Heidi, Girl of the Alps needs no introduction. One of the most important and influential works in the history of Japanese animation, Isao Takahata’s first series for Zuiyo Video would set a gold standard for all subsequent World Masterpiece Theater entries. Much has already been said about Heidi, especially on its status as a so-called “pre-Ghibli” work or on how representative it is of Takahata’s style and philosophy. Considering the theme of this series, this article will instead put Heidi back in its historical context: that of the extended World Masterpiece canon, and of 1974 anime.
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.
Today, especially in the Western side of the fandom, Yoshinori Kanada’s animation is associated with flashy, angular effects and very stylized and exaggerated motion, of the sort in which Hiroyuki Imaishi and his peers have become experts. However, if this is a valid description of the neo-Kanada style and of Kanada himself at one point, it misses a major aspect of the latter’s animation and why it was so important. Nobody would think of him as a realist, and yet… You need to look no further than the influence he had on such important members of the realist school as Shin’ya Ohira and Mitsuo Iso, or the realist shift of many of his direct students, like Masahito Yamashita, to see that there is something at play. In fact, the hypothesis of this entire article is that, from the late 70s to the early 80’s, Kanada was a major actor in the emergence of a realist kind of animation in anime.
It is tempting, as is always the case with great artists, to imagine Yoshinori Kanada as a solitary shooting star who appeared and revolutionized Japanese animation from nowhere, a pure genius whose inscription in a historical context is almost irrelevant to understanding his work. The very nature of this project goes against such a vision, as it aims for two things: 1) not just evoking Kanada, but all those he met and inspired, and their own careers, and 2) a history that takes into account not just the artists, but the evolution of their styles and their relationships with the general context of the animation industry at the time.
Writing about animation isn’t easy. In my experience, the two pitfalls you’re bound to run into at some point are evaluation and description. Evaluation means that you have to justify that what you’re writing about is worth writing about: in other words, that it’s good or interesting in some way. But these are of course … Continue reading Motion/Movement
In the 70’s, TMS and its subcontractors managed to create two aesthetics of their own, one centered around the A Pro comedies and the other the Madhouse dramas. Despite how innovative and influential these might have been, TMS was missing the tidal change known as the “SF boom” that started in 1974, with Space Battleship Yamato and risked, because of that, to fail to attract anime’s new audience, young men in highschool or older that would form the first generation of otaku. But the studio profoundly influenced early otaku culture with a series so enduring it’s still alive today : that was Lupin III.
The second half of the 1970’s was no doubt a transitional period for Tokyo Movie. As a whole, the anime industry had set up a stable structure that would only be modified in the middle of the 80’s by the otaku boom and the new OVA format. But for Tokyo Movie and its subcontractors, this was a time of big change, marked by the separation between A Pro and Tokyo Movie in 1976. The consequences were unexpected : A Pro’s staff scattered and its most talented members would do the groundwork of Studio Ghibli. But before that, Tokyo Movie profited the most from this outpouring of talent.
In 1973, anime celebrated its first decade of existence. But the anime industry in 1973 was almost a world apart from what it was 10 years earlier : the production system had become almost set to what it mostly still is today, the manpower had immensely grown and the studio organization had evolved. Moreover, new people had started producing their own original works, people whose names would be among the most famous in anime history.