This was the original script for Canipa’s Respecting the late Kazunori Mizuno video, written on April 2017.
The 19th of March of 2017, on the studio Pierrot, a famous japanese animation studio known by their Shounen shows, a director of the studio was taking a nap, after working without rest during days, probably on their new series Boruto: The Next Generations, a series that was going to be the debut of young animator Hiroyuki Yamashita as Series Director, that director was a big friend of his, even doing the storyboard on the eleventh opening of the previous series, Naruto: Shippuuden, on which Yamashita did animation supervisor’s work, said director never got up and died on the studio, he was going to celebrate thirty years as Episode Director on 2018, and was going to see one of his youngsters do his debut as Series Director on the small screen with his biggest friend, Noriyuki Abe, supervising him.
His name was Kazunori Mizuno.
A few days after it, Kazuyoshi “Yagi” Yaginuma and Ken’ichi Fujisawa, two greatly talented animators that were working on the studio at the time, announced his death on Twitter, after no official announcement of the studio was made, the causes of the death are still a mystery, but everything points out that the case was a heart failure for overwork and chronic sleep deprivation, apparently he was having trouble to work properly for the amount of work that he did, and used that excuse to take a nap, where the sad event happened.
But let’s shed some light about who is this director and why should we care about it, shall we?
Kazunori Mizuno entered on the industry really young, as a Production Assistant on studio Pierrot, with only twenty-two years, he was lucky enough to receive a steady and fast promotion thanks to his incredible work ethics and talent to justify it, even being so young, he had ambition and he had the talent to be promoted to Episode Director with only one year as Production Assistant, and even more was his joy when he was permited to do his first storyboard outside of Pierrot on the Tatsunoko I.G OVA series Yagami-kun’s Family Affairs, where he worked along some of industry best animators like Yoshinori Kanada and Kazuchika Kise, and on the next years, he continued working on small OVA and TV projects with talented people, more particularly, he was a big friend of veteran animator Yoshiyuki Kishi, and he worked on everything that he was on.
A few years passed on, and then, the opportunity of his life came, Noriyuki Abe approached him on Pierrot to work on his new series, Yu Yu Hakusho, the anime adaptation of one of the hottest manga of that time, penned by Yoshihiro Togashi, its anime adaptation was hyped and Noriyuki Abe reunited a team of young, talented directors and animators to make it work, every one of them was trying to surpass each other constantly, a real race to see who does the best episode, and of the storyboaders, Kazunori Mizuno and Akiyuki Shinbo presented the strongest game, with a unique approach to photography and a ceratain beauty coming from their storyboards, even the action ones were superb with their clever use of angles and exciting as few photography.
After Yu Yu Hakusho, he directed a small, unknown AIC OVA called Kishin Corps that didn’t really take off, and returned to Pierrot on 1995 after not being present on the last cour of Yu Yu Hakusho, to work on the next Noriyuki Abe’s series Ninku, that was the debut as Character Designer of a really young and promising animator called Tetsuya Nishio, that was making waves on the industry thanks to his unique approach on character acting, that we can see even today. Kazunori Mizuno’s episodes were the most talent grabbing of the whole Ninku series, where his striking boards presented a perfect opportunity for people like the then young Yutaka Nakamura show off his talents, Kazunori Mizuno’s talent to do convincing action scenes was again probed, and he delivered, with the help of such talented animators that were always at disposition to help him out.
Some years after, on the new millenium, after passing a lot of time working at Madhouse on series like Trigun, Cardcaptor Sakura and Hajime no Ippo, where, he, by the way, did his first opening on the latter and after that while, he reunited with his old pal Akiyuki Shinbo on The Soultaker, being on charge of the very penultimate episode of the series, to show how much he was trusted by a legend like Shinbo to do striking work on his series.
Before diving into his Bleach years, let’s talk about his first full series directorial debut, Zoid Genesis, the sequel to the classic Zoids series, that at time was highly anticipated by some sakuga fans because the fact that talented animator Kyuta Sakai was on charge of the character designs, but even with the amount of talented people working on it, it didn’t worked too well, messy production was the major cause of it, a lot of outsourcing and scheduling problems ended up on a pretty regular series with only a few highlights far in-between on Seiya Numata’s episodes, most exactly, the episode twenty eight, directed by Numata’s himself, giving Mizuno one of the first chances to that young, promising animator, as Abe did with him, to direct a full episode.
While working on Bleach, he worked various time with his old pal Shinbo on Hidamari Sketch, Nanoha and the Monogatari series, developing a interesting style on his layouts and color design, with flat shadows and more profundity than before on the drawings, that reflected on his work, specially on his Bleach OPs, were all the tricks that he learned for Noriyuki Abe and Akiyuki Shinbo were put on practice on the openings six, nine, ten and twelve, all of them with a incredibly interesting and unique take on color design and photography, that make his work stand out when compared to the other directors, and created striking visuals only with the power of good color design and complex layouts.
His general work on Bleach is something to look at to: Twenty eight episodes, Four openings and Three movies during seven years, standing a lot compared with his contemporaries on the studio for his unique takes on photography and color design, creating beautiful images, and his action storyboards, that were some of the bests to look at, with over the top, well choreographed action that capture your eyes, and that are some really good examples of the Rule of the Cool, enhanced by Masashi Kudo’s excellent designs too.
After Bleach was finished, he moved to Naruto, where he did his debut on the episode 294, part of the Chikara saga, a special arc directed by Toshiyuki Tsuru that showed off the strengths of the production’s best staff, and after doing his episode on that, he continued on the series as the to-go director for important action episodes, taking part on the most strikingly directed episodes of the series, as Storyboarder or as Episode Director, his work presented dynamic camera, a unique color design and excellent layouts to elevate his episodes to another level, as well as his openings and endings, such as the 24th ending, one of what, I consider, is one of the best endings ever made.
The last aired episode of him was the episode 499, the penultimate episode of the series, a goofy light-hearted episode to end the storyline before the final episode that finished off the cycle, giving pass to a new generation.
This is another sad case of the crude reality of the industry, people are overworked and paid with the minimum, this, the case of Yuka Sugizaki last year [that was sadly ignored by a lot of the community, even when she was only twenty and so years old] and the production assistant of A-1 Pictures five years ago are not simple cases of “Animators” dying, but are cautionary tales about the possible future of the industry, or what will happen if the offer continue being more than the demand and the fans [and the staff themselves] doesn’t insist on better quality, better schedules and better work circumstances.
Studios like ufotable, Kyoto Animation, GoHands or White Fox are making waves to the change: Paying animators, production assistants & directors stable, monthly wages, doing only one or two anime for year, to keep the offer low, and not overwork themselves, and keeping their staff in-house happy and controlled, even of the driest of the situations by trying to aim for better schedules, may or not like their work, they are indeed making advances to make a better industry.
We should care about these cases because if we care about it, we are opening the industry to a brighter future, these are not simple cases of “Animators” killing themselves for their art because they are Japanese and you know, Japanese work a lot because they want, or at least, that what stereotypes says, the crude reality is that they are on a industry were you have to work to get a good pay, even if is at cost of your life, and that needs to change, is not going to change immediately tomorrow but we have to strive for change so talented creators like him or Yuka Sugizaki wouldn’t pass for the same destiny a few years from now.