The politics of 80s anime: the 198X controversy

A common narrative of Japanese social history and anime history holds that, starting from the 1980’s, the Japanese population has gotten increasingly distant from politics. The rise of apolitical otaku circles and their own ironical, derivative aesthetic seems to confirm this tendency. But in the very same period, and at the exact moment when otaku communities as we know them were forming, a controversy shook the anime industry and revealed that political debate and action were very much on the agenda for some creators. It all happened around a single movie that came out in November 1982: Future War 198X. Not only did the film spark discussions within the anime industry and community proper, it also caused nation-wide movements from actors outside of the anime world, such as Parent-Teachers Associations of the Japanese Communist Party. The stakes were Japan’s domestic and foreign policies, but also the very purpose of the animated medium.

Artist spotlight: Takashi Nakamura

Yoshinori Kanada might be the most influential Japanese animator, but he isn’t the only one whose work revolutionized anime. Almost as important as him is Takashi Nakamura. Nakamura is very interesting, because he could be considered like an anti-Kanada, even though he also got influence from him. In an earlier post, I described Kanada as the quintessential Japanese animator, because he made a synthesis between the two divergent aesthetics of anime in the 70’s. On the other hand, Nakamura’s inspirations are far more diverse, and he owes a much larger debt to Disney and Western animation. Moreover, whereas Kanada can be said to have brought out the full potential of limited TV animation by modulating and lowering the framerates, Nakamura did the exact opposite. He pushed the limits of what could be done with TV animation by raising the framerates and aiming for realism and detail above all else. But his work as an animator has been somewhat forgotten by Western animation fans, so it’s time to do him justice.

Directing Kanada

One of the most notable aspects of Kanada’s career is that, while he never directed anything by himself, he was closely associated with major directors: first Yoshiyuki Tomino, and then Rintarô and Hayao Miyazaki. His relationship with the latter two is what I’m going to research here. More precisely, I’d like to see how animator and directors worked together and reciprocally pushed each other in new directions. The goal will be to explore Kanada’s animation in detail, to investigate and try to uncover what was his, what were his innovations, and what must be credited to other people: directors, animation directors, and other animators.

A brief history of Kaname Pro

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.