Winter Production Recap #1: Haikyuu!! To The Top and Sachiko Fukuda

I was highly skeptical of the circumstances surrounding Haikyuu!! production and while I can’t deny I miss the constant excellence of the previous seasons, this season still managed to exceed my expectations. The show fully kept its charm, due in no small part to the lovable cast which many would argue is Haikyuu!!‘s strongest asset! When it comes to the production however, this season held up pretty well, mainly thanks to the biggest highlights being handled by a small pool of remarkable individuals.

Since I’m not talking about him later, let me briefly mention action animation director Hideki Takahashi who animated most of the second OVA. His presence wasn’t really felt on this season but he did a pretty great job on that OVA and it probably helped the team focus on the TV series.

Takashi Mukouda, coming straight after his incredible output on Kazetsuyo, blessed the show with a few amazing scenes. His layouts and the way he bends the designs and simplify anatomy are as mind blowing as ever, if not more!
Rising star Yuki Sato also contributed on two episodes while still being tied to Fire Force. Her participation might seem a bit random, that is until you know she’s a big fan of the franchise (like any sane human being). Either way, she showed how versatile she is as an animator by handling tricky cuts with multiple characters on screen and also this incredibly powerful spike. Another artist I would like to briefly mention is Kana Ito. I’ll spare you an introduction –since Geth made a post singing praise for her– and say her only contribution turned heads by how powerful and expressive it was.

There aren’t many animators who can amaze the viewers with one second, yet Ito did it relatively easily.

And last but not least: Sachiko Fukuda! Fukuda is a Dogakobo-raised animator, probably inspired if not tutored by Takashi Mukouda. Even before crossing Mukouda’s path, she was an excellent animator, fully assimilating dogakobo’s cartoonesque style. Working exclusively for Dogakobo, her first contribution on a IG show was Haikyuu!! first season (perhaps indicating she’s first and foremost a fan of the source material like Yuki Sato).
Later on, she’s would join the I.G. team for good on the third season of Haikyuu!!. But her breakthrough at the studio was definitely on Welcome to the Ballroom. With Takashi Mukouda himself as action animation director, Sachiko Fukuda was free to break from her shell and let her style shine through. Alongside Yuuki Igarashi and Emi Ota, she was called a “main force” of the production by Boya Liang (action AD too). Handling both dancing and acting scenes with the same quality and more importantly idiosyncrasy, she animated some of the most impactful parts of the show.

My favorite scene of the show, Fukuda puts so much attention on the hair, fabric and timing to make the scene as cute and beautiful as possible

Before Haikyuu!! To The Top, Fukuda would make a small detour on Wataten and Kazetsuyo. On the former, she did a really impressive cooking scene and on the latter she showed that her confidence while working on Ballroom isn’t gone and if anything it’s stronger than before.

That confidence is quite important to note, since, as you probably noticed through the 6 episodes (including the OVA) she worked on, her style came through completely unfiltered and was able to leave a very strong impression. While she did some action scenes, her focus was scenes with intense expressions. She bent the designs to the point where you would think it’s her own and her animation is fully aware of what it wants to express and gives new layers to her scenes. That’s a common trait she shares with some of the most blessed animators of this generation like Yusuke Kawakami or Nakaya Onsen. Under Fukuda, tension and comedy are two sides of the same coin and I think that’s exactly what Haikyuu!! is all about!

She already offered us a tasty scene in the finale but there’s no doubt Fukuda will amaze us throughout the entirety of the game in the second cour!

Fukuda’s scene in the final episode

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