Digital animators have been putting out some of the most impressive work anime has to offer over the last few years. Today we present you one of the leaders of a new wave within that movement, which introduces a more human element to those flashy spectacles. Meet Nakaya Onsen, who has been receiving lots of attention as one of the stars in the astounding Fate/Apocrypha #22!
Nakaya Onsen initially gained notoriety not as an animator, but as an illustrator and mangaka of sorts. On his late teens he had his own circle and was used to publishing comics of all-ages and adult variety, illustrated novels, all sorts of original and derivative art. That shouldn’t be considered a phase of his or even training, but rather a venue of expression that he’s kept active to this day. His art is more on the realistic side when compared with the people who surround him, and his drawings, often framed as if they were rich anime layouts, are full of delicate gestures that feel alive even in still form. Those all enhance the mundane peacefulness he likes to depict – if you want to take a peek into the life of a slightly playful catgirl and her handsome partner, you’re in for a treat here.
— Ｏ・Ｎ (@OnsenNoTubuyaki) September 18, 2016
Onsen’s first anime industry appearance was in episode 11 of Idolmaster Cinderella Girls, which turned out to be quite the significant debut. The fact that he went straight onto key animation and clean-up duties, including a climactic scene to boot, speaks volumes of the trust he inspired as a newcomer already. But not only that, the team he worked with essentially defined his career; that episode happened to be outsourced to studio 8-bit, commanded by the young crew who has been in charge of Yama no Susume over the last few years: the likes of Kazuaki Shimada, ちな, and Satoshi Furuhashi. While Onsen isn’t strictly a follower of Yusuke Matsuo – incidentally, character designer of both Cinderella Girls and Yama no Susume – his animation sensibilities happened to gel well enough with a group of artists who also value the charm of everyday life and the importance of mannerisms. They were already acquainted beforehand, hence why he was offered this opportunity to begin with, but the partnership wouldn’t have lasted if they didn’t chase similar goals.
His freelance animation career has proceeded as smoothly as you could realistically hope for in this messy industry, quickly making a name for himself through solid work. He would often collaborate with the aforementioned crew, receive requests by A-1 producers more often than not, and also get invited to that kind of special episode that attracts outstanding animation talent. The timeframe we’re talking about here is quite narrow – keep in mind that we’re talking about someone who only had his debut in 2015 – but despite his limited appearances, he’s already managed to leave an imprint. His frankly spectacular contribution to Fate/Apocrypha #22, a genuine landmark when it comes to digital craft in anime, might seem like it came out of nowhere if you hadn’t been paying much attention, but from within the industry it was seen simply as the confirmation of the skill they knew he possessed. Onsen’s own site has a set of disclaimers aimed at producers seeking his assistance, which confirm that he’s earned the right to be treated better than usual; his bare minimum rate for layouts and key animation are above the abysmal industry standards, he warns that nuanced acting and action will easily cost 2-3x as much, there’s an offer for prioritization fees, and he notes that whenever he’s very busy – often – he’ll simply choose the most interesting and better remunerated offers. Mind you, his demands are still fairly modest, and in a sane industry 10k-20k JPY for TV anime cuts should be the average rather than a slightly positive exception. But I digress.
Truth to be told, Onsen’s presence in the anime industry is a sign of hope that extends beyond his own work. His cuts are often delightful, but he’s even more interesting as a representative of a new wave within the webgen movement. Initially, the flashiest digital animators in anime had received criticism for lacking artistic fundamentals and having a generally weak grasp of character work. I personally believe the claims were exaggerated and those youngsters were being held too strictly to standards that aren’t relevant to their creative adventures, but it’s undeniable that neither character art nor expression were their forte. They did by all means make up for that through sheer force – we’re talking about artists who grew up drawing spectacular stick figure gifs, and who recently have been greatly influenced by the king of impact Yutaka Nakamura. There’s a reason the likes of rapparu and Shun Enokido keep on catching the attention of viewers: in spite of their failings, their animation is ultimately a spectacle that has the effect on the audience that they sought.
That said, the rise of animators like ちな, soty, Noriyuki, Moaang, and of course Onsen himself is very interesting. People are the centerpiece of their work, even within grand pieces of action, and they hold acting experts as their idols rather than trying to follow the current born in projects like Noein. This doesn’t mean they can’t pull off exciting fights – Onsen’s tremendous Achilles vs Atalanta stands as proof of that, but even then his greatest success was the incredible volume he imbued the designs with and the aftermath filled with emotion. If you weren’t able to fully appreciate the work of previous digital anime leaders because it felt emotionally distant, chances are that you’ll have better luck with this new wave of young acting masters. It’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t a black or white situation (people like Bahi JD already landed neatly in the middle of both currents), but it’s an important enough positive trend in the anime industry to be hopeful about it. Nakaya Onsen only just turned 25 and hasn’t worked on all that many series. He’s a mostly self-taught animator who nonetheless has a very extensive, sort of innate understanding of animation. And yet, despite the lack of experience, he’s already prepared to be one of the leaders of a wave of creators bound to make anime a richer environment. Not the only animator in a position like that to stand out recently, but let’s leave that as a tease for the next entry of Anime’s Future!