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, 11

Friday, June 11, 2004

06:27:05 pm , 1770 words, 3679 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:


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, 796 views     Categories: Animation


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, 1032 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.