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: October 2004

Monday, October 25, 2004

04:20:16 pm , 251 words, 3126 views     Categories: Animation

Digital Stadium

Kosuke Kawase: Long Autumn Sweet ThingShingo Abe: Tokyo StationMaya Asakura: Tarachine6nin: Chalkdust
Yusuke Shigeta: ScienceUshio Tazawa: Life no ColorAtsuko Ishizuka: GravitationNorihito Iki: A Ghost Story

NHK, Japan's PBS, has been showcasing digital shorts by young artists on a show called Digital Stadium since 2000. Several of the creators I talked about recently -- Atsuko Ishizuka, Ushio Tazawa -- in fact first appeared on the scene via this program. For each week's show, a "curator" is appointed to come up with a theme for the show that will be used as the selection criterion for recently submitted films. Koji Morimoto has been a regular curator, and Isao Takahata and Satoshi Kon have curated recently. The curator selects his films, the films are aired, and afterwards curator and guests bring their experience and wisdom to bear in discussing each film's merits, finally electing one of the entries to the "hall of fame". At the end of the year they then vote on a year's best in various categories from among the films that were elected to the hall of fame; last year Ushio Tazawa won the grand prize for Life no Color. Every one of the films that was elected to the hall of fame can be viewed online in whole or in part. Further, the Digital Art Festival Tokyo that was held a few months ago (where Masaaki Yuasa and Koji Morimoto presented a talk about Mind Game) held a contest called the DigiSta DAF Selection, where they allowed people to vote for their ten favorite films shown so far that year on Digital Stadium that didn't make the hall of fame; those films are also available for viewing online.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

08:40:02 pm , 38 words, 2140 views     Categories: Mind Game

Mind Game storyboard

Masaaki Yuasa has had a column on Anime Style for a few months now, and in the most recent column he posted some of the Mind Game storyboard, including a rejected shot. (panel one, panel two, panel three)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

08:03:18 pm , 281 words, 1722 views     Categories: Animation

Hiramatsu & Beck

I was reading an interview with Tadashi Hiramatsu, the character designer and AD of ep 1 of Re: Cutey Honey and AD of eps 1, 3 and 6 of FLCL, and one thing that came up was that he approaches the act of designing a character (and he does not consider himself to be a designer but an animator first and foremost) with the animators in mind rather than as a means of personal expression. Obviously aesthetic plays some part in all designs, but what makes his approach exceptional is that most of the time these days it's taken for granted that the aesthetic side takes precedence over practicality. And the reason is obvious: most of the time there's no need to create a character that is easy to move because the designs are the end, not the means, and animation will be present in the capacity of spice, not meat. It was also interesting to discover that he shares my passion for pre-baroque music. I also went through my conductor mania stage many years ago, comparing the rubato or the tempo of this Walter 5th with that Weingartner or Furtwangler wartime or what not, and he makes an amusingly apt point about the similarity of this mindset to the that of animator freaks like myself.

Episode 3 of Beck was not in fact done by Osamu Kobayashi. It seemed unlikely that it would be. That's just too much work for one person. So it's not surprising that I was slightly disappointed by the results. Animation unimpressive, pacing and dramatic balance unconvincing. I realize now that without the sensitive directing of the first two eps this story is revealed for the stock growing-up drama it is.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

07:00:14 pm , 417 words, 2064 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Mankatsu & Minna no Uta

They finally fixed that damn R in Beck. The final ep of Re: Cutey Honey is coming soon, after a month's delay in the production schedule, so they're obviously putting in the effort.

Apparently Osamu Kobayashi drew storyboard for a new series based on Monkey Punch stories. But I think this is the Asia-Do Kobayashi, not the one doing Beck right now. He's joined by another figure from the A Pro era, Tsutomu Shibayama, who is most famous for being the layout man on the 1975 Gamba's Adventures.

The series has an unusual format, consisting of a "grand stage" and then a "mini stage" and then a "short part" with 8 shorts. Shibayama and Kobayashi participated in the latter. There haven't been many shows that seemed suited to their talents over the last two decades, which is perhaps why we haven't seen as much of them (Shibayama has been busy with Doraemon). The animators of the shorts are apparently given a high degree of freedom with the designs and so on, so this offers a rare opportunity to see these veterans making animation the way they want. Incidentally, Shinji Arakawa, the designer of IG's recent Windy Tales, animated one of the shorts storyboarded by Shibayama (the one pictured here) and was AD of the one by Kobayashi in the same episode.

Yoshinori Kanemori drew a short in the first episode. I talked about Kanemori in the Toshio Hirata post. He's done a lot of great animation, like the Kenji Miyazawa OVA Kaze no Matasaburo, directed by Rintaro. He just recently did the animation for a new Minna no Uta episode called The Moon Waltz, directed by Atsuko Ishizuka, a Madhouse person, which I've heard is incredible. Possibly a major new female animator on the scene. It's nice to finally find an anime person who doesn't draw the same old hackneyed anime characters. I really like her line. Prior to entering Madhouse last year Ishizuka appears to have done a number of other shorts that look nice.

It's unfortunate that it's hard to get to see Minna no Uta over here, because there's been quite a bit of animation by interesting figures in it over the years. Seiichi Hayashi made a new short just last year. There's actually a DVD box available, released in April of this year, but the price (?40,320) is a little prohibitive, though the set does contain 12 DVDs. One good thing is that there's an online list of exactly what's included, so one knows what to expect.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

08:30:03 am , 697 words, 2690 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie

Animator memo & Super Indies

The animation director/character designer/mecha designer of Overman King Gainer, Ken'ichi Yoshida, whom I mentioned a few months ago as having done nice work on the ending of Planetes, has put up his key animation for the catchy dance in the opening of King Gainer on his home page, complete with time sheets. A nice study item. You can also see tons of the image boards he drew for the series. He was an animator in most of the 90s Ghibli films before going freelance in 1999.

The latest opening of Naruto features a bit of heavily worked full-frame action at the beginning. Tetsuya Nishio did the enemies sliding across the screen. The bit in the forest is especially nice. Takashi Hashimoto was the FX AD on Steam Boy, so not surprisingly here he did the explosion, which is extremely detailed, almost excessively so since it passes by rather quickly. Toshiyuki Inoue did a bit in Gankutsuoh #2.

The first annual Super Indies Film Festival is taking place in Ikebukuro from October 23 to 29. It will feature two animation programs dubbed "Next Anime", purporting to focus on today's up-and-coming young independents, who generally now work from home on their PC, in addition to individuals working in the anime industry who have a strong independent streak, like Masaaki Yuasa and Hiroyuki Imaishi. The thing of note is that Yuichiro Oguro is organizing the program, so that means not only that the anime lineup is interesting -- several exceptional recent features sharing the spotlight with independent creators -- but that he has the pull to get every single person who is represented by a film there at the festival as a speaker. And that includes Masaaki Yuasa, Hiroyuki Imaishi, Akitaroh Daichi and Mamoru Hosoda, in addition to all the independents.

Next Anime 1

[ Industry ]
Akitaroh Daichi - Makasete Iruka!, Dangogonta overseas edition
Masaaki Yuasa - Nekojiru-So, Mind Game trailer
[ Indie ]
Ushio Tazawa - Life No Color, 3 Men
Taruto Fuyama - Frank, SF-no-suke, Trigger Device Animation Workshop

Next Anime 2

[ Industry ]
Mamoru Hosoda - Superflat Monogram
Hiroyuki Imaishi - Dead Leaves
[ Indie ]
Hiroshi Murakami - Ganso Magic Circus
Akanemaru - Akanegumo, practice films

It's obviously interesting enough to get a festival screening Cat Soup and Dead Leaves together, but particularly nice is the rare opportunity to see Superflat Monogram (for the Louis Vuitton-deprived), and of course the indie films. Excerpts of some of these films are available on the net: Taruto Fuyama's Frank on Media Plaza; Daichi's Dangogonta on his home page; and Superflat Monogram on Catsuka. Makasete Iruka is an interesting case because it was made by industry people outside of the industry in a fashion more akin to independent filmmaking. And of course Cat Soup has been seen at lots of festivals, and feels like an independent art film, even though it was made by an anime studio within the industry system.

Ushio Tazawa and Hiroshi Murakami both worked for a period at Studio 4°C. Tazawa was a key animator on Princess Arete and is currently working as the animation director of Shinkai Makoto's latest film, The place promised in our early days. Murakami worked as the CG director on Kid's Story as well as a Studio 4°C short for the Grasshoppa! omnibus, and since going freelance in 2003 he has worked on Tokyo Godfathers and Paranoia Agent, and recently completed his own 11-minute toon shading film Magic Circus. Akanemaru is a two-person team made up of Tazuko Aso and Tetsuya Kawaguchi. Their light-hearted CG films focus on creating expressive facial animation. Fuyama Taruto throws characters from the flat expressive world of manga into a 3D environment. He has the most theoretical approach, but accessibility is an overriding priority, as it is with the other creators featured here, for good or ill. Not featured here are young independents creating more experimental animation, if there are any today in Japan, as I'm sure there are, even if they're such a minority-within-a-minority as to not even find a place at a festival called "Super Indies".

Incidentally, Mamoru Hosoda is currently at work on a film version of One Piece, and Masaaki Yuasa's next project is rumored to be a TV series nothing like Mind Game.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

04:29:29 pm , 258 words, 2473 views     Categories: Mind Game

Mind Game DVD

I was expecting to have to wait until next year, but it appears that we'll all be receiving a nice Christmas present this year. The release date for the Mind Game DVD has been set for December 22. I was skeptical as to how much would be included as an extra on the DVD due to the small number of people who voted on the survey, but all fears were unnecessary. Studio 4°C will be including most of the important items that were on the survey, which is much more than anyone was expecting. And the good news is, English subs are in.

The DVD will be released in three editions: the normal edition, a first-pressing edition, and a pre-order only edition. Here is a breakdown of the contents.

NORMAL EDITION - 1 DVD, ¥4442

- Japanese language/English subs
- Cover drawing by Masaaki Yuasa

DVD Extra Features:

- Film completion reception event
- Pre-screening talks
- Director's commentary
- Interviews
(and maybe more)

Included Extras:

Postcards illustrated by Koji Morimoto, Tatsuyuki Tanaka, et al.

"SPECIAL" FIRST-PRESSING EDITION - 2 DVDs, ¥11,520

Everything on the normal edition plus:

Special Features Disc:

- Animatic (not sure what this is)
- Art gallery
- Interviews

Additional Included Extras:

- Storyboard book

"PERFECT" PRE-ORDER ONLY EDITION - 4 DVDs + 1 CD + manga, ¥22,320

They'll only be making as many of these are people pre-order. Everything on the first-pressing edition plus:

Additional Included Extras:

- Image boards by Masaaki Yuasa
- Original soundtrack CD
- Mind Game manga by Robin Nishi
- Mind Game Remix DVD
- Co-Mix DVD

Saturday, October 16, 2004

01:29:43 pm , 207 words, 867 views     Categories: Animation

Two new eps

Episode 2 of Beck was again done by Osamu Kobayashi himself. Will he be doing every episode? Even if it is based on a manga, it would be unprecedented for one person to write/direct/storyboard every episode of an anime TV series. Gainax animator Yusuke Yoshigaki, who was in the op, contributed a nice FLCLish sequence. What's good about this series is that the work of an individualistic animator like Yoshigaki can go in seemingly unmodified even though it's way different from the rest.

Episode 21 of Tweeny Witches was done by Shogo Furuya, who was the director (enshutsu, not kantoku) of Tokyo Godfathers, one of the animation directors of Millennium Actress, animator in Spirited Away, etc. It was extremely well done, with a movielike atmosphere, lots of effective framing with extreme perspective, really nice drawings just slightly more realistic than usual for this series, and movement incorporating Ohira-like drift 'n wobble. The characters felt a lot more three-dimensional than usual, and bodies were drawn with subtle touches that gave a more realistic impression. Walking and running were especially good. He did episodes 10 and 13, but he wasn't the AD on those, as he was on this one, so they're not as unified and honed as this one is.

Monday, October 11, 2004

07:12:49 am , 930 words, 2024 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

New shows

The fall lineup has hit the air, and the hilight for me turns out to be Beck ep 1, in which Osamu Kobayashi puts on an amazing one-man show: writer/director/storyboarder of ep 1, in addition to series director, character designer, animator, opening storyboarder/director/animation director, and ending illustrator. Not surprisingly a number of good animators are involved. The first three listed are Ken'ichi Konishi, Norio Matsumoto and Yasunori Miyazawa. The op is nice, with lip-syncing, which is unusual in anime, and it features Takeshi Honda, Tadashi Hiramatsu, Yusuke Yoshigaki. I hope this trend continues throughout the rest of the series. This is a nice followup to Paranoia Agent for Madhouse. It's good to see them continuing to use good home-grown animators rather than just outsourcing everything.

As far as I know this is Osamu Kobayashi's directing debut, and it has that unpolished feeling of youth and inexperience. But that's not a bad thing. By no means. It feels great to see someone actually spreading his wings and trying to find himself in anime rather than just following the crowd and pumping out cookie-cutter characters and situations. This is an auspicious debut. I can't think of another series in recent memory that had one man behind the visuals and the directing like this, and that gives it a real sense of unity. Also it's very rare for an anime director to also go to the trouble of writing an episode like Kobayashi has done here. That reveals the depth of his devotion to the task of making this thing good. Apparently he event did the "location hunting" himself, basing a lot of the scenes on actual places around Tokyo (like the ramen booth) that he went around and photographed himself. He probably felt this was his chance to prove himself to the world, and I'm impressed with the result. It's this sort of love that's missing most from anime these days.

The rest of the shows I had the misfortune to sample are depressing proof of the poverty of imagination in anime these days, with most virtually indistinguishable from one another. I'm eager for this moe fad to pass. Akiyuki Shinbo even did one, strangely enough: Nanoha. It's worth mentioning only becuase Ko Yoshinari did animation in the first episode. I think I remember hearing that in his section in the opening of FMA he handled the CG effects for his shots, and it looks like he did the same thing here. It's an impressive few shots, in what appears to be hitokoma or 1 cel/frame, clashing nicely with the rest of the episode. Yet another series by Shinbo started at the same time, Moon Phase, this time another vampire type thing more in line with his past work, but he didn't do anything in either first eps, so they're rather forgettable.

One of the series I was looking forward to somewhat but that has left me a little dissatisfied so far (if not disappointed, because I was half expecting it, and there's still room for improvement) is Takashi Nakamura's Fantastic Children. Again it's hard to understand why he feels he has to go through all those contortions, especially right at the beginning. If it's an attempt to pull the viewers in, it doesn't work, because it just leaves one in the lurch, dangling carrots the whole way without providing any satisfaction. Learn from Miyazaki. He didn't have to do that in Conan. Also, he jumps right into the deep end with the drama, which is a bad gamble, because without knowing what's going on it's impossible to empathise with what any of the characters are experiencing, so it's just kind of uncomfortable. One interesting thing I noticed was the use of hitokoma in certain transitional shots. I wonder whose idea this was? It creates a nice feeling of luxury, when in fact the animation is otherwise rather bland. It might be a Nippon Animation thing. I noticed that in a few of the late WMT series.

If anything, the best TV episode in recent weeks was episode 20 of Tweeny Witches, another one-man-orchestra episode by Yasuhiro Aoki. I'd say it's his best episode yet. He tries out all sorts of interesting ideas in the directing. I can't think of another figure striving to do more new and interesting things with directing on TV right now than him. Aside from that, Sunrise's Mai Hime was a dreadful concession to moe, and Haruka naru toki no naka de was an utterly pedestrian shojo anime, but done with amazing zeal and energy by the women at Yumeta Co. Not TV but new is the first ep of Gainax's revival of Aim for the Top, by Kazuya Tsurumaki. I was a little wary after seeing the trailer, hoping the actual episode wouldn't be like that, but it was, and frankly it left me puzzled. It seemed like a mess. There was no dramatic drive whatsoever. The animation was certainly spectacular and on par with FLCL in certain spots (which only makes sense because it's largely the same production staff) but I wasn't convinced by the directing or the writing. I don't know what they were trying to do, but it just felt clunky and meandering. Still, there's no way to know what's going to happen from here on out, so it's not a lost cause.

I don't know if it's record-breaking or not, but more than 20 different TV series starting within about the same week (to say nothing of those still running) seems indicative of the anime industry being spread out way too thin.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

02:20:30 pm , 463 words, 1170 views     Categories: Mind Game

Japanese Animation Horizons

A new book on the current state of animation in Japan came out in August. It's called Animation no Genzai: Japanese Animation Horizon (sic). It sports an image from Mind Game on the cover, but the coverage of Mind Game is presumably limited to the first section, a discussion of this year's deluge of major new anime films. The rest of the book's 126 pages are devoted to interviews and essays on a range of subjects, from trends in digital technology to independent animators to the state of anime studies overseas. Mind Game's place on the cover of such a book shows that the film is rightly viewed as the vanguard of animation in Japan among scholars over there. Other, more ballyhooed films take a more high-tech but also a more conventional approach, where Mind Game goes in truly new directions with everything that's been done up until now, blending different media in a bold new way, and taking traditional animation to a whole new level that ridicules the myth that 2D animation is dead.

The first revival screening at the Baus Theater was a success, so they've decided to screen the film for another several weeks. The screening was held in the biggest hall in the theater, a 70-seater, and was sold out, with people standing in the aisles. The response to Yuasa's question as to how many had already seen the film revealed the presence of a number of repeat offenders, apparently some on their fourth count. Yuasa and Hosoda made some observations about each others' work, and to add a tempering note to Hosoda's copious praise for his film, Yuasa noted that not everyone felt the same way, and that opinions varied dramatically about the film (though he has often hinted that he himself is truly satisfied with the way the film came out, something directors often are not). He revealed that he himself was an avid film buff, seeing more than 70 films a year in the theaters, but that his own favorite picks rarely overlapped with prevalent opinion, with some of his favorites even being trounced in online reviews. But isn't it like that for any film? I don't even bother to read reviews for some of my favorite films, because I can predict the negative things people are going to say. We all run along different rails and like films for different, unpredictable reasons. It should be interesting to see the reaction to Mind Game because, as Mark Schilling noted in his review, the film seems to sweep aside the sort of critical quibbles that usually divide people. Yuasa said the film was like a work-in-progress: incomplete, a smattering of random parts, assembly required. The essential thing is for everyone to assemble in their mind however they see fit.

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Friday, October 1, 2004

08:40:28 pm , 68 words, 1430 views     Categories: Misc

Stepping out

I saw Hirokazu Koreeda's new film Nobody Knows, and for a while it vaguely reminded me of Takahata, until by the end it literally felt like a modern-day parody of Grave of the Fireflies. Probably just my imagination.

I'll be out of town for the next two months, so I won't be able to post much in here, but I'll try to write something every now and then.