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.
If one single work were to sum up Tatsunoko’s entire production, it would probably be Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. By far the studio’s most iconic series, it was already one of its most popular when it came out. It started airing in 1972, 10 years after the creation of the studio, and 5 years before the death of its creator and leader, Tatsuo Yoshida. Due to this special position, Gatchaman easily stands as an exceptional high point in Tatsunoko’s early history. Moreover, because of its length (105 episodes!) and the changes that occurred within Tatsunoko during its production, it symbolizes the end of an era for the studio: it is, in a sense, the last work from its “early years”. Indeed, it would be so hard to replicate Gatchaman’s success that most of Tatsunoko’s following works are more-or-less simple copies or parodies of it. It would not be until Yoshida’s death and the production of a new Gatchaman series, in 1978, that the studio would find again the creativity and originality of its first years.
Many of Tôei’s promising artists, who had for the most part worked on Fujimaru, were determined to follow up on the possibilities the TV show had opened. This meant making a decisive move towards “adult” animation, that is complex storylines, visual experimentations, and a kind of animation that would go beyond the simplistic, round and friendly shapes of the characters of so-called “TV manga”. Just like young manga artists in the 60s had rejected Osamu Tezuka’s "story manga" style to create their own graphic novels called gekiga, artists in Tôei would slowly start making the move towards what would later be called gekiga anime.
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.
However dominant it became in the 80s, the Kanada style was never the only aesthetic of anime. Besides the heavily stylized motion of the Kanada school and the round, cute characters that characterized the lolicon boom at the start of the decade, another very different kind of animation was starting to find its footing: realism.