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Category: 1980s

Monday, September 8, 2014

Here is a selection of some of my favorite episodes from Group Tac's masterpiece of a TV show Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi (1975-1995). You can dip into MNMB just about anywhere and not be disappointed due to the different staff and styles, but there are certainly standout episodes mixed into the huge list of nearly 1500 episodes that can be hard to find without guidance.

What distinguishes MNMB from its many imitators is its earthy, painterly, traditionally-inspired aesthetic. It base tone is organic as opposed to stylish, inspired by the rugged life of the peasants that inhabit most of the traditional tales, with their varying thick regional accents. The pace is accordingly leisurely and calm. The two voice actors who perform all of the voices in each episode, Fujio Tokita and Etsuko Ichihara, bring a tasteful gravitas to the proceedings, especially Fujio Tokita with his otherworldly gravelly voice that seems to embody time itself. There are the classical fairy tale style stories of Urashimataro, with their fairy tale trope characters, but also more obscure local tales of flawed and real characters that drop us into the everyday life of ancient Japan, in which disease takes away loved ones and farmers toil the fields until they drop. Some episodes are didactic, but others can often not be boiled down to a pat lesson - they simply observes the tragedies and contradictions of life. We see how Buddhism's myths served to relieve the tensions of everyday life and explain its mysteries. Pathos and empathy are important threads in the often Buddhism-inspired tales. In the end it's all about the simple everyday pleasures like having a sip of sake around the irori at the end of a hard day of work.

On the staff side of things, MNMB is a mix of industry and indie. You find surprising names here and there due to the period in which it was made, which was a somewhat transitional period after Mushi Pro went out of business and just after its animators were establishing other studios elsewhere. Many of the Mushi Pro (or even Toei Doga) animators had indie proclivities to begin with, as what had attracted them to Mushi Pro was its more creator-centric approach, and Group Tac's show proved to be a great ground for letting them explore those proclivities. Sadao Tsukioka is the prototypical industry animator turned indie animator, and he provided the opening for Group Tac's early masterpiece Jack and the Beanstalk (1974), presaging the indie aspect of MNMB.

Group Tac had produced only two films prior to MNMB: The History of Mutual Aid (1973) and Jack and the Beanstalk (1974). Almost all of the main staff from these two films went on to become mainstays of MNMB. The only exception is the people who were picked off by Sanrio in 1974 after Jack and the Beanstalk when Shintaro Tsuji was looking to build an animation studio.

The History of Mutual Aid (1973)
Director:Giaburo Sugii
Script:Masami Murayama
Shuji Hirami
Animation:Kazuko Nakamura
Shigeru Yamamoto
Art director:Takao Kodama
Backgrounds:Yoshiyuki Uchida

Jack and the Beanstalk (1974)
Director:Gisaburo Sugii
Script:Shuji Hirami
Coloring:Mihoko Magori
Background Art:Takao Kodama
Yoshiyuki Uchida
Koji Abe
Shiro Fujimoto
Animation:Shigeru Yamamoto (Jack)
Tsuneo Maeda (Margaret)
Teruto Kamiguchi (The Giant)
Kazuko Nakamura (The Witch)
Toshio Hirata (The Mice)
Takateru Miwa (Crosby the dog)
Mikiharu Akabori (The Beanstalk & The Harp)

Kazuko Nakamura went elsehwere, mostly helping Osamu Tezuka, and Shigeru Yamamoto and Mikiharu Akabori went to Sanrio and became the main figures behind their important movies, as did most of the inbetweeners at the time (Junji Kobayashi, Maya Matsuyama, Shinmi Taga, Teruo Handa, Takahashi Haruo). Hirata went to Sanrio and helped direct their first film Little Jumbo and then directed the Unico pilot. (I suspect he moved to Madhouse afterwards and directed the first film from there, as the first film is a Madhouse production unlike the pilot.) But the rest remained at Tac and became pillars of MNMB: Director Gisaburo Sugii, animator Teruto Kamiguchi, writer Shuji Hirami, art directors Yoshiyuki Uchida, Mihoko Magori, Takao Kodama and Shiro Fujimoto, animator/director Tsuneo Maeda.

It wasn't just a one-way street, though. Some Sanrio people eventually went freelance and participated in MNMB at a later time. Takahashi Haruo did an episode in 1980 and Takateru Miwa, after going away for a few years, came back and became one of the show's most talented and prolific artists.

As time went on, people gradually accrued to the show, including both indie and industry-trained animators. Madhouse people like Rintaro and Yoshiaki Kawajiri were only involved in a small capacity, as their strong auteur leanings seems to have made them too edgy for the show, but the A Pro school became a prominent pillar in the form of Ajia-Do animators Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi, and they proved a great fit. Some of the more unruly ex-Toei figures had produced some crazy TV shows at a short-lived studio called Hoso Doga Seisaku around 1967, and many of these people found their way to Group Tac: Tameo Kohanawa, Eisuke Kondo, Mitsunobu Hiroyoshi, Norio Hikone. Art directors Takao Kodama, Yoshiyuki Uchida and Koji Abe were also ex-Hoso Doga Seisaku. Indie animators from various parts with very strong personal styles like Nobuhide Morikawa, Tadahiko Horiguchi, Hirokazu Fukuhara and Kazuaki Kozutsumi were added over the years.

For the most part the show remained remarkably isolated from industry trends, but you can identify different stylistic periods in the animators who were involved for the longest periods such as Tsutomu Shibayama and Takateru Miwa.

八つ化け頭巾   The Hat of Many Transformations#31/14/1975

DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
上口照人
Teruto Kamiguchi
阿部幸次
Koji Abe
平見修二
Shuji Hirami

A mischievous priest plays a prank on a kitsune, trading his worthless hat for the kitsune's transforming cloth. He then uses the cloth to prank some visiting priests.

The attraction of this early episode is the entertaining character animation of Teruto Kamiguchi, who would go on to be the show's most prolific animator (earning him the credit of chief animator). He had just come from animating the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, and his animation here retains a lot of the unique Disney-influenced but not-quite-Disney style of that film's animation. Over the decades Kamiguchi's style would become more refined and evolve in a different direction more his own. This is a great sampling of his early work. It's close in spirit to what made his animation of Lupa in Cleopatra entertaining - exuberant, silly, pliable character animation.

The character animation is more rich than most episodes of MNMB, which tend to move more sparely due presumably to imposed limitations on the number of drawings per episode. The drawings look more Tezuka influenced than usual for Kamiguchi. Compare his style here with his more mature style on display in the masterful The Three Charms (#1165, 2/3/1990) from 15 years later, with its hairpin-turn-precise modulation between subtle character animation and broad action. The character shapes in this episode are rather loose, whereas in the later episode the stylization is firmer and more precise.


桃太郎    Momotaro#92/4/1975

DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
児玉喬夫
Takao Kodama
平見修二
Shuji Hirami

This early episode tells the protoypical and widely-known Japanese folktale about the boy born from a giant peach who goes to defeat a gang of oni on an island with his faithful companions, a monkey, a dog and a pheasant.

This is one of the early masterpieces of the show, with aggressively stylized art direction and detailed animation contrasting with the abstract character designs, which at first glance make you expect UPA-style super-limited animation. The episode was the first of the show's "solo" outings, in which one person handled directing, animation and background art, and as such it is one of the more distinctively personal productions in the early part of the show, and set the stage for other ambitious animators to do solo episodes.

Rather than being a straight animated telling of the Momotaro story, it's more of a modern version told with a wink and a lot of artistic licence. It brings a modern sensibility to the material.

The ep was handled by the great art director Takao Kodama, perhaps best known in animation circles for the hyper-stylized, gleefully anachronistic 60s pop art-style sequence in Belladonna (1973), done under the aegis of Gisaburo Sugii just before they both left Mushi Pro for Group Tac.

In the early days, Gisaburo Sugii laid down the basic rails for the show's direction - two stories per episode, using only two voice actors for the whole show, using a more limited animation style to bring out animator individuality. But Sugii left on what would prove to be a 10 year journey almost immediately after and handed the task of supervising the show to chief director Tsuneo Maeda. Mitsuo Kobayashi became chief director after a year or so and handled the show for the rest of its run.

In the case of Momotaro, although uncredited, Maeda may have either altered the animation or done it mostly himself, as he reportedly felt the storyboard was headed in a direction too strongly stylized for the show and lacking in the kind of warmth necessary to bring the old folktales to life. Whatever the case, the lively animation certainly helps to mollify the potential coldness and distancing effect of such abstract designs. Although the show permitted animator individuality, it wasn't anarchy. There were clear requirements that wound up streamlining the look over the course of the series into that identifiable MNMB look.


浦島太郎    Urashimataro#233/25/1975

DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
杉井ギサブロー
Gisaburo Sugii
前田庸生
Tsuneo Maeda
馬郡美保子
Mihoko Magori
平見修二
Shuji Hirami

A boy named Urashimataro gets taken to an underwater palace, where he spends a delightful afternoon only to return and find that many years have passed while he was gone.

The classic Japanese Rip Van Winkle story gets the Gisaburo Sugii treatment in this pleasant early episode of the show. This can serve as a good pair with Momotaro - two of the most well-known classic Japanese folk tales, in stylish adaptations that show the uniquely modern spin that MNMB put on the tales. The other Taro to complete the triumvirate would be Kintaro, which was adapted shortly after this by Norio Hikone in his patented cute style in episode #59 (and later remade by Takateru Miwa in episode #1184).

In the early years MNMB adapted the tales everyone knows such as these, but as the show ground on for years they were forced to dig deeper and uncover more obscure regional tales from different parts of Japan.

What elevates this adaptation of the fairly pedestrian story is the very formalistic directing approach of Gisaburo Sugii. The directing is closer to the style of an indie short than naturalistic. It's not about making the character believable; it's about telling the story at a remove with a sly modern sensibility. And yet it doesn't try too hard to be clever or witty; it still remains a pleasant and cute film that tells the story in a warm and gentle way.

The character design seems inspired more by European animation than Disney with its round shapes, unchanging smiling expression and rigid body movement. He's more a symbol than anything, never given any voice or personality. The framing is never ostentatious, usually keeping the protagonist smack in the middle. It seems very crude and simplistic, and yet the film somehow comes across as sophisticated and clever, with the way the protagonist's thoughts are all conveyed by thought bubbles. Sugii later came to realize that what interested him in animation is not expressing outwards movement but inwards movement, and you can sense the seed of that here. There's a reason why Gisaburo Sugii was Osamu Tezuka's most trusted animator.

There's almost a stubborn unwillingness to try to embellish the story, or to unravel its contradictions. The princess of the bottom of the sea sends Urashimataro back to his home with a magical box and instructions to only open it if he should ever feel sad. When he returns home to find all that he knew and loved gone, and opens the box in desperation, all it does is turn him into an old man rather than relieving his sadness. It's a somewhat baffling ending but somehow appropriate to the nonsensical nature of many folktales.

After having laid down the tracks for the show and directed a handful of episodes including this one, Gisaburo Sugii left on a peregrination around Japan and did not return for 3 years. During that time, Gisaburo continued to work on the show by mailing in storyboards. Then-chief director Tsuneo Maeda, Sugii's protege of sorts (with whom Sugii would continue to work for the rest of his career, right down to The Biography of Gusko Budori) would then handle the processing of the episode. This was permitted only for Sugii, of course. During this time, Sugii used the pen name Minoru Sugita, which is an amalgamation of his own name with Tsuneo Maeda's and producer Mikio Nakata's, in deference to the two people who made it possible for him to continue working from that remove. Episode #67 (7/10/1976) 耳なし芳一 Hoichi the Earless with early art Mihoko Magori is an example of such an episode. Sugii began using his real name again after returning, and went on to direct around 45 episodes in total.

Sugii had of course begun his career at Toei Doga as a first-generation hire in 1958, working under Yasuo Otsuka. He quit in 1962 and moved to the newly founded Mushi Pro, where he animated the moths on Mushi Pro's first production Aru Machikado no Monogari (1962) under director Yusaku Sakamoto. He left Mushi Pro soon and founded his own studio, Art Fresh, from which he produced his early masterpiece Goku's Big Adventure in 1967. When Mushi Pro went out of business after Belladonna in 1973, he migrated to Group Tac and set about working on their first two films. Most of the Tac staff in those early years can be traced directly to that lineage as either Mushi Pro or Toei Doga acquaintances.

Urashimataro was incidentally remade by Osamu Kobayashi many years later in episode #1174 (3/17/1990) in his own unique style, but few other MNMB episodes quite achieve the simple sophisticated of Gisaburo's adaptation.

Other recommended Gisaburo Sugii episodes:

  • #611 (3/12/1983) かくれんぼ Hide and Seek
  • I wrote about this episode here.

  • #693 (3/17/1984) あぶないあぶない Look out! Look out!
  • One of the most entertaining of Sugii's episodes, with lively animation by his frequent collaborator Teruto Kamiguchi, and the patented characters of his later episodes. Brilliant directing combines horror and comedy. The beginning where the people describe their impressions of the old lady is very funny, with each one describing something completely different a la Rashomon.

  • #1165 (2/3/1990) 三枚のお札 The Three Charms
  • One of the classic ghost stories in the show, with dynamic character animation and a clever ending that you don't see coming.


    初夢長者   The first dream of the year#291/17/1976

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    堀口忠彦
    Tadahiko Horiguchi
    堀口忠彦, 岩崎治彦
    Tadahiko Horiguchi, Haruhiko Iwasaki
    堀口忠彦
    Tadahiko Horiguchi
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    Tradition has it that the first dream of the year foretells that year's fortune. One boy refuses to describe his dream to the lord of the manor, even for a small fortune, so he's sent home. He even refuses to tell his father, so he's packed into a box and thrown in the ocean, and winds up going on a wild adventure that eventually plays out as foretold in his dream.

    This is one of the show's most entertaining episodes, and may also be one of the most richly animated episodes in the show's history. The bright, flat color scheme is pleasing, the animation vibrant and lively, and the story seems to go on and on to somewhere new every minute. Indie animator Tadahiko Horiguchi did a dozen or so episodes early on in the show, but this is his best, with witty storytelling, unpredictable settings, and surprisingly detailed and rich animation that works well despite the crude, wobbly-lined 'indie' style characters. The storytelling style and animation are far removed from the previously described Teruto Kamiguchi episode, which was more linear and naturalistic in its shot framing and storytelling. Horiguchi is well known for his animated commercials such as the Kuroneko Yamato campaign. Other work includes Rudolph and Ippaiattena, and he has made dozens of music videos for Minna no Uta. You can see his June 1974 Minna no Uta video here.

    Usually the episodes only credit one animator, so this is a rare instance when two are credited. No doubt the presence of that second individual, Haruhiko Iwasaki, helped to provide this episode with its rich animation.

    Shuji Hirami was the main writer very early on, writing The Hat of Many Transformations and Momotaro, but Isao Okishima credited here soon became the show's main writer/adapter of the original folktales. Other writers were sporadically involved, but he was the main one. I believe the process was thus: The director would choose which story he wanted to work on, would write the adaptation, and Isao Okishima would revise the script for consistency and dialect, as each of the folktales are verbally situated in a specific locale at the beginning of each episode, and the dialects vary tremendously.


    力太郎   Taro the Mighty#321/31/1976

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    光延博愛
    Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu
    川島明
    Akira Kawashima
    まるふしろう
    Shiro Marufu
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A poor old couple without a child fashion a mud doll out of loneliness, and the gods bring it to life. The boy, Taro the Mighty, heads out into the world to test his strength, and encounters adversaries whom he befriends. Together they take down a demon terrorizing a town.

    The appeal of this episode is in its deliberate retro styling. It appears to be styled after old cartoons from the 1930s in terms of the scrolling action, retro character designs, talkie-era theatrical acting, and primitive story structure. The animation and technique are otherwise not particularly impressive, but the approach makes it a refreshing aberration in the series, which otherwise was rather earnest in its avoidance of postmodern parody concepts of this kind. I don't know if there's a specific influence or model for this episode, but the characters remind of Shigeru Sugiura.

    Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu was an ex-Toei animator who would become active as a director at Tsuchida Production (studio active 1976-1986), directing the original Hisaichi Ishii adaptation Ojamanga Yamada-kun (1980-1982, also a movie) and Captain Tsubasa (1983). He only directed a few episodes of MNMB, as around the same time MNMB was starting he was appointed director of Group Tac's first serial TV show Huckleberry's Adventure (1976).

    A note about pen names: There are a lot of pen names in MNMB. Shiro Marufu, as I noted in my post on The 11 Cats (1980), is a pen name of Shiro Fujimoto, one of the regular directors of the first few years.


    雷さまと桑の木 The Thunder God & the Mulberry Tree#474/10/1976

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    多井雲
    Oi Kumo
    菊田武勝
    Takemasa Kikuta
    小関俊一
    Shunichi Ozeki
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A young boy goes out and buys an eggplant seedling that grows into a huge stalk leading into the clouds. One day, he climbs up the stalk despite his mother's objections and finds the castle of the lightning oni. They go out and make a storm on the village below, but the boy gets caught up in the fun and trips and falls to the ground. Luckily a mulberry tree catches his fall. In gratitude to the mulberry tree, the lightning oni swore to never again strike a mulberry tree with lightning.

    This Japanese version of Jack and the Beanstalk falls into the 'popular belief' category: It's a folktale explaining a popular belief. In this case, the popular belief is that lightning never strikes a mulberry tree, which is why people will pick a mulberry branch and hang it from their eaves to ward off lightning strikes. The show had various patterns like this.

    A viewing should make it obvious, but this is an Osamu Dezaki episode. Oi Kumo is one of his many pen names, obviously chosen in this case inspired by the clouds of the episode. And it's an absolute delight of a Dezaki episode at that. Dezaki made three more episodes near the end of the series' run in the 1990s, but this one has the most punch of the lot. Dezaki was at the height of his powers in this kind of fantastical material featuring cute short-stature characters and more loose and free animation and art design. Just two years earlier in 1974 he had produced The Fire G-Men, an educational short about avoiding fires, which perhaps his crowning achievement in this style, and his classic Gamba's Adventure came just before in 1975.

    The episode is a cascade of Dezaki techniques expertly grafted together to create an irresistible flow. The episode is grounded in white, using patches of color in the center of the screen as background a la Only Yesterday. The background fades out to pure white occasionally to highlight the child's frolicking around the screen. We switch between dialogue one second, to a montage of the boy checking on the growth of the eggplant in repeated shots obviously over days, to the narrator commenting on the boy's thoughts, to the boy responding to the narrator. When the narrator explains that the man upstairs and the boy walked along the clouds, the shot pans across the screen horizontally as the two slide over hills of clouds in a particularly nice sequence. Explaining what makes Dezaki's technique so delightful is challenging. He's the genius poet of visual storytelling in anime.

    Unfortunately not many of the other episodes were quite this freewheeling with the technique, usually opting for a more straightforward and linear storytelling style without the sophisticated technique of this episode. Rintaro is another Madhouse figure who was tentatively involved early on but never became a fixture. He drew the storyboard for episode 25 about Issun Boshi (the Japanese Tom Thumb), but chief director Tsuneo Maeda found it so contrary to the direction he wanted to go with the show that he scrapped the storyboard and drew it anew. That episode is Tsuneo Maeda's debut on the show. It would have been nice to see more work from this crew on the show. As it stands, many of them worked instead on Madhouse's Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi, which aired shortly after.

    Other recommended Osamu Dezaki episodes:

  • #1254 (4/20/1991) 赤鬼からもらった力 The Strength of the Red Oni
  • #1462 (7/30/1994) 天狗と赤かぶら The Tengu and the Radishes

  • さだ六とシロ   Sadaroku and Shiro#626/19/1976

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    亜細亜堂
    Ajia-do
    西村邦子
    Kazuko Nishimura
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A hunter tracks a boar into foreign territory, but forgets the scroll proving he has permission to hunt there, and winds up getting arrested for the crime of poaching a wild boar. His smart dog runs home to fetch the scroll, but arrives too late and the poor hunter is beheaded. The dog drags his owner's body back into his own territory before giving one last howl of grief and being transformed into a stone at the top of a peak in his last breath. This is how the peak got it's name: Inueboe Toge (Dog's Howl Peak).

    This story falls into the 'origin tale' category, telling the origin of a place's name. MNMB had its fair share of tragic tales that don't shy away from death and killing, and this is a potent one. It seems unnecessarily tragic, but its theme is karma and the tragic cycle of life. The hunter is doomed to kill the boars even though he hates his lot, but he has to pay the price and is cut down like an animal in the end.

    The story is made all the more heartbreaking by the episode's beautiful artistry courtesy of Tsutomu Shibayama, working under the pen name Ajia-Do. All the more impressive is the fact that this was his directing debut.

    Ajia-Do is the pen name collectively used by Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi for a short while at the beginning of MNMB, shortly before they left to found their own studio of that name, after which they switched to using their own names for the rest of the series. These two A Pro animators were there from the beginning to the end of the series, each directing (and sometimes also animating) on the order of 60-70 episodes throughout the show's 20 year run. Both did their first directing for the show, so this is where both honed their skills as directors. Their episodes are among the most consistently well made in the whole show. I mentioned Osamu Dezaki's Gamba's Adventure above; Shibayama had just come from drawings the layouts for each of its 26 episodes, helping to make it into the masterpiece it is.

    I'm particularly fond of Tsutomu Shibayama's work, and this episode is my favorite of his in the show. It's the earliest and the purest expression of his style, as he gradually moved away from animating his own episodes and moved towards using the animators at his own studio to animate his episodes. Here you see his drawings at their peak, with sharp and tasteful stylization, revealing one of the unsung geniuses of limited animation in Japan, quite possibly its most perfect practitioner. Using something like half as many drawings as other episodes (say, 1000 instead of 2000) he manages to nevertheless create an episode that is rivetingly beautiful as animation from start to finish, and that never comes across as being parsimonious on the animation front. In fact, by some strange alchemy, his episodes are more satisfying as animation than other episodes that move more. He had unparalleled instinct for how to use the absolute minimum number of drawings to the maximum effect.

    Every shot is a breathtakingly beautiful minimalistic painting. The color palette is reduced to express the snowy landscape, whose masses are a handful of elegant lines. Despite this, the compositions have perfect perspective and you can tell exactly which way you are facing in each shot. The figure of the hunter and dog are rendered as a big blocky shape, more symbol than flesh. Not a line is out of place, and yet the drawings don't feel overly stylized. As the hunter regrets having to kill the boar as its children huddled by its side, the cave is a jagged shard of white light in the middle of the black screen of the night, superimposed with flecks of snow from the blizzard howling outside. Each image is like a perfect zen distillation of the necessary image.

    Other recommended Tsutomu Shibayama episodes:

  • #72 (7/31/1976) 猿神退治 Defeating the Monkey Gods
  • With the help of a fierce dog, a wandering priest defeats a band of monkey monsters that have been terrorizing a village with demands of a human sacrifice. One of Shibayama's most compelling creations, with extremely stylized and abstract animation, an unusually dark and anguished atmosphere and powerfully pared down visual approach. He did the art as well, which consists of washes of color with a few thick lines painted over to depict the environs. Later remade into a very different but also compelling episode by Susumu Shiraume (see below).

  • #138 (5/21/1977) みょうがの宿 The Ginger Inn
  • The first episode in which Shibayama is credited by name, and it's a fun little episode about two greedy inn hosts who try to bilk their customers by feeding them only with ginger from their garden. The highlight is the comical character drawings that show off the caricatural side of Shibayama's talent. He is one of the best animators I've seen in terms of creating faces that are full of personality, realistic yet pleasingly stylized.

  • #642 (7/30/1983) 雪姫・紅葉姫 Princess Snowflake and Princess Red Leaf
  • One of the last episodes he animated himself. It's a beautiful and atmospheric episode that pushes the minimalism of Sadaroku and Shiro even further. The story about two ghost fish barely requires dialogue to be understood.

  • #1168 (2/17/1990) さるかに合戦 The Battle of the Crab and the Monkey
  • A good example of one of the later episodes with animation by one of his Ajia-Do proteges. In this case, Toshihisa Kaiya does a nice job animating the animal protagonists. Other animators featured in his episodes include Yoshiaki Yanagita and Masaya Fujimori.


    熊と狐   The Bear and the Fox#636/19/1976

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    坂本雄作
    Yusaku Sakamoto
    ジャック
    Jack
    坂本雄作
    Yusaku Sakamoto

    A sly fox convinces a slow-witted bear to plant a field of daikon on the condition that they split the crop 50-50: the part above ground for the bear, and the part below ground for the fox. Having never seen a daikon before, the bear falls for the trick. After being tricked a few more times, the bear gets wise to the fox's deception and devises a trick of his own to get back at the fox.

    This is a fairly straightforward Aesop-like fable that has pleasantly full animation by Toei Doga veteran Yusaku Sakamoto and Yasuji Mori-inspired animal characters. None of the other episodes have animation quite like this, and the episode has a clever sense of humor that makes it work despite its somewhat spare design work (the backgrounds are perfunctory washes of ink and the two animals are the only characters in the film).

    The narration is somewhat inspired by rakugo comedy, and much of the humor comes from how well the two narrators pull off this style of speaking. This winds up giving the animals lively personalities in the short run time. The black and white opening section describing the Chinese Zodiac is a novel idea, and is presented with amusing touches like having Tora-san as the symbol for the tiger.

    This is unfortunately the only MNMB episode done by Yusaku Sakamoto. It would have been nice to have more, as he brings to the work an older sensibility clearly a product of his early Toei Doga upbringing, and very different from what his contemporaries trained entirely in the environment of limited TV anime were coming up with.

    He must have been invited by Gisaburo Sugii, as the two have nearly parallel career paths, having joined Toei Doga to work on Hakujaden and left for Mushi Pro to work on Aru Machikado no Monogatari, Yusaku Sakamoto as director and animator of the girl and mice and Gisaburo Sugii as the animator of the moth. Yusaku Sakamoto deserves a special place in anime history as having been one of the people (alongside Eiichi Yamamoto) who proposed to Osamu Tezuka to turn Tetsuwan Atom into a TV show. In another parallel move, he left Mushi Pro to found his own studio, Studio Jack, in 1967, the same year Gisaburo Sugii left to found Art Fresh. The studio still exists today (Studio Jack web site).

    Yusaku Sakamoto appears to have focused running his studio apart from this, as he is disappointingly not very prolific for someone so talented. I can only find a few spotty projects here and there such as Xiongmao Monogatari: TaoTao (1981), a Chinese-Japanese co-production about a panda, and Eiken's adaptation of The Glass Mask (1984), directed by Gisaburo Sugii.


    羅生門の鬼   The Oni of Rashomon#8710/9/1976

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    前田庸生
    Tsuneo Maeda
    三輪孝輝
    Takateru Miwa
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    Back in the days when Kyoto was the capital, more than 1000 years ago, a group of warriors defeated a band of marauding oni that were terrorizing the capital. But it seems one may have been left out, as rumor has it that an oni haunts the old abandoned gate of Rashomon. A hotheaded member of the team, Tsuna, heads to the gate to find the oni. The only person he finds there is a young woman, who asks for a ride. Just as he's pulling her onto his horse, she transforms into a giant oni and tries to pull Tsuna into the sky. Tsuna strikes off its arm, and the Oni vanishes into the sky bleeding, vowing that it will visit the capital within 7 days to retrieve its arm.

    This episode is notable for not just being one of the earliest 'art only' episodes, but for being drawn in the style of an old Japanese scroll paintings to match the material. It adapts an old story from the Konjaku Monogatari collection of tales from the Heian period, and adopts a more classical narrative style quite different from the gentle and light-hearted children's storytelling of previous episodes. Incidentally, this has nothing to do with the Akira Kurosawa film, which despite its title was in fact based on a Ryunosuke Akutagawa story In the Grove.

    A notable aspect of MNMB is the variety of approaches to animation adopted. At the extreme end of the spectrum, many of the episodes consist entirely of background art. This is one of the first such episodes. Gisaburo Sugii appears to have pioneered the approach in some earlier episodes such as the previously-mentioned episode #67 Earless Hoichi and episode #82 (9/18/1976) 赤神と黒神 The Red God and the Black God. Both had art by Mihoko Magori, who would go on to direct several other such art-only episodes. The latter in particular is one of my favorite of hers.

    The drawings are provided by Takateru Miwa, who similarly would go on to be prolific, going even further and not only animating but doing the background art for almost all of his episodes. Takateru Miwa appears to have begun his career at Mushi Pro, working on W3 (1965), Pictures at an Exhibition (1966), Ribon no Kishi (1967), and Ashita no Joe (1970). He was involved on and off with Sanrio, working on their first production Little Jumbo (1975) and their big extravaganza Legend of Sirius (1981), but also doing work for Tezuka during that time on Fumoon (1980) and Phoenix 2772 (1980). He even directed a film entield Yasuji no Pornorama - Yacchimae!! in 1971. He falls roughly into the same pattern as many of the folks here, but appears to have been freelance during the whole time, since he was alternating between doing work for Sanrio, Tezuka and Tac.

    Simply put, Takateru Miwa is quite possibly my single favorite individual who worked on the show. He is a powerhouse who not only always made it a point to do everything himself on his episodes, but he switched up the style constantly, the animation is always very lively, and the backgrounds are always beautiful. Plus, he was doing this on a regular basis always up until the end. He produced over 35 'solo' episodes, more than anyone else on the show.

    He had a fairly peculiar and identifiable drawing style with loose and free drawings full of strange shapes and folds, very different from the clean and simple character designs of most MNMB episodes. Drawing and animating animals is a challenge on any day, but he did so over and over again - horses, cows, whales, crabs, dragons. He was particularly good at depicting the creatures in moments of extreme exertion. His episodes have some of the most exciting moments of the whole series.

    Other recommended Takateru Miwa episodes:

  • #620 (4/16/1983) 空を飛んだ黒駒 The Flying Black Horse
  • #900 (9/27/1986) 円海長者と牛どん The Priest and the Cow
  • #932 (2/14/1987) お不動さま The Acala Icon
  • #1347 (8/1/1992) 墓場の犬 The Graveyard Dog
  • Almost all of Takateru Miwa's episodes are worth checking out, but here are a few to start with. The giant red cow of The Priest and the Cow is one of the high points of his episodes. The cow is a great character, lazy but mustering incredible power as it struggles to pull up the giant log. The animation does a fantastic job of conveying the exertion through the cow's intense expression. The mad visage of the horse in The Flying Black Horse is appropriately hair-raising. The Acala Icon episode reaches an intense conclusion as the wooden carving of the god Acala (Ofudou-sama) sets the house on fire to chastise the arrogant lord. His late episode The Graveyard Dog features some intense animation of beast dogs fighting that brings to mind Ringing Bell.


    オオカミと娘   The Girl and the Wolves#10012/11/1976

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    藤本四郎
    Shiro Fujimoto
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A mother and child on a pilgrim's voyage beg for shelter in a snowstorm, but are turned away due to a village law prohibiting the harboring of strangers. They then ask at the temple, but the heartless priest only lets them shelter under the floor of the house. They reminisce about old times, and the girl wonders what happened to her old dog Goro, who escaped to the wild after nearly being killed. Wolves can be heard in the night, and in the morning the two are nowhere to be found. Not long afterwards, the priest who turned the mother and child away is found killed by wolves. A hunter returning from the hunt one day relates having been attacked by a pack of wolves, and been saved when a girl called out the name "Goro" to the alpha male of the pack.

    This is a beautiful and haunting episode. The story is a compelling tale of karma and retribution, and the stark visuals do a great job of establishing an atmosphere of cold and tragedy. No source is cited, so I'm not sure if this is a folk tale, a loose adaptation or an original story. In any case, it feels distinct from obvious folktales like Urashimataro, and indicates the breadth of storytelling of MNMB.

    This is one of the show's earliest solo episodes as well as one of its earliest BG-only 'no animation' episodes, and presages similarly styled later episodes by the likes of Tsukasa Tamai. The images appear at first to be woodblock prints, with the monochromatic palette (with splashes of watercolor) and thick and angular lines, but they are likely to have merely been painted in that style.

    Another reason why I like this episode is that it highlights the individualistic bent of the Mushi Pro/Tac figures, who valued personal expression over conventional animation and industrial mass-production of animation. I wrote about Shiro Fujimoto in my post on The 11 Cats and how, despite having been tapped as a director early on in MNMB, he really wanted to be doing painting. I think this episode captures his essence well, as it's the only one in which he handled all of the tasks. Nowadays he has moved away from animation and focuses on painting, as can be seen in this book of his watercolors. The traditional Japanese form of brush ink painting seems to attract a lot of the ex-Tac figures including Kosei Maeda (some of his work) and chief director Mitsuo Kobayashi (some of his work). Numerous episodes were drawn with brush ink to evoke a traditional feeling, the pioneer of which was the above-mentioned Rashomon episode by Takateru Miwa.

    Another indication of the extent to which MNMB figures had a painterly and individualistic approach to the form rather than a traditional animation approach is the fact that many of them participated in an NHK TV show called Picture Books of Classic Stories on TV that was essentially an audio book reading of a famous Japanese stories accompanied by paintings.


    落ちた雷   Lightning Fell#1284/2/1977

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    小林治
    Osamu Kobayashi
    青木稔
    Minoru Aoki
    境のぶひろ
    Nobuhiro Sakai

    A red oni falls from the sky and becomes trapped on the earth after a priest intones its name. The oni goes on to do good deeds for the temple, in reward for which the priest allows the oni to return to its home in the sky

    This is one of the most stylish episodes in the series, with a beautiful flat color scheme and brilliantly timed sprightly character animation courtesy of A Pro's Osamu Kobayashi, who was fresh off of working on the classic Dokonjo Gaeru. He used the pen name Ajia-Do on a few previous episodes, but this was the first in which he used his real name. Kobayashi was prolific on MNMB, directing upwards of 60 episodes.

    The animation of this episode is interesting for having the the dynamism of his iconic early 1970s animation, but with that flat color scheme and no outlines, which makes the characters look like paper cutouts. This makes the visuals somewhat reminiscent of Tale of a Streetcorner. The minimalistic and geometric backgrounds are like a Japanese UPA.

    This is far removed from the style for which Osamu Kobayashi is best known, and which can be seen in most of his other episodes. In the later episodes in particular he appears to have developed a fixed set of strangely designed characters that recur in each episode. This episode is interesting for being a beautiful aberration from his early experimental period as a director. Later on, like fellow Ajia-Do co-founder Tsutomu Shibayama, he got the studio's animators to animate his episodes, and his episodes became more stylistically consistent.

    Other recommended Osamu Kobayashi episodes:

  • #10 (2/4/1975) 豆つぶころころ   Peas Rolled into a Hole
  • This was Osamu Kobayashi's debut episode in MNMB and features a more conventional drawing style that makes his hand immediately obvious. This episode is filled with delectable A Pro character animation. (The episode was later remade by Hirokazu Fukuhara in episode #1179.)

  • #173 (10/29/1977) みちびき地蔵 The Guiding Jizo Statue
  • One of the most affecting episodes in the series, this is a dark and tragically prophetic story with a muted color palette and sketchy, fine art-influenced character drawing style. Legend has it that the souls of the living come to visit a certain jizo statue the day before they die. A woman witnesses hundreds of souls visiting the statue, and the next day a tsunami hits the town, killing hundreds. The name of the town? Kesennuma, the hardest hit town of the March 11, 2011 tsunami. The second episode using his real name again shows Kobayashi experimenting with different styles trying to find himself. The episode is interesting for bridging history and folktales. Kobayashi would go on to cover darkly tragic material later on with Sayonara Tsushima Maru.

  • #242 (9/16/1978) 千石田長者 The Rich Man of Sengokuda
  • A fish returns in the form of a woman in gratitude to a man who saved her from being eaten, and leaves the man after making a giant field for him to farm. This is a variant of the common 'ongaeshi' trope, of which the next episode is another example. The style of this episode is closer to the style that came to define Osamu Kobayashi's work, with its quasi-realistic but pared down characters and cinematic framing and dramaturgy. You can still sense Kobayashi's uncommon skill at animation in the wonderfully timed flipping of the fish, which bespeaks the influence of Yasuo Otsuka. Tsutomu Shibayama continued working in slightly more stylized animation, but Osamu Kobayashi moved towards more straightforward dramatic storytelling, although his characters looked very strange in a different way.


    蛙の恩返し   The Frog's Gratitude#1355/7/1977

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    福富博
    Hiroshi Fukutomi
    本木久年
    Hisatoshi Motoki
    サキスタジオ
    Saki Studio
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    An old man saves a frog from a snake, carelessly promising to give the snake his daughter's hand in marriage in exchange. A few days later, the snake returns in human form to take him up on his promise.

    This is one of the show's many 'ongaeshi' pattern episodes. What distinguishes this episode is the highly stylized art directing courtesy of Ajia-Do director Hiroshi Fukutomi and animator Hisatoshi Motoki. The stylization of the animation here is reminiscent of Tsutomu Shibayama's work, with the flat color scheme and tastefully stylized forms with an emphasis on unique outlines. The animation is spare, but holds your attention on the strength of the design work and the occasional burst of movement.

    Hiroshi Fukutomi directed some of the best episodes of Hajime Ningen Gyators around this time, and here the more formalistic and experimental approach he took on those episodes is translated to more stylized fantastical material. Hisatoshi Motoki is one of the less well known of the A Pro animators, but he was in all the canonical works and is one of the most talented of the second generation A Pro animators hired after the original members Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama.

    This is the only episode either of them did on the show. Another A Pro animator, Sadayoshi Tominaga, who later went on to be the main animation director of Doraemon for many years, also handled only one episode: #177 (11/19/1977) The Idiot Brothers. Yoshifumi Kondo, who was at A Pro at the time, even did one episode: #107 (1/2/1977) 十二支の由来 The Origin of the Zodiac. This is the same year that he did two episodes for Madhouse's version of the show, which I wrote about here. The only A Pro person other than Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi who handled numerous episodes is Michishiro Yamada.

    Incidentaly, I suspect that A Pro founder Daikichiro Kusube himself animated episode #125 (3/26/1977) 鬼からもらった力 Strength From the Oni, as the animation is credited to the newly-formed Shin-Ei Doga, and Kusube also animated one of the early episodes of his own studio's version of MNMB, The Red Bird, which I wrote about here and then here.


    猫岳の猫   The Cats of Mt. Nekodake#17911/26/1977

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    小林三男
    Mitsuo Kobayashi
    昆進之介
    Shinnosuke Kon
    青木稔
    Minoru Aoki
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A traveler passes through a mountainous area reputed to be a refuge for wild cats, and runs across an inn. He gratefully takes a room, but an old lady warns him of the danger he faces if he bathes in the water there, and he runs as the monster cats transform into their true form and chase him, attempting to turn him into a cat by splashing water on him.

    This episode is interesting because they apparently attempted to reproduce the characteristic look of Shigeru Mizuki's manga in animation form: Goofy, buck-toothed scribble of a character against hyper-realistic, hyper-detailed monochrome pencil drawings of the natural surroundings. It's not based on a Shigeru Mizuki story, but perhaps the director felt that the supernatural material seemed like a good fit with the kind of material the great manga-ka usually handles. This is indeed one of the few anime I've seen that captures the look of Shigeru Mizuki's original manga.

    The animation is not particularly remarkable, but it's enough for the character to be there and be drawn right. The austerely beautiful background art for the barren mountain terrain and the eerie interior of the inn, courtesy of Minoru Aoki, goes a long way to making the episode work. Minoru Aoki was one of the show's most prolific background artists, handling upwards of 80 episodes. He focused strictly on background art, never directing, unlike some of the other background artists like Koji Abe, who also directed over a dozen of the episodes for which he did art. Minoru Aoki is the one who did the art for Group Tac's 1980 movie The 11 Cats and its continuation.

    Many of the episodes that are not particularly amazing nevertheless have beautiful background art that makes the episodes a pleasure to watch. The show featured early work by several great background artists who would go on to make a name for themselves, including Toshiharu Mizutani, Takamura Mukuo, Yamako Ishikawa and Hiromasa Ogura.


    たぬきのしっぽ   The Tail of the Tanuki#4442/28/1981

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    勝井千賀雄
    Chikao Katsui
    西村邦子
    Kazuko Nishimura
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A tanuki gets his kicks by waking up a young acolyte at a temple in the middle of the night. Driven to the edge, the young acolyte comes up with a ploy to get back at the tanuki: tricking him into thinking he can fish koi from the temple's pond with his tail. He tries, and gets his tail stuck in the ice.

    This episode is a delight thanks to the playful animation of Mushi Pro veteran Chikao Katsui. The priest, acolyte and tanuki in this episode turn into great characters in his hands despite being folktale cyphers. The acolyte adopts a haughty expression and imitates the priest's sermons whenever he gets the chance. The tanuki's expressions as he eavesdrops on the acolyte pretending to talk to the priest are varied and funny.

    The drawings are sparely used, with choppy frame rates up to the 12s, and the lines are varied in thickness as if he was using a brush pen or the like, perhaps to match the traditional Japanese setting. The drawings are not technically good in a conventional sense, but this is a great example of how playfulness and the ability to come up with lots of fun poses and expressions can overcome that handicap. It's similar to the feeling of Takeuchi Daizo's animation in Tensai Bakabon (1970). Despite not being cleanly drawn, the characters are appealing because the drawings have so much personality.

    Surprisingly given the looseness and technical crudity of the animation in this episode, Chikao Katsui is excellent at realistically animating animals. He was known as "Katsui the bird man" during his days at Mushi Pro thanks in part to the still-impressive animation of flamingos alighting that he drew for the opening of Jungle Taitei (1966). In MNMB he directed six episodes, animating most of them. Unsurprisingly, several of those are stories about birds, and they feature technically very skillful animation of birds, showing that the animation here isn't crudity born of lack of skill, but a creative choice.

    Other recommended Katsui Chikao episodes

  • #390 (7/5/1980) かっぱとひょうたん The Kappa and the Gourd
  • The Kappa in this episode is another naughty but lovable prankster character like the tanuki. The section near the climax where he fights with the gourd is particularly fun and full of classic crazy Katsui drawings.

  • #468 (6/13/1981) 井手のお宮の片葉の葦 Why the Reeds Have Leaves on Only one Side
  • A paean to the beauty of nature, this is one of the series' most beautiful, lyrical episodes. Unusually for the show, it has essentially no story or characters. It simply traces the migration of wild geese in Japan through the seasons from fall to winter to spring. It is the summum opus of Chikao Katsui's bird animation. Background artist Toshiyuki Ozeki provides many beautiful images of the natural world that help make the episode work.

  • #521 (1/30/1982) 鶴の子観音 The Crane Chick Kannon
  • This episode features beautiful animation of cranes in flight, but is different from the previous episode. This is a moving cautionary tale about four young people in a village who perform an act of disrespect towards the natural world that has supported their village for eons, and whose act of penitence eventually absolves them. The very Osamu Tezuka-looking human characters reveal the lingering influence of Chikao Katsui's Mushi Pro days.


    狩猟の四天王   The Four Master Hunters#5232/13/1982

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    もりまさき
    Masaki Mori
    川尻善昭
    Yoshiaki Kawajiri
    安藤ひろみ
    Hiromi Ando
    境のぶひろ
    Nobuhiro Sakai

    Four master hunters test one another's skills in the woods.

    There is no moral to this story, or really any narrative at all, and the characters are not developed into individuals. But the visuals are so beautiful and the story so amusing that it's one of the show's more irresistible episodes. The background art by Hiromi Ando uses a pointillistic stroke to create scintillating scenery with striking, expressive color schemes - purple and blue for nighttime, bright yellow and orange for daytime. The characters animated by Madhouse animator Yoshiaki Kawajiri are highly stylized in a sketchy way, almost reminding of European animation by the likes of Priit Parn, with tiny heads and hands on enormous puffy bodies. The framing of shots is formalistic and the storytelling is subtly witty, with the onlookers providing comic relief as they react to the exploits of the master hunters.

    The director is Masaki Mori, who although primarily known as a manga-ka has been sporadically involved in anime. Usually his presence indicates an exceptional project, such as Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae (1967), Barefoot Gen (1983), Harmageddon (1983) and Kamui no Ken (1985). These are always Mushi Pro-Madhouse projects due presumably to the fact that he started out as a manga-ka and moved to the artist-friendly Mushi Pro when it opened, and continued to work as a manga-ka on the side.

    Yoshiaki Kawajiri's animation here is perfect in bringing alive the characters, but not extravagant. Kawajiri was one of the first people in the show to take on the task of directing, animating and doing the background art for his episodes. He produced four such solo episodes in 1978 and then, several years later in 1982, this episode. Afterwards he became focused on Madhouse projects leading to his own feature debut.

    Yoshiaki Kawajiri's episodes reveal an animator of great versatility, which you would be unable to guess based on the style into which he became exclusively pigeonholed after his directing debut in the mid-80s. In the early days he created dynamic and lively animation with cleverly designed and, indeed, cute characters that looks nothing whatsoever like his later work. What remains identifiable is a kind of rigidness in the forms and symmetricality in the designs. He was actually much more prolific in the Madhouse version of MNMB, Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi, producing 10 'solo' episodes. The King Lear episode is exemplary of how he was able to go much further with the angular, gothic, sinister stylization that is his forte in the Madhouse show. There was only so far the stylization and personal expression was allowed to go in MNMB.

    Other recommended Yoshiaki Kawajiri episodes:

  • #190 (1/14/1978) 大蛇の塔 The Giant Tower of the Snake
  • The flat, angular designs of the characters in the episode are perhaps the most identifiable of all of those made by Kawajiri for MNMB. The geometrically shaped lord with his parallel lines and cuboid head is a perfectly designed brutal character, and is indicative of Kawajiri's stylistic inclinations.

  • #201 (3/4/1978) エビの腰はなぜまがったか Why the shrimp has a curved back
  • This is the most bare-bones and fable-like of the episodes he did for MNMB, with highly simplified backgrounds and cute animal mascot-like characters and spare movement. He does a good job with the material, and his technical animation skill peeks through here and there in things like the waves, but his personality doesn't come out as much as in the former episode.

  • #217 (5/13/1978) キツネの化け玉 The Kitsune's Transforming Balls
  • Kawajiri's most MNMB-looking episode, with lovely picture book winter vistas and cute and rounded SD kitsune and bonze characters engaged in playful and lively antics. The giant ghost kitsune reminds of the evil weasel in Gamba's Adventure.


    シシとり太郎   Taro the Boar Hunter#5516/12/1982

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    平松達也
    Tatsuya Hiramatsu
    小堤一明
    Kazuaki Kozutsumi
    青木稔
    Minoru Aoki
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    Two hunters, one lazy and one hard working, head into the woods to hunt a boar. The lazy one turns back because it sounds like too much of a hassle. The other figures out a clever trick and manages bag a giant boar. He heads back home and tells his friend about it. The lazy one runs out, thinking he now knows a trick to bag a boar easily, but winds up being punished for his craven attitude.

    The story is a simple fable about the rewards of hard work, built on the oft-used scaffolding of the hard-working vs. greedy character trope. This eminently simple story is told through bright, clean visuals that pop off the screen. More cartoon than stuffy old folktale, it's one of the more visually memorable episodes in the show thanks to its backgrounds painted as geometric blobs of color and stick figure characters animated in a far more lively and fluid manner than one would expect for those designs. The visuals bring to mind old Eastern European animation, or even old Shanghai shorts.

    The animator to thank for the animation is Kazuaki Kozutsumi, who is now one of the more prominent indie animators on the scene. (his twitter) Just a few years ago he directed the delightful Rita and Whatsit TV show, bringing onboard a number of other indie animators, in the process bringing indie animation to a wider audience. His 2009 short Organic retains the playful animation of his early work here but is coupled with an environmental message.

    Other recommended Kazuaki Kozutsumi episode:

  • #545 (5/15/1982) そうめん地蔵 The Somen Jizo
  • Packed with crazy character animation where the bonze is forced to eat bowl after bowl of somen.


    節分の鬼   The Oni of Setsubun#6021/29/1983

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    こはなわためお
    Tameo Kohanawa
    塚田洋子
    Yoko Tsukada
    小関俊之
    Toshiyuki Ozeki
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    On the night of Setsubun, the traditional mark of the new year and the start of spring, families are celebrating in their warm homes by throwing beans to drive out the oni of the last year and to bring fortune into the home. An old man watches from afar, reminiscing how he used to celebrate the festival with his wife and son. Both are now dead, and he wishes he was with them. Combined anger and sadness drives him to put on the old mask he used to wear and call for the oni to come into the house and happiness to go out. The oni hear his call and come join him in a raucous party.

    This is one of the episodes I like largely for the story. The story is touching and convincing in its portrayal of loneliness in old age. The moment where he puts on the mask reminiscing about old times and, tears streaming down his face, metaphorically becomes an oni is genuinely moving. There are no gimmicks or villains or forced happy endings. At most, the old man regains his will to live as long as he might in the hope of having another wild party with the Oni. That said, the story doesn't bash you over the head with melodrama or try to wring tears. It's all done with a fairly light and warm touch.


    もちの白鳥   White birds of mochi#82110/5/1985

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    三善和彦
    Kazuhiko Miyoshi
    志村芳子
    Yoshiko Shimura
    阿部幸次
    Koji Abe
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A lord rules over his subjects without pity, albeit without excessive cruelty either. The only exception to his coldness is his daughter, on whom he spares no expense. When the time comes for her marriage, he has the peasants cook up thousands of rice cakes and has them arranged in a line from his castle to his daughter's new home. The peasants look on in fury as the girl steps on each rice cake, sewing the seeds of revolt.

    This is one of the most visually and thematically sophisticated episodes in the series. The episode is all long shots without close-ups, and the tiny heads mean there are no individualizing faces. This creates a very abstract and distancing effect.

    The striking symmetries that define the episode are unforgettable and among the show's most forceful artistic moments. The symmetries are closely tied to the theme - a single straight row of farmers planting crops moving slowly across the screen, the lord as a small figure at the top of the screen looking down over his subjects below, casting a long shadow. The lord is almost always positioned above the subjects, either on a veranda, or raised on his horse, until the last moments of the episode when this relationship is reversed. This is one of the few episodes in which the visuals are intrinsically tied to the theme, enriching the story in the way that the best visual storytelling should.

    The lord is not just a black and white evil character, either. He is humanized by his love of his daughter. The climax combines these two into a contradictory moment that serves as a metaphor for oppression everywhere: the lord performs the most ostentatious possible expression of his love and his wealth, but it's done with total disregard for the toil of the laborers who made the mochi. Indeed, it's a symbol not just of his wealth but of their subjugation.

    The director behind this brilliant episode is Kazuhiko Miyoshi, who had a brief career as an animator in late 1970s before becoming largely focused on MNMB and assorted Tac productions like Noel's Fantastic Trip (1983) and Penguin's Memory (1985).

    Kazuhiko Miyoshi was involved in MNMB from its fourth year in 1979 to its last in 1995, starting with animation and then gradually adding tasks starting with episode direction, until by the end he was singlehandedly producing entire episodes. And he was doing so more comprehensively than others. Other people might handle the animation and background, but in Miyoshi's case he handled everything up until photography, including the carbon transfer, the painting, and the paper material formatting. In his desire to constantly try some new approach, he produced some of the series' most technically ambitious and inventive episodes. He brought the mindset of indie animated filmmaking to its peak in MNMB.

    Kazuhiko Miyoshi actually worked on the show not from Group Tac but from various small studios he co-founded with other MNMB artists. From 1980-1985 he ran Bob Animation Film with Atsuko Hotta, and from 1985-1987 he ran Link Collection with Yoko Tsukada and Shinichi Ohtake.

    The success of this episode is also indebted to background artist Koji Abe, one of the show's most prolific and talented art directors, who produced the remarkable images that define the episode. The intricate backgrounds sometimes look like they are made from patterned paper, but they were all painstakingly hand-painted. Koji Abe had been there from the beginning and produced a varied array of beautiful art over the span of the show. I've focused on one of his episodes next.

    Other recommended episodes by Kazuhiko Miyoshi:

  • #1038 (6/25/1988) うどんと殿さま The Lord's Udon
  • A fat lord goes out for a walk one day and asks for some food. His vassals don't know what to do, as they're in the mountains. They worriedly bring back a bowl of udon from a local vendor to the picky lord. The lord is unexpectedly delighted by his meal and from then on eats nothing but udon, much to the benefit of his health. The visuals of this episode are clean and simple, the characteristic being the unusual flat color scheme used for each character. This was done partly inspired by indie animator Sadao Tsukioka's recent Minna no Uta video Konna Ko Iru Ka Na to help distinguish the samurai characters, which can be hard to set apart due to the similar dress.

  • #1155 (12/16/1989) 夜中のおとむらい A Funeral Under the Moonlight
  • A samurai sees a ghostly funeral in the night, and later realizes that it's his own. He had seen a presentiment of his death, for he dies the next day. The episode has a mindbending twist at the end when the friend he told about this is walking in the procession and sees the same scene play out again. This is the first episode in which Miyoshi handled every single task except for the photography. For the backgrounds he used a photocopier to create the sketchy texture by drawing with a grease pencil on charcoal paper and copying the images onto lightly colored paper. For the characters he used a similar process, cutting out the copied character drawings, glueing them onto animation paper, and using a trace machine to copy the drawing onto a cel. In the days before digital when it was tremendously difficult to achieve this kind of image, he put a remarkable amount of thought and work into it, and it pays off, producing images that seem old and fragile, like daguerreotype photos, appropriate to the time period. It's one of the most stylistically inventive and unified episodes in the series. The tone is also remarkably somber for a show that had such lighthearted beginnings, indicating how the show's matured over the years.

  • #1207 (8/18/1990) ごんぞう虫 The Gonzo Bug
  • A boy borrows 100 coins from a greedy moneylender to pay for his mother's medicine, and upon returning is charged 500 coins in interest. A spirit appears as he returns home dejected and gives him magical geta that produce a coin every time he falls while wearing them. The greedy money lender catches wind of this and steals them for himself, but fails to heed the warning that he gets a little smaller each time, and in his greed to produce as many coins as possible winds up as small as a flea. Miyoshi again used a novel technique. The characters were drawn as normal and transferred to a cel, but rather than being colored with paint, he cut out traditional Japanese dyed paper into the shape of the character and placed it on a cel underneath the character. The background was also made from dyed paper to unify the look, with lines added using poster paint.

  • #1340 (7/4/1992) 月夜の果報者 Luck Visits on a Moonlit Night
  • A nonsense fable about a lazy couple who enact the popular saying "All things come to those who wait" by lying around doing nothing. This time Miyoshi used cutouts of traditional Japanese paper for the characters, drawing only the hands, feet and facial expressions using conventional ink on a cel, and combining Japanese paper with dyed paper for the backgrounds.

  • #1446 (4/9/1994) ふしぎなひょうたん The Fantastic Gourd
  • Miyoshi creates perhaps the most abstract characters in the entire series in this episode about a grampa and grandma who are mere geometrical blobs of color. He had often been criticized by the show's producers for being too refined and urbane in his design sensibility, and so for his last episode on the show he decided to go all the way with exactly what he had been criticized for doing. The common trope of the kindhearted but childless grampa and grandma who find a child by divine providence is here boiled down to its absolute minimum, excising all pretense of individuality and creating a truly pure visualization of a Japanese folktale.


    座敷童子   The Home Spirits#9505/9/1987

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    阿部幸次
    Koji Abe
    上口照人
    Teruto Kamiguchi
    阿部幸次
    Koji Abe
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A pilgrim stops in the house of a welcoming man for the night, but sees strange ghosts of children throughout the night. Years later, when the pilgrim stops by again, he encounters the children leaving the house, and winds up being turned away by the new, less hospitable, owner. The children were zashiki warashi, or spirits of children fabled to protect good households.

    From the delicate pink sakura petals against the backdrop of a yellow country hillside in the opening shot to the imposing facade of the giant house where the pilgrim stops for the night, the backgrounds define this episode. They're the protagonist. The animation is somewhat of an afterthought. This is a good example of one of MNMB's many more 'background'-centric episodes.

    This episode was directed by art director Koji Abe of The White Birds of Mochi. It was clearly chosen by him to give him the opportunity to paint the Japanese countryside and traditional home interiors. He painted the background art for upwards of 80 episodes throughout MNMB's 20 year run, and directed a good portion of them in the last ten years.

    Gisaburo Sugii previously made an episode about the eponymous spirits in episode #106 (1/1/1977) 座敷わらし Home Spirits. His episode adopts a more anthropological tone, explaining the spirit's different modes of manifestation.

    Other recommended episodes by Koji Abe:

  • #979 (9/26/1987) 亀割石 Split Turtle Rock
  • Again a woodblock-esque visual scheme with lightly colored near-monochrome palette emphasizing the natural forms. Rather than being completely still, there are touches of animation such as the burning flame that are integrated with the look of the background and create the feeling of a moving woodblock print.

  • #1126 (8/5/1989) アズバタの木 The Tree of Azubata
  • A naif painting of the Japanese countryside telling the story of a young couple's first year together.

  • #1265 (6/8/1991) 阿古耶の松 The Pine of Akona
  • The world of ancient Japan is depicted like a painting come alive. Refined and delicate image-making with flattened perspectives and ritualistic repetition.


    蛇と蛙   The Snake and the Frog#9515/16/1987

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    フクハラ・ヒロカズ
    Hirokazu Fukuhara
    小出英男
    Hideo Koide
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    One day the animals decide they're tired of eating nothing but morning dew and go see god to ask him to assign them each a food. God, displeased with how the frog mistreated the snake, assigns the frog to eat insects and the snake to eat the frog.

    This episode is interesting for being styled after children's drawings, with the crayon-like line texture and simple color scheme. The style is somehow a perfect match for the simple Aesop-like fable about animals.

    The director and animator of the episode, Hirokazu Fukuhara, represents the more indie side of MNMB. He has a distinct style that is present in all his episodes. This is actually one of the exceptions to that rule, the only episode he did that doesn't look like his patented style. His trademark is a cute little white cat that accompanies the protagonist of each of his episodes (absent here), and a very unique animation style that uses crude drawings and very spare animation. His timing is interesting: He alternates almost randomly between very spare rates such as 6s and 12s to create an unmistakable feeling. The crudity of his technique is belied by its consistency. His work is a curious combination of heta-uma and iyashi-kei.

    He is representative of many of the artists whom I have not discussed but who have a consistent if undistinguished style. His episodes are consistently pleasing for their whimsical, lighthearted atmosphere. Once you get used to his unusual animation, you begin to appreciate its gentle, subtle silliness. MNMB is not all tragic tales and beautiful artistry; it's also in large part whimsically designed characters going through amusing antics, and Fukuhara Hirokazu is a good representative of that side of the show.

    Other recommended Hirokazu Fukuhara episodes:

  • #16 (2/25/1975) 天福地福 Riches from the earth and sky
  • #1179 (4/14/1990) おむすびころりん The Rolling Rice Ball
  • #1459 (7/2/1994) 猫と犬 The Cat and the Dog
  • Fukuhara was there throughout the show's 20 year run, and his style evolved accordingly. His first episode #16 looks very different from his later work, with its beautiful collage aesthetic and use of paper cutouts. The story is also reminiscent of episode #13 I discussed above. His last episode #1459 shows his style in its fully mature form.


    猫の恩返し   The Cat's Gratitude#12412/15/1991

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    白梅進
    Susumu Shiraume
    門屋達郎
    Tatsuro Kadoya
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    An old cat has been living at a run-down temple with its old priest for years. But food runs low, and it looks like the end is near. The cat decides to repay the favor of the priest's good care for all those years by playing a trick on a funeral procession and making it seem like the priest helped solve the problem.

    This episode has delightful drawings of the cat and priest at the beginning of the episode as they loll about with sleepy eyes, simultaneously cute and pathetic. The drawings have a warm, tactile, picture-book quality. They're highly stylized but still soft and warm. Each of the people in the funeral procession is an individual and each is a delight to behold. The animation is not extravagant, but when it moves, the movement feels good. The whole episode has a gentle humor to it thanks to the skilled character drawings.

    This is one of the later episodes produced by Studio Arrow's Susumu Shiraume, who also straddled the two sides of the animation industry, doing TV ad work as well as character designs for the likes of Nippon Animation co-productions like Topo Gigio. His drawings have a decidedly European feeling very different from typical anime drawings. His are the kind of drawing that would not be out of place in Moomin or Memole. He never moves his characters dynamically but instead opts for small touches of animation that make the character feel alive.

    I'm not sure where Susumu Shiraume started out, but his earliest work is as a rotation animator in Tokyo Movie's early show Kaibutsu-kun (1968) and Toei Doga's Tiger Mask (1970-1971). Not long afterwards he moved to Topcraft, where he worked as an animator on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1972) and Frost's Winter Wonderland (1974). He founded a small workspace named Studio Arrow with Isamu Kumada shortly thereafter, and the rest of his career worked from there. It's at Studio Arrow under Susumu Shiraume that Hidekazu Ohara learned about more creative styles of animation, which is what made him the artist he is today. ((I wrote a post about Studio Arrow before.)

    Susumu Shiraume began doing work for Nippon Animation beginning with the character design of Maya the Honeybee (1975). He later helped out on Topcraft's last production The Flight of Dragons (1982) doing layout. Presumably he must have been doing ad work throughout this whole time in addition to the MNMB episodes. Some recent examples of his ad work include this Hot Pepper ad from 2009 and this Kirin beer ad from 2014.

    Other recommended Susumu Shiraume episodes:

  • #110 (1/15/1977) 宝の下駄 The Coinmaking Geta
  • A young boy gets a pair of magical geta that produce coins, but they're stolen by a greedy uncle who winds up getting shrunken down to a flea by overusing them. This story was later remade by Kazuhiko Miyoshi in episode #1207 The Gonzo Bug. The drawings are soft and fluffy and the animation slightly more active than in his later work. I wonder if the American influence in his drawings didn't enter around this time from his work on early Topcraft productions.

  • #1154 (12/16/1989) どうもこうも Domo & Komo
  • Two famous doctors name Domo & Komo decide to have a contest to see who is the best doctor. The soft, loose drawing style of the early years makes way for a more sharp and graphical design. Komo's beard a geometric pattern covering his entire face. But the style is much more refined and the animation more controlled. The silly, strong-willed characters give the episode a gently comical tone.

  • #1335 (6/6/1992) 播磨のめっかい Mekkai of Harima
  • A powerful dog named Mekkai is brought in to take down some oni inhabiting a house. This is Shiraume's only solo episode, and the episode has a great graphical touch with lots of hatching and solid character drawings. Shiraume's drawing style comes through particularly in the very three-dimensional, bulbous noses where the features are otherwise simple and flat. Otherwise this is something of an anomaly for Shiraume, more hard-boiled and realistic, as it were, as he is best known for his cute, fluffy, rounded character animation and whimsical tone.


    三本枝のかみそり狐 The Kitsune and the Razor#12838/31/1991

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    小原秀一
    Hidekazu Ohara
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A man heads into the woods nearby to confront rumors of a marauding kitsune. He spots what he suspects to be the kitsune transformed as a woman carrying a child heading into a house, and runs to warn the old lady of the house. When he throws the baby in the fire, expecting it to be a fake, it turns out to be real, and he runs for his life...

    This is one of the best episodes in the series, a perfect creation in every way, with a totally novel visual scheme for the series and riveting directing of a terrifying tale. This is the most genuinely horrifying of the show's many ghost stories, and at the same time it's not graphic but still playful and exaggerated with its drawings. The old lady transformed into a hag is both horrible and hilarious, and her choppy running animation terrifying and comical. Contrasting with the white base of the earlier Dezaki episode, this episode has a black base color matching the subject matter and the night setting.

    This is one of the last MNMB episodes done by Hidekazu Ohara, and for the first time he handled all the tasks including the background. This allows him to unify everything around the sketchy pencil drawings of the character animation. This episode shows that Ohara has great control over all of the elements of animated filmmaking.

    It would be easy to comment that Hidekazu Ohara is the most skilled animator to have worked on MNMB in view of his subsequent work, but the notable fact is that this can be said based entirely on the merit of his work in the show. He evinces a technical versatility and mastery of the medium, an ability to adopt radically different visual schemes suited to any given narrative, that few of the other MNMB animators do. Most are limited to one style, or if they are versatile, their animation is more technically limited. Not so Ohara. He seems to be able to do it all, and execute it perfectly in a way that is exciting as animation. From everyday acting to action to comical character antics to caricatural facial expression to graphical experimentation, nothing seems beyond his reach.

    MNMB is the first place where Hidekazu Ohara's true talent first came to light. He had an unusual training, having been trained at Topcraft under the great animator Tsuguyuki Kubo on the likes of The Hobbit and then under Hayao Miyazaki on Nausicaa, and then moved to Studio Arrow. He got his basic training in animation knowhow from the masters of Topcraft, and then got his focus on more indie styles and a comprehensive approach to the art of animated filmmaking from Studio Arrow.

    Studio Arrow's Susumu Shiraume was heavily involved in MNMB right from its start, having been invited there by his associate Masakazu Higuchi. They did work for Topcraft during the same period, and it was this that led Ohara to knock on Arrow's door after Topcraft went under following Nausicaa, as he presumably needed a place to go. Ohara came along at a time when Susumu Shiraume had been animating for the show for a decade. Ohara's first involvement in MNMB was as animator of episode #831 directed by Susumu Shiraume, and you can in fact see a clear kinship between the drawing style in Ohara's episodes of MNMB and those of Susumu Shiraume.

    Other recommended episodes by Hidekazu Ohara:

  • #1031 (5/21/1988) 日高峠の大きな手 The Big Hand of Hidaka Pass
  • A hunter is about to make an offering to the mountain god when his dog catches scent of a boar and leads him off in a hurry, leaving the offering a mess in front of the shrine. A while later, still unable to find the boar, the hunter is forced to take cover when rain moves in. He finds an old lady in a house, but something strange begins to happen to her hand. It gets bigger and bigger... This episode is straight-up entertaining in a way few episodes of MNMB are. Essentially a ghost story, it's slow and suspenseful and then suddenly transforms into a chase scene that's both comical and scary. The moment when the old lady throws her big hand at the hunter is legitimately surprising, and the drawings of the old lady are particularly nice, being realistically inspired with the folds of skin but still caricatural and loose. This episode has something I find sorely lacking in most MNMB episodes: dynamism.

  • #1089 (2/11/1989) 雪むかし The Bell Charm
  • A girl gives a beggar some rice on the sly and is rewarded with a magical bell that cleans up the mountain of dishes she's forced to wash every day. It also has the side-effect of making her more beautiful. This episode features realistic layouts and delicate, nuanced character animation very different from any other Ohara episode. Small moments like the girl being kicked out of the house feature subtle but magnificently observed gestures and body language, revealing the depth of Ohara's talent. This episode was incidentally a remake of episode #56 (5/15/1976) 乞食のくれた手ぬぐい The Washcloth Given by the Beggar directed by Ryosuke Takahashi before he got into robots.

  • #1358 (9/26/1992) 犬と猫と狼 The Dog, the Cat and the Wolf
  • A dog enlists a wolf's help to get back into his family's favor, but then the dog has to enlist the cat's help when the wolf asks for a favor in return. This is the summit of Ohara's graphical experimentation, with some delightful and truly bold exaggeration in the designs. The wolf's snout fills the whole screen, the cat's eyes fill its whole face. The scene where the dog mock-attacks the wolf is comical and full of great dynamic movement. The calculating cat, the bristly wolf and shriveled dog are great characters.

  • #1373 (1/9/1993) 世間知らずの伊勢参り A Family of Bumpkins Visit Ise
  • A country family exhibit a comical level of ignorance of modern appurtenances and customs when they visit the big city. Rather than dynamic action or realism, this time Ohara flexes his graphical muscles in this episode, which is all about the comical, cartoonish, graphically extravagant character designs. They don't move much, but that makes each of their little gestures that much funnier as they struggle with each new challenge thrown at them.


    尻ぬき河童   The Butt-stealing Kappas#14525/21/1994

    DirectorAnimationBackground artStory
    森川信英
    Nobuhide Morikawa
    西村邦子
    Kazuko Nishimura
    沖島勲
    Isao Okishima

    A gang of kappas living in a river terrorize an old man with their attempts to steal the mythical 'shirikodama' in his butt. He shows them up by putting a metal plate in his pants and then tricks them by carving a piece of wood into the shape of a plant, placing it behind a waterfall and challenging the kappas: make the plant wilt with your farts or find somewhere else to live. They predictably lose and the old man triumphs.

    Full of bawdy kappa butt and fart jokes, this episode is characterized by its extreme simplicity: no perspective, no realism, primitively designed characters that practically slide across the screen. But it's still very entertaining and full of silly antics. It seems like the product of a young mind, but the remarkable thing is that the episode is the product of a great veteran of the anime industry. Nobuhide Morikawa was 76 at the time he directed this episode, his last for MNMB. This makes him the oldest active animator on MNMB or, very likely, most other anime for that matter.

    Nobuhide Morikawa is one of Japan's proto-indie animators, and his story is fascinating but little-known. In spirit he has been indie from the very beginning.

    Born in 1918 in Kyoto, his first experience with animation was hand-copying a reel of Bosko at age 10. He now had the bug, and made his first animation called "The Frog Swordsman" at age 12. It even got shown in a theater. He attempted to get into the commercial side of animation by visiting the then-master of animation in Japan, Kenzo Masaoka, but found that the industrial nature of the work was not suited to his more independent personality. He instead struck out on his own and during the 1950s was prolific making animated commercials. By the time the industry was in full swing with TV productions in 1965, he had his own photography studio in the Ginza district of Tokyo. He produced the animation for what may have been the first color anime aired on TV: Ginza no Sanzoku, a TV movie that was a seminal mix of live-action and animation. He was thus already an established animator before most of the Mushi Pro-gen animators in MNMB had even debuted.

    During the war he had been asked to visit Manchuria to help train animators there, and it was based on this experience that the government of Japan asked Morikawa in 1965 to go to South Korea to help train animators there as part of reparation activities (although deep down it was to get cheap animators, because animator wages in Japan had been surging since 1963). He went there and helped train the animators who produced two anime: Ougon Bat (1967-1968) and Yokai Ningen Bem (1968-1969). At the time he was the only person credited on the shows, so many people mistakenly assumed he was some godlike figure who had animated the entire show. Nameless Korean animators who paved the way for decades of fruitful animation collaboration between the two countries were to thank.

    After working on MNMB devotedly for 15 years starting in 1980, he went back to doing commercial animation. This Megane Drug ad is an example of his later ad work. An associate from his Korea days was Ryuya Matano, who would join him and become one of the regulars on MNMB. Ryuya Matano had perhaps the most extreme design aesthetic of anyone in the show, with characters heads' drawn as straight-up triangles or rectangles, as exemplified by episode #1150 (11/25/1989) 天から食い物 Food From Heaven.

    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    11:39:00 pm , 3156 words, 13323 views     Categories: Movie, 1980s

    Penguin's Memory

    Under the Mirabeau Bridge runs the Seine
    And our love
    I must bring to mind once again
    That joy always came after pain
     —Guillaume Apollinaire, 1912

    A penetrating examination of the impact of the Vietnam war on American soldiers who returned home and were forced to face the demons of their wartime experience alone, to the anguish of their loved ones, who were reunited with their sons physically only to watch them slip away in spirit. Would you believe this synopsis describes a film about cartoon penguins? For such are the mysteries of Japanese animation, which in 1985 gave birth to the conundrum that is Penguin's Memory. (watch)

    This film is one of the mysteries of anime. On the surface, it depicts cute anthropomorphic penguins going through some kind of drama in some kind of generic country town. Think Maple Town. If you watched the film without understanding the dialogue, you could be forgiven for believing it to be a film for children. And you would not be entirely mistaken. But beneath the cutesy penguins and the occasional random song and dance number lies a story that seems flagrantly inappropriate for a children's film.

    Penguin's Memory is essentially The Deer Hunter via Sanrio. The Deer Hunter is the film's obvious influence in many ways, not least the basic story about three buddies from small-town America who ship off to Vietnam, only one of whom returns with scars more emotional than physical. (The Delta War in this movie is clearly a stand-in for the Vietnam War.) The protagonist is named Mike. He watches his buddy fall to his death after the two of them grabbed hold of the skids of a helicopter in the midst of battle. He returns home only to shy away from the unwelcome attention of his family. Many other parts of the script have obviously been created for the film, but The Deer Hunter clearly provided the skeleton and the spirit for the journey of this film's protagonist.

    At first it is quite confusing to watch the cartoon penguins and slowly realize that the story is in fact deadly serious in intent. It's a feeling remotely akin to that watching a film like When the Wind Blow, in which cartoonish visuals belie a deadly serious message. A more appropriate analogy might be Night on the Galactic Railroad, in which cartoon cats were used to tell a story with complex spiritual and philosophical undertones. They look like children's films, but are far more than that. I think this is the case with Penguin's Memory. The main problem is that in the case of Penguin's Memory the artistry is frankly not up to the level of the material. The cartoon penguins initially seem a baffling visual choice to tell such a story, and that feeling never goes away. There is no sync between the artistry and the narrative. The penguins are nothing more than symbols for humans, no doubt partially to sidestep the challenges inherent in portraying (and animating) humans acting out such a challenging script. The penguin designs are completely arbitrary. The film is essentially a live-action film with cartoon penguins overlaid over the humans.

    How did such a film come about? The basic details are clear, although they do little to belay the radiant bizarreness of the final product. It all started with a series of 30-second animated TV ads for Suntory beer, depicting a cute cartoon penguin who each time invariably sheds a tear after reminiscing of lost love watching a girl penguin with a flower bow (watch), or being brought a beer by the girl penguin with the flower bow after losing a boxing match (watch), or some variation thereof. One of these ads featured the boy penguin watching the girl penguin with the flower bow singing a song in a dimly lit jazz bar. (watch) This particular ad may have provided the seed for the movie.

    The Japanese love using cute cartoon characters to sell anything and everything, apparently including alcoholic beverages. The ads were such a success for Suntory that they decided to make a movie out of the series. Seems like a great idea, right? A beer company wants a cartoon movie about penguins, so obviously it has to be for adults, but kids still need to be able to watch it. What could possibly go wrong? I don't know the particulars of how the movie was conceived, but presumably what happened is that they decided to flesh out the short set in the bar by giving the boy and girl penguin a back story. The scene with the girl singing in the bar makes an appearance at the halfway point in the movie (watch).

    So essentially a movie was constructed around this short ad, by coming up with a story to explain how the boy and girl got into that particular situation. The boy was turned into a Vietnam vet who returned home, but left his hometown for a small town to get away from everyone he knew and live life in peace. He went to work at a library and met a girl named Jill who turns out to be an aspiring singer. She wants to move to the big city with Mike to pursue a career as a singer, but Mike wants nothing of it and tries to leave Jill. The second half of the film deals with the conflict of their romance, which involves a jealous fiance who is a skilled surgeon and a greedy promoter who has a lot of money invested in Jill. Jill's story was obviously concocted to play into the popularity of the song in the CM by the then-rising idol singer Seiko Matsuda.

    Thus, rather than a cohesive concept, the film is a Frankenstein's monster of various disparate forces: cartoon penguins shoehorned into a rudimentary Deer Hunter story with a tacked on idol singer plot, coerced at gunpoint into an animated film by a beer company. Meanwhile, the film is crippled by its attempt to reconcile its dual impulse as a child-friendly story for adults, unable to fully invest itself in either. The film entirely lacks the Russian roulette metaphor and other elements that made The Deer Hunter work as a film, borrowing casually without much thought to thematic integrity. This flattened visual and moral world assumes an audience that will not be thrown out of the narrative zone by penguin dance sequences, habituated as they are to seeing animated penguins selling beer. For the rest of us, it's just an improbable mish-mash.

    Then there is the title. What devious mind named the film? The film's full title is: Penguin's Memory: A Story of Happiness. This is obviously dark irony. This Story of Happiness is one of the most deeply unhappy animated films ever made, pre-dating Todd Solondz's Happiness by 13 years. Audiences lured by this deceptive subtitle must have assumed they were to see a light-hearted romp in the spirit of the harmless, adorable ads, but were greeted instead by a dark, nuanced meditation about one veteran's struggle to re-gain happiness. This is not a happy film; it's a film about happiness. This film takes place during the dark night of the soul before happiness is, perhaps, eventually found. It is in this spirit that the film at one point quotes the Apollinaire poem "Mirabeau Bridge".

    There are three people credited with the script, one director, and one "animation kantoku" or animation director (not to be confused with "sakuga kantoku", which the film also has). Clearly it must have been one of these people who made the decision to borrow heavily from The Deer Hunter and otherwise go in this daring direction with the film. While obviously derivative and watered down, it is nonetheless pleasant to see such hard-hitting material in anime, and I would like to see more like it. But the idea to do such material came from people who don't work in the industry. I suspect the main brains behind the film were the same people behind the ads.

    The director of the film is one Shunji Kimura, director of the penguin Suntory beer ad campaign, about whom it is difficult to find much information, despite the fact that he has directed no less than 800 television ads over the course of a 30-some-year career. I assume the writers worked in advertising as well, as it is impossible to find almost any information about them. Funny how easy it is to find info about anime staff, yet how impossible it is to find any info about advertising staff. Yet again, it's a case of outsiders bringing fresh storytelling ideas into commercial animation. A number of films were directed or written by outsiders like this around the period of the late 1970s/early 1980s.

    The "animation kantoku" meanwhile is Studio Junio's Akinori Nagaoka (Anpanman, Diary of Anne Frank, Tetsuko no Tabi). Junio head Takao Kosai is also present, but I'm not sure if the production was spearheaded by Junio or was more of a collaborative effort, as the only studio credited is Animation Staff Room, and the film gathers animators and staff from diverse studios, with notable names including Yoshiyuki Momose, Yoshinori Kanemori, Megumi Kagawa, Toyoaki Emura, Yusaku Yamamoto, Masami Suda, Sachiko Kamimura and Yoichi Kotabe. Yasunori Miyazawa can be seen as an inbetweener.

    I'm fascinated by films like this in which there is overweening ambition that fails to coalesce. There are elements of genius, but the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. The story is one that is genuinely moving and compelling, and is actually surprisingly sensitively told by the script and the directing, but the necessary nuance feels blunted by the childish drawings rather than assisted, as it were, by the distancing patina of animation, as is the case in analogues like Night on the Galactic Railroad.

    Anthropomorphic anime were nothing unusual at the time, and I myself never bothered to look into this obscure film until Bahi pointed it out to me just recently, because I fully expected to find nothing more than another Hello Kitty or Maple Town story about cuddly animals engaged in adorable antics. But the opener of Penguin's Memory dispels that notion immediately: You are plunged headlong into a Vietnam battle straight out of Platoon.

    At first I took the scene for some kind of a parody, expecting the scene to shift at any moment back to the lighthearted real world of the anthropomorphic penguins, whatever that might be. But that shift never occurs. After the battle sequence, the same story grinds on, chronicling in depressing, painstaking detail the soldier's homecoming and attendant feelings of estrangement from the peaceful world that greets him on his return. A brief synopsis will indicate the level of attention to detail that makes the scene somewhat remarkable for its careful directing.

    A lone harmonica sings plaintively over the opening credits, creating a deceptively peaceful mood. The screen fades slowly in from black, revealing the outlines of several Iroquois helicopters flying through the pitch black night. The peaceful mood is shattered as they launch their rockets onto the dark landscape, and unscathed enemy forces on the ground immediately respond with a spray of tracer bullets. On the ground, meanwhile, behind the cover of trees in the jungle, three soldier penguins fire towards an unseen enemy. Al is the burly penguin firing an M60 (favorite of Rambo and Heisenberg), Tom is the scrawny penguin with glasses, and Mike is the hero of the story. First one of the helicopters is hit by a rocket, and next Mike gets thrown in the river by the explosion of a rocket. Mike runs to his aid as Al covers him. The battle ends in stalemate as the helis retreat, and the three soldiers make camp to take care of Tom's wounds.

    That night, Mike tends to Tom's bandages around a campfire when Al returns from a reconnaissance mission. As they sit talking around the campfire, we learn that the three are buddies who hail from the same small town, and they hope to start up a business when they get back home. Al jokes that he's got a busty blonde waiting for him when he gets back, but she just doesn't know he exists yet. Mike always carries with him a book of poems by his favorite poet, Randall James, and Al ribs him for it: "How can you read a book at a time like this, with bullets flying everywhere?" "That's exactly why I need it." "I don't get it. Are you going to hide behind that book when a bullet comes flying at your head?" Mike is too busy reading to respond.

    The next morning, the three trudge their way warily through the jungle when they encounter a train of refugees, including women and children. Allied helis show up and, to Mike's horror, begin firing on the refugees, presumably assuming them to be Vietcong. Mike runs out and is injured, and Tom runs out to save Mike only to be fatally shot. Mike attempts to revive Tom while Al covers the two. As the enemy encroaches, the heli comes in to pick them up, and Al forces Mike onto the heli's skids, although not before Mike is able to grab Tom's harmonica. Almost on their way to freedom, a rocket hits one of the helis, and the blast causes Al to lose his grip and fall to his death. Mike can do nothing but watch.

    The opening scene is exemplary of the film's assiduous 'realism-apart-from-the-penguins' approach. Every little detail of the Vietnam-era paraphernalia is meticulously accurate, from the Iroquois helis to the M1 helmets to the M1910 water bottles to the M60 machine gun to the M16 rifle. Even the flak jacket identifies the characters as Marines. This is a scene that, except for the penguins, could have played out in Platoon. Perhaps the true nature of the war came to light in the intervening years, as instead of NVA killing civilians as in The Deer Hunter, it's the Americans killing civilians that trips Mike's outrage.

    One of my favorite parts in the film is the 5-minute wordless montage sequence of Mike wandering the countryside after leaving his home in the dead of the night. (watch) It's a beautiful visual storytelling scene by any measure, showcasing the film's tasteful and subdued sense of realistic filmmaking. The countryside is believably American and rural, with its wheat fields, barns, dirt roads, beat-up Ford trucks, lonely gas stations, and picturesque lines of mailboxes. After some wandering, eventually, to the strains of a jazzy harmonica, he wanders into a mid-century town whose neon signs, gruff industrial sector and steel girder underpasses believably convey a small American working class town. A street boxing den meanwhile reminds of the parts of Ashita no Joe where the downtrodden Joe lets himself be beaten, but also of the gambling den of The Deer Hunter.

    The meeting between Mike and Jill symbolically occurs in the library where Mike has taken refuge. As during the war, when the book of poems by his favorite poet offered him refuge, so now the monastery silence of the library offers him refuge. She comes seeking a book of poetry by Apollinaire, a French poet who fought in World War I. She begins reciting Mirabeau Bridge, only to have Mike finish it for her. The book Mike reads is by one Randall James, but the title of his book "Ma Boheme" indicates that this is really Rimbaud, an earlier French poet. For some reason they changed the name to a more American sounding name, perhaps because it doesn't make sense for a lower class American boy with no education to be reading Rimbaud.

    After Mike meets Jill, the story settles into romantic mode for a while as Mike and Jill go on dates and get to know each other. Mike saves an injured bird, and light begins to trickle into his closed heart. We discover that Jill is in fact engaged to a skilled surgeon at her father's hospital, but the surgeon is having affair with a nurse. In one scene, the jealous but two-timing surgeon phones Jill from his bedroom with his mistress in his bed behind him. The film can be quite adult in its understanding of affairs of the heart. He seems like a scumbag at first, but the film satisfyingly avoids pinning the crux of the drama on a simplistic arch-rival setup when the surgeon eventually admits that he has the mistress and 'gives' Jill to Mike.

    The story then boils down to the question of what Jill and Mike truly want: Does Mike really want Jill? Still emotionally blunted, he reject her offer of redemption for the comfort of solitude. What about Jill? Jill is forced to sacrifice her ambitions for Mike, and this may be the key to saving Mike. When the promoter learns that Jill wants to abandon her career, he brings his thugs to convince Mike to make her change her mind. In the ensuing scuffle, they kill his bird, causing a dam to finally bursts in Mike. He erupts in violence, almost killing the promoter in a fit of blind rage. Mike is sentenced to 3 years probation for the crime, which signals both his low point and his emotional breakthrough.

    The story is surprisingly delicate and genuinely moving in the second half with this setup and climax, and makes me wish that all of this were not marred by the visuals, which will prevent most people from appreciating a good, approachable story. Mike parts ways with Jill in a moving letter that reads in part: "My dear Jill, I'm sorry it came to this. I can never repay you for all you've done for me. You opened my heart and made me realize all the things that I've held inside. Maybe I've taken life too much for granted. I'm probably just a weak guy who lost his fight with a monster called war. But I wonder if there's really anybody who wins in a war."

    For all that's odd and wrong about the film, it got a lot of things right, and represents a rare kind of humane, real-life based storytelling that I wish we could see more in anime.


    Penguin's Memory: A Story of Happiness ペンギンズメモリー 幸福物語
    (movie, 1985, 101 mins, Animation Staff Room)

    Animation Producer:香西隆男Takao Kosai
    Director ("Kantoku"):木村俊士Shunji Kimura
    "Animation Kantoku":永丘昭典Akinori Nagaoka
    Storyboard:永丘昭典
    福富博
    今沢哲男
    森脇真琴
    ひこねのりお
    Akinori Nagaoka
    Hiroshi Fukutomi
    Tetsuo Imazawa
    Makoto Moriwaki
    Norio Hikone
    Art Director:高野正道Masamichi Takano
    Supervisor & Original Character Design:ひこねのりおNorio Hikone
    Character Design & Sakkan:鈴木欽一郎
    兼森義則
    Kinichiro Suzuki
    Yoshinori Kanemori
    Asst Sakkan:平田かほる
    賀川愛
    Kaoru Hirata
    Megumi Kagawa
    Key animation:小田部洋一Yoichi Kotabe
    山本福雄Fukuo Yamamoto
    伊東誠Makoto Ito
    星野絵美Emi Hoshino
    北島信幸Nobuyuki Kitajima
    富沢和雄Kazuo Tomizawa
    須田正己Masami Suda
    青嶋克己Katsumi Aoshima
    百瀬義行Yoshiyuki Momose
    坂本雄作Yusaku Sakamoto
    木下ゆうきYuuki Kinoshita
    松田?之_yuki Matsuda
    槌田幸一Koichi Tsuchida
    鳥居愛緒Ao Torii
    椙目八男Hachio Suginome
    河村信道Nobumichi Kawamura
    兵頭敬Kei Hyodo
    平田かほるKaoru Hirata
    古川達也Tatsuya Furukawa
    賀川愛Megumi Kagawa
    小山善考Yoshitaka Koyama
    西山里枝Rie Nishiyama
    高橋明信Akinobu Takahashi
    神村幸子Sachiko Kamimura
    川越洋Hiroshi Kawagoe
    江村豊秋Toyoaki Emura
    荒牧園美Sonomi Aramaki
    辻村武Takeshi Tsujimura
    梅津美幸Miyuki Umetsu
    なかじまちゅうじChuji Nakajima
    小堤一明Kazuaki Kozutsumi
    向中野義雄Yoshio Mukainakano
    高木美和子Miwako Takagi

    Friday, October 18, 2013

    07:39:00 pm , 2099 words, 15392 views     Categories: OVA, Studio: Anime R, Studio: Dove, Director: Toshifumi Takizawa, 1980s

    New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine

    In this day and age when every other anime is fantasy anime, it's hard to conceive of a time when there was no fantasy anime. But such was the case around the time of Aura Battler Dunbine in 1983.

    Created and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino at Sunrise in 1983, Dunbine was one of the pioneer fantasy anime. Tomino pumped out one classic show after another during these years when he came unto his own as a creator and director. Just the year before in 1982, he directed the classic Xabungle TV series and Ideon: Be Invoked movie. His work prior to Dunbine was basically sci-fi robot anime, but with Dunbine he went in a new direction.

    Largely influenced by Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa manga (the movie wasn't released until the year after), Dunbine was one of the groundbreaking fantasy anime, made at a time when audiences weren't used to fantasy anime, and the show paid the price for it. With its daring insectoid mecha designs, kids hated the toys. This placed pressures on the show's toy sponsor, Clover, that appear to have led to Clover shortly going out of business. The show was forced to switch the setting from the fantasy world of Byson Well to modern-day Tokyo in the second half.

    Despite this shaky start, Dunbine continued to live on in various media, most notably the novel format. The 1980s were the auteur boom in anime, and Tomino attempted to blossom into an auteur. He penned novels to flesh out the world of Byston Well, two of which eventually got adapted into anime: Garzey's Wing (3 eps, 1996) and The Wings of Rean (6 eps, 2005-2006).

    But the very first anime continuation actually came just a few years after the TV show: the 3-episode New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine. Tomino had a habit of releasing compilations of every TV show he directed, and Dunbine was no exception. A novel approach explored with the Dunbine collection was to include a new 30-minute OVA with each compilation.

    New Story takes place 700 years after the events of the TV series, and tells the story of a young boy and girl who fight a group of so-called "Black Knights" seeking to recover a legendary Aura Battler to conquer the land of Byston Well. The characters are mostly new, but apparently the boy and girl are a resurrection of the protagonists of the TV series, and the evil mummy who seeks to re-open the door connecting Byston Well to our world is a character who was doomed to eternal life at the end of the TV show. It's actually all rather confusing because you are just plunged right into the action without any explanation. A basic knowledge of the premise of the Aura Battler mecha is obviously assumed, since these OVAs appended compilations of the TV show.

    The story progresses quite quickly and without any undue exposition, not wasting a minute of its meager three episode allotment. The fantasy world is richly expressed, with many colorful creatures and settings. The whole story evolves over one quick arc of action, with the tables turning several times leading up to the cataclysmic denouement that you expect of a Tomino production. The influence of Nausicaa is quite palpable in the overall world view, style, and monster designs. A millipede-like underground monster immediately reminds of the flying millipede monster that attacked Nausicaa underground. For good or ill, however, the story avoids the thematic complexity of Nausicaa, opting instead for stock heroism and nonstop battle.

    Directed by erstwhile Tomino associate Toshifumi Takizawa, New Story is a visually unique and intense fantasy that for all its cacophany of constant action comes across as underwhelming somehow. What New Story has going for it is that it's a tautly directed sprint across the land of Byston Well, with far more of a focus on the hardcore fantasy elements than the original TV series. Cramming in so much story into three episodes is a risky endeavor that I can't say pays off completely, but it's an intense ride that grips you from start to finish. Tomino regretted not having started the TV show out with more of a bang, and felt the show never recovered from starting on the wrong foot, so perhaps this is what led to the peremptory dash of New Story.

    By 1988 Takizawa was a great talent in his own right, but he never had pretensions of auteur-dom like Tomino, so he didn't have the sort of identifiable traits that help make such directors popular, but rather remained a pliable craftsman, adapting himself to whatever he worked on to invest it with his own brand of taut cinematic storytelling. In New Story, Takizawa does a good job of emulating a Tomino-esque style of directing. The show has all of the breakneck pacing and manic cutting that are staples of Tomino's work - the cinematic framing with characters engaging in actions while talking rather than straight shots of talking heads, the sequences of pans and zooms to maintain a feeling of forward narrative momentum. The presentation is so determinedly oblique and frenetic, in fact, that it renders the story somewhat hard to follow at times, true to the Tomino aesthetic.

    What sets the series apart and makes it notable is its production style: The mecha are mostly drawn with background drawings rather than animation drawings. Typically in anime you have the animation drawings, drawn on cels with flat colors, overlaid over the backgrounds drawn by the art department. Sometimes if you need a bush or something "in front of" a character, you will have something called a "book" - basically a piece of background art drawn by the art department, but with its outline cut out so that it can be placed on top of the animation drawing. This makes it seem like the background surrounds the characters.

    What seems to be happening in New Story is that they've drawn all the mecha as books. Either this, or they invented some new technique to allow them to paint on cels the way Tadanari Okamodo did in The Soba Flower of Mt. Oni (which I obviously doubt). So you basically have the mecha drawn as background art in the midst of a shot in which all of the rest of the character and effect animation is drawn on cels, which have a completely different color scheme that makes the difference quite stark. It actually contributes well to giving the OVA a more fantastical atmosphere befitting the material. We're accustomed to seeing mecha in the simplified forms and flat colors of cel animation, so it feels sumptuous to see the mecha rendered this way. Rather than a toy advertisement, it actually feels like a fantasy world. The monolithic, plodding movement that results from having to use a single drawing also contributes to imparting a feeling of the vast size of the mecha.

    Above you can see some examples of the art mecha drawings interacting with the cel drawings. It makes for a slightly unsettling experience, as it upturns how we've been trained through experience to parse the animation screen. Normally the cel drawings can affect the backgrounds, but not vice-versa. Here, the background drawings are affecting the background drawings. For example, in the left drawing, the art mecha crashes into the art wall, producing cel bricks and dust.

    This is an unusual choice for a mecha show, since the whole point of using animated drawings is so that you can simplify the drawings to complete the animation in a shorter time. It's not unprecedented, though. Nausicaa was the show's big influence in many ways, so it's possible that the Ohmu were the inspiration behind this technique. It also brings to mind the way the castle in Howl was animated with patches of background art to give it that special look. Coincidentally or not, the photography director of most of the great Sunrise OVAs of this period, including New Story, was Atsushi Okui, the guy who went on to come up with that special way of animating the castle in Howl.

    This technique must have been adopted in order to bring alive the unique mecha art drawn by Yutaka Izubuchi. The original mecha designer of the TV show was Miyatake Kazutaka, and he is the one who pioneered the more daring, organic, non-linear designs that make Dunbine unique, but Izubuchi gradually wound up taking over as designer on the TV show. A book of his artwork called Aura Fhantasm pushed this design aesthetic even further, featuring far more organic and daring drawings than the original TV show, really bringing out the insectoid nature of the designs.

    Above is an example showing the contrast. The only way to bring these drawings alive would be to draw them as background art, and I assume that is what led to this approach being adopted for this OVA series. This would have been impossible in a TV show, but perhaps the OVA format allowed them more liberties. I'm curious whether this would have had the effect of lengthening or shortening the production process, since it cuts down on the number of drawings but conversely requires more complicated drawings.

    There are actually some shots where the mecha are drawn as usual on cels, which is confusing. I'm guessing that rather than this being a time constraint thing, there were simply occasional shots that required actual movement to convey the action, which wouldn't be possible with a single art drawing panning across the screen. Apparently the stylistic mismatch didn't bother them - it's actually confusing when suddenly, from one shot to the next, the mecha look completely different, with the flat colors of cel shading. This highlights the fact that, although visually sumptuous, the downside of this technique of using bg art for the mecha is that it is somewhat static and lacking in dynamism. No sprightly mecha fights when the mecha are art drawings - only looming pans.

    The staff side of things is fairly different from the TV series, which contributes to making the OVA feel distinct. The character designer is Takehiko Ito (under the pen name Hiroyuki Hataike) rather than Bebow's Tomonori Kogawa, and the mecha designer is Yutaka Izubuchi rather than Miyatake Kazutaka. The music is by Reijiro Koroku rather than Tsubonou Katsuhiro. (Koroku was a student of Koichi Sugiyama, who did the music for Ideon) And of course, the storyboarder/director is Takizawa Toshifumi rather than Tomino. I'm rather fond of the music, which has a stridently modernist sound that reminds of a contemporary composer like Wolfgang Rihm.

    The animation is the product of the same studios I talked about last time: Anime R and Dove. Not surprising given how constant a presence they are in (non-Tomino) Sunrise productions of this era. Anime R basically sakkans Dove's animation. Moriyasu Taniguchi is the sakkan and Toru Yoshida is the mecha sakkan, while the animators are the main Dove animators in Mellowlink: Hiroshi Koizumi, Nobuyoshi Nishimura, Misao Nakano and Shinichi Sakuma. Mellowlink was produced by this same team immediately after New Story. Of course, due to the nature of the production, that doesn't leave Toru Yoshida much to do, but perhaps the mecha animation wasn't entirely handled by the background department, but rather done like a Dezaki 'harmony' shot, in which they key animator draws a drawing, and this is painted over by the art department. Perhaps Yutaka Izubuchi himself even helped with the mecha drawings. The credits are unhelpful in this regard.

    The annoying thing is that something went wrong with the animation and the character drawings are not up to the level that they should be in view of this staffing. There is some decent animation, but much of it is marred by sub-par drawings in which the proportions seems to be wavering dangerously close to falling apart. The drawings are wobbly and weak in a way that reminds me of Good Morning Althea, which leads me to suspect that the inbetweens are the problem. But the inbetweens are by Dove, so I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, this is not nearly as good a showcase of Anime R and Dove as their next project Mellowlink.


    New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine (OVA, 3 eps, 1988, Sunrise)

    Creator & Supervisor:富野由悠季Yoshiyuki Tomino
    Director & Storyboard:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
    Line Director:篠幸裕Yukihiro Shino
    Script:五武冬史Fuyunori Gobu
    Character Design:幡池裕行Hiroyuki Hataike
    Mechanical Design & Special Advisor:出渕裕Yutaka Izubuchi
    Animation Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
    Mecha Animation Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Music:小六禮次郎Reijiro Koroku
    Key Animation:(ep 1)スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
    古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
    西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    (ep 2)スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
    古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
    西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    (ep 3)スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
    古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
    西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
     佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
     アニメ・アールAnime R
     吉田徹Toru Yoshida
     糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
    1 commentPermalink

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013

    05:48:00 pm , 3236 words, 13945 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Studio: Anime R, Studio: Dove, Director: Toshifumi Takizawa, 1980s

    Armor Hunter Mellowlink

    I've already written about the canonical analog outings of Armored Trooper Votoms: the TV show, the three early one-shot OVAs, and Radiant Heretic. The only show from the early period I didn't cover in that post was Armor Hunter Mellowlink, which is a side-story not involving the main characters in the rest of the Votoms productions. I just had the chance to watch it, and it was every bit as good as I was expecting. As much as I love the Votoms saga, it's a huge endeavor to get into it. Mellowlink is a dense, high-quality, 12-episode summation of what makes Votoms best in a one-shot series format that doesn't require piecing together a long, complicated story. It might be the best place to start for newcomers.

    Mellowlink is a more unmitigatedly serious story than it might seem at first sight from the bland, boyish character design of its protagonist, who looks like a young Shirotzugh. It makes for nice viewing because it focuses largely on pushing forward with its uncomplicated linear narrative arc without wasting too much breath on side-stories or world building or other genre conventions. It's mostly a straight-up hardcore military revenge flick. Despite being borne of a robot show, it's largely devoid of robots. It's more realistic, if not completely realistic per se, with a more down-to-earth, unglamorous style of storytelling. I've always wanted to see this kind of show done in an unmitigatedly realistic style for once, without the token hijinx and predictable storytelling elements, and this show comes closer than most shows, though it still inevitably falls victim to many genre conventions. It's not purely hard-boiled and has some moments of predictably jarring comic relief. However, for a Sunrise production, it's largely devoid of mecha robo tomfoolery, and its tone is for the most part quite serious-minded and unadorned in a pleasing way.

    Mellowlink is essentially a story of revenge. Mellowlink Arity was a member of a platoon that was sent to certain death to cover the theft of a military arsenal by a band of corrupt military commanders. The skilled platoon fights valiantly but is eventually overcome, and all but Mellow are killed. Mellow's unexpected survival throws a wrench in the plans, so Mellow is made the scapegoat in a show trial to deflect blame for the scandal. However, he escapes and vows to hunt down the men responsible for the death of his comrades. The series is essentially broken down into two halves. Each of the first six episodes are stand-alone episodes in which Mellow hunts down a military commander involved in the scandal, while the second half is a continuous story that gradually ties all the threads together and reveals the sordid machinations of the military.

    Mellowlink is set in the same universe as the rest of Votoms, but features a completely different cast, and presumably takes place on the sidelines of the main show. Whereas Votoms features sci-fi trappings like spaceships and teleportation in addition to more realistic Vietnam-style stories, Mellowlink omits the sci-fi and hones things down to the (IMO more appealing and characteristic) realistic war-story facet of the saga embodied by the 2nd arc of the original TV show, the Kumen Arc. Indeed, the Kumen jungle features in episode 3 of Mellowlink, while episode 2 of Mellowlink harkens back to the first arc of the TV show, the Udo arc, with its dystopian future city and AT battling arena.

    Directed by Takeyuki Kanda rather than Ryosuke Takahashi, Mellowlink does for Votoms what The 08th MS Platoon later did for Gundam: explore the down and dirty world of the grunts of their respective universes in a high-quality OVA side-story. Kanda had helped Ryosuke Takahashi direct his first robot show Dougram from 1981 to 1983 and later worked with Takahashi on the two sub OVAs Silent Service and Deep Blue Fleet. He died midway through production of The 08th MS Team. He is perhaps best known for Round Vernan Vifam, a classic 1980s Sunrise robot show.

    Despite being set in the far future, Mellowlink feels cut from the cloth of a WWII film in design and atmosphere. Mellowlink rides around in a motorcycle-sidecar combination, and the outfits and architecture seem to be a mix of Victorian and mid-20th century. If Votoms attempts to eliminate the yuusha/heroic element from the robo anime genre by making the robots nothing but mechanized weapons in the form of mass-produced bipedal tanks, Mellowlink seems to go one step further by creating a robot anime in which the hero doesn't even pilot a robot. The hero specializes in killing ATs with nothing more than his wits and an anti-AT rifle, the robo anime equivalent of an anti-tank rifle.

    Mellow studiously avoids killing anyone except his intended victims, namely the ranking commanders who ordered his platoon's death. He never kills any underlings, only targeting the higher-ups who use foot soldiers such as himself as throwaway pawns. In true kataki-uchi samurai movie fashion, before killing his victim, he hands them the dog tag of one of his fallen comrades to drive home the justice of his revenge. He is a stoic combination of commando and MacGyver. Overwhelmingly outgunned, he he uses his wits, his surroundings, and his foot soldier training to outwit his opponents. At the final moment, he smears his face with blood, oil or whatever liquid is available and makes it a point to kill his victim not with a bullet but with the bayonet-like Pile Bunker on the end of his anti-AT rifle. This is critical to his revenge. His platoon was stripped of its ATs and sent to certain death armed with nothing but these archaic weapons, so Mellow makes it a point of pride to kill his enemies in the overwhelmingly outgunned state in which they left him.

    Mellow is a simple character both in design and script. His expression is one of permanent glowering, he never smiles, and on the rare occasion that he speaks, it only in relation to his cause. His personality is not very complex, and we don't learn much about him beyond his single-minded quest. He is a no-nonsense revenge machine deliberately pared down to steely sinew and purpose. The show fills the void of personality with the mysterious side characters whose significance is revealed apace. Mellow is there as a vehicle to tell a story about military corruption and to provide for a charismatic hero in the spirit of Chirico Cuvie, his obvious model. Mellow is a more likeable character because he is not a superhuman like Chirico. His wits and military training are what keep him alive, not some supernatural agency. A tragic sense of purpose lies behind Mellow's strong, silent personality, but deep down he's a sensitive kid who can get flustered by a beautiful girl.

    The series feels tight and well structured. Its pacing feels just right for the story it tells. It's entertaining, with nice action sequences, and the plot about military cover-ups that gradually unfolds is satisfyingly believable, perhaps having vaguely been inspired by the recent Iran-Contra affair. It's not a space opera with battling heroes, but a grimy story about the dirty underbelly of political machinations within military organizations, which see soldiers as nothing more than cannon fodder. Mellowlink is the kind of anti-hero who we want to root for: simple and oblivious to political intrigue, he is only out to do what is right by his sense of basic human justice, and single-handedly faces down the powers that be with the ingenuity and determination of a lone wolf.

    The recurring character Kiek is interesting, as he develops into an important plot element later on, but to the end the female sidekick/romantic interest Lulucy felt as superfluous and distracting as the side-characters in Votoms. The story of a girl of royal lineage who ran away to become a roving card dealer seems thrown in and poorly developed, and it never feels believable for a girl like her to be tagging along with Mellow as he sprints around killing ATs with a giant rifle. That aspect feels like one of the show's weakest points.

    The episodic nature of the show makes each episode a surprise by providing Mellowlink with new terrain in which to work his battle tactics. The pithy one-word English episode naming seems appropriate to the terse atmosphere, and also serves to indicate the new battlefield of each episode. It's very entertaining watching how a lone individual can outgun an AT using the most basic of technologies (an AT rifle and mines) through clever tactics. In episode 1 he infiltrates a military base and lures out its commander, engaging in a one-on-one in desert-like terrain. In episode 2 he fights in the jungle. In episode 3 he battles it out in the arena.

    Episode 4 is perhaps my favorite in the series. Storyboarded and directed by Shinji Takamatsu, it's a masterful example of visual storytelling. Most of the episode transpires without dialogue. The hunter becomes the hunted as Mellow is lured by one of his targets into the interior of a wrecked battleship with its nose rammed into the earth. The ship is tilted at an angle, so all of the action in the episode takes place at an angle, creating a disorienting effect that makes the action all the more tense and unpredictable, as the characters are struggling at every moment to maintain their balance in their surroundings. The best part is that no mecha whatsoever are present in the episode (except as physical obstacles). This seems like the ultimate expression of the whole Votoms universe to me. First you turn the heroic mecha robo into nothing but war machines, then you have the hero not even pilot a robo, then you strip away the robos altogether, and you get to what, deep down, the show was about all along: a tense, realistic, detail-oriented action-heavy hard-sci-fi thriller, devoid of the MacGuffins.

    Episode 5 is a flashback episode that fills us in on the background. Written by Ryosuke Takahashi himself to get the details of this important setup episode right, it avoids being a straight "flashback" episode by having Mellowlink wandering through the desert and supposedly hallucinate a dream in which he re-lives the events that led to his platoon getting massacred. The death of Mellowlink's platoon doesn't have much emotional impact because we had never seen the characters until a minute before they're killed, but I don't mind this. It was obviously done this way due to length constraints, but I prefer this to being regaled with episode after episode of meaningless character development that is obviously merely there to manipulate me into feeling for characters whose fate is to die. The flashback ends just as Mellowlink escapes from the courtroom, cleverly avoiding the task of fleshing out precisely how he achieved such an improbable feat, surrounded as he was by armed soldiers.

    Set in a prison, episode 6 is one of the weaker episodes, although there's nothing technically wrong with it. I just don't like its ill-conceived mix of brutality and cutesiness. It has some powerful torture scenes that set a heavy tone for the episode, only to be followed up immediately by scenes of cute anime girls dancing on a stage. It's like going from Violence Jack to Creamy Mami in the same episode. Obviously it wasn't possible for Takahashi to excise all of the conventions and create something of a truly uniform tone until later with Pailsen Files, although Takahashi is an entertainer first and foremost, and has himself said that he doesn't want to make dark stories, so I'm sure he signed off on the lighter elements in Votoms as well as here. I obviously have expectations of Votoms not on par with those of the creator.

    The episodes from 7 onward continue with a continuing story that comes to a head with the gradual revelation of the truth behind the scandal.

    The animation

    Mellowlink is the summum opus of the two studios behind the best of Votoms: Anime R and Dove. This is the ultimate expression of their work on the show, as the two never worked on the show again in such a solo fashion, although Toru Yoshida did act as mecha sakkan on Radiant Heretic along with a few scattered R/Dove animators. The combination of good storytelling and animation by R and Dove make Mellowlink a supreme pleasure to watch, one of the best OVAs of the period that nobody has seen.

    The mecha action scenes that are the calling card of the show are thrilling and dense. There's a style of hand-drawn mecha action here that was a product of the age and can no longer be seen anywhere. Even within a few years on a show like Gundam 0083 the style of the mecha action is already very different - heavier, more laborious, less dynamic and pliable. The years around 1988-1989 are among my favorite years for mecha animation.

    Moriyasu Taniguchi's characters meanwhile are appealingly designed without being quite as idiosyncratic as SPT Layzner. Character animation was never the forte of Dove or R, per se, but the characters are for the most part satisfyingly animated due to Taniguchi's stylish corrections, even if sometimes you wish the expressions and body language were a little more dynamic. R seems to invest the characters with a little more spontaneity and verve that is the product of the studio's culture that was more forgiving of personality and play than Dove. That comes through in the animation. Dove's animation remains solid and professional, while R's is more willful and nuanced.

    R and Dove essentially alternate handling an episode, although there is a lot of overlap, some of which is due to the extenuating circumstance of the death of Hiroshi Koizumi midway through production. This is the last Votoms outing featuring the two studios that defined the show up until that point. The next outing, Radiant Heretic, switches up the staff.

    The main differences between Mellowlink and the rest of Votoms is: the characters here are designed by Moriyasu Taniguchi of Anime R, rather than Norio Shioyama, and the director is not Takahashi Ryosuke but Takeyuki Kanda (who also storyboards episodes 2, 5, 8 and 11 under the pen name Yuichiro Yokoyama). Also, Soji Yoshikawa is not involved as a writer. Otherwise, Ryosuke Takahashi handles the series structure and writes two episodes, episode 5 and 11. Hiroki Inui provides another lovely noodling avant-jazz score, and Kunio Okawara designs the mecha, as in the rest of Votoms.

    Toru Yoshida of Anime R is the mecha sakkan for the Anime R episodes, and his mecha and effects are beautiful. At this period of time Anime R still had most of its best animators, and they put their all into their episodes here. Hiroyuki Okiura even shows up for a bit in the last episode. Dove, meanwhile, was at the height of its powers, and Hiroshi Koizumi did the last work of his tragically brief life in episode 6. It seems the show was originally supposed to be produced entirely by these two studios, but this changed with the death of Hiroshi Koizumi, and they had to start calling in other studios from episode 6 onwards to finish the episodes on time. Studio Dove is credited as mecha sakkan in episodes 2 and 4, but this actually means Hiroshi Koizumi.

    Apparently the reason for this is that the president of Dove, Tadashi Yahata, had this thing against any single individual gaining attention at Dove; he wanted the studio as a whole to receive credit. Yahata had no need for star animators or individuality, and he placed arduous demands on his animators and was the first to open the door for them to leave if they complained. This is just one aspect of the unforgiving, hard-nosed atmosphere at Dove that drove many animators away from the studio. It's also why you could get talented animators like Hiroshi Koizumi toiling away there and yet not receiving much recognition for their work in their time. It's a philosophy that's the antithesis of a more easygoing and artist-centric studio like Anime R, where play was not just permitted but understood to be the driving force of creativity. And yet the two studios produced magnificent animation that blends perfectly together on a string of Ryosuke Takahashi shows in the late 1980s. It's a strange and beautiful mystery.

    The Dove mecha sakkan credit in episode 6 stands for Nobuyoshi Nishimura, who stepped in as pinch hitter to fill in the void left by Hiroshi Koizumi. Toru Yoshida acted as the mecha sakkan on all of the remaining episodes, in which Dove was mostly involved in piecemeal fashion alongside other subcontractors, obviously under considerable systemic stress due to the loss of their lead animator.

    On the directing side of things, Takizawa Toshifumi storyboards episode 1, but Takashi Imanishi, Shinji Takamatsu and Shinichiro Watanabe/Takeyuki Kanda take over from there on out, and for the most part do a very fine job indeed. I'm particularly impressed by the Watanabe/Kanda episodes for a reason I find hard to pin down. They have a feeling of more deliberate cinematic presentation. This was only Watanabe's second job as episode director after the Dirty Pair OVAs the previous year. He drew his first storyboard immediately after Mellowlink in 1990.


    Armor Hunter Mellowlink 機甲猟兵メロウリンク
    (OVA, 12 eps, 1988-1989, Sunrise)

    Director:神田武幸Takeyuki Kanda
    Created by/Series Structure:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
    Character Design/Sakkan:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
    Mechanic Design:大河原邦男Kunio Okawara
    Music:乾裕樹Hiroki Inui
    Art:平川英治Eiji Hirakawa


    Episode 1: Wilderness

    Storyboard:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
    Director:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
     
    Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
     
    アニメアールAnime R
    吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
    貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
    糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
    浜川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa
    小森高博Takahiro Komori
    小川瑞恵Mizue Ogawa
    福江光恵Mitsue Fukue
    木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
    能地清Kiyoshi Noji


    Episode 2: Colosseum

    Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
    Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
     
    Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
    中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


    Episode 3: Jungle

    Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
    Director:
     
    Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Key Animators:アニメ・アールAnime R
    井上哲Tetsu Inoue
    貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
    木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
    小森高博Takahiro Komori
    福江光恵Mitsue Fukue
    吉田徹Toru Yoshida
     
    スタジオ・ムーStudio Mu
    黄瀬和哉Kazuchika Kise
    山本佐和子Sawako Yamamoto
    大島康弘Yasuhiro Oshima


    Episode 4: Leaning Tower

    Storyboard:高松信司Shinji Takamatsu
    Director:
     
    Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
    中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


    Episode 5: Battlefield

    Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
    Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
     
    Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Key Animators:アニメ・アールAnime R
    木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
    吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
    小森高博Takahiro Komori
    井上哲Tetsu Inoue
    吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
     
    スタジオダブStudio Dove
    古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


    Episode 6: Prison

    Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
    Director:
     
    Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
     
    堀沢聡志Satoshi Horisawa
    武藤照美Terumi Muto
    筱雅律Masanori Shino
    河村佳江Yoshie Kawamura


    Episode 7: Railway

    Storyboard:高松信司Shinji Takamatsu
    Director:
     
    Asst Sakkan:八幡正Tadashi Yahata
    Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    Key Animators:西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


    Episode 8: Ghost Town

    Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
    Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
     
    Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Key Animators:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    井上哲Tetsu Inoue
    小森高博Takahiro Komori
    木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
    福江光恵Mitsue Fukue
    吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
    光岡玲子Reiko Mitsuoka


    Episode 9: Forest

    Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
    Director:
     
    Asst Sakkan:山田きさらかKisaraka Yamada
    Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Key Animators:スタジオマークStudio Mark
    中西賢治Kenji Nakanishi
    林伸昌Nobumasa Hayashi
    森脇賢治Kenji Moriwaki
    高梨光Hikaru Takanashi
     
    グループゼンGroup Zen
    野田康行Yasuyuki Noda
    福原惠次Keiji Fukuhara
    藤田正幸Masayuki Fujita
     
    武藤照美Terumi Muto
    筱雅律Masanori Shino
    中沢登Noboru Nakazawa


    Episode 10: Castle

    Storyboard:高松信司Shinji Takamatsu
    Director:
     
    Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
     
    タイガープロダクションTiger Production
    宮崎龍四郎Tatsushiro Miyazaki
    本間正Tadashi Honma
    大戸幸子Yukiko Oe
    鈴木佐智子Sachiko Suzuki


    Episode 11: Base

    Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
    Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
     
    Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
    西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    藁谷均Hitoshi Waratani
    中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
    佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
    木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
    津幡佳明Yoshiaki Tsubata


    Episode 12: Last Stage

    Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
    Director:
     
    Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Key Animators:アニメ・アールAnime R
    沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
    河村佳江Yoshie Kawamura
    木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
    小森高博Takahiro Komori
    吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
     
    スタジオダブStudio Dove
    木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
     
    福井享子Ryoko Fukui
    1 commentPermalink

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    10:47:00 pm , 1080 words, 9484 views     Categories: OVA, Studio, Studio: Kaname, Studio: Giants, 1980s

    Bavi Stock

    Kaname Production is one of the legendary studios of the 1980s. Their two films Birth and Windaria are classics that embody some of the best aspects of the decade. They made a few other OVAs during their short life, and Bavi Stock (1985) is one of the lesser known ones, not without reason.

    Two episodes were released, one in late 1985 and one in late 1986. The first, jointly produced by Kaname and Studio Giants, features some decent work, while the second, produced by Studio Unicorn, is bottom-of-the-barrel OVA dreck with no redeeming value. (Unicorn produced the least well-animated episodes of Pink Jacket Lupin around the same time)

    Bavi Stock is not a lost treasure by any means. Apart from an exciting opening chase scene, the 45 minutes of this OVA drag on without ever getting interesting or exciting. The story is messy and not compelling, the characters stereotypes, and the directing is halting and clumsy.

    The animation is mostly unremarkable other than the opening chase. Ostensibly a sci-fi racing anime a la Redline, the racing scene isn't very satisfying - all of the racers except the protagonist and the baddie get wiped out at the start without regaling us with any entertaining racing antics. And from what I could tell (I couldn't stand to watch it all), the second OVA takes a completely different tack, dropping the racing premise. The drawings are fairly decent throughout episode 1 (episode 2 is unwatchable) thanks to the Giants sakkans, but it's not quite enough to save the OVA.

    This OVA is only worth revisiting for Kaname completists and to see a bit of lively work by the Giants animators.

    Studio Giants was another good studio of this period, training a number of talented animators who went on to work at Gainax when it was founded a few years later. Their presence adds a slightly different touch to the distinctive Kaname style that makes this OVA look a little different from the other Kaname OVAs.

    Masayuki animated the opening chase, which is the best bit in the episode. It gives a good picture of what kind of crazy animator Masayuki was at this period - part Masahito Yamashita with his breakneck background animation and part Yoshinori Kanada with the playful insertions and madcap posing, but mixed up into a very convincing and pleasingly original style. Masayuki was undeniably one of the most exciting animators of the 1983-1986 period, and his work on the TV shows Sasuga no Sarutobi (1982-1984), Rampo (1984) and Gu-Gu Ganmo (1984-1985) is worth discovering.

    Kaname was a short-lived studio founded in 1982 and closed in 1988. They were founded by expats of Ashi Pro including animator Mutsumi Inomata and animator-turned-director Shigenori Kageyama. Inomata became something of a fan favorite of the period with her cute, twee character design style showcased throughout most of Kaname's productions. Shigenori Kageyama switched to directing at Kaname, and Bavi Stock was his debut. He also designed the characters with the assistance of Inomata. Inomata has since retired from animation. Kageyama remains active as a director is likely to blame for the mediocre outcome of this OVA; his later credits include Zeguy, Yamato 2520 and Queen's Blade. Other Kaname outings benefited from Ashi Pro veteran Kunihiko Yuyama's directing.

    Kaname started their life working as a subcontractor on the TV shows Acrobunch (1982) and Sasuga no Sarutobi (1982-1984) and went on to create their own show Plawres Sanshiro (1983-1984) before moving into the OVA market with Birth (1984) after their TV project for this story failed to materialize. Thereon out they continued to focus on OVAs. These include Leda (1985), Fandora (1985-1986), Windaria (1986), The Humanoid (1986) and Watt Poe (1988).

    It's presumably working on Sarutobi where they became acquainted with Studio Giants, as Studio Giants produced some crazy animation on the show courtesy of their animators like Masayuki and Masahiro Shida. Kaname essentially handled the creative aspects of this OVA while Giants for the most part handled the animation, with their animators Masahiro Shida and Naoto Takahashi (using the pen name Ryunosuke Otonashi) acting as sakkans.

    Masuo Shoichi, though not involved here, was another member of Studio Giants at the time, working on different shows from Masayuki et al. Even this early in his career you can see very good work by him in Orguss (1983-1984) featuring the sort of tricky, three-dimensional mecha action that he became known for.

    After working on Bavi Stock, Masayuki migrated to Gainax to work on Honneamise (1987) together with Shunji Suzuki, so this OVA is a snapshot of where these animators were at stylistically immediately prior to them becoming amalgamated into the Gainax style. Kazuya Tsurumaki, who initially joined Studio Giants due to his admiration for Masayuki, quit Giants to join Gainax after being denied the opportunity to work on Gainax productions from Giants. Shoichi Masuo also eventually became a regular participant in Gainax productions.

    I also found this OVA interesting because the credits are all in (somewhat mangled) English, and the translations they use for the main roles are different from those that have become standard today. Rather than key animator and inbetweener, they refer to animator and assistant animator. These are terms used in western animation that roughly approximate the role of genga and doga. It's not just the credits that are western; the whole production appears to deliberately emulate western sci-fi/action movies in a very self-conscious way. Episode 2 features Ewok lookalikes and spaceships that are a clear knock-off of Star Wars. Writing the credits (and title) in English just completes the impression.


    Bavi Stock (2 eps, 45 mins each)
    Vol. 1 released December 20, 1985, produced by Kaname Production & Studio Giants
    Vol. 2 released November 25, 1986, produced by Studio Unicorn

    Episode 1 main credits

    (The following is an excerpt of the credits transcribed as-is from the credit roll. The only difference is that, for reference purposes, I've added the studio to which each name belonged in parentheses, to the best of my knowledge.)

    Planned by:Hiro Media Associates Inc.
    Kaname Production Co.
    General producer:Hiromasa Shibazaki
    Producer:Toshihiro Nagao
    Script by:Kenji Terada
    Directed, designed character by:Shigenori Kageyama (Kaname)
    Guest character designed by:Mutsumi Inomata (Kaname)
    Production designer:Takahiro Toyomasu (Kaname)
    Sub mechanical designer:Masanori Nishii
    Art director:Geki Katsumata
    Music:Yasuaki Honda
    Production coordinator:Tetsuo Kadoya (Giants)
    Animation directors:Masahiro Shida (Giants)
     Ryunosuke Otonashi (Giants)
    Animator:Masayuki (Giants)
     Shuji Suzuki (=Shunji Suzuki) (Giants)
     Hiroshi Kanezuka
     Kouji Fukasawa (Giants)
     Akira Sai (Giants)
     Shinetsu Andou (Giants)
     Takeshi Itoh (Giants)
     Takuya Wada (Kaname)
     Mayumi Watanabe (Kaname)
     Hideko Yamauchi (Cindy H. Yamauchi) (Kaname)
     Miyuki Nakano (Kaname)
    Assistant animator:Atsuko Ishida (Kaname)
     Toshiyuki Tsuru (Giants)
     Kazuya Tsurumaki (Giants)
     etc.
    Co Production Coopereted By:  Studio Giants
    Produced by:Hiro Media Associates Inc.
     Kaname Production Co.
     Nikkatsu Video Films Co.

    Sunday, August 25, 2013

    05:35:00 pm , 642 words, 7655 views     Categories: Short, Director: Gisaburo Sugii, 1980s

    Gisaburo Sugii's Kakurenbo

    I thought I'd start easy with a warm-up post on a Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi episode that I discovered recently. I've written about this show often, but even after all these years I'm still going through unwatched episodes and discovering gems.

    The episode entitled Kakurenbo or Hide and Seek was aired on March 12, 1983. (watch) It's written and directed by Gisaburo Sugii, with animation by longtime Mushi Pro/Tac associate Teruto Kamiguchi and art by Minoru Aoki. Teruto Kamiguchi and Minoru Aoki were the animator/art team behind The 11 Cats three years before.

    This is an odd episode. It's not a folk tale like the rest of the series. Gisaburo Sugii may have made the story up himself. An old couple decide to play hide and seek in their old house. That's it. No moral, no story. Atmosphere is paramount. It's all shadowy corners and slow pans.

    It seems innocuous and whimsical enough at first, but as the old man seeks his way in the dark, silence envelops him and panic sets in. The quiet of the house is overwhelming and echoes the solitude after one's life partner has died. He sees his wife being taken away by a demon and shouts at her not to go. In the end, he finds her asleep in the cauldron. Reassured, they go on playing hide and seek to while away the time, innocent as bored children on a rainy day once again.

    Why is this old couple playing hide and seek? Is the old man in the grips of dementia? Are they ghosts? Or is it all innocent nonsense? In the spirit of Maeterlinck, it comes across as a dark metaphor for death and loss masquerading as a children's story about an eccentric old couple.

    The episode has more in common with the shadowy realms of Night on the Galactic Railroad than the dynamic, colorful The 11 Cats. Gisaburo was the master of atmospheric directing, blending silence and minimal animation and camera movement to create a visceral sense of time's ticking clock. Gisaburo never strives to fake reality; he revels in the incongruity of using cartoons to evoke slowly dying time. He has a predilection for wide layouts, in which characters seem dwarfed by their surroundings, and compositions with either a deadpan symmetry or discomfiting obliqueness. The brooding oddity of Gisaburo's directing creates a fascinating contrast between the cartoony characters and the dark subtext.

    In 1983, Gisaburo was just coming to the end of a period in his life where he was actually not working in the industry but rather traveling around the country living a wanderer's life. He subsisted mainly on selling paintings, and mailed in the occasional Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi storyboard just to help him get by. The murky, inky backgrounds here hint at his painterly disposition. I traveled around India earlier this year, and found the lifestyle and the separation from everything familiar intoxicating, so I can relate to his wanderlust. I wonder how this extended traveling changed him and led to the distinctive film language on display in his work from this period like Touch, Night and Genji.

    Teruto Kamiguchi's animation is deceptively deft. Despite having forms like a cross between Shigeru Sugiura and Sazae-san, his characters move with careful timing, grace, and even elegance. The forms stay firm, with only subtle deformation and minimal expressions, but they communicate their emotions through body language. His lanky characters were distinctive and appealing. He deserves more recognition as having developed a unique style of character animation in Japan of pretty much no school.

    Teruto Kamiguchi was in fact the animator (with Higuchi Masakazu) of the very first episode of Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi aired January 7, 1975, Kasajizo. (watch) In later years Kamiguchi tried out different styles, as evidenced by the pleasantly stylized 1992 episode The Sky God and the Sea God, again with art by Minoru Aoki. (watch) A stellar team.

    Sunday, July 1, 2012

    04:04:00 pm , 1847 words, 6903 views     Categories: OVA, Movie, Studio: Anime R, 1980s

    Hyper-Psychic-Geo Garaga

    Garaga (1989) is an interesting obscurity from the late 1980s. I had never heard of it before looking into it recently while pursuing Anime R's filmography, but it's a rather interesting project for a number of reasons.

    Initially planned as an OVA, it was extended to movie length and had a limited theatrical run before being released on video - so in a way it's both a movie and an OVA. The texture of the film is indeed a mix between the two - it has the pacing of a film, but the quality feels more like an OVA.

    It is one of the few big theatrical projects that brought together the Anime R animators of the Votoms-Layzner period (or most of them; Kazuaki Mouri and Fumiko Kishi are missing) in one place, headlined by Moriyasu Taniguchi handling the characters and Toru Yoshida handling the mecha.

    Garaga was based on a manga by Satomi Mikuriya, who had previously directed (and written and storyboarded and designed) an adaptation of her manga Nora in 1985. She earned a place in anime history for a different reason as the director of the CGI part of the Golgo 13 movie.

    The director was Hidemi Kubo, whose career prior to this consisted almost entirely of animation work on the classic Topcraft co-productions like The Last Unicorn and The Hobbit. Hidemi Kubo is actually the younger brother of Tsuguyuki Kubo, the lead character designer during the Topcraft era. I wrote a bit about Topcraft previously here.

    By 1985, when Topcraft had disbanded after the production of Nausicaa (1984) and been replaced by Ghibli, many of the ex-Topcraft staff moved to a company called PAC (Pacific Animation Corporation). It's here that Hidemi Kubo, as one of the directors of Thundercats (1985), switched tracks to directing.

    Garaga from a few years later was Hidemi Kubo's first big job as a director of an entire project. It's his directing that actually makes me like this project. His directing is very different from anything I've seen in anime before. You sense that there's something 'foreign' about it, something alien to the rhythms and conventions of anime film language. The pacing is more leisurely and relaxed. Scenes of character interaction unfold in a way that catches you by surprise. Watching anime, you come to know how certain characters will respond in certain situations. Kubo's directing is one of the few places I've seen a Japanese director who undermines those expectations, probably quite unintentionally. It's clear that his training at Topcraft is what forms the basis for this unique rhythm.

    Even the action doesn't feel like typical anime. In anime you typically have set-pieces that arrive at a set point, and suddenly the program switches gears into 'action scene' mode. That's not the case here. Here everything unfolds as a seamless whole. Occasionally there will be a moment of action that goes on for 30 seconds, but is then subsumed back within the unfolding narrative without any particular shift in rhythm.

    The choreography and layout also doesn't have the visuals-centric feeling of most anime. What sets anime apart from commercial productions in the rest of the world is its sense of style and edginess in the presentation of the images. Topcraft was unique for evolving in a vacuum, as it were, uninfluenced by, for example, the very tightly controlled drawing and timing of the A Pro animators in the 1970s. With virtually no limitation on the number of drawings they could use, they didn't develop that very image-based approach to animation that was the result of those limitations that most animators working on Japanese TV shows had to work within. The downside to this is that the storytelling could equally well be criticized for being somewhat bland and monotone and sluggish. It's true that it lacks somewhat in dynamism. But it's such a refreshing change that I think it offers an interesting counter-argument to the typical anime style.

    One thing I particularly like about this show is how the frailty of life is well expressed. Often in anime people will receive blow after blow and be fine in a way that would not be possible in real life, or fall from a great height without incurring almost any injury because it would inconvenience the plot for an injury to occur at that point. In Garaga at one point a character is bear-hugged by a bad guy and winds up dying. In any other anime he would have been fine. In another scene, a character falls from his aircraft and another character goes out of her way to pad his fall with a psychic beam. In any other anime, he would have fallen to the ground and been stunned temporarily but gotten up afterwards as if nothing had happened, whereas in reality that fall would have resulted in death or broken bones.

    The story itself is rather pleasant story about how a group of space travellers crash-land on a planet and find themselves caught in the middle of a power struggle between three sides - two indigenous populations and a foreign power. The dynamics of manipulation between the different powers were compelling and believable and the film kept me interested the whole time. I liked how the character dynamics felt different from the usual anime. One downside is that there wasn't a very strong single main character for the audience to invest in, but I personally liked that. I like group-based movies like this.

    I haven't seen Thundercats since it aired (I watched it in real time) but I suspect if I had a chance to re-watch it I would notice a similarity to the pacing. The only criticism I might have was that in the second half I got very confused and had a hard time following what was going on because there were so many different sides to the conflict and it was difficult keeping them all straight with their similar-sounding names. (well, that, and the big reveal at the end that the android was the bad guy was a little disappointing)

    On the animation side of things, the film is almost 100% Anime R. 18 out of the 23 key animators are Anime R people, and the two sakkans are the usual Anime R sakkans. The films does have a very strong Anime R vibe, with many scenes of exciting action, good mecha and effects animation, and character drawings that are clearly identifiable as Taniguchi. Taniguchi designed the characters presumably based on the manga, but he made them his and the designs are pleasing to look at, although they're not as stylized as his Layzner designs. Taniguchi also receives the novel credit of "Total Visual Director" (in English). I'm not sure what it means, but it clearly suggests that Taniguchi had a role that went beyond merely that of a face corrector. Perhaps he did something in the vein of the more holistic work that Tomonori Kogawa did on Ideon, in which Kogawa also designed the colors of the characters, among other things.

    Toru Yoshida designed the mecha as well as acting as the mecha sakkan, and his mecha are very cool. The designs are very different from the designs of, say, Kunio Okawara, who was behind most of the Sunrise shows on which Toru Yoshida acted as mecha sakkan. His designs feel slightly more futuristic and realistic, with sleek and minimalistic and curvy shapes as opposed to the showy and flamboyant designs of many Sunrise shows. The mecha aren't animated with quite as much verve as they were in Yoshida's episodes of Layzner, but there are moments where you can see his great sense of stylized effects work, like the elegantly arced smoke trail pictured above.

    The only caveat is that for some reasons the drawings feel a little flimsy. The inbetweening was not done by Anime R, so maybe this is part of the reason. It's not nearly as bad as Althea, but it's still noticeable that the drawings are not quite up to the level that the should be considering how much effort has clearly been put into the animation, and that it's not the sakkan's fault.

    There are several nice action scenes, but I can't attribute them to a particular animator. The chase with the helicopter seems to have the style of character drawing I noticed during the arcade scene in Sukeban Deka, though since Kazuaki Mouri isn't credited, if it's the same animator, that would mean it's someone other than Mouri who had that style. The good action animators at Anime R at this period would be Hiroshi Osaka from the generation that debuted on Votoms and Takahiro Kimura and Takahiro Komori from the slightly younger generation that debuted a few years later. I suppose the heli scene was of the hand of one of these guys.

    The only scene I was able to identify with certainty is Hiroyuki Okiura's. He almost certainly drew the scene in the ruined building (the first pic atop). Everything including the timing, the acting and the drawings point to Okiura. The style of the gestures seems clearly influenced by Akira, which Okiura had just worked on, while the drawings have a vague Takashi Nakamura influence, and the movement has a richness and a style of movement that is simply the pure product of Okiura's genius. The animation in this scene feels wonderful, but it's a little disappointing because it's a pretty low-key scene and doesn't show off his talent for action very well. There are only about two or three action shots and the rest is mostly talking heads. But even in the talking heads shots, Okiura's unique style of timing and drawing is unmistakable.

    There were only five non-Anime R animators involved in the film. They are credited in two separate groupings at the bottom below the big Anime R grouping, suggesting two different studios. The Soichiro Matsuda and Shunichi Matsumoto grouping I suspect to have been Studio Mark (which also once featured Yoshiharu Ashino). The Isamu Utsuki, Kenichi Ishimaru and Toyoaki Fukushima grouping I'm not so sure about, but I suspect to be Animation 501. Yuji Yatabe, who is here responsible for the 'structure', was the head of Animation 501, and Isamu Utsuki is credited under Animation 501 in pink jacket Lupin. I've noticed that Hidemi Kubo worked together with Kenichi Ishimaru and Toyoaki Fukushima together on Wataru the year before in 1988, so perhaps he brought them on himself.

    Incidentally, I was wondering how the combo of Hidemi Kubo + Anime R came about. It's an odd combination I wouldn't have expected. It seems Moriyasu Taniguchi worked as an animation director on Thundercats and likely met Hidemi Kubo there.


    HYPER-PSYCHIC-GEO GARAGA ギャラガ (movie/OVA, 1989, 100min, Aubec/Anime R)

    Director, Script, Storyboard:窪秀己Hidemi Kubo
    Based on:御厨さと美
    「惑星ギャラガ」
    "Planet Garaga"
    by Satomi Mikuriya
    Total Visual Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
    Structure:谷田部雄次Yuji Yatabe
    Character Design, Animation Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
    Mecha Design, Mecha Anim. Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    Key animation:木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
    小森高博Takahiro Komori
    吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    柳沢まさひでMasahide Yanagisawa
    逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
    加瀬政広Masahiro Kase
    沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
    糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
    大島康弘Yasuhiro Ojima
    尾林幸男Yukio Ohayashi
    井上哲Tetsu Inoue
    志村直美Naomi Shimura
    能地清Kiyoshi Noji
    藤井満Mitsuru Fujii
    上井康宣Yasunobu Kamii
    岩村幸子Sachiko Iwamura
    有本大作Daisaku Arimoto
     
    谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
     
    宇都木勇Isamu Utsuki
    石丸賢一Kenichi Ishimaru
    福島豊明Toyoaki Fukushima
     
    松本俊一Shunichi Matsumoto
    松田宗一郎Soichiro Matsuda

    Friday, June 29, 2012

    11:51:00 pm , 1123 words, 6680 views     Categories: OVA, Studio: Anime R, 1980s

    Good Morning Althea

    I tend to write about the good OVAs, but they're in the minority. Most OVAs are justly forgotten. The 1987 OVA Good Morning Althea is a prime example of an OVA misfire boasting terrible storytelling and animation. Colony Drop just recently did a write-up on exactly why this show is so bad, so I won't go into the details here, but I thought I'd write my own thoughts as I just had a look at it.

    It's not the worst thing I've seen, but it doesn't have much to recommend it. The poor directing and hackneyed and jumbled story weren't even the worst part of it to me. it's the drawings. They're awful. It looked like fan anime to me. It was impossible for me to take most of the scenes seriously because the character drawings consistently had the amateurish quality of fan art, with the features of the faces and the body proportions drawn all wrong, and clumsy linework.

    The directing is admittedly pretty weak. Hideki Tonokatsu doesn't do a particularly great job of making the story flow interestingly, making it coherent, making the action exciting, or making us invest in the characters and their situation. A show with a stupid story can be saved by good animation, and vice-versa. Althea boasts a lethal combination of bad drawings and bad directing.

    It's not that the animation is bad, though most of the animation is lackluster. There are actually a few shots of decent mecha action, like this one. The mecha look pretty cool, and there's competently drawn most of the time. The fact is, the OVA has some pretty good staff in the credits, which makes it hard to understand why the show turned out so bad. Anime R is a strong presence: Moriyasu Taniguchi is the animation director and Hiroshi Osaka is the mecha animation director. There are a few talented people in the credits including Yasuchika Nagaoka, Hideaki Sakamoto, Atsushi Yano and Hiromitsu Ota, but for the most part it's a mixed bag. It feels like one of those shows where there were issues behind the scenes at the last minute that led to some sudden drastic staff changes. It feels like it was produced in a big scramble.

    The mecha drawings are usually OK, but there's something fundamentally wrong with the character drawings here. I had a hard time placing my finger on why the drawings in this OVA feel 'off', but I've come to the conclusion it's because of the inbetweens. I have a hunch Althea is a case of animation ruined by bad inbetweening.

    Most of the names in the credits of Althea are Japanese, but but presumably due to time or budget constraints, the inbetweening alone was outsourced to a South Korean studio. Anime is known for using South Korea for its inbetweens. I'm not sure when this began, but it was probably in the 1980s. Althea was made at an early stage in the industry when the quality was far worse than it is today, and even today it's common knowledge that there are tremendous limitations on what inbetweeners can or will do.

    Animation drawings of a high caliber like those of Okiura or Ohira apparently require very talented inbetweeners to get the drawings right. If their keys were outsourced to a cut-rate studio, the animation would be ruined. They simplify lines and subtle actions, as you can see if you closely compare the animation of this shot by Bahi JD with the final product.

    I've long heard that the inbetweening stage is a surprisingly important stage that, beyond merely being there to 'fill out' the movement drawn by the key animators, can actually kill the animation if done wrong. Inbetweening is a skill that requires talent in its own way, like key animation, and it has its share of hacks doing lackluster work. To many people, inbetweening is (understandably) a paycheck far more than it is a labor of love. At the same time, if you outsource something for very little money and want it back the next day, don't expect good quality.

    In anime, you never see the lines drawn by key animators (or you do only in special cases). What you are seeing in most anime is the lines drawn by the inbetweeners. The inbetweeners re-trace the key animation drawings. They don't just shoot the key animation drawings interspersed with inbetweens; they re-draw the keys and draw the inbetweens from scratch (or from reference drawings).

    I've been examining Anime R in detail over the last few weeks because in a way they embody the anime paradigm, something that has been lost in today's atomized and outsourced and freelance age: the master-student relationship of inbetweener and key animator - an animator beginning at a studio as an inbetweener, learning the ropes under talented animators, and eventually working his way up to key animation. The inbetweeners and the key animators worked together under the same roof. Anime R's episodes were always inbetweened by Anime R. Hiroyuki Okiura and Hiroshi Osaka were inbetweeners inbetweening Toru Yoshida and Kishi Fumiko's animation before they acceded to drawing key animation.

    With a very small team that knew each other's skills very well, they achieved beautiful results in those Sunrise (and other) shows of the 1980s. That has been the traditional situation in Japan, and it fosters a more deep knowledge about the process, but with inbetweens more likely to be outsourced today, it feels like the unique paradigm of the craftsman-student relationship has become a victim of progress. If I'm right about Althea, it shows the perils of corrupting that relationship.

    Althea was apparently pitched by Ichiro Itano, and perhaps even initially planned to be directed by Itano. After starting out as a groundbreaking mecha animator, he went on to direct or otherwise back a number of OVAs in the 1980s, starting with Megazone 23. He created a number of overweening adult epics filled with violence and action that sound cool on paper and shine briefly technically but wind up being pretty disappointing and forgettable. The thing I've noticed is that the quality of the OVAs he was involved in is consistently uneven. There are occasional moments of strong animation that bring alive the concept, but often his projects feel rushed and awkward somehow or other, not to mention being in poor taste sometimes. Good Morning Althea is the prototypical Itano production in that sense.


    Good Morning Althea (OVA, Dec 1987, 50min, Animate Film)

    Concept:板野一郎Ichiro Itano
    Storyboard & Director:殿勝秀樹Hideki Tonokatsu
    Character design:菊池みちたかMichitaka Kikuchi
    Settei Design:池田一成Kazuya Ikeda
    亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
    Animation Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
    Assistant A.D.:柳沢まさひでMasahide Yanagisawa
    Mecha A.D.:逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
    Key animation:浜川修二郎
    Shujiro Hamakawa
    垪加等
    Hitoshi Haga
    山下悟
    Satoru Yamashita
    佐藤雄三
    Katsuzo Sato
    坂本英明
    Hideaki Sakamoto
    長岡康史
    Yasuchika Nagaoka
    品田広志
    Hiroshi Shinada
    大平直樹
    Naoki Ohira
    矢野淳
    Atsushi Yano
    和田浩一
    Koichi Wada
    溝呂木浩章
    Hiroaki Korogi
    塚田明
    Akira Tsukada
    土屋幹雄
    Mikio Tsuchiya
    太田博光
    Hiromitsu Ohta
    福島豊明
    Toyoaki Fukushima
    奥村四郎
    Shiro Okumura

    Friday, June 22, 2012

    11:58:00 pm , 3690 words, 6403 views     Categories: OVA, TV, Studio: Anime R, Studio: Dove, Director: Toshifumi Takizawa, 1980s

    SPT Layzner

    After Armor Trooper Votoms (1983-1984), Ryosuke Takahashi continued making robot shows at Sunrise, although from what I've seen none of them were quite the same as Votoms and tended to adhere more closely to the Sunrise robot template. The next show he did after Votoms was Panzer World Galient (1984-1985), which seems to mix fantasy with sci-fi. Then came SPT Layzner (1985-1986). I just had a chance to watch Layzner for the first time and enjoyed it, though it's very flawed and far from a classic like Votoms.

    What Layzner has going for it is some tremendously strong animation from Anime R. Essentially, the animation of Lazyner was provided by three studios: Anime R, Dove and Bebow, in descending order of importance.

    Anime R is by far the most important presence on the show. This is perhaps the show with the highest concentration of Anime R animation. 21 out of the show's 38 episodes were entirely (or mostly) animated by Anime R. The opening and ending were animated by Anime R animators Kazuaki Mouri, Toru Yoshida and Fumiko Kishi. The character designer was Anime R founder Moriyasu Taniguchi, who was invited back to design his own characters because of his great work as sakkan on Votoms. Taniguchi would also go on to be character designer of Mellowlink, in which Anime R provided about half of the animation. The other half was provided by Dove.

    The story

    Layzner is an odd show. I want to like it, but the story is too cliched and too much of a mess, largely due to circumstances beyond the control of the writers and director. When it works, it works well, and comes across as a more realistic version of the alien invasion story. The writing is fairly strong thanks to the sci-fi anime masters Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, Yoshitake Suzuki (AKA Fuyunori Gobu), Yasushi Hirano and Tsunehisa Ito. The characters feel individual and the urgency of the situation is convincing. The biggest problem is that it isn't consistent to the initial premise. To be more blunt, SPT Layzner jumps the shark big time. The last half of the show is a classic example of a show jumping the shark. It feels like two shows crammed into one, neither of them very happy about being forced to abide one another.

    Part one begins as your typical Sunrise show: An alien army is coming to invade the earth, but a mixed alien-human named Eiji defects from the army to warn the earth of the impending danger. Along the way he saves a group of children visiting the Mars base, and enlists them to pilot giant robots and fight their way back to Earth. Sunrise was apparently so pleased with the setup of Round Vernian Vifam, in which a group of children visiting space one day suddenly find themselves caught in the middle of a war, that they decided to copy it almost verbatim in SPT Layzner. Anime advances by small variations on successful formulae.

    The setup is hardly original, and it tested my patience for a while, but eventually I got into it on the strength of the animation and the fact that the story is told in a fairly hard-boiled and no-nonsense way. It proceeds very slowly, meticulously depicting each step of the way as the kids battle their way back to earth. By the time we get to episode 24, the story has gotten fairly interesting, taking on a bit of sociopolitical commentary. The protagonist Eiji is interrogated by a suspicious U.S. army rather than welcomed with open arms as he expected, and a lot of the drama comes across as an angry satire about the atmosphere of international suspicion during the Cold War. The writers do a good job with this material. I was starting to like the show by this point.

    Then bam. Right when the story seems poised to finally start coming to a head after such an extended and even plodding setup, suddenly things do a 180. All of the many character interrelation and plot element threads that had been patiently built up and interwoven over the course of two dozen episodes are peremptorily dropped without any warning. Part two begins abruptly after a recap episode in episode 25. Suddenly all the characters are grown up and we're in a post-apocalyptic future in which the earth as been taken over by the aliens and everyone has big hair, shoulder pads and hockey masks straight out of Mad Max, or more relevantly, Fist of the North Star. Masked police go around burning books just like in Farenheit 451. (Oddly, some animator drew Katsuhiro Otomo's Highway Star as one of the books being burned. Otomo's influence apparently extends into the post-invasion future.)

    Fist of the North Star is the appropriate comparison. It was airing simultaneously, and was likely copied intentionally. It seems that sales of the kind of toys the show was advertising had begun to drop across the industry, and so at midpoint into the series they decided to completely change the show's story and opt for the popular post-apocalyptic formula in a desperate attempt to increase ratings and hence boost toy sales. The story is now about Eiji leading a resistance against the occupying aliens. It's basically Fist of the North Star meets Gundam, without the exploding heads.

    The change in tone and style is so radical and without warning that it's difficult to take the show seriously from this point on. And not long after they begin the second part, suddenly the show gets cancelled, and they have to rush the ending. Part 2 was probably planned as two seasons, but was reduced on short notice to one, so they had to suddenly skip ahead in episode 35 and jump right to the ending in episode 38, without explaining how we got there. The Ideon movie was famously released to complete the story after the TV series was unexpectedly canceled just short of completion. So it went with Layzner. After the show ended, two 60-minute recap OVAs were released (one for part one and one for part two) followed by an OVA telling what happened between episode 37 and 38. Many shows during the ensuing years did the same, but in the OVA rather than theatrical format, and Layzner was one of the first.

    If anything, the show is an interesting case study of the way in which forces greater than the director and his staff have historically controlled the length and content of TV anime. Seasons are added and canceled capriciously and on short notice, causing the staff to scramble and come up with ad-hoc solutions. Ironically enough, this sometimes produces a happy ending. The final Ideon movie and final SPT Layzner OVA wound up bringing their stories to a conclusion in better quality than could have been expected within the originally anticipated TV schedule. But it should be remembered that both were made only at the insistence of their directors, who felt compelled to give their audience their rightful catharsis.

    Episode 26: Hiroyuki Okiura

    Anime R in SPT Layzner

    If there's one reason to watch the show despite the story's flaws, it's because Layzner is in a way the summum opus of Anime R.

    Moriyasu Taniguchi's characters have never gotten such a grand stage, and they've never been so appealing. Taniguchi's characters are pleasingly stylized, with elongated heads and angular features. This dude in episode 37 is the most extreme character design in the show, but gives a quick sense of his style. I like his designs far more than Norio Shioyama's, which seem bland and old-fashioned. Taniguchi had verve and his characters felt more cutting edge for the time, although he was clearly influenced by Tomonori Kogawa, and by Masami Suda of Fist of the North Star by the time of part 2.

    The real star of the show, though, is of course the mecha and the mecha animators. Designed again by Kunio Okawara as in Votoms, the robots are brought alive with energy by the young animators of Anime R. Just about every episode of the show has some pleasing mecha animation, and a handful of the episodes have some of the best mecha animation of the entire period. Layzner is one of the feasts of mecha animation of the 1980s.

    Basically the Anime R staff is the same as Votoms, except that everyone has been bumped up a notch in the hierarchy. Toru Yoshida is now a mecha sakkan and Hiroyuki Okiura is now a genga man.

    The Anime R episodes of Layzner are split into three teams, each headed by a different animation director, to enable them to cover the whole show:

    SakkanKey Animators
    谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
    沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
    山田香 Kaoru Yamada
    浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
    貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

    Mecha sakkan:
    吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
    加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
    井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
    岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
    野中幸 Koh Nonaka
    小森高博 Takahiro Komori
    村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka中島美子 Miko Nakajima
    山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
    黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
    大島康広 Yasuhiro Ohjima

    There is some variation in the arrangement early on, but this is the basic arrangement they settled into. There's one strong mecha animator in each group who was usually in charge of the mecha in their team's episodes, with the rest handling the characters: Hiroyuki Okiura under Moriyasu Taniguchi, Toru Yoshida under Fumiko Kishi, and Sawako Yamamoto under Hiromi Muranaka.

    Note that, soon after this, the Hiromi Muranaka group split into a separate but affiliated sister studio called Studio Mu. At this point in time the Muranaka team is still credited as Anime R, but Studio Mu has shown up in the inbetweening credits.

    Episode 17: Toru Yoshida

    Toru Yoshida was involved in episodes 1, 6, 11, 17, 21, 28, 34, 38. He apparently did some of his best work on Galient between Votoms and SPT Layzner, but sadly I skipped over that one, so I'm missing an important piece in the evolution of his style, but I will get to that show eventually. Episode 17 with the unmanned robots attacking the kids on the moon is one of his best episode, with very stylish and exciting mecha drawings and effects. As impressive as Yoshida's work was on Votoms, you can see significant improvement here. The mecha animation is among the most powerful and detailed of the era. I like that by this point Yoshida has gone beyond his Kanada-school influence and developed his own style: more realistic but still extremely exciting and thrilling, with a focus on densely packing the screen with effects and movement.

    Sawako Yamamoto was involved in episodes 7, 14, 19, 24, 29, 36. I wasn't familiar with this animator prior to watching Layzner, but she apparently went on to do a lot of mecha work later in her career, a rarity for a female animator. Sawako Yamamoto was the mentor of another of R's many alumni, Asako Nishita, who was one of the more prominent female animators of the 1990s and 2000s. Yamamoto was one of the mecha sakkans on Ryosuke Takahashi's recent Gasaraki, which was apparently his ultimate attempt to do a 'real robot' show and do it right. Episode 36 of Layzner in particular features some great mecha fighting in the streets presumably of Yamamoto's hand. Episode 29, meanwhile, doesn't feature any mecha animation and is all focused on character animation, showcasing what the Mu team was better known for.

    Hiroyuki Okiura was involved in episodes 12, 16, 20, 26, 33, 38. He actually acted as mecha sakkan in his episodes from episode 20 onwards even though he is not credited as such. Okiura had similarly actually drawn key animation on Votoms (1983-1984) and Galient (1984-1985) even though he was still being credited with inbetweening. His official debut as a genga-man came on Bismark (1984-1985), in which he drew all of the mecha action scenes in the episodes in which he is credited. So technically Layzner is his sakkan debut, although his official sakkan debut only came with Black Magic M-66 a year later.

    Okiura is the star mecha animator of Layzner. If you watch nothing else of the show, Okiura's scenes are worth seeking out on their own merits, especially episode 26. What made people sit up and pay attention still comes through loud and clear almost 30 years later. Even amidst all of the great work by Yoshida et al. on the show, there is something fundamentally different when Okiura's work comes on the screen. First of all, it just moves more. Okiura was inspired by Takashi Nakamura, and his goal was to create the richest and most dense animation he could. Due to the restrictions on the number of drawings (about 6000 in Layzner, still way more than the average episode today), Okiura had to work closely with his fellow animators to calculate the number of drawings in each shot. He had them use less drawings for the character scenes so that he could use more drawings on the mecha scenes. On top of this, the mecha animation feels more realistic in its movement. The movement is more detailed and weighty, and more precisely calculated. Whereas many mecha animators just threw their mecha about in whichever way - whatever looked coolest - Okiura had a patently more methodical way of moving his mecha. The camera angles feel more realistic and have more variety. You already sense that Okiura is one of those animators who animates like a director. Okiura had apparently convinced the director of Bismark to re-storyboard the last episode of Bismark so that it had more action scenes because Okiura felt it did not have enough action. He wanted to be challenged, not given an easy way out.

    His work on episode 26 in particular is one of the classics for the ages. His scene starts from the point where Layzner comes out of the water. The maniacal level of detail in the fragments should immediately remind of his mob scene in Akira. I recommend watching some of the other mecha scenes first for comparison purposes so you can see how different Okiura's animation is, but even if you don't, I think it should still come through loud and clear how impressive Okiura's animation is. It was this episode that first revealed his true powers to the world and showed that he had some uncommon skills that surpassed even those of the many other great Anime R animators who inspired and taught him. Episode 33 is also notable for being the only episode with mecha action from start to end. The animation isn't as powerful as episode 26, but the sheer amount of movement packed into the episode is impressive.

    The remarkable thing: he was aged only 19 when he worked on Lazyner. He turned 20 during Black Magic M-66. Anime had a lot of early bloomers, but Okiura is one of the most memorable.

    Bebow

    The other episodes are all decent, with some good animation here and there, but nothing that equals the best R episodes. Bebow's good work was mostly done in the character animation. Bebow handled episodes 23, 32 and 37. Notable names in their episodes include Akihiko Yamashita, Masahiro Yamane and Masanori Shino. Episode 32 was actually Masahiro Yamane's debut. He is one of the best mecha animators of the 1990s, during which time he did a lot of work with Masami Obari on Sunrise 'yuusha' shows, helping define their mecha animation as mecha designer and mecha sakkan. The best Bebow episode is probably episode 32, which features the bad guy you love to hate, Gostero, who seemed to die several times in the series only to keep coming back, hamming it up with a whole episode of his outrageous antics. The drawings all feel patently Bebow, and they show how good they are at drawing the body and face in various poses.

    There is one oddball episode in the bunch: episode 15. It was sakkan'd by the Studio Z5 team of Hideyuki Motohashi and Chiharu Sato. It stands out for the more Kanada-style effects work and mecha posing and the way the characters are drawn in a more 'bikei' character style that is obviously the work of Hideyuki Motohashi.

    On the directing side of things, the series features episode storyboarding/ directing work by Tetsuro Amino early in his career, prior to debuting as a series director. Other storyboarders/directors include Takashi Imanishi, who I mentioned in my post on Votoms, and Katsuyoshi Yatabe, who went on to direct many of the same Sunrise 'yuusha' shows I mentioned earlier. Toshifumi Takizawa pays a brief surprise visit in episodes 12 and 17 as storyboarder, and as usual, his episodes stand out for their more cinematic feeling. Episode 12 in particular is a very fine Takizawa episode, while in episode 17 the combination of Takizawa's storyboard and Toru Yoshida's fantastic mecha animation makes for riveting viewing. I think the series would have benefited from his more serious style of directing, but obviously he was busy with other projects.

    The final OVA

    The final OVA is a combination of footage from the last TV episode with new footage interspersed to flesh out the scenes that they had not had enough time to elaborate upon. The character animation appears to have been re-drawn, but the mecha animation was re-used.

    For the new bits, there are some impressive mecha action sequences. Okiura surprisingly didn't animate any mecha scenes, although some of the footage he animated for the final TV episode (the part where Layzner is flying through space surrounded by a halo at the very end) was re-used in the OVA. He animated the fistfight in the cylinder. This is because he was too busy at the time working on Black Magic M-66. The mecha sequences were presumably animated primarily by Toru Yoshida, Sawako Yamamoto, Hiroshi Osaka and perhaps some others including Hiroshi Koizumi of Dove. Toru Yoshida is only credited as an animation director alongside Moriyasu Taniguchi and Kishi Fumiko, but this presumably means mecha sakkan.

    I'll close by noting that you can see future director and producer Shinichiro Watanabe and Masahiko Minami here in the credits as animation runners. Both started out as runners at Sunrise before evolving in their respective directions.


    Blue Comet SPT Layzner 蒼き流星SPTレイズナー (TV series, 38 eps, 1985-1986)

    StoryboardDirectorSakkanKey Animators
    1あかい星にてアニメ・アール Anime R
    井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
    岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
    加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
    貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
    谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi

    Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
    2彼の名はエイジスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    高橋幸治 Koji Takahashi
    佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
    3その瞳を信じて長崎重信 Shigenobu Nagasaki
    布告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
    杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
    臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
    川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase伊東誠 Makoto Ito
    4心のこしての脱出谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    横山健次 Kenji Yokoyama

    アド・コスモ Ad Cosmo
    直井正博 Masahiro Naoi
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    5まもられても、なお…スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    高橋幸治 Koji Takahashi
    藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani

    遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
    山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
    谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
    6とり残されてアニメ・アール Anime R
    貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
    加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
    井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
    岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
    川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi

    Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
    7血はあかかったアニメ・アール Anime R
    中島美子 Miko Nakajima
    山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
    黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    8彼の叫びに応えて寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
    佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
    杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
    臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    9生きる道を求めて長崎重信 Shigenobu Nagasaki
    遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
    布告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
    山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
    谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe桜井美知代 Michiyo Sakurai
    10エイジ!?と呼んだスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    高橋幸治 Koji Takahashi
    藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
    川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase
    江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami
    八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
    11地球の艦が来た!アニメ・アール Anime R
    貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
    加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
    井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
    岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

    Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
    12さよならの赤い星アニメ・アール Anime R
    逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
    沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
    山田香 Kaoru Yamada
    浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
    滝沢敏文 Toshifumi Takizawa今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    13宇宙にむなしくスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
    佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
    中野美佐緒 Misao Nakano
    西村誠芳 Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
    14異星人に囚われてアニメ・アール Anime R
    村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    中島美子 Miko Nakajima
    山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
    黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    15蒼き流星となって遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
    寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
    佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
    杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
    山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
    臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
    川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi本橋秀之 Hideyuki Motohashi
    佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
    16月よ!こたえてアニメ・アール Anime R
    逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
    沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
    山田香 Kaoru Yamada
    浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa

    青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
    長崎重信 Shigenobu Nagasaki
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    17群がる殺人機アニメ・アール Anime R
    貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
    加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
    井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
    岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
    滝沢敏文 Toshifumi Takizawa加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

    Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
    18そして地球へスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
    佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
    中野美佐緒 Misao Nakano
    西村誠芳 Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
    19とどかぬ想いアニメ・アール Anime R
    村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    中島美子 Miko Nakajima
    山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
    黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise

    遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
    杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
    山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
    臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
    谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    20レイズナーの怒りアニメ・アール Anime R
    逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
    沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
    山田香 Kaoru Yamada
    浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa

    青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
    寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
    川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    21我が名はフォロンアニメ・アール Anime R
    貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
    加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
    井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
    岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura

    長崎重信 Shigenobu Nagasaki
    佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
    長谷川浩司 Hiroshi Hasegawa
    加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

    Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
    22フォロンとの対決スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
    佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
    中野美佐緒 Misao Nakano
    西村誠芳 Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
    23奇跡を求めてビーボォー Bebow
    沢田正人 Masato Sawada
    筱雅律 Masanori Shino
    南伸一郎 Shinichiro Minami
    山下明彦 Akihiko Yamashita
    山本正文 Masafumi Yamamoto

    遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
    寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
    佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
    山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
    臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
    川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe中村悟 Satoru Nakamura
    24光になったエイジアニメ・アール Anime R
    村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    中島美子 Miko Nakajima
    山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
    黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise

    スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    25駆けぬけた宇宙
    高橋良輔 Ryosuke Takahashi
    26時は流れた!アニメ・アール Anime R
    逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
    沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
    山田香 Kaoru Yamada
    浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
    加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    27華麗なるル・カインスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
    佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
    中野美佐緒 Misao Nakano
    西村誠芳 Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
    28クスコの聖女アニメ・アール Anime R
    貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
    加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
    井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
    野中幸 Ko Nonaka
    今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

    Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
    29再会・謎の招待状アニメ・アール Anime R
    村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    中島美子 Miko Nakajima
    山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
    黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
    大島康広 Yasuhiro Oshima
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    30ベイブル奪回作戦青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
    遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
    寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
    佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
    杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
    山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
    臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino藤本義孝 Yoshitaka Fujimoto谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    31仕組まれた聖戦スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma

    宇津木勇 Isamu Utsuki
    阿部和彦 Kazuhiko Abe
    山田浩嗣 Hirotsugu Yamada
    谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
    32ああ、ゴステロビーボォー Bebow
    矢木正之 Masayuki Yaki
    辻清光 Kiyomitsu Tsuji
    筱雅律 Masanori Shino
    河上裕 Yutaka Kawakami
    山根理宏 Masahiro Yamane
    山下明彦 Akihiko Yamashita
    佐藤敬一 Keiichi Sato
    小曽根正美 Masami Kosone
    沢田正人 Masato Sawada
    加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase沢田正人 Masato Sawada
    33死鬼隊の挑戦アニメ・アール Anime R
    逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
    沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
    山田香 Kaoru Yamada
    浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    34狙われたアンナアニメ・アール Anime R
    貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
    加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
    井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
    野中幸 Ko Nonaka
    小森高博 Takahiro Komori
    知吹愛弓 Ayumi Tomobuki今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

    Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
    35グラドスの刻印スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
    古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
    佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma

    遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
    山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
    臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
    加藤義貴 Yoshitaka Kato
    川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate藤本義孝 Yoshitaka Fujimoto八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
    36敵V-MAX発動アニメ・アール Anime R
    村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    中島美子 Miko Nakajima
    山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
    黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
    大島康広 Yasuhiro Oshima
    網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
    37エイジ対ル・カイン青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
    寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi

    ビーボォー Bebow
    矢木正之 Masayuki Yaki
    沢田正人 Masato Sawada
    河上裕 Yutaka Kawakami
    山根理宏 Masahiro Yamane
    谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
    38歪む宇宙アニメ・アール Anime R
    貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
    吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
    井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
    逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
    山田香 Kaoru Yamada
    浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
    高橋良輔 Ryosuke Takahashi江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi

    Mecha sakkan: 沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura

    Blue Comet SPT Layzner ACT-III: The Seal 2000
    蒼き流星SPTレイズナー ACT-III 刻印2000
    (OVA, October 21, 1986)

    Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
    Character Design:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
    Mechanical Design:大河原邦男Kunio Okawara
    Storyboard:網野哲郎Tetsuro Amino
    加瀬充子Nobuko Kase
    Technical Director:加瀬充子Nobuko Kase
    Animation Directors:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
    吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
    Key animators:山田香Kaoru Yamada
    野中幸Ko Nonaka
    沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
    逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
     
    浜川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa
    井上哲Tetsu Inoue
    糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
    佐々木一浩Kazuhiro Sasaki
    小森高博Takahiro Komori
     
    村中博美Hiromi Muranaka
    中島美子Miko Nakajima
    山本佐和子Sawako Yamamoto
    黄瀬和哉Kazuchika Kise
    大島康広Yasuhiro Ohshima
     
    古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
    西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
    中野美佐緒Misao Nakano

    Thursday, June 7, 2012

    01:49:00 am , 1886 words, 7487 views     Categories: Studio: Anime R, 1980s, 1990s

    Anime games

    I don't play games anymore, but I'm interested in the dynamic between animation and games. Games owe a lot to animation. Yoichi Kotabe brought Mario alive. Animated openings to games remain common, and many narrative-style games incorporate cut-scene animation (Popolocrois IMO being the crowning example), but most interesting to me are games where the actual game play consists of hand-drawn animation. LD games were the first of this kind.

    After the release of Don Bluth's groundbreaking Dragon's Lair laserdisc arcade game in 1983, there was a brief fad for this new format up until about 1985, when it fizzled out due presumably to the limitations of the gameplay. Between 1983 and 1985, several Japanese games were made in the same mold as Dragon's Lair using LD technology. Although obviously none of them were anything near the level of the amazing animation in Bluth's game, some of them had impressive animation.

    Initially, in 1983, the releases were hacked together from previously extisting movies: Cliffhanger from bits of Cagliostro (and also Yuzo Aoki's car chase scene from Mamo) and Bega's Battle from Harmageddon (Yamato and Galaxy Express 999 also later got this treatment), but in 1984 they started putting out original titles. Some of these like Ninja Hayate and Badlands had bad animation and generally sloppy production of the kind you'd expect from a cheap knockoff made as a quick cash-in, but Cobra Command, Road Blaster and Time Gal had impressive animation.

    Time Gal (1985, Taito/Junio, Arcade LD Game)
    Director:今沢哲男Tetsuo Imazawa
    Character Designer:我妻宏Hiroshi Wagatsuma
    Animation Director:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
    Animators:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
    井上俊之Toshiyuki Inoue
    うつのみやさとるSatoru Utsunomiya
    ...?...

    Full Game Play: Past - Present - Future

    Time Gal is my favorite of the Japanese LD games. It features a girl travelling around different eras of history, riding on the wings of Zero fighters, fighting pirates, dodging asteroids and aliens and dinosaurs and giant robots. Stylistically it's closest of the Japanese laserdisc games to the Don Bluth originals. It's a lighthearted romp starring a spunky heroine running around evading various colorful enemies, whereas the other games tend to be dry affairs without humor or personality, with you just driving or flying around shooting things. The creators admit to deliberately modeling Time Gal after Space Ace.

    Time Gal also has some of the best animation of any of the Japanese LD games. The animation comes courtesy of none other than the selfsame Kazuaki Mouri I just talked about, who was the animation director. In addition, the animators include no less than Toshiyuki Inoue and Satoru Utsunomiya. The animation appears to have been produced by Studio Junio (The Fox of Chironup, Hermes, Wings of Love), although they are not credited, because the director and animation director are Junio people, and of course Toshiyuki Inoue was at Junio at the time. As it happens, so was Utsunomiya. He had apparently just joined Junio because he admired Inoue's animation on Gu-Gu Ganmo and wanted to work near Inoue. These two had an interesting rivalry going at the time. Inoue had similarly become aware of Utsunomiya at the same time. He had wondered who the amazing animator was behind the good genga he'd seen turned in on Around the World in 80 Days, whose chief animation director was Junio founder Takao Kosai, and later discovered it to be Utsunomiya.

    The game has 16 stages, five each of which take place in the past, the present and the future. Satoru Utsunomiya's section is Stage 4 with the mammoth, while Toshiyuki Inoue animated Stage 7 with the god of death, as well as possibly Stage 13 with the giant robot in the tunnel and Stage 16 with the last boss.

    I particularly like Inoue's stage with the giant zombie skeleton swinging a scythe. The forms are beautiful and the timing feels incredible, and the whole thing takes place in the middle of this slow animated panning effect, as if it wasn't challenging enough to just draw the action by itself and he wanted to pose himself the further challenge of maintaining proper proportion and perspective in motion. It's a great snapshot of just how amazing an animator Toshiyuki Inoue already was at this early stage in his career. (he had just debuted a year before)

    Satoru Utsunomiya's brief but intense segment with the mammoth is quite an eye-opener and reveals a side of him that we're not used to seeing anymore. This was before he developed the distinctive solid style for which he's become known. At this stage he was still drawing very wild and free animation full of comically exaggerated effects and timing.

    I suspect Kazuaki Mouri may have animated some of the other sections, but I don't know for sure. The very first stage with the dinosaurs, for example, has some very nice movement that was perhaps of Mouri's hand.

    Cobra Command (1984, Data East/Toei, Arcade LD Game)
    Director:高山秀樹Hideki Takayama
    松浦錠平Johei Matsuura
    Animation Director:亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
    Assistant Animation Director:今隅眞一Shinichi Imakuma
    Animators:亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
    白土武Takeshi Shirato
    白浦烈Baik Nam Yeul
    佐々木正光Masamitsu Sasaki
    大島城次Joji Ohshima
    八島義孝Yoshitaka Yajima
    本橋秀之Hideyuki Motohashi
    青鉢芳信Yoshinobu Aohachi
    Road Blaster (1985, Data East/Toei, Arcade LD Game)
    Director:高山秀樹Hideki Takayama
    Chief Key Animator:稲野義信Yoshinobu Inano
    Background Design:Yoshiyuki Yamamoto
    Animators:白浦烈Baik Nam Yeul
    今隅眞一Shinichi Imakuma
    的場茂夫Shigeo Matoba
    金大中Kim Dae Jung
    Kaoru Shinbo

    Full Game Play: Cobra Command - Road Blaster

    These two titles were produced by Data East, who farmed the animation out to Toei. Toei had actually prior to this been put in charge of the animation of Ninja Hayate, but they had really botched that one. These two are in a different league. Both are challenging and fast-paced games packed with nonstop action. The animation also doesn't stop in either one. There isn't a still moment - every moment is animated, because the motion of the vehicles is all depicted by hand-drawn animation.

    It would have been inconceivable to animate a conventional anime production the way these are. Storyboarding long shots that go on for upwards of a minute and consist entirely of nonstop animated backgrounds would have been a sure ticket to being fired. These games were in a unique position of being able to be lavished with an unprecedented density of animation for a Japanese production. There were occasional moments in TV productions where a wild animator like Masahito Yamashita would create a crazy sequence of background animation, but these games pushed background animation to a whole new level.

    The person behind the quality of Cobra Command was Hajime Kamegaki, the Kanada-school animator who together with Hideyuki Motohashi (here also present as an animator) did so much good work on TV shows in the 1980s from their legendary Studio Z5.

    The person behind the quality of Road Blaster was Yoshinobu Inano, one of the greatest animators nobody has ever heard of. He was one of the most talented animators at Toei in the late 1970s/early 1980. He pioneered a unique kind of quasi-realistic animation that went on to influence many later great animators including Mitsuo Iso. You can see his style most clearly in the opening of the game where the punks wreak havoc in the city, sending bystanders running.

    Captain Power: Battle Training (1988, 3 VHS tapes, AIC)
    Animation Directors:大平晋也Shinya Ohira
    矢野淳Atsushi Yano
    Key Animators:Vol. 1
    西井正典Masanori Nishii
    伊藤浩二Koji Ito
    田野雅祥Masayoshi Tano
    生亀信幸Nobuyuki Namakame
    山中英治Eiji Yamanaka
    Vol. 2 & 3
    逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
    毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
    糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
    濱川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa
    吉田徹Toru Yoshida
    沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
    貴志芙美子Fumiko Kishi
    太田雅三Yuzo Ohta
    伊良原正也Masaya Irahara
    山中英治Eiji Yamanaka

    By 1988 when the three VHS tapes of this game were released, LD anime games were dead. This game is basically just straight animation without any branching or death scenes. You were supposed to aim your toy gun at the screen and a sensor in the gun would detect when you had properly targeted the flashing missiles on the screen and eject the pilot from your toy if you had not.

    Captain Power: Battle Training picks up where the latter two titles left off: it's one long, extended, nonstop torrent of background animation and explosions. I'd go so far as to say it's the crowning achievement in background/effects animation in anime. Where the previous two titles were actually pretty iffy in a lot of the background animation, almost all of the BG animation here is impressive, and much of it is downright stunning. I already wrote about this a long time ago, so I won't re-hash my gushing, but I really love this thing. It's my bible of anime FX animation.

    Shinya Ohira is of course the big name behind the incredible beauty and power of the animation here, but the fact is that he was backed up by some of the best mecha and effects animators of the day. Most significantly, Anime R was behind the animation of parts 2 and 3. Hiroshi Osaka, Fumiko Kishi, Masahiko Itojima, Hiroyuki Okiura, Toru Yoshida, Kazuaki Mouri - all the best Anime R animators worked on parts two and three. That makes this another great introduction to the style of Anime R at their peak after U-GAIM (and SPT Layzner if you have a little more time to spare), although in this one it can be a little difficult to distinguish between the Anime R bits and the Ohira bits.

    Thanks to the miracle of the internet, the entirety of Captain Power: Battle Training can be viewed online.

    Yarudora series (1998-2000, 6 volumes, Production I.G, PS & PS2)

    Vol. 1: Double Cast (1998, PS)
    Vol. 2: Kisetsu wo Dakishimete (1998, PS)
    Vol. 3: Sampaguita (1998, PS)
    Vol. 4: Yukiwari no Hana (1998, PS)
    Vol. 5: Scandal (2000, PS2)
    Vol. 6: Blood: The Last Vampire (2000, PS2)

    Many years after the LD game boom, Production I.G. picked up the torch of animated games with their Yarudora series from 1998-2000, plugging animation into the popular formula of anime-styled but illustration-based sim games. Rather than a reflex-based adventure game where you were dodging foes like in the early days, this time you were guiding your character through a complicated story. You made choices at key junctures, which led to different possible outcomes: anime via Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. The stories were alternately psychological and violent. The last two volumes Scandal and Blood were action outings as opposed to the more psychological preceding quartet.

    The highlight of the series is Yukiwari no Hana, which looked very different from all of the other volumes due to the beautiful Jin-Roh-esque pared-down realistic character designs and dark-hued visual concept of Masatsugu Arakawa. I'd still like to see more anime that look like this.

    The last outing in the Yarudora series was a game tie-in with Hiroyuki Kitakubo's Blood: The Last Vampire movie. In a curious coincidence, it happened to be Shinya Ohira's comeback to animation after several years of absence. He animated the scene here and his style is unmistakable. The animation is reminiscent of Hamaji, which was the last thing he had done before leaving the industry a few years earlier. Anime games have marked two significant points in Ohira's career - the peak of his FX period and the start of his current character-as-FX period.

    Bringing things full-circle, Ohira was even behind the next step in the evolution of animated gaming: He directed a playable animated stage of the recent Asura's Wrath game that is not only a monumental new piece of animation in its own right (a worthy companion piece to Wanwa), but that also pushes the neglected genre of traditional animated gaming forward into the new millennium, with its more involved gameplay and the fact that it is an online download. The short seems to hark back to the LD games of yore, since it involves an extended sequence of fast action requiring quick reflexes.

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