“Yuuya Geshi surely is an interesting animator worthy of note: despite his name already circulating on the net after Kizumonogatari’s debut in theaters he stands as one of those gifted individuals whose work still struggles to be noticed by anyone.”
With these words* of appreciation Sakyuuga, animation enthusiast, answered my statement of intent which was proposed to him several months ago, regarding Yuuya Geshi. I was particularly struck by knowing that even he didn’t know much about this artist and after starting doing my research and analysis I figured out why: Geshi is not only unknown to most for some reason, but he’s also one of those animators who don’t interact at all with their fans and are hard to reach. He remains an enigmatic figure and we can gather what we know only from his works and what his colleagues have said about him. For this reason, the article doesn’t really need to be the ending line when it comes to the gengaman himself but rather a starting point, inviting others to ask questions, to create one day a full historiography and critique, hoping it will be more complete than mine once the animator will be studied more thoroughly and we will be able to obtain more information about him.
Yuuya Geshi(下司祐也), often mistakenly transliterated like Yuuya Shimoji in the west, was born in the middle of the 80s in an undefined location. In 2007 he starts working as an inbetweener for animation studio Anime International Company (AIC) on the OAV series Ah! My Goddess: Fighting Wings close to another really young dougaman who will become famous in a few years: Yoshimichi Kameda! He then spends almost the entirety of 2008 doing inbetween-frames for series such as Mnemosyne, Moegaku, S.A., Strike Witches and Birdy the Mighty Decode. Towards the end of the year, because of tight schedules, he is challenged with creating keyframes for Ga-Rei and refining other people’s drawings (2nd key animation), where he demonstrates a peculiar interest for effects like fire and smoke (which we shall call simply FX animation from now on). Once the challenge was surmounted, he became one of the most important animators in the studio and we see him working on many of the studio’s projects from that year until 2011. It is worthy of note Sasameki Koto, where for the first time he deals with the crucial animations and with the layouts in the opening, but also Strike Witches 2 where he, for the first time, obtains the role of assistant-supervisor in episode 4. These two titles were very important for Geshi’s very own artstyle for two distinct reasons: Sasameki Koto coached Yuuya on how to make clear and impactful layouts, something sorely needed when it came to anime or movies where the directors really care about frames, and Strike Witches (in which he was one of the animators who drew more cuts than others) made him truly appreciate FX, which then became one of his specialties. Even if he hadn’t still developed a real style in this kind of animations yet he was already considered to be a great asset when it came to follow the supervisor’s direction both as an assistant-supervisor and as an animator; at this time, he started getting the feeling that he was more interested in creating quality artwork rather than elaborating animations with precise timing.
2011 is the turning point for Geshi since he finds himself dealing with another kind of animation, clearly more realistic, neat and demanding: we’re talking about the TV anime HōrōMusuko. Ryuichi Makino, series’ character design and chief animation director, had been following Geshi since 2007, when he was still working on his first in-betweens, and they were good colleagues to each other, to the point where Makino decided to let him have the most important scene in the first episode. As we can read from the anime’s official website, Makino was pleased with the result and he was heard saying out loud: “Hey, we really have some great genga in here!”. Thanks to Makino’s concern we today know about Yuuya’s participation in this anime, from beginning to end.
This is a very well made scene from different perspectives: in the first place we can see a peculiar care to those movements the girly main character makes involuntarily like tripping, moving arms and legs too widely, not being able to stop with grace and even take some breather in a very wide cut. All this body language parallel to his emotive state is not foreshadowed but, on the other hand, they seem almost abrupt. After understanding that the boy could fall or hurt himself we don’t really know if the main act, which is running, will be successfully completed. The lack of anticipation thanks to the sudden secondary movements is a very nice bait to keep us hooked to the screen. In the following cuts, where the point of view is shifted towards the audience looking at the boy we can see a precise choice of poses worthy of praise: no character has its attention completely drawn to the action but rather, seeing how they pose themselves, we can understand they are doing something else and only being slightly startled by the main action. Thanks to the graphic bivalent characterization, the side characters themselves are able to convey a feeling of simplicity and realism in the scene, practically we’re able to look at it like it’s just a part of the bigger picture, where the action is taken, thanks to its “inhabitants”. Geshi really paid specific attention to the layouts and they bring in the animation a complex and assorted storyboard for direction’s sake. I would like to point out the use of artificial lights which creates precise shadow and light zones but also the interesting effect caused by the sakura’s lightning; these are extremely specific direction choices more likely designed from the animators making the layouts rather than the storyboarders. For this series Geshi produced many more genga and supervised the second episode’s animations yet no other successive work of his was yet able to surpass the level of the first episode’s sequence. Once the series was over, Yuuya left the studio to become a freelancer but he still remained close by for future works.
In the same year he worked on episodes 3 and 4 of Gundam Unicorn making some animations, his first time dealing with extremely high standards regarding quality, and on Puella Magi Madoka Magica with his first act of a fortunate series of collaborations between the animator and Shaft Studio. It would be better to clarify that, even if Geshi became one of the main “Shaft animators” with the likes of Genichirou Abe and Ryo Imamura from here on, Bakemonogatari and Madoka’s studio does not have employees with open-ended contracts in their “animation department” and all animators and supervisors have project contracts. This let Geshi deal with other works far from Shaft’s design.
During the Summer anime season R-15 aired, the adaptation of a light novel by AIC, which “riunites in the animation department all the main Makino’s disciples”, like Mattune, aniblogger from Japan, says; yet it will still involve important freelancers far from the studio like Atsuki Shimizu and Akira Hamaguchi, whom worked with Geshi in some cuts rich in FX animation.
The first scene by Yuuya in R-15, done with Shimizu’s help, an animator specialized in effects, recreates a perfect weight representation with a “semi-realistic” timing enriched with smears (visual deformations) which became afterwards one of the animator’s distinctive traits. The scene presents effects done in a classic way, yet with a noteworthy exception: the pyrotechnical fountain don’t only throw sparks upwards with a believable timing and an acceleration in its second part, but also the flares get bigger and smaller to make it look like the mouth the sparks come from it’s rotating on itself.
In the two cuts created with Hamaguchi we can notice a few somewhat new elements for both artists: some FX drawn frame by frame replaced by smears, the use of kinetic lines with a similar function to the smears, impact frames but at the same time side animations drawn more realistically and with a more precise timing closer to the effects in the previous cut. In this analysis it’s not that important to realize whose is the paternity of this or that animation, it may be Geshi’s, Hamaguchi’s or Shimizu’s, but rather what’s crucial to us is to understand that this cooperation helped enriching the artist’s style to the point where in future works we see this mixed and different approach to FX in cuts that don’t necessarily deal with effects, strictly speaking.
In 2012 he makes his debut in theaters with the Strike Witches’ movie as a key animator and in Puella Magi Madoka Magica as an animation supervisor. He continues his collaboration with studio Shaft for its TV series: he indeed worked on Nisemonogatari, Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb and Nekomonogatari. In that year’s winter Comiket the doujinshi Puella Magi Madoka Magica Key Animation Note extra – RAKUGAKI-NOTE comes out, in which he draws an impressive illustration depicting Homura becoming one with the stormy flames surrounding her. It’s noteworthy that it’s the only picture in the entire volume focusing more on the action involving the subject rather than some elements of it. Geshi is clearly more interested in showing features and the momentum of those forms rather than the correlation they have with Homura. I feel like this artistic choice comes from the animator’s background, leaning more and more on FX animation. “Even if not really requested, some care taken in the effects can positively affect a cut’s value”, I believe that from this point on this became the philosophy behind Geshi’s animation, one year after his experience with R-15.
In 2013 Geshi made 4 beautiful cuts for the opening scene in the videogame “Fate/Extre CCC”, heavily influenced by Genichirou Abe’s aesthetics. I’d like to talk a bit about this scene because Geshi outdid himself with a seriously complex operation: the animator can create extremely confusing layouts using plain and simple forms through the use of debris and effects (like blood, bits and pieces of the branches coming off the tree) drawn like the major subjects of the scene (like the dry trees and the sakura leaves). To pull off something like this a meticulous attention in positioning effects is needed in each and every frame so that a “composition” can be created, yet this is prevented by another important aspect of animation: timing, because one needs to give a sense of continuity to what’s happening on screen, just putting subjects here and there trying to create harmony hardly helps. Finding the perfect balance between these two aspects must have been a real pain yet there are no frames out of place. Another thing is that this scene presents no kind of smearing, a classic technique of his, but in this scenario Geshi most probably thought that it could have ruined easily the composition’s balance.
In the same year Geshi is promoted to main animator for Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Part 3: Rebellion, a crucial mission for which he would be praised by the other staff members whom they would define as a “hard-working and very resourceful” individual. Between 2014 and 2016 he worked on FX animation for movies like Miss Hokusai and The Idolm@ster and TV series like Aldonah Zero, Mekakucity Actors and Wizard Barristers. In the latter he realized remarkable corrections to Masami Goto’s drawings, famous animation veteran, even back in the day, with projects like Gundam Wing and Cowboy Bebop in his curriculum. Supervisioning a pro this influential only confirms Geshi’s role not only as an outstanding animator, being able to easily obtain roles as key animator in various animated films, but also as a full-fledged theorist when it comes to represent flames and explosions.
2016 is the year where international fame finally reaches Geshi, thanks to the first two chapters of Kizumonogatari coming out in cinemas. Yuuya is credited as key animator for all the three movies and as main animator in the first one. The artist’s enormous contribution is proven both by the booklets in the BD release and by the visual fanbook. An interesting fact about these publications can be found in the technical commentary section: all animators that worked on the cuts represented in there had little space just to describe their experience with those scenes. Yet Geshi’s cuts present only the commentary of the books’ curator and not their author, and thus he describes Araragi and Kisshot’s first encounter: “The wrinkles on her mouth, her nose and the tears flowing down from her eyes – these details are all represented vividly and realistically.” In this scene we can see Ryo Imamura’s strong influence, especially considering the timing, but what truly makes Kisshot “real” is her being a “machine producing effects” and the fact that, this way, she becomes much deformed: her wrinkles appear on her face looking like small crevices on a wall, her pupils are twisted by the tears covering her eyes. Her scream hits her haircut, before Koyomi, which moves again before going down, like a gust of wind getting her hair in the air. Another curios thing to notice is how, afterwards, the same vampire’s movements are represented in a peculiar way so that they aren’t overly exaggerated yet they still present smears and kinetic lines in climax moments. We find the same old technique used for the first time in that R-15 cut done with Hamaguchi: the base idea is to enrich the portrait of motion presenting authentic weight control with little exaggerations, done with the help of thought-out drawings and with timing meaning to emulate as much as it can real movements rather than capturing their essence with just exemplification.
Some other juicy cuts in the movie are the ones in which a barely sketched out Koyomi and covered in smears runs waving his arms. Considering that the linework changes a lot according to the specific angled shot, it’s just a shell, a cover for a perfectly proportioned skeleton with almost perfect control over his weight. But it’s not a realistic movement: often we see Araragi shoved forwards by some mysterious force, since his legs don’t seem to do much work. Some fans have also speculated that the arms’ movement resembles the likes of a swimmer, almost like a storm of flesh and tissue sucking in Araragi and giving him speed. I feel like I should give some credit to the ingenious use of drool and tears coming from the young man, which let the animator show clearly the speed of the rotating head and the subject’s entire body. Smears are very useful in this case for presenting movements especially fast to the viewer but it only works thanks to our perceptive simplification, normally it would be impossible to display with precision a very fast action in every key moment. Geshi is able to resolve this technical issue with his “unnecessary effects” which give the cuts a major complexity without the inhuman and spasmodic atmosphere that characterizes this moment in the movie. The use of similar techniques is present in the scene where Kisshot rips to shreds Koyomi’s body against the athletic stadium’s wall and then she throws him in the air in the third movie, yet in this case Geshi works much more on the weight/simple and rough shapes ratio rather than effects, which have a marginal role.
The sequence that represents the animator’s true potential surely is the fight between Dramaturgy and Araragi during the second movie: the rain made in postproduction is partially replaced by the one hand-drawn by Geshi through depth representation techniques not so different from the ones applied in R-15’s fountain. It’s not easy to discern water from clouds of debris and, even if many details are shown in key-frames, some drawings suddenly “toughen up” because of a rough and barely sketched up lineart for some fractions of a second. The masterful layout perspectives let camera movements be precise and show the great placement of the two combatants in a tridimensional space. Indeed, all the artist’s stylistic choices are used to create this complex storyboard and tight narrative rhythm with an esthetic sense on its own, well beyond the sense of “just” good shape and cool FX animation (usually a trademark of great animators such as the before mentioned Atsuki Shimizu and the very much known Nozomu Abe). All of this is done maybe to satisfy one’s curiosity for the strong connection among human figures and effects, or maybe even for the relationship between characters and the fleeting physical phenomena materializing through FX like storms, explosions or clouds of smoke. In the frenzy of battle there’s no hierarchy between the most natural and most unnatural elements: thus it’s perfectly reasonable for rain to look violent like fireworks and for water, moved around by the two vampires’ bodies, to emanate sheer power not differently from the floor tiles destroyed by Dramaturgy.
Between 2016 and 2017 Yuuya deals with key animation for the Shaft movie Uchiage Hanabi and for animated scenes in Persona 5. The FX animator’s future presents itself with more and more work with productions for cinemas and 2D animated scenes for video games, the sort of projects where he’ll be able to confront himself with first-rate animators and more demanding directors compared to TV series. Some fans speculate he’s busy being main animator for Persona 5’s adaptation, since we’ve lost track of him for months. Since the series has already begun long ago and its name has not yet appeared, it seems that that intuition is wrong. What’s sure is that Geshi will remain for a short while still a mysterious figure, to be discovered yet, hoping that his involvement with popular franchises will let us observe and take note of new details about the individual and his skills.
*I have to apologize to Sakyuuga since I quoted his words by reformulating them a bit, since his was a message on twitter too little evocative to be used as an incipit.
The translator hopes this sorry mess of a translation is enough to satisfy your aniblog needs.