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: December 2004, 08

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

11:35:37 pm , 831 words, 7893 views     Categories: Animation


Little TwinsThere was already anticipation surrounding the fact that Mamoru Hosoda was going to direct his first full-length feature with the next One Piece movie due out in March, a month before the next Shin-chan movie, but the recent unveiling of the identity of the animation directors - Takaaki Yamashita, Sushio Ishizaki and Kubota Chikashi (the latter two Dead Leaves animators) - further raised expectations, and these expectations now appear corroborated by the patently Mind Game-inflected trailer, which leaves no room to doubt that this is a film to look forward to, however unimpressed one may otherwise be by the evolution of Okawa Hiroshi's studio.

One of the most prominent deaths of the Mushi Pro generation was Mikiharu Akabori, in 1999. Having been a fan before I knew his name from The Legend of Sirius and after I knew his name from the great youthful FX in Cleopatra, I've always wished I could see more of his work in the realistic, extremely tricky and active vein of the early period. Those scenes where he animates all sorts of phenomena, from smoke to water to explosions to flying objects to vehicles, all with such obvious exacting detail and enthusiasm, and all interacting so convincingly. I can't for the life of me think of another animator in Japan at the time who was doing that sort of thing. Only afterwards do you start to see animators picking up that thread: Kazuhide Tomonaga in 999 and Takashi Nakamura in Esteban, people who loved effects animation and saw the beauty in it. After flowering in Cleopatra, he moved to Sanrio, where he eventually produced his most famous work in the water of Sirius, a decade after the battle on the sea that killed poor Antonius. In the interim he worked as an animator on most of the early films, and continued to develop his style, producing ever more tricky and inventive work that is among the best in any of the films: the cannonball dogfight in Little Jumbo, the rugged mountain terrain of Ringing Bell and the clouds in the Unico pilot. Akabori is one of the truly great animators of the 70s, but he seems less well known than many others of the period, perhaps because he doesn't fall into the same line of development as most of them. He is indeed one of a kind, and all the more precious for it.

I think it was seeing the climax of Little Twins that brought Akabori to mind. It springs from the same visceral thrill of facing up to the challenge of bringing into movement on the page various objects accurately moving in their own trajectories and interacting with each other according to their differing physical properties, and it's one of the best examples I've seen in anime. You don't see intricately detailed natural animation of this kind very often, at least not in Japan. And certainly not in children's shows like this, at this period. The reasons are fairly obvious enough - it's tedious, hard work, and time and budget constraints preclude that sort of extravagance. The scattered examples are therefore all the more precious. I once ran across an equally unexpected and inexplicably high-quality natural FX sequence in an episode of the 90s remake of Moomin, a scene on a beach where a ship is seen sinking far out to sea. The turbulent lapping of the waves was depicted with extreme care in a highly stylized fashion that was clearly the product of a strong-willed and talented animator. It's somewhat mysterious how it could have come about that a scene of such quality should inconspicuously find its way into a random TV episode like this.

Buried in all this somewhere is a thought process that I think is unique to Japan. Rather than being character-centric, they see the world around us in animist terms. Movement is everywhere. Norio Matsumoto moves backgrounds, showing us that movement is a product of perspective. Shinya Ohira makes an art of smoke. Ichiro Itano creates ballets with missiles. Water has been continuously reinvented, from Yoichi Kotabe in Animal Treasure Island to Mikiharu Akabori in Sirius to Nobutake Ito in Mind Game. There is a willingness to try to grapple with the nature of the thing, to figure out how different objects work and move, an eagerness to discover new kinds of movement. The movement itself is the aesthetic object. I think this is partly what accounts for the uniqueness and the incredible richness and appeal of FX animation in Japan.

Notable examples of FX animation throughout anime history include Yoichi Kotabe's waves in Animal Treasure Island and Doggie March, Yasuo Otsuka's giant fish in Hols, Tomonaga Kazuhide's apocalypse in 999, Yoshinori Kanada's dragon in Harmageddon, Takashi Nakamura's rocks in Esteban, Hideaki Anno's war in Honneamise, Shinya Ohira's smoke and building destruction in Akira, Hiroyuki Okiura's mob in Akira, Manabu Ohashi's clouds in Cloud, Norio Matsumoto's storm in the You're Under Arrest OVA, Mitsuo Iso's explosion in Blood and rocks in Rahxephon.