Yoshinori Kanada’s Fire Dragon and Homages

If you’ve been to my blog before, you’ve probably heard me mention the name Yoshinori Kanada. I’m not going to write another biography on the guy, but I will say he died in 2009 as a legend to the anime industry and its fans. His charismatic approach to his work as animator broke down many barriers and showed that animators could stand-out and express their own styles in their work.

You can read a good overview of this guy here (I do recommend it). But I’m going to focus on just one of his many achievements: his immortal fire dragon from the move Harmaggedon (anime adaptation of the manga Genma Taisen). Perhaps not the most iconic product of his career, it is probably his most remarkable from an animation point of view, and certainly a milestone in the history of anime.

The fire dragon carried on the spirit of his stand-out sequence from Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (1981), which depicted a ghost formed from liquid and smoke. That ghost already impressed audiences and animators, but the style of effects animation would be pushed to a new level just a couple of years later in Harmaggedon (1983).

The fire dragon, the climax of the film, perfected a thrilling new form of effects animation, which combined a sense of stylism and abstraction with an organic approach to motion. The dragon moves as a visual cacophony of wildly undulating lines and swirling, churning, leaping geometries which depicts a body of fire in a very natural and enthralling way. It’s an achievement in animation, the magic of which probably won’t be captured again elsewhere.

The abstraction is to do with the use of a few colors, and a lack of shading which simplistically but beautifully captures an image in a 2-dimensional space. Kanada’s Adieu Galaxy Express ghost and Harmaggedon fire dragon featured in Takashi Murakami’s Superflat, where he compared it to the style seen in traditional Japanese wood paintings by Katsushika Hokusai. I’m far from being an expert on art, but what I like about it is how it elegantly represents reality as forms of overlapping color.

While I don’t think the glory of this dragon can be replicated, it is a tribute to its persevering influence among animators that it is often paid homage to in their works. This video contains a collection of homages and similar effects dragons (and also the original!).

I thought it might be worth having a look at a few of these (and I would love if someone else can help me identify the ones I don’t know).

Appropriately, the very first homage is undoubtedly the work or idea of Imaishi Hiroyuki. I say appropriately because, as you probably all know, Imaishi is a devout follower of Kanada’s style and someone with a great deal of respect for him. He has adopted, and exaggerated further, Kanada’s extreme perspectives, crazy character poses, and heavy usage of effects animation. Gurren Lagann is a massive throwback, with love, to the super robot genre that Kanada was such a pivotal influence upon. But before Gurren Lagann, Imaishi got his Kanada on when he was episode director/storyboarder/animation director for the crazy GAINAX comedy Abenobashi, which is where this clip comes from.

It was a riotous episode, and Imaishi got some great animators on board to play with his brand of Kanada (Keisuke Watabe, You Yoshinari (and Kou Yoshinari), Sushio, Tokoyuki Matsutake). The episode felt like the precursor to Gurren Lagann.

Actually, Imaishi worked on a more subtle reference to the fire dragon in episode 7 of the just-finished Black Rock Shooter. I sadly haven’t seen the episode yet, but a friend of mine pointed it out to me.

Imaishi Hiroyuki storyboarded and directed the other-world scenes in most episodes of BRS. In episode 7 it was alongside one of his main animators on Gurren Lagann, and probably someone who he has influenced/mentored a lot himself: Akira Amemiya. One of them had the cheek to sneak it in there!

But going back to the video. The dragon that bursts from the cooking pot at 00.48 is the animation work of Seiya Numata (working on 2×2=Shinobuden), another big Kanada fan.

Although his style isn’t so directly reminiscent of Kanada’s as Imaishi’s, Kanada’s rebellious and experimental spirit has definitely been picked up by him. he has a big impact on an anime when he’s involved, and always leaves a footprint. Check out this article on Ani no Miyako for more on this guy.

But funnily enough, he too appears to have worked in a fire dragon reference into his new season of Milky Holmes. Being character designer, he is heavily involved in that show, and often in a more behind-the-scenes capacity. He was animation director on episode 7, which means he was especially involved in this episode. Whether he animated it uncredited or not, there’s a good chance it was his idea!

I haven’t actually seen the other anime in this video, so if anyone wants to enlighten us as to their origins, that would be great! A friend identified the clip with multiple dragons in space at ~3.10 as being from X (and an earlier clip with a pure-red dragon attacking a guy in a ball). It would be cool to know the story behind these ones.

Actually, I could keep this post linked in the sidebar and updated whenever we see another fire dragon pop up in anime or can unearth one of these older ones! Please contribute or just share your thoughts!