What if an overlooked action expert directed a thrilling episode, effortlessly switching between momentousness and hilarity? What if a generational animation talent invited his best peers to his Animation Direction (作画監督, sakuga kantoku): The artists supervising the quality and consistency of the animation itself. They might correct cuts that deviate from the designs too much if they see it fit, but their job is mostly to ensure the motion is up to par while not looking too rough. Plenty of specialized Animation Direction roles exist – mecha, effects, creatures, all focused in one particular recurring element. debut? What if that wasn’t hypothetical, but the latest episode of Tropical Rouge Precure?
As anyone who has been exposed to Toei’s properties for a long enough time can attest, the studio has become quite the fickle mistress. One Piece fans are currently enjoying the series’ golden age on television, basking in the care and thoughtfulness put into producing the Wano arc, but even that can’t completely wipe the memories of surviving off crumbs fallen from Izumi Todo’s table for quite a while. Many of their year-long titles in modern times, let alone longer-running franchises, have had uneven runs as resources get reshuffled around to enable the studio to produce a frankly incomprehensible amount of anime. Toei giveth and Toei taketh away.
In the grand scheme of things, Precure is in no position to complain. As essentially the one show of its kind on that scale, creators who want to work on action-heavy magical girl works for kids will happily prioritize it; we’ve got Toei-adjacent staff wishing to stay in the Precure room for all eternity, those who bounce around but turn things up a notch or two when they get to work on the series, and even freelancers with no link whatsoever to the studio who fought to fulfill their dream and worm their way into Precure. The commodification of the series into a capital F Franchise has made it more restrictive on a creative level, especially when it comes to its structure, but bold artists always find ways to subvert that, and the inherent potential of a sincere empowering concept shines through even with the obligation to sell plastic. The regular rise of brilliant directors trained in Precure, from Rie Matsumoto to Haruka Kamatani, proves that it fosters creativity more than it stifles it.
Speaking of Kamatani, certain dream sequences in this episode are very reminiscent of her work, which shows that directors that charismatic can influence even their seniors.
All that said, it’s no secret that Precure hasn’t been at peak performance for a bit. After the exceptional, daring Hugtto! Precure in 2018, things haven’t gone all that smoothly. Resources are spread too thin—which impacted even Hugtto in its mid to latter stages—due to unreasonable decisions like maintaining the schedule of two yearly films, with no easy shortcuts at this point in the theatrical series. The lineup of episode directors hasn’t been at its strongest, and neither has been the regular outside animation help, both key aspects in the greatest iterations of Precure. Mind you, this isn’t to say that recent seasons of Precure have been bad. Star Twinkle was a tremendous success in theming, with a simple but powerful message perfectly woven into the character writing, but more often than not it lacked the experienced staff to live up to its true potential. Meanwhile, Healin’ Good… well, it had an iconic opening directed by one of the protagonists of this piece. Not all of them can be winners.
What about this year’s Tropical Rouge Precure, then? Although the overall situation hasn’t really changed other than by adding an excellent and extremely involved animation designer in Yukiko Nakatani, meaning that the team still could do with more help, the series has been a blast thus far, living up to the premise of an energetic summer-themed Precure. So, what’s the trick?
Much of this is owed to Series Director: (監督, kantoku): The person in charge of the entire production, both as a creative decision-maker and final supervisor. They outrank the rest of the staff and ultimately have the last word. Series with different levels of directors do exist however – Chief Director, Assistant Director, Series Episode Director, all sorts of non-standard roles. The hierarchy in those instances is a case by case scenario. Yutaka Tsuchida: a figure that isn’t particularly well known among fans, but who has long since been considered the greatest madman by his peers, a genius when it comes to dishing out absurd comedy. His natural feel for silly humor isn’t at odds with compelling writer either, as proven by his decision to turn Laura from the nice and polite mermaid she was meant to be into the haughty tyrant everyone has come to love; a turn that makes every character dynamic a whole lot more fun, while also creating space for the character arc that she’s been going through since the start, improving as a person without fully getting rid of who she is. Of course, it helps that by his side is writer Masahiro Yokotani, best known for his latenight hits but whose affinity for wacky humor is turning out to be the perfect fuel for Tsuchida’s amusing scenarios.
Put all these elements together, and you get a series that is always enjoyable to tune in for, often very funny, but lacks that wow factor for its big developments. Given the strong fundamentals and compelling character dynamics, its issues have hardly worried me—especially after hearing the whispers about an episode that would inevitably address those shortcomings, while hopefully maintaining everything that the show already did right.
The protagonists of Tropical Rouge Precure #29 are well known to any avid readers of this website. Director Yuta Tanaka has been a fan-favorite for the better part of a decade, as he quickly gained the trust of his peers and started delivering stunning episodes left and right. While he might not be the single most brilliant director to have ever matured in this franchise, having succeeded truly transcendent creators like the aforementioned Matsumoto, Tanaka is by all means the best Precure director; the one who holds the series most dearly and can maximize its traditional strengths like no one else. His stoic compositions give a sense of gravitas to the narrative and he’ll never hold back an emotional punch, but especially now that he’s a dad himself, Tanaka is mindful of making something that will entertain the young target audience in an immediate sense—which is to say, wacky humor that matches Tsuchida’s sense perfectly, as well as intricate action that’s nonetheless easy to read and well-paced.
Having matured in an environment where resources fluctuate this much, Tanaka is also a director who’s proven to be mindful of what he’s working with. Traditionally, his peaks have coincided with the presence of animators like Nishiki Itaoka, the ace who earned himself the title Mr. Precure among his coworkers. For one, Itaoka’s penchant for animating constantly flowing action feeds directly into Tanaka’s vision of seamless, sometimes single cut action, even in situations where the director himself thought he was asking for too much. A defining trait of his action is how layered it is, giving depth to every battleground and having multiple things occurring at different points in the Z axis—an absolute nightmare to handle without the speed and skill Itaoka provides. On top of that, the latter’s sturdy character art and ability to handle complex Layouts (レイアウト): The drawings where animation is actually born; they expand the usually simple visual ideas from the storyboard into the actual skeleton of animation, detailing both the work of the key animator and the background artists. has always been a great enabler for Tanaka’s ambition, leading to some of the most iconic moments in Precure history.
Now, Itaoka isn’t the only ally that Tanaka has had, or even necessarily the best one. In the production of his first—and so far only—TV series, he built a great symbiotic relationship with aces Shingo Fujii and Kazuhiro Ota, which changed how the three of them approach space and spectacle in action animation. Since neither of the two were available this time around, though, who was it that not only convinced Tanaka that it was alright to go all out, but even convinced him to push things further than ever before? The answer is another fan favorite and recurring subject matter on this site: Keisuke Mori, which is to say the one and only soty.
Three years ago and precisely coinciding with another episode director and storyboarded by Tanaka, we published an article highlighting soty as one of the brightest up-and-coming creators in anime. His current standing as a widely beloved young star isn’t something we get to be smug about now, as his skill and potential were self-evident back then already, but it’s worth noting that he’s lived up to those expectations and then some.
Soty’s fundamentals haven’t changed: at his core, he’s still an heir to Yuki Hayashi’s lively style, with its misleadingly efficient theatrics that imbue any scene with amusing charisma, all while populating attractive Layouts (レイアウト): The drawings where animation is actually born; they expand the usually simple visual ideas from the storyboard into the actual skeleton of animation, detailing both the work of the key animator and the background artists. with a lived-in feels that is reminiscent of 90s animation. The same applies to his more personal quirks, like the slender and easily malleable limbs that have continued to be an easy tell for his drawings. If there’s one aspect where he has made a major jump since then, that’s got to be his own range, which now allows soty to handle any type of scene as if he had been focusing on that for all his life. Toshiyuki Inoue famously earned himself the moniker of the perfect animator as directors of Mamoru Oshii’s caliber found no openings in his repertoire, and while these are big words, I wouldn’t be surprised if soty was eventually considered of similar standing. He is, no matter how you look at it, a generational talent.
And do you know what attracts skilled animators to an episode, even more so than the presence of a generational talent? That would be a generational talent making their Animation Direction (作画監督, sakuga kantoku): The artists supervising the quality and consistency of the animation itself. They might correct cuts that deviate from the designs too much if they see it fit, but their job is mostly to ensure the motion is up to par while not looking too rough. Plenty of specialized Animation Direction roles exist – mecha, effects, creatures, all focused in one particular recurring element. debut, which officially turned Tropical Rouge Precure #29 into a party for Toei-adjacent animators as well as freelance aces who’d otherwise never work on this series.
Right off the bat, even viewers who weren’t privy to the behind scenes happenings could tell that this episode wasn’t an ordinary one. Tanaka’s delivery gives everything an increased sense of gravitas, and under soty’s supervision, even simple sequences have a delightful natural feeling to them; this doesn’t necessarily translate to natural posing—though there’s that too—but rather the illusion that all the drawings are effortless and organic.
After Tanaka flexes his ability to transport viewers to a different world with a breathtaking, lengthy dream sequence, it’s time for the action to kick in and begin showing what this team is capable of. The first major setpiece was mostly animated by Shunsuke Okubo, a contemporary of soty who’s understandably very compatible with him. While it’s merely a taste of what’s to come, it already embodies Tanaka’s vision of a spacious threedimensional battlefield where all the events are carefully threaded together, be it the teamwork-heavy fight or the fact that the protagonist gets launched into orbit to give both the audience and her a better understanding of what’s going on. Coupled with Okubo’s fondness of secondary animation and well-placed comedic relief, it serves as a good example of what makes Tanaka’s episodes so fun and thrilling to watch.
The following standout scene exemplifies not just the quality of the people involved, but also how well constructed the episode is. Protagonist Manatsu had told the team’s seal mascot Kururun, whose role is to say Kururun, to keep its marine mammal ass put to avoid being discovered by classmates at the start of the episode… without keeping in mind that the monsters of the week might storm the room hours later, with a still frozen faithful mascot sitting in there. The hilarious ensuing scene was animated by the aforementioned Itaoka, who put his ability to animate uninterrupted action even with the burden of hand-drawn backgrounds to a different use than usual. On top of being a funny animation flex, it’s also a very concise example of Tanaka’s grasp on pacing, with a perfectly timed pause mid-cut to allow people to relish the moment and anticipate the next action… or just enjoy the absurdity of this situation, in this case. For a director as fond of continuous action, awareness of the need for respite is a very important skill to have.
The episode follows that same pattern of exciting action in crescendo punctuated by brief moments of levity. In more specific terms, we have scenes like Koudai “Hanabushi” Watanabe’s explosive return to Toei to help his pupil Soty after having become an indie darling in recent times, followed by a fake-out in which an approaching enemy turns out to be a mascot—something they find out after citrically tasing it. Following that, Yuu Yoshiyama’s emphatic oldschool-flavored animation of a dashing rescue quickly leads to the protagonist emerging fully recovered as if she were a classic tokusatsu hero. Humor placed and executed with surgical precision, in between what can only be described as cool as hell.
Tanaka’s action keeps escalating until the grand finale, where soty takes turns with arguably the best action stars he had at his disposal in Itsuki Tsuchigami and Nakaya Onsen to take things up another notch. Tanaka’s fondness of seamless action was already obvious before, but it’s when he pushes for it on such a grand scale that you realize exactly how good of an action storyboarder he really is. He’ll come up with outrageous but internally consistent tricks like making a character jump on someone else’s energy shield—classic Tanaka move—to keep the combo going, and even when transitions are mandatory, the visual inertia is preserved without sacrificing readability.
One of the enabling factors for this spectacle is Tanaka’s attitude towards stock footage. Although he’s not as extreme as his senior Tatsuya Nagamine, who will push for unique animation in favor of stock footage whenever possible, Tanaka is well aware of the tremendous power of seeing recurring techniques playing out in different, better-integrated fashion. You can see glimpses of that in this episode, but I believe that the different maker came in the integration of the stock footage that he did use. Be it smoothly transitioning into the tool that will get used during the stock sequence, or animating a pseudo-stock shot to serve as a natural bridge—and then maintaining the silly pose afterward—these sequences don’t take you out of the experience quite as much, maintaining the crazy inertia of Tanaka’s work. Amusingly enough, a new piece of stock footage made its debut in this episode, as if to make his job harder. Not enough to get on Tanaka’s way, I’m afraid!
What about the animation itself for the grand climax, though? Above any technical achievement, which there are many to highlight, the biggest takeaway is soty’s uncanny feel for animation, which makes it quite hard to remember that this was the first episode ever where he was put in charge of supervising everyone’s animation. We’ve seen artists who participated in the episode express their gratitude to soty for elevating their animation, as well as others thanking him for his decision to leave their idiosyncratic animation essentially untouched. Soty oversaw an animation process where loose drawings can trade blows with Onsen’s stunning volumetry at the cost of traditional fluidity, without anything feeling out of place. At the same time, his organic touch feels like it’s right about everywhere, making all drawings come across as natural as possible. Omnipresent yet intangible in spots—maybe the Sakuga (作画): Technically drawing pictures but more specifically animation. Western fans have long since appropriated the word to refer to instances of particularly good animation, in the same way that a subset of Japanese fans do. Pretty integral to our sites' brand. cultists had a point and soty really is god.
Storyboard (絵コンテ, ekonte): The blueprints of animation. A series of usually simple drawings serving as anime's visual script, drawn on special sheets with fields for the animation cut number, notes for the staff and the matching lines of dialogue. More, Episode Direction (演出, enshutsu): A creative but also coordinative task, as it entails supervising the many departments and artists involved in the production of an episode – approving animation layouts alongside the Animation Director, overseeing the work of the photography team, the art department, CG staff... The role also exists in movies, refering to the individuals similarly in charge of segments of the film.: Yuta Tanaka
Animation Direction (作画監督, sakuga kantoku): The artists supervising the quality and consistency of the animation itself. They might correct cuts that deviate from the designs too much if they see it fit, but their job is mostly to ensure the motion is up to par while not looking too rough. Plenty of specialized Animation Direction roles exist – mecha, effects, creatures, all focused in one particular recurring element.: Keisuke Mori
Key Animation (原画, genga): These artists draw the pivotal moments within the animation, basically defining the motion without actually completing the cut. The anime industry is known for allowing these individual artists lots of room to express their own style.: Keisuke Mori, Shunsuke Okubo, Shinnosuke Tanaka, Kiki Hieda, Yukihiro Urata, Nishiki Itaoka, Yuu Yoshiyama, Yuichi Karasawa, Tooru Takano, Hiroshi Tatezaki, Keisuke Katayama, Takahiro Toyomasu, Kiku Iwahori, Reika Hoshino, Hanabushi (Kodai Watanabe), Itsuki Tsuchigami, Moaang, Nakaya Onsen
Hanao Iida, Chika Tomaru, Shin Kakushima, Liu Zhi Guang, Noriyuki Hirota, Setsuko Harada, Sanae Yamamoto, Mayu Saito, Kotomi Motono, Seiji Kuboyama, Toshiki Kouno, Yui Osone, Chihiro Hayashi, Taki Hayashida, Mina Nishikido, Sara Kugita, Yuma Yabe, Kaori Komai, Kaori Yamamoto, Denise Destri Bacic
Studio Lings, Snow Light Staff, Hyblid Labo, Studio GIGA, Asahi Production, White Fox Izukogen Studio
Stock Footage Key Animation (原画, genga): These artists draw the pivotal moments within the animation, basically defining the motion without actually completing the cut. The anime industry is known for allowing these individual artists lots of room to express their own style.: Hiromi Ishigami, Hitomi Matsuura, Naotoshi Shida, Yukiko Ueda
Support us on Patreon to help us reach our new goal to sustain the animation archive at Sakugabooru, Sakuga (作画): Technically drawing pictures but more specifically animation. Western fans have long since appropriated the word to refer to instances of particularly good animation, in the same way that a subset of Japanese fans do. Pretty integral to our sites' brand. Video on Youtube, as well as this Sakuga (作画): Technically drawing pictures but more specifically animation. Western fans have long since appropriated the word to refer to instances of particularly good animation, in the same way that a subset of Japanese fans do. Pretty integral to our sites' brand. Blog. Thanks to everyone who’s helped out so far!