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.
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.
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.