The animation of Char’s Counterattack

When asked what was the biggest anime event of the year 1988, most people would surely answer Akira. Ghibli fans may note Grave of the Fireflies or My Neighbour Totoro. Only few people would mention one of the most ambitious entries in the Gundam franchise: Char’s Counterattack. Yoshiyuki Tomino’s third feature film project, and the first non-recap one, put an end to a story that had been going on for almost 10 years, the so-called “early Universal Century”. It was a turning point, not just for the Gundam series, but for anime as a whole - though this is rarely known or framed as such, since the movie is mostly only accessible to already experienced Gundam watchers. The goal of this article is to correct this state of affairs.

Ghibli outside Ghibli, 1986-1991

While the idea of a unified “Ghibli aesthetic” or “style” is debatable at best, it makes no doubt that all the animators mentioned here brought something different to their work outside the studio. The first element was quality, a result both of their talent and of the formation they had received before or after they started collaborating with Ghibli. The second element is more difficult to grasp, and is closer to what one may refer to as a “style”: something in common to almost all of their approaches to animation. The goal of this article is not only to point out its characteristics and evolution, but also to situate it within a wider context: indeed, the period between 1986 and 1991 is a key one in anime history, as it saw the emergence of a new school of thought and style: realism. Although quantitatively minor, the work of those 6 Ghibli-related animators in fact played a central role in the spread of the realist aesthetic.

From the Apennines to the Andes

oxical reception and reputation. In Japan, it is just as well considered as Isao Takahata’s other two entries in the World Masterpiece Theater, with entire generations of animators (chief among them Takashi Nakamura, Satoru Utsunomiya and Toshiyuki Inoue) counting it as one of their sacred texts. In English-language discourse, while Marco is extremely well-considered among those who have seen it, their number is small, and Marco is far from being as popular as Heidi or Anne. This article will not aim to provide reasons for this state of affairs, but to give a thorough presentation and commentary on Marco and its importance in Isao Takahata’s career, the World Masterpiece Theater, and anime history at large.

A Dog of Flanders

Flanders is among the most well-known works in the World Masterpiece Theater canon, both in Japan and overseas; it is perhaps the most famous outside of the select list of Isao Takahata’s entries in the series. Such fame is not surprising when one considers Flanders’ tragic finale, and the fact that this ultimate episode reportedly reached the highest audience rating in the history of the World Masterpiece Theater - an impressive 30.1%. However, it is also questionable whether such fame is really deserved - indeed, Flanders is perhaps the most imperfect show among 1970’s World Masterpiece Theater entries. There is of course a sort of contradiction here - how is it that such a poorly made series became so popular? The aim of this article is precisely to answer this - to illustrate the elements that make Flanders a subpar work, and to understand how it could have been such a success nevertheless.

Yoshinori Kanada and the nature of animation

assumption of this series, and the reason why it has tried to trace how Kanada’s influence spread and changed over the years. However, I have said little in depth about what Kanada and his students brought to the medium of animation—in other words, why was Kanada important, beyond simply earning so many fans and followers? This is what I’d like to try and uncover here.

Heidi, Girl of the Alps

Heidi, Girl of the Alps needs no introduction. One of the most important and influential works in the history of Japanese animation, Isao Takahata’s first series for Zuiyo Video would set a gold standard for all subsequent World Masterpiece Theater entries. Much has already been said about Heidi, especially on its status as a so-called “pre-Ghibli” work or on how representative it is of Takahata’s style and philosophy. Considering the theme of this series, this article will instead put Heidi back in its historical context: that of the extended World Masterpiece canon, and of 1974 anime.

Artist spotlight: Hiroyuki Imaishi

Hiroyuki Imaishi is no doubt the most important artist to rise out of the Kanada school in the last 25 years: the renewal he contributed to trigger with the Neo-Kanada style completely renovated what Kanada-inspired animation would look like in the 21st century. As one of the major figures of studio Gainax and then studio Trigger, he has also managed to create an environment with a peculiar and recognizable aesthetic, that could hopefully foster new generations of Kanada school artists. Finally, Imaishi is also a famous director, one of the major artistic figures of the last two decades. Having already partly covered Imaishi’s work as an animator, it is precisely this last aspect that I’d like to study here: what Imaishi directed.

The Kanada style now

Although the Kanada style has certainly known a rebirth in the 2000s, it seems that, in the 2010’s, it has gone through a new phase of decline. It’s not that it has totally disappeared: it is still thriving around specific studios (like Trigger) or artists (the most important among them being Yoshimichi Kameda). However, outside of those circles, the presence of the Kanada style is mostly visible through citations (Kanada dragons, very angular effects) and a generally snappier approach to timing. Overall, there is little formal innovation. But this doesn’t mean that the Kanada style is dead or dying; it has just acquired a new, more secondary, place in the field of anime aesthetics. This situation is what I call the “post-Kanada” era; not just because it has been long now since the golden age of the 80’s, but also because most Kanada-school animators emerging today have done so after the death of Yoshinori Kanada himself. They have therefore never directly experienced his work, and their influences might be more diverse than that of previous artists. The goal of this article will be to understand this new context, and to highlight some promising artists in the Kanada lineage.

Artist spotlight: Yoshimichi Kameda

Yoshimichi Kameda is undoubtedly one of the most important animators of the last 15 years. He is also one of the last really major animators today whose style can directly be traced to Kanada, and not one who just cites him as a great artist he looks up to. Finally, he is emblematic of what I call the “post-Kanada” generation, that is the animators that emerged during the late 2000’s until now, just before or after Kanada’s death and who never  came in direct contact with him or with his works as they came out. I will explore this idea further in the next piece of this series, but Kameda seems to be very representative of what the Kanada style has become outside of the Trigger bastion: something with much more varied influences and techniques, that doesn’t always look much like Kanada at first glance, but retains the same core principles and expressive motion.

Gainax and the Neo-Kanada Renaissance

1998 was one of the most important years in the history of the Kanada school. On the one hand, it was when Yoshinori Kanada himself left Japan—and, with it, the anime industry proper—for Hawaii and games development. In the context of the general decline, if not total disappearance, of the creativity of Kanada-style animation in most productions, it felt like the ground had been given up to newer generations. But another thing happened in 1998: the broadcast of a TV series produced by studio Gainax, His and Her Circumstances. Just as Kanada-style animation was withering all over, KareKano became a formidable space for experimentation, bringing to the fore a new generation of animators from Gainax. These would go on to be called the “Neo-Kanada” school. Its foremost members form the trio now strongly associated with studio Trigger: Yô Yoshinari, Hiroyuki Imaishi, and Sushio.