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.
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.