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Maquia Main Animator Toshiyuki Inoue's Work Revealed at Sasayuri Café

posted on by Kim Morrissy

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Toshiyuki Inoue is one of the finest 2D animators alive. You may have seen his work on some of the most detailed cuts in Akira, Ghost in the Shell, various Ghibli films, and other high-profile TV series and movies. He's such a celebrity in the anime industry that Mamoru Oshii even referred to him as “the perfect animator”.

Inoue's latest project has been Maquia - When the Promised Flower Blooms, the P.A. Works film directed by Mari Okada. As the man credited as the “main animator” of the film, Inoue was so heavily involved in the production of Maquia that he drew roughly a third of the cuts in the entire movie by himself, and drew layouts for even more of it. If that wasn't enough, he personally handled the most difficult cuts for a 2D animator to draw, such as the scenes with dragons and horses.

A significant chunk of Inoue's work on Maquia is currently being showcased at the Sasayuri café in Nishi-Ogikubo. The café is a common haunt for animators and animation fans; there is always an exhibit of anime production materials that visitors can enjoy while they're dining. The Maquia exhibit was filled to capacity with Inoue's work alone, and the café storefront also sold several volumes of Inoue's collected animation on the film, each of them hundreds of pages in length. It almost felt as if I was watching the entire film all over again just by visiting the exhibit.

Just outside the café entrance, Inoue left an apologetic message saying that a larger proportion of his cuts than usual were rough animation rather than finalized key animation. His philosophy was to draw quickly and work on as many cuts as he could. At an Anime Style talk event in March, he explained that it's not usually his style to do so many “half-hearted” drawings in the form of rough animation, but there was just so much he wanted to do and not enough time to do it all that this was the compromise that he settled on.

However, even his rough animation shows a remarkable attention to detail that not many animators would think to include. For example, Mari Okada recalls on the film's staff blog that she asked Inoue to depict Maquia as “not very athletic when she runs”. Inoue surprised her when he drew not just the way Maquia's hands move or how she raises her head, but also how her clothes wrinkle as she limps.

Inoue ruminated on the difficulties of running/walking animation in his audio commentaries for his collected Maquia animation books. He mentioned that a person's athletic ability subconsciously factors into every physical action they do, not just walking or running. In order to convey a character's level of fitness accurately, he had to maintain consistency in the animation throughout the entire film instead of just focusing on specific scenes. This is one of the big reasons why Inoue took a “quantity first” approach to the animation, laying the groundwork for so many cuts that the other animators would complete.

Another area that Inoue insisted on handling himself was the dragon flight scenes. There's an interesting mix of 2D and 3D animation in the film. When you look closely at Inoue's cuts, the dragon is sometimes missing from the drawings all together, indicating that it is supposed to be rendered in the 3D, but the closeups are all drawn in 2D to convey their nuanced features.  A similar idea was taken with the animation of Land of the Lustrous, but there's an even greater volume of 2D drawings in Maquia, to the extent that the staff had to clarify that those scenes were indeed hand-drawn.

Inoue also returned to one of his well-known strengths with the horse animation in the film. Horses are infamously difficult for animators to draw, due to their complex and unconventional limb movements. That's why most of the horses you see in modern anime are made in CG. But Inoue has a reputation for drawing realistic horses in 2D; he has a cameo in SHIROBAKO as “the veteran animator who saves the day by drawing horses”. That scene in SHIROBAKO featuring dozens of 2D horses was drawn by Inoue himself.

The horse cuts in Maquia were particularly complex because they also involved scenes of war. The human characters riding the horses had to maintain balance as they swung their weapons. Out of all the examples of stellar animation in the film, these were the scenes that impressed me most when I first watched them on the big screen.

I was not the only one struck by Inoue's mastery of his craft. Many active animators are among his admirers. I discovered this when I flicked through a notebook for fans to leave messages of appreciation, and saw that some messages were signed by names I knew, such as the Chinese web animator LAN.

If you're a Maquia fan, or even just a general fan of good animation, you should take the time to visit Sasayuri café and check out the exhibits. Who knows - you may even bump into a famous animator while you're there.

The Toshiyuki Inoue exhibit at Sasayuri café will run between May 31 to July 16. (Note that the café is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.) For more information about Inoue's collected animation books, check out P.A. Works's website.

Photo credit: Callum May


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