Lights, Camera, Frieren! Part 1: A History of Tooru Iwazawa



While this series of posts might be aiming to focus on a closer look at Iwazawa’s influence on the electric action present in Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, there’s more myths to Tooru Iwazawa than just this one series. With that in mind, I want to take the opportunity to set the stage to better understand Iwazawa’s progression, from key animator, to action animator, and then into action animation direction and ultimately action direction. So then, let’s get started.

As many would (rightfully) assume, you don’t just suddenly become an “action director” out of thin air. Experience and ability is required, and Tooru Iwazawa has been building up that experience since 2015 (though their first KA credit comes from Flip Flappers in 2016- I’ll definitely be chatting about this in another post). In about a two year span starting in 2015, Iwazawa appeared on around 15 different projects, but typically stuck to singular episodes. However, in fall of 2017 Iwazawa made some noise at A-1 with their work on Fate/Apocrypha. No stranger to A-1 by the time of Apocrypha, Iwazawa was tapped for a total of 8 out of 25 episodes for Key Animation.

Their cuts were right at home with the punchy and fluid animation present in the series, but even within that “range”, Iwazawa varied quite wildly- and not in a bad way. Where their earlier cuts were a touch more “all-out” and full of effort and style, towards the end of the series they managed the best of both worlds in a 45 second cut of Mordred vs Semiramis in episode 23 (via Sakugabooru). It’s not an outstanding cut with every frame, but when you take a look at what Iwazawa brings, it’s downright incredible for how long the cut goes on.

There’s character acting, there’s the lip syncing, effects animation, impact frames, liquid animation. There’s an incredible amount of uniquely commendable animation work in the sequence that remains staggering for being only a bit past 2 years (according to Anidb) since Iwazawa was first seen in the industry.

And all of that work comes from under the supervision of 2 staff members: Shun Enokido and Takahito Sakazume. Being the pair of action directors for Fate/Apocrypha, they have their fair share of responsibility in regards to Iwazawa’s success on the project, and similarly carry plenty of weight moving forward. I’m endlessly excited to chat about that link, but that’ll be for the next instalment in this series.

So, alongside some of the standouts of the industry during the era like Shun Enokido and Takahito Sakazume, Iwazawa was able to cement themselves as an impressive action animator, but moving forward they found an even bigger break in their next work: Black Clover. At Pierrot, Iwazawa was given the role of “action animator” for episodes 28-64 (according to Anidb). Alongside that very important credit, Iwazawa also established their experience with action animation direction, making for an incredibly strong one-two punch for the still surprisingly green animator.

It’s hard to really overstate the value that comes with the title of “action animator”, as only three people (once more, according to Anidb) in the entirety of Black Clover’s production were granted the title. Though far more interesting I think than the rarity of the title, is the twin fates awaiting action animators Isuta (Meister) and Tooru Iwazawa. The two have gone on to have noticeable overlap in projects, but decidedly have picked sides in the “battle of studios whose names start with M”. Both Isuta and Iwazawa have done work with Madhouse and Mappa, but where Iwazawa has chosen Madhouse as a home studio, Isuta has stuck closer to Mappa and has more roots keeping them closer to Pierrot.

Continuing on that train of connections, though in the opposite direction, is Iwazawa’s relation to Black Clover director Tatsuya Yoshihara. Even though Iwazawa had only been in the industry for a paltry two-and-a-bit years, they’d made key contact with Yoshihara on Monster Musume of all things. It’s here that Iwazawa worked under Yoshihara’s direction for the first time, with the series becoming a stronger symbol of Iwazawa’s future than I think mostly anyone would expect it to be- though more on that later. For now, we also have the varying degrees of separation that join Yoshihara to staff like Enokido. Of course, they’re not the focus of this post though, so I’ll leave it at the idea that the two have worked on projects together like Yatterman Night before, and provide another avenue for Iwazawa’s recruitment for Black Clover.

Back to the topic at hand though, with Tooru Iwazawa’s involvement in Frieren, the other two action animators for Black Clover made their presence known on the series. Isuta did key animation on episode 9, while the third BC action animator Hiroaki Nakamichi was present on episode 14. I was unable to source a cut from Isuta, but Sakugabooru thankfully has one credited to Nakamichi that you can find here.

If you’re looking for a cut from Isuta where Tooru Iwazawa was involved though, you don’t have to look any further than the subject of the next part in this series- Takt Op. Destiny. Yes, the Mappa-Madhouse collaboration series was foundational in building the career of Iwazawa into what allowed him to helm Frieren, and it holds a truly impressive amount of information to discuss. But that will be for next time. For now, we’ve been able to see how Iwazawa found themselves so closely tied to action in anime, and how they ended up growing into roles that would focus solely on action animation, both as an individual artist, but also as a supervisor and corrector.

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