Their collective masterpiece: Urusei Yatsura

How did Yoshinori Kanada go from being “merely” a very talented animator to one of the most influential members of the anime industry? That’s a fascinating question, and yet one I haven’t seen much precise discussion of. The world of anime was much smaller then, but it was nevertheless a relatively fast process: in just a few years, the budding Kanada school had already its leaders, its main animators, and a flagship named Urusei Yatsura. This is a fascinating show, as it was such an important moment in anime history and saw some of the industry’s most talented creators meet. It started airing in 1981, the very start of the decade for which it would set most of the stage.

Kanada between 1973 and 1974

One of the most difficult periods to retrace in Kanada’s career is his early days. His first credit dates from late 1970, as an in-betweener on the Tôei series Mahô no Mako-chan. He then did in-betweening and maybe key animation until his first credited key animation on Akado Suzunosuke #41 and #48 in late 1972 (the episodes aired in early 1973). Kanada had already joined Studio Z, and it’s around then that the chronology gets blurry.

The Kanada style in context

It is tempting, as is always the case with great artists, to imagine Yoshinori Kanada as a solitary shooting star who appeared and revolutionized Japanese animation from nowhere, a pure genius whose inscription in a historical context is almost irrelevant to understanding his work. The very nature of this project goes against such a vision, as it aims for two things: 1) not just evoking Kanada, but all those he met and inspired, and their own careers, and 2) a history that takes into account not just the artists, but the evolution of their styles and their relationships with the general context of the animation industry at the time.