This is the final section, part 3c, of the series of posts on Masami Obari(大張正己), if you’ve not read part 3a or part 3b, 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 reading the rest of part 3.
Animators on Obari
In this next section I’m going to cover comments I’ve read from animators in relation to Obari. While the majority of the comments I’ve found are positive, there’s one I managed to find that is critical of Obari and I’ve included it at the end.
Yasushi Muraki (村木靖) & Takashi Hashimoto (橋本敬史) – I found an interesting interview where both these guys talk about Kanada and his legacy following his passing. Since both animators have been inspired by Obari, for part of the interview they discuss the origins of Obari’s animation style and how it came to be. Hashimoto begins by saying that Kanada was an exceptional animator who was able to deliver both realistic animation and the dynamic & exaggerated style he became known for. Hashimoto explains that part of this realistic side was inherited by Ichiro Itano, who was an exceptional young animator in the 80s, who then passed part of that realism over to Hideaki Anno who further refined it. On the other hand the more stylish and dynamic side of Kanada was inherited by Masahito Yamashita.
Hashimoto suggests that Obari’s early animation, atleast, lays at a delicate point between that of Kanada and Itano. Muraki suggests that it might be more appropriate to say it’s between Kanada and Anno. The way Obari drew with immense detail and shading was probably something inspired by Anno’s own very detailed animation. Muraki further adds that it may possibly be even better to say Obari’s dynamism draws a stronger influence from that of Yamashita than Kanada.
I can see what they’re driving at, it’s something which lines up with the “hyper realism” I mentioned in part 2; the way Obari drew detailed animation that almost seemed real but was not based on realistic proportions or movements, and brought those drawings to life using the Kanada/Yamashita way of modulating movement. I have to say this interview was exceptionally interesting for me as it brings to light information about Obari that I wasn’t really aware of, from two animators who were inspired by Obari. I could probably do with writing a few sentences regarding this into part 2.
Hiroyuki Imaishi (今石洋之) – Imaishi is very much the poster boy for Kanada-style animators. He has a distinct style and has made a name for himself working on many shows by Studio Gainax. He explains that he was quite taken by Obari’s drawings and animation in his younger years, especially on Dangaioh. Imaishi then goes on to say how Kanada’s Bryger intro served as a launchpad that inspired many young people to take up animation, and he believes Obari’s Dragonar intro was just as impressive.
The intro to Yuusha Da-Garn
Obari recalls that Imaishi was one of the few people who cottoned onto the fact that the opening of the Yuusha show Da-Garn, that was made by Obari with a little help from Atsuko Ishida, was in fact a big homage to the works of Yoshinori Kanada from the late 70s and early 80s. Imaishi explains that the way the colours and animation seem a little off was not the product of mistakes on Obari’s part, but rather an homage to the production values of the time period Obari was trying to emulate. In a comment regarding younger animators Imaishi says that it’s understandable if they don’t know who Yoshinori Kanada is but for them not to know Masami Obari, he just doesn’t know anymore these days. Perhaps this comment is a little insight into how Imaishi views Obari. It is quite interesting. As a side note, Imaishi did do some Key Animation work with Obari for the production of Obari’s 1997 action anime Virus Buster Surge.
Yutaka Nakamura (中村豊) – Yutaka Nakamura is an excellent action animator, with a wonderful sense for camera work and for choreographing fight scenes. When he was much younger, still starting out in the industry, a few of his early jobs were on mecha shows. He worked on a few episodes of Yuusha shows Exkaiser and Fighbird. Interestingly he says he wanted to work on Tekkaman Blade at the time because he admired the animations of Obari and others and wanted to have a chance to channel those kinds of drawings. Nakamura did get a chance to work with Obari directly on an episode of Virus Buster Surge and worked as a key animator on the final episode of Chouja Reideen.
Part of Yutaka Nakamura’s cut on Virus Buster Surge
Takeshi Koike (小池健) – Koike is known these days for bringing us Redline after seven years of hard work. Takeshi Koike is the protoge of Yoshiaki Kawajiri. However, in an interview for Redline’s home release, Koike is asked about the animators who had been an inspiration for him over his career and in response he lists Kawajiri, Peter Cheung, and Kanada too, but then Koike adds Masami Obari. To be quite honest this revelation took me by surprise and I didn’t quite believe it at first but having looked into it, it turned out to be true. At the very least, Koike started in the animation business in the late 80s working on shows with mecha in them; I can imagine anyone who was a young mecha animator at the time, it would be hard-pressed to avoid Obari’s influence when Obari was at his strongest.
Chiakishi Kubouta (久保田誓) – Kubouta is a talented (ex?)Gainax animator who is known for his stylish character animation. Kubouta explains that when he was younger back in middle school, he studied Obari’s animation quite closely and would often create flipbooks where he’d try to breakdown and mimic Obari’s style. Eventually he grew out of it and confesses he hasn’t followed Obari’s animation since Obari’s work on the Yuusha series in the early 90s. As he got to highschool he then began to mimic the style of Ichiro Itano in his flipbooks. It’s interesting to see another animator who was influenced by both Itano and Obari.
Satoshi Kubo (窪敏) – This animator made some remarks about Obari prior to announcement of the 2010 Super Robot Wars anime. On his Mixi page (a Japanese social network) he made comments that were critical of Obari. He went on to say he refused to work on the production of the SRW anime, as it had “Obari-san” involved. He said it was dangerous to work with such a person, and that Obari would probably end up driving his studio into the ground again.
I guess this just shows there are still repercussions from Obari’s studio closing and leans support to the theory that Obari earned a black mark on his name in the industry for it. This could explain why he went on to work on various hentai works. If you’ve been reading the works list in the previous articles, you’ll also see that some animators that I’ve discussed simply stopped working with Obari around the year 2000 and didn’t work with him again until years later. These days however with the advent of Twitter, Obari seems to be talking and rekindling connections with many people in the animation industry and it could well be that things are looking up for him again.
Minamimachi and Studio G-1
As I mentioned previously, around the year 1993 Obari decided to leave the fold of Minamimachi Bugyoushou and pursue his own projects by forming his own studio. He gathered several animators around him, some that he had worked with in the past and some that were quite young and still starting out in the industry. They were: Masahiro Yamane, Kazuto Nakazawa, Atsuko Ishida, Hirotoshi Takaya, Takehiro Nakayama, Seiji Handa & Fumihide Sai. This was his core team more or less for the next few years. Despite leaving Minamimachi, he still kept in contact with the members and they’ve popped into some of Obari’s works over the years.
As the year 2000 approached many of these members began going their own ways, as they had matured into excellent artists and animators in their own rights. While I have no concrete proof, I suspect the turbulent way in which the studio closed and reopened must have had something to do with members leaving as well. As the studio went through changes it was reborn as Studio G-1 Neo, as a result Obari took on a new team of individuals. These were Yoshinari Saito, Makoto Uno, Yousuke Kabashima, Hiroki Mutaguchi, Yukihito Oogomori, Risa Ebata and Kenichi Hamazaki. Twelve years on, many of these individuals have also gone their own ways. Makoto Uno, Mutaguchi and Saito now work freelance, Kabashima has strong ties to Sunrise and Risa Ebata often works long periods at Satelight for Kawamori.
When Obari has a project, many the people I’ve discussed do convene and help out, but they have to keep themselves busy so they are not always available. As such many of these individuals do gather together and work on other projects: as I mentioned earlier Scryed and Godannar were two projects where many from the Obari camp convened and worked together. Episode 30 of Magic Knight Rayearth, the finale of Chouja Reideen and the finale of Platinumhugen Ordian are also examples where many from the Obari camp convene. GaoGaiGar Final episode 6 is interesting as it had several lead animators and major key animators from the Yuusha series working on it; Hirotoshi Takaya, Obari himself, Masahiro Yamane, Seiichi Nakatani and the Suzuki brothers, along with animators like Ken Otsuka, Toru Yoshida and Keisuke Watabe.
Obari on Evangelion?
If I were to ask people to name a mecha show from the 90s then it’d probably be Neon Genesis Evangelion by Gainax that tops the list. Why am I mentioning it with regards to Obari? Well, what first sent me down this trail of thought was when I read on a certain message board that Obari was asked to do some mecha AD work on the Evangelion TV show (or the End of Evangelion movie) but Obari had turned down the offer due to scheduling issues. There was even some talk that the Evangelion unit designs themselves were inspired in part by Obari’s way of drawing mecha. Officially, Anno says the Eva designs are based on demons called ‘Oni’ from Japanese folklore, and that he wanted to get across the idea that there is a giant human underneath the robotic armour. Humans in robot armour – a way of drawing mecha Obari was particularly good at.
I’ll admit this idea is far-fetched so try not to read too much into it. I’d like to talk about the staff of Evangelion: Eva is a title where the majority of the work was done in-house by the people from Gainax, but there are instances where outsiders also helped out and there are some names where I can’t help but see some kind of Obari connection.
The first name to look at is probably that of Hideaki Anno, probably the only thing linking them is when Obari worked on episodes 5 and 6 of Gunbuster. Obari acknowledges and respects Anno, citing him as one the senior animators around the early days in his career. Certainly if we go by Muraki and Hashimoto’s words then Obari must have been influenced by Anno’s animation too.
Then we have Shoichi Masuo, who Obari has worked with on a few projects prior to Eva; it could very well be it was Masuo who extended the invitation to come work on Eva. Takeshi Honda, similarly, had previous outings with Obari prior to Eva. We then have Satoshi Shigeta, an Obari style animator, who worked on several episodes as an AD and does a bit of KA work too. Yasushi Muraki and Atsuko Ishida who had worked quite closely with Obari also lent hands on Evangelion. There’s also the case of the Yoshinari brothers, Yoh Yoshinari worked extensively on Evangelion although his older brother Koh Yoshinari didn’t. Koh instead worked with Obari on Fatal Fury 2 and Yoh joins them for the Fatal Fury Movie. The brothers also worked on 2 episodes of Voltage Fighter Gowcaiser, an Obari directed OVA that was released between the end of the Evangelion TV show and just before the release of the End of Evangelion movie.
Then there is the Voogies Angel OVA series which was produced late 1997 where names like Tadashi Hiramatsu, Mitsuo Iso and Masayuki are among others that make their one and only appearance on working on an Obari anime. Okay, not quite: Hiramatsu worked on Detonator Orgun and Dragon Slayor where Obari did some KA. Another Obari show produced around this time was the Virus Buster Surge TV series, which again features animators like Hiroyuki Imaishi, Yasushi Muraki, Yutaka Nakamura, Hiroyuki Kanbe, Fuminori Kizaki, Keisuke Watabe and Hidenori Matsubara among others that also worked on Evangelion.
There are also other curious things like the fact that Kazuya Tsurumaki worked on the Fatal Fury movie, the only time he’s worked with Obari. Other names like Hiroaki Gohda, Takashi Hashimoto, Akira Oguro, Shinsaku Kozuma and Hisashi Hirai all who have some level of connection to Obari worked on Evangelion and/or End of Evangelion.
I know some of you might be thinking that all this is just coincidental, as the anime industry is quite a close knit world and that may be true perhaps, but at the same time I see a network of connections that I can’t quite shake off. I can’t help but think all this might be a case of “you scratch my back and I/we scratch yours” – something that occurs very often in this industry. Perhaps Obari did lend some kind of hand on Evangelion: I know that Obari has done a fair amount of work where he’s gone uncredited for various reasons, could this also be the case here? Who knows. Perhaps if he’s feeling in a chatty mood, he’ll reveal something on Twitter.
There’s something I’d like to bring up again from the previous article where I said that as Obari took on more directorial roles the amount of animation he did lessened – this wasn’t really accurate. While it might be true with regards to one or two works, on many of the TV shows he’s directed he actually ends up doing a lot work himself, often doing episode directing, storyboarding, animation directing as well mecha design. For example, on Platinumhugen Ordian he does all the above as well as KA work for 7 episodes, similarly for Dancouga Nova he is credited with KA work on every single episode of the 12 episode series and for Prism Ark he worked on 6 episodes out of 12. For SRW he seems to have pushed himself the hardest, doing all the roles listed prior, all on a show that lasted two cours no less. He even went as far as doing non-credited work on his own show. Following the show’s end he personally went through all 26 episodes fixing animation errors that crept in due to working on a tight TV schedule. Another aspect of his work ethic is: on some OVAs during the 90s such as Fatal Fury, he went as far as doing inbetween animation of other animator’s cuts. Obari says he enjoyed doing inbetween work as he was able to draw animation he was not used to and took it as a learning experience.
He pushes himself very far in all aspects of anime production and whenever he directs a show (or an opening) he’s always really enthusiastic and motivated to work on it. The SRW anime is based on a long running video game series: Obari professes he’s a big fan and said the show was made by fans for the fans. Before the show aired he said he’d try to gather as many of his animator friends and colleagues to produce the best kind of show he could. He somewhat managed to achieve this as there are individuals that worked on the show that are people that Obari hasn’t worked with in almost 10-15 years. It’s that kind of vigour that makes it seem like he’s doing it because he really loves what he does, rather than simply working for a paycheck at the end of the day.
In coming to grips with Obari’s style I’ve even seen examples of it by the unlikeliest people, places where you might not even expect it. Keisuke Watabe’s cut on Kara no Kyoukai #3 and Hiramatsu Tadashi’s on Gurren Lagann #23 both echo elements of the movement known as the “Obari Punch” – two people you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with Obari. This is the kind of thing that’s always giving me small surprises and I guess just shows the kind of level Obari’s influence reaches out to.
Ultimately, the Obari style would be nothing without Yoshinori Kanada. His amazing innovations in animation are what lead to all these Kanada style developers to experiment with their own drawings, and out of that Obari’s own style was born. It is still a testament to Obari’s own skill that he ended up gathering followers and he feels happy that there are people out there that mimic and draw using his style.
As I come to the end of this very long third part I hope I’ve managed to keep your attention and been able to show you the kind of things I’ve managed to learn and discover about Obari. The one thing I’ve not touched on is Obari’s hentai work and I figured that part of Obari is what most people will be familliar with. It’s certainly what most people in the west think is all he’s ever done and is good at. That said, with the 1st part I intended to introduce Obari in a different light to what you might already know about him, with the 2nd I wanted to show the kind of animation that made him a popular figure and with the 3rd part my aim was to show what kind of influence he had and the kind of effect that had on some animators in Japan – so hopefully I’ve managed to achieve that.
As for the fourth part, I don’t have anything lined up at the moment. This might be the last part. As a parting gift however, here is an all-new video showcasing a variety of Obari’s animation spanning all corners of his career.
Thank you for reading, as always feel free to drop a comment.