Manga readers knew what was coming, and even anime-only fans could guess something big was approaching simply by looking at the impressive staff lineup. This might very well be the most important episode the My Hero Academia anime has to offer, one that will be remembered for quite a while.
Key Animation: Eri Yamazaki, Hidenori Fukuoka, Kouta Sugawa, Masaya Sekizaki, Nobuhiko Kawakami, Shin Iwaki, Yu Matsuo, Yoshino Matsumoto, Ryo Yamauchi, Shotaro Tamemizu, Saori Nakashiki, Yuta Kiso, Aiko Sonobe, Yumi Kobayashi, Yoko Uchida, Keisuke Hiroe, Yuki Hayashi, Mitsuko Baba, Naoto Uchida, Tomoya Kosakai, Hisa Hoshiyama, Yutaka Nakamura
Deku’s confrontation with Todoroki was the event that the series kept building up to since the second season started, so the lavish treatment this episode received came as no surprise. At the center of it stands Yoshihiko Umakoshi: HeroAca‘s character designer and chief animation director. Rather than overseeing the work of other supervisors as usual, he decided to take on this role by himself and directly correct the drawings of the key animators. That gave him all that much more control over the quality of finished drawings, and the results were exceptional. Whether it was delicate and detailed on-model drawings or shots with purposely rough line work, Umakoshi’s unmistakable touch was present throughout the whole episode. His masterful line corrections don’t always transfer perfectly from paper to digital form, but it looked like a lot of care was put into each production step this time. The insanely prolific effects animator Takashi Hashimoto assisted him with the supervision duties, solely focusing on the effects such as smoke, fire and ice. As Umakoshi noted on twitter, his help gave him extra time to focus on the character art. It’s actually rather unusual to see him tweet about animation, which means he must have been satisfied with the result!
Since this was a party, Umakoshi couldn’t help but invite some of his acquaintances. To be specific, he assembled a team of students who had worked under him on Mushishi: The Next Chapter (2014) – another anime he provided animation character designs for. Most of them are fairly young and as he said on twitter, they really did their best. Yu Matsuo and Yoko Uchida (twitter illustration promoting the episode) are ex-Artland employees who worked on Mushishi: The Next Chapter as inbetweeners and were quite recently promoted to key animators, essentially graduating from Artland and becoming freelancers. Ryo Yamauchi, Saori Nakashiki, Aiko Sonobe and Yumi Kobayashi meanwhile worked on the show as regular key animators. They also quite recently worked on JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable (2016), a project led by another ardent Umakoshi follower Terumi Nishii.
It’s not as if all of Umakoshi’s connections are with newbies, though. Mitsuko Baba has been a frequent collaborator of his since Ojamajo Doremi Na-i-sho (2004), and worked on both the original Mushishi TV series and The Next Chapter as a regular animation director. Her presence is almost a given on any major Umakoshi project, unless something else is keeping her too busy. Yuki Hayashi (credited as Koichi Hayashi) is a Toei Animation employee who tends to secretly sneak out of the studio to work freelance on other projects. As a fairly well-known and distinct animator, he worked on quite a lot on Umakoshi’s Toei projects over the years. Unless I’m missing some less explicit links, that’s 8 out of 22 key animators who were very likely asked by Umakoshi himself to work on the episode! Since he’s a very influential figure within the industry this is no huge surprise, but it’s notable nonetheless.
All in all, this was quite the interesting list of key animators. Besides the Umakoshi crew mentioned above, two regular BONES Sub-studio D animators – veteran Hidenori Fukuoka and young Keisuke Hiroe – worked on the episode. Up-and-coming White Fox affiliated animator Kouta Sugawa presumably animated Deku’s first smash, effectively incorporating impact frames into his work. The show’s regular animator Masaya Sekizaki handled the cuts following right after, depicting Deku’s second and third smash attacks. Noragami Aragoto‘s main action animator and a frequent Seven Arcs collaborator Yuta Kiso also participated on the fight.
But the person who
stole rightfully claimed his place under the spotlight was Yutaka Nakamura, BONES’ ace action animator. He was entrusted with the final showdown between the two rivals, saving the best piece of animation for last. The scene in true Yutapon fashion contained cube shaped debris, an ungodly amount of impact frames (41 in 31 seconds!), and a simply ludicrous number of drawings. And that’s exactly what fans of his current output love! The praise doesn’t only come from the sakuga otaku, though. The scene became quite a big topic online, receiving immense praise even from fans who don’t usually care about the animation craft. HeroAca, as a mainstream series airing right before Detective Conan, gets a considerably bigger audience than the majority of late night anime to begin with – so when it hits big, it really does. Even high profile animators quickly went on to share their impressions. Nakamura-inspired webgen animator Shun Enokido shared a short emotive tweet: “Nakamura-san, thank you very much…”, while his close colleague Takahito Sakazume tweeted a more concise “What a god…”. Yukie Akiya, the character designer and chief animation director for the upcoming Princess Principal TV anime, reminisced about the time she did in-betweens for one of Nakamura’s works and how much it impressed her. Other animators and fans also congratulated him on twitter directly. Nakamura’s works always make a big echo within the industry, but this time it was special even by his standards.
As much as we like to highlight that aspect, let’s not only limit the praise to the animation staff. This might have been the manga’s peak to begin with (Kevin’s claim), and Shinji Sato’s storyboard did a good job to transfer the events into another medium; as usual however, the adaptation is overly conservative and keeps too much of a panel-by-panel approach. In spite of that, series director Kenji Nagasaki remains a blessing for this series and alongside Yuki Hayashi’s music they keep on nailing that thrilling atmosphere. I would also like to highlight the work of BONES’ photography team. They managed to keep the hand-drawn look of Todoroki’s fire animation while working with textures and digital effects to give it a slightly more realistic feel. I prefer this approach over the strict photorealism seen on titles like ufotable’s modern work. Ice textures looked rather appealing as well. If you’re curious about the composite work, I also recommend to framestep through Yutaka Nakamura’s scene. You’ll realize how much care this team put even into frames that are almost imperceptible in motion.
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