Burning Lust – The Birth of a Legend: Yoshimichi Kameda

With Mob Psycho 100 turning heads yet again this season I couldn’t help but reflect on the career and, consequently, the absurdly impressive body of work from one of this industry’s greatest stars: Yoshimichi Kameda. If you’ve watched any of the most popular shows from the last decade, such as One Punch Man or the aforementioned Mob Psycho, there’s a high chance that you are already familiar with Kameda’s animation on some level. He is easily recognized by his somewhat unique propensity to mix mediums, most notably utilizing something akin to a sumi-e ink brush to deliver thick, sketchy lines on top of his traditionally hand-drawn art. The effectiveness with which this technique translates to his animation is downright terrifying.

Kameda got One-Punch Man off to a dynamic start with his scene in the first episode that features seemingly effortless background animation, elevating the action to another level.

Where he may have gotten the inspiration for such an auteur “inky” style remains a mystery, perhaps a good question to ask if he ends up being interviewed someday! However, we do know where Kameda’s other main identifiable characteristic, being his limited timing, hails from. The king himself Yoshinori Kanada! There is no shortage of animators inspired by Kanada, as he created such a wave of influence on young artists throughout his career that the aftershocks are still being felt today long after his unfortunate passing. I encourage you to explore deeper on the revolutionary work of Yoshinori Kanada, but sadly that is something for a future blog post, as today the focus is on a coincidentally similarly named individual. That these two would come close to even sharing the same name is nothing short of divine poetry.

While there are many that have adopted or tried to replicate the aptly named “Kanada-style” there are also those that have evolved it further. Take Hiroyuki Imaishi for example- a derivative style that I don’t personally prefer, but it’s one that takes the principles of those Kanada-inspired low frame counts and exaggerated pose-to-pose drawings to the very extreme, sometimes even forgoing any logical cohesion in the process. Much like Imaishi, Kameda himself has deviated. However, the crucial aspect that sets Yoshimichi Kameda apart from the rest and makes him such an interesting case is, in my opinion, the brilliant way in which the two main ingredients of his animation harmoniously come together. His timing, ever so reliant on just a few key frames and poses, and his sketchy ink, serving to make those few frames explode onto the screen and immediately take hold the viewer’s eye.

It is hard to imagine anyone on this level could spring up out of nowhere, yet one of the more common sentiments I’ve noticed in my time studying and talking to production-oriented members of the community is that there’s this idea Kameda became excellent seemingly overnight. Although yes, there is certainly a landmark moment one can point towards (which we’ll get to soon); I would wager that Kameda was always good he had just yet to find the right situation for his skill set.

Starting his professional animation career in 2006 at AIC, a studio known for less than ideal or savory productions, it makes sense why he may have flown under the radar initially. Fortunately, true talent rarely goes unnoticed for long, especially when you have equally talented directors with an eye for potential such as Hiroshi Ikehata whom Kameda would become closest allies with early in his career. He would very soon start to regularly find his way onto sakuga-star filled episodes directed by Ikehata, such as Zettai Karen Children #37, Soul Eater #34, and then, of course, Fullmetal Alchemist.

With his work on ZKC #37, the makings of what Kameda would eventually become renowned for are clear. Applying his brushstrokes on close up drawings of the hair as it zooms past the camera, he establishes a near unparalleled sense of frenzied action pretty much through style alone. Though it is still a very solid scene, the feeling that everything just hasn’t fully clicked and all came together yet is there. Well, eventually, both Kameda and Ikehata would make their way onto Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, where the former would become the show’s main animator and the latter one of the strongest directors in the production rotation.

Kameda’s early FMAB work is varied. He introduces himself to the show with some short but nice cuts in the first opening, the fifth episode, the tragic phone booth scene in episode #10 (that doesn’t move most things as much as it does my tear ducts), and finally, some sweet Greed vs. Bradly action in #14. All these scenes feature his adopted timing and bits of interesting experimentation, but they’re missing an element that pushes them over the top. It wasn’t until episode #19 that Kameda actually went nuclear:

An emotional turning point in the story augmented by a tour de force of creative expression. This empty white room becomes the canvas on which Kameda paints Lust’s cremation. The detail found in each individual drawing is immense, to the point where nearly every frame is worthy of a screenshot, to say the least. It almost feels like Hiromu Arakawa drew her manga panels with the express purpose of having Yoshimichi Kameda later bring them to life.

He injects the scene with haunting impact frames, overflowing with style. Demonstrating an understanding of the situation, Kameda’s ghastly drawings are befitting considering we’re watching a creature being burned alive. In just about anyone else’s hands I don’t think this scene would carry nearly the same impact. Unsurprisingly, the impact frames aren’t the only anime original additions. By degrading her form, he depicts Lust as a demon withering in flames, battling against the continual barrage of explosions that spawn from Colonel Mustang’s satisfying snaps.

Although this blog post is mostly focused around animation, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the degree to which the chilling shrieks of Kikuko Inoue add to the drama as Lust’s flesh is seared from her body. On a similar wavelength, strong sound direction can be felt at 0:59s where music and dialogue dies, the crackling fire starts to dwindle, all the while luring the audience into letting their guard down.

The lull is broken as Lust explosively emerges from the pyre for a desperate final attack, with the abrupt change in intensity matched by the soundtrack picking up where it left off in time with her lunge. Kameda takes this opportunity to show off some extremely exaggerated drawings. Smears that are beyond chaotic in nature to speak to the lunacy Lust is experiencing. Moreover, his timing could not be more well suited for the situation, with the lower frame counts, a staple of his animation, lending itself perfectly to that wild, uncontrollable feeling as Lust throws every ounce of energy left in her body at the Colonel. Somewhat unrelated but, Mustang unflinchingly standing his ground in the face of death firmly cements his position among my favorite anime characters of all time.

From this moment forward Yoshimichi Kameda’s animation would become inextricably entwined with the fate of the series. Largely due to the quality of his work, but perhaps even more important to the legacy that he left, is the near inhuman speed he was able to produce cuts at. As a result of this machine-like efficiency, Kameda holds the title to most of the iconic moments Brotherhood featured, both because his touch made them so, but also he somehow found a way to be on all of them! As great as that is, the cherry on top is that he even got an opportunity to surpass himself by animating Envy’s demise much in the same way he did with Lust. His contributions are no small part the reason why Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is widely regarded as one of the best shonen anime adaptations of all time. Also Fullmetal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos deserves a quick shout out. Amidst a sea of boring and ‘safe’ shonen action movies made to sell easy tickets, Milos dares to be different and as is befitting of a movie featuring Kameda- it’s extremely unique! (Check it out if you haven’t already!)

Sacred Star of Milos’ character designs are a treat to behold!

FMA may have been his not-so-humble beginnings but as hard as this is to believe, it’s arguably far from even the highest points of his career! Kameda has since gone on to bless a number of series with his presence, One-Punch Man and his charming character design work on Mob Psycho immediately come to mind. For something a little more off the radar among western fan bases, Doraemon: Nobita’s Treasure Island is a wonderful movie overflowing with “Kameda-isms.” It genuinely appears like he corrected the entire movie to suit his style and it’s one very enjoyable experience as a result. Recently re-uniting with his long-time friend and ally, Yuzuru Tachikawa, they currently find themselves at the forefront of Mob Psycho 100 Season 2. I’m pleased to say as of writing this through six episodes, it’s on pace to become one of the most flavorful, polished, and creative adaptations of all time. Regardless of wherever he goes, it would seem success is to follow for Yoshimichi Kameda.