It’s time for a new series specifically focused on something we love to do: bringing attention to up-and-coming voices in the industry, be it directors, animators, and everything in between. These are anime’s future!
We often find ourselves praising promising young creators on this site, perhaps just as often as we celebrate veterans doing notable work. And that’s not by accident. It’s no secret that the anime industry has issues cultivating talent, so we personally believe that all newcomers who fight bravely for a place under the spotlight damn well deserve it. The road to success obviously extends much longer than that though, as some artists who quickly stood out but never received the opportunities to fully flourish can attest. While we’re not in a position to grant them those chances, the least we can do is raise awareness and thus help out fans a bit as well; it’s not until the point where creators have had a major project of their own that the fandom at large starts to pick up their names, but exceptional artists always have noteworthy work before that. With a bit of luck, these should allow you to discover some of your new favorite anime creators years before you would have otherwise!
So, what’s the plan? We’ll be focusing on a couple of up-and-coming artists at a time, making this a regular feature as long as people seem to appreciate it. Directors and storyboarders, animators – whether they aim towards supervision and designs or plan to stay as key animators – background and composite artists, we’re not restricting this to any particular role. Whether it is a young star whose name you already start to see around or a truly obscure diamond in the rough, anything goes as long as we believe it’s worth highlighting. Another point of interest is that multiple writers will be offering their brief look at particular creators here, since entrusting this to a single writer would inevitably create blind spots.
- Name: ちな (real name undisclosed, works under pseudonyms)
- Roles: Key animator, animation director, episode director and storyboarder, illustrator
- Social media: Twitter, Tumblr
It would be amiss if we didn’t start our series on promising young creators with the artist who has it in his hand to shatter all precocity records. ちな (hereon China, as confusing as that might sound) debuted as key animator on YuruYuri S2 #6 at the incredible age of 16, entirely bypassing the standard progression from in-betweening to keys, and doing so many years before he was supposed to start. Studio Dogakobo was at the time notorious for trusting young artists an immense amount, to the point you would see people who were still limited to grunt work in regular studios being tasked with important roles over there. The evolution of animation consumption also played a role here, as it’s done in many cases as of late; creators can now rise to notoriety by sharing their work online, and in the case of animators that means they get to publicly prove their worth and build some prestige without having to undergo standard training. Add up all those factors, as well as how big of a fan of YuruYuri he was, and you get a feat that has yet to be matched.
It took a couple of years for his presence in the professional space to become regular, but after summer of 2015 – when he quit college just a few months after joining – his precocious growth has been unstoppable. With Cinderella Girls and the Date A Live movie he became an animation director at the age of 19. He then celebrated his 20th with Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desukara #7, a short episode he solo key animated airing on his birthday. And still within that year, he storyboarded and directed a TV anime episode for the first time in the form of Long Riders #3. Rather recently he also became the youngest opening director thanks to Eromanga Sensei. China collects all these records as if they were pieces of trivia, but they’re genuine industry milestones. If he decided to chase series direction as his dream, I have no doubt he would also shatter records in that regard – not only does he have the talent, but at this point he’s got a simple mathematical advantage. The truth is that he’s so young that he’s even got plenty of room to make the wrong decisions and still comfortably pivot his career.
But let’s focus on the talent that enabled those achievements to begin with, since at the end of the day it’s what truly matters. Since he’s only ever handled one episode it’s still too early to judge him as a director (though his first attempt was far from timid and already hinted at neat quirks), but the quality of his drawings is well-known. China is a digital artist, and a quick look at his 2D FX work tells you that he shares traits with many Webgen (web系): Popular term to refer to the mostly young digital animators that have been joining the professional anime industry as of late; their most notable artists started off gaining attention through gifs and fanmade animations online, hence web generation. It encompasses various waves of artists at this point so it's hardly one generation anymore, but the term has stuck. creators; evoking the chaos of an explosion and the passion of fire is clearly more important than their form. Unlike many of his peers though, that is far from his focus. China sides with the faction that’s more enamored with bringing characters to life, and arguably brings more delicacy to the table than any of them.
The timing of his animation tends to be on the brusque side, which offers a nice contrast with the finesse of his drawings. He’s also not particularly concerned with realism, as he can more efficiently imbue feelings like panic through exaggeration. Smears and multiples aplenty too, he’s a good friend to cartoons! Besides his attention to the acting, the way he treats hands and faces as non-flat elements that appear different depending on the angles makes his work stand out, especially since anime is majorly content giving invariable, simple silhouettes to people’s bodies. China takes it a step further while still respecting the necessary stylization.
This isn’t to say that he’s obsessed with detail, since if anything his art is pleasantly uncluttered. It’s impossible to talk about China without mentioning Yusuke “fugo” Matsuo, his idol and major source of inspiration. Rather than staying as a distant goal though, China quickly chased after him; back in 2014 he already got to do some clean-up work on Yama no Susume, which was quickly followed up by all sorts of animation and supervision duties on Matsuo’s take on Idolmaster. If you want to see just how much of an effect Matsuo had on his work, look no further than the cover of this Long Riders storyboard, which might as well have escaped from Cinderella Girls.
It’s important to keep in mind that artists are more than the sum of their influences though, and so China’s unrestrained art is definitely more stylized than his idol’s. His free illustration work is particularly interesting not only because it highlights that, but also ties back to his preferences as an artist; when animating he tends to prefer acting over action, and as an illustrator he attempts to capture the calm appeal of everyday life. Over and over you’ll see him finding beauty in quiet, mundane moments, often with a focus on the distinct seasonal atmosphere. As a fan he unsurprisingly seems to gravitate towards small-scale, personal series without a grand conflict, so perhaps this is the direction he’ll take if he decides to lead projects of his own.
— ﾁﾅ•ｽｨ (@kg_ui) August 15, 2017
His potential as a director is high not just because of his talent and vision, but also because of the set of acquaintances he’s built. He has a very close relationship with similarly-minded young stars like Noriyuki Imaoka and Nakaya Onsen, and as his Eromanga opening proved, his mere presence already serves to attract all sorts of talented individuals. Amongst the fandom this seems to be an undervalued skill, but it truly makes a difference for directors. The also young albeit much better known Bahi JD used that same effect to gather an incredible crowd for his ATOM opening, and we all know how spectacular the results were.
While China isn’t quite on that level of influence yet, he’s been acknowledged by both veterans and well-established new industry pillars – people like Tomoaki Takase didn’t hesitate to call him a genius, and I wouldn’t doubt their judgement. Whether he decides to expand towards directional work or polish up his animation skills (or perhaps both!), China is one of the most exciting rising figures in the industry.
- Name: Megumi Ishitani (石谷恵)
- Roles: Independent animator and director, professional director and storyboarder
- Social media: Twitter, Vimeo, Tumblr, Official Site
I would like to end this first entry with a briefer look at another exceptional up-and-coming creator. It’s not as if Megumi Ishitani doesn’t deserve our attention as much, but she’s standing out with only a couple of projects as a professional! This is in great part due to her roots, since graduating from the Tokyo University of the Arts’ prestigious GEIDAI program (which we already mentioned while talking about the brilliant Wataru Uekusa) immediately makes you a subject of attention. In her first year work, a girl runs away after a quarrel, through a world that morphs from its rotoscoped realism to terrifying monsters in her mind. As a curiosity, one of the many voices you can hear there is Miyo Sato, the artist who made everyone’s jaws drop with Mob Psycho’s paint-on-glass animation.
Ishitani’s graduation project Scutes on my mind is a more ambitious, beautifully textured childhood remembrance. She expressed her desire is to create something that inherently gets across the appeal of animation: works that you’re fond of if you understand the narrative message, but that are also entertaining if you don’t quite follow the story – intentionally aiming at that feeling you have as a child when you don’t quite grasp the piece of media you’ve consumed, but appreciate it a lot nonetheless. I can only praise her ambition, especially as someone who believes that she achieves that goal.
So, what did such a promising artist do after graduating? Join the biggest studio of course! Toei Animation isn’t exactly well-regarded amongst fans, but they have possibly the strongest tradition when it comes to raising memorable idiosyncratic directors. This trend continues nowadays, as Ishitani is far from the only young star they’ve got…but let’s leave that to another time. She’s been serving as assistant episode director on Dragon Ball Super of all projects, but even that can become an appropriate canvas in the right hands. Those assistants essentially do menial labor by the actual directors while preparing to be promoted, which is a process that can take many years at Toei…except for people like Ishitani, of course. She has already been entrusted with two ending sequences on the project. The fifth one is pretty restrained, but thanks to Ishitani’s contributions, the rather stale idea behind ending 7 was quite literally brought to life in much better form. She’s definitely doing the best she can with what she’s got.
If that were all I would likely have waited some more before starting to promote her work, but it seems like the studio genuinely trusts her. Let me preface this by saying that animated pilots have become exceedingly rare in this industry. Unless you’re a monster of a corporation like Toei or Bandai’s own studios, no one has the resources to animate something that might lead nowhere, so pitches generally stay as design documents. But not only do Toei animate pilots, they even keep many of them a secret, never to be unveiled and only spoken of through vague comments. Thankfully, Ishitani was lucky and her amusing Butt Detective short teaser was publicly released before its serialization; the latter looks much flatter, has a less pleasant palette, and lost that textured feel she’s so fond of, showing how much of an effect Ishitani had. All we can hope is that the producers at Toei keep entrusting her with increasingly important projects – whether they’re about butts or not! All the luck to her, since she proved her vision as an artist is mesmerizing even before joining the industry.
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