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.

Winter 2019 Anime Season Preview

Mob Psycho 100 Season 2

Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa

Character Designer: Yoshimichi Kameda

After months of anticipation, it is FINALLY here. You can bet anyone with even the slightest intrigue for creative expression through the medium of animation will be tuning in for this one. Even beyond the insane visuals there is a lot to like about what Mob Psycho 100 will be bringing to the table. Whether it be Reigen’s wacky antics, Mob’s tragically stoic disposition or Dimple’s hilarious desire to take over the world despite sorely lacking the means to do so (I’m sure we’ve all been there and can relate?). Whatever the reason, it will gather quite the crowd and boy are we in for a treat as it is more than fair to presume this season’s production will be able to top the very high bar that was set for the first one! Not only does it have one of the healthiest schedules for a TV anime this decade, but all the familiar insanely talented staff that made season 1 so great are returning (plus newcomers) to take full advantage of it! Does more Yoshimichi Kameda sound good to you? He’s now also credited with Chief Animation Supervisor so expect to see him correct much more frequently than he did for the first season. Yuzuru Tachikawa has really blossomed into a powerhouse director and we are about to lay witness to his Magnum Opus. Go and keep an especially turned eye towards episode 5 which has people foaming at the mouth literal months before it airs! All told everything about this project seems too good to be true but fortunately for animation fans everywhere Mob is very, very real.

The Promised Neverland

Director: Mamoru Kanbe

Character Designer: Kazuaki Shimada

Out of all the biggest titles releasing in Weekly Shonen Jump right now The Promised Neverland was without a doubt one of the most anticipated for its eventual anime adaptation. The much beloved manga is one drenched in tantalizing horror and nail-biting anticipation around every turn of the page. The off-beat story progression coupled with Demizu Potsuka’s whimsical and fantastical art makes it one of the more unique offerings among a catalog of familiar battle shonen. With that in mind fans are within their right to be concerned given the propensity for Jump adaptations to feel creatively restrained. Moreover, capturing the enchanting setting of Neverland and transferring it into (likely) 12 episodes worth of animation is, for all intents and purposes, impossible.

Of course the reality of that fact stings a bit, but I think it’s important to stress they shouldn’t be trying to copy Potsuka exactly because these are different artists after all! You can still achieve the same result despite taking a different route to get there. By that I mean character designer Kazuaki Shimada did a good job capturing the youthful exuberance of Emma and the gang by channeling those round ‘moe’ faces that fans of Yama no Susume should be very familiar with. Likewise, Mamoru Kanbe (Sora no Woto, The Perfect Insider) is one heck of a creative director capable of creating his own setting that, while potentially different from the manga, can still serve the same effective end. Standing tall in his way however, will be background studio Atelier Musa. These are the same boring backgrounds that have plagued My Hero Academia for so long. It’s much more forgivable in an action driven shonen where the setting is not integral to establishing narrative focus. Here for Neverland however, it is poised to be its undoing. If you can manage to look past the sterile, uninspired background art, everything else is set up to succeed and I hope it does for the sake of this wonderful story.

Boogiepop Phantom

Director: Shingo Natsume

Character Designer: Hidehiko Sawada

This is going to be one I will check out purely on the pedigree of esteemed director Shingo Natsume (One Punch Man, ACCA:13) as I am very unfamiliar with the source material. Animation producer Yuichiro Fukushi more than has his work cut out for him trying to compete with Mob Psycho 100 in the arms race that is recruiting talented animators for the cause. Lucky for him Mob is far enough ahead of schedule that there will definitely be room for overlap, (we already know Katsuya Shigehara is handling the 2nd episode of BOTH series) just how much though we will have to wait and see. Though, it’s not just Mob standing in the way, 2019 is loaded with compelling anime projects that will demand talented creators, take Gosei Oda for example. Oda was Natsume’s most trusted supervisor on ACCA:13 and was recently named to Character Design duties elsewhere so suffice to say he might have a smaller role this time around if he even shows up at all. Instead most of the heavy lifting should and will fall on Hidehiko Sawada making his debut as a character designer. As much as I personally love his animation it pains me to say his designs leave a lot to be desired. Not to sound too negative because I want it to be good, but Boogiepop Phantom really seems to have red flags everywhere! It will be interesting to see if Natsume can overcome these challenges, he is one worthy of the benefit of the doubt nonetheless.

Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan

Director: several!

Character Designer: several!

It’s been 5 years since Space Dandy gave us an anime creator anthology, showcasing the industries biggest names while bouncing between wildly idiosyncratic styles on a per episode basis. What we have here in Ekoda-chan might be something at the very least just as horny as Dandy was, but perhaps even more distinctive in style! Not only will there be a different legendary director for each episode but entirely different character designers, voice actors, and animation studios! I’m not exaggerating with the ‘legendary’ descriptor either, some of the biggest names include: Osamu Kobayashi (BECK, largely recognized for issuing and fostering the web-gen movement), Koji Morimoto (Magnetic Rose, Dimension Bomb), Ryosuke Takahashi (Votoms, Flag) Masayuki Kojima (Made in Abyss, Monster, Black Bullet) and more! I can’t speak towards the source material they will be adapting as I really have no idea what to expect from the given synopsis other than it seems guaranteed to be a wild ride! Without a doubt one of the most unique offerings this season and one I’ll be paying close attention to for sure.

Dororo (2019)

Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi

Character Designer: Satoshi Iwataki

Osamu Tezuka source material has always had this celestial aura of importance surrounding it given his fame through the unending contributions he’s made to the growth of the manga industry. It quite literally would not be where it is today without him, and his stories have spawned numerous iconic anime. One such that is perhaps less known is his historical samurai manga, Dororo, adapted into a 26 episode anime by Mushi Production back in 1969. Here we are exactly one half century later and a reboot will be helmed by a personal favorite director of mine in Kazuhiro Furuhashi (Ruroni Kenshin, HxH 1999, Gundam Unicorn).

Furuhashi as a director has often found himself burdened with some less than ideal Studio Deen staff at his disposal. His shows usually manage to have some flavor despite that but as with any director they’re at their best when the animators and directors surrounding them are also firing on all cylinders. Look no further than his output on Gundam Unicorn, story boarding most of the series himself it is his best work to date in my opinion. The obscurity of the franchise among non-robot lovers means that he’s sadly still best known for Ruroni Kenshin but he’s come a tremendous way since then and it should not be used as the primary calling card for his work. With that slight tangent aside, will the joint production of studio MAPPA and Tezuka Productions be enough for Dororo to reach it’s fullest potential? Probably not, as MAPPA is swamped with other projects at the moment and they have never really shown strong or healthy scheduling abilities. That being said, freelance talent should be there for the biggest moments, and looking at the PV there is quite a bit to like so far. I’m hopeful it will be solid enough to have some memorable highlights, but given the state of most productions these days do keep your expectations in relative check.

Key visual for the new series, Dororo, likely drawn by Satoshi Iwataki.

Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru cour 2

Director: Kazuya Nomura

Character Designer: Takahiro Chiba

It goes to show you how unstable TV anime can be when even the normally fortuitous Production I.G. teams that brought you remarkable seasons of Haikyuu and Welcome to the Ballroom need a month’s worth of episodes off to catch their breath. Though you wouldn’t be able to tell the production was struggling by looking at the finished product so far. Professionals as always, the staff have given their all to keep this ambitious project running at full sprint. Leading the way has been ace of the show Takashi Mukouda– credited with key animation on eight of the eleven episodes so far as well as working on the opening! Here’s hoping the much needed break gives them a chance to get comfortably ahead as it’s been a very endearing series so far.

Some honorable mentions that are worth talking a bit about include a couple of films, Youjo Senki/The Saga of Tanya the Evil and Osomatsu-san the movie. Tanya is both a character and an anime that grew on me over time, so this sequel is very much appreciated and should feature most of the same staff that made the TV series a fairly strong production. Also I have to mention, the prospect of Shinichi Kurita doing animation on a healthy movie schedule has me counting down the days…

It’s been almost 4 years since Studio Pierrot produced their last film, and as much as the Naruto fan in me loves the Boruto movie it downright murdered all their concurrently produced anime series at the time. Here with Osomatsu-san we’re seeing something similar, but maybe not to as severe a degree as Kenichi Fujisawa and Hiroyuki Yamashtia have been absent for quite some time, perhaps holding big roles on the film. Osomatsu is a rather obscure property in the west, with the original 1966 series being long forgotten meaning it’s revival three years ago simply had no flame to rekindle. The same cannot be said for it’s popularity in Japan and just how much Pierrot is investing in this property should tell you how important it is to them. While a lot of the humor the show attempts might not reach me, every now and I’ll end up on the floor laughing for the stupidest reasons and for that I am grateful.

Overall this has the potential to be one of the strongest seasons of anime in recent memory, perhaps all time. An even scarier thought is that Mob Psycho 100 S2 alone would have been enough to warrant that claim…

Black Clover #63

Storyboard/Director: Tatsuya Yoshihara

Chief Animation Supervisors: Itsuko Takeda, Shiro Shibata

Animation Supervisors: Eri Irei, Toshiya Kawano, Makoto Shimojima, Satoru Shiraishi, Aya Takafuji, Mayumi Nakamura, Azure, Tatsuya Yoshihara

Key Animators: Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi, Toru Iwazawa, kai, kasen, Shota Sannomiya, Tarou Tanaka, nakari, Shoutarou Denhanein, meshiya, yama (Yuuki Yamashita), Gem, Pebble, Moaang, Isuta, ebakask (Yuzu Kusakabe), Kosuke Kato (pen-name), Yusuke Kawakami, Kai Shibata, Kai Ikarashi (pen-name), Hayato Nishimaki, Tatsuya Miki, Tatsuya Yoshihara, gosso.blend, Till, mol, Shun Enokido (NC), (+ likely others NC), Jiwoo Animation

     They say history repeats itself but who could’ve thought that almost exactly one year to the day that Fate/Apocrypha #22 delivered an industry defining spectacle we would be treated to something of similar ilk, perhaps with even more controversy, from the unsuspected Black Clover! There is not a series director in the business more deserving of such an epic moment of triumph than Tatsuya Yoshihara. I will spare you all the gory details of Black Clover’s miserable production but know that it was doomed from the very start. Inheriting the already bleak husk of Twin Star Exorcists’ staff a mere 5 months after it ended surely did not help the pre-production. Furthermore, losing relied upon outsourcing studios Amo and drop to bankruptcy, as well as a production desk manager (person in charge of keeping the schedule in order) that either got fired or quit after two cours.  It is fair to say Yoshihara likely took up this role in the meantime (uncredited) whist regularly serving as his own animation producer. He has always been a digital animation captain that like-minded youngsters tended to rally around, so in a way he was a perfect fit for this job seeing as his connections could land him the staff that Pierrot was not supplying from within simply due to being already depleted on so many other projects. Speaking of those connections and getting back to the main topic at hand, they were very much put to work here with a large bulk of the animation staff scouted from twitter. Be it professionals, students, aspiring animators, Nintendo flip-note artists, or whatever brilliance this is, it can be marketed as a truly global animation event much like it’s contemporary Boruto #65. However, where Boruto combined veterans and new comers for a more traditional take, this one takes the idea of wild young guns to a whole new level through the use of some experimental tools!

     Animation has always been propelled by a force where innate drawing talent is prioritized over rigorous schooling and that mentality has only increased over the years. We’re at the point where this age of digital sakuga has created an environment wherein literally anything is possible. And that is exactly what we see in this divisive episode. Any sort of coherence to the norm is defiantly tossed aside as this younger generation of artists carve their names into the annals of animation history. What struck me most, and should be abundantly obvious to most viewers is the integration of Blender, a 3D computer graphic software, introduced to the industry by none other than the leader in innovation: Ryosuke “Ryo-timo” Sawa. As shiny new techniques are oft to do it has become a tool that younger generation animators such as the star of this episode (and the whole series in general) Yusuke Kawakami picked up and experimented with to great results, adding huge dynamism to his work in Black Clover #35 for example! Here in #63 he takes it to another level. This is pure animation kineticsm augmented by the 3D environment Asta and Ladros are racing through. Very reminiscent of another iconic yet controversial high-speed chase scene, minus the Blender tool of course.  If you need any more proof of how much freedom they had look no further than the way the lava tsunami was rendered. Never before seen levels of experimentation and I think it mostly works in the context of this particularly wild scene. 

     There is an even bigger elephant in the room though- and it’s fitting I should call it that because this 69 second long, uninterrupted cut by Shota Goshozono is MASSIVE. This has already been met with a ton of animosity and it will be one of the reasons this episode will be revisited in conversations for a long time. I think it is fair to dislike it in all honesty, as it is plainly put, unfinished work. Despite the healthy schedule for this particular episode it simply was a case of being far too ambitious for it’s own good. But that ambition is something that needs to be celebrated rather than scoffed at! This was the perfect situation to try something off the board- quite literally as Goshozono and Kawakami story boarded their own sequences. The drive and passion to shake things up  shines through in practically every facet of this 20 minute long sakuga festival. I find it tragically ironic that Black Clover as a series receives so much criticism for boring visuals and being one recycled shonen trope after another, yet when it dares to be different and push the medium forward as we see here, it’s met by the masses with contempt at best and disgust at worst…

     The Blender shenanigans were far from the only highlights however. It is impossible to not be invoked by a deep sense of intrigue as newcomer Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi utilizes paint to portray Asta being overwhelmed by the demon energy. Such a raw scene and yet the warmest moment comes when we learned his mom helped him color it! Never has something so terrifying been so wholesome. 

     Sticking with the red and black theme, Asta’s plunge into the abyss was handled by the series’ regular savior Isuta. Very powerful imagery as our hero reaches for the light but is unable to grasp it– the loose drawings sustain the feeling of Asta slipping away. Isuta has been a godsend to this production from the start, often working ridiculous hours correcting the mountains of outsourced animation that comes in. To be able to see him dedicate some time to a truly memorable scene is huge treat for fans, as his work is often held back by the harsh scheduling realities.

     This episode also had a number of animators working either uncredited or under suspiciously meme-filled pseudonyms. One such individual threw Black Clover fans into a frenzy when the next episode preview a week prior to #63 teased a hyper-limited Kanada dragon, prompting all kinds of guesses and speculations as to who this mystery person could be. As it turns out, often the most obvious guess is the correct one! Kai Ikarashi whom many might be familiar with if they followed SSSS.Gridman this season found the time after that production wrapped up to contribute a marvelous scene that manages to stand completely on it’s own. He has rapidly become one of the most interesting creators the industry has to offer at the moment so it will be very cool to see where his career takes him next.

     One of the more underrated parts of the episode (perhaps because everyone is too busy staring at that beefy Asta!) is the way Gem managed to morph these crows. By her own admission she said this scene was a pain to animate and it really shows, such meticulous detail in the way they converge! Very worthy of praise from a legend like Mitsuo Iso.

     There are endless scenes I could continue to call attention to, from the way Kosuke Kato combines his evocative limited style with large sweeping smears, to the wobbly greatness in the first cut found here by Till. Dare I say Toru Iwazawa’s epic scene almost looks conventional with how erratic the rest of the episode is. No less great of course, there are some phenomenal Asta drawings and the movement in the sky battle is simply incredible. Finally, a literal blood bath– the camera panning is outstanding and sells the confused look on Vanessa’s face perfectly. 

     Black Clover #63 more than accomplished what it set out to do. It injected tremendous life into a production begging for mercy and managed to capture the frenzied state of Asta’s demon form perfectly. All while pushing the limits of new experimental techniques that, while not as polished as it could be, show a clear intention to drive innovation forward. This trend of creative young animators joining from all over the globe to collaborate on TV projects is starting to become an exciting recurring theme and as someone that has been through the highs and lows of every episode of Black Clover so far, I’m glad this series could be graced with their presence.