Koi wa Ameagari no You ni / After the Rain might very well be the surprise of the season, after turning a thorny premise into a tactful look at an adolescent looking for a new reason to be. And so as usual, our role will be to detail the vision of the directors behind this adaptation, examine the creative team and their impact on the show, and talk about studio WIT’s own quirks while we’re at it. Get ready to tackle a production so full of surprises that it even took us unprepared!
Storyboard: Ayumu Watanabe
Episode Direction: Ayako Kouno
Chief Animation Direction: Yuka Shibata
Animation Direction: Yuka Shibata, Haruka Tanaka, Satoshi Kadowaki, Hideyuki Arao
Assistant Animation Director: Akiyo Okuda
Assistant Key Animation Supervisor: Erika Nishihara, Yuko Yamamoto
Key Animation: Akiyo Okuda, Yuka Koiso, Naohiro Ohsugi, Erika Nishihara, Hideyuki Arao, Mayuko Kato, Mika Takazawa, Sachiko Matsumoto, Atsuko Nozaki, Haruka Tanaka, Ryota Ura, Sachiko Yasuda, Yusuke Shimizu, Maki Hashimoto, Rie Nishimura, Tetsuya Hasegawa, Kana Ito
─ I usually begin these pieces by highlighting the lead creatives and how their particular skills come into play on the work, but After the Rain’s intro is so casually masterful I’ve got to give it preference. The first scene perfectly captures the tone of the series: a solemn mix of melancholy and loss, although with a tint of hopefulness that doesn’t let it come across as cold and impersonal. A commendable feat by itself, but it’s not content with that. It also manages to include its titular, thematically relevant imagery, introduce key narrative elements, and even draw attention to the protagonist’s injury; first in a quiet manner, and then with a nonchalant stab as it contrasts her failure with the members of the club she used to give her everything to. This scene left an impression the first time I watched it because it’s simply low-key excellence, but returning to it with more knowledge about the series has been the true delight.
─ And there comes the opening, which is my first chance to start talking about the staff. As it tends to happen in these situations, it was series director Ayumu Watanabe who storyboarded the sequence, which is quite relevant since I believe this opening encapsulates his approach to such a tricky subject matter. Because let’s not beat around the bush, the tale of a 17yo falling in love with a middle-aged man is inherently touchy. I’m not here to convince people who wrote it off because of that, though if I make someone curious enough to give a try to what I believe is an excellent series, I’ll gladly play that role. But back to the opening: while the adorable sequence openly showcases her crush as childish and innocent, it doesn’t mock her for that. There’s no fetishization of a forbidden love either, but rather a sugary look at their relationship that might as well have come directly off the protagonist’s dreams. Obviously the show itself ends up showing there’s more to her infatuation than a naive crush, but I believe that respectfully getting across that she’s not as mature as she sometimes looks was important. The opening also showcases a feminine touch I doubted came from Watanabe himself, and that later events have allowed me to attribute to co-director Ayako Kouno. But since she happens to be my sweetest anime craft surprise of the year and a big factor as to why I’m covering the series, I’d rather not rush her introduction. Instead let me note it was brought to life by a mix of studio WIT regulars and talented guests, such as One-Punch Man‘s character designer Chikashi Kubota, Jojo and Symphogear‘s franchise ace animator Fumiaki Kouta, and even J.C.Staff’s FX virtuoso Hiroshi Tomioka. All things considered this is a lovely sequence, although I have to admit that I prefer Aimer’s Ref:rain ending song. Akira might agree with me too, since she was listening to it in that excellent first scene.
─ A concept that followers of studio WIT’s work are likely acquainted with at this point is that of make-up animation. This technique, first implemented in Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, intended to organically add detail to existing key animation. A small crew of digital artists would take control of the animation once the movement was done, scan the work and apply their own brushes and effects before any postprocessing would normally happen. A bunch of terms like half-tone shading were recklessly thrown around during its heavy promotion to hype the illustration-like results, but it’s undeniable that they put together some downright gorgeous work, which felt believably rich rather than overly manipulated. The thing is… perhaps they work looked too good, in the sense that it created an awkward contrast with the shots in their immediacy, since this is such a prohibitive method they could only apply it to a handful of moments. Not that I’m against sudden spikes in quality, but in this case it backfired quite badly, underlining how poor the rest of the work actually was. The idea did have lots of potential however, so director Tetsuro Araki has made it part of his repertoire, making it return on Attack on Titan‘s sequel under the amusing title of Special Effects for Living Beings, since their job was mostly decorating the titans. Just as everyone had assumed it would stay as his personal quirk, After the Rain‘s has reunited part of that team to do similar beautification work under the name Special Foundation, bringing it back to make-up terms. The work is mostly in the hands of Manaka Naka and Ryoko Mita, two versatile young artists who’ve drawn in-betweens, key animation, done clean-up, digital painting, and of course make-up animation tasks in the past. Naka said that After the Rain‘s shoujo manga-like tone was quite different from their previous titles, so this time they had to change registers and instead focus on applying sparkly and fluffy brushes on Akira, as if they were true cosmetics. The scope of their approach isn’t quite as ambitious, but their work is undeniably beautiful.
Manaka Naka’s adorable graduation piece from Osaka College of Communication Art, before she joined studio WIT. If you’re curious about her recent work as make-up animator, here’s a couple of the striking cuts she personally decorated on Attack on Titan  .
─ We’ve established that the embellishments are nice, but what about the animation itself? The most impressive sequence is without a doubt the long conversation between Akira and her friends during lunchtime. An interesting storyboard that showcases the difference between their demeanor made all the much better by thorough animation, first in restrained but lively fashion, and with cartoony fun at the end as the show’s buffoon arrives; this scene is easily the best example, but realism being ditched in favor of loose drawings is a constant whenever he appears, making it clear that he’s our amusing clown. This first episode has a handful of otherwise neat cuts, but truth to be told, the series isn’t all that impressive on a pure animation standpoint. What it lacks in sheer movement it makes up in acting details however, like Akira’s repressed glee. This is actually something that was introduced later on in the manga, but it seem like the anime wanted to immediately establish it as one of her gestures. These quirks go a long way.
─ Although most of the episode isn’t quite on the same level as the spectacular intro, partly because it set its own bar too high, Akira’s flashback also received fantastic treatment. Watanabe was smart in its lead-up by constantly framing her against the clear skies, slowly teasing the arrival of the rain that soaked her bittersweet memories. Storms and rainfall being used as a mood-setting mechanism is a trick as old as time, but the delicacy with which it’s woven into the tone of this series is a rare gift. The very precise moods evoked by both the downpour and the moments afterwards make the constant explicit references to the rain, which could have sounded silly on a less graceful show, feel entirely earned. Just one episode in, After the Rain proved that it deserved its title.
Key Animation: Yuka Koiso, Asako Inayoshi, Michihiko Ozawa, Hiroshi Kobayashi, Sachiko Matsumoto, Yuko Sera, Motoki Yagi, Mitsuaki Tobisawa, Eri Sano, Ayu Tanaka, Ai Miyazawa, Nobuyuki Mitani, Harumi Tsunoda, Asami Shimizu, Haruko Ichihara, Noriko Hatta
Hideyuki Arao, Akiyo Okuda, Yuko Yamamoto
─ This time around Watanabe split the storyboarding duties with fellow Shin-Ei Animation alumnus Hiroaki Shimura. Their work isn’t quite as potent as the first episode, though they keep nailing the tone and there are a few exceptional moments scattered about. They range from vulnerable intimacy as Akira recalls the manager touching her, to the amusing release of tension when he ridiculously misinterprets all her efforts to pretty up her feet. Despite aiming for a very particular mood, the show isn’t limited to a single register.
─ If we’re talking about highlight scenes however, number one has to go to Akira’s running sequence. Careful animation married with inspired direction, not missing the chance to set her dashing figure against the clear sky once more. I’ve noticed speculation that this sequence might have been penned by Dogakobo-linked star Nobuyuki Mitani, who’s returned to the industry after taking a break, but I’m not convinced that’s the case. What I do know for a fact though is that the interspliced cuts with Yoshizawa in the kitchen, that end up with him destroying about a million plates, were animated by digital artist Sachiko Matsumoto. I’d like to bring attention to her because she actually used to be the leader of the make-up animation crew, but this time around her role is a bit different. She was in charge of the visual design for the anime, proving the studio really trusts her sense, all while being promoted to key animator and regularly providing cuts to the series. I’ve been enjoying her work for a while, so increasing her responsibilities is only bound to get more praise out of me – which she seems to appreciate!
─ Since I brought up the make-up animators, I’d like to talk about something I skimmed through previously. When it comes to this show, it’s easy to separate their output in two groups. For starters there’s the light embellishments, mostly crayon-like lines and literal make-up, plus those deep eye shots that WIT has gotten all fans used to. And beyond that, we have the fully transformed special cuts; the sparkly moments that come with the genre are made into pseudo-watercolor shots that always feel very cozy. Both approaches are beautiful in their own way.
Key Animation: Masaaki Tanaka, Keita Nagahara, Akiyo Okuda, Saori Hosoda, Miyako Kamiya, Tomoki Uejo, Tatsuya Murakami, Yuko Yamamoto, Ayu Tanaka, Yoshihiro Maeda, Tomoyoshi Tsuchiya, Fujio Inose, Kotaro Okazaki, Emi Kojima, Kitadasu Ogawa, Shinya Yamada, Mai Ogawa, Yasuho Tamura, Erika Nishihara
Naohiro Ohsugi, Mayuko Kato
─ Leading up to the show I had focused my attention on series director Watanabe and character designer / chief animation director Yuka Shibata, which turned out to be a bit of mistake. It’s not as if they haven’t been performing admirably – I’ve been talking about Watanabe’s successes here, and Shibata’s art perfectly captures Akira’s gracefulness, but it’s someone else who came seemingly out of nowhere to steal the series. As a person who sort of professionally keeps track of anime creators I treasure these genuine positive surprises, so I’m delighted about the discovery of assistant series director Ayako Kouno. She’s an example of perseverance who has had to endure less rewarding tasks like production assistance for longer than you’d expect, but once a project like this has given her an actual chance, the results have started to speak for themselves. Since this post is already on the longer side, and proven people are interested, I wouldn’t mind writing an entry on our ongoing series Anime’s Future to detail her trials, the mentors who have helped her, and all those neat details we like to dig into. She’s honestly done very little as a director, but her contributions to this show have earned her that kind of analysis.
─ For those of you who aren’t concerned about Kouno’s career as a whole though, let me quickly sum up how special this episode is. Right off the bat the feminine charm that could be felt before goes off the charts, proving that it was her doing all along. The gorgeous intricate hair stands out in particular, adding to that aesthetic but also with more pragmatic uses like having Akira literally opening up. Though of course, it’s the rain that acts as the star again, in more impressive fashion than ever. A familiar sight brings a storm, one that’s trapped her in her unpleasant memories ever since her injury. Now that she’s with the manager though, the rain can’t reach Akira anymore, and the same care that was put into portraying her asphyxiating trauma is used to depict the hope that lies beyond. Given no context, no one would ever guess that this masterful episode is only her third full-length storyboard, and the second chance she’s had to have full control over an episode.
─ They hadn’t been much of a factor before, but it feels as if the backgrounds in the park scene decided to level up alongside every other element to make it as perfect as possible. Feasibility being the key there, since the episode also made it obvious that this production has clear limitations. Even some of the most striking moments can get awkwardly static, and despite the ambitious start and details scattered throughout, the show is at this point fairly stiff. Now an episode this strong can easily get away with it, but I can see that becoming an issue further down the line if we hit less inspired stretches of direction. There’s not much room to complain when it comes to an anime that has shattered everyone’s expectations like this, but the studio WIT curse may be inescapable after all. Again though, I don’t think any fan is going to be sad with this fantastic adaptation!