Masami Obari Part 3a: Obari Style Animators and Legacy

In the 3rd part of this series of posts on Masami Obari(大張正己), I will be examining some of the animators that have come to follow Obari and his style of animation. I will also attempt to give an idea of how others in the industry view him as an animator. As before, be sure to read part 1 and part 2 if you’ve landed here first.

Before we head down this post I’d like to say that I’ll be talking about many animators so things might get a bit confusing. I apologise for that I’ll try to keep things as relevant as I can. This has also ended up becoming a very large document so I’ve split it up into 3 sections and I’ll be posting those online soon. I think the reason I ended up writing so much was this has ended up becoming more a reference for myself; a lot of this was in my head but, having written it out, the information is now much easier to articulate.

To begin with here’s a little recap of Obari’s journey though the industry. He began work at Ashi Production in 1983 and stayed there until the end of 1985. I’m unclear exactly when, but around this time he worked on a few projects with Kaname Pro before he went onto join Minamimachi Bugyosho sometime in the first half of 1986. There he joined Osamu Yamazaki, Osamu Tsuruyama, Masanori Nishi, Kenichi Ohnuki among others. Over the next few years he worked with Minamimachi for various projects, taking on some work on his own as well. Eventually Obari formed Studio G-1 in 1993 with some people he’d worked with in the past along with taking on a few animators under his wing.

To understand the relevance of some of the animators, I guess you’d have to know a little bit about the Yuusha franchise first. It’s a series of mecha anime created by Studio Sunrise jointly with toy maker Takara. Running in Japan for 8 years back to back in the 90s, it began as a Transformers copycat but eventually grew into its own style of show. The eight shows produced(L-R in the above image) were Exkaiser(1990-91), Fighbird(1991-92), Da-Garn(1992-93), Might Gaine(1993-94), J-Decker(1994-95), Goldran(1995-96), Dagwon(1996-97) and GaoGaiGar(1997-98). Dagwon had a small OVA sequel a couple of months following its end and GaiGaiGar was followed by GaoGaiGar FINAL two years later.

Prior to Exkaiser, Obari was approached by Sunrise producers to help start off a new mecha franchise that they were planning; he agreed and so Obari drew the intros for the show, he also did some Key Animation on a few episodes and helped create some of the Bank Animations – although he’s not credited for any work save for the intro. Following on from Exkaiser Obari took on the role of lead mecha animator for the 2nd show, Fighbird. He again drew the intros and gave the mechs and enemies his personal touch. Fighbird is quite interesting as it had some animators that you might recognise that started their animation careers doing inbetweens, these include Ken Otsuka, Nakatani Seiichi and Takuya & Tatsuya Suzuki. The show also featured Key Animation work from Yutaka Nakamura, Masahiro Yamane, Keiji Gotoh, Nishida Asako, Sawako Yamamoto, Akira Oguro and Hiroyuki Okuno among others.

After Fighbird ended, Obari passed the lead mecha animator baton to Hirotoshi Takaya for Da-Garn. Masahiro Yamane took over for Might Gaine & J-Decker. Goldran was lead by Tsutomu Suzuki. I’m not sure who lead on Dagwon, but for GaoGaiGar it seems like the role was shared, with Norio Shioyama and Tatsuya Suzuki doing “Design Works” which I’m guessing involves designing all the props and mecha on the show.

Despite standing down as lead mecha animator after Fighbird, Obari continued producing intros for Da-Garn and Might Gaine, and the Chief mecha animators continued providing that Obari essence to the franchise during his absence. So the first 4-5 Yuusha shows had an Obari aesthetic layered into the mecha animation and it carried on throughout the franchise through the other chief animators.

Obari Style Animators
Obari’s animation was very popular in the 80s and 90s and over time this has lead to several animators coming to mimic it. In this section I’ll list those animators that are at the forefront of what is known as the ‘Obari style’.

When it comes to followers of Obari the name at the top of the list has to be Masahiro Yamane. Yamane was one of the young stars of the 80s as he came out of Studio Bebow which was known for its good animation quality at the time. After Bebow he joined Studio GIG and worked on various titles with them for the next several years. He probably met Obari in 1989, during episode 6 of Bubblegum Crisis, the 2nd BC episode that Obari directed. They wouldn’t bump into one another again until the year 1991 on the 2nd episode of Sol Bianca. After working alongside Obari on a few projects Yamane teamed up with Obari around 1993 and was one of the founding members of Obari’s Studio G-1. As Obari stood down from the Yuusha franchise to pursue other projects, Yamane eventually took over as lead mecha animator. One of the lead mecha animator’s jobs is is to redefine the concept mecha designs into something suitable for animation. Yamane’s sense of design was inspired by Obari but he still made it something of his own. Yamane’s animation style was greatly influenced by Obari during this period; he became so adept that at times there’s no real way to tell the difference between Obari and Yamane’s animation. Often when there is a need for the Obari style in a work, Yamane will be the one called out if Obari is unavailable. Shows like Scryed and Godannar where Yamane was a lead mecha animator had quite a bit of involvement from various other animators from the Obari camp. Obari himself did not participate in these shows, save for a small cut in the Scryed finale, as he was busy working on other projects.

Yamane may have been tied to Studio G-1 in name, from what I gather it was a very free flowing studio and one that allowed animators to pursue many of their own projects. As such Yamane worked extensively on many mecha works as an Animation Director over the 90s and 00s. The Yuusha shows aside, he works on Future GPX Cyber Formula, Tekkaman Blade, Magical Knight Rayearth, Chouja Reideen, Gasaraki, Betterman, The Big O, Brigadoon, Scryed, Zone of the Enders and many more.

One thing that is clear is that Obari and Yamane are very good friends. When they work together they have a very good chemistry and Yousuke Kabashima’s comments from when he saw them working together on 2010’s Super Robot Wars anime were filled with high praise, comparing their partnership to that of Kamen Riders 1 and 2 working together.

Works with Obari:

Yoshinari Saito was a Production REED animator before he went and joined Obari’s studio around the year 2000, working on several episodes of Obari’s Evangelion-esque Platinumhugen Ordian. Following that he worked on various Obari projects for the next 3-4 years before going freelance, whereafter he worked on quite a few shows for Seven Arcs, JC Staff and SHAFT. He made a name for himself on the Nanoha series where he drew some animation that stood out from the rest of the show’s style. When it comes to Saito, he takes Obari’s style to the very extreme. What Imaishi and Numata are to the Kanada style, I think Saito is to the Obari style; Saito gives it wilder poses, weirder distortions and even more irregular timings. You’ll have to watch the videos below to see what I mean, images don’t do his animation style any justice. While being good at mecha animation, he seems to prefer doing character animation and that’s where he’s been focusing his work for the past several years.

Works with Obari:

Videos: [Yoshinari Saito MAD 1][Yoshinari Saito MAD 2]

Kabashima came out of studio Z5 and worked mainly on Sunrise anime, often mecha shows. He probably met Obari shortly after the time when Studio G-1’s rebirth as Studio G-1 Neo (around 2001). His first time working with Obari was probably on the final episode of Scryed; if they didn’t meet there directly, Kabashima must have at least met a lot of the people from the Obari camp. Kabashima would then work on some of the hentai anime Obari made during 2002 before working extensively on both seasons of Gravion. He looks up to Obari and he styles himself as “The Final Obarism” – well it could also be read as Over-rhythm – but this particular phrase refers to Obari’s brand of shading and colouring so I figure it’s the former. He has a good friendship with Obari and he is often Obari’s “go to” guy when there’s work to be done. As an animator he is good at both character and mecha animation, he’s also dipped into storyboarding OP and EDs a few times and he doesn’t shy away from using various poses and movements that are Obari in style. He’s not as wild in his posing or timings as much as Saito, but you can still sense his animation has the Obari flair to it.

As a side note, Kabashima was one of the people to blow the whistle on the horrible production conditions animators were faced with on Gundam SEED Destiny. He criticised the poor schedule and the lack of direction of the storyline. Seemingly Kabashima was put off from working on a Gundam show after that, though it seems he returned to work on a Gundam AGE episode, but that was probably as a favour to Ken Otsuka and in better working conditions.

Works with Obari:

Vidoes: While there is no video reel of his works, the intro to Accel World shows the kind of animation Kabashima draws, 0:57 to 1:01 is a cut that is very Kabashima-like.

Not a lot was known about this animator among Japanese fans for a long time. He would often appear on many Obari-related works, and people started to speculate that it might be Obari under a false name. But that didn’t quite make sense as he’d be credited along side Obari on several works, and it was later discovered by Japanese fans that he’s been working in the industry since the 90s. The confusion got so widespread that Obari had to set the record straight himself, revealing that Ogomori is in fact a separate individual. He seemingly has a drawing style similar to that of Obari but prefers to draw characters more than mecha. In some of the more recent Obari works, Ogomori has taken more of a direct role in the production of shows, so while Obari might be listed as the director, Ogomori was the one who was doing more of the directorial leg work.

Works with Obari:

Mutaguchi is a graduate of the Yoyogi Animation School, and he’s an animator who has been making a name for himself by being a fairly good mecha animator and he’s also quite a good Obari style animator. He was part of Studio G-1 Neo for a few years before going freelance. While at G-1 Neo he worked quite a bit on various projects with Obari, such as both season of Gravion, Gaiking and Dancouga Nova. Since going freelance he’s made big splashes doing some cool Obari-like mecha animation on Gurren Lagann and Asura Cryin’. He’s an adherent Obari follower, so much that when working on the finale of BONES mecha anime Star Driver, he insisted he should be allowed to draw an ‘Obari Punch’ somewhere otherwise he won’t do any animation, and so Yasushi Muraki made a segment specifically for him to animate. Mutaguchi seems to have a good friendship with ex-Gainax animator Akira Amemiya (more on him below) and they often work together with one another. He’s started moving a little bit into effect animation work recently as he has worked as an effect AD on movies for Naruto and Nanoha.

Works with Obari:

Former/Part time Obari Style Animators
The next group of animators are those that used to align themselves with the Obari style, but have also grown to develop styles of their own; or those that dip into the Obari style every now and then.

One of Hirotoshi Takaya’s first steps was working on Yuusha series Exkaiser, where he was a regular Animation Director. Over the years his animation style grew under Obari’s influence and he eventually took the reigns as the lead mecha animator for the 3rd Yuusha show Da-Garn. In subsequent years he stayed on the Yuusha series as a regular AD. From what I can gather, he originated from studio Miyuki Pro, a small studio often subcontracted for inbetweens, and came along with Fumihide Sai to join Obari at Studio G1. During the 90s Takaya was one of the pillars of Studio G1 and often did AD & KA work in their works. Over the years he’s become quite a good character action animator and his animation style has matured into something of his own, moving away from Obari’s.

Works with Obari:

Videos: [Hirotoshi Takaya MAD]

Otsuka is one of those animators who has versatility in working with character and mecha animation and as a result he has an extensive catalogue of anime works under his name. However, looking into his history it seems like one of his first jobs was working on Yuusha series Fighbird where Obari was the Chief Animation Director. He seems to consider himself partly Obari style and he does reflect that in his mecha animation on occasion. Otsuka has strong ties to many people in the industry and has gone on to work with many studios over the years. He works often with Obari – lending a hand on many of his works and vice versa, Obari sometimes also lends a hand where Otsuka is working as Chief mecha animator.

An interesting anecdote posted by Otsuka on Twitter was that during the Yuusha franchise there was a stock explosion footage that was used in almost every series, and the person who drew that was Obari. It became sort of a tradition where they used it all the time and even changed the colors of it on one occasion. Atsuko Ishida says she recalls Obari lamenting over the fact that if he knew that particular cut was going to be used so often he would have drawn something much better.

Works with Obari:

Shigeta Satoshi is one of Sunrise’s prominent mecha animators. He made a name for himself working on many popular mecha shows during the late 80s and throughout the 90s, names include various Gundam shows, Macross Plus, Evangelion and the Cyber Formula series of futuristic car racing anime. He stood out on Cyber Formula as he’d often add lots of flame embers and spark effects that would erupt from the cars and this became a tell tale sign of his work earning him the nickname Satoshi “Sparks” Shigeta. When it comes to the Obari connection, Shigeta worked with Obari on several works early in the 90s and he became quite adept at the Obari style of animation. He brought it forward with him when he began work as Chief Mecha Animator for the Gundam SEED series, so that the Obari way of striking angular but stylish poses became almost synonymous with Gundam SEED for a while.

Shigeta has a strong partnership with director Mitsuo Fukuda, a figure controversial for his handling of Gundam SEED Destiny and also more recently for making various contentious comments on Twitter. Before all of this however, Fukuda was just a planner and director at Sunrise. On Exkaiser Fukuda was the storyboard artist & unit director of the intros and all the bank animation as well. If you look at many of Fukuda’s Gundam SEED & Destiny openings you can see a lot of similar set pieces and layouts that are seemingly inspired by Dragonar and Exkaiser. Fukuda’s relationship with Shigeta goes back to the Cyber Formula series which was directed by Fukuda. Having learned there how well Shigeta could mimic the Obari style, Fukuda naturally called on Shigeta when he was given the task of directing Gear Fighter Dendoh and Gundam SEED.

Works with Obari:

The Suzuki brothers began their animation careers working at Studio Sunrise where they worked extensively on the Yuusha series. They began working on Fighbird, a show where Obari was the Chief AD as inbetween animators and inbetween checkers. They later moved on up to Key Animation on Da-Garn and continuously worked through to the end of the Yuusha franchise with GaoGaiGar at which point they were pretty much the lead mecha animators. They were great at channelling the Obari style and helped create the parody anime segments for the Geppy X game for the PSX.  They are mentioned together as they share a very similar work ethic and work together on almost everything they do. I have heard stories that during their younger years, it was almost impossible to tell the brothers apart during animation planning meetings. In recent years their animation styles have evolved and they have become quite excellent character action animators.

Works with Obari:

Videos: The intro to Geppy-X

Amemiya is a young animator who only appeared on the animation scene around 2004-05. He was tied to Studio Gainax working extensively with Hiroyuki Imaishi and has followed Imaishi out of Gainax and into Imaishi’s new studio, Studio Trigger. Amemiya is often called the second coming Imaishi, displaying some of Imaishi’s exciting and exuberant visuals. He’s a strong animator who is good at both character and mecha animation. He even draws Masahito Yamashita-like explosions in some of his works. Clearly Imaishi has taught Amemiya all walks of the Kanada style, from the pure Kanada form which Imaishi is fond of, to the wildness of Yamashita’s effects. However there’s a side to Amemiya that’s often not touched on and that’s his mecha animation, which is quite often Obari styled. If I were to guess where he got this from, I’d say it’s a mixture of learning from Imaishi as well as learning from Obari himself. Amemiya must have met Obari on the 2005 Gaiking show as Amemiya contributed to the 2nd intro directed by Obari. For a long time it was speculated that Amemiya’s contribution on the intro was towards the end of the intro, just before Kanada’s scene – but as it turns out, Amemiya was in charge of the launch and combination sequence right near the start of the intro, which is very much pure Obari style animation. Amemiya has also absorbed Obari’s knack for striking ‘cool’ poses and has given them some of his own twists it.

Amemiya made a strong impression on Gurren Lagann doing a lot of animation and AD work. There are several instances where Amemiya channels Obari poses and layouts to give the show a nice distinct touch. Since then Amemiya has worked on a few of Obari’s other works, he does quite a bit of animation on the first episode of Obari’s SRW anime and has worked with several people from the Obari camp such as Mutaguchi on Asura Cryin’ and Otsuka on Star Driver to produce exciting part Imaishi & part Obari styled animation.

Works with Obari:

Videos: [Akira Amemiya MAD 1][Akira Amemiya MAD 2]


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.

This is it for animators that are Obari Styled. I was thinking of perhaps mentioning Shin Matsuo (松尾慎) as I have seen some of his work which looks Obari style, and he’s worked on several works with Obari over the 80s and 90s. But I wasn’t able to uncover much detail about him so I decided to leave him out.

This post was split up into three sections, so head on to part 3b for more reading. For ease of management, post your comments in part 3c, feel free to ask questions or point out any errors I’ve made.

P.S. Big thanks to thaliarchus for proofreading everything and to drmecha for clearing one or two uncertainties.

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