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Sunday, October 25, 2015

05:28:00 pm , 6993 words, 7913 views     Categories: TV, Studio: Mushi Pro, Studio: Hoso Doga Seisaku, Studio: Toei Doga, 1960s

Fight da!! Pyuta

Fight da!! Pyuta is an obscure black and white show from 1968. It was produced not by one of the major studios of the era but by a short-lived studio going by the generic name Hoso Doga Seisaku (Broadcast Animation Production). You'd be forgiven for assuming it to be one of the many throwaway shows produced at this time. But in fact it happens to be one of the best, featuring some of the most edgy comedy and vivid animation of any TV show of the era.

From psychedeila to pop art, political satire to parody, Pyuta incorporates themes and techniques that made it ahead of its time in its day, probably contributing to its short two-season run. It's a shame that the show was produced in black and white or its appeal would be more immediately obvious, but it's a tribute to the artistry of the animators that it nonetheless remains tremendously entertaining and watchable after nearly 50 years.

All you have to do is look at the opening theme to see just how out of this world this show is, with its profusion of subliminal inserts, pop sensibility, alternately rich and cartoony animation, and most of all the incredibly fast cutting. That is quite possibly some of the fastest cutting I've ever seen in an anime. This opening was a clear statement of intent from the staff that they were out to break the rules and do something special. Although not all of the episodes in the show itself live up to this promise, the remarkable thing is that even the less impressive parts are a cut above, and the best episodes are among the best TV episodes of the era.

Pyuta picks up where Mushi Pro's gag comedy masterpiece Goku no Daiboken (1967) left off, and in some ways goes even further. Like Goku, Pyuta was clearly the product of industry animators fed up with being bottled up by the constraints of the industry coming together to put their foot down and make some crazy animation the way they wanted for once. Pyuta ditches running story altogether and uses only the most rudimentary setup as a coathanger to allow its animators the most possible freedom in storytelling.

The world of Fight da!! Pyuta

One of the major factors behind the show's freedom is that, despite the claim of being based on the manga by Tsunezo Murotani, the show is in fact almost completely original. The previous anime produced by the studio was based on a manga by Tsunezo Murotani. This time they basically took the idea of Dr. Tsururi from the Dr. Tsururi manga by Murotani, but completely changed his design and personality and added Pyuta as the actual protagonist, along with inventing all of the other characters. It's essentially an original show, not actually based on a manga. This certainly helped give the animators more freedom to do their thing.

In coming up with the setup, the 1965 slapstick comedy movie The Great Race was an inspiration to the staff in terms of tone and gadgetry. Thus you get the amusing contraptions flown by Warusa & gang in the opening theme. This sets the basic tone for the show - slapstick and silly struggle between the protagonist and the bad guys piloting crazy contraptions, with the bad guys being kind of ridiculous and laughable.

The show's hero is Konno Pyuta (inspired by the recently introduced word computer), who lives with his grandfather, the bald genius inventor Doctor Tsururi (tsururi is the onomatopoeia for smooth). The Doctor actually just sits around sleeping all day, but when he gets hit on the head with a hard object, he goes into hustle mode. Signaled by the Kentucky Derby fanfare, his true genius comes out, and he assembles a brilliant invention. It's a staple of the show that there's at least one hustle scene per episode.

The show's heroine is Kakko-chan, who appears in a different guise in every episode - astronaut, painter, reporter, etc. Kakko-chan is in fact a completely different character in each episode, making Pyuta's acquaintance anew each time, which is a novel approach.

Pyuta rides around in his barrel helicopter taking orders for repairs and inventions. Meanwhile, the evil Warusa the 7th sends his sidekick Braky to spy on them and steal their inventions at the behest of a computer inhabited by the ghost of his ancestors. At the end of each episode, after his schemes are foiled, Warusa is punished by his ancestors. Voice actor Kyoji Kobayashi does much to bring Warusa's comically snobbish personality to life.

Thus, the show establishes a set of formulae, but the characteristic thing about Pyuta is that the staff used these formulae not as corner-cutting techniques but as challenges. Notably, the hustle would normally have been a "bank", but in a kind of protest against the notion of this kind of animated laziness, each and every instance of a hustle by Dr. Tsururi is animated anew - and with considerable verve - in every episode. Part of the show's fun thus becomes seeing how Dr. Tsururi will appear in his hustle scene, as the animators come up with increasingly outlandish hustle scenes.

The show starts off a little slow, as the animators were still getting used to the material early on. Episode 1 is hesitant and lacking in spark, and functions mainly to present the basics of the setup to the audience. But fairly quickly the animators loosen up, and midway through we start getting some truly memorable episodes as animated playfulness begins to trump rote storytelling. I've picked out a sampling of the best episodes below.

Episode highlights

Episode 10: 南太平洋メチャクチャ大戦争 Crazy War in the South Pacific
Director:倉橋こうじ Koji Kurahashi
Animators:林静一 Seiichi Hayashi
鈴木欽一郎 Kinichiro Suzuki

Warusa wins a free trip overseas, which impresses Kakko-chan, who dreams of visiting the west. The jealous Pyuta builds a submarine to take her overseas, but instead of hitting up glamorous Paris, they wind up getting stranded on an island in the South Pacific. After they land, Pyuta accidentally steps off a cliff while showing off to Kakko-chan and falls into the water, barely escaping alive from the shark-infested waters. The natives see this feat and promptly crown him king. Meanwhile, Warusa accidentally falls off the plane after mistaking the exit door for the bathroom, and is rescued from the middle of the ocean by the Seventh Fleet. A spy has infiltrated the fleet, and Warusa helpfully points out that his nemesis Pyuta is the spy they're looking for. So begins a pitched battle between Seventh Fleet and the natives, armed with rocks and bows and arrows. The natives seem doomed, but a strange thing happens...

This is hands down the best episode in the series, and luckily it's available for viewing online, albeit without subtitles (watch). Even without understanding the episode, the remarkable amount of work that went into the animation, and the craziness of it all, comes through clearly. From the lively acting in the opening sequence to the insane hustle scene where Dr. Tsururi rips off his nose and eyes, to the remarkable battle sequence at the climax, the episode is filled head to toe with clever ideas and fun animation. The crazy sequence where an army of comic book superheroes appear out of nowhere and descend on Warusa is a particular highlight, underscoring the liberties the staff were able to take with the animation in this show. An incredible amount of work also went into animating the water, which splashes about realistically in the ocean scenes.

This episode is the crowning example of how the staff of Pyuta took a stand and decided to put all their effort into the animation for once, schedule and studio be damned. The episode took twice as long to make as the other episodes, and they used twice as many animation drawings. And this was not sanctioned by the studio. They did it because they were determined to do it, and it created friction with the studio because they were taking so long. Seiichi Hayashi reportedly almost got into a fistfight with producer Ken Saito over the whole thing because of Hayashi's brazen attitude. When asked by Saito when on earth they were going to finish, Hayashi essentially responded, "Damned if I know."

The director of the episode is Koji Kurahashi, who later changed his name to Tatsuji Kurahashi. The animators were Seiichi Hayashi and Kinicihro Suzuki, who were both at Studio Knack at the time, recently formed by Sadao Tsukioka. Indicating how special this episode was, Hayashi and Suzuki commuted to Hoso Doga Seisaku for their work on this episode, but for the other episodes did the work from Knack, like a regular subcontractor. There were two other subcontractors involved - Art Fresh and Jaggard - but I'm not sure where the work would have been done by those other subcontractors. It probably varied on an individual basis.

Kurahashi actually animated a considerable amount of the episode, uncredited. There appears to have been a rule that only two people could be credited for the animation for some reason, as there are actually a lot of other uncredited animators in the episodes. Kurahashi also did uncredited animation in episode 13, as did Studio Knack founder Sadao Tsukioka on the Studio Knack-outsourced episode. Kinichiro Suzuki did uncredited work on episode 23. Daizo Takeuchi animated the hustle scene in episode 1 uncredited. Even Manabu Ohashi reportedly did uncredited work on an episode, although I'm not sure which.

Kurahashi animated the opening sequence of the episode, which is a good intro to his style. He likes to move characters fluidly, doing lots of poses and acting, and avoids breaking down the characters into parts. Kakko-chan has a more vivid personality in this episode thanks to his animation, doing all sorts of interesting mischevious poses and actions. The playful "Hai Kancho-sama!" is particularly memorable.

The contrast with the Art Fresh episodes of Pyuta is instructive on the difference between animators of the Toei Doga vs Mushi Pro lineage: The characters in the Art Fresh episodes are broken down into parts, with the bodies being static and the arms being the only thing moving, in order to save labor. Instead of movement, clever compositions and stylish drawings help maintain interest. In contrast, Kurahashi refuses to do this, as he felt that in order to be able to create truly interesting body posing you had to keep it all integral and draw the body with every frame, otherwise it leads to static acting. Aside from having done a great job directing this entertaining episode, Kurahashi's acting animation is very lively. He was a great discovery for me in this series. Unfortunately, after Pyuta Kurahashi seems to have moved away from commercial animation. It seems Pyuta was his ultimate expression in the commercial anime format, although he continued doing more indie work down to the present day.

Just as The Great Race inspired the series as a whole, the 1967 slapstick spy flick spoof Casino Royale inspired Kurahashi with this episode. You can see this clearly in the climactic battle, where there are so many different things going on at the same time in one giant ridiculous melee. The game of hot-potato with a live warhead has a nice classic cartoon sensibility, and the subplot of the spy trying to kill the Commander is amusingly subtle. The comically diminutive child Commander remains throughout oblivious to the spy trying to kill him. After he falls overboard, we get regaled with a whole hilariously irrelevant sequence of him running into the bathtub to warm himself up because the water was so cold.

The story has a healthy streak of surrealism and black humor. Pyuta knows the natives are doomed, and doesn't want to fight because he knows he'll die, but by some strange miracle, every rock they throw and arrow they sling winds up blowing up a battleship. It's a magnificently surreal and inexplicable denouement that betrays expectations in a way only possible in animation. Probably my single favorite shot in the entire show comes in this sequence - the bewildering trompe l'oueil shot where the Queen points to the ships on the horizon, telling Pyuta to destroy them all, and dunks the ships in the water by way of example.

Seiichi Hayashi, who debuted as a manga-ka the previous year just a few years later in 1970 published his classic manga Elegy in Red, shows some early signs of his stylistic flexibility and pop-art-infused leanings with that remarkable sequence of the horde of superheroes descending on Warusa. Hayashi animated most of the part where Warusa is washed up on shore, and he also has a very interesting style of movement. Kinichiro Suzuki animated the memorable hustle sequence. The work of all three is intermingled throughout the episode, so there's no clear part breakdown. Both did work on only two more episodes, episode 13 and 22. Episode 13 is directed by Norio Hikone and the story is characteristically somewhat bland if workmanlike (the same can be said of his other episodes, 2, 6 and 25), but the episode is packed with movement thanks to their animation, assisted by Tsukioka. Episode 22 has more fun and characteristic drawings, again being an episode situated on an island in the South Pacific. Unfortunately episode 10 is the only episode directed by Koji Kurahashi, although he contributed animation to a few other episodes.

Episode 11: ねむれる宇宙のカッコちゃん Sleeping Kakko-chan in Space
Director:小華和為雄 Tameo Kohanawa
Animators:林政行 Masayuki Hayashi
斉藤博 Hiroshi Saito

Kakko-chan brings glory to the great scientifically advanced nation of Japan in this what-if cold war farce that poses the question: What if Japan was the first one to send an astronaut into orbit? Kakko-chan experiences difficulties in space and disappears, that's what. Japan sends out a plea to the nations of earth for help, and the POTUS responds with a vow to bring Kakko-chan back safely - "We'll spend anything it takes! Don't let Russia beat us!" In response to this provocation, Moscow vows in the name of the great Soviet republic not to let the US beat them. France in its turn vows to show the world its true scientific might. The UK, not to be left out, steps in and vows on the Queen's name to bring Kakko-chan back to safety. So begins a global struggle for dominance of the skies.

This episode is easily the funniest in the show, with almost every moment perfectly hitting its satirical beat. It's the most overtly political of the episodes as well, not just casting a satirical light on cold war geopolitical power games but also commenting on Japan's comparative technological backwardness.

Initially Pyuta builds a rocket to go save Kakko-chan, but as usual his inventions suck. The rocket has boosters pointing every which way. It takes his grampa's hustle to get a real rocket built. The hustle scene combines parody with political satire, depicting Dr. Tsururi as Tetsujin 28 blithely landing on and destroying the National Diet. While the nations of the earth parade the rocket ships they've built to rescue Kakko-chan in grand processions, Pyuta & co strut down the street in a Chindonya costume while harried housewives look on in bafflement from the sidelines and complain about the noise.

In an earlier scene, when everyone in Japan is celebrating Kakko-chan's new world record of having orbited the earth 150 times, we see a montage sequence of different groups celebrating. In one shot, the crooks have just escaped from a prison, but they're so elated by the news that they give their tied up jailer a cheer. The crooks all look the part - striped prison uniform, black mask, ball and chain... LDP candidate sash.

The best episode of Gokuu no Daiboken, episode 4 by Osamu Dezaki, was a geopolitical metaphor for the cold war in which various gangs fought over a treasure map. This episode is a lot more direct about the butt of its joke.

This episode was directed by Tameo Kohanawa and animated by Jaggard's Hiroshi Saito and Masayuki Hayashi. Jaggard actually has more of a Mushi Pro lineage than a Toei Doga one. Hiroshi Saito worked at Otogi Pro and then Mushi Pro before founding his studio, and Masayuki Hayashi had only worked at Mushi Pro. But Jaggard was primarily an advertising animation studio, which made it a fit with the ad-trained staff of Pyuta. This perhaps shows up in the episode's many caricature drawings, including some amusing big-nosed caricatures of an irate Lyndon B. Johnson and a sad Charles de Gaulle. The episode has the feeling of a moving political cartoon, a rarity in anime, in which any political commentary is usually very oblique.

Episode 21 about air conditioners is another good Jaggard episode, this time directed by none other than a young Toshio Hirata. The episode has some stylish drawings and pithy visual jokes that are clearly the product of animators steeped in the lingo of advertising presentation. Leo from Jungle Taitei even makes a cameo appearance - in a zoo. (Hirata had worked on the show a few years earlier.) It's ironic that three years after working on the first color anime Hirata again worked on a black and white show.

Tameo Kohanawa is exemplary of the show's directors who came from Toei Doga but distinctly did not share the studio's professed Disney-inspired traditional approach to animated filmmaking, preferring instead the more cartoonish and edgy alternatives like UPA and Warner Brothers. In his work you get a feeling of an animator having fun and not just merely rotely regurgitating a manga. Kohanawa had actually spent 5 years working at an ad agency prior to joining Toei Doga, underlining his stylistic leanings. He soon directed episodes of Tensai Bakabon and Akado Suzunosuke for Tokyo Movie before becoming involved with Group Tac and directing the Jean-Henri Fabre episode of Manga Ijin Monogatari and the Oni of Setsubun episode of Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi. And that's just the early years of this very prolific director who is still active today.

Masayuki Hayashi is actually the little brother of Shigeyuki Hayashi, better known as Rintaro. Art Fresh's Koji Sugii, meanwhile, is the little brother of Gisaburo Sugii. Both got their start as animators on their elder brothers' respective shows during the early years. The same can be said of Satoshi Dezaki, Osamu Dezaki's little brother.

Episode 15: ワタ―シ天才きみ気ちがい Me genius, you idiot
Director:竹内大三 Daizo Takeuchi
Animators:金沢孝義 Takayoshi Kanazawa
尾根英夫 Hideo One

Warusa seeks to learn the secret of Dr. Tsururi's hustle, and invents a machine to transfer his brain into a helmet. This turns Dr. Tsururi into a brain-dead zombie. Warusa then uses Dr. Tsururi's hustle abilities to frame Pyuta for having turned Dr. Tsururi into a zombie, but Pyuta comes back for revenge...

This is perhaps the most outrageously fun episode in the series. It's the ultimate expression of the slapstick nonsense side of the show, with every moment packed with some kind of gag or creative visual idea - from the opening parody of North by Northwest, to the silent movie sequence set in early 20th century Japan, to the multiple hustle scenes featuring Warusa's capitalistic vampire ID going on a rampage sucking blood from women and selling it at the local blood bank for cash.

I talked about Daizo Takeuchi in my post on Tensai Bakabon, noting the freedom and craziness of his animation in that show. Well, already three years earlier he had some some even crazier work in Pyuta, as he had far more freedom with the material here. In contrast with someone like Norio Hikone, who makes proper drama with proper characterizations and proper animation, Daizo Takeuchi seems to refuse to take the work seriously. Animation to him seems to be nothing but something to do for fun - and that's what makes it so great.

The idea to insert the North by Northwest reference was Daizo Takeuchi's - it wasn't in the script. He similarly inserted a 2001: A Space Odyssey reference in episode 18. The characteristic of Takeuchi's episodes is that they build and build to wild, raucous climaxes, and you never know what's going to happen next. Takeuchi is also one of the freest animators in the show in terms of deforming the characters. Warusa goes through some impressively insane deformation clearly inspired by cartoons, not only squashing and stretching improbably but exploding into little pieces and turning into abstract art.

Daizo Takeuchi directed two other episodes for the show, episode 18 about gangsters and 24 about a beauty contest. Both are packed with crazy drawings and bold deformation of a kind only Daizo Takeuchi could have come up with. Episode 24 seems to have been animated by Mushi Pro people and hence is more static in the movement, but the climax features some of the most insane drawings in the whole show as the masks turn into bizarre abstract faces on the contestants. The bizarre Warusa face at the top of the post is from episode 24.

Daizo Takeuchi drew key animation on the studio's previous show Pikkari B and made his directing debut under that show's director, Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu, who is the unofficial director of Pyuta. Incidentally, Daizo Takeuchi drew the last part of the opening theme - the bizarre part where multiple Pyuta and Warusa heads appear on the screen and Warusa motions to the screen "OK? We done yet?". He inserts a similar meta gag in episode 15 with Warusa telling viewers to tune in next week for Fight da!! Warusa and later pointing at the screen and saying how "They understand my plan." The previous section in the opening theme with the alligator and the lion was drawn by Koji Kurahashi and is in a vivid full style contrasting with Daizo Takeuchi's more staccato and playful animation. The opening was storyboarded by series director Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu.

Episode 23: よみがえるノ―タリン部隊 The Return of the Dumbass Squad
Director:永沢詢 Makoto Nagasawa
Animators:金沢孝義 Takayoshi Kanazawa
倉橋孝治 Koji Kurahashi

Near the end of W.W. II, a unit in the Japanese army attacks a secluded farming village in China and massacres all the inhabitants, carrying away the bodies for some unknown purpose. It turns out that the army is attempting to use human brains to create an army of cyborg soldiers. The army invites a young Dr. Tsururi and Warusa to carry out the research, but Dr. Tsururi refuses, saying the plan is against human rights, and is thrown in prison. Meanwhile, Warusa brings the research to fruition and succeeds in creating a cyborg soldier that will do whatever it is commanded. Unfortunately, the war ends before it can be put to much use, and the research facility is destroyed to hide the evidence of war crimes. Fast-forward to the present day, and the leader of the project comes out of hiding to attempt to revive the plan so that he can sell the cyborgs to a certain other rich country that needs soldiers for its own war in Southeast Asia...

This episode is based on the real-life story of Unit 731, which carried out horrific human experiments in China during the war. The Japanese public had just learned of the truth in a recent newspaper expose, which led to this episode on the subject. This is the most powerful episode in the series by a long shot, and it packs an impressive wallop. It's the best example of how Pyuta was used by the staff as a vehicle for social commentary and not merely for childish gags.

Right from the start this episode stands out, as it plunges you headlong into a scene of innocent civilians being mercilessly slaughtered by Japanese troops. It's hard to believe you're watching the same show. The episode is notable for its firm stance in acknowledging Japanese atrocities during the war, and doing so at a fairly early stage in the industry at that.

Although the nature of the actions of the commander of the unit have been changed for the anime, the parallel to Shiro Ishii and his Unit 731 is obvious. The cyborgs he creates are clearly a symbol for Ishii's research. The most powerful and unforgettable image of the episode is the creepy image of the permanently smiling faces of the cyborg soldiers as they go about massacring people.

The anime goes beyond merely placing a spotlight on the acts of Unit 731; the ultimate irony is that, like the commander in this episode, the people who perpetrated the crimes not only got away, but were rewarded for their actions. Shiro Ishii himself escaped prosecution largely because the Americans wanted his research data. Others received cushy posts at universities. Similarly, the commander in this episode resurfaces to get Warusa to build his soldiers again because his cyborgs are needed by another country in its war endeavors. In the end, war is about profit, and profit trumps justice and human life. At this point we are regaled with more battle scenes showing innocent civilians being bombed from the sky and shot on the ground. The theater has shifted south, but it's more of the same.

The animation of the war scenes is surprisingly realistic and detailed, and is clearly the work of Koji Kurahashi. He put a lot of work into the animation in this episode. This is his best work on the show after his own episode 10.

This episode couldn't have been made by anyone but Makoto Nagasawa. He is the one who brought the social commentary aspect to Pyuta. Nagasawa had been heavily involved in organizing unions at Toei Doga during his time there, so he was very much in touch with the world and politics, and this world view is reflected in his work. Nagasawa once said, "Gag anime is about exposing reality." Gag anime shouldn't be a self-reflexive parade of pratfalls and meaningless routines meant to evoke hollow laughter. It's when gag anime sheds light on the real world through humor that it becomes truly meaningful.

Credit should also go to MBS producer Ryo Inokuchi, who acted as the liaison between the studio and the station. He actively supported Nagasawa in his use of gag anime to do more meaningful storytelling in this episode. It's hard to imagine any other station approving this kind of story. We don't see behind the curtain for most anime, so there's no telling what wasn't produced, despite the best intentions of the staff, due to the requirements of the station or sponsor. Goku no Daiboken provides a concrete example of this. The brilliant first season shows what they wanted to produce; the rest of the show illustrates what they were forced to produce at the behest of the station and sponsor. This just goes to show the importance of not only good anime staff but a cooperative sponsor and station.

Various other episodes commented on war either specifically or in general. Episode 19, a satire on the subject of the bomb, includes a rather brilliant scene that obliquely satirizes Japan's apathy about world events. Pyuta is casually watching a newscast about a country being bombed by a newly developed bomb as strong as the A-bomb. As he works on his toy model of a Zero fighter, he comments that Japan doesn't have anything to do with war. After Pyuta leaves, Dr. Tsururi changes the channel to some dancing girls.

Self-references by Art Fresh

The staff

How did this show come about? Essentially, Pyuta was a product of the early tricklings of the Toei Doga diaspora. Most of the staff of Pyuta came from Toei Doga, although a few are from Mushi Pro. So although in spirit Pyuta is similar to Goku, in style its lineage is slightly different, with its best animators more interested in creating dynamic movement than catchy drawings. So whereas Goku was at all times stylish and clever, Pyuta is more rough around the edges stylistically but richer in movement and experimentation.

Several subcontractors were involved in Pyuta in addition to the main production studio Hoso Doga Seisaku:

KNACK (fd 1965):Seiichi Hayashi, Kinichiro Suzuki
JAGGARD (fd 1966):Hiroshi Saito, Masayuki Hayashi, Toshio Hirata
ART FRESH (fd 1967):Koji Sugii, Masanobu Kozo, Soji Yoshikawa, Kazuhiko Utagawa, Mitsuru Suzuki, Seiji Okuda

There are thus several connections to Goku no Daiboken. In addition to the overlap of Art Fresh staff, Toshio Hirata, and Norio Hikone directed episodes of Goku, and Yoshitake Suzuki was one of the writers. Although the Mushi Pro-lineage staff did good work here, Pyuta is overall dominated more by the Toei Doga inflection of Koji Kurahashi and Daizo Takeuchi. I suspect that only the Art Fresh episodes were farmed out wholesale, as those episodes (5, 8, 9, 16, 20) have Art Fresh directors, whereas the episodes with Jaggard (3, 11, 17, 18, 21) or Knack (10, 13, 22) animators have Hoso Doga Seisaku directors.

Many animators skipped around at various small studios during the 1960s after leaving Mushi Pro or Toei Doga. It was bit of a nomad life in those days. Pyuta is a reflection of this, with its mix of Mushi Pro and Toei Doga figures. After quitting their alma maters, they briefly worked at a studio whenever there was work to be had. Even studio-tied animators took work from other studios as part-time work to make ends meet. When work dried up at one studio, as it did after Pyuta ended, they moved elsewhere. Hoso Doga Seisaku shut its doors after Pyuta, so this exact team didn't work together again.

That said, a few of these same figures went on to work on the classic Tokyo Movie gag shows of the early seventies, providing an element of continuity. Seiji Okuda, Soji Yoshikawa, Daizo Takeuchi and Hiroshi Saito went on to work on Tensai Bakabon (1971), while Takao Kodama, Tameo Kohanawa, Eisuke Kondo, Mitsunobu Hiroyoshi and Norio Hikone went on to work on Group Tac's Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi (1975-1995). Otherwise, people like Koji Kurahashi, Makoto Nagasawa and Seiichi Hayashi soon left the world of commercial animation for more personal modes of expression.

This also has to do with the fact that many of these people became independent animators afterwards; Pyuta didn't merely gather together ex-Toei Doga staff, it gathered together those with a more indie mindset, which is what helps account for the show's unique nature. And Makoto Nagasawa is the main person responsible for assembling this rebellious crowd of artistically-inclined, independent-minded animators.

Makoto Nagasawa, creative leader

It was in large part through the connections of Makoto Nagasawa that the show's talented staff came together.

The credits of Pyuta are confusingly ambiguous. Of the three people credited with the "Structure", Makoto Nagasawa can be said to be the show's guiding spirit, if not its director per se. Essentially, Ken Saito was the producer, Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu was the director, and Tameo Kohanawa was the character designer, although these were hardly hard and fast roles, and episode directors had a great deal of control over their episodes.

Nagasawa joined Toei Doga in 1957 and quit in 1965. After working his way up through the ranks as an inbetweener, he became a key animator on Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon (1963) and Gulliver's Space Vacation (1965), in which capacity he designed and animated some of the best sequences in these movies (namely the dance sequence in Little Prince, which in a first for a Toei Doga film was pre-scored, and the scene on the alien planet in Gulliver). Nagasawa also happened to be the director and animator of the short Motoro the Mole (1962), which is one of the most stylistically daring of Toei Doga's shorts, done in a limited UPA-inspired style at odds with everything else the studio did.

Nagasawa was something of a creative leader at the studio. He was the representative figure of the other side of Toei Doga that we don't hear as much about, the more artistically-inclined side, urging his comrades to open their eyes to the work of talented foreign animators, and even organizing group watches of screenings of foreign animation by the likes of Norman McLaren, Jiri Trnka and Paul Grimault. This influences comes through clearly in his Motoro the Mole short. Although Toei Doga is best remembered for its features, it also had an advertising section housing animators with more artistic proclivities. Partly through his exposure to this foreign animation, Nagasawa was in fact more interested in the artistic side of animation rather than being interested in animation as theatrical entertainment, and it's this that led him to quit Toei Doga in dissatisfaction in 1965 to pursue more personal means of artistic creation.

Before I can continue about Nagasawa's involvement, I have to detour a bit to the early years of TV anime.

Osomatsu-kun (1966) / Lightning Boy Pikkari B (1967)

The origins of gag anime

The first three years of TV anime, 1963-1965, were dominated by sci-fi anime inspired by the space race and hero shows. After Fuji TV pioneered TV anime with Tetsuwan Atom, the station TBS had joined the fray immediately in 1963 with sci-fi hero actioner 8 Man produced by TCJ. For their next show, they wanted to build on this success by producing their own show, so in 1964 they hired Yutaka Fujioka to put together the animation studio Tokyo Movie and produce Osamu Tezuka's Big X. Perhaps noting the fact that the hero fad was becoming stale, for their next production they opted to adapt the wildly popular daily life comedy manga Obake no Q-taro by the Fujiko Fujio duo. This is when Yutaka Fujioka scouted Daikichiro Kusube after he quit Toei Doga, leading to A Pro producing Obake no Q-taro. The huge popularity of Obake no Q-taro led to a fad for comedic/gag anime for the next few years up until around when Kyojin no Hoshi ushered in the spokon boom in 1968. Pyuta thus comes at the very tail end of that boom, bringing it to a fitting conclusion in the ultimate expression of that era's gag sensibility. It was also one of the last black and white anime.

The Fujiko Fujio due were at a studio called Studio Zero at the time together with a few other manga artists, including Fujio Akatsuka, later of Tensai Bakabon fame. It was witnessing the popularity of Obake no Q-taro that Osaka broadcaster MBS sent a producer in September 1965, the month after Obake no Q-taro premiered in August, to Studio Zero to ask them for permission to air an animated version of their Osomatsu-kun by Fujio Akatsuka. They wanted in on the game too. Studio Zero this time wanted to be the ones doing the animation, so they moved to a new, bigger building and hired staff, but when MBS came back to continue discussions, they had already found a studio they wanted to use: Children's Corner.

Children's Corner was a studio that had just been founded in 1964, a year before Nagasawa quit Toei Doga. Rather than being a brand new studio per se, it was essentially the Omori branch of Toei Doga, which up until that point had been responsible for animator training, but from this point on was reformatted into an independent studio under the aegis of its branch manager, erstwhile Nichido studio head Sanae Yamamoto. The studio only wound up lasting a few years before disbanding in 1966, but it acted as a nexus bringing together many of the ex-Toei Doga figures over the next few years.

Luckily for Studio Zero, MBS were more than happy to allow Studio Zero to also participate in the production - perhaps by way of insurance, as Children's Corner had no track record as of yet. Thus it was that the show came to be produced 1/2 1/2 by Studio Zero and Children's Corner.

This leads back to Makoto Nagasawa.

Makoto Nagasawa's freelance studios

After quitting Toei Doga, Makoto Nagasawa rented an apartment in the Hyakunin-cho section of Shibuya in Tokyo as his temporary base of operations while he taught at the Joshibi Junior Art College. Other Toei Doga staff who quit in the ensuing months wound up joining him to do part-time work there, and the space organically developed into an ad-hoc studio called Hyakunin-cho Studio. When Children's Corner received the commission to produce Osomatsu-kun, Sanae Yamamoto called on Makoto Nagasawa to help direct the show. In the process, he wound up getting the animators working in his studio to help him produce the show, including animator Koji Kurahashi, director Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu and art director Takao Kodama, who would go on to join him as the main staff of Pyuta. As other people quit Toei, he called on them to help him produce Osomatsu-kun.

Thus, many of the people who went on to work on Pyuta began their association with the group through Makoto Nagasawa and Osomatsu-kun. In addition to early joiners Koji Kurahashi, Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu and Takao Kodama, Eisuke Kondo also left the Toei Doga CM section to join the Osomatsu-kun crew. Latter-day manga artist and illustrator Seiichi Hayashi began working on Wolf Boy Ken under Sadao Tsukioka and then, after working on pre-production for Horus, accompanied Tsukioka in 1965 when he quit to form his own studio, Knack. Kinichiro Suzuki may have followed him to Knack at the same time. It's from Knack that Seiichi Hayashi and Kinichiro Suzuki participated in Pyuta.

When Osomatsu-kun ended, many of the same staff continued to work on Lightning Boy Pikkari B. This time production was split between Children's Corner and MBS's in-house animation production studio, Hoso Doga Seisaku, which was newly reorganized to accommodate TV anime production. Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu took on the role of series director, and in the process he brought on some more talent that would go on to work on Pyuta, namely Daizo Takeuchi, who had similarly worked on Wolf Boy Ken and then Horus as a second under Yasuo Otsuka before quitting in 1967, and Tameo Kohanawa, who had originally joined Toei Doga in 1959 before quitting to work at an advertising company for a few years and re-joining Toei Doga in 1964. He quit around 1966 to work on Osomatsu-kun and then was brought back by Mitsunobu to work on Pikkari B in 1967 and Pyuta the next year. Hiroyoshi Misunobu himself had worked in the advertising section of Toei Doga before quitting. Thus, Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu was another element bringing in the more ad-centric talent into these productions that helps account for their more indie sensibility.

Makoto Nagasawa meanwhile was not involved in Pikkari B but had in the interim formed yet another studio for the purpose of working on the movie Sesshoseki. It was located in the Sakuradai neighborhood, whence the name Sakuradai Studio. Many of the same people joined him there to help, as well as new faces such as Norio Hikone, who would work on Pyuta. During this time, Nagasawa was invited by Gisaburo Sugii to participate in the "idea brain" meetings held at Sugii's studio Art Fresh to come up with ideas for Goku no Daiboken. It was here that he met writer Yoshitake Suzuki, which led to him being invited to be the script chief of Pyuta. This is also presumably what led to the invitation of Art Fresh to produce several episodes of Pyuta, which is the full extent of the involvement of Mushi Pro figures in the show.

Another ex-Toei Doga figure who participated was Toshio Hirata, who attests to having been influenced by Makoto Nagasawa during his time at Toei Doga. Hirata quit Toei Doga in 1966 and went to Hiroshi Saito's ad studio Jaggard. It's from here that he worked on Pyuta.

Post-Pyuta

It's unfortunate that Pyuta was canceled after two seasons, as by the end of the second season the staff were in full control of their approach to the show, and would certainly have produced more classic episodes if they'd been given the chance. But it's not surprising. Overly gag-centric shows tended more often than not to get canceled in the 1960s, which led to the ascendancy of the home dramedy format of the 1970s as a more acceptable compromise. Goku and Pyun Pyun Maru experienced a similar fate, although I suspect that this has more to do with the sponsors not wanting their products associated with unwholesome programming than with audience demands. After all, even the hugely popular Obake no Q-taro was still getting 30% ratings when it was cancelled because the sponsor felt demand for Q-taro toys had run their course.

After Pyuta, Makoto Nagasawa formed a joint studio with Norio Hikone from which he worked primarily on the long-running "Monoshiri" series produced by Studio Uni for Kirin. The show was a nightly 5-minute piece of animation highlighting an interesting subject. An example can be seen here. Several Pyuta staff migrated to this show alongside Makoto Nagasawa, including Koji Kurahashi, Eisuke Kondo and Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu. After a stint in New York in the early 80s, Makoto Nagasawa came to focus primarily on watercolor sketching. He was something of a pioneer of the sketchwalk, travelling around the world and documenting what he saw in watercolor sketches. He has published numerous books of his illustrations, most recently an introduction to sketchwalking.

Gag comedy anime died off somewhat after Pyuta until around 1971 when Tokyo Movie made Tensai Bakabon as a more straight-up gag show and Shin Obake no Q-taro as more of a home comedy. There were never any shows quite as unhinged as Goku or Pyuta made again, although certain directors did manage to experiment a little in certain episodes of shows like Gyators and Gamba, and Ganso Tensai Bakabon in 1975 set a new standard for nonsense gags. But even the best of these episodes never had the satirical sting of the best episodes of Goku and Pyuta.


ファイトだ!!ピュータ Fight!! Pyuta
26 eps, Hoso Doga Seisaku, 4/6/1968-9/28/1968, MBS Sat 7:30-8:00 PM

Based on the manga by:ムロタニ・ツネ象Tsunezo Murotani
Structure:斎藤賢Ken Saito
光延博愛Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
永沢詢Makoto Nagasawa
Animation Director:小華和ためおTameo Kohanawa
Music:萩原哲晶Hiroaki Hagiwara
Art:児玉喬夫Takao Kodama
Script chief:鈴木良武Yoshitake Suzuki

EpDirectorAnimators
1光延博愛
Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
近藤英輔
Eisuke Kondo
竹内大三
Daizo Takeuchi
2彦根のりお
Norio Hikone
岡迫亘弘
Nobuhiro Okaseko
熊野基雄
Moto'o Kumano
3永沢まこと
Makoto Nagasawa
林政行
Masayuki Hayashi
斉藤博
Hiroshi Saito
4近藤英輔
Eisuke Kondo
金沢孝義
Takayoshi Kanazawa
尾根英夫
Hideo One
5吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
奥田誠司
Seiji Okuda
杉井興司
Koji Sugii
6彦根のりお
Norio Hikone
岡迫亘弘
Nobuhiro Okaseko
熊野基雄
Moto'o Kumano
7近藤英輔
Eisuke Kondo
金沢孝義
Takayoshi Kanazawa
尾根英夫
Hideo One
8宇田川一彦
Kazuhiko Utagawa
杉井興司
Koji Sugii
吉川惣持
Soji Yoshikawa
9正延宏三
Kozo Masanobu
鈴木満
Mitsuru Suzuki
奥田誠司
Seiji Okuda
10倉橋こうじ
Koji Kurahashi
林静一
Seiichi Hayashi
鈴木欽一郎
Kinichiro Suzuki
11小華和為雄
Tameo Kohanawa
林政行
Masayuki Hayashi
斉藤博
Hiroshi Saito
12光延博愛
Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
岡迫亘弘
Nobuhiro Okaseko
熊野基雄
Moto'o Kumano
13彦根のりお
Norio Hikone
林静一
Seiichi Hayashi
鈴木欽一郎
Kin'ichiro Suzuki
14近藤英輔
Eisuke Kondo
岡迫亘弘
Nobuhiro Okaseko
熊野基雄
Moto'o Kumano
15竹内大三
Daizo Takeuchi
金沢孝義
Takayoshi Kanazawa
尾根英夫
Hideo One
16正延宏三
Kozo Masanobu
宇田川一彦
Kazuhiko Utagawa
杉井興司
Koji Sugii
17瀬山義文
Yoshifumi Seyama
林政行
Masayuki Hayashi
斉藤博
Hiroshi Saito
18竹内大三
Daizo Takeuchi
林政行
Masayuki Hayashi
斉藤博
Hiroshi Saito
19小華和為雄
Tameo Kohanawa
岡迫亘弘
Nobuhiro Okaseko
熊野基雄
Moto'o Kumano
20[unknown][unknown]
21平田敏夫
Toshio Hirata
林政行
Masayuki Hayashi
斉藤博
Hiroshi Saito
22光延博義
Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
林静一
Seiichi Hayashi
鈴木欽一郎
Kinichiro Suzuki
23永沢詢
Makoto Nagasawa
金沢孝夫
Takao Kanazawa
倉橋孝治
Koji Kurahashi
24竹内大三
Daizo Takeuchi
岡迫亘弘
Nobuhiro Okaseko
熊野基雄
Moto'o Kumano
25彦根のりお
Norio Hikone
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
伊勢田幸彦
Yukihiko Iseda
26近藤英輔
Eisuke Kondo
倉橋孝治
Koji Kurahashi
金沢孝義
Takayoshi Kanazawa

Friday, September 25, 2015

05:54:00 pm , 4451 words, 4206 views     Categories: Studio: A Pro, Studio: Tokyo Movie, Studio: Oh Pro, Director: Isao Takahata, 1970s

Akado Suzunosuke

Hello world. I'm back again. Sorry for making a habit of disappearing. I thought I'd pick up where I left off by finishing a post I actually started about a year ago but never finished, about one of the classic Tokyo Movie/A Pro shows.

Akado Suzunosuke (1972-1973) is a bit of an oddity in the Tokyo Movie canon - neither cartoony gag comedy nor a spokon drama, but rather straight-up jidaigeki. Though not perfect, it holds up fairly well to viewing after all these years. It's a fun, if somewhat repetitive, rollicking samurai action adventure.

The production side benefits from work by luminaries like Yoshifumi Kondo, Osamu Dezaki and Hayao Miyazaki, albeit at an early stage in their development. The show is a product of the transitional years of the Mushi Pro/Toei Doga diaspora, when Tokyo Movie/A Pro captured many of these people briefly before they moved on to the gigs for which they're more well known.

Things often come in fads in anime - the sci-fi anime fad of the early 1960s gave way to the gag anime fad of the mid-1960s, which in turn gave way to the spokon fad of the late-1960s/early 1970s. Tokyo Movie is interesting for having originated some of those fads by taking a chance and doing something that went against the dominant style of the day at various junctures. Akado Suzunosuke is such a show, and was in fact quite popular and re-broadcast in Japan over the years, despite not having engendered as many copycats.

Based not on a popular manga of the day but rather an old manga from the 50s, everything about the show is a deliberate throwback, not just the samurai-era setting. The manga on which the anime is based was already old-fashioned when it was released in 1954. The manga was originally drawn by one Eiichi Fukui (and after his death Tsunayoshi Takeuchi) in a style that even in the day harked back to an earlier era of more simple storytelling, with six square panels a page, before Osamu Tezuka revolutionized things with his modernistic experimentation with narrative and paneling. So this anime is triply a throwback

The show's nostalgia factor is apparent right from the start with the show's opening theme, which opens with the big-eyed Suzunosuke striding down a country road. The naive, simple lyrics cheer Suzunosuke on and tell of his dreams to become Japan's best swordsman. The song is actually a children's choir version of the theme song from a 1957 radio drama of the manga released in the wake of the manga's popularity, written in the classic march style that was so popular in early 20th-century Japan right down to the war. (listen to the radio drama's theme song to see its similarity to the famous military gunkan march that makes an appearance in Grave of the Fireflies)

The radio drama adaptation of Akado Suzunosuke was such a huge hit that it was followed in short order by no less than 9 movies between 1957 and 1958, two TV series in 1957 alone, and possibly two other TV drama adaptations. Thus, although Tokyo Movie's version of 1973 was obviously aimed at children, it simultaneously must have played to the nostalgia of adults who would remember its story and theme song.

The 1957 TV adaptations paved the way for the advent of TV anime in a way that might not be immediately apparent - character toys and goods. Akado Suzunosuke was one of the first shows to be accompanied by a massive toy marketing campaign. That may have something to do with its surprising popularity. Shows like Tetsuwan Atom (and most later anime) would tap into that to help boost their popularity by synergy.

Tokyo Movie's Akado Suzunosuke wasn't the only nostalgia vehicle at the time. There appears to have been a kind of mini nostalgia boom in the early 1970s, with various old properties being brought back to life. It's possible that the idea to adapt the Akado Suzunosuke comic into animation was inspired by the 1972 revival anime adaption of the old hero show Gekko Kamen (1957) by the infamous Knack Studio.

In addition to being a jidaigeki, the show also functions as a hero show like Gekko Kamen, with Suzunosuke fighting his way up the ranks of the Kimento or Demon Mask Gang over the course of the show. On top of that, the show also functions as a spokon show, with Suzunosuke undergoing grueling training to master new techniques that will allow him to power up and defeat his increasingly skilled opponents. Thus, despite the different subject matter, Akado Suzunosuke is similar in spirit to the other Kajiwara Ikki spokon shows Tokyo Movie produced immediately before and after.

Cover of original manga (1954) / Poster for movie #4 (1957)

Akado Suzunosuke tells the story of a young man named Suzunosuke in bakumatsu-era Edo. As the theme song says, his goal is to become the greatest swordsman in Japan. His family name is Kinno, but his nickname is Akado after his red suit of protective kendo armor, passed down from his father. In the anime, the armor bears a bell insignia echoing his given name, but this appears to have been added in the anime version.

Suzunosuke was separated from his parents at a young age and raised in the countryside by a family friend. The anime skips this part and jumps right to Suzunosuke arriving in Edo to look for his parents and make his way in the world. He joins a dojo run by his father's friend and begins to learn kendo to follow in his father's footsteps. At the same time, he discovers a gang of bandits calling themselves the Kimento terrorizing Edo, and in his spare time sets about defeating them. This sets the series on its dual path: kendo supokon + jidaigeki hero show.

Just as the spokon shows are hardly purely realistic with the sports, Akado Suzunosuke is liberal with the swordplay. Suzunosuke must learn increasingly improbable waza that have him leaping 20 feet in the air and conjuring up whirlwinds to kill his enemies from across the room. His father was reportedly killed just before mastering the latter, the mythical "shinkugiri" or vacuum cut attack, so Suzunosuke's goal is to find his father's killer and master the shinkugiri attack. He'll need it in order to defeat the bosses of the Kimento.

The enemies fight back with fanciful and entertaining weapons - the first bad guy fires shuriken from his wooden leg. They play up the bakumatsu-era trappings by combining classic swordplay with western-inspired gadgetry. It's basically Japanese tradition valiantly fighting against takeover by the evil ways of the west.

This is a hero adventure in its purest form. The baddies are pure evil with no nuance or motivation, and all wear sneering oni mask to make their dispatch by the good guys impersonal. When the hero is trapped in a dungeon, how does the villain try to kill him? With a slowly descending spiked ceiling. Every fight is preceded by a lengthy introduction, and every line of dialogue by a bad guy is followed by a sinister laugh. There are exactly two women characters in the whole show: Sayuri, Suzunosuke's love interest, and his mother.

The show can't be divorced from its intended audience. When Suzunosuke becomes somewhat well known for his swordsmanship, the neighborhood kids play-fight in the streets pretending to be him and the Kimento. Those kids are the intended audience. Suzunosuke triumphs despite his small stature, and the message to the viewing audience is that they, too, can be heroes. The narrative was kept simple and Manichean no doubt to help kids project themselves onto the hero.

The show can grow a little tiresome and repetitive, as there really isn't much more to it than the baddie-of-the-week formula, but it remains entertaining to watch until the end, as they keep the narrative arc firmly in hand. The show has strong forward momentum from one episode to the next. The show also holds some surprises in store in terms of the animation and directing.

One curious thing about the re-release of this old show is that many of the episodes (at least episodes 9, 10, 12, 14 and 20) are censored. I know the word "kuso" in "kuso bozu" was censored in one episode, but I'm not sure exactly what words were deemed so offensive as to require being sacrificed to the PC gods on a home video release. I don't recall noticing any censorship on the DVD release of the much more potty-mouthed Dokonjo Gaeru from the same year. It's surprising that this should be deemed so offensive considering the far more extreme nature of many anime aired today.

The animation

"Murata-style BS" - self-reference by Oh Pro's Koichi Murata

The production side of things will be familiar from Koya no Shonen Isamu (1973-1974), which actually followed Suzunosuke in the same Monday 7 PM time slot on Fuji TV. The subcontractors that produced Suzunosuke are exactly the same, although the staffing is slightly different:

Oh Pro:Koichi Murata, Toshitsugu Saida, Satoshi Ohjima, Norio Shioyama
Junio:Takao Kosai, Tetsuo Imazawa
Mates:Koizumi Kenzo, Takashi Asakura, Akiko Hoshino, Michiko Takahashi, Shigeru Kogawa, Masafumi Kubota, Kazuyoshi Shimada, Akio Yoshihara
Neo Media:Keiichiro Kimura, Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
A Pro:Hideo Kawauchi, Hisatoshi Motoki, Yoshifumi Kondo, Nobuhide Toyokawa, Toshiyuki Honda, Tsutomu Tanaka, Eiichi Nakamura, Yuzo Aoki
Studio Z:Shingo Araki, Masami Abe, Satoshi Jingu, Yoshinori Kanada, Yukio Suzuki, Tsugefumi Nuno

The main difference is that most of the studios devoted more animators to Suzunosuke than to Isamu, with the exception of Neo Media and Junio. Yoshiyuki Momose was unfortunately not involved here because he went from working on Tensai Bakabon (1971-1972) to working on Dokonjo Gaeru (1972-1974). Junio's Minoru Maeda was still an inbetweener during Suzunosuke and was bumped up to key animation for Isamu. Perhaps most notably, Suzunosuke appears to be Yoshinori Kanada's first credited key animation. Of course, his style was obviously not developed at this point, so his work isn't identifiable.

Someone seems to have made a mistake and misspelled Kanada's (admittedly difficult to read) first name as Isuke 伊助 rather than Yoshinori 伊功. They apparently weren't very careful with the credits in this show, because Toshitsugu Saida 才田俊次 is also misspelled as Shun Saida 才田俊 in a few episodes.

Oh Pro is always playful about inserting references to themselves in the shows they worked on, and Suzunosuke is no exception, although overall I didn't spot as many in-jokes of this kind as in later shows. 80s shows were particularly rife with this sort of thing, but in the early 70s I don't think it was very common yet.

As far as stylistic differences between studios, all of the things I said for Isamu apply here as well. Oh Pro and A Pro deliver the quality work, Neo Media and Z deliver decent work, and Junio and Mates are mediocre. A young Yoshifumi Kondo did some of his earliest work on Suzunosuke. Episode 12 and 19 feature excellent drawings and action sequences presumably of his hand. Oh Pro's work unfortunately isn't nearly as good as it is in Isamu, perhaps because for the first two seasons Murata only does sakkaning without drawing key animation. I'm not sure why that is, but perhaps it's because he was busy working on Panda Kopanda over that period.

As for Neo Media, Keiichiro Kimura had just come from working on Tiger Mask over the last few years, so apparently he still had tigers in his blood, because all of the wolves he drew in episode 22 have what can only be described as tiger faces. As would be expected, the Neo Media episodes have some nice hustle in the movement. The running in particular is distinctive of Kimura.

The Mates episodes feature work by an animator named Shigeru Kogawa. This is the actual name of Tomonori Kogawa, who got his start at Mates before moving on to Tatsunoko and then founding his own studio, Bebow. He also worked on Lupin and Gamba's Adventure from Mates. The credits can be deceptive in anime in general and in particular in Suzunosuke, which is rife with misspellings or pen names or uncredited people.

The opening features a combination of new animation and bits taken from the show. There are two choice bits in the opening. The very first scene with Suzunosuke's rival shouting the show's catchphrase "Chokozaina kozome~ Na wo nanore!" is one of the best in the whole show with its gritty lines and dynamic movement. It feels like maybe the work of Yasuo Otsuka, who otherwise wasn't involved in the show. I wish we could have seen more action like this in the show. The shot later on of Suzunosuke falling into the water feels like Yoshifumi Kondo. He's animated similar sequences on several occasions, most notably one of the panda in Panda Kopanda struggling to hold his balance on the edge of water and finally falling in.

A Pro head Daikichiro Kusube is credited as Animation Supervisor for each episode, as he is on all of his supokon shows. In addition, Yoichi Kotabe is credited as assistant animation supervisor. These are separate from the sakkans for each episode, which always are from the subcontractor for that particular episode. Hence I'm guessing this means Kusube designed the main characters and "oversaw" the drawings (probably didn't do much correcting), while I'm guessing Kotabe designed and supervised the female characters. This would make sense, as these are exactly the same roles the two played on Toei's Kaze no Fujimaru (1964-1965) just before Kusube left to found his own studio. Kotabe had just joined A Pro in 1971 to work with Miyazaki and Takahata on Pippi, but wound up having to do other work instead, like this.

It's not entirely clear what Kotabe did in this capacity, but his style seems to jump out in the delicate drawings of the two female characters, so I'm left to assume he was the sakkan for those characters, superseding the subcontractor sakkan.

Mother in Akado Suzunosuke (1972) / Mother in Jarinko Chie (1981)

On the directing side of things, the series director is Shigetsugu Yoshida, the same as Isamu. Or more accurately, there is no actual series director credit in this show. The opening doesn't have any credits. All of the credits come in the ending. Shigetsugu Yoshida receives an "enshutsu" or episode director credit in each ending. I don't know whether this means his role evolved into a more supervisory one for the next show, or whether the credit merely evolved to more appropriately represent his role. The latter may be the case, as at the very least as late as 1974 on Heidi Isao Takahata was credited as the "enshutsu" of the whole show. Mushi Pro and Tatsunoko began using the "chief director" credit early on in the mid-60s, while Toei carried on with their tradition of having no chief director, only episode directors (who drew their own storyboards) until well into the 1970s. Tokyo Movie actually started out crediting a kantoku, and then reverted to enshutsu for a few years in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and began using the chief director credit in the early 1970s.

One of the most surprising faces in Suzunosuke is storyboarder Kuyo Sai, which is in fact one of the many pen names of Osamu Dezaki. Dezaki has some amusing pen names. This one is a homonym for "SA ikuyo" which means "Let's go". His other big pen name "Saki Makura" is meant to evoke "saki makkura" or "the future looks bleak". Dezaki's episodes aren't particularly identifiable as his style, but they do have a more dynamic feel to the pacing, with some of the more excitingly choreographed action sequences of the show. Many ex-Madhouse people worked at Tokyo Movie in the early 70s before (and even after) Madhouse was founded. Toshio Hirata even storyboarded a few episodes here.

But in terms of storyboarding/directing, it's the third season that is noteworthy and the highlight of the show. Shigetsugu Yoshida had just served as assistant director of Lupin III, on which Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata famously served as the "A Pro directing group". So it's less of a surprise to discover that Miyazaki and Takahata were brought on midway through Suzunosuke to oversee the show, although I'm not sure why. They never receive a credit for this. Hayao Miyazaki receives a storyboarding credit on episodes 26, 27 and 41, but that's all there is to outwardly indicate their involvement. But watching the show, it's clear they were involved much more heavily than this.

The first two seasons plod along on familiar ground, but starting around episode 22 with the introduction of Seidoki, the "Bronze Demon" baddie, the Miyazaki-ness gradually starts ramping up over the course of the next few episodes, finally leading into episode 26 storyboarded by Miyazaki himself. The next ten episodes or so unfold as one continuous arc that feels like pure Miyazaki/Takahata. And then, as abruptly as their presence made itself felt, they seem to disappear and the old show returns to the fore for the last season.

Their presence makes itself felt in many ways. Most notably, all of the baddies from Seidoki on feel of Miyazaki's hand, including bat-man Onigomori in episode 27 and beetle-head Oniarashi in episode 28. I'm not sure, but it feels like Miyazaki himself drew them in each episode. Of course, he never receives any key animation credit in the show, so this is all conjecture.

Miyazaki-isms in the third season

Seidoki is a classic Miyazaki character, and the showdown between Suzunosuke and Seidoki in episode 26 is one of the great unseen Miyazaki episodes in his filmography. It's an explosion of Miyazaki-ness.

Seidoki is a veritable Swiss army knife whose suit of armor is bursting with surprising killer gadgets, including rocket hands, springy shoes, buzzsaw shoulders, flare fingers, and retractable axe arms. The chase sequence in the first half of the episode is easily the highlight of the show. The animation feels like it was done by Miyazaki himself, but I can't be sure about that. Miyazaki was almost certainly involved in some manner in the animation, but Yoshifumi Kondo is credited as an animator in this episode, and he is quite good at zippy action of this kind, so it's equally possible he's responsible.

The funny thing is that, even in episodes where the drawings are otherwise not very good, the bad guys alone seem to bear his imprint, as if he stepped in to correct just the baddies in each ep. It's through the baddies that Miyazaki was best able to express his unbridled creativity. The bad guys have all the coolest toys.

Miyazaki loves to place action in the sky and under water, and this is one of the first places you can see these settings in his oeuvre. He pushes the boundaries of scientific plausibility to the limit for the bakumatsu period, with a bat-shaped rocket ship and a dragon-shaped submarine.

You can spot many things in his "hikidashi" or drawer that he would later pull out on different occasions, including retractable claws of a kind that would be seen in the Cagliostro assassins and the robot winch in Conan; riding a kite like in the first Lupin III show; and the main character performing the amazing acrobatic feat of leaping onto the wing of a plane in mid-flight like in Conan, not to mention falling through that wing like in Sherlock Hound. Episode 31 even features a Lupin lookalike.

But the most obvious Miyazaki-ism is perhaps the strong female lead in the form of Nagisa. Nagisa is a character who goes completely against the macho samurai ethos of this story, in which only male characters are allowed to be intelligent and strong and lead, so she is clearly a product of Miyazaki's intervention. She reminds simultaneously of Cathy in Animal Treasure Island as well as Monsley in Conan, who in addition to being strong female leads are characters who began as enemies and ended up as allies.

Nagisa in Akado Suzunosuke (1972) / Cathy in Animal Treasure Island (1971)

Even apart from the out-of-place character of Nagisa, all of the imaginative gadgetry and complex machinations of this arc set it apart from the rest of the show in a way that suggests it to have been wholly devised by M&T. The arc culminates in a pitched battle on the Kimento's secret island lair that feels like a study for the climactic set pieces of most Miyazaki productions.

Takahata's presence is felt primarily in the complexity and expansiveness of the situation. Where before the stories were all about hissatsuwaza and nostalgic wanking over the samurai code, the third season suddenly breathes a greatly expanded world view, with action grounded in and dictated by a specific culture and geographic locale.

The first half of the arc is about a new formula for more powerful Dutch gunpowder that Suzunosuke fights to keep from falling into the wrong hands. The story shuttles between three different factions - the Shiranui clan, the Kimento and Suzunosuke and gang - as they fight over the formula in an effort to gain control of the country's capital. The analytical Takahata was uniquely adept at this kind of multifaceted storytelling. In the second half, a sea monster destroys ships carrying rice to the capital, leading to a rice shortage, but it's all being staged by the Kimento in order to make a killing on the price of rice. The episode has a strong sociopolitical commentary aspect, illustrating how you can control a populace by controlling their food supply.

Takahata the storyboarder is felt in particular in episode 38, which depicts the moral struggle of a young girl who has sided with the bad guys to survive but whose inner sense of justice bubbles to the surface in spite of her best efforts to suppress it. Sound familiar? It's not just the setup that reminds of a previous Takahata story, even the staging and timing of the dramatic moments seems reminiscent of Takahata. This is by far and away the most sensitively directed episode in the series. None of the other episodes are directed in a style even remotely similar to this, so I'd be very surprised indeed it it wasn't Takahata.

This suggests that Teruo Ishikawa is a pen name of Isao Takahata. Episode 25 features a dream sequence that seems prescient of Heidi, but the early Teruo Ishikawa storyboard episodes don't seem to bear his stamp. Perhaps, as in the case of Lupin III, they had to correct certain storyboards as best they could, but could only do so much, whereas later storyboards like episode 38 they were able to draw from scratch. Combined with the music by Takeo Watanabe, animation by Koichi Murata and designs by Yoichi Kotabe, certain moments in his episodes seem to point ahead to Heidi and indicate the direction in which Takahata was ready to go, given the right opportunity.

I'm not sure why it worked out that Miyazaki and Takahata were involved in Suzunosuke in such a strange location (just the third season), but perhaps they were busy working on Panda Kopanda up until that point and suddenly became free when that was done, and helped out Shigetsugu Yoshida to pay it forward for his work on Lupin III. Yoshida had joined Toei Doga the same year as Takahata, 1959, and left for A Pro two years before Takahata, so they followed a parallel course in these early years. Yoshida would of course go on to direct the non-Miyazaki Telecom episodes of Lupin III series 2 and serve as assistant director on Cagliostro.

So in summary, despite somewhat repetitive storytelling and spotty animation, this is a unique show for the period that remains surprisingly watchable thanks to interesting work here and there, with the big highlight being the Miyazaki-Takahata stretch of episodes 24-38(-ish).

Recommended episodes:

Episode 19 for Yoshifumi Kondo's animation
Episode 26 for Hayao Miyazaki's directing and animation
Episode 38 for "Teruo Ishikawa"'s directing and Oh Pro/A Pro's animation


赤胴鈴之助 Akado Suzunosuke
52 episodes, Tokyo Movie/A Pro, 4/5/1972 - 3/28/1973, Fuji TV, 19:00-19:30

Created by:武内つなよしTsunayoshi Takeuchi
Director:吉田茂承Shigetsugu Yoshida
Animation Supervisor:楠部大吉郎Daikichiro Kusube
Asst. Anim. Supervisor:小田部羊一Yoichi Kotabe
Art Director:影山仁Hitoshi Kageyama
Music:渡辺岳夫Takeo Watanabe

StoryboardSakkanKey Animators
1吉川惣司 Soji Yoshikawa香西隆男 Takao Kosai
塩山紀生 Norio Shioyama
小泉謙三Kenzo Koizumi
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
2斉九洋 Kuyo Sai木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
3平田敏夫 Toshio Hirata香西隆男 Takao Kosai
塩山紀生 Norio Shioyama
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
4高市一男 Kazuo Takaichi小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
湖川滋 Shigeru Kogawa
5岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki村田耕一 Koichi Murata
河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi
近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
豊川信栄 Nobuhide Toyokawa
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋聡 Satoshi Ohjima
6小林かおる Kaoru Kobayashi木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
アベ正己 Masami Abe
中村清 Kiyoshi Nakamura
7平田敏夫 Toshio Hirata香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
8岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
本多敏行 Toshiyuki Honda
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
9斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata塩山紀生 Norio Shioyama
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋聡 Satoshi Ohjima
10斉九洋 Kuyo Sai木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
安部正己 Masami Abe
神宮さとし Satoshi Jingu
11佐々木正広 Masahiro Sasaki小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
湖川滋 Shigeru Kogawa
12平田敏夫 Toshio Hirata河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi本木久年 Hisatoshi Motoki
近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
13岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
14斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata塩山紀生 Norio Shioyama
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋聡 Satoshi Ohjima
15石川輝夫 Teruo Ishikawa木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
16平田敏夫 Toshio Hirata荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki神宮さとし Satoshi Jingu
安部正己 Masami Abe
17岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
18斉九洋 Kuyo Sai小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi朝倉隆 Takashi Asakura
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
高橋道子 Michiko Takahashi
19石黒昇 Noboru Ishiguro河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
豊川信栄 Nobuhide Toyokawa
本多敏行 Toshiyuki Honda
20斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋聡 Satoshi Ohjima
21斉九洋 Kuyo Sai小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi朝倉隆 Takashi Asakura
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
高橋道子 Michiko Takahashi
22岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
23石黒昇 Noboru Ishiguro荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki安部正己 Masami Abe
神宮さとし Satoshi Jingu
24斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
大嶋稔 Minoru Ohjima
25斉九洋 Kuyo Sai香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
26宮崎駿 Hayao Miyazaki河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
豊川信栄 Nobuhide Toyokawa
27宮崎駿 Hayao Miyazaki小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
湖川滋 Shigeru Kogawa
28石川輝夫 Teruo Ishikawa木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
安部正己 Masami Abe
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
29斉九洋 Kuyo Sai河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi本木久年 Hisatoshi Motoki
近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
30岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
31斉九洋 Kuyo Sai村田耕一 Koichi Murata村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
32斉九洋 Kuyo Sai小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi朝倉隆 Takashi Asakura
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
高橋道子 Michiko Takahashi
33小華和ためお Tameo Kohanawa荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki神宮さとし Satoshi Jingu
安部正己 Masami Abe
34石川輝夫 Teruo Ishikawa木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
35斉九洋 Kuyo Sai河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi本木久年 Hisatoshi Motoki
近藤喜文 Yoshifumi Kondo
36岡崎稔 Minoru Okazaki香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetso Imazawa
37小華和ためお Tameo Kohanawa村田耕一 Koichi Murata村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
38石川輝夫 Teruo Ishikawa河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
田中勉 Tsutomu Tanaka
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
本木久年 Hisatoshi Motoki
39小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
湖川滋 Shigeru Kogawa
40斉九洋 Kuyo Sai木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
41宮崎駿 Hayao Miyazaki荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki安部正己 Masami Abe
金田伊助 Isuke Kanada
鈴木幸雄 Yukio Suzuki
42黒田昌郎 Yoshio Kuroda香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
43石黒昇 Noboru Ishiguro村田耕一 Koichi Murata村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
44今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲夫 Tetsuo Imazawa
45小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
46今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
47黒田昌郎 Yoshio Kuroda河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
48石川輝夫 Teruo Ishikawa荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki安部正己 Masami Abe
金田伊助 Isuke Kanada
鈴木幸雄 Yukio Suzuki
49斉九洋 Kuyo Sai香西隆男 Takao Kosai香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲夫 Tetsuo Imazawa
50黒田昌郎 Yoshio Kuroda村田耕一 Koichi Murata村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
51小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi久保田正史 Masafumi Kubota
高橋道子 Michiko Takahashi
島田和義 Kazuyoshi Shimada
52吉田茂承 Shigetsugu Yoshida木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
安部正己 Masami Abe

Monday, December 15, 2014

05:39:00 pm , 1092 words, 24820 views     Categories: Movie, Lupin III, Studio: Telecom, Studio: Tokyo Movie

Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone

The news came out a few months back that Tomonaga Kazuhide heads a new Lupin III TV series starting this spring. The show seems poised to be a return to the sensibility of Cagliostro-era Lupin, with its breathless car chases, lighthearted atmosphere, good-guy Lupin and caper-centric stories. Visually, too, as the Japanese like to word it, it's monkey-headed Lupin (Fuma Clan) rather than horse-head Lupin (Part III).

Acting as a kind of bridge between the Takeshi Koike-designed Fujiko Mine TV show of a few years back and the upcoming reboot is a recent movie entitled Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone. In two 30-minute parts, it feels less like a movie and more like an OVA, or two gussied up TV episodes. The story feels lifted straight out of the second TV series in sensibility. It feels much closer to the Lupin of old than Fujiko Mine, feeling like a lead-in to the upcoming TV series, yet finally does justice to Takeshi Koike's unique interpretation of the characters thanks to some truly excellent animation quality, which the previous TV show was lacking due presumably to bad scheduling.

Telecom handles the animation, so it can be assumed to be a preview of what's to come from the TV series, in terms of the animation if not the designs. It's an odd pairing: Takeshi Koike and Telecom. But it works great. We finally get to see Koike's designs animated properly. I'm not sure what happened between Fujiko Mine and this movie in terms of Takeshi Koike's involvement, but it feels like he wanted to make this movie so that he could vindicate himself and show how his Lupin should have looked. Because here he's involved full-bore, in classic Koike style, handling character design, storyboarding, directing and even sakkaning (with no assistance).

The animation pops thanks to some very talented folks, both in-house and outside animators. Hisao Yokobori and Kazuhide Tomonaga head the animator list as the star in-house animators, while presumably Takeshi Koike brought in folks like Takefumi Hori, Kanako Maru, Satoru Utsunomiya, Hiroshi Shimizu, Kenichi Shimizu and Toshiaki Hontani. I was surprised to see such faces in a Telecom production, but I hope that the upcoming TV show will continue to use talented outsiders, because otherwise I don't see how they can fill the show with good animation just with in-house staff.

The car action in episode 1 was spectacular, if slightly different in feeling from the classic car chases. Takeshi Koike's genius shines through in this spot, whereas otherwise the show felt pretty restrained for him - less him showboating than doing the material justice. The Telecom chases favored long shots regaling you with characters plowing through scenery, whereas here it's all fast cutting and dynamic camera angles. It would be pretty cool if Tomonaga Kazuhide animated a car chase storyboarded by Takeshi Koike. I couldn't identify who did what, except for Satoru Utsunomiya's scene, but the whole episode felt tight animation-wise, with Takeshi Koike's drawings filling in the more quiet scenes nicely. Incidentally, great to see Satoru Utsunomiya. He always seems on the verge of disappearing and then shows up in some random show. Hard to believe that in the 10 years since I started this blog he never had an opportunity to helm a big project. But that goes for a lot of talented people (e.g. Yasuhiro Aoki)...

In sensibility the two episodes felt like they could have been taken straight out of the early Lupin (perhaps why the new jacket is a color that seems midway between blue and green), from the way Fujiko shows up and interacts with the Lupin gang to the combination of assassin bad guy and international intrigue and fanciful spy tech. The bad guy assembling the gun was animated in loving detail as befitting classic Lupin, and Lupin's car this time around was different from any before but also a charming but punchy mid-range classic car - the Alfa Romeo GTV? The only thing that felt a little uncomfortably weird and closer to Fujiko in spirit was the bizarro sexbot scene with Fujiko scampering around completely naked avoiding an enormous drillbit penis. It's like they want to have the sex aspect in the show, but they've divorced it from the character of Lupin and pinned it on the bad guys. The juvenile bit between Lupin and Fujiko on the motorcycle captured Monkey Punch's jokey attitude towards matters sexual, but even then it still feels toned down, albeit still farther than they'd go in the early shows.

The scriptwriter Yuuya Takahashi did a good job recreating the spirit of the old Lupin, although his experience predominantly as a mystery screenplay writer comes through in the somewhat excessively expository denouement, which consists of about 10 minutes straight of 'tane-akashi' explanation. Even the way it was obvious that there's no way Jigen was dead felt true to the transparent ploys of early Lupin. My favorite bit in the movie may have been the part where Lupin walks off screen from his table and then, after a pause, drops some coins on the table. Now that's the classy wit I like to see in Lupin. I liked the Broadway joke - perhaps it's a stretch to imagine this as a reference to the Yoshio Urasawa Broadway series in red jacket Lupin. Also true to old Lupin is the fact that there's no unnecessary killing. Even the assassin gets off with just a shot to the arm. And the Lupin gang comes away empty-handed save for the satisfaction of having done the right thing according to their rules.

The only problem was the complete omission of Goemon and Zenigata. Is it because they didn't know whether to go with the new personalities or the old? Or to save the trouble of writing them into the story? Seems a bit lazy. They even credited Zenigata's voice actor in the credits even though he doesn't have any role, much less dialogue.

SPOILERS: But the ultimate kicker of the movie was the last sequence, which had my jaw dropped. Is this setting things up for Mamo to be a player in the TV series? Or just a treat for fans of the first movie? (considered by many to be the best of the bunch) It seems a bit capricious and random to be the latter, so I'm guessing the former. I can't get enough of Mamo, so I'm all for more. But if you bring Mamo back, come on, you've got to bring back either Yuzo Aoki or Yoshio Kabashima, or preferably both. You want to see a grown man beg?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

05:15:00 am , 2489 words, 12191 views     Categories: post-Akira, Studio: Group Tac, Studio Curtain, 1990s

Yadamon and Studio Curtain

Many years on from Manga Kodomo Bunko and Manga Ijin Monogatari, Group Tac produced an unusual magical girls show called Yadamon (1992-1993). The show was produced for NHK, and was hence a somewhat high-profile gig with more personality and verve than your usual template majokko anime. It injected a bit of style and cool into the genre, which gave it broader appeal.

The show announces itself as different right from the opening (watch), with its appealing, somewhat international character designs and driving alt rock song by Lindberg. The show's name also drops the lengthy, cliche'd "Mahou no..." format for a more cool and succinct impact. Although different from the work produced by Group Tac in its early years, the show still had their patented cleverness and personality.

Set in the near future, the show has an optimistic vision of the future in which man uses science to establish a harmonic balance with nature. A boy named Jean lives in a man-made ecological preserve called only the "Land" with his parents Maria and Eddie, scientists and veterinarians who run the preserve. There are mild sci-fi elements that are not too outlandish to be unbelievable. The structure of the show starts off with standalone 5-episode-long arcs, later moves to standalone episodes, and in the latter half gradually becomes serial leading towards the cataclysmic climax. This apocalyptic and openly interpretable climax is also somewhat novel, perhaps reflecting the greater freedom of creators not tied to source material. Yadamon is a great example of a show not based on source material.

The concept for "a new kind of magical girl show" originated in 1991 with NHK production arm Sogovision producer Hiroshi Kubota and screenwriter Minami Oi. Kubota in particular devised the idea of inverting the standard setup of magical girls shows. Instead of a magical girl who lives among ordinary humans but has to keep her abilities secret, the mischievous Yadamon tells everyone she's a witch, but nobody believes her.

In early October 1991 NHK began seeking production companies by competitive bidding. They did this by providing production concept documentation and asking for each company to visualize the characters and their environment in a few illustrations. Group Tac submitted illustrations by Suezen and won the bidding in mid-October. Group Tac producer Kenjiro Kawando is the one who chose Suezen, having worked with him on The Tale of Genji (1987) and then met him in various places since.

I enjoyed the show back when it first aired for its nice style and western atmosphere. It was also one of the first anime I saw in the 10-minute format. (It was aired Monday through Friday in 10 minute chunks.) Revisiting it recently, I found that it's a pleasant show if far from perfect. The animation is a base tone of lackluster with occasional spikes of awesome. The characters and stories are endearing if simplistic and childish.

Although on the surface the show follows the template of a magical girl from a magical land who visits the earth and engages in adventures there, the show's underlying theme is notable for being more based on child psychology. Rather than taking the child's perspective and projecting a fantasy life onto reality, Yadamon seems to take an adult's perspective by placing the crux of the drama on Yadamon's emotional growth from pure self-interest to empathy.

Helping to maintain interest are Suezen's designs. Suezen is the pen name of Fumio Iida, who just prior had acted as animation director of Rojin Z (1991). He's a great animator, and he animated the opening. His designs go a long way to making the show watchable, if just because they're so refreshing. Unfortunately he didn't animate anything else in the show.

Luckily there were spurts of good animation in the show, most of it from subcontractors. To be able to produce so much animation, Group Tac outsourced much of the production work to around 30 different subcontractors. Roughly 20 in-house and outside directors handled the task of storyboarding and episode directing.

Although the subcontractors are not credited in the show, the Roman Album provides a rare glimpse into the specifics of how the contracts were doled out, so it's worth reproducing here. I've often managed to piece together the various subcontractors involved in a show, but I've never seen it laid out explicitly like this. This is a great artifact highlighting the subcontractor-heavy nature of anime.

Group Tac essentially doled the work out to 9 production coordinators, including an in-house team, and these 9 subcontractors either handled the directing/animation tasks themselves or in turn sub-subcontracted the work out to another studio. Inbetweening and finishing was then handled by an inbetweening studio chosen by the subcontractor, except in the case of studios like Anime Spot that handled their own inbetweens.

1. Group Tac (53 eps)In-house
Directors: Koichi Takada, Takuya Sato
Sakkans: Masahiko Murata, Yoshiko Imano
Fantasia
Sakkan: Morio Hitoshi, Akira Takeuchi
Anime Spot
Director: Shigeru Ueda
Sakkan: Masami Abe, Masatoshi Isshi
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house
Studio Takuranke
Sakkan:Hiroyuki Yamada
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house
Studio Koa
Sakkan: Toyami Sugiyama
Key Animation: In-house
Studio Curtain
Sakkan: Hiroko Kazui
Key animation: In-house
Individual
Sakkan: Kazuaki Mouri, Tadashi Abiru, Kahoru Hirata, Rie Nishino

2. Aubeck (43 eps)Group Zen
Director: Hiroshi Ishiodori
Sakkans: Masayuki Fujita, Yasuyuki Noda
Studio Mu
Directors: Johei Matsuura, Masashi Ikeda
Sakkans: Harumi Muranaka, Yasuhiro Ohshima
Studio Curtain
Director: Noriyuki Nakamura
Sakkan: Kenichi Shimizu
Individual
Sakkan: Shinichi Shoji

3. Tanasawa Office (12 eps)In-house team A
Director: Takashi Tanasawa
Sakkan: Daijiro Sakamoto
In-house team B
Director/Sakkan: Yoshiko Sasaki
In-house team C
Director/Sakkan: Toshiaki Kamihara

4. Jupiter Film (9 eps)Individual
Director: Takuo Suzuki, Kenichi Kuroki
Sakkan: Kanji Hara
Studio Curtain
Director: Hitoshi Namba
Sakkan: Keiko Hattori

5. Ajia-do (12 eps)In-house
Director: Kazuhiro Sasaki
Sakkan: Masayuki Sekine
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house

6. Sunshine (3 eps)In-house
Directors: Shigeru Ohmachi
Sakkan: Isao Kaneko
Key Animation, Inbetweens & Finishing: In-house

7. Project Team Sara (13 eps)Studio Liberty
Director: Akitaro Daichi
Sakkans: Chuji Nakajima, Ryoko Hata

8. Doga Kobo (8 eps)In-house
Director: Kiyoshi Fukumoto
Sakkans: Yuji Takahashi, Tadashi Tsubokawa
Key Animation & Inbetweens: In-house

9. Mu Film (14 eps)In-house + Animatronics
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Sakkans: Akihiko Yamashita, Miho Shimogasa, Takashi Yamazaki, Hiroki Umeda, Chikayo Nakamura
Inbetweens & Finishing: In-house & Animatronics (Philippines subsidiary)

I wrote about Aubec in my posts on Garaga (1989) and Capricorn (1991). They outsourced everything except finishing (which I noted as being the weakest link in Aubec's productions), which they sent to their subsidiary Studio Bogie.

Yadamon pre-dates the concept of the chief animation director, so one of the things that makes the show nice to watch is seeing what different touch each subcontractor brings to the drawings. The drawings look pretty different from episode to episode.

Studio Curtain

One of the show's best subcontractors was Studio Curtain, the informal gathering of animators active 1990-1995 about which I talked in my posts on Sukeban Deka (1991) and Dragon Slayer (1992). Directors Noriyuki Nakamura, Hitoshi Namba and Kazuaki Mouri and animators Tadashi Hiramatsu and Kenichi Shimizu each did very nice work in the show. The fast-paced directing that made Noriyuki Nakamura's Dragon Slayer so memorable is on full display here. I'm not sure why Kazuaki Mouri is credited separately from Studio Curtain, as I'm pretty sure he was at Curtain during this time. Kazuaki Mouri and a few other Curtain people actually moved to Group Tac in the years after Yadamon. Many of the same people who worked on Yadamon went on to work on Group Tac's later Earth Defense Family (2001).

I was aware that Studio Curtain was involved in the show, but not that there were so many other sub-contractors. The two-stage subcontracting system also surprised me. I imagined Curtain had been contracted entirely by Tac, but according to this they were contracted by different groups.

As best I've been able to gather, here is a list of the projects Studio Curtain worked on and the staff who were definitely involved with the studio (there may have been more).

Studio Curtain projects
Dragon Quest (1989-1991) TV eps & op/ed for part 2 aired 1991
Gatapishi (1990) TV (Mon-Fri 10 min format)
Nadia of the Blue Water (1990) TV ep 11 & 15
Yusha Exkaiser (1990-1991) TV ed (Kazuaki Mouri, watch), eps 24, 30, 35, 40, 43
Pigmario (1990-1991) TV op 2 (watch)
The Two Lottes (1991) TV op/ed (watch)
Sukeban Deka (1991) OVA (production assistance credit)
Jarinko Chie Funsenki (1991-1992) TV op/ed (watch)
Tanoshii Moomin Ikka Bouken Nikki (1991-1992) Mouri chief sakkan, sakkan 1, 12, 18, 22, 26 / Hiramatsu genga 10, 16, 22
Dragon Slayer (1992) OVA
Calimero (1992-1993) TV op (Kazuaki Mouri, watch) & ed (Yuka Kudo)
Yadamon (1992-1993) TV (Mon-Fri 10 min format)
TwinBee: WinBee's 1/8 Panic (1993) game video (Kazuaki Mouri, watch)
Jungle no Oja Taa-chan (1993) TV
Moldiver (1993) OVA ep 1 (production assistance credit)
Metal Fighter Miku (1994) TV ep 2
Tobe! Isami (1995) TV
Alice Investigative Bureau (1995-1997) TV

Studio Curtain staff
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
灘波日登志 (三條なみみ) Hitoshi Namba (Namimi Sanjo)
中村憲由 Noriyuki Nakamura
毛利和昭 Kazuaki Mouri
平松禎史 Tadashi Hiramatsu
清水健一 Kenichi Shimizu
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
工藤裕加 Yuka Kudo
宮崎なぎさ Nagisa Miyazaki
数井浩子 Hiroko Kazui
山本直子 Naoko Yamamoto
小川瑞恵 Mizue Ogawa
田口広一 Koichi Taguchi
服部圭子 Keiko Hattori

Other animators who did good work on the show were Shoji Shinichi and Rie Nishino, contracted on an individual basis, and ex-Bebow animator Akihiko Yamashita, who around that time was working on Giant Robo. Masao Okubo did some of his patented Kanda-style effects in episode 52. Satoru Utsunomiya even makes a surprise appearance in episode 164. The climactic last three episodes are quite well animated, but seem to have been made by people from various studios in the final dash.

Below is a selection of some of the animation by the show's best animators. Rie Nishino and Kenichi Shimizu's personality comes through in their eccentric drawings, whereas Tadashi Hiramatsu and Akihiko Yamashita are more about the movement, although their exceptional drafting abilities come through in the drawings.

Tadashi Hiramatsu #27, 55, 90, 114, 135

One of Tadashi Hiramatsu's earliest pieces at Studio Curtain was the crazy animation of King eating a spicy fish in Nadia in 1990. He returns to work on another Tac-NHK production here, and this time turns in some very nice effects and action animation. He worked mostly under director Namba Hitoshi. His uncommon drafting skills come through in the delectable hand drawings in episode 135, which is a good episode overall featuring work by Kazuaki Mouri and Hitoshi Namba. His strong layout skills and detail-oriented sensibility comes through well in this episode. Hiramatsu has admitted to joining Nakamura Pro in the hope of getting to draw Lupin III, and in episode 55 here he draws some action with the canoe dirigible that seems clearly inspired by Kazuhide Tomonaga's work in red jacket Lupin.

Kenichi Shimizu #11, 26, 46, 68, 76, 90, 105

The first appearance of "data thief" brothers Eddie and Butch in episode 26 is one of the best eps in the show thanks to the combination of Noriyuki Nakamura's fast-paced directing and Kenichi Shimizu's eccentric and dynamic drawings that meet the demands of the fast storyboard with some extreme ghosting and deformation and fast actions. The directing was so fast, in fact, that it reportedly gave the voice actors trouble timing their dialogue during the dubbing session. Episode 68 features some of his most fun animation of the family as they're trapped in the grampa's spaceship and start going crazy. You can see some extreme stretching/ghosting above that reminds of the extreme stretch and squash in Dragon Slayer, so those parts of Dragon Slayer may have been of Shimizu's hand. The hands are a dead giveaway in anime when uncorrected, and Shimizu's way of drawing hands is as distinctive as Hiramatsu. Shimizu's hands are blocky and roughly drawn, and he draws the knuckles as a single line. He draws some of the funniest faces in the show.

Shimizu and Hiramatsu recently teamed up again after many years and produced some wonderful work in episode 1 of Parasyte.

The year after Yadamon Curtain director Hitoshi Namba directed Jungle no Oja Taa-chan at Group Tac with largely the same team as Yadamon, including a few episodes featuring the power combo of Noriyuki Nakamura + Tadashi Hiramatsu.

Kazuaki Mouri #68, 92, 135, 159

Episode 92 is a solo episode entirely storyboarded/directed/animated by Curtain's Kazuaki Mouri and is hence the best spot to get a sense of his style. His drawings aren't idiosyncratic like Kenichi Shimizu, but he can draw some extreme deformation/ghosting as in the sequence of Eddie on the table above, or the cartoonishly exaggerated drawings of Shinui. He can also draw very strong traditional straight-through movement with a great sense of body weight as in the sequence of Yadamon doing a triple lutz above. Mouri is one of those all-powerful animators who can do anything, as evidenced by his huge filmography. Mouri did a lot of openings/endings as well as other special projects like Time Gal (1985) and Pony Metal U-Gaim (1986). He settled at Group Tac for a few years after Yadamon.

Rie Nishino #67, 83, 131

Rie Nishino didn't do much in the show but her few episodes feature some tremendously fun drawings and over-acting. The shot of Yadamon at top from around the 8:30 mark in episode 131 is pretty innocuous, and you can't tell how good the movement is from the still drawings, but it's possibly my single favorite shot from the whole series. Yadamon is basically saying "That's not true!" and she does a full-body swing of the arms to emphasize the words. It's some of the best acting in the show, capturing her stubborn, willful personality and emotion perfectly through believable and realistic body movement. And it does so pretty efficiently, with just a few drawings. The episode where we're introduced to Jean's grandfather, #67, is packed to the brim with very fun exaggerated reaction shots.

I'd never heard of Rie Nishino before this, but her work here makes me want to see more. She was animator in Tatsuyuki Tanaka's Tojin Kit, which gives some indication of her skills - not to mention Arietty. It's not clear if she was at Studio Curtain, but she was involved in a lot of projects alongside Kazuaki Mouri over the 1990-1995 time period, designing Carimero with an opening animated by Kazuaki Mouri as well as Jungle no Oja Taa-chan. Many years later she even directed a few episodes of the cute show Zumomo & Nupepe directed by Curtain star director Noriyuki Nakamura.

Akihiko Yamashita #65, 80, 98

Ex-Bebow animator Akihiko Yamashita did some of the show's most virtuosic animation. He didn't do many episodes in the show, but each one features a certain amount of very impressive animation. Ep 65 features some skating animation that has Yadamon and Eddie dashing around the screen with great energy. Yamashita uses a lot of drawings and moves the characters through screen in a three-dimensional way. His action has the thrill of classic Telecom. Ep 80 meanwhile features almost Hakkenden-inspired molten animation of the sand monster Bagdo zooming around the screen with a transforming silhouette, and some of the most 'kakkoii' Yadamon action scenes in the show. Ep 98 is less impressive but features a few shots of effects work, notably a sand explosion and a splash of water that although short are impressively executed, with an almost Toshiyuki Inoue-esque realistic style.

Kumiko Takahashi? #133

Episode 133 featured some of the most boldly deformed drawings and extreme ghosting of any episode in the show. I can't identify the work based on the style, but if I'd have to guess based on the credits, I would guess maybe Kumiko Takahashi, if only because she's immensely talented and I wouldn't put it past her to have this kind of range. She's an animator whose other work at this period I'd like to explore. I've seen her Tetsuwan Birdy OVA series from this period and it's quite lovely.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

09:05:00 am , 118 words, 6698 views     Categories: Animation

Santa Company making

I haven't seen the actual show, and it doesn't look very interesting visually, but someone brought to my attention an interesting Kickstarter project that will be probably one of the most meticulous making-ofs ever:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1287579779/art-of-making-santa-company-a-complete-guide

Luckily it looks well on its way to being funded. I also noticed that Japanese indie animator Ryo Hirano is crowdfunding his latest film, except this one is on a Japanese site:

https://motion-gallery.net/projects/TIMH

Am I reading this wrong though or is the Blu-Ray only available at the 50K Yen level? That's pretty absurd. Otherwise a talented indie creator worth supporting.

Urbance though is the most interesting currently-running crowdfund animation and I hope it gets funded:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2088672139/urbance

Index of Crowdfunded Animation in the forum.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

03:31:00 pm , 230 words, 6354 views     Categories: Misc

10 years of Anipages

This is a little late, but this past June 9 marked the blog's 10 year anniversary. I never thought I'd continue writing it for this long. I fully expected to stop after a few months when I started writing out of boredom in summer of 2004. The community support is what kept me going for this long. So I'll take this opportunity to thank all the commenters who have voiced in with always welcome insights. 10 years is a long time and many of you have come and gone, but I hope things are well wherever you are in life now. Thanks also to everyone in the forum for making it a good place for nitty-gritty animation discussion. Last but not least, thanks to all the readers for reading my meandering writings about random obscure/ancient subjects all these years. I hope it's been of some interest.

Looking over the first month's posts I'm reminded that initially this was really just a place for me to scribble down unorganized thoughts about anime and whatever else was on my mind. Over the years the post volume dropped considerably, with a few long silences, but I've moved towards focusing on properly written posts on a specific topic in the hope of improving the quality. I don't know how long I can keep it up, but I'll probably try to continue to write as long as I can.

Friday, October 3, 2014

08:58:00 pm , 2450 words, 7449 views     Categories: Movie, Studio: Ghibli, Director: Isao Takahata, Animator: Osamu Tanabe

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

I got to see Isao Takahata's latest film on the big screen a week or so ago and wanted to get down some impressions before I forget.

On the surface, Kaguya Hime no Monogatari is a gorgeous film that carries on where My Neighbors The Yamadas left off, doing for ancient Japan what the previous movie did for modern Japan. But deep down, it's more of an enigma.

I've been immersed in Group Tac's Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi for weeks now, so it was inevitable for me to compare the two. This story has in fact been told not only in MNMB but elsewhere in movies and shorts. But the idea to make the movie isn't new. Takahata came up with the original idea for the film way back in the Toei Doga days, and in retrospect it does look like the kind of film that would not have been out of place beside Anju and Zushiomaru and Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon.

Kaguya Hime or The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter as it's alternately known is believed to be Japan's oldest story - it's even referenced in The Tale of Genji. It's known as "the ancestor of stories" in Japan. The story itself, like many folktales, is fantastical and obviously not realistic. Gisaburo Sugii's approach to the conundrums and non-sequiturs of Japan's folktales seemed to be to embrace them, not to try to bridge their logical gaps. The MNMB version of Kaguya Hime (watch), which is directed by Takao Kodama with animation by Masakazu Higuchi and art by Koji Abe, is a truly beautiful rendition of the story, but faithful to the bare-bones original and much more closely stylzed after scroll paintings.

Isao Takahata is a very different filmmaker. His entire ethos towards filmmaking is based on logic. Every element of his films is meticulously conceived to achieve a particular end within the whole. So it was intriguing to wonder how such a filmmaker would not only tackle a story as enigmatic and illogical as Kaguya Hime but turn its brief length into a 2+ hour movie.

Takahata's logical approach produces a curious beast - a folktale that attempts to make up for the inherent illogic of the original story by making its characters as believable as possible, and yet at every moment reminds of you that it is not real.

The uncomfortably weird, if beautifully animated, early segment depicting Kaguya Hime having literal 'growth spurts' is the product of Takahata visualizing what was only a vague sentence in the original story. Myths and folktales are full of stock situations and characters not meant to be taken at face value. MNMB features dozens of stories about childless elderly couples who find a child, or a pot of gold, or a child who turns into a pot of gold, by supernatural agency. By their very nature these stories seem meant to be taken metaphorically, which is at odds with the way this film pedantically fleshes everything out.

On the other hand, this tactic of blending unnatural moments seamlessly into the flow of things harkens back to Pompoko (1994) with its tanuki who switch forms between realistic raccoons, cartoon raccoons and humans, and even further back to Jarinko Chie (1981), with its cats that occasionally get up to walk on their hind legs like humans. If the secret to anime's success is in the blank faces of its static anime characters, which prompt viewers to read the appropriate emotion and hence experience the character's world vicariously, Takahata seems to deliberately push you out of the characters to force you to view them from an objective remove.

In the broad strokes, the movie is surprisingly faithful to the original story. It doesn't cheat by being "based on" the story. It basically just pads it out with a tremendous amount of padding in the form of incredibly beautiful character animation and scenes of natural beauty.

Certain elements of the original story didn't make sense, and the movie fills in the holes as best it can. The movie's key contribution is in explaining the reason why Kaguya Hime was banished to the earth in the first place, something the original story conveniently forgot to explain. It's not like she was sent to save us from our sins. Or maybe it is. The heavenly abode on the moon is interpreted with historical verisimilitude as a Buddhist paradise devoid of the suffering and color and emotion and pleasure. Kaguya Hime's sin was to wonder, an enlightened soul, what it was like on earth. Her punishment was to be sent there in order to experience life firsthand - and to become attached to the people she loved, only to be torn away from them. This simple tweak completely changes the meaning of the story, and turns it into a tragic affirmation the whole complicated mess of human experience, including, love, joy and beauty, but also pain and suffering.

The padding isn't just padding, then. It's the whole point of the movie, both thematically and technically. If the padding gives the ending the requisite weight, having an animator like Osamu Tanabe makes it possible to bring it to life. The whole point of this movie is basically to give Osamu Tanabe something to do. That something is what he does best: create realistic character animation in an unrealistic shell.

I wrote a post about Osamu Tanabe in 2007 in the period after Yamadas, when he was pumping out one wonderful short after the next. It certainly took a lot longer than I was hoping for his next project to appear.

Isao Takahata had apparently been struggling to get Osamu Tanabe excited about a theatrical project around that time. Yoshiyuki Momose had drawn lots of image boards for Grave of the Fireflies, as did Shinji Otuska for Ponpoko, in the pre-production stage, so Takahata was apparently expecting Tanabe to do the same. First he tried with a project based on a Ainu 'Yukar' folktale (Hols was originally conceived based on an Ainu Yukar, and was supposed to be an Ainu story, but Toei Doga didn't allow that, so this was obviously a follow-up), and then for a version of the Tale of the Heike, and then a story called The Birth of the Lullabye about babysitters in pre-war Japan, but to no avail. Only after another producer introduced Tanabe to a 1964 book by Shugoro Yamamoto entitled Yanagibashi Monogatari, a love story set among the lower classes in Edo-period Japan, did he begin drawing. Takahata essentially captured that creative momentum and veered it towards Kaguya Hime.

Even in the early stages of production on Kaguya Hime things didn't go smoothly, as apparently a pilot film was produced that was so avant-garde that they had to start all over and go in a new direction. Takahata has written books about scroll paintings, positing them as the ancestors of animation, so I would love to have seen what Takahata could have done with this story in short form, in a style more closely patterned after scroll paintings. For example this image just begs to be brought to life. Perhaps this pilot went in that direction. All this to say that the film had a protracted pre-production stage, even by the standards of the uncompromising Takahata.

One of the key technical details that helped define the film's visuals was devised by Tanabe: draw everything small and enlarge it. He did this for the characters, and art director Kazuo Oga followed suit with the art. What this did is to create lines whose grain is visible, and produce lots of white space. Kaguya Hime's realism captures the beauty of the natural world in a few quick strokes rather than through overwhelming detail.

Although known as a realistic director, Takahata's wisdom is knowing that merely adding more detail and trying for photorealism isn't the answer. Inspired partly by his encounter with Frederic Back, he has since at least Only Yesterday (1991) been working towards a kind of haiku realism, a realism of omission. This started with the flashback segments of Omohide Poroporo, with their white space that highlighted the superficiality of the moment rather than attempting to deceive the audience with overwhelming verisimilitude, and culminated with his actual haiku in Winter Days (2003). The defining trait of Takahata's work is that it is anti-fantasy, and the fascinating thing is that this comes through loud and clear in this film adaptation of Japan's oldest fantasy.

At the behest of Takahata, Tanabe played a particularly large part in defining the film's animation style as the lead animator, rather than merely as the sakkan there to correct animators' drawings. Animators were instructed to adapt to his style so it could seem like the whole film was animated by Tanabe. The beauty is that you can still identify certain animators' sections (Norio Matsumoto, Shinji Otsuka, Shinji Hashimoto, Hideki Hamasu) through the nature of their movement, but the film overall feels unified in its movement style despite featuring work by many different talented animators.

Shinji Hashimoto's powerful section of Kaguya Hime running was featured in the preview and is indeed the film's animation highlight. He also animated a few other shots of Kaguya Hime spinning around. A spattered brushstroke style was adopted for the running sequence that gives it its impact. This was actually a style originally devised for the climactic battle sequence of The Tale of the Heike, but when that project fell through Takahata adapted it here, indicating how determined he was to create this kind of animation. The brush stroke style not only expresses Kaguya Hime's emotions well, but is a match with the ancient setting, and the very visible grain of the strokes in the rest of the movie resulting from magnification.

Takahata's basic approach of keeping the audience at an objective remove can best be seen in the film's final moments. Kaguya Hime is being taken away to the moon, and her parents are bawling because the girl they raised from a child is being taken away. Kaguya Hime has become attached to life in the world, having experienced all the beauty and emotion that it offers, and doesn't want to leave. Precisely at the moment when the audience instinctively wants to feel emotional catharsis, Takahata wrenches us out of the false reality of film with the loudly joyous music of the heavens. The clash is discomfiting and captures the ironic tragedy of the situation, prompting us to think more than feel.

Another defining trait of Takahata's approach to realistic directing is the emphasis on long shots of character acting to make the characters feel real, rather than necessarily trying to be realistic per se by drawing things photorealistically. This film is without doubt the summum opus of this aspect of Takahata's filmmaking language thanks to the synergy of Osamu Tanabe & co.'s remarkably rich character animation. Kaguya Hime's rapid aging is very odd to observe, but it is lovingly depicted by the animation. The original story is terse about why Kaguya Hime was exiled to earth, and almost entirely omits the every detail of her life on earth. All of a sudden, she's being taken away, and her parents are bawling. There's no weight there because we haven't followed her life closely enough to know what led to those feelings. Presented with this, Takahata made the decision to meticulously depict Kaguya Hime's life on earth as a way of giving weight to her and her adopted parents' unwillingness to part. Osamu Tanabe's animation bears the entire burden of this task and makes the character's plight believable.

Takahata has experience directing adaptations of stories about children growing up, most notably Heidi (1974), although Anne of Green Gables (1979) is perhaps the most obvious reference point for its actual depiction of Anne's physical maturation over the course of the series. Here that maturation is depicted on fast-forward in the span of a few minutes. Another reference point is 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (1976), the intermediate step between these two, and the first place where Takahata took steps towards his mature style of objective realism. Heidi still depicted an idealized world, whereas 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother was a documentary in spirit.

It could be in a nod to this that Takahata quotes himself in Kaguya Hime. The scene where Sutemaru gets beaten up is lifted verbatim from episode 45 of 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, in which Marco watches in silent horror from the train on which he has snuck as his friend Pablo runs out to divert the driver, and winds up getting beaten up and left stranded in the middle of the pampas. It's definitely the most powerful scene in an already powerful series, but the scene must have had special meaning to him beyond that for him to quote it in this way. Maybe it's that this scene, which forces the protagonist to become the observer of events beyond his or her control, is meant to remind us of our own position as spectators.

The beautiful art courtesy of Kazuo Oga and his team of background artists is another major draw of the film. Oga is a master of painting the natural world, and with Kaguya Hime he's created one of the most vivid depictions of the natural world yet in anime. He used watercolor to help create the feeling of a living picture scroll. Enlarging the paintings created white spaces that add to the impression by emphasizing the white base. This was his first time as art director for a major film since Pompoko in 1994. He now works mainly as an illustrator, also doing anime background art on a solo basis. The film is thus welcome for getting this great artist to do one more big job.

This approach of having one talented animator and one talented background artist spearhead their respective sections in a very individualistic way goes back at least to Gauche the Cellist (1982), in which animator Toshitsugu Saida drew all of the key animation and artist Takamura Mukuo drew all of the background art.

Although I found the movie somewhat less satisfying than previous Takahata outings, it is still a superbly beautiful film and I am eager to rewatch it again as soon as possible. It's sad that this may be the last major film by this genius, but it's a blessing we have it, as it was a long time coming. Good on Ghibli for being patient over its reported 7 years of production. I'm glad to find with this film that he stayed true to his guns to the last, continuing with his hand-crafted, lushly traditionally animated, anti-heroic, anti-epic brand of animated filmmaking. It's films like this that show that hand-drawn animation still has plenty of life left in it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Animated Tales of Great PeopleAnimated Classics of Children's Literature

In the wake of the success of Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi (1975-1995), Group Tac produced two other omnibus-format TV series that were not as long-lived and essentially disappeared into the pit of anime history, but were equally creative and appealing. These shows are not mere educational throwaways; they're everything you would expect from the creative minds at Group Tac, capturing them at the height of their powers in the studio's stylistically more flexible early days.

The first TV show produced by Tac after MNMB was an adaptation of Huckleberry Finn (1976) directed by Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu. This series was the product of Fuji TV wanting to expand its lineup of animated adaptations of western literature or 'meisaku' anime, but Nippon Animation being at full capacity already. Fuji TV asked film distributor Herald, and Herald in turn appointed Group Tac to the task on the merit of the Jack and the Beanstalk film they had produced for Herald shortly prior. The series did not have good ratings and was canceled early, and Tac was never asked to do another Fuji TV show.

Mainichi Broadcasting, on the other hand, was happy with the ratings of Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, which led to them getting Tac to produce two shows in a similar vein that carried on the 'manga' nomenclature: Manga Ijin Monogatari (1977-1978) and Manga Kodomo Bunko (1978-1979).

Other studios caught on and promptly copied the educational 'manga' format with shows such as Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi (Dax, 1976-1979), Manga Nihon Emaki (World Television, 1977-1978), Manga Hajimete Monogatari (Dax, 1978-1984), Manga Isoppu Monogatari (Nippon Animation, 1983) and Manga Nihonshi (Tsuchida Production, 1983-1984). But where Tac's two shows carried on the artistic and creator-centric approach of MNMB, many of these copycats were merely opportunistic children's pap piggybacking on Tac's example, and have little artistic merit.

'Manga' in this context was of course used to signify 'animated' and not comic books. At this period they still referred to TV animation as 'terebi manga' and animated movies as 'manga eiga'. This usage must have died out around this time.

Unfortunately neither of these shows are currently available in Japan, nor I assume anywhere else. It's a shame. Although definitely for children, they're still visually appealing after all these years and their more compact scale makes them more suited to a DVD release than the MNMB, and even the MNMB has gotten a partial DVD release. Manga Ijin Monogatari at least got a partial VHS release at one point, but that is long gone and the show's delicate visuals would benefit immensely from a pristine transfer. In the case of Huck Finn this may be impossible. It seems that the original stock of the TV show may have been lost in the process of editing together a movie version in the early 1990s. Normally nothing of this sort happened with Manga Ijin Monogatari or Manga Kodomo Bunko, so it would be great if these could see the light of day sometime.

Manga Ijin Monogatari or Animated Tales of Great People (1977-1978)

Clockwise from top left: Alfred Nobel, Nicolaus Copernicus, Gregor Mendel and Robert Koch

MIM is self-explanatory: it tells the story of great historical figures, two 10-minute stories per episode, just like MNMB. Despite telling stories all inspired by reality, the style is never anything close to realistic. Whimsical and imaginative animation is the order of the day. The episodes are like picture books come to life, favoring free-wheeling and playful invention over real-world linear narratives. The stories are thus almost never straight-faced and textbook dry, but rather embellish the stories however necessary to make them entertaining. You can clearly see the hand of the artist interpreting the tales. Their interpretation is the whole point. That's why this series is still worth watching almost 40 years later. Otherwise it would just be another one of the scores of unremarkable educational children's animation made in the decades since.

One of the identifying traits of Group Tac is striking use of sound effects and music. The creativity of Group Tac co-founder and audio director Atsumi Tashiro in this role is presumably to thank for this. MIM is a classic example of how Group Tac's musical creativity helped set its shows apart. The show not only looks but also sounds like no other show out there due to the novel idea to use synthesizer music by synth pioneer Shoji Osamu. Although at moments the primitive synth can sound dated, Shoji Osamu has a remarkable range and isn't limited to cheap imitations of conventional arrangements. The score is quite powerful when it uses the unique capabilities of the synth to create eerie and otherworldly sounds.

The director of the series is Masakazu Higuchi, an ex-Mushi Pro figure who worked at Group Tac between 1975 and 1979 on all of Tac's omnibus shows of this period. The producer is MNMB producer Mikio Nakata and the art director is MNMB regular Koji Abe. The episode directors, animators and artists are a mix of MNMB faces and new faces.

Masakazu Higuchi obviously used his connections to bring in people he knew. In my recent MNMB post I noted how Masakazu Higuchi is the one who invited Studio Arrow's Susumu Shiraume onto the show (his first job was animating episode 35 directed by Masakazu Higuchi). For MIM he got Studio Arrow's Isamu Kumada to animate the show's two openings in the shrewd realization that someone with expertise in ad work was a perfect candidate to produce a catchy opening. I haven't seen the second, but the first is quite lovely and unlike any other anime opening out there (watch). His ad man expertise is evident in the op's economy of means, with its Steinberg-esque line figures and striking minimalistic visual schemes. In spirit it feels closer to the experimental films of the Animation Sannin no Kai than to typical anime.

Susumu Shiraume of course is also present as an episode director. I've only seen his Alfred Nobel episode, but it has the same pleasing animation style as can be seen in his early MNMB work. The character drawing style is closer to something like a cross between Yellow Submarine and Peanuts than to anime. Sharply designed shots like the one of the generals pictured above betray his experience in ad work and working on Topcraft foreign co-productions.

The series is also unique for its creative title cards. The title cards for each episode of MNMB were all done by Hideo Takagu, who also handled the main titles for MIM (pictured above). Normally he was to handle the title cards for MIM, but Masakazu Higuchi convinced the studio to let him do the title cards himself because he had creative ideas for each title card that he wanted to use. Higuchi's title cards each adopt a different visual scheme relevant to the story at hand. It's a nice little touch that adds to the overall impression of the show being very much a handmade product, with careful thought put into what visuals would be appropriate for each figure. For example, the Hans Christian Andersen episode has the letters of his name float down like snowflakes to remind of The Little Match Girl, and the Gregor Mendel episode has peas pop out of a pod and spell out his name. You can see an image of each title on Higuchi's own home page here along with their original pencil designs. (The page also has a lot of his design sheets for MNMB and MKB.)

A nice surprise in the recent reboot of Cosmos was the use of animation to tell the stories of several historical scientific figures, which it did by dramatizing the key moments of their lives. MIM also devotes a large proportion of its episode to scientific figures. Also included are writers, composers and painters who are obvious choices. The series' Japanese origin is evident in the large proportion of Japanese figures. Lacking are more contemporary figures, religious leaders, or otherwise divisive figures. Gandhi is a glaring omission. I thought initially they were put off by all the massacres that are unavoidable in describing his life, but then they do an episode about the deadliest mass murderer in history, Genghis Khan. The laudable omission of other commonly glorified military figures such as Napoleon is less impressive in this light.

One odd name in the list is Babe Ruth. If it doesn't seem to fit in, it's because it was the pilot episode produced before chief director Masakazu Higuchi came onboard. The rest of the list is fairly more 'serious' in its choices (only scientific and artistic figures, no athletes or movie stars or the like), although his inclusion does say something about his popularity in the 1970s.

The series' asset is that it isn't primarily concerned with education, but with visual creativity. This is mostly a good thing, but has a downside. Some of the stories focus on entertainment to the point of obscuring the historical figure's importance. The episode about Wilhelm Roentgen, the winner of the first Nobel Prize in physics for discovering X-Rays, for example, uses a cute mouse character to summarize the discovery, but goes overboard and borders on becoming an episode of Tom and Jerry. The episode about Thomas Edison focuses on his childhood and only briefly mentions his later inventions as a closing afterthought.

The more satisfying episodes manage to effectively convey the figure's importance by dint of the good artistry of their directors and animators, of which a few examples are highlighted below.

Episode #42a: Helen Keller directed by Katsui/Higuchi/Abe

Helen Keller's story is well known and a staple of this kind of show. I was prepared to shrug the episode off as emotionally manipulative schmaltz, but instead I found it honestly and truly moving. The episode went beyond the call of duty in visually dramatizing her plight as a child. I found the episode to be great visual storytelling. A succession of poetic and creative visual schemes are used to represent her isolation and loneliness and the gradual discovery of meaning in the world around her.

For example, in one shot, prior to Helen discovering the meaning of words, a small child sits immobile at a desk in the center of the screen. Dwarfed by her surroundings, the seasons come and go. Children run around playing, and couples blithely walk around on Sunday strolls in their finery. Later, when she discovers the meaning of words, Helen is represented as a wind-up doll walking blindly through a dark room full of abstract shapes, eventually bumping into one and falling on her side. It's a striking visual expression of her powerlessness.

The episode was co-directed, unusually, by a trio: animator Chikao Katsui, series director Masakazu Higuchi and art director Koji Abe. The designs and animation were by Toshiyasu Okada, one of the great unknown animators of the 1970s. (I talked about him a bit in my post on Bannertail.) I'm not sure how the collaboration between the three directors worked, but obviously pitting their collective creativity is what produced such a visually dense episode. The other episodes have more of the quality of a personal creation, with commensurately less of the deliberate and honed quality that comes of the collaborative process. Even though the designs are not particularly realistic or appealing, and are somewhat blandly generic, the animation never feels cheap or inadequate. The episode isn't about animation grandstanding or realistic movement. It's a great example of Mushi Pro-school image-based storytelling.

Shoji Osamu's scoring of this episode is also very effective. His music is at its most dissonant and abstract during the early parts of the episode, and gradually shifts in tone towards more harmonic and melodic sounds as Helen's world opens up. The score is a big part of why the episode is so affecting.

The episode also appears to use Helen Keller's actual writing to narrate the events, which helps to make the episode work. Even in translation the quality of her writing comes through. Jun Sogabe often receives credit for "bungei" in this series. I'm not positive what this entails, but I've translated it as dialogue, to contrast with the episodes in which someone is credited with the more conventional term "kyakuhon". A bungei credit would mean that a plot was written and dialogue was adapted from the source material, whereas a kyakuhon credit would mean the scriptwriter came up with everything himself as would be the case in a conventional scenario. For example, MNMB writer Shuji Hirami is credited with script for the Hans Christian Andersen episode I've outlined next.

Episode #27b: Hans Christian Andersen directed by Tsutomu Shibayama

This episode takes a very different tack from the previous. This episode is an original story based in the real world, featuring an elderly Hans Christian Andersen as the protagonist. He has come to a Mediterranean port city somewhere in Italy on vacation. He notices a young boy waiting on the steps below his window each day. He discovers that the boy is waiting for his father, a seaman, to return home, refusing to believe the news that he was killed. Andersen comforts the boy with by relating the story of a boy named Hans who overcame loss as a young boy by holding out hope and using his creativity to translate adversity into stories.

Andersen apparently traveled to Italy often during his lifetime, the last time at age 67, 3 years before death in 1875. Shuji Hirami must have built up the story around this factual nugget. It's easy enough to dramatise Andersen's stories, but to come up with a way of conveying Andersen's achievement that isn't merely didactic is more of a challenge. The 1971 Mushi Pro TV series Andersen Monogatari animated the stories, while the 1968 Toei version of the same name wove the stories together into a single story, turning Andersen into a kind of Mary Poppins character.

Shuji Hirami's approach is a more low-key and tasteful way of depicting Andersen's legacy. Before his death, an elderly Andersen looks back on his life work through the lens of a chance encounter with a younger version of himself. The message is subtle and not overly sentimental: Creating stories can help us overcome and find meaning.

The narrative style of this episode is more conventional than the Helen Keller episode, which was abstract of necessity to depict Helen's world of darkness and silence. Here, instead, characters are grounded in a specific locale. A few deft establishing shots depict the fishing port environs and its inhabitants. The framing of shots and cutting is more cinematic. Short interludes interrupt the narrative illustrating Andersen's stories in a more colorful and stylized way. Ajia-Do's Tsutomu Shibayama does a fantastic job with the material. His drawings are delectable, as they all are at this period in his career, thanks to great layouts and a brilliant sense of stylization.

The style of the characters is basically in line with the other episodes, but Shibayama's visuals are more technically proficient than most of the other episodes. The characters have the usual bulging, rounded forms, with hatch mark accents here and there. For the section relating the story of the little match girl, he switches to a stark black and red color scheme with flattened perspective and stylized forms like silhouette animation. The ugly duckling section features highly stylized bird forms and scribbly but colorful crayon drawings of vegetation for the backgrounds. Shibayama produced probably his best short-form work for Group Tac on their omnibus series of the late 1970s.

Episode #11b: Vincent van Gogh directed by Hisashi Sakaguchi

The turbulent life of Vincent van Gogh is told in one of the show's most dynamic and intense episodes. Gogh's tempestuous character comes through vividly in this adaptation by the late great manga-ka Hisashi Sakaguchi.

This episode makes for another great contrast with the previous two episodes, indicating the breadth of MIM's graphical and storytelling styles. The pace here is fast and the atmosphere intense. The narrative covers Gogh's entire life from childhood to suicide, and of course dramatizing the events that led to him cutting off his own ear. In the short span of a few minutes the episode does a remarkable job of making us understand the state of mind that led him to make that decision.

The episode also clearly shows how his little brother Theo supported him throughout his life. In someone else's hands, the suicide might have been skipped over, but Sakaguchi knows it's the only possible ending to his story. The scene is depicted tastefully, without being lurid. We see Gogh painting amidst fields of gold. Suddenly, a shot rings out, and crows are startled into the sky. Gogh's own painting of crows flying in a golden field pans across the screen, as if he had captured in painting the last beautiful sight of his life. This episode is a case of an already moving and tragic story with inherent dramatic potential, given the kind of dramatization that does it justice.

The drawings are particularly interesting. The lines are extremely loose. I don't think there's a single straight line in the entire episode. This seems to evoke Gogh's style, without mimicking it, as if everything in Gogh's vicinity were expressively deformed by the intensity of his passion. The animation by Izumi Watanabe is not particularly remarkable, and is in fact somewhat crude, but is a perfect match with the loose background drawings, which often are drawn in the style of his paintings. The design of Gogh himself is perfect - recognizable and yet loose and free.

Hisashi Sakaguchi had a poetic and romantic sensibility that is a perfect match with Gogh. He joined Mushi Pro and worked under Tezuka on all of the classic Tezuka shows of the 1960s starting with Atom and began drawing manga on the side in 1969. Around 1980 he began to devote himself exclusively to manga. His work blended the humanistic passion of Tezuka's manga with the more modern graphic sensibility of new wave manga-kas like Katsuhiro Otomo.

Sakaguchi was high school friends with Masakazu Higuchi, and is in fact the one who invited Higuchi to Mushi Pro after Higuchi had quit Tatsunoko in 1966. The two worked together for a few years before Higuchi quit Mushi Pro and the two went their own way. Many years later, for his debut as a series director, Higuchi called on his old friend to help him out directing a few episodes of his show. The episodes he turned in, from what I've sampled, are brilliant without exception. It makes me wish he could have done more instead of focusing exclusively on manga.

Series director Masakazu Higuchi himself had aspirations of becoming a manga-ka since the beginning, and in the late 1980s shifted towards manga. These are but two examples - many of the early Mushi Pro figures in fact drew manga at Mushi Pro, including Hideaki Kitano, Moribi Murano, Masaki Mori and of course Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Even Osamu Dezaki drew a manga version of Goku's Big Adventure in 1967 for Mushi Pro's famous COM magazine.

Thus this episode captures the dual nature of the ex-Mushi Pro figures, whose creative wiring was a seamless blend of manga and animated expression. The result is some of the most graphically pleasing and dynamic animation of the period.

Incidentally, Hisashi Sakaguchi did his episodes of MIM from his artist collective Garakuta (meaning rubbish), which is credited with the animation in his four other MIM episodes. This is the only time an animator (Izumi Watanabe) was credited by name. The two later married.

As for Hisashi Sakaguchi's other episodes, I've only seen the Gregor Mendel episode, but I can confirm that it is equally brilliant. Hisashi Sakaguchi is one of the few people I've found to have an instinctive understanding of animated expression on par with Osamu Dezaki. He was otherwise not very prolific due to his focus on manga. MIM wound up being one of the few places he had the opportunity to create films from the bottom up. His episodes make me wish he'd had more opportunities in animation. It's high time this tragically short-lived genius got his due.

Manga Kodomo Bunko or Animated Classics of Children's Literature (1978-1979)

Clockwise from top left: The Lily of the Valley, The Friend's Dog, The Fox's Window, The 5 Sen Coin

A new omnibus series from Group Tac started without pause after the end of MIM, this time adapting classics of Japanese children's literature. The director this time was Tsuneo Maeda, who had just handed over the reins of MNMB to Mitsuo Kobayashi. The producer was MNMB's other producer, Ippei Onimaru. The audio director remained, as in all Tac productions, Atsumi Tashiro.

Even moreso than MIM, this series is a beautiful series with tremendous stylistic variety and quality work by talented animators. It has broad appeal and deserves more recognition than it has received. However, it is reported that the original prints of the show may have been lost, which does not bode well for its revival.

Due to the different main staff, and of course the different requirements of the material, the tone and style of Manga Kodomo Bunko is quite different, more realistic than the very cartoony and light-hearted MIM. Many of the stories take place in the early part of the 20th century in rural Japan, and the series has something of a nostalgic, elegiac, bucolic quality. The visuals are earthy, refined, painterly in a way that reminds of MNMB - just without the fantastic elements, and with more sophisticated stories.

The series is steeped in the atmosphere of Taisho-era Japan. It feels like a 1920s children's book come to life, with its simple, rounded characters and pre-modern vision of a simpler Japanese life. Specifically, MKB seems to carry on the spirit of the paintings of artists like Shotaro Honda in the seminal children's magazine Kodomo no Kuni. Even the episodes set in the immediate aftermath of the war still seem pre-war in spirit, as the postwar boom that epitomizes the Showa period had yet to set in.

Visually, the series is a feast of beautiful art thanks to the work of MNMB regulars like Tatsuro Kadoya, Koji Abe and Kadono Mariko. Most of the stories are realistic stories about the everyday life of children in Japan in the early part of the 20th century such as The Lily of the Valley and The 50 Sen Coin (pictured at left above), but there are also a few stories about the war such as the magnificent Song of Hiroshima and The Escaped Monkey, and a few more fantastical stories such as The Adventures of Rainbow Cat and The Fox's Window. This makes for a good variety, and keeps the series from becoming too one-note.

The staff each bring a completely different style to each story. Shinichi Tsuji shines with his more formalistic and highly stylized work in the show. Ajia-Do's Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi create some of their best work of the period in MKB. I've highlighted an episode of each of the latter three below. Even the less technically noteworthy episodes by directors such as Norio Yazawa, who has less of a striking style, remain eminently enjoyable due to the classy style, and the great stories by well-known authors such as Yuzo Yamamoto, Sakae Tsuboi and Takeo Arishima as well as many that I'd never heard of. Reportedly at least some of these stories were culled from the pages of The Red Bird, so it seems probable that Shin-Ei Doga took the idea for their 1979 Heart of the Red Bird series from Group Tac's Manga Kodomo Bunko.

There are even a few surprise faces in the bunch, such as the Shingo Araki-Himeno Michi duo, whose cute drawings of the rambunctious children of The Pee Inari (#18b) work very well against the beautiful bamboo forest paintings of Kazunori Shimomichi. Tatsuro Kadoya similarly produces gorgeous paintings of the countryside in the Brothers episode (#13b). MIM director Masakazu Higuchi directs a few episodes, bringing a notably more retro and cartoonish style to his characters in The Town without a Clock (#11b). His whimsical and colorful Rainbow Cat episode (#42b) is a delight and a real change from the more realistic episodes.

Atsumi Tashiro is presumably the one responsible for the remarkable musical scores that grace both shows. The previous series had benefited from a novel synth music score, and this time they did something equally daring and creative, but going in a different direction. Usually a TV series will have a single person scoring it. To match the omnibus format with different authors being adapted by different staff groupings, this time they called in ten famous modern classical composers to each produce an individual score for each episode.

Composers called in include: Noda Teruyuki, Katsuhiro Tsubono, Shigeaki Saegusa, Tokuhide Niimi, Roh Ogura, Koichi Sugiyama, Komei Hayama, Akihiro Komori, Michio Kitazume and Seiji Yokoyama. Some of these were involved in anime later such as Shigeaki Saegusa (Gundam ZZ), Koichi Sugiyama (Ideon) and Komori Akihiro (Jacky the Bearcub), but many of these are pure classical composers with a harshly dissonant modern style that is at odds with the usual harmonic world of anime. Many of the pieces were played by the Tokyo Quintet, so you can listen to the Tokyo Quintet performing a piece by Noda Teruyuki and a piece by Katsuhiro Tsubono to get a sense of the thoroughly uncompromisingly modernist music these guys produced for MKB.

The scores they produced are some of the most remarkable I've heard in anime. They're so good that it's a shame they haven't been released separately so they can be appreciated on their own. The notable thing is that the scores aren't used as 'accompaniment' in the typical way; they're actual 10-minute pieces of music that play continuously in the background from start to finish, without moments of silence. This gives the episodes a more sophisticated atmosphere than the episodes might otherwise have had.

Among the best of these scores are the solo scores, as this heightens the impact of the music. Episode #1a The Fox is a great story to begin with, about a group of children who go out one night to a festival and fear that one of the kids may have been possessed by a kitsune, and features an incredible marimba score, although I don't know who scored this one. Episode #1b The Festival Kimono features a great solo flute score by Teruyuki Noda to accompany a story about two beggar children who get adopted by a temple. Seiichiro Uno produced a beautiful solo piano score for episode #2a The Lily of the Valley to match the story about a girl who sneaks into a school to play piano at night.

These early episodes with solo scores are perhaps the pinnacle of Group Tac's early work of this period, in the sense that they are the ultimate expression of the 'solo' approach pioneered by MNMB, in which one person handles each creative task. Add to this the fact that the great Kyoko Kishida performed all of the voices in the first season and you have probably one of the most extreme solo anime of all time.

Indicating how important the musical aspect is to this series, the composer and performer/soloist are credited alongside the director, animator and artist at the beginning of each episode. They were part of the creative team, not merely there to provide accompanying tunes.

It seems the station may not have liked the modern music, though, because from season 3 onwards Seiichiro Uno did the music for every episode in a more conventional style. Although he is a great composer (he did fantastic work on Goku's Big Adventure in 1967), it's a huge change and a step down in the musical quality. The show feels more conventional afterwards. The first season therefore seems to capture the show at its height. (which is not to say there weren't great episodes produced later)

The opening is a beautiful and strange creation directed by Gisaburo Sugii, animated by Tsuneo Maeda, with art by Mihoko Magori. (watch) The series is notable for having 12 different endings, one for each month. Again, each is by a different composer. This is yet another indication of the unusual amount of effort that went into the musical side of things for this show.

Episode #43a: Song of Hiroshima directed by Osamu Kobayashi

One of the most moving stories in the series is given a convincingly cinematic treatment by Osamu Kobayashi.

A man is seen riding a train. He reminisces that he is on his way to meet a girl whom he has met twice before in his life: once when he saved her as an infant from the arms of her dying mother after the atomic bombing on August 6, 1945, and the second time seven years ago when he was summoned by a missing person announcement on the radio. It turns out the woman who summoned him is the one to whom he had handed the child that day in desperation. She had raised the child as her own, naming her Hiroko after the daughter she lost that day. Hiroko grew up ignorant of the events of that day, or what happened to her mother.

The story is based on Sukeyuki Imanishi's experiences as a soldier sent to Hiroshima to provide emergency relief on the day after the bombing. This is possibly one of the first treatments of the atomic bombings in anime, pre-dating the anime version of Barefoot Gen by four years.

This story doesn't focus on the bombing itself but uses it as a backdrop to tell a story about the country's recovery following the war. The innocent little girl represents hope that a new generation untouched by the events of the war will bring life back to the decimated country. The Genbaku Dome is an everpresent reminder in the backdrop throughout the episode's three time periods: on the day after the bombing, seven years later when the narrator tells Hiroko's new mother what happened, and ten years afterwards when he meets the 17 year old Hiroko to tell her about her past. After discovering Hiroko on that day, the narrator's first assignment was rebuilding the train station. 17 years later he meets Hiroko at the pristine new train station that shows no sign of the past.

Osamu Kobayashi displays a mastery of film language here that clearly presages his shift towards directing. His formal, tasteful layouts seem like they could have been framed by a lens, and go a long way towards giving the story its requisite gravitas. The film feels very realistic despite his character drawings being loose and far from photorealistic thanks to his brilliantly timed animation. He had a unique genius for stylizing the body and facial expressions with a minimum of lines and yet making the characters feel real. None of the other directors in the show would have been capable of doing this story justice.

The art by Tetsufumi Oyama has a reduced palette that not only conveys the grayness of the aftermath, but also gives the episode a more cinematic feeling.

Episode #20a Stuck on a Cliff is equally brilliant in terms of showcasing Kobayashi's remarkable talent as a director as well as his unique style of cartoonish yet somehow realistic animation. The montage sequence where the children are playing around has an almost documentary detachment and attention to detail. The drawings of the children swimming around at the beginning are brilliant snapshots that capture their lanky bodies thrashing about with a sketchbook realism. The shot around 6 minutes in where the boy walks towards the cliff and starts climbing is drawn with a spare rate that appears to be 3s or 4s, but the timing of the movement is completely realistic, and the poses all natural and believable. You sense a kind of proto-full limited in his work of this period. Kobayashi will mix up the frame rate dynamically depending on the shot. Walking "follow" shots in Song of Hiroshima, in contrast, are in 2s to convey a more cinematic feeling.

Even the strangely shaped, blobby heads feel somehow caricatural, and not randomly shaped out of laziness or lack of drawing skill. Every character in Osamu Kobayashi's episodes feels like an individual. Tsutomu Shibayama was also a brilliant caricaturist, but his style of caricature was more technical and detailed, more about precise comic exaggeration of feature elements. Osamu Kobayashi manages to capture a person's essence in just a few broad and loose strokes.

Episode #3a The Escaped Monkey is one of the other good wartime stories. It starts out looking like a lighthearted story about monkeys in a zoo but turns into a wrenching observation of the misery of homeless children. The monkey escapes from the zoo, but sees the terrible life the kids are living on the outside, and returns to the zoo realizing he has it better in the zoo. Chikao Katsui directs and Toshiyasu Okada animates.

Episode #18a: The Red Shoes directed by Tsutomu Shibayama

A boy named Hiroshi is playing baseball with his friends one evening when the ball goes flying into the bushes and falls into someone's yard. His friend warns him that the place is haunted, but he goes in anyway and meets a little blond-haired girl named Marie. They become friends, and Hiroshi finds out that her parents passed away just a month ago, and she lets a red balloon go every day with a letter attached for her parents in heaven. One day he goes over to play and finds out that she has been taken by her uncle on a ship to go back with him to the US.

Obviously, this is not based on Andersen's famous story. This is one of the episodes that is actually based on an old children's song rather than a story, in this case a song written in 1922 about a girl with red shoes taken away by a foreigner on a boat. Tsutomu Shibayama expands this fragment into a sad, beautiful little story about friendship between a boy and a girl of different cultures.

What makes the episode truly unforgettable is the stunning visuals. This is one of the most highly stylized of the show's episodes, every shot a striking composition fit for framing - from the eerie house in the woods surrounded by the black outlines of tall trees, to the abstract black shapes of the tankers and cranes against the sunset-red water, to the graveyard through which Hiroshi runs on his way to the port to say farewell to Marie. Shibayama's mastery of layout is on full display here, backed up by the beautiful art of Mariko Kadono.

The episode uses its simple visual scheme to create some clever visual tricks, such as when Hiroshi is looking for his ball in the grass, and we see a shot of the red setting sun beside a black outline of a tree. A little later, we see the same shot again, but the sun suddenly rises quickly, and the little girl steps out from behind the tree. What we thought was the setting sun was in fact her red balloon.

Helping to make the episode work is a lovely score by Akihiro Komori that starts out with a children's choir singing the first verse of the song itself. The music then goes on to use the melody as thematic material throughout the episode, making for a through-conceived episode. This score was clearly written closely tied to the visuals, unlike the early scores which come across as being independent compositions that don't directly comment on the twists and turns of the narrative in the conventional sense.

Tsutomu Shibayama directed/animated at least five other episodes for the show, so he was quite busy with Group Tac shows around this time, presumably returning to MNMB after taking time off to focus on Manga Ijin Monogatari and Manga Kodomo Bunko.

Episode #25a The Fancy Dragonfly is a pure fantasy with pared down visuals and cartoonish insect designs that plays out like an Aesop's fable. Episode #45b The Cow Thief is another brilliantly stylized episode about a bumbling cow thief who winds up leading the cow back to its own home. Episode #50a The Rail Car is an enigmatic story about a boy who sets out on a trip by rail car but finds it takes him far from home. Episode #34b The Musical Clock is a more realistic tale that follows a man and a young boy walking along a dark pre-dawn road. Episode #40b The Snowy Wharf is a dark tale about a group of homeless children living in a shanty on the wharf in the immediate aftermath of the war.

All of these episodes are brilliant episodes to be expected of Shibayama, but The Musical Clock and The Snowy Wharf in particular are two of the show's best episodes for their combination of visual prowess and subtle literary sensibility. Whereas many of the show's stories are understandably childish, with a simplistic thematic treatment that can lack depth for an adult viewer, these two episodes are among the more satisfyingly morally complex and gritty. They go in the opposite direction of the more purely visuals-oriented The Red Shoes and The Fancy Dragonfly, showing that Shibayama wasn't limited to picture-book style abstract visual animation. He could handle realistic material just as well. Both stories deal with challenging subjects in a classy and tasteful way.

The Musical Clock is a realistic but somewhat formal morality play of innocence versus guilt. It all takes place in the span of a walk one morning before dawn. A man and a boy meet on the road and converse along the way. The man seems jittery and evasive. As the episode progresses, we begin to suspect that the man is a thief, but the boy remains oblivious to this in his innocence. The beauty of the episode is in how we can follow the man's train of thought at every step of the way as he gradually comes to regret his actions. It comes across as one of the most psychologically probing episodes as a result. It could be my imagination, but Seiichiro Uno's score for this episode seems to quote the Dies Irae, which if it does is a brilliant touch that underscores the themes of doing the right thing or being judged for ones misdeeds.

The Snowy Wharf tells of a woman who visits a group of orphaned children who huddle together in the cold in a shack by the wharf. The episode features devastatingly beautiful visuals of the deprivation of that period. The episode opens with a image that succinctly conveys the setting and situation in the most effortless way imaginable: a faucet juts out from a pile of rubble, the ocean in the background, dripping water into an overturned army helmet. The setting is a port city in postwar Japan, and the overturned helmet placed there by some desperate soul symbolizes how that era was a struggle to survive amid the chaos of devastated infrastructure and lack of material goods.

Ajia-do actually receives an assistance credit in the ending credits, indicating how valuable Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama were to the show. Their episodes are easily the best in the whole show.

Episode #8a: The Illusionist directed by Shinichi Tsuji

The Illusionist is based on a story by literary master Ryunosuke Akutagawa about a man who falls prey to a hypnotist's powers without realizing it.

This episode is like a woodblock print come to life. It has one of the most original and confidently executed visual schemes of the series. The backgrounds are full of the telltale hatch marks of a wood carving, and the characters are also drawn with hatch marks as shadows. The animation is spare 5s or 6s most of the time, and character movement is slow and limited to small motions.

Director/animator Shinichi Tsuji draws the characters in a very stiff, clean way with thick, solid lines. It makes them seem like porcelain dolls. His characters are the diametric opposite of Osamu Kobayashi's dynamic and loosely drawn characters. The story is set smack in the middle of Taisho-era Japan in 1920, so everything is a curious mixture of traditional and modern - rickshaws and automobiles, kimonos and bowler hats. The architecture and furnishings all have a somewhat Victorian feeling. On top of that, the protagonist is an Indian national dressed like a Maharajah, so overall the episode feels very exotic in a disorienting way that is a good match with the mystical subject matter.

The story at first seems to simply be about magic, but its on closer inspection it appears to be a metaphorical tale cautioning against Japan's greedy haste to adopt western appurtenances. At the time, Japan was flush with wealth after choosing the winning side in W.W. I, but India wasn't so lucky. It participated in the war on the promise of independence, but the promise wasn't kept. The protagonist of this episode is actually an Indian freedom fighter named Hassan who uses Japan as his base of operation. Magic just happens to be his hobby. He promises to teach his Japanese friend some magic on the condition that he swears to not use it for personal gain. Hassan then hypnotizes his guest and makes him see a dream in which he is tempted to go against his vow. He finally succumbs to the temptation, and realizes that his greed is too strong.

Shinichi Tsuji is another ex-Mushi Pro figure who has been a regular in Gisaburo Sugii's films, being listed at the top of the animation credits in movies as far separated in time as Belladonna (1973) and Stormy Night (2005). He is perhaps best known as the director of the delicate fantasy The Star of Cottonland (1984). He has also been involved with Nippon Animation productions on and off over the years.

Shinichi Tsuji made several other episodes for MKB, and they all benefit from his unique storybook drawing sensibility, with its clean, elegant, refined shapes. Episode #38b The Echoing Shoes in particular is a pleasing fantasy episode that looks very different from everything else in the show with its castles, princess and bright primary colors, almost like a western fairy tale.


Unfortunately the credits below are incomplete because only a handful of the episodes have been uploaded online. Hopefully if the shows ever get a proper release I will be able to complete these credit listings.


まんが偉人物語 Animated Tales of Great People
Group Tac, 1977-1978, 46 episodes (2 stories per episode)

Chief Director:樋口雅一Masakazu Higuchi
Art Director:阿部幸次Koji Abe
Music:東海林修Osamu Shoji
Audio Director:田代敦巳Atsumi Tashiro
Producer:中田実紀雄Mikio Nakata
1a: The Wright Brothers
1b: Babe Ruth
2a: Ludwig van Beethoven
2b: Isaac Newton
Concept & StructureDialogueArtAnimation
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
阿部幸次
Koji Abe
槌田幸一
Koichi Tsuchida
3a: Amundsen & Scott
3b: Florence Nightingale
4a: Thomas Alva Edison
Concept & StructureDialogueArtAnimation
やすみ哲夫
Tetsuo Yasumi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
サキ・スタジオ
Saki Studio
細谷秋夫
Akio Hosotani
4b: Ryokan
5a: Alfred Nobel
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
仔羊館
House of Lambs
白梅進
Susumu Shiraume
5b: Benjamin Franklin
6a: Marco Polo
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
近藤英輔
Eisuke Kondo
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
槌田幸一
Koichi Tsuchida
6b: Hokusai Katsushika
7a: Heinrich Schliemann
7b: Paul Gaugin
8a: Tomitaro Makino
8b: Christopher Columbus
9a: Leonardo da Vinci
9b: Louis Pasteur
10a: Samuel Morse
10b: Matsuo Basho
11a: Johannes Gutenberg
11b: Vincent van Gogh
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
坂口尚
Hisashi Sakaguchi
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
西村邦子
Kazuko Nishimura
渡辺いずみ
Izumi Watanabe
12a: Edward Jenner
12b: Alexander the Great
13a: Alexander Graham Bell
13b: David Livingstone
14a: Robert Koch
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
秋保富恵
Tomie Akiu
細谷秋夫
Akio Hosotani
14b: Auguste Rodin
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
白梅進
Susumu Shiraume
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
仔羊館
House of Lambs
15a: James Watt
15b: Unkei
16a: Genghis Khan
16b: Madame Curie
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
細谷秋夫
Akio Hosotani
17a: Galilei Galieo
StructureConcept & DialogueArtAnimation
勝井千賀雄
Chikao Katsui
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
サキ・スタジオ
Saki Studio
槌田幸一
Koichi Tsuchida
17b: Charles Darwin
Concept & StructureDialogueArtAnimation
光延博愛
Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
鈴木良武
Yoshitake Suzuki
阿部幸次
Koji Abe
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
18a: Jean-Henri Fabre
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
こはなわためお
Tameo Kohanawa
鈴木良武
Yoshitake Suzuki
仔羊館
House of Lambs
福田皖
Kiyomu Fukuda
18b: Koizumi Yakumo
19a: Ikkyu
19b: Ferdinand Magellan
20a: Stephen Foster
20b: Gregor Mendel
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
坂口尚
Hisashi Sakaguchi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
西村邦子
Kazuko Nishimura
我楽苦他
Garakuta
21a: Sanzo Hoshi
21b: Captain Cook
22a: Sakamoto Ryoma
22b: Wilhelm Roentgen
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
渋谷哲夫
Tetsuo Shibuya
鈴木良武
Yoshitake Suzuki
石津節子
Setsuko Ishizu
23a: Kinjiro Ninomiya
23b: Kobayashi Issa
24a: Yukichi Fukuzawa
DirectingScriptArtAnimation
四辻たかお
Takao Yotsuji
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
内海勇夫
Isao Naikai
24b: Jean-Francois Millet
25a: Hideyo Noguchi
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
山崎和夫
Kazuo Yamazaki
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
宮本清司
Kiyoshi Miyamoto
25b: Nicolaus Copernicus
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
サキ・スタジオ
Saki Studio
26a: The Brothers Grimm
StructureConcept & DialogueArtAnimation
北武
Takeshi Kita
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
石津節子
Setsuko Ishizu
動画工房
Doga Kobo
26b: George Stephenson
27a: Shibasaburo Kitazato
27b: Hans Christian Andersen
Directing & AnimationScriptArt
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
シンエイ動画
Shin-Ei Doga
28a: Abraham Lincoln
28b: Ganjin
29a: Sugita Genpaku
29b: Fridtjof Nansen
30a: Robert Fulton
30b: Archimedes
31a: Auguste Picard
31b: Utagawa Hiroshige
32a: Sesshu
32b: Miguel de Cervantes
33a: Ernest Thompson Seton
Concept, Directing & AnimationDialogueArt
白梅進
Susumu Shiraume
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
33b: Li Bai and Du Fu
34a: Natsume Soseki
DirectingConept & DialogueArtAnimation
古沢日出夫
Hideo Furusawa
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
石津節子
Setsuko Ishizu
坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
34b: Yamanoue Okura
35a: George Washington
35b: Higuchi Ichiyo
36a: Mark Twain
36b: Saigyo
37a: John Manjiro
37b: Franz Schubert
38a: Charles Lindberg
DirectingScriptArtAnimation
樋口雅一
Masakazu Higuchi
平見修二
Shuji Hirami
田中資幸
Motoyuki Tanaka
渋谷哲夫
Tetsuo Shibuya
38b: Jigoro Kano
39a: Amadeus Mozart
39b: Katsu Kaishu and Saigo Takamori
40a: Sven Hedin
40b: Johann Pestalozzi
41a: Michelangelo
41b: Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy
42a: Helen Keller
Concept & DirectingDialogueArtAnimation
勝井・樋口・阿部
Katsui, Higuchi, Abe
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
秋保富恵
Tomie Akiu
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
42b: Ino Tadataka
43a: Jean Dunant
43b: Inoue Den
44a: Hiraga Gennai
44b: Shotoku Taishi
45a: Socrates
45b: Aoki Kon'yo
46a: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
46b: Murasaki Shikibu
Directing & AnimationConcept & DialogueArt
樋口雅一
Masakazu Higuchi
曽我部絢
Jun Sogabe
阿部幸次
Koji Abe

まんが子供文庫 Animated Classics of Children's Literature
Group Tac, 1978-1979, 51 episodes (2 stories per episode)

Chief Director:前田庸生Tsuneo Maeda
Planning:藤本四郎Shiro Fujimoto
樋口雅一Masakazu Higuchi
Music:宇野誠一郎Seiichiro Uno (credit appears starting season 3)
Audio Director:田代敦巳Atsumi Tashiro
Producer:鬼丸一平Ippei Onimaru
#TITLEDIRECTORANIMATIONART
1a
The fox
1bまつりご
The festival kimono
藤本四郎
Shiro Fujimoto
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
2a鈴蘭
The lily of the valley
辻伸一
Shinichi Tsuji
亀崎経史
Keiji Kamezaki
2b梅づけの皿
The plate of pickled plums
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
西村邦子
Kazuko Nishimura
3aどうぶつえんからにげたさる
The escaped monkey
勝井千賀雄
Chikao Katsui
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
3bおさくの話
Osaku's story
小林三男
Mitsuo Kobayashi
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
小林光代
Mitsuyo Kobayashi
4a月の輪熊
The moon bear
4b子馬は帰りぬ
The pony returns
5aねずみのかくれんぼ
Mouse hide and seek
5b大造爺さんと雁
Old man Daizo and the goose
6aやなぎの糸
The willow thread
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
西村邦子
Kazuko Nishimura
6b牛のよろこび
The cow's joy
藤本四郎
Shiro Fujimoto
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
7a仁兵衛学校
Nihei school
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
7b犬と友達
The friend's dog
森田浩光
Hiromitsu Morita
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
8a魔術
The illusionist
辻伸一
Shinichi Tsuji
阿部幸次
Koji Abe
8b決闘
The duel
9aさつまはやと
Hayato Satsuma
9b百姓の夢
The farmer's dream
10a化猫退治
Defeating the monster cat
10b港の少女
The girl by the port
11a空気入れ
Letting air in
11b時計のない村
Town without a clock
樋口雅一
Masakazu Higuchi
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
12aおもちゃのマーチ
March of the toys
山田みちしろ
Michishiro Yamada
青木稔
Minoru Aoki
12bごんごろ鐘
The bell
森田浩光
Hiromitsu Morita
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
内田好之
Yoshiyuki Uchida
13a少年駅伝夫
The horse-driver boy
辻伸一
Shinichi Tsuji
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
13b兄弟
Brothers
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
14aどじょっこふなっこ
The loach and the carp
14b梨の実
The pear
15aあめふり
Rain
15b赤いもち白いもち
White and red rice cakes
16aあわて床屋
The hasty barber
16b木馬の夢
Dream of a wooden horse
17a魔法
Magic
17b枝の上のカラス
Crow on a branch
18a赤い靴
The red shoes
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
18bしょんべん稲荷
The "pee" Inari shrine
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
姫野美智
Michi Himeno
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
19a三太カッパ退治
Santa defeats a kappa
19b定ちゃんの手紙
Sada's letter
20aぜっぺき
Stuck on a cliff
小林治
Osamu Kobayashi
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
20b酒屋のワン公
The bar dog
21aけんか
The fight
21bふしぎな山のおじいさん
The old man on the mysterious mountain
22a待ちぼうけ
Tired of waiting
22b梟と幸吉
The owl and Kokichi
23aふしぎなぼうし
The mysterious hat
23bよっぱらい星
The drunk star
24a
The fart
24b片耳の大鹿
The large deer with only one ear
25aおしゃれトンボ
The fancy dragonfly
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
25bなくなった人形
The lost doll
26a一房の葡萄
A bunch of grapes
26b陸軍大将
The army commander
27杜子春
Tsu Te-Chun
28おじいさんのランプ
Grampa's lamp
29a三太子ネコ
Santa and the kitten
29b北風のくれたテーブルかけ
The tablecloth given by the north wind
30a善太漂流記=びんのゆくえ=清坊と三吉
Zenta's travels etc.
31a三日月にぶらさがった男の話
The man who hung on a new moon
31b三匹の小牛
The three calves
32aコーカサスのはげたか
The vulture of the Caucuses
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
青木稔
Minoru Aoki
32b金色の足あと
The golden footsteps
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
門屋達郎
33a三太物語 三太月世界
Santa's adventures: Santa visits the moon
33b池の鯉
The carp in the lake
34aどこかに生きながら
While living somewhere
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
34bうた時計
The musical clock
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
35a多衛門の影
Taemon's shadow
35b大河原三郎右衛門
Genzaburoemon Taiga
36a愛犬カヤ
Kaya the dog
36b清造と沼
Seizo and the swamp
37a火事とポチ
Pochi and the fire
森田浩光
Hiromitsu Morita
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
37b小川の葦
The reeds by the creek
藤本四郎
Shiro Fujimoto
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
下道一範
Kazunori Shimomichi
38a三太物語 花萩先生と野球
Santa's adventures: Baseball with Ms. Hanahagi
光延博愛
Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
上口照人
Teruto Kamiguchi
宮川一男
Kazuo Miyakawa
38b木魂の靴
The echoing shoes
辻伸一
Shinichi Tsuji
阿部幸次
Koji Abe
39a鶴の笛
The crane's flute
河内日出夫
Hideo Kawauchi
石川山子
Yamako Ishikawa
39bくまと車掌
The bear and the brake boy
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
40a村の子
Town children
藤原万秀
Kazuhide Fujiwara
横瀬直土
Naoto Yokose
40b雪のはとば
The snowy wharf
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
41a善太と汽車
Zenta and the train
41b山の小僧
Mountain boy
42a三太物語 三太の動物実験
Santa's adventures: Santa's animal experiments
42b虹猫のぼうけん
The adventures of rainbow cat
樋口雅一
Masakazu Higuchi
若林常夫
Tsuneo Wakabayashi
田中静恵
Shizue Tanaka
43aヒロシマのうた
Song of Hiroshima
小林治
Osamu Kobayashi
大山哲史
Tetsufumi Oyama
43bキンショキショキ
The rice-washing monkey
藤原万秀
Kazuhide Fujiwara
亀崎経史
Keiji Kamezaki
44a五銭の白銅
The 5 sen coin
矢沢則夫
Norio Yazawa
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
44bぽけっとの海
Sea in the pocket
高橋信也
Shinya Takahashi
横瀬直土
Naoto Yokose
45aだれも知らない時間
Time nobody knows
なべしまよしつぐ
Yoshitsugu Nabeshima
秋保富恵
Tomie Akiu
45b牛ぬすっと
The cow thief
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
46虎ちゃんの日記
Tora's diary
光延博愛
Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
前田実・湯川高光
Minoru Maeda & Takamitsu Yukawa
青木稔
Minoru Aoki
47a三太天幕旅行
Santa's camping trip
47b島の太吉
Taikichi on the island
48茂次の登校
Shigeji goes to school
49aにらめっくらの鬼瓦
The staring contest
49bヒゲの生えたモナ・リザ
Mona Lisa's beard
50aトロッコ
The rail car
柴山努
Tsutomu Shibayama
門野真理子
Mariko Kadono
50b港に着いた黒んぼ
The blind flute player
菊田武勝
Takemasa Kikuta
小関俊之
Toshiyuki Ozeki
51a三太物語 三太とチョビ助の病気
Santa's adventures: Santa's dog Chobi gets sick
藤本四郎
Shiro Fujimoto
八幡正
Tadashi Yahata
門屋達郎
Tatsuro Kadoya
51bきつねの窓
The fox's window
殿河内勝
Masaru Tonogochi
馬郡美保子
Mihoko Magori

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

12:41:00 pm , 606 words, 6685 views     Categories: TV, Space Dandy

Space Dandy #24

An old flame from the fourth dimension warps into Dandy's life, bringing with her some baggage from the second dimension.

Writer Toh Enjo of episode 11 returns with another cerebral and high-concept episode. The appeal of his script this time around is in how he makes the conceptual leap between animation, with its 2D and 3D modes of expression, and the theory of the multiverse, with its many different taxonomies of universes. These theories can be difficult to wrap your head around, and Toh Enjoh is the only writer on the show who seems to have a grasp of them and is able to integrate them into the Dandyverse. Which is a shame, since that's the whole concept of the show. It would have been nice to get a more detailed exploration of the numerous multiverse hypotheses. They inherently suggest so many dramatic possibilities.

Visually, I felt the episode was a little lacking. I think it would have required more ingenious and experimental animation to adequately explore this subject of 1D vs 2D vs 3D vs 4D than the TV anime format permits. Hidekazu Ohara did a good job with this subject matter in his Professor Dan Petry's Blues short by mixing all sorts of techniques. But that's not to say there weren't a lot of interesting visuals. It was clever expressing the four-dimensional Catherine as a tesseract (The Avengers didn't invent that), and it was an amusing idea to create a melodrama out of the love triangle between the two-dimensional Paul, the three-dimensional Dandy and the four-dimensional Catherine - and to imagine the repercussions of the meeting of their universes. Expressing the clash as a real-life Life Force-esque Konami scroller (with a bit of Space Invader thrown in) was a clever touch, especially as someone who grew up on those, although I would have preferred something more serious and less metatextual.

After Dr. Gel and his ship were transported into the 2D world, they look the same, but can only slide around like sprites. Shadows are lost, like they entered the Hosoda dimension. The layouts suddenly seem very flat and compressed because it's a world without perspective. Maybe this is what it would look like if Michel Ocelot directed a space opera. It's an interesting attempt to convey that they were transformed into 2D, but it felt a little half-hearted. I started to feel sorry for Bii, who is doomed to die every episode due to Dr. Gel's fanatical determination to uncover the secrets of the universe, no matter the personal cost. The denouement where they turn into lines was an elegant expression of one-dimensionality using the historical building block of animation, the line. Dandy, despite heading out like a hero, wound up having zero effect on the outcome, which is perhaps appropriate.

The animation side of things was fairly restrained overall, without any real standout scenes, which is maybe a first for the series. Luckily the script was able to maintain interest throughout, although as a result the episode wound up coming across as a bit talky. This is probably the last we'll see of Toh Enjo in this series, but I hope we get to see more of him some other time in anime. He's got exactly the sort of sensibility anime needs. He brings in some fresh ideas and unusual narrative concepts from outside the anime industry. He's been the big discovery of the series for me. Literary works have been adapted before in anime, but it's a good idea to actually bring such a writer onto a creative team to see what they can come up with expressly for the medium of animation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

08:11:00 am , 643 words, 5538 views     Categories: TV, Space Dandy

Space Dandy #23

Dandy becomes Scarlet's pretend boyfriend to help her ward off a stalker ex.

This is the romance episode. Shinichiro Watanabe usually has at least one such more mellow and sentimental episode in his shows, and this is the one. I can understand why they buried it late in the show, because it's perhaps the least remarkable episode of the lot. It doesn't have the over-the-top gag humor of the usual episodes, nor the interesting artistry of the auteur episodes. I personally would have preferred to watch a whole episode about the romance of the two aliens pictured above.

Kimiko Ueno's humor is much more subtle this time around, as she focuses instead on creating a conventional dramatic arc evoking the feelings between two characters. As usual with this kind of setup, Scarlet and Dandy predictably begin hitting it off and then when the week is over there's almost a budding spark there. Just when you think they're too cowardly to try to do something about it, they try, but annoying circumstances keep them apart. It nails that irritating cliche setup that was so common in 1980s romance anime. Kimiko Ueno's touch comes through in little spots here and there: What brings them together is realizing they're both otaku after they discover the tape in the rubble and begin bantering about embarrassing nerd stuff. I like the fact that it's a VHS tape. Even in the far future the hardcore nerds still cling to their rare VHS collections. (I've still got a few tubs of those lying around somewhere)

The fact that it's still a parody of a romance episode and not a romance episode comes through in the sporadic incongruous moment of absurdly over-the-top action. It's like they planted little bombs of good animation throughout the episode as gifts to animation fans for being patient. The first was the skiing bit where Dandy is chased by a group of rare aliens including a giant Santa Claus and snowman, presumably by Akira Amemiya. There's a bit more Kanada-school animation where Dolph Lundgren goes berserk, so maybe he did that too. I suspected Chiharu Sato at first, as Chiharu Sato is a veteran Studio Z animator, but apparently there's another person with the same name, so maybe the person credited here is the other one. (edit: Chiharu Sato did the skiing, so Amemiya presumably did berserk Dolph)

There's the sudden Itano circus, which really had no reason to happen and was never even rationalized and was promply forgotten by the narrative. Not sure who did this; maybe this episode's sakkan himself, Chikashi Kubota. Aside from being good at drawing character acting, he's long been an Itano circus fan (he drew the Itano circus in Dead Leaves). And then there's the human-faced spider bit by Bahi JD. Bahi's bit was certainly the most enjoyable part of the episode, the only place that I actually laughed. He even designed the spider character. Bahi seems to have learned a bit from his associates working at Bones, as his animation is becoming more catchy and controlled. I see he's integrated Yutaka Nakamura's tactic of inserting a 'subliminal' black and white frame to emphasize explosions.

The scene design for the space colony was done by a person named Junichiro Tamamori with a pretty impressive pedigree as a hard sci-fi conceptual artist/set designer (Yamato 2199). The weird thing is, his designs are impressive to look at on paper, but they don't have much of an impact in the final product. I guess it wasn't necessary to emphasize the sci-fi setting; it was just meant to be there as a background. Still, it feels like a bit of a waste. It was completely unnecessary for the stalker ex to be a Gundam pilot, too; it's just funnier that way. The Gundam mecha was designed again by Kunio Okawara, so it looks pretty convincing.

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