An Eternal Anime About Transience: The Influences And Legacy Of

An Everlasting Anime About Transience: The Influences And Legacy Of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou‘s contemplative view on the passage of time and inevitable decadence made it a greatly melancholic work upon release. Decades later, that feeling has strengthened, and the influence of those who brought it into anime form quietly endures still.

Nearly 3 decades after it was first published, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou remains the poster child of mono no aware works in otaku media. Vaguely set after a catastrophe that collapsed both the planet’s ecology and human civilization as we knew it, an event that the series has no intention to explain, YKK stars android Alpha as she runs the desolate café that her long-gone master entrusted her with. Her episodic adventures are all about the appreciation of the moment, often with an emphasis on the evocative environments she casually comes across; after all, author Hitoshi Ashinano was inspired to pen this work by his fondness of taking a stroll or riding a motorcycle without a specific goal. Despite being an ode to spontaneity, YKK is also a thoroughly focused work—and the recipient of that focus is the passage of time, as well as how different beings process the ephemerality of things.

Like many stories featuring robotic beings like androids as well as regular humans, YKK highlights the mismatch in their lifespans and perceptions of time. Far from content with that, though, its vignettes illustrate a wider variety of viewpoints when it comes to the awareness of time and mortality. One chapter may expose you to the memories attached to the planet itself manifesting in physical form, while another one may be a comedic adventure starring an eternal creature who cannot conceive the idea of time passing, to the point of no longer recognizing others as they age even a little. YKK’s nostalgia comes in as many flavors as there are beings in its world; and that does include the world itself.

Those outlooks add up to form a bittersweet but also casually optimistic worldview. YKK conveys acceptance that all we knew will come to an end, but also a belief that such a thing is just one era and that everything that will follow is shaped by its predecessors, as nothing is truly lost. “I never would have imagined that the era of dusk would come so gently, so comfortably,” says protagonist Alpha at the very beginning, “and I think I’ll be watching until the sun fully sets.” When talking to an old friend of hers who was around during the era when humanity was thriving, she expresses that she would have liked seeing that world. The response is simple, and once again echoes YKK’s philosophy: “You can see the sequel. Take care to remember today.

Given its emphasis on the passage of time, YKK’s graceful aging couldn’t feel any more appropriate. It has earned an enduring cult classic status, and its influence on authors who share an interest in similar themes continues to this day. Girls Last Tour, a wonderful post-apocalyptic trip that has earned many comparisons to YKK, appears to be peppered with nods to the imagery of its predecessor. Even with works that don’t have a premise as reminiscent of YKK’s, artists with similar sensibilities still feel tremendous respect toward Ashinano’s work. Sakatsuki Sakana barely has any commercial work to their name, but with their uncluttered worldview, evocative sceneries, and a pleasant feeling of solitude, they’ve already earned the interest of readers and some awards as well. Just last year, they had a chance to share an interview with Ashinano, which allowed Sakana to express just how much they looked up to him; so much so, that after politely bombarding him with questions like any fan would, Sakana concluded the interview by revealing that their fish-themed pen name was a reference to YKK’s imagery. Even to this day, Ashinano’s work still wakes up up-and-coming artists to a type of storytelling they didn’t know was viable, hence this deep admiration.

While that is true of the original manga, though, what about its anime incarnations? The truth is that YKK was never fully adapted into animation, instead being fragmented into two short OVA series featuring a couple of standard-length episodes each. Although that limited its scope, YKK’s episodic format enabled the staff to pick and choose the most representative chapters as they pleased. In a way, the series’ disinterest in making the reader privy to world-changing information actually made an anime that jumps around the manga and doesn’t bother to introduce characters feel at points more YKK than even the original YKK. The timing of its release added to this curious relationship the series has with the flow of time as well; despite releasing just 4 years apart and both being produced at studio Ajia-dou, each OVA series sits on opposing sides on the cel/digital animation divide, making them feel like fundamentally different productions. The inexorable passing of time is certainly attached to their craft too.

Mind you, none of these accidentally fitting circumstances would mean much without a team prepared to translate YKK’s unique qualities—and fortunately, it got two of those. Or, to be more precise, it got two different leaders with meaningfully different approaches to the idea of making an atmospheric anime, making the team adjust accordingly. The first OVA series released in 1998, under the direction, storyboarding, and scriptwriting of one Takashi Anno. Though that name won’t ring any bells for younger viewers, he’s a director held in high regard within the industry and among fans of older works; for a plurality of reasons at that, which indicates that he’s by no means a one-trick pony.

Some people really appreciate his attentive enshutsu work, which always showed great awareness of audience expectations and of layering. There are those who value his involvement in landmarks of realistic animation like The Hakkenden, while others are drawn to other sides of his grounded style; such as the idea of laying out shots as if they were filmed with a live action camera, which he took and evolved from Ajia-dou’s Osamu Kobayashi at a time when that wasn’t a common approach. Though those qualities are present in his YKK adaptation to different degrees, Ashinano himself pointed at Anno’s focus on time and space, and his willingness to embrace the pauses within a story, as fitting qualities he was attracted to. Anno identified YKK as a series about a world with characters placed in it rather than the other way around, and made a series where the planet breathes, where its ambiance is allowed to embrace you undisturbed.

In an interview featured in the VHS booklet for the first OVA, Ashinano admitted that he’d been aware of Anno for a long time. He revealed that in the 80s, he’d been somewhat involved with the anime industry for a while, and thus he’d heard about a certain director his peers were raving about. In an era where anime was taking off but in their view remained spearheaded by bombastic animation, someone had put out an enthralling non-story they felt made just as strong of a reverberation despite the radically opposed style. That director was of course Anno, and the iconic work that turned all those heads was none other than Magical Emi, The Magic Star: Semishigure.

For a bit of context, studio Pierrot’s Magical Girl Series is a group of works the studio produced in the 80s, with one reboot of sorts running a decade later; those being Creamy Mami, Persia the Magic Fairy, Magical Emi, Pastel Yumi, and later Fancy Lala. Those titles shared a common structure, where young protagonists would be granted magical powers that also turned them into adults. And for its first few years, Anno stood out as one of the biggest contributors; first as a very active storyboarder and episode director for Creamy Mami, and then as a series director for Persia and Magical Emi.

The latter in particular, running from the summer of 1985 to early 1986, arguably saw Anno’s greatest leap as a director. He directed its chirpy and wildly energetic first episode—featuring all sorts of hidden notable guests, including one he shares a name with—but by the end of the show, his own finale embraced the quiet melancholy that would become so characteristic of his direction. Magical Emi is a show about valuing one’s own efforts, so for as useful as the magical powers had been and despite forcing her to bid goodbye to some friends, the show ends with protagonist Mai moving on. And in those moments of bittersweet silence, Anno shone best.

You don’t have to play armchair psychologist to guess that this evolution awakened a desire to take this approach even further—Anno basically said as much himself. In this roundtable interview with key figures from Magical Emi, held after the ending of the show, Anno specifically talks about what he’d do if he followed it up with an OVA, as well as his unfinished business with this work. He expressed his desire to tell a story where not much at all actually happens. As a director, he’d like to focus on the sensorial appeal, building it all around details like sound effects. He’d prefer to use indirect means of expression like props to imply feelings, rather than overtly state them. That interview was published in the July 1986 issue of OUT, and by the end of September of that same year, Semishigure’s release made it clear that he was talking about an idea that was already in the making. The original Magical Emi was followed up by an OVA where indeed nothing happens, that owes its title to the sound of the cicadas, and where character turns are gestured at by the objects they interact with and their seemingly ordinary actions.

To be more precise, Semishigure is framed as a sequel to Magical Emi. After a short recap of the TV show, a now adult Mai is in her own room. Nothing but ambient noise can be heard as she quietly flips through an old photo album, as she looks at her once-magical toys, and gazes at the fluttering curtains. Eventually, the camera zooms into a photo of her magical persona dated August 26 1985—before smoothly cutting into an opening sequence with all the vibrancy that was held back in that intro. Semishigure proceeds to tell a story about 3 days where nothing particularly significant seems to happen, but where you can see characters change their mind through their mundane routines. Anno fulfilled his wish of building around the sound effects through an OVA where the titular cicadas, other markers of the summer heat, and the sudden rain define the entire rhythm. Its spacious recurring layouts change in minor ways according to these everyday shifts, giving it all a palpable sense of place that the TV series never quite had.

In short, it’s a highly atmospheric OVA touching on nostalgia and the passage of time, where the scenery plays a key role and direction that dares to appreciate the quiet moments. Now YKK fans, does that sound familiar?

The similarities between both OVAs become even clearer the second you start watching Anno’s take on YKK. The grooviest opening you’ll ever see—also featuring characteristically lackadaisical allusions to the state of the world—is followed up by long stretches of minimal dialogue, nothing but diegetic sound, or simply silence. Anno’s direction proves to have great musicality to it, not by constantly leaning on the BGM, but rather through its calculated austerity. YKK is confidently restrained, allowing you to soak in the sounds of the world just as its characters do. And conversely, when it deems it necessary to insert music, it commits to its presentation with all its strength; much like the intro, there are multiple montages set to the beat of a beautiful track, sometimes used to synthesize the vibes of a chapter this adaptation skims through. It’s also worth noting that the compatibility between the soundtrack and Ashinano’s work is beyond perfect, as the two had been interacting before this adaptation even happened. These first OVAs feature nothing but music produced by GONTITI, who already worked on the Drama CDs for YKK prior to the anime. It’s hard to imagine that its groovy, soothing sounds didn’t influence Ashinano himself moving forward.

The first chapter that this adaptation dedicates its full attention to introduces Alpha to Kokone, a courier robot who delivers a present from her missing master. And just as importantly, it gives a taste of the prevalent attitude in this chill post-apocalypse. There is always room for individual variance, of course; across the entire series, Kokone proves to be more inquisitive about specifics of the world versus the more spontaneous Alpha, perhaps already hinted at by her choosing a traditional name versus Alpha simply rolling with her model type. That said, it all operates within the standards of a world that quietly appreciates its past amidst is sweet, quiet decadence, without growing overly obsessed with it. Ashinano’s professed love of the mystique does play into it, but as we see Alpha come across entire submerged cities, inviable roads, and even a now dented Mt Fuji that implies it is now a volcano without making a big deal out of any of it, you can feel the laid back mood of this world.

Using that camera Kokone had delivered to her as a linking piece, the OVA then jumps into a chapter that right about summarizes the spirit of this work and his creator. Alpha readies up to depart on a trip to take some photos, feeling like her limited capacity of just over a hundred shots will be too little considering just how many things there are out there. She casually snaps one of her motorcycle as she’s leaving, but from that point onward and despite encountering people and vistas she’d like to store, none of them feel perfect enough. She eventually goes for a sure hit by witnessing the gorgeous sunset at the northern ruins… but when she does so, she gets so into it that she doesn’t end up taking a photo. Having realized that photography is just one of many ways to create a lasting memory, she ends up treasuring the one she naturally took at the start, thinking that perhaps a hundred shots would be plentiful.

This appreciation of spontaneity, down to its relationship with photography, is something Ashinano preaches to this day. In that recent conversation he had with Sakatsuki Sakana, the two of them shared their fond memories of an era where all they’d have access to were toy cameras. Their quality may have been shoddy and their photos technically not accurate—but in Ashinano’s view, that’s precisely what could bring them to the exaggeration our memories naturally go through. On top of that, each toy ended up having its own specific quirks, which made those photos truly of your own. The current world, where such distortion effects would be consistently applied through advanced smartphone tech, is just a little less interesting to the author; and after this episode, it feels like Alpha herself would agree.

Anno’s second OVA is thoroughly committed to the same themes, in a way that allows the viewer to grasp the aesthetic qualities that enhance them even better. Despite starting with YKK as its most tense with Alpha being injured during a lightning storm, that chapter plays out in a comedic tone, and the rest is a pleasantly uneventful appreciation of transient beauty; first, by enjoying some coffee even amidst her mistakes and inhospitable weather, and later, by witnessing the submerged remains of human civilization coming alight. To sell the impact such moments have on Alpha to the viewer, YKK relies on Shunichiro Yoshihara’s realistic but still somewhat painterly art direction, as well as Yuko Kobari’s gorgeous color design; and yes, this is the same Kobari we recently spoke of as a great ally of Kotomi Deai, as the two of them are responsible for the thoroughly pleasant palette of Skip and Loafer.

One key aspect that may go underappreciated is the layout work, since it’s not so idiosyncratic as to immediately stand out, yet it perfectly embodies Anno’s grounded approach. All shots across these first two OVAs convey a great feeling of depth, starting of course with the director’s penchant for making characters move across the Z axis in his storyboards, and then being aptly executed by the animation team. In this regard, it’s Masayuki Sekine who shouldered the most responsibility. He acted as the sole animation director across all YKK OVA—first supervising Atsushi Yamagata’s designs, then later taking over that role for the 2002 sequel series—and more specifically oversaw this aspect as YKK’s shot designer. Those of you who happened to watch this years original anime Revenger might have noticed that this is the exact same role Sekine had over there, as composing attractive shots is a strength of his to this day; incidentally, Revenger’s series director Masaya Fujimori joined Sekine in that role for the next OVA series as well, alongside other notable figures like the aforementioned Osamu Kobayashi and Yoshiaki Yanagida.

Since it has already come up, it’s about time we move on to the end of this journey: Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou: Quiet Country Café, released 4 years after the first OVA series. Thematically, these two episodes can be slotted right in the same package as its predecessor. Somewhat betraying its title, they revolve around a seemingly traumatic event: Alpha’s café, aging much faster than its current android owner, collapses after being incapable of weathering a typhoon. In YKK fashion, however, that becomes an excuse for Alpha to take a leisure trip around the country. If anything, having jumped a few volumes ahead just causes the series to double down in its inscrutable nature. Alpha comes across intriguing geopolitical implications and curious ecological changes alike—my kingdom for a giant persimmon—but is too preoccupied with enjoying the moment to question them.

Removed from the larger context of the manga, even some aspects that Ashinano bothered to give a bit of an explanation for end up coming across more mysteriously. In Alpha’s absence, we catch some glimpses of the Misago/Osprey, an ageless creature of myth that roams around the bay near her café. She was originally introduced in the first volume, and despite keeping her nature a complete mystery, Ashinano did reveal that she only shows herself to children, and that not even those same kids can see her again once they grow up; the implication of course being that, as a creature who doesn’t age, she can’t comprehend the physical changes that the process involves. The anime, which had omitted her presence for nearly its entire runtime, takes that mystique to the next level by briefly showing her around the end, and having the now more grown up kids simply mention that they haven’t seen her in a while—gesturing in the same direction, but with more layers of neat obfuscation.

A similar approach is applied to other mysteries of the world, like the giant plane that perpetually flies the skies, or the nature of the androids as a collection of humanity’s memories. The shared theme of the passage of time clearly runs through all the mysteries in YKK’s world, but especially for those viewers who never read the source material, this is a work that demands you accept to live with unanswered questions, and instead focus on enjoying the moment. Time is too fleeting to obsess over every enigma after all.

And it’s the way to sell those moments that most meaningfully changes between the two OVA series. As previously stated, Quiet Country Café is an early digital production, which greatly changes the flavor of this work. Though its color design can’t match the exquisite work of the preceding series, it makes up for it with the radically distinct art direction by the late legend Shichiro Kobayashi—best known for the likes of Utena, Gamba, Ashita no Joe 2, Castle of Cagliostro, Beautiful Dreamers, Windy Tales, and unarguably being one of the most important figures in the history of stylized Japanese animation. In contrast to the grounded scenery of the first OVA, Kobayashi’s evokes reality with stark forms, implications of movement, and downright expressionistic paintings. Compared to the gentle embrace of the first series, his work feels like it’s demanding your attention in a more proactive way.

Had they applied this style to Anno’s work, there might have been some friction between the two, but the fundamental changes do not stop there. Though Quiet Country Café is also built around a meticulous creator who personally handled all the direction, storyboarding, and scriptwriting duties, this time around it’s Tomomi Mochizuki who led the project in such fashion. Compared to the relative obscurity of Anno, Mochizuki feels like a creator who requires less of an introduction; for one, because he has both a more recent presence in the industry and more mainstream classic hits like Ranma to his name, but also because we already published a great guest piece on his developing style. One that emphasized dynamism through the camerawork, that already showed a holistic view of animation that has allowed him to have a healthy career as scriptwriter and sound director on top of the traditional directorial duties. There is an overlap of intent between him and Anno—after all, Mochizuki was a younger Ajia-do director who diligently worked under him for the likes of Magical Emi—but the way they get around to fulfilling those goals is certainly different.

Compared to Anno’s naturalism, Mochizuki’s depiction of YKK’s world is more inherently farcical. The predominance of diegetic quietness is gone, replaced by a much more melodic soundscape. Both the orchestration of Choro Club’s BGM—arranged by a certain Taku Iwasaki—and their usage in these OVAs feel a lot more involved than the casual vibe of its predecessor; in a neat twist of fate, these two series managed to share composers with Kozue Amano‘s Aria and Amanchu, perhaps the most famous works in this specific subgenre that YKK belongs to. The aspect where this change in approach is most easily felt, though, is the aforementioned Kobayashi art direction. While the camerawork in Quiet Country Café is restrained by Mochizuki’s standards at the time, his direction toys around with layered assets in a much more apparent view, with complex parallaxes that draw attention to the fact that these are just drawings layered on your screen. And yet, that is where artists like Kobayashi shine best, with confident staging to sell the fantasy of their work. If the first YKK OVA is akin to quietly witnessing a piece of nature, its sequel amounts to watching the same characters walk across arresting paintings of that same world.

Much like he did in other relatively restrained works of his like Ocean Waves—and relying on familiar faces from that project—Mochizuki tactically deploys more active camerawork in spots too. The most notable example isn’t just an iconic scene, but arguably the greatest example of that YKK philosophy across Quiet Country Café. Once the storm in the first episode has passed, we follow Alpha happily coming back home… just to see hints that something terrible may have happened. We don’t get to immediately see it through her eyes, though, as the camera instead quietly pans through the skies and time itself. We can only see that tragic outcome later, when Alpha’s neighbor drives back and is greeted by a certain melody. Alpha is sitting on the ground playing the lute with a somewhat obscured expression, and it’s only then that the camera pans across the ruins of her café. A slow rotation reveals Alpha’s peaceful expression, having moved on from the pain of loss and instead expressing her acceptance in a beautiful way. The chapter ends right there, with this embodiment of YKK’s philosophy.

Depending on what you look for in media, or even how compatible you are with this specific type of understated storytelling, this may have sounded as interesting as watching paint dry. YKK was never conceived as a mainstream hit after all. It was one comic artist’s debut work, an escape valve for his desire to share beautiful sceneries and his drive to casually seek such moments in life. That resonated with a very specific type of person, even more so when two brilliant directors channeled their own influences into Ashinano’s worldview—and to this day, as quietly as YKK tends to be, that continues to happen.

Younger animation fans are likely aware of Moaang: a recurring figure in very high profile animation showcases, be it actions megahits like Jujutsu Kaisen, CSM, and FGO, or even theatrical ones like Suzume. Moaang is the type of versatile artist who can take their career in right about any direction in the world of animation and likely reach the top, so they’ve been giving various roles a try in recent years. The possibilities were endless with their storyboarding and direction debut on Akebi-chan #07, and they did indeed put together a stunning spectacle. When it came to the quieter beats, though, Moaang decided to channel a certain older work’s energy. One that, to this day, still quietly resonates in the heart of contemplative artists like Hitoshi Ashinano.

Incidentally, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is a title we watched together in the Discord server for $5+ Patreon supporters. We’ve recently gone through Tenamonya Voyagers and Saint Young Men as well, both of which just as lovely even if in radically different ways. If you want to join in on the fun to watch excellent anime that you’ve likely heard about but never gotten around to, you’re welcome to join in on the fun (and help us choose what comes next) by supporting us. And if you don’t care about that, you can still support us on Patreon anyway I guess.

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