Ashi Production and the Pers-kun movement

Following 1979’s Galaxy Express 999, Yoshinori Kanada had become one of the top animators in Japan and would go on to be an inspiring figure for many of the artists that emerged throughout the following decade. The early 80s especially witnessed what industry members at the time called a sudden “Pers-kun movement” - “Pers” being short for “Kanada Perspective”, and “Pers-kun” the (slightly derogatory) term to indicate young animators who wanted to imitate their idol Kanada. The large-scale effect of this “movement” was to make Kanada-style animation one of the defining traits of 80s anime. But if we look closer, it was anything but a given: Kanada himself had to establish a reputation and contacts, while old and new animators alike did not immediately adopt the new trend. The goal of this article will precisely be to retrace through what channels Kanada’s style exported itself outside of the animator’s immediate circle of students, and in particular in one studio: Ashi Production.

Artist spotlight: Shin’ya Ohira

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.

The new generation of the 1990’s

More than the Kanada school, whose members appeared throughout  the 80s, this new group of animators deserves the word “generation”. The six major animators I will focus on were all born in the second half of the 60s, and debuted as key animators within the same five years: Atsuko Ishida (1986), Masayuki Kobayashi (1988), Atsushi Wakabayashi and Norio Matsumoto (1989), Tetsuya Nishio (1990) and Hirofumi Suzuki (1991). Most of them have since risen to prominence as some of the most important animators alive, and left a deep mark on 90’s and 2000’s animation. This was made possible by the new style they all contributed to establish, one I would term “flow animation”.

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.

Their collective masterpiece: Urusei Yatsura

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.