Shinsaku Kôzuma is among the greatest action animators in Japan. From his beginnings in the industry in the late 70s, he has been a witness and an actor in some of the most important works in anime history: in-betweener on Galaxy Express 999, key animator on Urusei Yatsura and Yû Yû Hakusho and, in recent years, a regular artist on studio MAPPA’s series such as Jujutsu Kaisen. Over the course of more than 40 years, he has developed a unique style characterized by offbeat timing and inimitable drawings.

But Kôzuma’s career does not stop there. As a close friend of legendary animator Yoshinori Kanada, he has many stories to tell. As one of the storyboarders for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and multiple Final Fantasy games, he was a privileged witness of the contacts between the video game and anime industries and early experiments with 3DCG. It is all of these things and much more that we discussed when we met in August 2023.

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This interview is also available in Japanese. 日本語版はこちらです。

“That was my first encounter with Kanada”

If it’s alright with you, let’s start by talking about Yoshinori Kanada [1] . When did you become aware of him?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Let’s see… That must have been in 1980, around one year after I entered the animation industry. I had a friend from Studio NO.1, and the week when Kanada’s episode of Zukkoke Knight: Don de la Mancha aired, he told me to watch it. That’s how it all started.

What kind of anime did you watch before entering the industry?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I’m rather from the countryside, so most anime series didn’t air in real-time where I lived. I guess I watched things like The Gutsy Frog… (thinks) But there wasn’t really a lot of anime on TV. It was rather tokusatsu like Ultraman and that kind of thing. I did watch Future Boy Conan because it aired on NHK, a public channel, but aside from that, I don’t really remember anything else.

So, what made you become an animator?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Actually, I like writing just as much as drawing, so I initially wanted to work in publishing – work under someone and develop like that. So, I got into animation by complete chance. When I moved to Tokyo, I was supposed to get a job as a civil servant, and I followed my older brother, who lived there already. When I went, I just happened to see a “people wanted” ad from an animation studio. That’s how it happened, by complete chance. (laughs)

That’s a bit like what happened to Yasuo Otsuka [2] , isn’t it? He was a civil servant, and then, by complete chance, he got a job as an animator!

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Otsuka was really at the right time, at the right place, to get a job at Tôei back then.

So, if you weren’t initially a fan of Kanada’s or of anime, who was your first teacher or mentor?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: The first company I joined was a studio called Tamazawa Dôga-sha, so I’d say my first mentor was the woman who did in-between check there. She was extremely talented and was often the chief of the in-betweening team on Tôei’s films or openings. The lines she drew were so graceful. She was the first person I met when I applied. To be honest, at the time, I thought I’d never be able to draw clean lines like she did!

But you managed to do it in the end, right?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I entered as an in-betweener, but I started doing key animation pretty quickly, just three months after I started. And then I went freelance – pretty early if you ask me. (laughs) It must have been six months after I entered the industry. I was 19.

Wow, that’s pretty young indeed!

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Well, I had multiple friends who told me it’d be alright! (laughs) And I worked for multiple studios here and there.

It was at this time that you worked on the Galaxy Express 999 movie, right? As an in-betweener…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s right. I took the job from Oh! Production, but I had no idea what kind of thing it was supposed to be. I didn’t even know it was a feature. I was just surprised because the paper was bigger than usual.

And then, when did you actually meet Kanada for the first time?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: First, I became friends with Masahito Yamashita [3] , who was at NO.1.

Ah, so it’s through Yamashita that it happened?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Another friend of mine lived in the same building as Yamashita. And one day, he told me, “On the upper floor, there’s someone amazing!” He introduced me, and that’s how I met Yamashita. He wasn’t arrogant or anything, and we became friends very quickly. We spent all of our time together, and one evening, he told me, “Kanada’s drinking at this bar. How about we go join him?” That was my first encounter with Kanada.

Didn’t you think about entering NO.1 as well?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Now that you say it, I never did… Well, Yamashita told me everything about NO.1, so I knew the people from there and often visited, but I guess it never went to the point where I wanted to join.

“Everybody worked and lived next to each other”

And at some point, you created Studio OZ with Yamashita, right? How did that happen?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I was still freelance back then, and there was this studio called Production Loose I worked with. Someone called Kokawa worked there as well, and he offered to create our own place together.

When was that?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That must’ve been around 1981-1982… 

So, just before Urusei Yatsura?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Pretty much. And well, when Yamashita heard about it, he wanted to be together, so that’s how he ended up joining.

Where was it? Close to NO. 1? 

Shinsaku Kôzuma: It was. My house was as well. The studio itself was in Sakuradai, on the same Seibu-Ikebukuro train line, but a bit further away, close to Ekoda. It so happened that Studio Graviton and Studio MIN were just next to us, so everybody lived and worked next to each other. That’s how we all got so close.

I’ve heard that neither Kanada nor Yamashita used a stopwatch to decide on the timing of their animation…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s true! I don’t use one either. Nobody did. I guess people rather used stopwatches when writing storyboards to measure the length of shots or of the characters’ lines… At first, I was told to use one when animating, but I quickly stopped. It was too much of a bother! (laughs) Kanada didn’t use one, and neither did Yamashita… I don’t think anybody around me did, and there was no problem with it.

So you didn’t stop using one because of Kanada or Yamashita’s influence, but really on your own?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s right. I kind of got the hang of things just with the number of frames, and I don’t think I ever made mistakes. It was always approved as is.

So how did you, Kanada, or Yamashita create such amazing timings?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I’ve never asked Kanada directly, but… What he really loved was composing pictures. He liked the mangaka Mikiya Mochizuki[4] ; I believe the way he composed his panels had a huge influence on Kanada. We talked about it once; he really loved Mochizuki. For instance, the way he’d place the camera: imagine a shot of a character drawing a gun from its holster. The way Kanada moved the camera or came up with the angles on scenes like that comes straight from Mochizuki.

When I met Ms. Kanada, she said he was also heavily influenced by Akio Jissôji[5]

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s true! I don’t think there’s anybody from our generation who hasn’t been influenced by Jissôji’s episodes of UltrasevenUltraseven was extremely popular at the time. Even though it could get pretty dark, Jissôji’s episodes still stood out from the rest. Hideaki Anno copied all of that as well, didn’t he? It’s a generational thing. Nobody could ignore it.

I see… So, during the OZ period, you often worked with studio Kaname Production, right? Did that happen through Kanada?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I started to work with Kaname because of the Ashi Production connection. A lot of Kaname’s staff were from Ashi Pro, right? People like Kunihiko Yuyama[6] … It was the same for me: I worked on Minky Momo for Ashi Pro, and then I got to work with Kaname.

But aside from Mr. Yuyama, nobody from Kaname worked on Minky Momo, right? For instance, people like Mutsumi Inomata[7]

Shinsaku Kôzuma: No, that’s right, only directors like Yuyama. And then, I guess I was invited to work on Plawres Sanshirô, and that’s how I started working with Kaname.

Talking of Minky Momo, one of the big animators on the series was Hiroshi Watanabe. Did you meet back then?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Not at all! Watanabe worked at Studio Live, which was in Ekoda as well, but I rarely got any opportunities to meet with the people from there. I don’t think I ever met Toyô Ashida[8] either. Strangely, it’s like they kept their distances.

Going back to Kaname, how was the studio? Everybody was pretty young, so I guess it was pretty lively?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: It was really fun! As you said, everybody was young… Among the animators, I think the only person who was older than me was Shigenori Kageyama. I was 23 when I started working with them; Hirotoshi Sano is two years younger than me… Only Inomata was my age, I suppose.

Did you have a desk there, or did you work from OZ?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I worked at Kaname.

Were you in-house, then, or still freelance?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Still freelance.

Where was Kaname located, by the way?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: In Eifukuchô, on the Inokashira line. It was pretty weird. (laughs) There weren’t any animation studios on that line back then, so it was pretty exceptional. By the way, we didn’t meet back then, but Akiyuki worked there too.

You mean director Akiyuki Shinbo[9]?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Right, he was friends with Sano. They were the same age, and they were roommates. We never talked back then, but later, when we became roommates, we realized we had both been in Kaname.

“On Birth, everybody just went with the flow”

I see! I wanted to ask about Mr. Shinbo and Yû Yû Hakusho[10] , but let’s keep that for later. Staying on Kaname, I guess we can’t avoid Birth[11] I’ve heard that there were actually two storyboards, but do you know anything about that?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, Kanada made quite a few changes to make it easier to work with.

What I’ve heard is that Birth’s initial length was supposed to be 60 minutes, but when it was extended to 80 minutes, the entire storyboard was rewritten from scratch.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s right. I don’t know the entire details either, but I’ve heard that story. Also about how they completely ignored the script, right? The scriptwriter, Junki Takegami, asked not to be credited as a result… Kanada’s storyboard was… (laughs) How should I say it, totally different from the original?

The key animators also changed parts of the storyboard, didn’t they?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Not really; everybody just went with the flow! So rather than “changing” the storyboard, we just kinda “expanded” it. We didn’t have any impression that we were making any changes… That’s how it went, I guess.

Birth’s animation is pretty amazing, but the characters are never really on-model. Do you think that’s just what Kanada intended?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: (laughs) You know, one of the animators Kanada liked the most back then was Hideki Tamura. Especially the way he drew girls. So he didn’t correct him. But I think he corrected the others, including me. Tamura’s the only one he didn’t correct!

Is that so? (laughs) Was there any rivalry between you? For example, between Kanada and Yamashita, or between Yamashita and you… A friendly rivalry, of course.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Everybody’s style was different, so not really. If we all did the same thing, it might have happened, but we didn’t. But some stuff happened between Kanada and Yamashita. Kanada was one of a kind, and he was already famous, of course, but Yamashita became famous as well, and everybody started calling him a genius… Kanada loved him, but I guess he started getting competitive because of that.

Do you have any fun memories from Birth’s production that you’d want to share?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Fun memories? (laughs) I only have dumb anecdotes, I guess!

That’s alright, that’s alright!

Shinsaku Kôzuma: We were all pretty slow – myself, Tamura… But Yamashita was the only one who worked efficiently: in the team, he was the one who kept to the schedule the most. Tamura and I were always late. We were always together back then, so we’d often arrive at the studio together – late. Regarding the drawings, we kinda did what we wanted, so I wouldn’t say we got anybody’s influence either. Tamura was getting pretty famous within the industry as well at the time.

Tamura wasn’t at OZ, right?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: He was at MIN alongside Kitakubo and Moriyama.

So, maybe this is a delicate question, but… What’s your opinion of Birth overall?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I always get sleepy in, like, 5 minutes! (laughs) I’ve never been able to watch it until the end. That’s how confusing the story is.

And the scenes you animated are mostly at the beginning, so…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I tried, but the more it goes on, the less sense it makes! You can put as much action as you want, but no one gets what’s happening or where the story’s going; it’s pretty rough… It was hard for the recording as well. Because everything got so late, and the sound isn’t really synchronized. 

Yes, it’s kinda bothersome…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Right? Kanada himself said that he’d like to redo it. That he wanted to redo everything from the start. He really must have had regrets about it.

Personally, I love the manga. The anime’s fine, I guess, but it really doesn’t stand up to comparison with the manga.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Well, on my end, I thought everything was fine and changed the storyboard, but I heard lots of things about that… When we worked together at Square Enix much later, the thing Kanada often said was that he wanted to do it. Not necessarily Birth, but a film of his own. Like a sort of return match. He said it often.

As far as I’m concerned, the return match is Download: Namida-Amidabutsu wa Ai no Uta, but…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: A lot of things happened on Download as well. I only helped out on it. Kanada did the character designs, Noda did the animation direction, and Rintarô was the director. The three of them were really kind – way too kind for this industry, actually: the kind of people that never fought with everyone in their careers. But then, Tatsuyuki Tanaka and Kazuyoshi Yaginuma were in the staff, right? What Kanada told me is that they caused an incident. 

They ignored Noda’s corrections and swapped the corrected drawings for in-betweens. Kanada told me the one who did this was Yagi. Later, I asked Yaginuma himself why he had done that, and he said it was because the girls in Noda’s corrections weren’t cute enough! It’s the same thing that happened between Otsuka and Miyazaki on Future Boy Conan! (laughs) 

Apparently, there was a cult installed on the floor just above Download’s studio – I think it was Aum or something like that. Yaginuma and Tanaka sneaked into the studio at night and did the in-betweens themselves instead of applying the corrections. 

Their drawings on the OVA are really cool, but yeah, that’s going a bit far…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That caused problems, apparently. So much that even I heard rumors about it! Noda is really kind, so he didn’t get angry, but Kanada did. Noda was basically his master, so he couldn’t let that go. But Rin didn’t mind it, so there was nothing Noda or Kanada could do about it. Noda was quite shocked by that, and he never accepted any animation direction after that.

“Miyazaki loved Kanada, but there was the question of whether they were a good fit for each other”

Ok, so changing the subject and going back to Kaname… After Birth, you worked on Genmu Senki Leda, right? How was it compared to Birth?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Well, the two productions followed each other, and there was a lot of staff in common. It was kinda like an extension of Birth. Inomata’s character designs were pretty popular, and they were pretty easy to draw. It’s not like I was drawing on model, but… they were easy to draw. The director was Yuyama, and he had accumulated some experience by that point, so he was easy to work with as well.

I’ve actually heard that Ms. Inomata did some storyboarding on Leda, but…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I don’t know about that. Didn’t she just clean up Yuyama’s drawings? Yuyama usually does these things on his own, but maybe this time, he wanted to have it easy and asked for Inomata’s help.

After Birth, Kanada went to work for Ghibli. Was he invited by Miyazaki?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s right. Some time before, there was this Tôei film called Future War 198X[12] , right? At that time, Miyazaki directly phoned Kanada and just told him, “Don’t work on stuff like that.” That’s all. (laughs) I don’t know why he did that, and it’s not really why they ended up working together, though. 

There was also Toshio Suzuki, who still worked at Tokuma Shoten back then and knew both Kanada and Yamashita. I’m not sure because I never asked them directly, but I think Yamashita’s the one who introduced Kanada to Suzuki. And the thing with Suzuki is that he loves stars. (laughs) 

Isn’t that good for a producer?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: True, you need to have big names on your productions.

Miyazaki himself loved Kanada, but there was the question of whether they were actually fit for each other. The way they drew and animated was so different. From the time of Cagliostro, Miyazaki started getting pretty hung up on doing animation on 3s. Old Tôei films were rather on 2s, right? But Miyazaki moved to 3s and a reduced amount of cels. And that was really different from what Kanada did.

Anyways, when Kanada started working with him, most of the people from NO.1 agreed to help as well and went to Kichijôji, back where Topcraft was.

And, well, good things and bad things happened. This was the time when Miyazaki would explode over anything – I think it was already pretty tough on Cagliostro, but things got even worse on Nausicaä. So, for him, it seems like Kanada was without faults, but all the other NO.1 guys were no good.

But on Nausicaä, there was Kazuo Komatsubara[13] , wasn’t there? Didn’t he protect the animators a bit?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, Komatsubara cared a lot about the key animators and did everything he could to keep their drawings as is. I think he really liked Kanada in particular. But that’s not really how Miyazaki operates, right? So it seems it was pretty difficult…

But even then, on Laputa, Kanada was credited as “head animator”, right? Miyazaki really took care of him, didn’t he?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, he really gave him special treatment. Back then, you got a fine if you arrived late at the studio. And Kanada was the kind of guy who was always late. Or, more precisely, like many animators, there was no way he’d ever arrive to work at 10 AM! So, you see, there was a box in Ghibli to put the money for the fine. It was 1,000 yen or something… And the first time Kanada arrived at the studio, he put in a 10,000 yen bill!

(Everybody laughs)

I don’t know about then, but 1,000 yen is a lot of money, isn’t it?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: It is. It was pretty high fine! And Miyazaki really checked out when everybody got in or out. His seat was the closest to the door, so he saw everything. He was also the one who decided who got to sit where. He really believes that blood types influence personality, so he had the B-type people and the A-type people sitting separately.

Miyazaki was a pretty nervous person, but Kanada had that sort of aura around him, so Miyazaki gave him a kind of preferential treatment: what he liked most about Kanada was that he’d always lighten up the mood. As soon as he entered somewhere, everything looked brighter. It was really an aura. That’s what Miyazaki liked.

Considering the films themselves, I think that on Nausicaä and Laputa, Kanada was really the man for the job, but from Kiki onwards, the animation in Miyazaki’s films kinda got more realistic… How did Kanada feel about this change?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I think things were still good on Totoro. Kanada wanted to draw the soot sprites, and he had that opportunity. He was happy about it because he just had to draw circles, and the in-betweener would do the rest. (laughs) 

So, I’d say that at this point, he was still enjoying himself, but he was reaching his limit. The thing is, Miyazaki enlarged his own storyboards and had Kanada use them as layouts, which is usually pretty much forbidden at Ghibli. The layout is something you have to draw by yourself. But Miyazaki made an exception this time: he knew he’d have to redraw everything afterward, so he just did it.

I guess it’s visible in the film. Looking at the bath scene, you can feel Kanada’s touch, but I think it’s really weak…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: What I heard – not from Kanada himself but someone else – is that when he got Kanada’s key drawings for that scene, Miyazaki smiled. The drawings were that fun. But then it went to the animation director and all of it was corrected.

And so, in the end, why did Kanada stop working with Miyazaki?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I guess things got too hard for him. The environment wasn’t really good, and he was a really kind person, so in the end, he just stayed so long because of money. The problem was that there was no other place in Japan besides Ghibli where the wage was that good. Kanada himself told me so. (bitter laugh) When we all went to work for Square in Hawaii, I actually contacted Yamashita first. At the time, he was working as mechanical animation director on Spriggan and he was reaching his limit as well. So I told him about this plan to make a film in Hawaii: I knew he was tired, so this was a sort of place he could run away to. That really made him lose it, and the very same day, he called Kanada and told him about it. The next day, Kanada was saying, “I’m coming too!” and I was like, “Who told you about this??” (laughs) But he had made up his mind anyway, and that’s how he quit Ghibli. That must have been around 1996 or 1997.

“Our foundations were so different from the ones the 3D staff worked from”

And you went to Square in Hawaii as well?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s right. At the time, I was just working with Square as a freelancer, but since Kanada and Yamashita both went, I got kinda worried and decided to join them.

Were you interested in video games in the first place?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Absolutely not. But, to put it plainly – I’m talking about the time of Final Fantasy VII – the pay was just so good. Something like ten times what you earned in anime. Square put a lot of money into FFVII. The budget was pretty high for the time. I worked on it as a freelancer, but when I saw how much they paid, it got me thinking. Just as I was thinking about all of that, they offered me to go to Honolulu. I wasn’t sure, because I didn’t really want to go there, so they asked me to introduce them to other animators instead. In the end, we were 7 or 8 people to go.

At Square, you did storyboards for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within[14] . What parts did you storyboard?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: The beginning! We were 4 or 5 storyboarders in charge of given sequences. I was in group 3, and I did the first sequence, which was a bit less than 100 shots. What we did was the storyboard. It was pretty long, so we were three on it – Kanada, Yoshinobu Inano[15] , and I, plus the 3DCG team, and we split the entire thing in 3. We were supposed to do something like layouts, but we had no Japanese-style ekonte, only an American-style storyboard. With those, you just have one drawing for multiple shots. But there were a lot of newbies in the staff, including in the 3D team, so they couldn’t work from that. So, I started drawing my own ekonte for the scene I was in charge of. I showed that to President Sakaguchi, asking him to let me do things my way since it was just my own sequence. But then he said, “Do the same for the entire film!” (laughs) That’s how a separate storyboard team was created.

So you did something just like an anime’s ekonte?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Exactly.

Did you actually do any 3DCG?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Well, I became storyboard supervisor, so I could give a lot of indications to the animators, a bit like a director. Then, at some point, Sakaguchi started becoming something like the chief director, and that changed how things worked in the studio. But at that point, most of the storyboards were completed, and 3DCG was the next stage.

The team was pretty international, wasn’t it? There were Japanese, Americans…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Russians as well.

Is that so?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: You know Tetris? A lot of people from the company that developed it were in the 3D staff.

How did you communicate?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: The recruitment had been a bit weird. There was a team from Taiwan, but they all got fired a month after joining… Also, the owner of the Russian company died when he came to Honolulu. So all the Russians who had been working with him were pretty worried about what would happen to them. So a lot of things happened!

Going back to Kanada, he had quite a unique timing, but that was for 2D animation. When he moved to 3D, things became quite different…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, they did. Everybody, including Inano, got into fights because of things like that.

Japanese animation ultimately looks pretty flat, doesn’t it? Even when there’s perspective, the designs are generally pretty flat. But that doesn’t work out in CG, which is all about developing depth. So because of things like that, or the timing, it was pretty difficult for us to adapt at first. Kanada usually changed the timing to give his action more impact – sometimes it’d be on 4s, then on 6s… But in 3D, you can’t do that – or it would look weird. In real life, people never stop moving: they’re always breathing or something. Since we were trying to imitate that, we couldn’t stop the pictures either. We were pretty lost. And since our foundations were so different from those the 3D people worked from, we couldn’t really communicate with them either.

I wasn’t involved in that, but on one of his sequences, Kanada tried to have the VFX people recreate his effects exactly as they used to be. That’s something both him and Inano tried to initiate. It took one month for the 3D staff to figure out something, and they called me to watch the results. Since that happened without me, I thought things would be alright. It was a sort of shockwave with the light getting dimmed out in all directions, and what Kanada had in mind was a sort of ball of energy, but the 3D staff couldn’t reproduce that. In the end, it just looked like a big round bullet moving around with effects surrounding it. Everybody agreed that it looked kinda weird, and Kanada, in his typical fashion, just sulked when he saw that. (laughs)

Both Kanada and you stayed in Square after The Spirits Within. Was it still because of the wages or because you liked it there?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s right, it was the money. Not long before he passed away, Kanada started talking to me about retirement. He was worried because Square had no retirement system. The thing is that Kanada was the oldest employee, and it’s thanks to him that they started increasing the retirement age: they settled on 65 years old. After that, you could keep working part-time. So, I didn’t really worry about my future, but back then, Kanada was always talking about Tomino and wanting to do something of his own. I guess he wanted to keep working at Square part-time after retirement and do his own thing in parallel. He already had a plot outline and had done some designs.

Aaah, yes, this is his legendary unfinished project!

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, the designs and sketches were still there on his desk… He had talked to me about it, I had read the plot, and I really wanted to be on it. It really was like Birth’s return match. Kanada really wanted to do it.

Do you still remember what the plot was about?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, it took place in Kyoto, and it was one of those stories about fighting demons. The main character was pretty wild, and he’d fight those demons everywhere. Kanada had a passion for shrines and temples, so he wanted it to happen in Kyoto’s temples.

“I could feel that Akiyuki had everything it took to become a director”

I see, thank you. Now, let’s get back to you. Before you joined Square, you worked on Yû Yû Hakusho, right? First, were you the one who invited Kanada onto the movie?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: No, at that time we weren’t in regular contact. Masakatu Ijima directed it, right? That’s how a lot of people from NO.1 participated. There were a lot of connections between Pierrot and NO.1 after that, and I guess it started from there.

Speaking of Yû Yû Hakusho, there’s, of course, the legendary episode 58, on which you did key animation and which was directed by Akiyuki Shinbô. You mentioned him a bit earlier, but can you tell us how you actually first met?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: He often went to our studio in Sakuradai back when Yamashita and I were still working there. After he had been to Kaname, he went to studio Beebow. He quit after six months and worked here and there for some time, which is when he started coming to our place, invited by some friend we had in common.

We didn’t work together back then, but Akiyuki’s always been a kinda strange guy. When he came, he brought food with him – and I noticed he had brought a bentô… which he all ate by himself, in just four bites! In less than a minute! (laughs)

I thought he was a pretty fun guy, so I took a liking to him, and we started talking a lot. Then we’d help each other out – Yamashita was part of the group as well. As it went on, Akiyuki started coming to my place; then he started sleeping over. And before I knew it we were living together. (laughs)

I guess he’s obviously the one who invited you to work on Yû Yû Hakusho?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: At that time, Akiyuki had given up on animation, but he didn’t really know what to do. He’s the same age as director Noriyuki Abe, who worked for Pierrot, and when he talked to him about it, Abe suggested he try out directing. So first, Shinbo started editing next episode previews – before he could become a proper director, he had to try things out and get the hang of how things were done, so they had him help out on stuff like that. But it’s pretty crazy because previews are often made without completed footage! Since what you’re previewing isn’t done yet! You just have the scenario. What Shinbo did was just copy-paste footage from previous episodes and make previews that just made no sense. And he was really good at it. When I told him that, he smiled at me and laughed – which he never does! (laughs) He was really confident about it.

On Yû Yû Hakusho, at first, I was only supposed to do storyboarding and not animation, and Akiyuki would’ve been the episode director. We had done the same thing before, for instance on Musashi Lord, and I ended up doing animation on those episodes as well. Already at that time, I could feel that Akiyuki had everything needed to become a director. Including the way he led the production of his episodes.

At the time of Yû Yû Hakusho, I was working a lot with Tatsunoko, and Akiyuki suddenly asked me to do 100 shots of key animation. I said that was impossible, but he insisted, and I think that, in the end, I animated around 70 shots? I missed it by 30 shots, but Shinbo managed to find other people to help out.

The Koku-Ryû-Ha in that episode, is that an homage to Kanada’s fire dragons in Genma Taisen?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, I went wild on that one. (laughs) It comes out from his arm, right? Like a sort of tattoo. I didn’t have a lot of chances to draw dragons, so I thought I’d make it move in that very flowing way. The dragon image was really strong for me.

The animation director was Atsushi Wakabayashi[16] . What kind of animation director was he?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I actually knew about him from before because he had become somewhat famous by entering Tôei at a very young age – he didn’t have any probation period. So I was pretty happy to meet such a famous guy. He and Akiyuki were already pretty close, and they did a lot of episodes together – Akiyuki was episode director and Wakabayashi animation director.

Wakabayashi seemed to like my art, so he didn’t correct me at all. (laughs) I guess that, on that episode, we were just a bunch of friends: there was also Masayuki Yoshihara, Kanji Nishida… It was a really fun, friendly atmosphere.

I think that episode really made history…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: (laughs) Really?

But did Shinbo or Wakabayashi or anyone in the staff have that intent to make such an episode from the start?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Akiyuki didn’t have that much experience storyboarding yet back then, and what I told him at the time was that the most important for a director was to gather good animators around them. In the end, the animation is what makes an episode special: if you get along with great animators and get them to work with you, you’ll shine as well. And that’s just what he did.

I’m moving forward a bit, but it was the same on the first series he directed, Metal Fighter Miku. The character designer was Takeshi Honda[17] , right? Back when Honda just started animation, we had noticed he was really good, so even though they had never met, Akiyuki asked him to work together. He’s really good at approaching people like that: even if he barely knows them, he’ll manage to get on their good side. Though I think he’s got a bad character now. (laughs) But back then, he was the type of guy everybody liked.

Talking of famous animators, he’s also worked with Yasuomi Umetsu[18] , right?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, he really likes his art! Especially his short on Robot Carnival. He’s very clear about what he likes and what he doesn’t. Later, he started working a lot with Toshiaki Tetsura. I’ve known him and Ken’ichirô Katsura for a long time; they’ve always been very good. Katsura’s designs became pretty popular, and Tetsura was really good as well, and Akiyuki started working with him. That’s why most of his early works have Tetsura on them.

“Hiroshige’s compositions are perfect for animation”

I see. Among your own works, one that I like the most is the MV you did for Irresponsible Captain Tylor.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: (laughs) I don’t know if I like it myself, but it’s true that I did pretty much everything on that!

Right! I love it because it feels very personal.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Is that so? (laughs)

So first, how did you get the offer to do the storyboard and direction?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Well, it seems like Tylor was pretty successful and made a lot of money, including for the publisher. 

So, it wasn’t really a reward, but they kinda put out some extra money for us so that we’d make around 12 episodes. That turned into MVs, and the producer asked us to choose the songs we liked among the ones they had selected. And I chose the quiet and soft piano piece.

Visually, it pretty obviously feels influenced by nihon-ga and Noh theater.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, I love nihon-ga, particularly works from the Meiji and Taishô eras. I can’t really draw like that, but it’s influenced me, and it has a strong impact on me.

Are there any works or painters you like in particular?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Shunsô Hishida, I guess. I really love his painting Fallen Leaves. I reproduced it in the backgrounds of that MV.

I love nihon-ga myself, but I’m absolutely unable to remember the names of the paintings or artists. (laughs)

Shinsaku Kôzuma: The kanji are pretty difficult, aren’t they? The names back then were…

Right! (laughs) Talking of influences, I think some of the drawings or short animations you upload on Twitter from time to time have a big Egon Schiele vibe, but…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Ah, right. I do love Schiele. But that’s not very original among animators, is it?

True, I believe Takashi Nakamura’s[19]  a big fan…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, I guess Kôji Morimoto also likes him. What’s special about Schiele is how strong his lines are. Animators love artists like that. Whereas people working in video games tend to like artists who have a strong sense of colors, artists such as Klimt or Mucha. And then 3D artists tend to like sculpture – of course people like Michelangelo, but also Bernini. He’s done a lot of sculptures, but he’s really popular among those artists. I like his work as well. But, well, you can see how these trends always go in the same direction.

Talking of sculpture and animation, I can’t help but think of Tomonori Kogawa[20] . He studied sculpture, and you can see that in his drawings…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Yes, the sense of volume they have, right? It’s a kind of style that Japanese artists are rarely able to create. He creates depth through light and shadows. But for Japanese artists, shadow is hard to grasp – things feel flatter. Japanese artists don’t really draw shadows. Hokusai does sometimes, but the way he does it is pretty simple: you don’t really know where the light is coming from and in what way the shadow is created. The colors are pretty vague, as well. Whereas, for European artists, light is just a nuance of color, right?

Ah, that’s right.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s always been pretty important in European art, so volume and depth became important. Meanwhile, Japanese artists either ignore that or keep their distance from it. That has had a huge influence on art, even on what’s being done today. For instance, Europeans and Americans are good at 3D because there’s a lot of volume. It’s the same for stop-motion and clay animation. That isn’t very developed in Japan.

I don’t know about clay animation, but there’s stop-motion and puppet animation in Japan, isn’t there? People like Kihachirô Kawamoto[21]

Shinsaku Kôzuma: There is, but they’re not really trying to create perfectly three-dimensional spaces. It’s alright if the background remains flat. It’s the same in video games: there’s actually not that much depth in the backgrounds of Final Fantasy. It’s more like the backgrounds on a stage, so it remains flat and there isn’t that much depth in the end.

Speaking of all that, it makes me think of Takashi Murakami’s theory about Kanada. That his animation is something like the continuation of ukiyo-e’s flat compositions…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Well, in the first place, Mikiya Mochizuki, whom Kanada loved, tended to create compositions similar to Hiroshige’s. For instance, the way he shows the outline of characters, and things like a bridge in the background of some drawings… So, that influence is certainly there, but I guess it comes from Mochizuki first. Hokusai’s amazing as well, of course, but Hiroshige’s pictures feel like they’ve got something more in terms of how he designs the overall picture. These kinds of compositions are perfect for animation, for instance, the way he portrays people from unexpected angles. They’re not realistic, but they leave such an impact. And they don’t need to move either. You know how anime used so few drawings in the 1980s and 1990s, so if you’re trying to make up for that, this kind of composition is perfect.

And regarding all that, have you ever used stuff like the Hokusai Manga for reference or anything?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Some people did! Hokusai drew people’s daily life a lot, didn’t he? Carpenters and manual workers, things like that. That’s really useful to use as reference. You can see that in historical dramas, for instance. I think Kanada liked Hokusai, but Yamashita really did as well. His drawings are a bit similar, aren’t they? The way they can be so supple.

That’s right! The way he adds lots of details to the characters’ bodies, that’s a bit similar to the Manga.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: It’s visible in the effects as well, isn’t it? I think Yamashita went in the same direction. I don’t know if Yamashita did it on purpose, but he does like Hokusai.

“Nobody likes realism just for the sake of it”

I see. Thank you! Going back to your own work, you did animation on Shin’ya Ohira[22] ’s Wan-Wa the Doggy, right? I’m curious to know more about how you joined that.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Well, I was working at Square then, and Ohira is a bit like Akiyuki in that he’s good at calling for other people. Wan-Wa really is his own personal thing, isn’t it? He wanted everybody to get wild on it; it felt just like Birth all over again. He loves this kind of stuff. I guess that even today, he’s saying that he’d like to do something like Birth as well. I didn’t know how to react when I heard that, though! (laughs) So Ohira called on everybody: Osamu Tanabe, Ken’ichi Konishi, Masaaki Yuasa… He wanted to do something with all his friends.

Actually, I think your own drawings have something similar to Ohira’s. Would you say there might be any reciprocal influence between the two of you?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Not really! Ohira rather loves Yamashita…

But, even though your own animation looks pretty different, it feels like where Ohira’s going ends up being similar to where you’re going, even though he’s reaching that through Yamashita.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I don’t know about Ohira, but Shinji Hashimoto[23] seems to like my work. Not my drawings, but the movement. We’ve never really worked together, but the kind of atmosphere his work gives off is similar to mine. And, well, just like what happened between Yamashita and me, Shinji and Ohira lived together at some point…

Actually, just like Ohira and Hashimoto, I think your animation is both realistic and not realistic at the same time…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I actually don’t like realism. I like movement that might feel real but isn’t actually – I want to move things the way I like. You can’t just lie, though – nobody’s going to watch something that’s completely fake. But you can create some sense of realism with maybe one third of lies. I think that’s the best way to go. It’s a way for me to relieve stress! And it’s easier to watch as well, isn’t it? That’s how I draw – I want to make things fun, things that make other people feel fun as well. Nobody likes realism for the sake of it – the kind of thing that just stiffly reproduces reality.

I guess the most realistic animator in Japan would be Hiroyuki Okiura[24] , and while his work is technically incredible, it’s true that it might be a bit too realistic…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: But he’s been changing recently! Back in the day, he really was as realistic as possible, but he started drifting away from that. For instance, on The Dragon Dentist: he tried to make it more entertaining and fun, and it feels really great now. Of course, on his own works, his own interests come out first, and it ends up looking like motion capture, right? (laughs) 

But in Okiura’s case, what’s most important isn’t motion capture but how he’s creating models by himself. I think he’s a real genius, but in the end, he just reproduces his models. 

On the other hand, there are people like Takeshi Honda who have tried out rotoscoping but changed their approach. One time, he used rotoscoping, but he changed the movement because he realized it was no good to just trace the original footage.

On my part, what I say to young animators is that they should try it out at least once. Because it changes your perspective on what creating movement is about.

Do you use any rotoscoping or reference yourself?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I watch reference videos, but I don’t trace or copy them or anything. I just watch them to have everything in my head. It’s the same for videos of natural phenomena: I watch some, but I leave most of it to my imagination. What’s most important when I watch such reference is the overall impression I get of it. The very first impression: when you rewatch the reference, you start seeing things differently. But I try to reproduce the first impression I got on a visceral level.

“The most important thing in animation is being able to control the amount of information”

I see. Now, I’d like to talk a bit about your current work. You’re doing a lot of big action series nowadays, right?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I guess that’s how things ended up. (laughs)

What would you say has changed in action animation between the 1980s and today?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: The drawings themselves have changed. The form of the drawings has. But, to put it bluntly, I don’t know if today’s patterns are really the best. Things are too snappy – I don’t know if animators nowadays are using references for their effects, but they’re thinking of shapes in terms of design too much.

Look at smoke, for example: the patterns of someone like Hideki Kakita[25] are rather realistic, aren’t they? But it feels like everybody’s been straying away from that kind of realism. But I feel like, isn’t what Kakita was doing already great as is? I remember watching some of his stuff together with Kanada, and even he was impressed by it. So it feels weird for me that everyone’s moving towards something different.

Also, it feels that nowadays, people just mostly imitate the style of other artists. Whereas Kakita probably draws his effects by reproducing real-life references. It really works out well, so why are today’s kids going in the other direction?

A criticism you can sometimes hear about today’s action animation is that because of all the effects and impact frames, you don’t get what’s going on anymore…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: With digital, you can use as many cel layers as you want, after all. But if you look at cel-era works, for instance, Tôei films, it was animated on 2s with a single cel layer. You could really control everything in the frame that way. You could handle everything on your own, even the smallest effects. But now, everything’s scattered on multiple cels, and because people are drawing one cel at a time, they can’t tell when a certain cel is going in the way of the overall effect. They’re not flipping through their own drawings in the way we did back in the day. Animators nowadays feel like there’s not enough if they don’t put tons of information. But actually, the most important thing in animation is to properly control the amount of information: you need to be able to realize when some things aren’t necessary and to erase them.

People are just going too hard sometimes…

Shinsaku Kôzuma: People tend to think exclusively about their own shots and nothing else. But it becomes crowded, and animators forget that they’re supposed to guide the viewer. What do you want to show the viewer? If you want to show the character’s movement, maybe some of the effects aren’t needed. But today’s animators aren’t able to make those decisions anymore.

But on the other hand, compared to the 1980s, today’s fans always complain when there’s anything that looks like “bad animation” to them. With that in mind, wouldn’t you say that the freedom of animators is decreasing?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Digital has played a part, but it’s true that characters have to be on-model more systematically now and that the clients’ demands are heavier. Budgets have been getting higher, and the overall scope of anime projects has gotten bigger. More people are watching too, so clients are much more demanding. I guess it’s a normal development. Whereas in the 1980s, the faces of the characters would look completely different from one shot to the other. That would never work out today!

You couldn’t make anything like the original Urusei Yatsura today, right?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Right, right! But everybody wants to do something like that; they’re saying this was the best time, both the older and the younger animators. Really, everyone’s aware that this was the time when animators could have the most fun.

“Goshozono has what it takes!”

You’re working a lot with MAPPA nowadays. Would you say they have anything special as a studio?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Not really, but their production system is really solid. Nowadays, there’s the second key animation system, which didn’t exist before, right? MAPPA’s second key animators are pretty good. And they’re all on binding contracts as well! 

In the old days, second key animation was more like an extension of in-betweens, and it wasn’t really acknowledged as a real job. Japanese clean-up is nothing like the clean-up they did at Disney, where it was about adding the final touches to the rough drawings. You needed talented people to do that. In Japan, it’s really just about tracing the lines to make them neat. But in MAPPA, the level of the people doing that is pretty high.

So in that sense, I’d say that things have been getting better at MAPPA – at least in terms of their image. And they’ve been working with foreigners for a while, haven’t they? It was Masao Maruyama’s studio originally, so things have always been pretty free. Seong-Hu Park[26] , who is Korean, is a good example. But it’s better to avoid TV series! The first few episodes of any TV series are alright, but as it goes on, things get worse. In MAPPA, it’s not rare for the production of the first episode of a series to take up to one year, but it only applies to one episode! 

You just talked about second key animation, so usually, don’t you do your own second key animation?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Well, I don’t have to because, basically, what I’m doing is drawing keys that are already completed as is. So there isn’t any need to do second key animation on them. Basically, it means I see the entire process to the end by myself. It’s the same for effects: my job is to complete it all myself.

Are you still working on paper?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: No, I’ve switched to digital. Working on paper is too complicated… Nowadays, it’s much easier to draw if you have multiple monitors: I have the reference on my computer, then two iPads to draw and visualize the animation with… 

I guess you switched thanks to working in video games for so long?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: That’s right. I just had to use software like Photoshop or AfterEffects. But it wasn’t about being able to use them or not; it was more like they encouraged us to try them out. So, I tried out a bit of everything, and I guess that made me more adaptable.

In that sense, I guess you’re a good fit for MAPPA. Considering how much they’re using things like 3D layouts and everything.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Well, it’s a pretty difficult question. 3D layouts have been here for some time, actually, but the people in charge of that don’t always love drawing, so it doesn’t always work out… But well, I guess that things like that never change: it’s an issue that I’ve always had to grapple with.

I think that a work of yours that really attracted the attention of younger fans who don’t necessarily know about your past works was God of High School. It’s a martial arts action show. Isn’t that a bit like Yû Yû Hakusho all over again?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: (laughs) I guess that Park likes the action I draw. The animator who influenced him the most was Takahiro Shikama. Park loves that kind of action, and Shikama himself loves the animators from my generation, so that’s how the connection between us happened, I guess. 

Also, Park really has what it takes. He also cared a lot for me and basically let me do whatever I wanted. So working with him was really great.

Among the major works you worked on recently, there was Fate/Apocrypha. That’s another historic production, isn’t it?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Ah, you mean Go’s[27] episode?

That’s right. How did you end up on it?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: It’s simply that a young friend of mine, Tôya Oshima, invited me. He asked Go to include me. Go isn’t quite on Ohira’s level, but just like him, he wants to have fun with all his friends on what he works on. He’s really nice, and he’s really appreciated. Have you met him already? I think he speaks French. He’s from Taiwan, but I think I heard him say that he speaks five languages.

I sadly haven’t met him yet, but that’s amazing. (laughs) As we speak, Jujutsu Kaisen Season 2 has just started airing, and you’re on it. What’s your impression of it so far?

Shinsaku Kôzuma: Goshozono[28] has what it takes! When I first talked with him, I thought he might be on Akiyuki’s level, perhaps even better. Akiyuki has always liked old things, stuff like old shôjo manga, Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno, or Tôei’s yakuza films – you can see that in his works. We used to watch all that stuff together. He knows what he likes and what he wants to do, and that kind of aestheticism has always been very clear in his mind. 

Goshozono’s still young, so I don’t think he’s reached that stage yet, but things are clearly just starting for him. He knows what kind of animation he wants to make, but I guess he can still go further from there.

You know, as a final word, I must say that I find you really amazing. You’re a veteran who’s been there since the early 80s, and yet you’re still on very good terms with young animators and directors and your style is still perfectly compatible with modern animation.

Shinsaku Kôzuma: I think leaving the industry for video games helped out a lot. I spent around 20 years in the video games industry, and I didn’t work in animation for all that time. So when I came back, everything felt fresh – anime felt fresh for me, and my animation felt fresh to others. In that sense, taking breaks in order to produce something new when you come back is very important.

All our thanks go to Mr. Kôzuma for his time and his unbelievable kindness and passion. They also go to Mr. Takahashi for the introduction.

Interview by Matteo Watzky.

Assistance by Dimitri Seraki.

Transcription by Eileen and Karin Comrade

Introduction, translation, and notes by Matteo Watzky.

Notes

[1] Yoshinori Kanada (1952-2009). Animator. One of the most important artists in Japanese animation history, who revolutionized mecha, effects, and character animation. Sometimes nicknamed “the father of sakuga”, he was one of the first animators to be widely recognized for his unique style. He has spawned generations of students, from Masahito Yamashita to Hiroyuki Imaishi and Yoshimichi Kameda. Notable works include Invincible Super Man Zambot 3, Galaxy Express 999, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

[2] Yasuo Otsuka (1931-2021). The most important animator in the history of Japanese animation, who trained generations of artists from his time in Tôei Animation in the late 1950’s to his death in 2021. One of the inventors of effects and mecha animation in Japan, he was Hayao Miyazaki’s mentor and close colleague.
[3] Masahito Yamashita (1961-). Animator. One of the most important artists in 1980’s animation, he became famous for his extremely stylized drawings and offbeat sense of timing. He was particularly influential in the field of effects and mecha animation.
[4] Mikiya Mochizuki (1938-2016). Mangaka. Shônen manga artist most well-known for his crime action series Wild 7, which initially ran from 1969 to 1979. His style is characterized by its dynamic compositions and its realistic representation of real-life vehicles and weapons.
[5] Akio Jissôji (1937-2006). Director. Most famous as an episode director on Ultraman and Ultraseven, but also as the director of the so-called “Buddhist trilogy” feature films. He is well-known for his expressionistic style made of stark contrast and unusual shot compositions.
[6] Kunihiko Yuyama (1952-). Director. Director initially from studio Ashi Production, where he directed the famous magical girl anime Minky Momo. He later moved to Kaname Production, where he directed Genmu Senki Leda. Since 1997, he has served as chief director of the Pokemon animated series.
[7] Mutsumi Inomata (1960-). Character designer, illustrator. Iconic character designer of the 80s, most famous for her work on Genmu Senki Leda and Brain Powerd. She is also famous for her work as an illustrator for popular light novel series of the 90s such as The Weathering Continent or Utsunomiko. She also contributed designs for many entries in the Tales of franchise.
[8] Toyô Ashida (1944-2011). Animator, character designer. Major animator of the 1970s and 1980s, creator and president of Studio Live. He is famous for his work on Space Battleship Yamato and his designs for Minky Momo and Vifam.
[9] Akiyuki Shinbô (1961-). Animator, director. Director most famous for his work at Studio Shaft, where he has served as the main creative for nearly 20 years now. Before that, his work on popular series such as Yû Yû Hakusho or Ninku had made him an important actor in the emergence of a new generation of action animators in the 1990s. His style is famous for its use of color and unconventional editing.
[10] Yû Yû Hakusho, TV series, 1992-1995, dir. Noriyuki Abe, Studio Pierrot. An adaptation of Yoshihiro Togashi’s manga, it is one of the most popular shônen action series of the 90s. It played a major part in the development of a new generation of action animators including Atsushi Wakabayashi or Tetsuya Nishio.
[11] Birth, OVA, 1984, dir. Shin’ya Sadamitsu, Kaname Production. OVA famous for being Yoshinori Kanada’s most personal work, on which he did character designs and animation direction from an original story. In spite of its energetic animation, it is often criticized for its confusing plot.
[12] Future War 198X, 1982 film, dir. Tomoharu Katsumata & Toshio Masuda, Tôei Animation. A science-fiction film imagining the scenario of WW3 between the USSR and the US. It was heavily criticized at the time for its perceived militarism.
[13] Kazuo Komatsubara (1943-2000). Animator, character designer. From Oh! Production, one of the most famous character designers of the 70s, known for his work on Devilman, UFO Robo Grendizer and Galaxy Express 999.
[14] Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, 2001 film, dir. Hironobu Sakaguchi, Square Pictures. A groundbreaking film at the time, it was the first photorealistic computer-animated feature film, which took 4 years to produce. However, it proved to be a box-office failure.
[15] Yoshinobu Inano (1953 – ). Animator from studio Bird, currently affiliated with A-1 Pictures. Famous for his collaborations with director Yoshiyuki Tomino and animation director Tomonori Kogawa, he was one of the leading character animators revolving around studio Sunrise in the 80s, on works such as Space Runaway Ideon, Aura Battler Dunbine, or Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack. He has since then moved on to 3DCG animation after his time in Square on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
[16] Atsushi Wakabayashi (1964-). Animator, director. A major figure of the new generation of action animators of the early 90s, he is mostly famous for his friendship with animator Norio Matsumoto. Together, they produced some of the most famous and impressive episodes of the Naruto series.
[17] Takeshi Honda (1968 – ). Former Gainax animator, nicknamed “Master”. He has been one of the best character animators at Gainax since his debut on Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. He also was one of the members of the realist school and a close friend of Mitsuo Iso. A renowned animator, he is also hailed for his character designs, especially on Dennou Coil and the Rebuild of Evangelion series and for his animation direction on The Boy and the Heron.
[18] Yasuomi Umetsu (1960-). Animator, character designer, director. One of the major members of the realist school in the 80s, famous for his work on Megazone 23: Part II, Robot Carnival and Akira. In recent years, he has specialized in the direction and animation of openings such as Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, Dimension W or Bishônen Tanteidan.
[19] Takashi Nakamura (1955-). Animator, character designer, director. Arguably the leader of the realist school of the 80s, who served as animation director on Akira. Following feature films such as Catnapped and A Tree of Palme, he has been active as a director and designer in studio 4°C.
[20] Tomonori Kogawa (1950-). Animator, character designer. One of the close collaborators of director Yoshiyuki Tomino, he is particularly well-known for his character designs on Space Runaway Ideon, Combat Mecha Xabungle and Aura Battler Dunbine. His unique designs and attention to anatomy made him one of the pioneers of realistic animation in the early 1980s.
[21] Kihachirô Kawamoto (1925-2010). Puppet designer, director. One of the most famous puppet/stop-motion animators and directors in Japan alongside Tadanari Okamoto. He designed puppets for long-running TV series like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but is also famous for his intricately animated short films.
[22] Shin’ya Ohira (1966-). Animator. One of the most radical artists in Japanese animation, known for his extremely detailed and expressionist animation. Initially one of the leaders of the realist school in the 1990’s, his work now verges on the experimental.
[23] Shinji Hashimoto (1967-). Animator, character designer. One of Shin’ya Ohira’s closest friends since the early 1990s, he was one of the major members of the realist school of animation. While his style is similar to Ohira’s in its use of deformation, Hashimoto is also famous for his adaptability to all kinds of styles and has been a regular presence in studio Ghibli’s works.
[24] Hiroyuki Okiura (1966 – ). Originally from studio Anime R, Okiura became one of the greatest talents in the realist movement after he participated in Akira. After moving from effects and mecha to character animation, Okiura has established himself as one of the greatest draftsmen in Japan. He is famous for his steadfast adherence to photorealism, sometimes leading to the misconception that his work is rotoscoped. A close collaborator of Mamoru Oshii, he has moved on to directing movies that still bear the standard of realism: Jin-Roh, A Letter to Momo
[25] Hideki Kakita. Animator. Effects animator mostly known for his work at Studio Bones on series such as Eureka Seven, Blood Blockade Battlefront or Star Driver. Recently, he has been serving as main animator on Metallic Rouge.
[26] Seong-Hu Park. Animator, director. Korean animator based in Japan since the early 2000s. He has become famous for his work as director on Studio MAPPA’s action series Garo: Vanishing Line, The God of Highschool and Jujutsu Kaisen season 1.

[27] Hakuyu Go (1992-). Animator. A major member of today’s new generation of action animators, who rose to fame for his exceptional work as storyboarder and animation director on Fate/Apocrypha episode 22. He has since then directed more standout episodes on major series such as Mob Psycho 100 or Jujutsu Kaisen season 2.

[28] Shôta Goshozono. Animator, director. A major representative of today’s new generation of action animators. After having been noticed for his work as a director, storyboarder and animation director on Ranking of Kings, he became director of Jujutsu Kaisen season 2.

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