the experience for it. Within Ashi Pro itself, Mutsumi Inomata told of how Kanada’s drawings were circulated among the entire animation staff, with many doing their own hand-drawn copies of his work. While it undoubtedly represented a major disruption in the show’s production, Don de la Mancha #06 was one of the steps that enabled Kanada to install his influence within Ashi Pro and the industry as a whole.

Space Warrior Baldios

With these preliminary remarks made, it is now time to turn to Ashi Pro itself and its artists. The studio’s next work after Don de la Mancha was a mecha series, Uchû Senshi Baldios: it was seemingly a return to the origins, as Ashi’s first two series for Nippon, Blocker Gundan IV Machine Blaster and Chôgattai Majutsu Robo Ginguiser had been mecha. Before getting into Baldios’ visuals, it is worth discussing its overall narrative presentation: what makes Baldios so fascinating is that it seems to embody the transition from 70s to 80s mecha. In many scenarios, it remains fairly close to classical Tôei super-robot fare, but the tragic tone and constant interpersonal drama make it much closer to the Robot Romance Trilogy. Its portrayal of war as not just a series of tokusatsu-inspired duels but  a full-scale war involving militaries and harming the civilian population resonates quite strongly with Yoshiyuki Tomino’s works. Overall, in its sense of being a “transition” from the 70s to the 80s, Baldios is extremely close (though not quite as memorable) to Tomino’s Space Runaway Ideon.

In fact, Baldios director Kazuyuki Hirokawa had been episode director on Zambot 3 a few years prior, and it may be there that he borrowed many of Baldios’ darker elements. Alternatively, some of these themes (especially the environmental one and the idea of time travel) were recurring elements in the works of Tatsunoko, of which main writer Akiyoshi Sakai had been a member. According to Takeshi Shudô, it was him, rather than Hirokawa, who took most decisions relating to Baldios’ themes and structure.

However, just like it was the case for Gundam and Ideon, such narrative choices were not well received, and Baldios’ production history was somewhat complicated. Initially planned to run for 26 episodes, the show was then extended to 39; but the assorted toys didn’t sell and the show failed to attract audiences – which was probably not helped by the fact that it regularly changed TV stations and broadcast slots. In the end, the last 8 episodes were canceled and the broadcast was cut short to 31 – even though production had been completed up to episode 34. It would not be until later LD releases that the 3 completed episodes would be fully shown, but screencaps, scripts and storyboards of these episodes as well as the 5 other canceled ones were abundantly spread in anime magazines at the time.

Baldios’ staff was largely made up of Ashi’s usual pool of ex-Tatsunoko artists, the two most notable being director Jinzô Toriumi (episode director for Baldios #02) and writer Akiyoshi Sakai (writer on 8 episodes). But the most interesting figures are no doubt two other artists who would quickly become one of Ashi’s strongest duos: director Kunihiko Yuyama and writer Takeshi Shudô. Yuyama was already one of the studio’s most important creators: having entered the industry in the late 70s, he directed his first episodes on the Galaxy Express 999 TV series (#03, #04 and #09), all of which seem to have been animated by Ashi Pro or Ashi-affiliated artists. These episodes were seemingly well-appreciated, as Yuyama was immediately promoted to series director on Josefina and Don de la Mancha. As for Shudô, Baldios was his first work with Ashi: the 31-year-old screenwriter had spent most of the 70s doing uncredited work for TV series or manga, and was introduced to the anime industry with his work on Dax productions such as Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi or Manga Hajimete Monogatari. It is on these shows that he met screenwriter Tomomi Tsutsui, who then introduced him to Baldios series compositor Akiyoshi Sakai, and was invited onto the production. Shudô must have been particularly efficient and well-liked, as he was the most prolific writer on Baldios. In fact, it seems that he progressively grew more involved with the show as it went on, initially asking to only take care of unimportant side stories and characters, only to end up in charge of some of the most decisive episodes and handling most of the relationship between Marin and Aphrodia, or the very dramatic episode 29 which I’ll touch on later.

Among the 3 designers, the one who interests us most is Hajime Kamegaki, who probably designed the S-1 (antagonists) mechas. At the time of Baldios, Z5 was just a few months old: it had been created at the earliest in February 1980, that is the date of Hideyuki Motohashi’s last work in Araki Production, The Rose of Versailles #20. Although Z5’s members were quite young and hadn’t done animation for very long, they very quickly secured their places as designers: Kamegaki was the first with Baldios, but the next year, Motohashi would do the character designs for TMS’ Rokushin Gattai Godmars while the entire trio would do those of Ashi’s Sengoku Majin Goshôgun

For Baldios, the two other designers were, on characters, Osamu Kamijô, and on mechas, Gen Satô. Satô seems to have joined Ashi Pro in 1978, as he was an animator on Yuyama’s episodes of Galaxy Express 999, and then on Josefina and Don de la Mancha; Kamijô, who was more experienced, seems to have done his first work with Ashi on Galaxy Express 999 as well. Baldios was his debut as character designer, and it must be said that it wasn’t very imaginative. Most characters just looked like variations on Yamato’s designs, while some uniforms were directly lifted from Gundam. It was, however, in his animation that Kamijô truly shined.

Kamijô was animation director and key animator on 3 episodes, and animated the opening and on three other episodes. He was not among the most prolific artists on the series, but the work made by him and his team was very distinct and noticeable. From Kamijô’s own testimony, his initial models when he started animating (that is around 1972-1973) had been animators related to Tatsunoko such as Tsuguyuki Kubo and Masami Suda. He therefore took a lot of inspiration from the gekiga lineage, and in Baldios, this was especially visible in the more unexpected similarities with Shingo Araki, and especially with Star of the Giants. Like most gekiga-style animators, Kamijô used extremely thick, dark linework and went to great pains to highlight the musculature and general body structure of his characters. As a result, each of the individual, still drawings was very strong and had a lot of impact.

Left: Baldios #10 and right: Star of the Giants #83

What’s also interesting in the perspective of an article dedicated to the spread of the Kanada style are the probably unintentional parallels between the style in Kamijô’s episodes and Kanada’s. I am calling them unintentional because they differ from the more obvious “Kanada-isms” used by other animators that I will discuss below. They are, rather, circumstantial similarities that probably stem from the fact that Kanada and Kamijô worked in similar environments (mecha anime) and had somewhat similar inspirations (Shingo Araki and the gekiga style).

So, for instance, we find a lot of light flares in Kamijô’s episodes, or daring angles and unexpected perspectives in the shots taking place inside a mecha’s cockpit. These are all elements that one could associate with Kanada’s own style; but the way Kamijô or his companions drew and animated was still very different: it had nothing of the sense of fun and freedom that Kanada’s work had.

That Kamijô would take such obvious inspiration from Shingo Araki’s 60s work is interesting when one compares his episodes to the ones animated by Z5. These are quite fun to watch because it is very easy to spot who animated what, based on who taught them. The drawings of ex-Araki Production animator Hideyuki Motohashi are a direct copy of Araki and Michi Himeno’s characters from The Rose of Versailles. On the other hand, Satoshi Hirayama was a member of the Z3 team that worked with TMS and Madhouse, and his drawings are therefore quite close to Akio Sugino’s. Of the three, Kamegaki was the only one who really imitated Kanada.

From left to right: Quinstein by Kamijô, Hirayama and Motohashi

For my purposes here, the one that interests me most is Kamegaki. He was by all means the mecha expert: on the opening, he animated the mecha parts and the bank gattai while Kamijô took care of the characters and effects, and on Z5’s episodes, he probably took charge of all or most of the mecha and battle scenes. Kamegaki’s best work on the show is probably on his last episode, #29 – which is also one of the best episodes of the show in general. I’ll therefore discuss it individually in some detail.

Uchû Senshi Baldios #29 credits

Screenplay: Takeshi Shudô (首藤剛志)

Storyboard: Sakuki Noda (野田作樹)

Episode Direction: Kazuyuki Hirokawa (広川和之)

Animation Direction: Hideyuki Motohashi (本橋秀之), Studio Z5 (スタジオZ5)

Key Animation: Hajime Kamegaki (亀垣一), Satoshi Hirayama (平山智)

In-betweens: 中川一郎, Yuriko Nagaya (長屋由利子), 伊藤富士子, 佐藤幸一

Production Assistance: Yukinao Shimoji (下地志直)

If this episode is one of the best in Baldios, it is because it is one of the most dramatic. It introduces a new character, David Wayne, set on replacing the protagonist Marin as the main pilot of the Pulsaburn and, ultimately of the main robot Baldios. He is also the former student of Dr Quinstein, one the main characters, and in love with her since childhood. An aggressive and disturbing figure who openly asks Quinstein to sleep with him – perhaps an unprecedentedly open representation of sexuality for an anime at the time – he in the end heroically sacrifices himself for Earth in a tragic scene that was most probably animated by Kamegaki.

The most obvious element in Kamegaki’s work in this scene is how close it is to Kanada’s animation on Galaxy Express 999 – it even contains a direct reference to the collapse of Planet Maetel at 0:27. Throughout the show, Kamegaki’s fire effects are in the line of Kanada’s liquid fire style, which was reaching its climax at the time on Terra E. The beams as well are very Kanada-esque, colored bright red and with irregular, unpredictable movement and shapes. What’s also very striking here is the shading. The shot on David, from 0:36 to 0:37, features an early instance of Kanada-style wakame shading: stylized, curved shadows meant to represent gleaming light on metal or glass surfaces. Finally, Kamegaki’s mecha fights were among the most dynamic in all of Baldios: the layouts were complex, machines moved fast and well, sometimes perfectly supported by speedlines or spectacular background animation.

In all these elements, Kamegaki was very representative of the Kanada style as it developed at the time: he was moving in the same direction as Kanada himself (one that culminated on Farewell Galaxy Express 999 in 1981) and his most promising student from N°1, Masahito Yamashita. While Yamashita’s early works on fire effects were far more daring than Kamegaki’s (and would remain so throughout both men’s careers), he was also animating in the direct continuity of Galaxy Express 999 and using the same vocabulary of wakame shadows, speedlines and Kanada perspectives. It is then particularly interesting that, in the Baldios compilation/conclusion movie that came out in 1981, Yamashita is probably the one who animated a new version of the same scene that Kamegaki had handled. Of course, it’s a bit unfair to compare them, since the movie version was made with more time and ambition than most TV sequences could dream of; still, it gives a good idea of the similarities and differences between both men.

In fact, if we account for the natural variations in storyboarding, both versions aren’t that different – but the color scheme probably plays a part in that. Indeed, the shapes of Yamashita’s fire and explosion effects are far more varied and original than Kamegaki’s. But they don’t appear that different, because the colors are rather poor and don’t really allow for the complex coloring work liquid fire usually used. The most important differences are then probably to be found in the kind of techniques that are used: Yamashita didn’t use light flares as often as Kamegaki did, instead preferring impact frames and light effects such as reflections or an almost systematic use of wakame shadows. This allows his beams to feel much more original, as they adopt a higher number of shapes/poses, and always create reflections on all surfaces around them.

The Baldios movie in general is interesting for a few other reasons. As Yamashita’s presence should show, it represented yet another entry of Kanada’s direct students – this time from N°1 – in an Ashi work. In fact, Kanada himself was the only one missing as almost all his other close contacts were on the movie: Yamashita, Kazuhiro Ochi and Osamu Nabeshima – as well as the 3 members of Z5. Released just a few months after Urusei Yatsura started airing, it was one of the first major works of the Kanada school as a distinct group. The movie was also a central step in the career of two other important figures, Mutsumi Inomata and Shigenori Kageyama, who were in charge of most promotional illustrations, one of which, by Kageyama, was used as the movie’s poster and shown in the movie itself.

But one person was absent, one whose work on the TV series is perhaps the most original and fascinating for this article: that was Itaru Saitô.I could sadly find no information on Itaru Saitô besides the fact that he had worked on Josefina and Don de la Mancha – but, at least for the latter, not on Kanada’s episode. Unlike Kamegaki, or even Inomata and Kageyama, he probably had had no direct contact with Kanada, though it is possible that, like many, he tried to join Z3 and was refused like many aspiring “Pers-kun” animators whom Kanada rejected because the studio didn’t have the room. Even if that was the case, that Saitô was not a direct student or relation of Kanada makes his work even more fascinating, as it is some of the very first Kanada-inspired animation produced from an animator that had not previously been a member of Z3 or N°1.

Top: frames from Saitô’s work on Baldios. Bottom: frames from Kanada’s work on Zambot 3

Saitô’s most remarkable work was this sequence, on episode 12. What makes it so striking is that many movements and poses are directly taken from Kanada’s work on Zambot 3, to the point that it seems like Saitô just straight-up copied and adapted them to Baldios’ designs. This may sound like a harsh judgment, but it should not obscure the extreme power and uniqueness of that sequence, which is completely off-model and looks nothing like the rest of the show: Saitô had gone wild, which the episode and animation directors let pass. This, perhaps more than Saitô’s actual work, is the most important as it shows that room was starting to open for Kanada-style artists who did not, like the Z5 artists, enjoy particular authority or freedom. A few episodes later, on #26, Saitô repeated his feat but this time in an even more impressive fashion.

On a purely artistic level, this second sequence is more interesting to discuss because it is not as derivative – and one may even question to what degree it can be considered to be “Kanada-style” and not just incredibly original and simply strange. It is true that, in terms of shapes and drawings, Kanada may not be that visible; but the spirit that drove Kanada’s work on Zambot 3 is still very much there. What I mean by “spirit” here is the willingness to completely disregard both the models and the way anime characters are expected to look and move, creating something so unsettling and unexpected that it may look ugly to some viewers. While Kanada’s work on Zambot is on another level altogether, some of his drawings on #22 create the same impression of extremely raw, rough art. Here, the movement isn’t just irregular: it looks awkward, and out of context one may even begin to doubt Saitô’s drawing ability, if it didn’t fit the scene’s atmosphere so much (an alien monster taking over and brutally killing people) and contain short but impressive moments of background animation, or just an incredibly original approach to shading and perspectives. This, perhaps, explains part of the appeal of Kanada’s animation for young animators: it allowed them to go to such extremes, to set aside every convention about how animation should be made and just go weird. Of course, that didn’t work every time, as animators would be corrected or heavily criticized (according to a later Kanada interview, many were simply mocked and bullied out of the industry); but when it did the results could be something to behold.

Sengoku Majin Goshogun

Following Baldios’ commercial failure, Ashi Pro’s executives seemingly settled on doing a shorter (26 episodes), less ambitious and less dramatic mecha series: that would be Sengoku Majin Goshogun. Without any chief director, it was largely left in the hands of Takeshi Shudô, credited as original author as well as on series composition. He had the most control over the creative process, correcting all the scripts and going on scouting trips by himself in order to get right the various locations the characters visit. He was also the one to orient the show towards a coming-of-age narrative centered on the young boy Kenta rather than to make it  just yet another robot warfare story.

It seems that Shudô’s writing made Goshogun popular and helped him become famous, but that was probably one of the show’s only qualities. Visually, it is rarely, if ever, very creative, though it remains interesting from a purely historical standpoint. The designs were almost entirely handled by Z5, with its three members credited on characters, and mechas being done by Kamegaki and Ashi’s Gen Satô. Kamegaki’s mechas were the most interesting, and sometimes seem to prefigure the work of Kaname Pro’s Takahiro Toyomasu in their strange, basic shapes and outgrowths.

Unlike Baldios, however, the members of Z5 did not do any animation or animation direction on Goshogun – besides Kamegaki doing the bank gattai sequence. Still, the Kanada style had obviously progressed in the months between Ashi’s two shows: techniques such as speedlines, light flares and wakame shading were now common, and the movement of the effects was fluid and closer to liquid fire than the uninteresting stock explosions of Baldios that still belonged to the 70s.

However, Goshogun had no Pers-kun animation as idiosyncratic and strange as Saitô’s on Baldios – except perhaps another heavily Zambot-inspired bit in #23, presumed to be Osamu Tsuruyama’s work. What it did enable was the slow rise of one important artist: Mutsumi Inomata. Inomata had gotten involved with animation during highschool, as she worked part-time as a cel painter in studio Maki Production, which mainly worked with Tôei. After she had graduated, the president of Maki Pro encouraged her to try doing animation, and introduced her to Ashi Pro, which she joined in 1978. After some time doing in-betweens, she seems to have been promoted to key animation on Baldios (alongside other members of her generation such as Saitô or Shigenori Kageyama) and she quickly got the reputation of an extremely skilled artist renowned for the high quality of her drawings.

At least to my eye, such quality isn’t visible on most of her work until the very end of Goshogun. But, in this show’s very last episode, we finally get a recognizable look at Inomata’s style: she probably animated the first few minutes of Goshogun #26, and almost certainly the part between the 4th and 5th minute marks. This short bit of character acting showcases an early rundown of Inomata’s characteristics: bodies are very tall and faces much longer than in the original models, the eyes are bigger and rounder and surrounded by long, decorative eyelashes; facial expressions, however, remain simple with a lot of the emotion being carried by the mouth (often reduced to a simple line) and eyes. There was some Kanada in her approach – especially in the timing and posing of her movement – but she already exhibited different sensibilities, that didn’t consider the movement an end in itself but rather focused on the decorative quality of each drawing.

Stills from Inomata’s sequence on Goshogun #26

All these qualities were completely acknowledged on the Goshogun movie, released 4 months after the end of the TV show. A recap of the first 20 episodes, the movie was almost only composed of reused or reanimated animation from the TV show. However, at the middle, there was a 2-minute sequence of fake, parodic commercials involving some of the characters of the series. It was entirely animated by Inomata. While this sequence doesn’t move much, the quality of the drawings is very high, especially on the first part of the sequence, an ad for fried chicken. Which showed a bride in a beautiful white gown running to get the precious delicacy. Given Inomata’s sense of humor, it wouldn’t be surprising if she was the one to entirely conceive this absurd gag sequence. In any case, her drawings and animation are exquisite. The movement of the hands is particularly noteworthy: at 0:20, when the box is passed from one character to the other, we can perfectly feel its weight. 

This sequence is also symbolic as it represents one of the first works of the newly-created Kaname Production. It was first an informal collective created on January 1st, 1982 by a group of 6 or 7 people: Inomata and Shigenori Kageyama, mechanical designer Shôhei Kohara, scriptwriter Junki Takegami, producer Akihiro Nagao and perhaps also Yoshiaki Aihara. It became a studio proper in April, just after the release of the Goshogun movie, and quickly integrated multiple animators who had worked with the group since at least the Don de la Mancha days, such as Toshihiko Hashimoto and Masako Minami. The small studio quickly grew, recruiting new members such as Takahiro Tomoyasu or Atsuko Ishida. Although Kageyama was the senior member, Inomata was the unofficial leader and it was her popularity and charisma that attracted people. But Kaname Pro soon became the vessel for another creative project: thanks to their time in Ashi Pro, the members of the young studio had extremely close connections to Kanada’s circles, and they would be the one to produce Kanada’s original creation, Birth.

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