Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, aka:YAS

on Tuesday, March 06, 2012.

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If you don't know him by name alone, you should know his work. Any fan of mecha and sci-fi animation growing up in the 70's and 80's saw the designs of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko on the posters, model boxes, calendars, menko cards, books and various other items sold for some of the biggest hits in Japanese TV, Manga and Theater. YAS's artwork added an entirely new  dimension to industry standards of the day, with characters and stories that forever changed the face of animation and manga for fans worldwide.

The early years:

Born in 1947, YAS got his start in the industry working for Tezuka’s Mushi Productions in 1970 at the age of 23, designing characters for a series called Wandering Sun. Like most of his peers, he eventually decided to go freelance. He grew his career working with various manga and animation studios which started to pop up all over Japan due to the popularity boom of these much sought after entertainment mediums.

One of the first of these studios was Academy Productions. In 1974, YAS started working on the storyboards for the iconic sci-fi series, Space Cruiser Yamato. Historically speaking, Yamato defined many careers of the day. However, for YAS, it wouldn’t be until an opportunity presented itself five years later that would set the stage for him to become one of the most sought after creative forces in Japan.

In 1975, YAS started working on a project that would eventually shape his career and a studio that would become synonymous with his name. The place: Sunrise Studios, the series: Brave Raideen. Raideen would be YAS’ introduction to working in the Super Robot genre, but would expand his career to that of animation director as well. In the years to follow he would work in various production capacities on series such as Zambot 3, Combattler V, and Robokko Beeton.


In a matter of a few years, YAS had established himself with four of Japan’s major animation studios. However, it was a former colleague from Sunrise Studios, who presented an opportunity that would put YAS in the public spotlight as one of Japan's premier up and coming illustrators and designers.

In the late 70's, Haruka Takachiho, founding member and President of Studio Nue was developing a sci-fi/adventure themed manga dealing with a new type of bounty hunter and adventurer. Holding YAS' work in high regard during his time working on Raideen, Takachiho approached the then, relatively unknown Yoshikazu with the opportunity to design and illustrate the characters for his new manga, Crusher Joe, which ran from 1979-1983. Ironically, YAS rejected the idea of illustrating characters when Takachiho presented it to him. Having his foundation as an animator, the prospect of illustrating was not an appealing project. However, after several days of convincing from Takachiho, YAS finally accepted the offer. This would be the beginning in a series of events to elevate his career to new heights.

Raideen

The Mobile Suit Generation:
During those same years, another industry giant, Yoshiyuki Tomino approached YAS to design characters for his new series, tentatively known at the time as Gunboy. As the characters and story evolved, the series would air on April 7th 1979 and the mech world was forever changed with the introduction of Mobile Suit Gundam. Gundam was critical to the animation and manga industry, as Tomino and others realized that they were losing a large portion of their viewing demographic to one common denominator…age. The same viewers who were watching Super Robot series as children were now in the later years of grade school or beginning college.

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Tomino understood that in order to keep older demographic interested in that genre, the studios would need to create a new type of mech series, geared for a more mature audience. These waters had already been tested a year earlier with the growing “mature” fan base support for Space Cruiser Yamato. The overwhelming box office success of Arrivederci Yamato, which dominated box offices all over Japan sent a strong signal to the studios. The fanbase loved the medium, but wanted more substance to the stories. Realizing this as well, YAS created characters as he did with Crusher Joe that same year, which clearly broke industry standards of the time and gave an older generation, a new breed of heroes.

The 80’s became a redefining period in the Japanese entertainment industry, especially in animation. The shockwaves from the artistic influence of YAS and his peers stretched far beyond animation and manga sales. As the stories were now starting to evolve, so was the product. Gundam had lead the way in sales, creating a new generation of toys and models, more detailed, and articulate than their predecessors.

Artwork, such as posters and other illustrations relating to anime were also leaning more towards the realistic instead of the more dominant cartoon themed illustrations of the 60’s and 70’s. The success of YAS’ work in conjunction with other key individuals in the industry created a domino effect and opened the door for the next generation of designers to expand upon that success.

Directorial Debut:
In this new decade, YAS would reach previously unseen levels of his success as well. The popularity of the Crusher Joe eventually led to an animated feature film. Utilizing his experience in combined areas of production over the years, YAS had complete creative control, serving as writer, designer and director his first theatrical animated feature. The film was released in 1983 and was a hit in the box office. This was Sunrise Studios first theatrical production and it's success not only paid off for the studio but for YAS' directorial career as well. Crusher Joe, The Movie won the Animage Anime Grand Prix Prize later that same year. Over the next few years, YAS continued his creative efforts in animation with creating and helming series and films like Giant Gorg and Arion, a theatrical release of his earlier manga.

Even though most western fans know YAS for his sci-fi endeavors, his work was far more diverse. His manga career flourished over the 80’s ranging from the mythological tale of Arion to his work on an adaptation of Jack London's White Fang. His interest of storytelling in any genre had no boundaries, even illustrating manga adaptations of the life of Alexander, Joan of Arc and Christ.

With the 90’s quickly approaching, YAS wrapped up the decade with his last full directorial /design project, Venus Wars (Vinasu Senki), based off his own manga, published in Gakken Magazine from 1987-1990. Boasting exceptional design and production standards, the 1989 film was a hit with both the established and new generation of animation fans alike. Venus Wars became one of the most recognizable titles in the early 90's distribution wave of anime to the West.

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Conclusion:
Adding to his list of accomplishments, YAS was presented with the Nippon Manga-ka Kyokai Award in 1992. H
is involvement with animations took a break after his designing work on Toho's animated adaptation of the 60's sci-fi classic, Kaitei Gunkan Atragon. The 1995 Toho release of the two part mini-series, Super Atragon would be his last animated project of that decade. He eventually returned to reprise his role as character designer in the ongoing Gundam universe with 2009's Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn. His current projects include the animated adaptation of his critically acclaimed 2002 Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, which is re-telling of the original Gundam series.

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In the course of a few years YAS rose from obscurity in the animation industry, to one of the most sought after artists in the Japan. His work not only captured the imagination of the fans, but inspired future designers as well. Yukito Kishiro (Gunnm/Battle Angel) and Hiroyuki Kitazume (Gundam ZZ, Char's Counter Attack) were some of the next generation of designers who cite YAS's unique and life like style as being a major influence with developing their character designs.

Characters like Crusher Joe, Amuro Ray and Char Aznable have become Japanese pop culture and animation icons. A great examlpe of this was a very entertaining interview with Satoshi Kon (1963-2010), renowned director of such films as Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue and Paprika. In the interview filmed as supplemental footage for his last film, Paprika, Kon could barely contain his excitement when sitting next to one of the film's voice actor's, Toru Furuya. Furuya was the original voice actor for Amuro Ray, pilot of the RX-78 Gundam and one of Kon's favorite childhood hereos. For Kon, it was an honor to work with the voice actor for Amuro Ray, a character brought to life not only by the voice of Furuya, but the imagination of Yoshikazu.

Like Tezuka, Yokoyama, Matsumoto, Mikimoto or Sonoda, Yoshikazu's characters, stories and illustrations are unmistakable in their style and serve as timeless examples as pioneers of manga and animation in Japan. His artwork has the ability to draw the viewer into any universe he's created, be it with pencil, ink or paint and invoke your imagination, in ways only a gifted few ever could.


Bryan

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