Let’s use this very strong episode as a launching platform to learn more about the industry.
Key Animation: Tatsuya Sato, Kayo Hikiyama, Chinatsu Morimoto, Keita Nagahara, Yurika Ono
Sae Sawada, Ryohei Muta, Minoru Ota, Maiko Hado, Seiya Kumano, Miho Kitaji, Takuya Yamamura
It was Takuya Yamamura’s turn this week, leading Animation Do’s first offering for the series and doing an admirable job at it. I feel like the episode was at its best when things weren’t actually said; not because the dialogue wasn’t compelling, but rather because the sweetest moments were simple gestures. Kumiko’s surprise and contained joy when told she’d surpassed the barrier frustrating her during the first season felt as good as her friends’ smiles. A very elegant way to resolve a big conflict, and weirdly cathartic for a scene that you might miss by blinking. The entire episode is littered with scenes like that – moments like Kumiko’s smile when she realizes that despite the bickering Yuuko does care about Natsuki a lot, and her amusement when she indirectly admits Reina did deserve playing the solo.
Yamamura’s execution wasn’t only careful though, he can be a bit adventurous. He’s always been a fan of fast cutting, which he put to good use when stressing out just how taxing the club’s practice is. There’s even some neat transitions, like the wipe and match cut he used to bring us back to the present. The best staged sequence might be the conversation between Asuka and Kumiko; the latter confronted her with visible conviction, but learning the truth absolutely deflated her; lost in her teacup of thoughts, which Asuka had no issue emptying. Obviously Asuka’s lack of emotional investment is yet another façade, and we keep on getting glimpses of her feelings leaking through. Those are articulated masterfully, which means that people who have read the novels are having a whale of a time teasing anime-watchers. Going back to Yamamura though, it’s once again obvious he doesn’t share the same love of complex photography work other studio figures have – a trait shared with other notable directors who have been at Do like Hiroko Utsumi, perhaps due to their branch lacking their very own digital department. Being more restrained doesn’t mean ditching the show’s wonderful diverse lighting however, as the final scene bathed in hazy early morning glow proves. Yet another very specific setting that TV anime doesn’t capture often.
It might have been the strongest episode yet, but I’m keeping the commentary relatively brief since this was the perfect excuse to introduce a certain studio to the readers of the site. The previously mentioned Animation Do was born as Kyoto Animation Osaka, then established as a company in 2000, which allowed it to be granted a name that wasn’t absolute nonsense. But questionable nomenclature aside, that is simply how the president Hideaki Hatta prefers to handle the studios; he runs Kyoto Animation, Animation Do and Korea’s ST BLUE – formerly AniVillage – as three separate corporations, but makes them operate as a single entity when producing anime so that everything gets to stay in-house. Considering the way anime works, the normal move would have been to make them all independent studios. Most of the industry subsists by accepting as many contracts as possible to stay afloat, yet Hatta instead decided to limit their output exclusively to KyoAni projects; as subsidiaries, Do and ST BLUE only work on the main branch’s projects, which is part of the reason most fans aren’t even aware of them. The vast majority of the work is done at Kyoto, which has some departments that the other two lack. Meanwhile, Do gets to direct, storyboard and animate some episodes, while ST BLUE’s workload is very limited – they used to receive some key animation roles, but for years that has been reduced to a bit of painting and a fraction of in-betweens.
How much of an effect does Do’s existence have then? Technically none, but that’s what is important to understand. Most big anime production companies have a substudio system of sorts, which operate in different ways. Production I.G has internal divisions, yet also is part of a larger entity like I.G. Port which allows other collaborations. We have already briefly talked about BONES’ substudios on this site, but Sunrise has a bunch more of those – and they’ll gladly pick up jobs on their own to subsist. Then there’s cases like ufotable and Tokushima, where the smaller branch has a different approach altogether. KyoAni should theoretically side on the extreme with the most independent subsidiaries; its substudios are different companies after all, and Do has even grown to start producing their own merch in the last few years. When it comes to actually making anime though, the studio culture overrules it all: in-house production. Do and Kyoto work more closely than some groups of animators that are quite literally one room away.
And as much as I’ve pointed out they’re legally different corporations so employees belong to one firm, that’s not something the staff really care about as creators. The artists move locations occasionally, both temporarily and indefinitely; if a Do employee gets a key staff role – which is been happening rather often as of late, with Miku Kadowaki having become one of the studio’s top designers – then chances are they will move to Kyoto to make the production ever so slightly easier. And it happens the other way around as well, in cases like Futoshi Nishiya moving his desk to Osaka during Free! since that was a project born at Do. The studio’s history is full of employees permanently moving from one branch to the other, with cases like the notorious piece of human garbage Yutaka “Yamakan” Yamamoto going from Kyoto’s photography department to becoming an Animation Do director, before being relocated to the more appropriate place of “away from the studio, forever”. I feel like an episode like this week’s illustrates the studio structure better than anything else though; Euphonium’s character designer and chief animation director is Shouko Ikeda, who is big enough of a deal in Kyoto to be part of KyoAni’s board of directors ruling the studio. Meanwhile, the episode animated in Osaka was supervised by her sister Kazumi Ikeda, one of Animation Do’s most important figures. As sappy as that might sound, they quite literally operate like a family… and are owned by one. The Hatta husband and wife founded the studio and still control it, and their son is now a producer at Animation Do. If seeing Do’s name popping up now and then made you wonder if they’re a different entity from KyoAni, there’s your answer – by all means no, unless you’re interested in the admittedly neat economic and structural details.
And since we’re talking about Do, a look at the rest of the staff is due. Ikeda won’t be making it to any favorite animation directors lists, since she’s always lacked the flourish required for that. As a supervisor she’s rather terrific though, you can tell she’s used to overseeing entire projects so keeping a single episode well drawn is an easy task. She’s big into character expression, not through exaggeration and reaction faces but actually articulating how they feel. With strong animators at hand she gladly embraces cartoony fun too, so it’s hard to complain about her thoroughly solid work. And this brings us to the key animation list, which this time is informative for various reasons. Just like last week the episode only took 5 key animators, but as you can see there’s an obvious catch to it since there’s a group of 7 people credited separately. The former were the actual key animators, people from Do ordered by seniority; the studio’s ace Tatsuya Sato is leading, accompanied by another experienced animator like Kayo Hikiyama, who seems to be taking a break from animation direction at the moment. The other three are newbies, to the point that Yurika Ono only started drawing key animation months ago – this was her graduation project in 2014, she joined the studio the next year and by the end of the year she started to do key animation. One of many rising careers in the industry!
What about the other group of animators though? Leaving the director aside, since they always get credited at the end (alongside the animation director if they were involved too), those are the cleanup roles. If you pay attention to anime credits, you’ll have noticed that most TV anime episodes feature lists of 2nd Key Animators that often become terrifyingly long. What it exactly entails varies quite a bit, but the basic idea is that they clean up the rough key animation work, sometimes also drawing secondary elements that the key animator couldn’t because they were too busy simply defining the motion. That role doesn’t really exist in KyoAni shows anymore though, since for the most part key animators can afford to finish their cuts and clean them up as well. Whenever that isn’t the case, you see small groups credited separately like this time. The list includes both Do people and some Kyoto animators like Sae Sawada, meaning this was done by whoever had the most free time available. Hybrid lists like this are common, so sometimes it’s hard to determine which branch some animators are attached to. Even more of a reason to treat Kyoto and Osaka as different branchs from the same actual studio.
Lots of general studio trivia this week despite the episode providing many things to talk about, but I felt it was very appropriate. Ogawa and Kigami are coming over the next two weeks, so get ready for a strong midseason climax!
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