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.
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”.
With this third artist spotlight dedicated to Shôichi Masuo, I’ll start analyzing the works of some animators who are not prominently affiliated with the Kanada school or style. Why do this? The main reasons are as follows: first, Masuo, just like all the other animators I’ll cover, has been in close contact with members of the Kanada school and his style can be understood in relationship with their own, whether in its continuity or contrast with it. Second, Masuo is one of the most important animators of the 80s and 90s, and a master of effects and mechanical animation. These are the fields Kanada and many of his followers specialized in during the same period, and it’s therefore worth understanding the more general context in which their own style developed. Finally, I believe Masuo is a forgotten figure in non-Japanese animation discourse, despite being one of the most important Japanese effects animators and one of the core staff members of Studio Gainax. The goal of this series is partly to highlight some less important figures, or underrated aspects of the work of more famous ones; I hope this article will help give Masuo some of the recognition he deserves.
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.
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.