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: November 2005, 29

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

11:09:38 pm , 1685 words, 2675 views     Categories: Animation

Money Makes the World Go Round

Episode 8: Counterfeit Money Makes the World Go RoundToday my Goku no Daiboken DVD box arrived, and I've already watched the long-lost episode, which was essentially the only reason I purchased the thing. Aside from that, the surprise was the incredible richness of the liner notes, which go into great detail about the production system. I'd long wondered what exactly this "Art Fresh" studio that Gisaburo founded was exactly, and at least in the case of the time during which Goku was in production it consisted of one of the ten rooms of an abandoned kindergarten that was purchased by Mushi Pro to serve as Mushi Productions Studio No 5 where Goku was produced. It was re-abandoned afterwards. Next to the Art Fresh room was the room for "Onishi Productions", and next to it the room for "Fantasia Productions", a studio about which I'd heard that Hata had helped found but knew (and still know) absolutely nothing about. Studio No 5, then, was essentially a collection of various small studios brought together in one place for this series, which is very unusual. An entirely different production style was invented to produce an entirely different series. There were some comments from Hata about his legendary episodes, and he comes across as decidedly humble, practically dismissing them as mere juvenalia. That's what this show was: a conduit for youthful rebellion. The desire to smash the status quo. Gisaburo's primary influence at the time was the Nouvelle Vague, and it shows. Hata's work on the series embodies that rebel-with-a-cause energy.

In particular, I was delighted to see that the animation staff were listed. I don't think they were credited on the LD box, and I'd always wondered who did what. Well, now I know that Shigeru Yamamoto and Sadao Miyamoto did the animation in many of the episodes including Hata's, so we see where the team that went on to do so much work at Sanrio Films together got introduced. One surprise was to find that Renzo Kinoshita, most famous for his indie films like Pika Don and for founding the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, was involved as well. He seems to have been at Mushi Pro right from the beginning with Atom. Another surprise was to find that Sadao Tsukioka had been impressed by Gisaburo's intent and joined the show to help out. And how was he involved? How else: animating episodes singlehandedly. It was nice to disover that one of my favorite eps, 12, was animated entirely by him. Episode 21 was 100% Tsukioka: story created by him, directed by him, and animated by him. That's one thing that makes this show unique: early on Gisaburo threw most of the scripts he'd gotten from the scriptwriters in the trash, and had the animators come up with the stories themselves. When the direction of the show changed, that policy changed too, and Tezuka himself came in and supervised the scripts to make sure they made perfect sense, in the process sapping the show of its vitality.

One thing that attracted me so much to Dezaki's ep 4 in the show was the ferocious cynicism on display in the ep, for example the way he used a loop of animation to show the corpses of legions of minions being carted off into the distance after their usefulness to the boss had run its course. Human bodies are a limitless resource. A Vietnam reference in the episode is dropped as casually as the corpses pile up on the sidelines. Even the dead come back to life when they catch wind of a rumor of treasure in a faraway land called Japan. The ep is essentially an attack on the greed of nations, but what makes it effective satire is that it doesn't try to convince using logic. It leaps and cuts all over the place, breaking every rule it can get its hands on. This was apparently a style of filmmaking that ran counter to what Dezaki really wanted to do, and you can see what he really wanted to do, namely more traditional storytelling, in the other episodes, which simply don't fit into what this show was supposed to be about. It's a shame, because the Dezaki of ep 4 never really showed up again afterwards, and the ep hasn't lost any of its power after all these years, nor has anyone else tried to do this sort of thing since. The station triumphantly gloated when Golden Bat smashed the show over the head by cutting its amazing 30% first-season ratings in half, and things were smooth sailing on the airwaves from then on out. Gisaburo essentially stopped bothering after the first season.

What was supposed to be episode 8 got completely produced but was never shown on the air, which is fairly unusual if not unprecedented in anime. Usually things are halted at an earlier stage if something is deemed problematic. Thanks to the detective work of the producers of this box, we get to see that Dezaki had in fact gone the next step after ep 4, an ep that incidentally was very well recieved by fellow industry folks. This time he tried to take it to the next level with what he'd done in the earlier ep, and though I found the earlier ep more satisfying, this one is equally unhinged. Afterwards he gave up on this approach, so this ep provides an invaluable look into this facet of his early work. As before, what story there is is merely a coathanger for a series of cynical gags, like ambulances running over the killers on their way to save the other killers, but the death aspect is emphasized even more here. Various competing groups including the mafia, an african dictator and the Shinsengumi battle it out over counterfeit money. One character inexplicably blows himself up or is blown up repeatedly throughout the episode only to reapper a moment later in exactly the same guise, ad infinitum. What is meant by the character is totally open to interpretation, and like all great art the creator may not even know what he meant by it, but it takes on an interesting meaning seen today. After the counterfeiters are defeated, one quick shot near the end shows them starting all over again. The final shot has the ubiquitous man in the sunglasses grinning as he shoots himself in the head. The more things change...

There was some Muraki Circus in Eureka 7 32, this time with light beams. On looking over the show I noticed that Seiichi Hashimoto was involved heavily early on but did less and less and he hasn't appeared much lately. He was here, and I got the same vague impression of a slightly higher quality of touch with the characters that I got whenever he was in Planetes, particularly the scene in the hangar. The three shots where Renton runs towards Eureka were also interesting. The first shot was a short close-up with delicately observed leg movement in 1s, and in the next two Eureka walks in 3s while Renton runs in 2s on the same screen, which suits their respective speeds. I suppose the animator would have come up with the idea to do that. Seemed an unusually thought-out thing to do. Short sequence but nice effect. I also get the vague impression that more effort was put into the characters early on while lately there's been a lot more effort put into the mecha. Oh, and it's amusing to note the curiously high Hashimoto density rate in the show. Practically the only Hashimoto missing is my favorite, Shinji. Which I don't mind at all. This is definitely not his kind of material.

I got my Junkers DVD out of storage to watch Iso's scene again, which I haven't seen in a long time, and also just to enjoy the film, which has a lot of very nice work, even by Ohira, albeit less than one would have hoped considering how deeply he was involved in the initial stages of the project. Supposedly the ending animation was to have been a larger sequence than the two small bits that are currently there, but for whatever reason Ohira never got through with the sequence, despite having 6 months to do it, and those little pieces were all that wound up seeing the light of day. I'm curious whether it was because his enthusiasm for the whole thing had been dampened, but most of all I'd be curious to know/see how much of it he had completed. Ohira's style changed dramatically after he came back to anime several years after this, so it would offer the chance to see what would essentially be the culmination of the first half of his career.

Looking over the credits now I recognize most of the names except a handful, which jives with what I've heard about three other famous animators having used pen names in the film. Sakayori Takateru 逆寄隆輝 is definitely fake (Lain 6). Ditto for Shiono Kaji 塩野櫂 (Yawara 14). A little investigation suggests that the last one is probably Konoe Mamoru 近衛真守, which as far as I can tell may be the pen name of Habara Nobuyoshi 羽原信義. Episode 14 of Nadesico was directed/storyboarded by Habara; Konoe helped on structure and was AD; and animation was by two people: Kazuo Komatsubara and Habara. This would have been about a year after Junkers. Konoe/Habara animated the part in Junkers where Hiromi scares Junkers. This was supposed to have been done by Shinji Hashimoto, who did the surrounding scene, but he didn't have enough time to get around to it. One of the scenes I've always wondered about is the part where Hiromi is running in the snow. I wonder if this might not be one of the nickname parts. It kind of feels like Hideki Hamasu, or maybe Takeshi Honda.

It looks like the official announcement is not far off, so it's probably OK to mention now that the old rumours appear to have been true that a Yasutaka Tsutsui double-feature was in the works at Madhouse. The "other director", guess who, will apparently be doing Tsusui's hit juvenile story Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, or The Girl who Could Control Time.