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: March 2006, 13

Monday, March 13, 2006

09:48:58 pm , 747 words, 3360 views     Categories: Animation

Ayakashi 9

The last arc of Toei's omnibus of classic Japanese gothic horror stories is actually an original story, unlike the previous two. I was rather disappointed with the middle arc involving Yasuhiro Nakura (to say nothing of the first, which I was expecting), but I had high hopes that Takashi Hashimoto wouldn't let me down with the last, and after watching the first episode today I'm glad to say that they were definitely keeping the best for last.

The first episode in the arc, #9 of the series, was quite simply stunning. It was one of the most original and refreshing anime episodes I've seen anywhere in a long time. All of the elements combined perfectly, and every moment was precisely honed down to the millisecond. Takashi Hashimoto had never been known for his character animation, and had never done a character design as far as I know, so I had no idea what to expect, and was ready to be underwhelmed. But he upended those expectations in a big way, with inspired and original designs far, far removed from the typical. Each character is wonderfully unique, the expressions rich, the forms comical yet realisic and the lines expressive and free. He himself was the AD of the first ep, so it was truly a delight to see.

The animation itself was rich and nuanced, but what made it truly satisfying is that it works as a whole with everything else - art, sound and directing. The whole world looks like a moving ukiyo-e by Hokusai or Hiroshige, and the characters are overlaid with patterns that make them blend into these surroundings. Mahiro Maeda's attempt at something similar in The Count of Monte Cristo seemed a little forced, but here it works effortlessly. The sound is fascinatingly surrealistic, adding a lot to the elliptical directing. The director, Kenji Nakamura, had previously done the CGI action spectacular Karas, which had impressed me even though I don't usually enjoy CGI. I could tell this guy knew what he was doing. I believe before that he worked as assistant director under Mamoru Hosoda, which perhaps helps to explain his similarly tight, meticulous, detail-oriented directing style. He's got a virtuosic knack for jumping around with shots to create a convincing feeling of space.

It really does come together brilliantly. Every moment is a delight, and he knows how to carry it over the length of the episode so that no moment feels unnecessary. A sense of tension builds through oddly placed shot after oddly placed shot of the eerie (and vaguely familiar) paintings that seem to decorate every nook and cranny of the mazelike building interior, and this tension is eventually released in a fantastic burst of energy that attains the feeling of power it does because it's done with Hashimoto's masterly, controlled animation.

Incidentally, perhaps not surprisingly, Hashimoto is here joined by Hideki Kakita, that other master of explosions and miscellanous effects. How odd to see them together without a massive catastrophe in sight. We could see the two working together on Eureka Seven recently. A few years before we could see them in a slightly more surprising context - Dokkoida, one of UFO Table's earlier shows. Kakita did some nice explosions in 6, while Hashimoto did some in 7. Kakita also did explosions in various other spots. His patently realistic style and meticulous layout make his shots stand out in stark contrast in the show, but it's ceratinly an interesting studio in that they always do their best to make the animation as interesting as possible. They even brought in Naoyuki Onda for one of the episodes, which is almost shocking. It's like they're doing it with a wink to all the animation freaks out there. It's unfortunate that a sense of balance and control in all of the other elements seems to get lost in the process in everything they do. Similarly they also seem to try to have at least a solo animator episode or two in each show, as well as a few duos. Here there's a solo by Futoshi Higashide in 5 that is truly unhinged in the best possible sense of the word. It's probably what brought him to Hiroyuki Imaishi's attention for Dead Leaves. It's a classic example of an animator bursting with energy and talent given the spotlight to ham it up over the length of a whole episode in a manic burst of bravado animated showboating, like Tetsuya Takeuchi did more recently in Honey and Clover.