I have been mulling over this post for a long time now and I was worried about how to present the information I’ve gathered over the last few months. I eventually decided to split this into a series of posts, with this being the first part. It has certainly helped that Obari joined twitter last summer as many of his tweets have shown a great insight into his career and many of the shows he has worked on.
When I first heard about this ‘Obari’ guy I was comfortable sitting with the notion many people had that “he’s just a guy who likes doing fanservicey shows” – I’m not going to deny Obari loves fanservice and has worked on several hentai anime works, this won’t be my aim. However I think many people only see the fanservice side of him and simply write him off in regards to any thing else. This is understandable if you only judge him by the works where he’s the director, judge him as an animator then I think you might get a different view of him.
I think what first got me curious about Obari was listening to him talk about his career on an online radio show. As a result, over the past few months I have examined his chronology of works(ANN) and I have come to admire him and his work.
Masami Obari(大張正己) is a Japanese animator, mecha designer, character designer and director who has been working in the anime industry since the early 1980s. Obari was born on the 24th of January 1966 in Hiroshima, Japan. Upon hearing the name those that have not heard of him might assume he is a woman seeing as Masami can sometimes be a female name. Obari’s career in the industry began as soon as he graduated from highschool in 1984, at the young age of 18 he began working at Ashi Production – now known as Production Reed. Obari grew up watching anime in the late 70s and early 80s, and like many other animators from that time period he was greatly influenced by the work of Yoshinori Kanada. Obari says had Kanada not animated that wonderful Braiger opening he would never have chosen to become an animator.
Galaxy Cyclone Braiger’s Opening by Yoshinori Kanada
It is easy to place Obari as a follower the “Kanada school of animation” however Obari is notable in that he absorbed the Kanada style and created something to call his own. Obari’s own style went on to become quite popular throughout the late 80s and 90s. It became inspiration for many animators that grew up watching anime in that period. His own style is often called the “Obari school of animation” – Japanese fans often use the word ‘BARI’ as a verb when describing something that looks or moves very Obari in style.
Obari shared this next anecdote when he was asked “How did you enter the anime industry?” during an episode of the Super Robot Wars Radio show back in 2011. Having heard it, I have to say that Obari’s entrance onto the animation industry is quite an unusual one.
During highschool Obari had a friend in class called Satoshi Urushihara who would often be carrying the 3 pegged sheets of paper that animators use to draw on. Curious about this, Urushihara encouraged him to draw on it and when Obari saw how easily his drawings could be made to move and come to life he was instantly hooked. Urushihara then showed Obari some of Kanada’s Daitarn 3 and Zambot 3 episodes on Betamax. Obari was impressed at how a single person was capable of such charismatic animation. From here on Obari became determined to learn about how anime was created and over the summer holidays Obari used money he had gained from part-time jobs to book appointments with various studios such as Tatsunoko Pro & Kaname Pro. There he met with animators like Yoshinori Kanada & Kazuhiro Ochi face to face. Through them he learnt to refine his drawing skills primarily focusing on human life drawing. Back then he did not realise that you could go to art schools and technical colleges for learning animation and instead chose a more unorthodox but direct method, which somehow managed to pay off.
As Obari moved through highschool he carried on with his appointments where the animators would talk to him for a few hours at a time, teaching him and helping him refining his own drawing abilities as well as learning about the process of animation. Incidentally I only learnt of this later on but one person he visited was Toyoo Ashida, who unfortunately died a few months ago. On hearing about Ashida’s death Obari made a tweet recalling when he first visited Ashida; he showed Ashida his sketchbook and was told “You can’t go around copying Kanada!” and then (an unspecified time later) on their final meeting Obari was told “So, when will you be starting?” – You have to wonder why would these senior animators spend their time with a young man who wants to know about animation, surely they have their own hectic schedules and jobs like animating to be doing? One of the hosts on the Radio show said it was probably due to his charming nature that got them.
After completing highschool at 18 Obari began working for Ashi Production. He began tackling the ropes of actual anime production with a mecha show called Tokusou Kihei Dorvack and followed on into Ashi Pro’s next show called Seijuushi Bismarck where he moved up from an in-between artist to become a key animator. Following Bismark’s end he continued working at Ashi Pro where he worked on episodes of the shows the studio got subcontracted to, both Japanese and American shows. One particular American show was the original Generation 1 Transformers. Like many American cartoons outsourced during the 80s, none of the outsourced staff were credited, however Transformers was known quite well for it’s varying levels of quality, so you can certainly see episodes in which Obari, or at least Ashi Production had a hand in.
Obari’s first major breakthrough came when he landed the role of Mecha Designer on Ashi Production’s new mecha show Choujuu Kishin Dancouga, at the age of 19 this was certainly something that made his name stand out. While working on Dancouga he also did a lot of animation work. Of the 38 episodes aired, Obari worked on a whopping 17 episodes. 15 episodes where he was a Key Animator and 2 episodes where he was the Animation Director. Obari managed to create and refine his unique animation style during this period particularly coming into contact with animators like Hirotoshi Sano & Hideki Tamura. A story from people of that era is while working on Dancouga, Obari and others would compete with one another in order to find out who could draw animation cuts with the most lines and detail in them, their youth and passion certainly took them to the extreme! As young as Obari was while working on Dancouga, during that time he took a young animator called Nakamura Kenichiro under his wing who became his apprentice.
Dancouga ended in December 1985, however there was no rest for Obari as 1986 was a busy year for him. While he continued his work with Ashi Pro, with the first two episodes of Machine Robo and the last 3 episodes of Ninja Senshi Tobikage, he also began working in other parts of the industry. During this year, he tweeted he worked part-time with Kaname Production, the Kanada inspired studio that animated the Birth OVA just 2 years prior in 1984. During his short time with Kaname Pro it seems he participated in some episodes of Hokuto no Ken and Saint Seiya but he was not credited for these. My guess is that it’s likely because he was still fairly young and contracted to Ashi Pro at the time and both of those shows were made by Toei who were most likely a rival studio. Kaname Pro worked on episodes 5 and 9 of Saint Seiya so it is likely he worked on one of these episodes. For Hokuto no Ken he mentioned working on an episode where Kazuhiro Ochi was the animation director and Ochi later revealed it on his blog to be episode 59.
In 1986 Obari was called in to work on the 2nd and 3rd episodes of AIC’s OVA “Fight! Iczer 1” as an Animation Director. Ben from Anipages has quite a nice post on the OVA here. During Iczer 1’s production Obari poured his unique style over the mecha design of the show. Despite the mecha designs being established in episode 1, director Toshiki Hirano asked Obari to redesign the mecha for episode 2 and 3 as seen below. Hirano wanted Obari to change the feminine mecha designs from episode 1 to be more macho and hero-like for episodes 2 and 3. Hirano was a firm believer in Obari’s talents and pushed him to go all out on Iczer 1 and the later Dangaioh OVA.
Iczer 1’s story is quite typical of an 80s OVA but features lots of high quality animation. Not only was Obari animation director for episode 3, he contributed over 80 cuts of animation to the episode. The majority being in the fight sequences at the start of the episode. This first clip features about 5 minutes of footage where the majority of the battle scenes between the giant mecha were handled by Obari:
Start from 2:15 until about 7:30 (slightly NSFW)
Obari’s work on episode 3 was just an indicator of things to come. Obari next move was to work on another OVA series directed by Hirano, Dangaioh. As he was involved in the production from the start, Hirano knew how to put Obari’s talents to use; he told Obari that he was in charge of the entire final act on episode 1 of Dangaioh. He would draw the storyboards, animation and essentially direct the action all by himself. He was given freedom to tackle it how he felt and ended up adding scenes that weren’t in the script. He ended up drawing around 120 cuts of animation, both character and mecha, firmly establishing Obari as one of the top mecha animators of the mid-late 1980s.
From about 3:30 to the end.
Almost two years after working on season 1 of Transformers, Obari returned in the Fall of 1986 to work on one of the final episodes, episode 91 titled Call of the Primitives. Not much is known about the staff details for it however this episode is known for its high quality and it is known that Obari was the Animation Director at the very least. This episode also used animation models which were unlike the ones used in the rest of the show. Compare the animation style for Predaking’s usual combination stock footage, to the more distinct Kanada effects and token Obari pose made by Predaking in ‘Call of the Primitives‘.
July 2014 update: This is actually the work of Shin Matsuo, while Eiji Suganuma was the animation director.
The Sakuga wiki has this to say about Obari: He had already found his own animation style at the young age of 18, by 19 he had become a Mecha Designer, then at 20 he was doing work as an Animation Director and by 21 he began directing (episodes). However, when he worked on the opening of Dragonar, his talent went on full display and it became the talk of the industry. Some would call him a young prodigy.
One of the reasons this opening became so famous was Obari animated it single-handedly. Now a single person animating openings back in the 70s and 80s was not unusual, however a single person producing something that good – while being so young at the time – made it particularly impressive. He remembers working on it through his 20th birthday in the January of 1987. Another factor in it becoming famous was that Obari had changed the designs of the Mechs’ faces, which the staff were fine with, until Bandai realised what was being shown on the TV in the opening was not reflective of the actual toys they were selling to the kids. So in the end they were forced to redraw the Mechs back into the Kunio Okawara style.
Oct 2013 update: It seems I fell into the trap of believing hearsay. As of writing this article Obari has said on Twitter several times now that this is not the case. He recalls when the OP was screened to producers and executives at Bandai they were incredibly pleased with it and gave it a go ahead to be aired. So much in fact that they asked him to come back and animate the second intro as well, however due to scheduling issues he was unable to commit.
The real reason for the change seems to be that because Obari went and created a stylish version of the mech for the opening, many of the young animators on the show were trying to follow in his footsteps by creating their own versions of Dragonar whilst working on episodes. As a means to deter this the staff decided to revert the mecha in the opening back to the more standard animation model.
Another highlight of Obari’s career was him being chosen to direct episodes 5 and 6 of Bubblegum Crisis. Being a director at the age of 22 for a commercial production was something incredibly rare. Obari tackled this project head on. As well as his directing duties he drew the storyboards for both episodes. This would be as far as most directors would go but Obari also worked as one of the Animation Directors even going as far as doing Key Animation himself. Not to mention he designed some of the mecha that would appear in the episodes. Tasking himself with so many jobs did not jeopardise the quality of production as episodes 5 and 6 featured a stark increase in quality from previous episodes. Even now episodes 5 and 6 of BGC are fondly remembered by fans as some of the best. Obari’s work on Iczer 1, Dangaioh and Dragonar had already shown him to be very talented but working on Bubblegum Crisis cemented that talent.
1987 marked the year in which Obari finally left Ashi Pro and joined the freelance studio Minamimachi Bugyosho. He joined up with fellow animators Osamu Tsuruyama, Osamu Yamazaki, Masanori Nishii and Kenichi Ohnuki. Yamazaki and Ohnuki were former members of Kaname Production, a studio which had close ties to Ashi Pro. Yamazaki was also one of the lead animators on Dancouga so he must have recognised Obari’s potential back then and was ready to pluck him out of Ashi Pro. Thank you drmecha for the correction.
Works he participated in through Minamimachi as well as some done without them:
- Dangaioh eps 1-3 (Storyboard/AD/KA)
- Hagane no Oni OVA (AD/KA)
- Project A-Ko Movie 3: Cinderella Rhapsody (KA)
- Tokyo Vice OVA (KA)
- Gunbuster eps 5 (KA)
- Takegami (AD/KA)
Through Minamimachi Obari managed to work on many shows for different studios, giving him opportunities he wouldn’t otherwise have had if he was still tied to Ashi Pro. However like the people at Kaname Pro and Minamimachi had done before, Obari probably decided he wanted more control over what he worked on, so in 1993 he established his own studio named Studio G1. From here on he’d work through his company to work on many other productions. One thing he became know for in the 90s was creating anime openings with his studio. He created several for the Braves robot franchise, Tekkaman Blade and Magic Knight Rayearth among others.
In the end, I hope I’ve managed to shed some light on this animator and give a different perspective of him. In part 2 I’ll try to talk more on his influences and animation style amongst other things. For now I leave you with a video compilation of some of his works.
Since writing this post I’ve written a some more on this topic, so feel free to check them out.
Part 2: Influences and Style
Part 3a: Obari Style Animators and Legacy
Part 3b: Obari Style Animators and Legacy
Part 3c: Obari Style Animators and Legacy