Masami Obari Part 3b: Obari Style Animators and Legacy

This is part 3b of the series of posts on Masami Obari(大張正己), so if you’ve not read part 3a, then please do so beforehand. If you’ve landed here first via a search engine then be sure to read part 1 and part 2 before diving into the rest of part 3.

Obari Understudies
Something that’s impressed me is how there have been a few animators who began their careers under Obari’s wing. So the following are those animators, who are not directly Obari style but have studied under him or worked closely with him some time in the past.

Nakamura was Obari’s first understudy; he began studying under Obari right after he finished highschool all the way back in 1985 when Obari was only about 19 years old.  During the production of the Dancouga TV series, Nakamura learnt the process of animation from Obari and contributed to the show as an inbetween animator. After this Nakamura worked on various TV shows and OVAs; sometimes with Obari on shows like Dragonar, Bubblegum Crisis and Hagane no Oni. Other times making his own way doing work on Ranma 1/2 and the Lemon Angel series. Around 1993 he left the animation world and set up his own video game company which produced various 18+ games in the 90s.

Using his connections to the anime industry, Nakamura got various people to come and work for his 18+ games. Names like Goto Keiji, Tokuyuku Matsutake, Atsuko Nakajima, Atsuko Ishida, Shinya Takahashi, Takahiro Kimura and even Kanada style legend Hideki Tamura came to headline the various games as character designers and animation directors. After many years his company closed up business and some of his staff members went on over to Obari’s G-1 Neo, most notably Risa Ebata. Nakamura made a short return to the anime industry when he did some storyboarding and KA work for Obari’s Dancouga Nova in 2007.

Works with Obari:

Kazuto Nakazawa is one of the heavyweights of the animation world and probably the animator you’d least expect to associate with Masami Obari given how different their animation styles are. Nakazawa’s style is very fluid, vibrant and rooted in realism, with visuals inspired by the works of Shinya Ohira and Utsonmiya Satoru. He shot up to new heights in the 2000s by working on a music video for the American band Linkin Park as well as Western movie projects such as Kill Bill and The Animatrix – proving himself to be one of the best animators in the industry.

After graduating from animation school he joined a studio called Magicbus for a period of time before joining Obari at Studio G-1. While he was at Obari’s studio he had a lot of freedom and worked on a few notable projects in between Obari’s own projects, such as Roujin Z and Hashire Melos, where he worked along side some of the industry’s best. When working with Obari, he was often the Animation Director and wasn’t afraid to bring his own distinct visuals into Obari’s projects. Nakazawa himself says that one of the biggest influence he received was from Obari. What kind of influence this is, I do not know; it’s not apparent in his animation style at least.

Works with Obari:

Videos:[Kazuto Nakazawa MAD 1] [Kazuto Nakazawa MAD 2]

Another one of Japan’s heavyweights, Hashimoto is an animator who’s known for animating very breathtaking and vibrant visual effects, inspired strongly by the works of Mitsuo Iso and Shinya Ohira. Despite mainly working on visual effects (explosions, smoke and water) he’s also good at animating characters and mecha. Hashimoto spent early parts of his career studying the animations of many great animators, often learning from them so that he could improve himself. One of the people he approached was Obari. During the late 80s Hashimoto spent some time at Studio AIC. There he worked on some of their OVAs and recalls that he was awed by how much detail Obari could put into his animation and still make it move. He ended up learning Obari’s sense of timing and mecha animation directly from the man himself. Hashimoto explains that when he worked on the 90s OVA series Iczelion he redesigned the mechs to give them an Obari touch; much like how Obari did with the original Iczer series.

Interestingly, when asked what kind of ‘school of animation’ he’d belong to, he answered he’d probably be a mix of three people; Iso, Ohira and Obari. When it comes to effects Hashimoto channels the influence he received from Ohira and Iso; when it comes to mecha animation, when he can (I can imagine there are works where using the Obari style might not be appropriate), he likes to channel Obari’s style.

Works with Obari:

Videos: [Takashi Hashimoto MAD] This video mostly features Hashimoto’s excellent effect animation work.

Yasushi Muraki is yet another animator with Obari connections whose style is, on the face of it, unlike Obari’s. Muraki excels at the realistic side of animation. It is known that he is one of the few animators trained by animation master Ichiro Itano and is one of the few who can unleash the missile circus like Itano himself. In his younger years Muraki admired both Ichiro Itano and Obari, and so when he first became an animator he initially spent time under Obari’s wing and worked on several works with him. Around 1994 Muraki then moved on to working on Macross Plus where he met Itano and grew into the kind of animator most people recognise him for today. With regards to Muraki’s animation style, it’s not always present but sometimes Muraki likes to splice in Obari-like timings or poses into his animation work. When he does this he creates an exciting visual style combining Itano’s realistic approach with Obari-like variations.

Obari said he was looking forward to working on the Eureka Seven movie with “Murakky” after not working together in a long time but in the end Obari was unable to work on the movie due to scheduling issues.

Works with Obari:

Video: [Yasushi Muraki MAD] Look out for the Iczelion battle scenes around 8:50 for some Obari-like animation.

Other G-1 Members
I’ve covered several former and current G-1 members, the following are some animators who do not fit into the previous categories but I’d like to cover them nonetheless.

One animator I have not yet mentioned is Obari’s former wife, while she’s not an Obari style animator, I think it’s worth mentioning her. Atsuko Ishida started out as a member of Kaname Production. She looked up to Yoshinori Kanada and his animation and studied under Mutsumi Inomata – who is known these days as the illustrator and character designer for the “Tales of” video game series. However Inomata was a Kanada style animator in the 80s and Ishida studied under her for that reason. Kaname Pro was often subcontracted to do work for larger studios, and so Ishida worked with Kaname Pro on various titles throughout the 80s. She probably met Obari for the first time on one of the outsourced episodes of either Saint Seiya or Fist of the North Star, I’m not too sure. They’d bump into one another again a few more times over the years and as Kaname Pro closed, she either joined Minamimachi Bugyosho for short period of time, or just worked closely with a few of the Minami staff members. Following that, she had a long stint where she was in the rotation for Ranma 1/2 and did lots of AD work on it, working on 26 episodes out of the 160 that were made. Around 1992/3 she then helped establish Studio G-1 with Obari and appeared on more works alongside him. She assisted in animating several of the openings Obari worked on during the mid 90s. She also took part in the various Yuusha shows as an AD and even moved up to character designer on Might Gaine and J-Decker. I’m not really sure of her early style or even if she had one, but later on she has a very distinctive and shall I say ‘girly’ style that sticks out. She draws pretty girls in a very bubbly and bouncy way with curly hair strands.

They continued to work together until around the time where Obari’s studio restructured, from then on it seems like Obari and Ishida must have divorced. Around this time it also seems like Ishida left the animation world and decided to start drawing manga, save for odd brief returns to animation, such as the last episode of Samurai Champloo – which I can imagine was a favour to Nakazawa Kazuto with whom she worked with via Studio G-1 during the 90s. From what little I can tell, Obari and Atsuko exchange messages on Twitter on rare occasions, perhaps the divorce was amicable, who knows? This isn’t really the place to speculate on such matters I guess.

Works with Obari:

Formerly known as Mikan Ehime, this lady is one of Obari’s go-to people when it comes to designing characters and doing character animation. She made a big splash in 2007 when she got signed on to design the leading characters on the new Macross instalment, Macross Frontier, by Shoji Kawamori. Before this though she had a curious career. She worked at an eroge company drawing the animations for various 18+ rated games and it wasn’t until that company closed that she then moved on over to Obari’s studio around 2002. The reason she came to work for Obari was probably because the president of the eroge company was an old friend of Obari’s, his first apprentice all the way back from the Dancouga era, Kenichirou Nakamura(see above).

Ebata was only around 18 years old when she began working at the eroge company, and went by the name “Komusume”, i.e. “Young Girl”, as a result. When she moved on over to Obari’s studio she took on the name Mikan Ehime and continued working on the various 18+ works, some of which were shows Obari was directing in those early years of G-1 Neo. It wasn’t until she landed the job on Macross that she finally stepped away from the pen name and began using her real name. As she worked away on the Macross TV series and subsequent movies, Obari didn’t direct a single show and when the Super Robot Wars show was announced in 2010, Ebata was right there as the character designer, indicating just how long Obari would wait for her to come back so they could work together once again.

Works with Obari:

Fumihide Sai is another one of the many people who worked alongside Obari over the 90s.  He was a member of studio Miyuki Pro, where it seems he was with Hirotoshi Takaya before they both joined Studio G-1. From about 1992 to 1997 he worked with Studio G-1 on most of their titles. He’s mostly a character animator doing both character designs and animation direction. As with many people at G-1, following the restructuring of 2000-2001 he went freelance. He currently works at Satelight.

Works with Obari:

There are two G-1 members I’ve not covered and they are Takehiro Nakayama and Seiji Handa – both were active G-1 members during the 90s and worked on many G-1 works, but I’ve not been able to uncover much regarding their talents, styles or origins.

Obari Co-workers
Going through all the various titles Obari was involved in there are names that crop up time and time again. I’ve already mentioned several above, but there are some whose link with Obari might not be as obvious.

Yoshida’s probably one of the few animators that is constantly working on many projects each year but still consistently produces good work, an achievement shared by Ken Ootsuka and Takashi Hashimoto. He’s an animator from Anime R, a small studio that is often subcontracted by larger studios. They began working on many mecha shows for Studio Sunrise in the 80s and it is there that Yoshida made a name for himself doing exciting mecha and effect animation. Ben from Anipages talks about Yoshida on his post on Votoms.

As someone who has an immense catalogue of works to his name, it’s inevitable he’s come to work with Obari several times throughout his career. In most recent years he’s directed episodes of Obari’s various shows such as Dancouga Nova, Prism Ark and SRW. Where they first met, I’m not quite sure, but there are some episodes of Dancouga where Anime R did some key animation work; it could be that some connections to Anime R were formed during this period. The first OVA of Dream Hunter Rem from 1985 is the first time they seem to have contributed to the same project; both did some KA work. Yoshida then did some bank animation for Yuusha Exkaiser – Obari recalls that when he went in to do work for Exkaiser he saw the raw animation done by Yoshida, and was really impressed with Yoshida’s work. Obari was daunted by the task of doing his own, worrying his own work might not match up to that of Yoshida’s.

Works with Obari:

Souichiro Matsuda is a great action, effects and mecha animator. He was classmates with Yasushi Muraki during highschool and together they entered the animation world. They often worked together and I can imagine having similar inspirations as well, as Matsuda himself goes on to work with Obari on many occasions over the years. He also has learnt the ways of the Missile Circus and you can often see him showing off some great Itano Circus animation in various works. Matsuda’s history with Obari goes back to Macross II where Matsuda worked alongside Obari (with Muraki as well) as a KA on episodes 1 and 5. He later went on to work on Obari’s Fatal Fury anime, and then made appearances on various Obari shows over the years, notably Ordian and Gravion Zwei where he contributed KA on 5 out of 12 episodes.

Works with Obari:

Okuno is an animator that mostly does character animation and has a strong and unique sense for it. He has worked on and off with Obari on several occasions during his career. Interestingly they probably first met on Dancouga in 1985 where Okuno did a fair bit of animation as part of Nakamura Production. Over time Okuno continued to contribute to some of Obari’s shows all the way up to the most recent in 2010, which shows how their connection has stood the test of time.

Works with Obari:

Ishihama is an animator with a drawing style quite rooted in a stylish realism, he enjoys using a muted colour palette to create distinct drawings. He is most well known for being character designer and chief animator on the Read or Die anime shows. He’s also directed and created several stylish openings and endings to anime that have made his name stand out. The openings of Welcome to the NHK and Speed Grapher, as well as the fifth and thirteenth openings for Bleach and the third ending for the Beelzebub anime are particularly good examples of his work. Before all of this however, there was a time period where Ishihama worked on several works with Obari. From what I can gather, he is first seen working along side Obari as a Key Animator on the Dragon Slayer OVA from 1992. From then on Ishihama pops into various Obari works for the next couple of years. His most “recent” work with Obari is episode 9 of Gravion. He does several great scenes where he channels those muted colours really well that contrast to Gravion’s regular saturated colour palette.

Works with Obari:

Shingo nowadays works as a member of Studio GoHands and he’s currently working hard to bring the Mardock Scramble trilogy to an end. Early in his career he spent some time alongside Kou Yoshinari and Hiroshi Ookubo at Studio Anime Roman. He’s a great character animator and this makes sense when you consider that his teachers were Norio Matsumoto and Takahiro Kishida. It seems however he’s picked up a few thing from Obari and Sai Fumihide in the way he draws shadows and this is definitely quite visible in some of his works. For a short period of his career he worked extensively with Obari on works like Ordian, Angel Blade and Gravion.

Works with Obari:

Kizaki is probably most well know for directing the stylish Afro Samurai series. Before this, way back in the 90s, Kizaki worked on a few works with Obari and some of the others in the Obari camp, like Yamane on Rayearth and Chouja Raideen. In recent years, he storyboarded and directed the intro to Gravion Zwei, something that is and isn’t Obari-like at the same time — it’s worth checking out.

Works with Obari:

Ueda is also someone that participated in a few Obari related shows in the 90s. In episode 30 of GaoGaiGar, where he was in charge of the character animation, he decided to redraw the character art to give it an Obari flavour. He works alongside Masahiro Yamane quite often as well.

Works with Obari:

Kotobuki is mostly know as the character designer on the Saber Marionette J series. He’s a multi-talented individual; having drawn manga, animation and done design work too. It seems Kotobuki was influenced by Sonoda Keichi and Obari in the character design department. He’s not done a great amount of animation, but he’s worked as both a character and mecha designer on some of Obari’s anime.

Masuo was one of the great animators of the 80s and 90s and his speciality was effects animation. Ben from Anipages has a very nice post on the guy here. He possibly first met Obari on the first episode of Dream Hunter Rem, but didn’t work together again until the first episode of Dangaioh and by then Masuo had established good relations with Hideaki Anno of Gainax. It was possibly Masuo who called up Obari to come work on Gunbuster and then on Project A-ko 3.

Works with Obari:

Takeshi Honda is one of the top people in Japan when it comes to character animation. I won’t waste time writing an introduction as Washi wrote a good intro for him here. I was a little hesitant to include him in this list at first, but I figured something must have kept the two in contact if he worked on projects which Obari had significant control over like Detonator Orgun and Fatal Fury.

Works with Obari:


Note: In the listing of works these are the short hands I’ve used:
KA = Key Animation (原画)
IN = In-between Animation (動画)
AD = Animation Director (作画監督)
ST = Storyboard artist (絵コンテ)
EPD = Episode Director (演出)
Bank animation = Good quality footage animated once and then reused throughout a series.

In the co-workers sections there could have been several more people I could have listed, but due to a combination of a lack of information and the post starting to get quite long again, I decided to leave them out. I wasn’t sure about including Masuo or Honda at the end, but it ties into something I’m covering in the final section so I might as well mention them.

Coming to the end of part 3b, you can be relieved that this is almost over. I point you towards part 3c now. It mainly covers what other animators have said about Obari, before rounding up my thoughts and concluding this post on ‘Obari Style Animators and Legacy’.

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