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.
This is just my personal opinion on the matter, but I don’t think many animators ever reached the same level of genius as Yoshinori Kanada in terms of originality and ability to ceaselessly renew their own style. In the course of the chronological period followed in this series, there is however one artist whose ability to do that rivals Kanada’s: that is Shin’ya Ohira. Ohira is widely considered to be one of the most talented animators ever for the highly idiosyncratic and complex style he developed in the 2000’s. But before reaching that stage, he had already pushed the possibilities of the animated medium further, not just once, but three times: first as a Kanada follower, then as a student of Takashi Nakamura, and finally as a highly unique and idiosyncratic animator. It is these first two periods I’d like to focus on in this article.
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.
Among all the artists influenced by Yoshinori Kanada, Ichirô Itano is probably one of the most important. And yet, he is never considered a Kanada-style animator, most likely because their styles look very different. One of the most important mechanical and effects animators of the 1980s, Itano revolutionized how SF anime would look, and his students, direct or indirect, scattered all over the industry. While it might seem to steer us a further away from Kanada, taking a look at what I call the “Itano school” is important, for two reasons. First, Itano himself was inspired by Kanada and many animators who followed him often took cues from the Kanada style. Second, taking a look at Itano’s students and their career is one of the best routes into the incredibly dense and rich field of the 80s: it’s easy to get lost among the many productions and studios birthed by the OVA boom.
I decided to start this series on the development of the Kanada school with Urusei Yatsura, arguably the moment when its members really became prominent and their style began to spread. But that doesn’t mean it was the starting point where everything began. On the contrary, a complete history of the Kanada school would start before that, in 1977, when Kanada created his Studio Z2. The problem is, many shows that Z2 and then Z3 worked on at the time have become quite obscure and forgotten except for hardcore super robot fans, making them hard to find; there’re also many minor animators whose names haven’t really been remembered. To exemplify these, I’ll focus on the early career of just one figure from that early period: Kazuhiro Ochi.
In a previous essay about otaku identity and militarism, I mentioned that the issue of gender was a central one to understand the development of otaku identity, and most notably, its construction as a dominantly male, SF-oriented narrative. Most of Japanese feminist and queer anime criticism (most notably the work of Mari Kotani) has sadly … Continue reading Gender roles in Gundam and Macross
I would roughly say that, in English-translated works, there have been two general historical accounts of the phenomenon called “otaku” : the first, embraced by Toshio Okada, reads in otaku practices the expression of something specifically Japanese. For example, Okada roots otaku’s obsession with encyclopedic knowledge in 18th century Edo period art criticism and trade. … Continue reading Militarism and otaku identity : from Gundam to Macross