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: January 2006, 04

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

09:03:51 pm , 1058 words, 1905 views     Categories: Animation

Noein 12 thoughts

I'm back after a breather in the great white north. Happy new year to all. Hard to believe another year has passed.

One reason I've been eager to get back was to see ep 12 of Noein, which I did today. It was even better than I'd anticipated from the credits, in many ways, not least of all in terms of the animation. But from the foundation up it was in a league of its own. Not even the first episode quite mustered the incredible tension created here by Kazuhiro Furuhashi's storyboard. Add to that Norio Matsumoto and it's something of the return of Rurouni Kenshin 30, which was also a big climactic showdown like here, also involving Matsumoto.

Very few moments weren't of interest in terms of the animation. Norio Matsumoto was credited with animation director on an episode of Beck, but really that was only because he drew an entire half episode - he wasn't correcting anyone's drawings. The last I recall him being credited as AD was in his famous ep of Arjuna quite some years ago. If I remember correctly, there he really was correcting, though he seems to have drawn a lot himself. Here it felt like that rather than the situation in Naruto 133 where Matsumoto was just animating, so the parts not by him really stood out as completely different. Here most of the entire first half of the episode felt like his work, so I assume he must have drawn some scenes and corrected the others. It's true that as you're watching most of it (with some exceptions) feels like Matsumoto.

The exceptions are the fight scenes, for the most part. A long time ago I'd seen Ryochimo's home page while surfing the gif animator community, so it's interesting to see him making a big splash here. Another gif animator, Kenichi Kusuna, did a lot of gif animating for fun while studying, and recently went pro, doing a lot of work together with Satoru Utsunomiya, who's here as well. Osamu Kobayashi reportedly personally invited Ryochimo to work on Beck. There seems to be a trend recently of self-trained amateurs becoming so infatuated with the medium thanks to the work of great animators like Utsunomiya that they begin making gif animation, which brings them to the attention of those animators, and they wind up pro. Oftentimes they're doing work more intersting than most other people I've seen. Just when you thought people like that were extinct, it's kind of a heartening thing to see.

I'm not enough familiar with Ryochimo's work to pick out what he did, but if you were to hold a gun to my head I'd have to say that the absolutely incredible sketchy fight in the first half of the episode looks like it might have been of his hand. It's to Satelight's eternal credit that they could switch from one style of drawing to one so obviously and completely different from one shot to the next as they did there. That bit packed a punch like little I've ever seen, and that probably would have been very reduced if they'd cleaned up those drawings.

The rest of the first half of the episode was full of the brilliantly nuanced acting and flawlessly light and balanced drawing that I associate with Norio Matsumoto. A bit of the tail end of the fight in the first half felt a little Matsumoto, particularly the timing of the animation where the crane was shattered by a blast at the very end of the fight. Norio Matsumoto is as prolific as ever, and the quality has never dropped in anything I've seen from him, though the quantity understandably does when he draws a whole half ep himself. He knows how to spend his allowance to get the best results. I don't know of anyone else who can balance those two extremes the way he does.

A bash like this just wouldn't have been complete without Satoru Utsunomiya, and I could see his hand near the end of the fight in the second half. It's a relief that people in the industry see his genius and there's been a steady stream of his work lately, even though there's a trend lately of general fans being very touchy about idiosyncratic animation. It's like we're finally feeling the blowback from the heady days of the 80s when individual animators like Yoshinori Kanada were lionized for their personal vision. This episode, and really this entire series, seems to be this studio's and this director's challenge to that mindset.

Overall, an overwhelming episode. It feels like they put all of their eggs into one basket, and it paid off. This really represents what the series was all about. Throwing together a bunch of good animators with their own unique styles - some with a lot less experience than others but enthusiasm and talent to make up for it - and letting things fall where they might without smoothing over the edges. It's the episode that vindicated their approach. Hopefully they'll have at least one more episode like this, though it's already amazing that they managed this one.

I also got to see the previous episode, which had a great sequence in the second half with the elder brother. I don't know who did it, but I'd guess Kishida. A while back I rewatched Macross Zero and the last bit of ep 3 really stood out as wonderful. I realized it had to be Kishida's work. It's the first time I was able to pinpoint his animation with a fair level of assurance. Kishida and Matsumoto have been working together for a long time, and you get a feeling that there's been some mutual influencing going on. They seem to share a somewhat similar approach to timing and form.

Norio Matsumoto did some work in the animated sequences of the recent game Tales of the Abyss, specifically near the end of the opening. One shot in Matsumoto's section looks like it might have been done by Utsunomiya, but he's not credited. Interestingly this was also directed/storyboarded by Kazuhiro Furuhashi. Perhaps that's how Matsumoto got involved. Shinya Ohira also apparently did some of the "event" animation. Other people involved include Yasunori Miyazawa and Takashi Hashimoto.

Some Norstein links for inspiration.

The Moon Ain't Nothin But a Broken Dish
Washington Post article