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: August 2004, 06

Friday, August 6, 2004

04:33:47 pm , 931 words, 1426 views     Categories: Animation, OVA

Eternal Family

Studio 4°C's mini-mini-series Eternal Family (1997-8) is finally available, and thankfully not in a limited edition like many of Studio 4°C's releases. I've watched it twice now to catch everything and figure out the story. I could accept people complaing about the story, that it's not well developed, that it's difficult to follow; but really that's like complaining that Tarkovsky is slow. That's just the nature of the beast. It certainly isn't for everyone.

It's for me, though. I loved it. For me this is probably the first piece longer than 3 minutes by Studio 4°C that I felt truly reflected the real spirit of the studio. That unchecked experimental spirit that just throws in every interesting idea. Experiencing the labyrinthine world of this anime is similar to wandering around that crazy Beyond C web site of theirs.

The way the series came to be actually is pretty easy to figure out, once you've watched it all. I suppose that beforehand they set up the basic outline, maybe some details, just to have in the back of their minds; then they just came up with funny gags and let the person in charge of each episode have fun with the characters. That's really the heart of the series: letting the animators have fun with the basic premise and set of characters. One animator draws each episode. That's what I like most about this series. That every time you get to see the personality of an animator fully expressed.

One of the big reasons I was looking forward to this was to see Tatsuyuki Tanaka in action as an animator. He's one of those animators whose reputation far outpaces the actual volume of his work. Since he drew his first key animation in Battle Royale High School (the one cut of the school exploding) he did Tetsuo's arm in Akira, then the classic smoke-through-the-nostrils scene in Download, the opening gunfight of Green Legend Ran, and the dojo fight in Hakkenden #9... but not that much else. Since then doing Eternal Family five years ago he's been busy working on his feature film debut at Studio 4°C, as well as drawing illustrations and manga. (Tanaka's fertile imagination also being the reason why he's been called on to do a lot of layout and conceptualization work for various anime, like Roujin Z.) So the fact that the total number of cuts (shots) he's animated can practically be counted on the hands and feet goes far to suggesting the special, truly outstanding quality of his animation. For animation buffs like myself, he's remained an animator first and foremost, so it's been lonely not seeing him animating, and I hope he comes back to animation one day.

Here I think he's done some of his best work. I have a list of exactly what he did in his episodes thanks to a memo on Yuichiro Oguro's diary, though his episodes are easily identifiable once you've seen the whole thing through twice.

11 - Dad apologizing to doll (animation)
13 - Mom doing aerobics (animation)
19 - Changing the lightbulb (animation)
20 - Fishtank (storyboard, directing, animation)
24 - Family in the water (animation)
29 - Children finding doll (storyboard, animation)
32 - 2 million reward offer (storyboard, animation)
38 - Dad bellydancing (storyboard, animation)
44 - This way to the bathroom (storyboard, animation)
52 - Crazy boss dance (animation)
53 - Dad running (animation)

The most conspicuous is #20, for which he did everything. The ideas, the layout, the sepia tone - everything is totally, unmistakably the work of Tatsuyuki Tanaka. It's like one of his drawings come to life. Animation-wise the most impressive are the ones where Tatsuyuki draws vigorous body motion, eg, the episodes with mom and dad dancing. I was stunned, to be honest. I knew he was incredibly good, but I wondered if his work here would measure up to his other work. Not only does it measure up, it proves decisively that he's one of the best animators of realistic physical motion in Japan. This is one of those guys who was good right from his very first key animation. After his fourth episode he storyboarded most of his episodes, and the wonderful atmosphere he creates via his storyboarding leaves one feeling one has had a tantalizing foretaste of what is to come in his film, if it ever gets done.

Interesting to notice that here he was given another underwater scene to animate. Presumabily this is due to the excellent quality of the underwater scene he did just before in Noiseman. There's a part in the latter where there's a psychedelic, distorted zoom-in on the protagonist's eye. It looks like it could have been done by CG or camera tricks, but no, he drew it all himself. Another animator from Noiseman we find here again is Jiro Kanai, with whose work I'm not well enough versed to be able to pick it out.

And I'm happy to even see Aoki Yasuhiro! He's one of my latest discoveries, if you'll rememember my comments on his episodes of Studio 4°C's current TV show Tweeny Witches. Eternal Family is his earliest work I know of, coming as it does a few years before Animatrix, which was immediately followed by Tweeny.

Also, one of the things that makes the series work despite its very one-off, fragmentary nature, is the zaniness of the writing. Even when the jokes are really crass, they're funny because of the deftness with which they're presented. I got the same feeling from certain episodes of Samurai Champloo - which? Yes, Dai Sato's. He co-writes the series with director Koji Morimoto.