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 2005, 23

Sunday, October 23, 2005

04:40:22 pm , 764 words, 813 views     Categories: Animation

Utsunomiya Eureka

I recently had the chance to revisit one of my favorite Russian shorts, Ballerina on a Boat by Lev Atamanov. Since the first time I saw the film the brilliant soundtrack by Alfred Schnittke had left a searing impression on me. It's not just raucous and modernistic but minutely detailed and constantly shifting, amazingly colorful, rhytmic like the Rite of Spring in parts and lyrical in typical Russian fashion elsewhere, daring to step into the foreground, unabashed, simply unlike any other animated soundtrack I've heard. I was already familiar with Schnittke's music, so the music itself didn't surprise me. It was the combination of that music with that animation that surprised me, and seemed incredibly refreshing and new. I got to wondering what it was that convinced Schnittke, who had a lot of experience composing film soundtracks, to go with such an approach for the film. Rewatching it this time I realized that without that soundtrack the film would almost certainly not have left much of an impression on me, though I do very much like everything about the actual animation, from the movement of the ballerina to the thick lines used to animate the ocean to the nice, simple designs to the freedom with which the characters fly freely around the screen as if on a ballet stage. Maybe that's what it is. He composed ballet music rather than a film soundtrack.

Satoru Utsunomiya's latest creation has come in an unusual place - the third season opening of Eureka Seven. One of the main selling points of this series has almost certainly been the drawings of Ken'ichi Yoshida, and Bones in general is known for having a very unified look to its animation, so it came as something of a surprise to see that they had left him to do the whole thing in his patented style. My first question was how this could have come about, and this was answered by Yoshida himself on his hime page. Yoshida just finished work on episode 26, which surely contains some of the finest animation in the whole series. He put a lot more effort into the episode than suggested by the simple credit of animation director, doing the various designs and layout and coordinating the art and animation and so on, in addition to doing animation and correcting the drawings, and this shows up in the final product. It felt like for the first time we were seeing what Yoshida was capable of, something that lived up to his CV.

It just so happened that the op was produced over the exact same time period, so it was impossible for Yoshida to correct the drawings of the op. In his own words, "Utsunomiya is an animator I have great respect for. He changed our whole notion of movement in the 90s. Both the director and I agreed that we wanted Utsunomiya to do the op in his own style. Utsunomiya has a very unique drawing style. Each line is precisely calculated to create a particular movement, and the moving result on the screen produces a tremendous feeling of catharsis. If I were to go in and correct the faces (and the proportions), that would completely change the whole dynamic of his drawings. I'd find it very rewarding if I could challenge that task one day, but that was impossible in this case... It was because Utsunomiya agreed to take on all tasks in the op that I was able to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish in episode 26. So I'm very grateful to him for that, and I am completely satisfied with his work. I mean, what he's done is amazingly sophisticated. I think it's great. But that's just my opinion."

All in all, this has increased my respect for Ken'ichi Yoshida by several notches. You could sense a certain twinge of unfulfillment in his wording when he talked about how ep 26 was important to his continued presence on the show. Judging by the final product, it feels like the opening is not complete, and may be gradually added to as time goes on, so it will be interesting to see how it changes. I'm reminded of how they tweaked the timing of Utsunomiya's shot of the hands clasping in the first season op from the first episode to the second. Yasushi Muraki provided a bit of missile fun, as usual, and though always thrilling, it felt particularly nice here because of the different touch Utsunomiya gave it. The episode itself contained a bit of work by Yutaka Nakamura, which was as good as ever.