investigation.001// The Madhouse of the “Itano Circus”

Welcome to investigation.//, a new weekly text-based series scheduled for every Friday that aims to dig into various aspects of Japan’s numerous niche cultures and trends. Starting off with a bang, we’ll be investigating the little-known, widely-used phenomenon that is the ‘Macross Missile Massacre’, more correctly known as the ‘Itano Circus’. What was once a humble animation technique used by pioneer Ichiro Itano, has rapidly transformed into a mainstay of modern animation, even branching out into various aspects of Western filmmaking.

The ‘Itano Circus’ is a specialized animation technique originally used by Ichiro Itano during his work on the 1980 anime series ‘Space Runaway Ideon’. It was a stylistic and visually pleasing approach to the traditional single-projectile fight sequence, totally revolutionizing what fans would come to expect from the anime industry. Characterized by the dynamic flight patterns of its projectiles, as well as the overall sheer ridiculousness of the attack, the visual overload quickly caught on within the animation world and beyond. Introduced at a time where fight scenes were still presented utilizing sudden cuts and slow-paced movements, Itano’s high-speed action scenes were a welcome addition to a slowly evolving industry.

With all this being said, what exactly is the ‘Itano Circus’? Put simply, it’s an all-out missile attack that pays no mind to contemporary rules. By launching an unconventional volley of missiles, rather than a single unit, it not only enables for an initial visual flurry of smoke and metal, but also enables intense 3D movement scenarios from the unit being attacked. A powerful example of this would be the 2001 ‘Cowboy Bebop: The Movie’ where Spike is being chased down by a multitude of missiles in the Swordfish II. Not only is he tasked with maneuvering his ship through each and every missile, but he must also work through his surrounding terrain. The end result is a gripping   It comes as no surprise of course that this scene in particular worked so well, especially with Itano himself maintaining the role of key animator for the film.

Pulling from the top of my head I could easily name a handful of titles who have gone on to utilize the technique over the years. From the Evangelion rebuilds in which Ichiro Itano himself worked on, all the way to less-likely series such as Pokémon, the untold influence Itano has had on the industry is truly remarkable. A great example of the techniques influence on the West is in the early stages of Marvel’s first Iron Man film in which Tony Stark is demonstrating his new ‘Jericho Missile’. Pulling away from its animated roots, the scene introduces a devastating horde of missiles launching out of a single unit, something once only seen in series such as Macross some 25 years prior.

To date, Ichiro Itano is still credited as one of the greatest animators within his own field. Analyzing what was available to him, and what he could do with it, Itano would go on to reinvent a decade old formula allowing for genuine, long-lasting progress to be made. Passing his legacy along, Itano would go on to inspire fellow creatives such as Yasuhi Muraki and Hirofumi Masuda. What the now 58 year old creatives next move will be, only time can tell. With more and more experimentation going on in the industry now than ever before, perhaps it won’t be long before the next ‘Itano Circus’ is discovered. So what are your thoughts, are you a fan of the high-paced animation technique?

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