Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: June 2004

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

06:32:11 pm , 125 words, 2826 views     Categories: Misc

Irrelevaniae

I was sitting by Pitt River today broiling reading Shimao when I decided on my next translation: 月暈. I still haven't figured out how to translate this strange but wonderful title. The story is no less head-scratching. How am I going to translate something I can't even visualize? It'll be a good challenge.

After sitting by the river for an hour I was driven by the heat to seek the shade in Minnekhada Park, where voracious biting flies drove me crazy and home. Could hear blasting in the distance where urban sprawl is elaborating its ineluctable course. Girls everywhere are wearing hotpants, and it's hard not to stare. I'm still hobbling from my torture session on the mountain two days ago.

Japanese word of the day: 挫折

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

01:23:50 pm , 86 words, 696 views     Categories: Misc

Life is unpredictable

I bought strawberries two weeks ago and they were delicious. I bought strawberries today and they were mediocre.

Found myself rewatching Akarui Kazoku Keikaku today. I find this oddly nondescript story of three people walking around Tokyo looking for ways to commit suicide somehow strangely uplifting.

There was a very finely and delicately animated bit around the middle of Peter Pan #6 where Tiger Lily and John are boarding the pirate ship. I wonder who did it.

On this sunny, beautiful day, this is how I'm feeling:

Monday, June 28, 2004

09:00:33 pm , 293 words, 973 views     Categories: Animation

The Longest Day + Peter Pan

Today felt like the longest day ever. I walked a total of 20 kilometers with a cumulative elevation change of 2000 meters. I tried to make it to Alouette Peak over in Golden Ears Park, but I conked out just a bit before the end. I was cramping up. That's what I get for diving in the deep end. It's been months since I did any major hiking.

I'm lucky enough to have found a means of seeing the old Nippon Animation World Masterpiece Theater series Peter Pan, and I'm really looking forward to it. I was surprised to find out a short time ago just how many great animators were involved in it. Presumably they were attracted to the show because of who was in charge of the character design, 1980s Karisuma Animator No. 1, Takashi Nakamura. He animated the op too. Here's a sampling of who did what in this series:

  • Mitsuo Iso: 20 (uncredited) - the part where a character dons a cap
  • Osamu Tanabe: 21
  • Shinya Ohira: 23, 40 (the major pull for me)
  • Norio Matsumoto: 19, 22, 26, 29, 32, 35, 41 (amazing - this guy is everywhere)
  • Hiroyuki Okiura: 8, 16, 20, 22, 37, 41

Hiroyuki Okiura was also animation director on episodes 12, 20 and 28.

I have a poster on Coosun's BBS to thank for this list.

I've already seen episode 22, the climax of the first half of the series, which is a must-see for Nakamura fans. I've honestly never seen such a well animated meisaku episode. I've heard that there was an episode where the animators got into trouble for drawing more than 10,000 cels, and were forced to trim it down. I'm guessing this is the episode. Truly what I'd expect of Nakamura, who made his name drawing animation far above the norm in terms of both quality and quantity in his episodes of Gold Lightan and Urashiman.

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Saturday, June 26, 2004

01:30:50 pm , 338 words, 1087 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Dead Leaves DVD

Hiroyuki Imaishi's Dead Leaves DVD goes on sale July 24. Here's a rare film in anime: one long action scene - and what action! Imaishi threw in everything he's got. It's 60 minutes of pure Imaishi - an animator's film to the core, like they used to make in the good old days. And it's the wildest stuff to be seen in an anime film in many a year. I don't know how well the film was received in Japan, but I'm guessing over here it's going to tank. Unless you specifically watch animation for the animation, you won't get this film. Most anime fans don't give a shit about animation. It cuts away all the unnecessary padding and gets right to what's really important: action! action! and more action! You won't find this sort of thing anywhere else right now. Even Yoshinori Kanada, his great sempai, reportedly now draws stuff that's tame in comparison - they say his characters in the film had downright normal proportions compared to the rest. Anyway, this film was one of the year's big events, not to be missed by fans of real, full-blooded ANIMATION.

40 people in Japan have one more chance to see Mind Game before the rest of the world. Another screening is being held on the 30th, this Wednesday, in Roppongi, sponsored by Anime Style. Anime Style is also holding a Masaaki Yuasa special event tomorrow, Sunday, where they will be showing video clips of his animation as well as the Slime Adventure short he directed, plus excerpts from Mind Game. Guests include Masaaki Yuasa, Robin Nishi, Tatsuo Sato, Koji Morimoto, and Mitsuru Hongo (director of Shin-chan).

Anime Style has pretty much become the company handling most Mind Game-related side-releases. They're publishing the comic, they're going to publish the "mook" (movie book), they're holding these events, and they've been putting up lots of interviews and stuff with Yuasa on their page. The latest is an interview on Yuasa's "Best 20" (animation, naturally). The mook will also have a new interview with Yuasa.

Friday, June 25, 2004

05:03:53 pm , 93 words, 1770 views     Categories: Animation

Supermarket spookiness

Had a peculiar experience today at the grocery store. The customers in front of me at the checkout were two twentiesomethings, one of them leaning casually against the bar at a steep angle wearing an Eminem baseball cap and a basketball jersey. The only thing on their area of the roller was Soldier of Fortune magazine. They were talking about military stuff. Classify under: Creepy.

Spotted Takeshi Koike in Champloo #5 - the big guy jumping out of the barrel? Unusually funny episode overall. The director/storyboarder was an unknown to me: Sayo Yamamoto.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

05:29:54 pm , 259 words, 3870 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Steam Game + Mind Boy

Been working on the Stories From the Floating World page over the last few days, which is why I haven't written anything here.

With the release of Mind Game imminent (although no date has yet been set), I look forward to the time when I can look back in nostalgia on the old days, before Masaaki Yuasa went big, when nobody had ever heard of him, and I could still claim him all for myself. And yet, I'm thrilled beyond description by the prospect that this will be the dawn of the age of Yuasa, and that we'll actually be able to see more films from Yuasa in the future, something I never imagined in my wildest dreams. To think that there are people out there with enough vision to be able to see Yuasa's massive potential, and to give him a chance to make a film... it's downright moving. There really is justice in the world! God Bless You, Tanaka Eiko!

Read my first review of Steam Boy from someone who saw the test screening. The verdict? No surprise - the steam is incredible. 9 years for steam? Hmm. Still, I'm looking forward to the film for that steam, if not for much else.

I sent an email to Yuasa c/o Anime Style's 応援団, and got mentioned in the next column. 88| That was a surprise. Even more of a surprise, I was the only respondant. Hopefully that will change soon. I told Yuasa he had a fan overseas. In response, I was told he was surprised and pleased. B)

Saturday, June 19, 2004

06:56:59 pm , 546 words, 5641 views     Categories: Animation

Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi

Yesterday I paid a visit to this Japanese site put up by some anonymous samaritan offering a whole bunch of episodes of the old TV series まんが世界昔ばなし (Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi, Classic Tales from Around the World, 1976-79) for download, and discovered that the site has been much filled out since I last visited a year ago. The files now have sound, and there are about 50 episodes available in total. A great find. This is a very rare series. Nobody has heard of it, but here we have a long series with episode after episode done by famous figures like Osamu Dezaki, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Masami Hata, and Manabu Ohashi. Many of the names are Mushi Pro figures, so it seems likely that Madhouse was the animation studio actually behind the production of the episodes, although the umbrella company Dax International is the only name that usually gets mentioned in the credits. This series was obviously patterned on Group Tac's まんが日本昔ばなし (Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, Classic Tales from Old Japan), the more famous of the two and the one that originated the idea for an animated omnibus of literary classics & folktales with a rotating crew every episode. The latter's unique production style left behind innumerable absolutely wonderful little gems, including a number of episodes animated by Gisaburo Sugii.

The capstone in the Madhouse version is the Shipwreck episode created by Madhouse's ambassadors, the unbeatable triumvirate of Osamu Dezaki, Akio Sugino and Shichiro Kobayashi. Despite its brevity - actually, because of its brevity - this is probably my favorite film by the team. Forced by this brevity to do away with any extraneous detail, every shot and every image feels dramatically convincing and essential, without any of the interminable melodramatic languors that usually so turn me off from Dezaki, resulting in what is for me the most succinct and convincing embodiment of their time-tested approach. The episode can be downloaded from this page. (it's the first one at the top; the Red Shoes episode, sixth from the top, also by the same team, is also very much worth a look)

Among the episodes added since my last visit was one by Masami Hata, for which the webmaster has my eternal gratitude! Specifically, it was animated and directed by Masami Hata. Takeshi Shudo wrote it and Shichiro Kobayashi did the art. It's a Norwegian fairy tale about a poor boy who extorts a bunch of magical objects from the north wind for having spilled his wheat. It's a great episode - serene, warm, unostentatious, perfectly honed, with nothing unnecessary, peppered with the sort of refined, understated, irresistible humor that makes Hata the one and only true Zen master of gags in the wide world of anime. Hata's animation is very simple, and the designs are round and fluffy, yet for some reason it feels like nothing else out there. There's real magic in there, in the timing, something honest and heartfelt and without anime fakery or posing or showing off, which makes it a pure joy to watch. It's a mystery to me where this disctinctive approach comes from - it's something fundamentally alien to anime. It's Masami Hata's unique contribution to anime. And it's a real treasure. The episode can be downloaded from this page. (it's the second from the top)

Friday, June 18, 2004

04:29:48 pm , 126 words, 1067 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game miscellanea

Mind Game Official SiteMasaaki Yuasa and Koji Morimoto will be presenting a talk at the Digital Art Festival Tokyo 2004, which is being held from July 23-27. I don't know any further details.

One person I haven't heard mentioned at all yet in relation to Mind Game is the animation director, Yuichiro Sueyoshi. One of the reviewers of the preview screening directly compared the latter half of the film to the climactic scene in the Crayon Shin-chan film Otona Teikoku no Gyakushu, which was animated by Sueyoshi, confirming my suspicions that Mind Game will be a step further in the direction Sueyoshi showed himself to be going in said scene (and also in the scene he did for Hale Nochi Guu) - although this was obvious enough from the trailer.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

06:54:59 pm , 621 words, 6408 views     Categories: Animation

Fighting anime

I'd never watched much fighting anime before seeing the Atsushi Wakabayashi/Norio Matsumoto episodes of Naruto, but I was impressed enough by those to be compelled to see if I might be able to scrounge up any other interesting team-ups in recent fighting anime. And with very little effort, this is what I found.

Ninku #41

- 吉原正行 Masayuki Yoshihara (storyboard/animation director/key animation)
- 新房昭之 Akiyuki Shinbo (director)
- 西尾鉄也 Tetsuya Nishio (key animation - he did the most impressive part in the episode, the marionette)

My first encounter actually occurred way back in 1997, when I rented a VHS tape of recent anime from a Japanese corner store in Houston. On the tape, among other random anime, was a recently aired episode of Ninku. I don't remember what the other stuff was, but I distinctly remember being totally shocked and blown away by the quality of the Ninku episode, and not being able to forget it for a long time afterwards. I didn't watch much anime back then either, so the fact that the first random anime episode I happened to pick up was that good got me to wondering - half in despair - whether all anime had become that good in the short span I'd been away; but in the event, no, I later discovered that I had stumbled across the most famous episode in the series, one far above the norm both then and now, hence sparing me much time in front of the TV.

Besides having a great opening animated by Tetsuya Nishio (who also did KA in episodes 13 & 48 and AD/KA in 15 & 50), Ninku apparently featured a number of other high-quality episodes such as episodes 14, 22, 29 & 45. Episode 29 is the earliest sally in the genre I know of by Atsushi Wakabayashi (animation director/key animation), who has now established himself as the reigning master in his Naruto episodes.

Norio Matsumoto's brief appearance in the series (#2) signals his first involvement in the genre, to be picked up shortly.

Yu Yu Hakusho #30, 35, 41, 47, 52, 58, 66, 74

- 新房昭之 Akiyuki Shinbo (director/storyboard)
- 若林厚史 Atsushi Wakabayashi (key animation)

1992's Yu Yu Hakusho, one of the biggest hits of the 90s and the spark of the fighting anime boom, was the baby steps in the genre for most of the same handful of people who have been responsible for pretty much everything good in the genre since then.

The late episodes by the Shinbo/Wakabayashi team are the high point of the series. Apart from his episodes with Shinbo, Wakabayashi was also AD on episodes 6, 12, 15, 23 (+KA) & 48.

Tetsuya Nishio also did a lot animation in this series: episodes 2, 9, 14, 19, 26, 33, 43, 49, 56, 62, 70, 86 & 92. This was the period when he was influenced by Satoru Utsunomiya, who worked alongside him as a key animator in episodes 19 & 26.

Shinbo has been active in other areas since then. Among other things, he went on to do Metal Fighter Miku (#4 & 13) and Ginga Ojosama Densetsu Yuna (#1), and more recently the OVA コゼットの肖像 (Le Portrait de Petite Cosette), a high quality gothic horror type thing, all of which he directed with the same exacting and peculiar touch that made his fighting anime so noteworthy and interesting.

Rekka no Honoo #6, 22

- 松本憲生 Norio Matsumoto (key animation)

Before recently doing the FX animation in the aforementioned episodes of Naruto (he also animated two cuts in the latest opening), the prolific Norio Matsumoto left behind one of the most impressive animated sequences of his illustrious career in episode 22 of this fighting anime.

Rurouni Kenshin #30, 31, 60, 66, 85

Around the same time, Matsumoto did animation in a number of episodes of Rurouni Kenshi before going on to do...

Hunter x Hunter #11, 17, 22, 28

...the movie-quality action in episode 28 of which is his strongest work in this series, and leads directly to Naruto shortly afterwards, thus closing the loop.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

03:45:30 pm , 269 words, 1428 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Fixed Mind Game trailer / Ghibli x Yomiuri

Mind Game Official SiteFirst off, here is a working version of the Mind Game trailer. The one on the official web site is all crappy.

Nishi: Am I dead?

God: YEEEEEAAAAASSSSS!!

Browsing Google, it looks like the trailer is finally getting people's attention. All right! Mind Game is without a doubt going to be an epoch-making film for anime, probably the defining moment for the next generation of anime films. The problem is, especially here in the west, that casual viewers may be turned off at first by the strange imagery, and might miss a great film that they'd otherwise love just for something so petty. Yes, it will be an artistic, bizarre, thought-provoking and disturbing film - but also a spectacularly entertaining feel-good summer blockbuster that everyone, anime fan or no, will enjoy if we can just convince them to watch it! So let's us fans try to spread the word to get as many people to see this important film as possible to make it the success it deserves to be!

I'm a little late, but I noticed Ghibli had a Yomiuri Shimbun advertisement airing in April. Just a guess, but it sure as heck looks a helluvalot like Osamu Tanabe animated the thing! Lovin it! My favorite animators are taking over Ghibli! There is some justice in the world.

If it is Tanabe, then this commercial comes as a followup to the Umacha commercial he did in 2001, shortly after the release of My Neighbors the Yamadas. (For the uninitiated, Osamu Tanabe is the wonderful animator who directed and storyboarded the second half of Yamadas; for more info, see filmography.)

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

02:00:47 pm , 255 words, 2547 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game review list

Read a great piece yesterday in the latest issue of Kyoto Journal by William R. Stimson talking about Durians. My curiosity is piqued. I've seen them around, too (we're blessed in Vancouver with tons of Asian markets of all stripes). I wonder if they're in season? In the meantime I bought some strawberries yesterday that are absolutely scrumptuous. Why is it that whenever I try to peel a mango, I wind up getting more of it on my hands than in the bowl? Is there some trick to it that I don't know?

Onto today's topic.

Mind Game Official SiteI thought I'd throw together a list of sites mentioning Masaaki Yuasa's upcoming film Mind Game. Apologies to readers who cannot read Japanese, because most of them are currently Japanese sites. The film has only been seen in test screenings in Japan. What's incredible is how everyone who went to those test screenings, without exception, praises it higher than heaven -- the new 金字塔 (benchmark) for animated films, the best film I've ever seen, etc. I'll probably continue to add to the list for a while as the trickle of reviews changes to a torrent once the movie finally hits our shores, probably early next year.

Monday, June 14, 2004

05:28:56 pm , 103 words, 2212 views     Categories: Animation

Portable Airport

Hideaki Anno is reported to have commented of Shinya Ohira's key animation, which is featured alongside that of other bad-boy animators like Hideki Hamasu, Shinji Hashimoto and Shinji Otsuka in ポータブル空港 (Portable Airport), the new three-minute Ghibli subsidiary short being shown before Anno's Cutey Honey film, that it was "beyond correction", ie, なおしようがない, there was no way to correct his drawings, as key animator's drawings usually are by the animation director, because of the extremity of their idiosyncrasy. Great to see Ohira getting so famous.

Feeling flaccid today after skipping weight training yesterday. Beautiful byzantine clouds. Transient showers. Helicopter in the distance against this backdrop.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

01:37:56 pm , 752 words, 2488 views     Categories: Animation

Stand-outs

It's pretty rare for me to watch a whole series from start to end. More often than not with anime, there's simply no need, because once you've seen one episode, you've seen them all - and sometimes even one episode is more than you wanted to see! The first episode is often a good place to stop, too, because it's often the best produced in the entire series. Occasionally, however, you get one-shots in the middle of a series that stand out from the rest for whatever reason - usually because of the staff that were involved in that particular episode. Today I'll point out a few such instances in recent anime to illustrate my point.

Naruto #30, #71 - The two episodes that stand head and shoulders above the rest of the series in terms of extravagant and kick-ass action animation. And what army was responsible for it all? An army of two: Atsushi Wakabayashi (storyboard, director, animation director, animator) and Norio Matsumoto (animator). (check out this site for a selection of clips from episode 30)

Popolo Crois (2004) #6 - In this much-talked-about episode, famous animator Yoshinori Kanada, using the pseudonym Isuke Togakushi, staged a sort of comeback to the genre of wild action that had made him famous in the 70s/80s after many years of absence. Alongside him were a number of animators in the Kanada "school" - animators who had grown up watching Kanada, and had become animators because of Kanada: Hiroyuki Imaishi, Masahito Yamashita, Yo Yoshinari. A very moving meeting of like-minded animators, the episode is a wild bash of kinetic freestyle animation of the sort that you just don't see anymore, which is something I for one miss. Where has this sort of freedom gone?

Rahxephon #15 - One of the great realistic animators of the last decade or so, Mitsuo Iso, mounted his directing debut in this episode, which is radically different (and better) than the rest of the episodes in terms of both directing and animation. The animation is subtle and realistic, as befitting the style Iso has pioneered. Iso himself presumably animated the absolutely spellbinding part where the rocks crumble into the water. Nobody can draw animation like this but Iso. No contest: the best episode in the series, without even having seen any of the other episodes.

Puchi Puri Yuushi #7 - Hiroyuki Imaishi turned this episode of an otherwise ordinary moe Gainaix show into an action free-for-all that stands out in stark contrast to the rest of the series.

Abenobashi Shotengai #3 & #12 - Maybe each episode of this series was purposely made in a unique style to match the gimmick of the week, but none of them were half as good as Hiroyuki Imaishi's episodes, which really stand out from the rest.

Haibane Renmei #8 & #13 - This series (an instant classic, to be sure) had a stable but rather monotone animation style, whereas for some reason these two episodes were conspicuously better animated - although some actually complained about this because they found the stylistic change jarring. Rumors have it that Norio Matsumoto, the most important TV animator of the last decade, was responsible, though he isn't listed in the credits. Take particular note of the short but superb cut of the crow alighting from the windmill around 15 minutes in to episode #8. To say nothing of the shot of flying into the well, and the extraordinary animation of the climactic train scene in the last episode.

Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo #19 - The infamous paper cutout episode by Hiroyuki Imaishi needs no explanation.

Digimon #21 - Although not a stand-out in terms of the animation, this episode is definitely one of the more famous stand-outs of recent years in terms of the directing, by up-and-coming director Mamoru Hosoda (the guy who declined Ghibli's invitation to direct Howl's Moving Castle, and who went on to direct the first two Digimon movies, which I intent to write about later). The sense of stasis and distanciation created by the frequent framing of shots using a wide-angle lens (or its animated simulacrum), the sense of rhythm created by staccato cuts between slow pans, the characteristic use of photorealistic backgrounds modeled directly on existing housing projects, the pervasive silence and background buzz of ambient sounds, the focus on everyday life, the minute attention to detail - all of these things, so unexpected within the context of Digimon, make this episode a classic instance of a stand-out episode, for which reason our picture of the day comes from here.

I think that'll do for now.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

10:38:21 pm , 460 words, 1831 views     Categories: Animation

Yasuo Otsuka Documentary

I'm exhausted from a thorny legal translation, so I'll keep things short. I'll just mention a DVD that's being released at the end of the month: a documentary about Yasuo Otsuka, one of the greatest Japanese animators of the last 50 years. It's unfortunate (though understandable) that he isn't just as well known as his longtime comrades who went on to form Studio Ghibli, while he stayed on at Telecom as a teacher spreading his knowledge about animation to a whole generation of eager students, because he is with no exaggeration one of the most important and influential animators currently alive in Japan. Otsuka possesses a knowledge of the history of the anime industry during the period in which he was active that is quite simply second to none, so a documentary like this is sure to be equally informative as a capsule history of that period of anime. And with his avuncular demeanor and open and likeable personality, it's the ideal medium for presenting Otsuka's work to a wider public, simultaneously serving as a timely followup to Otsuka's autobiography, Sakuga Ase Mamire, which was released in a revised edition three years ago. While essential reading in itself, the book can now serve as an ideal next step for people coming from the DVD looking to learn more about the master.

(drop me a line if you're thinking of publishing it in English and you're looking for a translator ;D)

Here's a short list of his scenes in the Toei films:

  • Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke - the salamander monster
  • Saiyuki - the bull monster
  • Anju & Zushiomaru - the crab monster
  • Little Prince & the 8-Headed Dragon - the dragon
  • Hols, Prince of the Sun - the fish monster

Notice a trend? Otsuka always animated the big ugly monsters.

After leaving Toei in 1969, Otsuka did animation for a number of TV series at TMS animation subsidiary A Pro - Tensai Bakabon, Dokonjo Gaeru, Ore wa Teppei, Gamba no Boken, Samurai Giants - before going on to focus on animation directing. His animation of the opening of Samurai Giants remains particularly renowned. His work as an animation director is more widely known, but I'll just mention in passing one that isn't as well known: the 1969 TMS version of Moomin. Although the material was highly unusual for Otsuka, and he wasn't too keen on it (too fluffy), this series should not be overlooked, because Otsuka was never one to take the easy way out, and the level of quality is just as high as anything else Otsuka ever did.

I should also mention that the DVD is relatively inexpensive as Japanese DVDs go, like Yanagawa Horiwari Monogatari, which was released a few months ago, so kudos to Ghibli for continuing to release essential non-animated fare like this on DVD.

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Friday, June 11, 2004

06:27:05 pm , 1770 words, 3633 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Recent TV anime

No particular Shinichiro W fan, but I'm finding Samurai Champloo to be diverting enough to watch. No particular Kazuto Nakazawa fan either, but I was impressed by the amount of detail and hustle he crammed into episode 1, so I'm rethinking my opinion of him. But the best thing about the show is the op by Takeshi Koike, which is just what you'd hope and expect it to be. The movement! And the drawings! Watch some of those cuts in slo-mo to see the drawings that are in there. This is animation. Of a kind only Koike can do.

Feels like we've been blessed with continuous airtime of intersting shows lately. Looking backwards:

Planetes

There's a lot to be said about a sci-fi anime that doesn't have recourse to giant robots and gun battles. There's a lot to be said about Planetes, a truly original and finely crafted anime that painted the picture of regular people going through the sort of struggles we can all relate to. Perhaps the drama was melodramatic. This is indisputable. The screaming and shouting is truly overboard. But let's overlook that.

The directing by Goro Taniguchi was truly satisfying. The character designs by Yuriko Chiba were very nice, a compromise between the popular and the realistic. The key to what makes this series great and unique, however, lies not in these things but in the script. The whole thing - every episode - was written by Hitosakura Okawauchi (whose name I apologize if I'm misspelling, because it's a doozy). You just don't get this sort of luxury anymore these days in anime. The last time I remember was Marco back in '76. What a sense of unity it brings! And the stuff is good. The variety of drama and themes he brings to every episodes is truly impressive. Hats off, ladies and gentlemen, to a herculean task well done.

In the final count I think this was a series aimed squarely at my generation (people now in their 20s). I found I could relate to its picture of the world, and there was a genuine attachment to the characters that made the denoument uncommonly moving - why? Because the characters changed. That's the key. The characters changed in response to their experiences in unexpected ways, changed their plans about their future, changed their outlook. The only other anime I've seen that succeeded in showing how people change and grow old - a formidable task in a medium as unsuited to mimesis as animation - was Takahata's Anne of Green Gables, which succeeds in garnering an intense emotional response from the viewer, if it does, only because it actually puts great effort into depicting the physical and mental changes that visit the characters over time, ie, the aging process. Doesn't that play a part in forging emotional bonds in real life? Knowing a loved one is growing older and will die one day?

The animation. The animation is generally very stable, and the visuals are of the highest order imaginable, which comes as no surprise from the formidable Sunrise. That said, there was rarely anything astounding in the animation. It was more a case of enjoying the wonderfully stable level of animation. However, there was one figure who I consistently noticed in the credits whenever the level of quality in the animation of the episode I'd just seen somehow felt higher than normal, and that's Seiichi Hashimoto (7, 11, 13, 16, 17, 21, 26). He was one of the figures who pushed the animation of Planetes just beyond good into very good. Two others whom I noticed appeared to help maintain that high level of quality are Shuji Sakamoto and Ken'ichi Yoshida. Yoshida joined Hashimoto in animating the ending sequence. Rarely do I watch an op/ed every episode unless it's really good. I watched this one every time. The assiduous attention to detail and obvious love and craftsmanship that went into the ending makes it a truly outstanding piece that deserves the highest praise.

As soon as Planetes ended, we got...

Paranoia Agent

Opinions will vary widely about this one, but it's a success in my book. Animation-wise there's lots of interest. In fact, this series represents probably the biggest assemblage of big-name animators to grace any TV anime in many years. Leading them all was Toshiyuki Inoue, who appears to have singlehandedly done so much to support the animation of this series. His effects animation for the last episode is really unparalleled in anything I've ever seen in a TV anime.

In the first several episodes we get Masashi Ando, Ken'ichi Konishi, Tadashi Hiramatsu, Hiroyuki Oguro... which is pleasant enough, but then we get to the crowning jewel of the series, episode 8, and things really start to take off. This is undoubtedly Satoru Utsunomiya's most glorious acheivement yet, a chef d'oeuvre, an episode that proves decisively that he has what it takes to become a great director if he'd only be given the chance.

It features the most astonishing lineup of animators yet: Toshiyuki Inoue, Tetsuya Nishio, Norio Matsumoto, Hiroyuki Okiura, Kazuchika Kise, Takeshi Honda... Seriously, if you expect to find better anywhere else, you're loopy. The discovery of the series for me was Michio Mihara - the teeth man. He did half the KA in episode 4 and that baseball vignette with the guys all talking through their teeth in the v/a episode 9.

Two of those were animated by Ando Masashi - the betting one and the spaceship one. He also did animation in three other episodes and AD of one, in addition to being the main character designer. What a talent. It's no wonder he's so big at Ghibli. Then there's Shinji Hashimoto, who did animation in two episodes, Maromi in 10 and the battles in 12. Episode 10, masterfully storyboarded by Tatsuo Sato, is a real stand-out, probably the most perfectly crafted in the series after Utsunomiya's.

But the contrast is interesting: I can rewatch Utsunomiya's and never tire of it and discover new things, but I wouldn't rewatch episode 10. Once you've seen it, it isn't satisfying to rewatch because you already know what happens and it doesn't offer any more rewards. I think Utsunomiya's episode is different because there is some deep, poetic power there in the pacing of the episode, in the framing of the shots, that just can't be mimiced by anyone, no matter how good; Utsunomiya is the real thing, a poet of sorts.

OK, while we're at it, let's pick out the important animators and good bits in each episode.

1. Hideki Hamasu, Toshiyuki Inoue, Norio Matsumoto. Great episode. Kon storyboarded this and the last episode. Good bits: Tsukiko running by Inoue, Maromi coming alive by Matsumoto (?). Love the lecherous storyboarding of the ice-cream scene.

2. Masashi Ando. Very stable level of animation overall, but nothing that grabs the attention.

3. Steep drop in animation quality.

4. Stable level of animation maintained by Michio Mihara, but nothing particularly phenomenal.

5. Very peculiar drawing style by Mamoru Sasaki that I didn't care for at all. One good animated bit: the big fish by Ken'ichi Konishi. Konishi is a recent discovery for me. He animated the scene in Jin-Roh near the end where a character in the sewer slides down a wall through some water, and my favorite scene in the Digimon War Game movie, where the kid goes to the bathroom because he drank too much tea, in addition to recently doing a great job as AD of Tokyo Godfathers, keeping the look even while maintaining the individuality of the animators - no mean feat.

6. Not at all happy with the animation here.

7. Masashi Ando. Memory loss...

8. The masterpiece of the series. Good bits are everywhere. The whole thing qualifies as one extended good bit. Absolutely wonderful. In particular my favorite is Okiura's part right at the beginning where the old man turns away and starts running from the girl. Inoue probably did the part where the three are trying to hang themselves, because it's one of the best animated bits in the episode. Don't really know what parts the others did... (Matsumoto, Nishio, Honda)

9. A great episode. Is there any other TV anime episode anywhere that has deliberately put together a variety of clashing animation styles like this episode? Inoue did the test part. Mihara did the baseball and the castaway parts. Inoue and Hamasu on the boxing part. Ando did the betting and rocket parts, as mentioned.

10. I think Shinji Hashimoto did Maromi. Amazingly unified animation from AD Masashi Ando.

11. Not my cup of tea - Mamoru Sasaki again.

12. Michio Mihara, Shinji Hashimoto, Hiroyuki Ogura. Hashimoto's action scenes.

13. Toshiyuki Inoue, Masashi Ando, Hiroyuki Okiura, Hideki Hamasu, Takeshi Honda, Michio Mihara. THE EFFECTS! Unparalled catastrophe animation. There's a quick series of very short cuts that is absolutely jaw-dropping near the end when the amorphous mass is retreating. Okiura?

=> The moral is: If there were more interesting projects like this, perhaps we'd see Japan's good animators doing more stuff on TV and not just in films all the time.

As soon as Paranoia Agent ended, we got...

Tweeny Witches

A pleasant surprise from the professionals at surprising you, Studio 4C. This update of the maho shojo genre feels like a success to me thanks to the hip contemporary humor and the great balance that makes it appealing to all ages, and the production style is actually an innovation: Four people alternate handling all aspects of an episode (though this is not always the case). Yasuhiro Aoki, who did episodes 2, 6 (storyboard only) and 9 so far, is my current favorite, with a wonderfully convincing and fresh new style full of insanely elliptical shots (like the 20 second-long extreeeeme closup of that scary-looking guy's face while a bunch of characters were talking off-screen in episode 2) that he somehow manages to pull off, seemingly with the utmost ease. There are very nice bits of animation here and there in the series (though I've never seen any credits to figure out who did what), like the explosion in episode 5, the witch shooting a blast six minutes into episode 6, the LOTL funny animation of Arusu seven minutes into episode 9...

And now Samurai Champloo. It's a pretty good time for TV anime, all in all, though there's always room for improvement. But is there really a need to have 30 new shows coming out every season? At last count I think the number of TV anime airing was like 100. Isn't that a little overboard? The funny thing is, there are people who actually watch it all. I'm glad they do, so I don't have to. They can pick out the good bits for me. Because I know they're few and far between.

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Friday, June 11, 2004

11:36:39 am , 97 words, 778 views     Categories: Animation

Hataddendum

I guess the reason I was only middling happy with the Hata Firebird episode was because I've always had this nagging feeling that he's always had it in him to be making stuff just as good as Goku, and if he had he'd be famous by now, but for whatever reason he just never has. Just check out this episode of Tamagocchi, the mini-mini-series he did a few years ago. The wry humor, the warm mood, the perfect pacing of the gags -- this is what Hata excels at, and he should have done more of it.

Friday, June 11, 2004

08:14:51 am , 283 words, 1014 views     Categories: Animation

Hinotori final

Shinji Hashimoto in #7 and Manabu Ohashi in #5. Both listed at the top of the list yet I couldn't tell what they did! Hashimoto probably did the one cut of Sakon stepping towards Bikuni, the only cut in the whole episode that was actually animated. Hata's storyboard was very Hata, so it felt good to see him being himself, but not much more than that.

Watching Hinotori convinced me that Tezuka's character designs are simply not suited to animation. Which is ironic, since they arose from animation. It perfectly encapsulates how bass-ackwards his whole understanding of animation was. Take animation designs, turn them into manga, then turn them back into animation - should work perfectly as animation, right? Wrong. They just look like cardboard cutouts on the screen. This could probably more fairly be blamed on the animators of this particular series, who either didn't try very hard or just are too damn reverent with his designs, and Sugino's actual CD, which just feels stilted and mannered by now. Goku is the real way these designs should be treated - with freedom and fun. It's about the only successful Tezuka anime I've seen that actually works as animation. It's the perfect example of what could have been achieved with the limited Mushi Pro style. All in all--animation, story, ideas--embarrassingly passé. This firebird is fowl all right, but it's a turkey.

Mossafer. This movie pops into my head every once in a while, spontaneously, just like that. It occupies that large a place in my psyche. Today's image is from this movie. This kid is the Huck of Iranian cinema. The scene where he makes fun of the skinny marathoner cracks me up every time.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

10:45:50 am , 246 words, 1222 views     Categories: Animation

Hinotori

Link: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/anime/hinotori/

I was delighted to discover that Masami Hata did the storyboard for episode 5 of the recent anime adaptation of Tezuka's "life work", produced by NHK, and upon investigating, I noticed that none other than Gisaburo Sugii did script & storyboard for episode 7. Despite being a onetime fan of Tezuka the manga-ka, I have my reservations about whether there is really any need to resurrect Tezuka's dubious anime legacy in this day and age, but just from those two names, without further ado I decided this series was worth investigating from the beginning. Here we have two of the big Mushi Pro vets approaching retirement age working on the Master's magnum opus - plus of course other expat luminaries like character designer Akio Sugino (who else?) and director Takahashi "Votoms" Ryosuke. It's kind of touching. The end of an era. I thought they were reserving the best chapter, Hououhen, for last, but I now realize they're not going to do it?! Hello? To me, Hinotori is synonymous with Hououhen. When I sold off my set of Hinotori books, I only kept Hououhen. What are they thinking? Oh well. Production quality is said to be high, as befitting the material, and if you're going to animate a new Tezuka piece, it's the obvious choice, but despite that, for some reason I still just find the whole idea extremely nonplussing. I'll be content just to finally be able to see two great animators back in action on their home turf.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

07:50:38 pm , 764 words, 2373 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game Trailer

Link: http://www.mindgame.jp/

Mind Game Official Site

I just couldn't resist. I swore I wouldn't watch the trailer before the movie, to retain the impact of watching it unprepared, but the second my eye caught it on the updates page, it proved stronger than me, and I watched it. Yes, it was choppy, but GOD it was just as wonderful and mind-bending (an adjective sure to resurface regularly when the movie hits our shores) as I had surmised. Staggeringly wonderful. Sublimely terrific. My reservoir of bliss has been replenished for some time to come.

The official site informs me that, in addition to the new interview with Masaaki Yuasa printed in the June issue of Animage, there are now a handful of other media outlets doing coverage of Mind Game, including a television program that lists it among their '30 must-see' movies of the moment. Unfortunately I have not been able to find an Animage anywhere in Vancouver, so I'm still looking for that.

Fortunately, however, over at Web Anime Style--without any doubt the best anime-related publication ever--, Yuichiro Oguro, the editor, is currently in the process of putting up the old interview he did with Yuasa around 1996 for the print version of AS, and let me say, the joy hath been in abundance. It actually takes the form of a discussion between Toshiyuki Inoue and Masaaki Yuasa, and it's wonderfully fun and informative about both of their characters, as Oguro's great interviews always are. Most of my knoweldge of animators comes from AS, pretty much, with just a little 101 knowledge about Toei animators that I managed to scrounge up on way to the great learning that is AS.

The Mind Game comic, which allegedly has a major cult following in Japan (numbering among whom Koji Morimoto, who was the one who first showed the comic to Yuasa while they were working together on Noiseman), but had gone out of print so quickly due to its sheer bizarreness that during production of the movie version the entire workforce of Studio 4C had to be mobilized to comb Tokyo for copies of the by-then exceedingly rare volumes, is now slated to be reprinted in association with Oguro's company, Studio Yuu, around the end of June. Around the same time will be released the "Mind Game Remixed" DVD directed by Koji Morimoto, apparently a making-of/behind-the-scenes/preview featurette type thing. Both are pre-orderable from Amazon.jp and CD Japan. Their release happily coincides with my birthday.

As a fan of Yuasa, I've been dying to see the film since I first heard the rumours that it was in production in 2003, and the intervening months have been hard to endure, but the first signs were positive, and now everyting I've read points to only one thing: Mind Game is the movie of the year. And for me, it's the movie I've been waiting for since I first started watching anime. Sure, there's been some good stuff, but nothing really new, it always felt like they were still just playing in the sandbox, all the familiar habits and tics were there, and as endearing as they might be, what I wanted was something revolutionary and new, something like the impact of Miyazaki 25 years ago, something like what Shinya Ohira did in 1995 with his Hakkenden episode -- that's what I'd been hungering for, I now realized, the sort of movie that would really energize people, that you just couldn't look away from, uncategorizable, monstrously beautiful! I'm thinking Mind Game is going to be that movie. The movie to shatter the still of that old pond. Kaeru tobikomi, mizu no oto. BANG! As searingly unforgettable as that pivotal gunshot scene in the film.

Nekojiru-so was great, the best anime film I'd seen in years, no doubt, and it got some people's attention, but this is going to be ten times that, undiluted Yuasa, the real thing. I can't wait for the reaction over here. All the blogs I've read by people who went to the preview screenings speak of the experience using the sort of rapturous language more reminiscent of a religious experience than a mere film screening. They tell of an excitement that just wouldn't go away after seeing the film. Of literally not being able to get it out of their mind. Of being inspired to live life to its fullest, to break out of those self-imposed barriers, to charge ahead and make the most of every moment, and to be positive and only positive, nothing else, because life is too short and precious to be anything else! Mind Game is that kind of movie.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

01:46:00 am , 108 words, 1056 views     Categories: Site News

Hello and welcome!

Welcome to this new thing I've decided to do. I'll be using this space to jot down notes about animation-related stuff I see or read. I'll be keeping things very informal, as usual.

The site was just transferred to a new DNS today with my new host, Ion Web. I'm happy with the services so far, which included the cgi for this blog as well as the guestbook and BBS cgis that now grace the site. :D

It is extremely late. I must to bed.

Not anime-related, but I'm nearing completion on my first short story translation, to be posted soon on another new part of my site.

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