Exclusive Interview with Yuu Yoshiyama: Impact frames as surprise boxes?!

Even before their discovery and subsequent artistic recognition within the sakuga community with Star Twinkle Precure, @Agresiel and I got really excited by an aggressive and quite nostalgic sequence that provided a heavy emotional atmosphere to the prelude to the final part of Hugtto! Precure.

At the time we were still not sure if the animator in charge of that scene was a nostalgic fan of ’80s anime making a reference to their favorite style of effects animation or an actual new animator who had not yet made themselves known in our circles, embracing with bold courage the so commonly referred to umbrella of “Kanada Style.” But a few months later, with the next series of the franchise, everything became clearer and we were able to give ourselves an enthusiastic answer: within the Toei galaxy a new dazzling star was born and their name is Yuu Yoshiyama.

My not-so-imaginative mind was quite bothered by the mystery surrounding their identity, where they came from, and who their inspiring masters actually are. Everything would rapidly change this summer, when Yoshiyama opened a twitter account. On impulse I felt the intellectual desire to dialogue with the artist in order to obtain answers and be able to thank them for all the joy they conveyed with their brilliant moving images. What you’ll find below, the result of my dull stubbornness and Yoshiyama’s patience, is the translated transcript of a conversation of ours which took place between the morning and the afternoon (Japanese time) of September 10, 2020.

First of all, thank you for lending me some of your precious free time. I want to start with somewhat of a classic question: did you have specific moment when you got fulgurated by the idea “Dammit, I really want to be an animator!”

Yoshiyama It was when I watched Masami Obari’s animation from the anime series “Dangaioh”, back when I was still a junior-high school student. Before that, I never really thought of doing animation myself. I really loved anime, sure thing folks, but I was mostly interested in voice acting and anime songs. I was aiming towards a job like those.

From Dangaioh #01 KA: Masami Obari

Oh, Dangaioh, really?! Honestly, if we talk about Obari aesthetics, I think it’s somewhat of a masterpiece…So till the very beginning you had a very special connection with Masami Obari’s animation. However, many of your fans consider you to be somewhat of a Kanada School animator, emphasizing the figure Yoshinori Kanada himself.  Do you see yourself in that definition? And also, who in your opinion is the animator that influenced you on a more practical level?

Yoshiyama Back in the day the animator who influenced me the most was definitely Masami Obari. He was my number one influence really. But you know, I watched a whole lot of Sailor Moon when I was just a small kid so maybe that also deeply influenced me in a more spontaneous, automatic way I would say. That’s way maybe I kinda resemble more the Kanada and Yamashita schools of animation in the eyes of some people. I also love Masahiro Andou, even though our “artistic lineage” is pretty much poles apart, right?

A scene from Sailor Moon #077 presumed to be animated by Masahito Yamashita

Yoshinori Kanada had a great influence in the History of Japanese Animation but we have also to consider that his “students” and fans had themselves influenced a very large number of later animators.  Maybe that’s what happened with you too, your style got “indirectly influenced by Kanada by his original appreciators in the animation industry.  But damn really, I wasn’t expecting Masahiro Ando of all people (Far laughs) Maybe I can see a bit of him in your action poses? Or maybe I’m just wrong, I know I’m bad at guessing.

Yoshiyama To summarize a bit I think you can say that the “current me” especially wants to play around with Sailor Moon movements giving them silhouettes out of Masami Obari’s works. But of course I LOVE Masahito Yamashita and Yoshinori Kanada. About Ando on the other hand, I think I am secretly longing for his somewhat very realistic, anatomical action animation.

Yeah I don’t think we have seen, until now of course, the more “realistic” side of your animation style. However, perhaps you can find the right space to experiment a bit with it in a feature film, I don’t believe it’s something impossible.

Yoshiyama Yeah in those kind of projects you’re referring to the drawings tend to be more on the realistic side. Well, believe it or not, I’m actually a huge struggling mess when it comes to super deformed anatomies and characters.  I pretty much enjoy my current style, I’m having real fun with it, so I think I will continue in this direction for a while at least. You can also say that nowadays anime, for the most part, are full of details to draw and I personally can’t really advance towards that without leaning on the “Kanada Style” approach. 

Now I will boldly move on to a real silly question, forgive me! (FAR laughs) Hypothetically speaking, if you had the magical ability of going back in time as you please, which anime productions of the past would you like to join?

Yoshiyama First of all, I really really reaaaally can’t miss Sailor Moon, absolutely. In general, I really enjoy anime projects where the characters show off a rich range of different expressions, that’s my main discriminant. I would have loved to participate in many Toei works of the nineties but also going back further The Adventures of Gamba and Hutch the Honeybee. But I can’t possibly physically forget to include also Dangaoh, I want to participate on that too!!! (Yoshiyama laughs).

Action scene from The Adventures of Gamba #01

Since we were all about the past in the previous question, let’s continue but with something more anchored to reality: when and how did you enter the animation industry? If you feel to do so, can you tell us a bit about your early days as an animator? Did you have a special mentor you would like to mention, especially important for your artistic growth?

Yoshiyama The first animation company I had ever joined was Studio Mu in Osaka. Even after becoming a proper key animator, I was still getting yelled at quite often by our CEO, Hiromi Muranaka, who constantly said I wasn’t able to draw at all. In fact, I would say that I started only very recently to draw action animation “properly”. At that time I was often depressed because day after day I was only furiously getting yelled at. The basis of animation was actually thought to me by Ms. Muranaka herself, so I still have absolute respect for her, but moving to action animation I don’t think there is a person I see as a mentor. What I do is adding to Obari’s style, that I see as the very basic unit, elements from other animators who I find interesting like they were the icing on the cake. Or at least that’s what I feel about my method of sorts.

Your most well-known contribution to an animated franchise here in the West, at least for now, is your fascinating involvement in Star Twinkle Precure. Specifically this sequence, particularly rich in presenting the various “flashy” pieces of effect animation,  vaguely reminded me of Jun Arai’s artistic output, an animator who very unfortunately always struggled to find a proper space for himself in the TV animation landscape of the 00’ and early 10’. Do you think that the animation industry is changing a bit since then or were simply lucky enough to find a studio and productions able to appreciate the strong personality of your effects and action animation?

Yoshiyama’s scene during Star Twinkle Precure #41

Yoshiyama It simply happened by chance that the production of Star Twinkle Precure allowed my style, my personality, to emerge.  You may be right saying that, compared to the past, fewer and fewer quirky drawings got approved. I feel that not much is changing in the overall anime landscape, but on a smaller scale I think within Toei something may be changing even right now. Being able to express myself in a unique way through my art is really a huge privilege I’m grateful of, So I have to express my thanks to Toei for that. I’ve been working with Toei since I was still part of Studio Mu but the first time I got asked personally to participate on one of Toei’s works by the production side was on the 48th episode of Hugtto Precure, when a production assistant (bless them) remembered me. Immediately after that, I joined Star Twinkle with the intent of doing just some small stuff but I ended up liking it a lot.

Yoshiyama’s scene from Hugtto! Precure #48

Please, tell us about your relationship with the compositing team. Do you think you get them to understand your effects animation quite often? Do you give them many instructions?

Yoshiyama We don’t interfere with each other too much, So basically there isn’t much of a relationship between us unless I want to apply a specific effect that only I want. Occasionally I explain them why a piece of FX animation becomes the way it is or similar stuff like that. Yeah, there are moments like those sometimes.

In this segment of Healing Good Precure at some point you show us a very interesting visual choice: immediately after the camera closes up on Chiyu’s face, one of her eyes is portrayed in detail through an impact frame, even though there isn’t really an impact in that moment capable of achieving such an optical effect. However, the combination with earlier effects  which looks like smears creates such an interesting energetic rhythm that I would almost describe as “jazzy”. So, my dear Yoshiyama, what in the world is an impact frame from your artistic perspective!? (FAR Laughs)

The scene in question, presented for the first time in the 3d episode and used multiple times after that.
The eye of the heroine (1)
The very peculiar impact frame in question (2)
A white frame after the impact (3)
Her eye again (4)

Yoshiyama I would love people to ask themselves: “what the heck was that single-cool-lonely drawing?!” so I add stuff like the impact frames onto my cuts. I’m aiming for you all to look at my parts over and over, it’s essentially bait for you to do so.  To me an impact frame is the Jack-in-the-box of animation techniques (Yoshiyama laughs) I just hope people who spot them will find them funny to look at.

Yoshiyama also love to insert easter eggs in her impact frames: here, there is the small head of Greymon from Digimon, another series she worked on…
…While here you can see Cure Selene’s Arrow form the previous Precure series.

Is there specific action you would love to animate in the future? Do you have a dream sequence?

Yoshiyama Oh, surely I want to work on more scenes that portray  the various characters’ everyday life  since recently I’m only animating action scenes one after another. My dream? Well, my dream is to continue doing anime directed towards children. Maybe even a bit stubbornly, but I want them to still watch anime by all means.

Last question, then I’ll free you from my presence ( FAR laughs): It’s written in your twitter bio that you love insects very much. What’s your favorite? Do you think their shiny armors influenced at least a bit your drawing style? This is a serious question please don’t laugh (FAR laughs again). If you wanna know the truth, I appreciate a lot the Scarabaeidae family actually.

Yoshiyama Above all , I love the mantises’ sooo much. You can clearly see that I prefer creatures with strong facial features, right? Of course, I also appreciate beetles a ton. Maybe the reason why I felt so attracted to Obari’s mechanical designs was exactly that I like insects as much as I do: when I first saw his works I was immediately reminded of wasps. That peculiar line of robots is quite reminiscent of insects, exactly exactly!

Japanese Mantis from Wikipedia
Japanese Giant Hornet from Tofugu

I have to thank you again for all this time you spent with me Ms Yoshiyama, I’m very grateful for that. Maybe it’s a bit soppy to say but this interview, more than anyone’s else made me feel something very warm and sweet inside my heart. I want to remind you that the western sakuga community loves your unique animation output from the moment you were first discovered: for example, the Sakuga Blog, the biggest sakuga outlets overseas praised Yoshiyama as one of the best new animators of this era. So if you have something to say to overseas fans, I think this would be the best opportunity to do so.

Yoshiyama Oh, don’t worry at all, I was very fun from my end too. I also have to thank you because this was my first interview ever so I had definitely a valuable learning experience with you today. Huh, apparently you guys really like my animation? Well, there are definitely many people who can do immensely better than I can and I feel it’s very hard to surpass their skill levels but hearing that still makes me happy-

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