there are a lot of ways to evaluate yoshiji kigami’s influence, probably far more than I am capable of examining or even gesturing at broadly. he’s pretty often cited as one of the key animators on akira. plainly, he’s a master of character acting, dynamic background movement, and smoke effects. he also loves sick spins and twirls. we should all love sick spins.

it isn’t much of an embellishment to say that kigami joining kyoto animation, already an industry veteran by the 90s, helped establish the standards for knowledge transfer at the studio that have flowered it with in-house talent. by now it is pretty well known that kyoani is a place that doesn’t, broadly, work their talent to death, and it’s one of the places you can still say legitimately takes training seriously. when you watch maid dragon and experience the way trainees stepped up after kigami and takemoto passed, or appreciate the matured audio production pipelines that have come to fruition now with tsurune, it is a little overwhelming to think about how valuable and durable that continuity has been for a studio that has otherwise experienced such dramatic upheaval.

sakuga enthusiasts sometimes absorb criticism for reducing animation to its mechanical components, or divorcing a flashy cut from its whole, but I also think it is a specific focus that has done some of the best work at incorporating this context into broader explorations of creatives and the conditions they work under that would otherwise be unattended to. this has been especially true in recent years as more formal fixtures like the sakugablog crew (not a cartel) have brought spotlight to the way animators have been squeezed by now notorious studios and unsustainable expectations. strong voices even earlier like raito also did much to break down the naive simplification that studios created as monoliths. animetudes credits these emerging names as allowing for critical reevaluation of kyoani’s work, whereas the haunts on older hangouts like anipages largely had trouble disconnecting the studio’s proficiency from their “moe blob” style. frankly, I’m probably only as qualified to spread quotes from web interviews and compilation MADs with small dashes of trivia. the point to remember, though, is that an appreciation of the labor backing a flashy scene is as much a needed component of good analysis as is the mise-en-scene. a compromised work in this respect may ultimately be enjoyable anyway, but awareness of the environment and heritage for how animation gets made can only allow for a more nuanced critique that is able to reflect deeper than its own consumption. a legendary scene, contextualized to its external circumstances and labor, is a window to a greater understanding.

camera spins are pretty clearly a kigami signature, knowing the wild perspectives we’ve seen him toy with, and it’s probably a trait that he inherted from fukutomi. what’s interesting to me is that even as he’s closely coupled with it, it’s probably rubbed off on ishihara more than anyone else when he directs OPs. exact details of attribution are usually hard to come by, not only because the trivia here can be scattered in interviews or in blogs, but especially for kigami because he chooses to work under two pen names and a lot of the time uncredited altogether. this sort of obfuscation is more than common, and it highlights why it’s important for these credits to be dymistifed not only for database categorization, but also so that they can become more useful references. we know he established tamako as a convincing dojikko. he almost certainly boarded some of the zanier moments that have made nichijou most famous through venues like youtube. we are lucky to have the boards that prove he worked on one of eupho’s best moments too. it speaks to a certain humility that he often slipped back into these KA roles, or remained uncredited altogether as a director, rather than walk a red carpet of name recognition that he could have easily seized for greater fame. instead, he preferred to review the components of his own work so that he could coach the new generations that looked over his shoulder. ishidate, one of his proteges, remarked too that kigami was never satisfied with complacency, even wondering if there was somehow a better way he could hold his pencil when drawing. this has always felt like a studio mindful of self-improvement, and anecdotes like this offer the sort of clarity to me that reinforce how that attitude has permeated so deeply into its ethos for creation. umaku naritai. umaku naritai!

one of my favorite spin cuts, this rotating group shot in k-on’s S2 opening, was indeed boarded by ishihara, though it was only revealed to me more recently through a kindly transcribed audio commentary that each of the girls was drawn independently by one animator with sakamoto providing the initial 3DCG guide. kigami’s sweat still seems present here with that tell, and I wouldn’t doubt it given how often his name seems to get invoked by others and how closesly he rubbed shoulders with ishihara. wonky beginnings aside, it’s unfortunate that 3DCG has been so maligned when even one of the studios renowned for being one of the best in the medium have made some of the strongest uses of the tooling for backgrounds, kimagi especially. that is of course owed majorly to a surgical restraint and an internal CG team that has been able to closely coordinate with familiar staff, but highlighting these examples is tremendously useful for reorienting some of the long held assumptions people may have about its capabilities or appropriate use. look at how studios like sanzigen and orange have matured over the last decade, after all. sanzigen shouldn’t have needed active defending when they integrated CG so seamlessly with imaishi’s vision for PSG, yet people posting the clip of rinku slurping spaghetti have probably done more than anything else to rehabilitate the studio’s vision for character animation. for too many, they are still only the folks responsible for arpeggio. these studios have shown serious growth in that time, hiring in-house to the tune of hundreds1, and we are really only beginning to see the long game pay off for them as the tech is better understood and better massaged with 2D elements.

there’s not necessarily a concluding point here, or I guess anything to call this more than a haphazard collection of thoughts. it is tragic that giants like this were stolen from their passion, and that somehow has made them even more enigmatic to look back on, knowing there is still more to discover about them that I’ll have to focus tighter to see, even as their output is now fixed. kyoani especially invites storied analysis of its talent, and maybe the least surprising thing about their aura is how easy it has been for fans to rally around them. it’s been encouraging to see that sort of attention spread widely to even more creatives across the industry, even if we should acknowledge that kyoani is a unique behemoth. I’m probably the only one that’s going to part on their praise with the atemon game MAD, though. this is the pure, raw strength of a kigami base: a pillow fight exhibiting excellent follow through and inertia, backed by punchy quotables. one more loop should be enough, just to pick my brain a little longer.

  1. having 50 or more KA credited on one episode would normally be something I’d qualify as a mark of outsourcing shame, but every episode of D4DJ is this way. 3DCG being possible to do right, either on budgets of money or time, is not something that I think has been entirely digested by audiences acclimated to seeing it used primarily for long shots of vehicles and mobs