Today, especially in the Western side of the fandom, Yoshinori Kanada’s animation is associated with flashy, angular effects and very stylized and exaggerated motion, of the sort in which Hiroyuki Imaishi and his peers have become experts. However, if this is a valid description of the neo-Kanada style and of Kanada himself at one point, it misses a major aspect of the latter’s animation and why it was so important. Nobody would think of him as a realist, and yet… You need to look no further than the influence he had on such important members of the realist school as Shin’ya Ohira and Mitsuo Iso, or the realist shift of many of his direct students, like Masahito Yamashita, to see that there is something at play. In fact, the hypothesis of this entire article is that, from the late 70s to the early 80’s, Kanada was a major actor in the emergence of a realist kind of animation in anime.
I’ve mentioned that the sudden wave of Kanada-style animators in the first half of the 80s is as much due to Kanada as to one of his most notable students, Masahito Yamashita. To show this, I will focus not on Yamashita himself, but on one of the most important animators of the period, who largely received his influence: Kôji Itô. Unlike most people, I am
Unlike other great and influential studios with a distinct animation philosophy, like A Pro, Ghibli, Sunrise or Kyoto Animation, the Kanada school never had a single, durable place to call its home. This was probably largely due to the individualistic nature of Kanada himself and of many of his students: they preferred to go freelance or jump from one small structure to another than affiliate themselves with a single production company. However, in the course of the 80s, there was one studio which often united many members of the school, including Kanada himself: Kaname Production.
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.
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.
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.