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: July 2004, 06

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

08:33:14 pm , 482 words, 812 views     Categories: Animation

Peter Pan #12

I've now seen the first third of Peter Pan, and easily the high point so far is episode 12, Scary Stories, featuring animation director Hiroyuki Okiura. This is the first episode where things really come together in just the way you'd expect from an anime TV series presided over by Takashi Nakamura.

Around 1989 Nippon Animation was looking to shake up the image of the World Masterpiece Theater. Ratings were down. Times were changing. They wanted to start doing more well-known stories. Their answer? Peter Pan. It was a radical change; by far the most famous story they'd done up until then. And how to design a radically different story? How else -- with a radically different design. Enter Takashi Nakamura.

Nakamura had just completed a thoroughly punishing stint as the animation director of Akira, a film in which he was deeply involved without being able to have as much creative input as he probably wanted. Nakamura had already created extremely original and idiosyncratic pieces like Chicken Man and Red Head and The Order to Stop Construction prior to his involvement in Akira, which comes across as a very dark period indeed when he talks about it in retrospect. Peter Pan gave him back the creative freedom he'd so missed. Episode 12, featuring probably the largest concentration of single-episode designs in the series, is an all-out parade of the silly-yet-creepy monsters at which Nakamura excels, a veritable closet full of zany skeletons of the sort that will look very familiar to anyone who has seen Chicken Man and Red Head.

Combine Nakamura's emblematic designs with the fluid and detailed animation stylings of Hiroyuki Okiura, the genius animator responsible for the striking animation of the mob scene in Akira, and things really take off. Indeed, the characters in this episode feel incredibly Akira-ish -- their poses, the way their hands are drawn. At times I almost thought that was Kaneda up on the screen talking rather than Peter Pan. Then there's this cut, obviously lifted directly from a scene in Akira:

It just feels really right as an episode, the symbiosis is there. It's like a few jazz musician buddies got together for a jam session. Okiura's attention to detail and innate sense for thrilling movement shines through in the black-backdrop story sequence: Witness the detailed animation of the skeleton exploding into a billion little bits, and the sprightly animation of Peter Pan flying by Toshiyuki Tsuru, a skilled action animator who later went on to create a lot of good physical movement in fighting anime like Ninku and Naruto.

It's true that we're dealing with a pull here that has very little to do with the pull of a Marco or a Heidi -- it's a one-dimensional pull rather than a 3-dimensional one. Putting that aside, there's much that can and should be appreciated here, if you just take the time to look for it.