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: April 2006

Sunday, April 30, 2006

10:40:14 pm , 777 words, 15628 views     Categories: Animation

Stylistic evolution in Crayon Shin-chan

Ogawa Hiroshi, 1992Shizuka Hayashi, 1996

Crayon Shin-chan acts as a kind of handy petri dish for examining the stylistic evolution of a handful of animators over a number of years. Whereas most animators, freelance or studio-tied, work on a variety of shows over time, making it harder to pin down sylistic changes throughout the years, the Shin-chan TV series was drawn largely by the same group of twenty or so people throughout the fifteen years it's been broadcast since 1992, with a few figures dropping in and out along the way, so it's easy to follow the evolution of each figure as they draw the same characters over this unusually long time frame.

Generally speaking, there appears to be a basic trend of moving away from the rounded look of the early episodes, presumably based closely on the original comic, to a more angular and individualistic approach where individual style is more prone to being expressed. Not all of the animators develop a strikingly individual style, but some do, and even those who don't can nevertheless be differentiated, showing that individuality will out even in commercial animation; it's just harder to tell elsewhere.

From the little I've sampled of the early episodes, it looks like a regular show from the period, with somewhat flat, timid lines, without the traits that came to make the show look rather different from everything out there - the frilly lines, bold angular shapes, tapered limbs, personal approach to movement.

But even at this early stage you can differentiate between the animators, even though they're basically adhering to the model. In this early stage you can see people like Shizuka Hayashi and Masami Otsuka, the two regulars who later developed perhaps the most personal approach to drawing and movement in the show (alongside less frequent participants like Sueyoshi and Yuasa), still drawing somewhat like everyone else, though you can maybe catch an embryonic whiff of their later style.

Compare the early work by Yuichiro Sueyoshi in this ep with his later work in the short feature Made in Saitama (he did the Himawari A-Go-Go section), where he does his moving perspective animation thing for which he had become known by that time. At what time he began to be interested in background animation I don't know, but it was obviously under the influence of Yuasa's background animation for the Chibi Maruko-chan TV series opening and movie sequences and later Shin-chan openings. Shizuka Hayashi developed her own unique style relatively early on in the show, as can be seen in the extreme angularity and great sense for movement in this ep from 1996, and seems to have kept that style fairly evenly since then. (Compare with the most recent work of the two from last year's movie - Sueyoshi / Shizuka.) Masami Otsuka's individualism is said to have varied over the years, but I haven't seen enough of it to be able to comment.

All that said, individuality appears to be to some extent inversely proportional to output, as figures like Hiroshi Ogawa and Zenpo Higuchi, who at first sight have a more anodyne style (Ogawa is the main character designer, so that is only natural), are extremely prolific compared to the other animators. At the beginning it appears Ogawa was bearing much of the brunt of the work because there weren't enough people in rotation, though later the rotation is much more smooth. Hayashi, Otsuka, Yuasa et al. were also the people doing a lot of the animation work on the movies each year, which is probably the main reason why we don't see them as often in the TV series. Shinei knew to siphon their good movers into the films to load them with as much interesting movement as possible. There also appear to be a number of animators not even involved in the TV series but especially kept for the films because of their skill with action scenes, like Masahiro Ando and Hiroyuki Nishimura.

I would be curious to see Masaaki Yuasa's early work, as he was in fact involved right from the beginning, and nobody can be said to have developed in a more extremely personal direction than he has. He did ep 32 part b and c, broadcast 21 December 1992. By that time he had already done the Chibi Maruko-chan shorts and op/ed, which are still among his best work, so I would suspect that his work in the show might be fairly identifiable. Those of you starving for some new Masaaki Yuasa can see the TV series opening he did in 1997, "Nenju Muchi I Want You".

Modulus of Misae Angularity:

Hiroshi Ogawa, 1992 (29c)
Noriyuki Tsutsumi, 1992 (23c)
Masami Otsuka, 1992 (23a)
Shizuka Hayashi, 1996 (193a)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

04:55:45 pm , 1473 words, 5168 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Yasunori Miyazawa

From the game Popolo Crois 2宮沢康紀

Miyazawa I first became aware of from his awesome animation of the finale of Dead Leaves. Besides the sheer volume of it, it was animation that had a certain indescribable magic to it, very different from everything that had come before, and it made me sit up and pay attention. The volumes and shapes of the FX were fascinating, constantly changing, really occupying the whole space, making effective use of the screen to create a feeling of depth and convey the massive scale of what was going on. The animation was more limited, but it was obviously because he was controlling every single moment of the movement, and it was always going somewhere or doing something interesting. He used an absolute minimum of drawings, sometimes seemingly far too many, in a deliberate way to achieve a curious overall effect. In that sense it reminded me of Mitsuo Iso's earlier work. But here it had an aura of mystical strangeness to it that is entirely Miyazawa's. Everything about it screamed someone with a ground-up approach to his animation, someone dedicated to creating a new kind of movement all his own, and in the end that's what I most want to see in animation.

Fortunately he hasn't been idle since then. Most recently his animation of the opening, this time, of the XXXHolic movie had just as much of an impact on me when I first saw it. It's the kind of animation would have made me snort milk through my nose if I had been drinking milk. Usually only Ohira or Yuasa bits are good enough to do that to me. Again there was that thrilling constant but limited movement, watching which you could tell he'd drawn it all himself. That feeling of watching an unpredictable continuum of motion unfolding before your eyes is perhaps one of the things that defines Miyazawa. And then there were the inexplicable moments, like where Watanuki has several arms, as if in some kind of a broken homage to an old animation cliche. Then he makes the character's head balloon to an improbable size, as if the ghostly miasma had magnified it. Combine all that madness with Mizushima's great planning for the scene and it's a great example of directing-animation symbiosis. Since the days of Guu Mizushima's been making good use of interesting animators like Yuichiro Sueyoshi and now Miyazawa and others, which is one of the things I like about him. I was hoping Miyazawa would be effectively cast in the TV series, and it seems he's already in ep 3 with more Miyazawa madness.

When it comes to animating amorphous masses, Miyazawa may be the king. I recently got the chance to see his work in the Popolo Crois 2 game. I was familiar with 1, headed by Satoru Utsunomiya with Miyazawa and Iso involved, and always wanted to see 2, headed by Nishio, though the only animator that really caught my eye in the sequel was Miyazawa. And watching it, in the end it was only Miyazawa's part that really packed a punch. It's all extremely carefully made, but somehow lifeless in a way the first wasn't - except for Miyazawa's part. He animated a giant monster emerging from a globe in the first game. He seems to be a specialist at animating large organic objects like that. Here he did the same again, but this time it seems that only his part was also storyboarded by himself, and what he does is to maneuver the camera around this giant thing dripping goop like the God Soldier in Nausicaa to give himself the opportunity to get up close and personal with the object so that he can animate it from all these difficult angles that any other animator would have surely avoided like the plague. Instead, he relishes in the complexity of the angles as an opportunity to convey just how large the object is, and draws layer upon layer of the undulading and pulsating fluid mass. That knack for knowing how to create a sense of space by layout and by taking control of every element on the screen with his animation is a trait he shares with Iso.

The latest piece by Miyazawa has come in the much talked about new Doraemon film. Miyazawa is also in the great new Ohira-influenced third Blood+ op by the young animator whose work I'd been impressed with in the Tsubasa Chronicle film, Naoyoshi Shiotani. Miyazawa had just come from doing prop design on the latter film. He's also done a few other openings. In 2001 he did the second op of Parappa the Rapper, which showcases his imaginative side rather than his skill as a mover (though the part with the stems coming up is very Miyazawa), but before that in 1999 he singlehandedly animated the Gakuen Senki Muryo opening, which presumably moves a bit more. His animation for the second Prince of Tennis op (presumably everything but the stills) certainly moves quite a bit and quite nicely, in a way that is identifiably Miyazawa, which is nice to see in such a context.

There were very few scenes in Millennium Actress that stood out stylistically, quite unlike Kon's latest film, but one of the few that I'd always wondered about was the scene in the snow near the end. I always loved the way she trudges through the snow there, the way the lapel of her coat flaps in the wind. It was all clearly drawn and moving in a way very different from the rest, and there was an incredible realism there despite the lower detail of drawing and fluidity. I didn't know Miyazawa back then, so I didn't immediately identify it to him, but I think it must have clicked in me around the time of Dead Leaves. I don't know when his stylistic 'awakening' occurred, but I'm guessing it must have been sometime in the years immediately preceding Millennium Actress.

Another of Miyazawa's bits I remember being able to spot in Kon's work was in Paranoia Agent. Ep 4 was drawn almost entirely by Michio Mihara, but that's a lot of work for one person, and not surprisingly there were a few shots that he just couldn't get around to in time, and those were left to... Miyazawa. I'll leave it up to your collective imagination to figure out what part he did. It's fairly quirky and unmistakable in terms of the movement, so it should not be too difficult to spot.

Other than that, I also recall liking the animation of the tennis court scene in ep 1 of Beck, and in retrospect it seems likely that it was his bit. Maruyama Tomo did the dog and Matsumoto the flashback, so process of elimination leaves him. And in the natsukashii department, I see now that Miyazawa was involved in another one of my early faves alongside Sazan Eyes, the early NG Knight OVAs. I've completely forgotten almost everything about them by now, so I'd like to see them again, especially to pick out Miyazawa's part, but they're impossible to find. Wish I hadn't thrown out those tapes. I'm not sure I could identify his work at this early stage, though. Even earlier he did quite a lot of work on the famous third version of Gegege no Kitaro involving folks like Iso, which seems to make it clear how it came about that the two worked together animating the same section of the original Popolo Crois game. An interesting thing is that Iso is always listed last and Miyazawa always first in Gegege no Kitaro. Iso likes to think out his work, while Miyazawa seems to try to find a stride and kick out the drawings. Perhaps this early experience together helped to create that curious feeling of kinship I get from the work of the two.

He seems to have started out inbetweening in the mid-80s, so he's now entering his third decade as an animator. I look forward to seeing where Yasunori Miyazawa will go in the future.

This list is clearly seriously incomplete. I'll keep adding to it as I find stuff.

   Gegege no Kitaro #33, 47, 71, 95, 100, 107 (AD/KA)
   Gegege no Kitaro: Jigoku Hen #3 (AD/KA)

   NG Knight Lamune & 40 DX #1

   Tanoshii Moomin Ikka 12, 19, 27, 32, 38, 44, 49, 57, 63 (KA) 72 (KA+D)

   Legend of Crystania (AD)

   Slime Adventures

   Wild Arms TV (visual design)
   Gakuen Senki Muryo (op animation)

   Popolo Crois II game

   Millennium Actress
   Prince of Tennis op 1 & 2, #30, 39, 44, 46, 50

   Dead Leaves

   Beck #1
   Windy Tales op, #1
   XXXHolic movie
   Tsubasa Chronicle (prop design)

   Doraemon: Nobita's Dinosaur 2006
   XXXHolic TV #1, 3

Saturday, April 22, 2006

07:58:38 pm , 315 words, 2825 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Koichi Arai


Just what I've been able to gather about an animator I've always been curious to know more about, Koichi Arai. I've seen his name in a lot of high-profile places but never been able to pinpoint his work on my own. I want to go through his past work to see if I can figure out the common thread. He seems to be of the Toshiyuki Inoue master craftsman mold, without a strong personal style but with tremendous technical skill and the ability to adapt himself flawlessly to the style of the production at hand. It's probably why he seems to appear in just about every other major new anime film. I remember the original 3x3 Eyes being one of my favorites from the early days, so I'd be curious to revisit it now that I know a bit more about his subsequent work.

Sakigake! Otokokabe → all op KA, #1, #10
Gegege no Kitaro: Jigoku Hen #7
Vampire Princess Miyu #2-4

Akira → Kaneda & Kei heading to the baby room
Crying Freeman → AD

Hanaichi Monme: Sonosuke no Hanashi → all KA

Roujin Z → Bed escaping
3x3 Eyes → AD/CD

Ninja Scroll

Fatal Fury
Macross 7 TV → all op animation
Phantom Quest Corps

Golden Boy → op animation (w/Norimoto Tokura)
Ghost in the Shell → Spider tank being destroyed after Ayako rips her arms off
Memories → Miguel walks through oily water and strums piano
Macross Plus movie → Sharon with wings

Rurouni Kenshin #2

Voogie's Angel #3
Ghost in the Shell Game op
Detatoko Princess #2 → Oni girl electrical attack

Perfect Blue → rape scene
Lain #6 (scene design) #12

Mahou Tsukai Tai! TV #1
Digimon Adventure
Blue Submarine No 6 #2

Digimon Adventure 02: Hurricane
FLCL #4 → mouse playing with small Haruko

Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven's Door

Millennium Actress

Koikaze op → AD
Steam Boy → Old man trying to kill his son
Windy Tales op

Beck #25
Eureka Seven op 2 and 3
One Piece: Omatsuri Danshaku to Himitsu no Shima → Lily being shot

Monday, April 17, 2006

07:29:10 pm , 912 words, 2709 views     Categories: Animation

Flag etc

This summer is going to be hot. In addition to all the other items already mentioned, Ryosuke Tahahashi, famous for the hard-boiled realistic robot (not giant robot) shows like Votoms, has a new show or series or something starting in the summer called Flag that I'm rather looking forward to based on its catch copy. It's supposedly going to be shot in strict documentary style. A documentary anime. They're saying there's no precedent, but off the top of my head I can think of at least the old Tatsunoko series Animentary Ketsudan (Animentary: Decision), and the semi-documentary style Tsushimamaru: Sayonara Okinawa... I've only seen a bit of his work, but it struck me as being very cold and withdrawn in a very deliberate way, like a step forward from the realism Tomino tried to bring to robot anime. Too bad the trailer doesn't seem to work for me...

New season
I tried to watch as much of the new season as I possibly could, but conked out after the ep 1 number twenty or so... I think what I enjoyed most of all were three or four of the background drawings in Simoun... Shichiro Kobayashi himself was in there doing actual background painting, and it showed. Bones's Host Club was well done, the perfect shoujo anime. It reminded me a bit of Mamoru Hosoda with the very formal, deliberate framing and detail-oriented directing, and I remember that Takuya Igarashi was another of the directors behind Utena (which I haven't seen) alongside Hosoda in his Katsuyo Hashimoto incarnation. Anyone watching this unfamiliar with shoujo conventions would probably be lost. Decadent is the only word that springs to mind. It was odd to see Sunao "Princess Arete" Katabuchi doing Black Lagoon. The last line of dialogue was the only part of the ep that I thought did justice to the material, which I think could have been pretty interesting. (Katabuchi is notably writing rather than storyboarding.) It reminded me of Naoki Yamamoto's We're all alive (Bokura wa minna ikiteiru), about Japanese salarymen coping with being suddenly cast into a crazy situation in the south pacific... there was some ice-skating animation by Akira Takada in the seiyu anime Love Getchu... Witchblade was overall fairly enjoyable and well directed, with some good animation here and there... Shingo Suzuki was the AD, never heard of him before... Inukami actually had some effort put into the animation... Nana ep 1 was probably the only ep out of the bunch that I was able to watch through to the end and actually enjoy considerably entirely for the story... oh, and Air Gear. I guess it's there to sell something or other, but it was possibly my favorite ep 1 of the new crop in terms of sheer enjoyment of the animation. Hajime Kamegaki worked alongside Yoshinori Kanada in the early 80s, and he's got a great sense for how to fill the animation with interesting and exciting movement, really getting the most out of the possibilities of the skating material.

Old anime on DVD
Here's a list of old anime that's been released on DVD box that I threw together for my own reference a while back. It's pretty impressive how many things that used to be rare and obscure have been released in full. I'm particularly curious about Fight!! Pyu-ta, Shotaro Ishinomori's Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae (read the manga long ago), one of the first TV anime for adults, A Pro's Hajime Ningen Gyators (why did they have to release this in a huge, overpriced box?), Yasuo Otsuka's Samurai Giants, Paris no Isabelle, written by Takeshi Shudo...

鉄腕アトム Tetsuwan atom 1-2 ¥17,955 (18)
鉄人28号 Tetsujin 28go 1-4 ¥16,200 (6)

ビッグX BigX¥15,397 (4)
エイトマン 8Man 1-2 ¥9,261 (4)

サイボーグ009 Cyborg009 ¥23,520 (5)
ワンダースリー WonderThree ¥17,955 (10)
宇宙エース Uchu Ace ¥28,350 (5)
宇宙少年ソラン Uchu Shonen Soran 1-2 ¥56,700 (12) OOP
遊星少年パピイ Yusei Shonen Papi 1-2 ¥13,892 (6)

悟空の大冒険 Goku no Daiboken ¥10,868 (7)
ピュンピュン丸 Pyunpyunmaru ¥24,570 (4)
黄金バット Ogon Bat ¥28,350 (2)

わんぱく探偵団 Wanpaku tanteidan ¥34,020 (6)
ファイトだ!! ピュー太 Fight da!! Pyuta ¥24,098 (5)
佐武と市捕物控 Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae ¥39,974 (10)
巨人の星 Kyojin no hoshi box & bara
サスケ 1-2 Sasuke ¥13,325 (3)
バンパイヤ Vampire ¥8,978 (5)
アニマル1 Animal1 ¥23,625 (5)

タイガーマスク Tiger Mask 1-3 ¥34,020 (6)
どろろ Dororo ¥8,978 (5)
海底少年マリン Kaitei shonen marin ¥9,875 (3)
妖怪人間ベム Yokai ningen bem ¥28,350 (5) OOP
タイガーマスク Tiger mask 1-2 ¥34,020 (6)
忍風カムイ外伝 Ninpu kamui gaiden 1-2 ¥24,499 (4) OOP
紅三四郎 Sugata sanshiro ¥28,350 (5) OOP
ハクション大魔王 Hakushon daimao ¥51,975 (7)

アタックNo.1 Attack No.1 ¥89,586 (18)
あしたのジョー Ashita no Joe ¥45,000 (16)

アンデルセン物語 Andersen Monogatari 1-2 ¥8,978 (5)
原始少年リュウ Genshi shonen ryu ¥26,460 (5)
さすらいの太陽 Sasurai no taiyo ¥26,460 (5)
アニメンタリー決断 Animetary ketsudan ¥19,845 (5)
さるとびエッちゃん Sarutobi ecchan ¥26,460 (5)
国松さまのお通りだい Kunimatsusama no otoridai 1-2 ¥26,460 (5)
アパッチ野球軍 Apacchi yakyugun ¥23,625 (5)

ど根性ガエル 1-5 Dokonjo gaeru ¥25,326 (4)
海のトリトン Umi no toriton ¥28,350 (5) +bara

ミラクル少女リミットちゃん Miracle shoujo limit chan ¥26,460 (5)
バビル2世 Babil2sei ¥30,240 (6)
エースをねらえ! Ace wo nerae 1-2 ¥15,876 (3) +bara
侍ジャイアンツ Samurai giants 1-2 ¥28,161 (4)
空手バカ一代 1-2 Karate baka ichidai ¥22,680 (6)
ゼロテスター Zero tester ¥21,546 (5)

はじめ人間ギャートルズ Hajime ningen gyators ¥66,150 (11)
魔女っ子メグちゃん 1-2 Majokko meguchan ¥28,350 (6)

元祖天才バカボン Ganso tensai bakabon 1-3 ¥28,350 (6)
ガンバの冒険 Ganba no boken ¥19,492 (6) +bara
アラビアンナイト シンドバットの冒険 Arabian night sinbad no boken 1-2 ¥25,137 (7)
アンデス少年ペペロの冒険 Andes shonen pepero no boken ¥14,800 (8) OOP

ドカベン Dokaben ¥113,400 (33)
ピコリーノの冒険 Picolino no boken 1-2 ¥25,137 (7)

無敵超人ザンボット3 Muteki chojin zambot 3 ¥22,680 (4)

魔女っ子チックル Majokko chikkuru 1-3 ¥9,261 (2)
家なき子 1-2 Ie naki ko ¥28,350 (5)
宝島 Takarajima 1-2 ¥17,766 (4) OOP

花の子ルンルン 1-2 Hana no ko runrun (5)
キリン名曲ロマン劇場「巴里のイザベル」Pari no isabelle ¥11,671 (4)
キリン名曲ロマン劇場「野バラのジュリー」Nobara no julie ¥11,671 (4)

あしたのジョー2 Ashita no joe ¥27,000 (8)
ニルスのふしぎな旅 Nils no fushigi na tabi ¥28,350 (6)
釣りキチ三平 Tsuri kichi sanpei ¥34,020 (6)

戦国魔神ゴーショーグン Sengoku majin goshogun ¥34,020 (6)
じゃりン子チエ 1-4 Jarinko chie ¥15,876 (3)
黄金戦士ゴールドライタン Ogon senshi gold lightan 1-2 ¥28,350 (4)
ワンワン三銃士 Wanwan sanjushi ¥23,342 (7)
六神合体ゴッドマーズ Rokushin gattai god mars 1-2 ¥26,271 (4)

パタリロ! Patariro 1-2 ¥22,491 (4)
さすがの猿飛 Sasuga no sarutobi ¥85,050 (24)
スペースアドベンチャーコブラ Space adventure cobra ¥40,446 (9)
太陽の子 エステバン 1-2 Taiyo no ko esteban ¥23,625 (4)
魔境伝説アクロバンチ Makyo densetsu acrobunch ¥23,625 (4) OOP

Cat's Eye 1-2 ¥28,010 (9)
ストップ!!ひばりくん Stop!! Hibari-kun ¥18,711 (3)
スプーンおばさん 1-2 Spoon obasan ¥21,546 (6)
未来警察ウラシマン Mirai keisatsu urashiman 1-2 ¥28,350 (4)
プラレス3四郎 Plawres 3shiro ¥35,721 (6)
装甲騎兵ボトムズ DVDメモリアルボックス Votoms ¥94,500 (20)

GU-GU ガンモ Gugu ganmo 1-2 ¥25,515 (5)
とんがり帽子のメモル Tongari boshi no memole ¥54,810 (11)
巨神ゴーグ Kyojin gorg ¥40,000 (8) OOP
星銃士ビスマルク Seitoshi bismark 1-2 ¥30,240 (5)

蒼き流星SPTレイズナー Aoki ryusei SPT layzner 1-2 ¥19,845 (5)
破邪大星ダンガイオー Hajadaisei dangaio ¥5,040
忍者戦士飛影 Ninja senshi tobikage 1-2 ¥28,350 (4)
超獣機神ダンクーガ コンプリートボックス Dancougar 1-2 ¥28,350 (4)
ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 III Gegegeno kitaro III ¥61,425 (20)

マシンロボクロノスの大逆襲 Machine robo chronos no daigyakushu 1-2 ¥28,350 (4)
宇宙船サジタリウス Uchusen sajitariusu 1-3 ¥27,405 (5)

ビックリマン 1-2 Bikkuriman ¥34,020 (6)
アニメ三銃士 1-2 Anime sanjushi ¥27,216 (5)

青いブリンク 1-2 Aoi blink ¥14,175 (3)

チエちゃん奮戦記 Chie chan funsenki 1-2 ¥18,711 (4)

ひみつのアッコちゃん Himitsu no akkochan I (1969) 1-4 ¥19,800 (4)
ひみつのアッコちゃん Himitsu no akkochan II (1988) 1-2 ¥28,799 (6)
ひみつのアッコちゃん Himitsu no akkochan III (1998) 1-2 ¥19,800 (4)

東映アニメモノクロ傑作選 Toei monochrome masterpieces 1-3 ¥9,261 (3)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

06:10:44 pm , 1418 words, 2583 views     Categories: Animation

Jungle Kurobée

Back-catalogues are always an interesting thing to explore. Whether it be discovering how much of a difference a great storyboard can make upon viewing Isao Takahata's storyboard for Jacky the Bearcub #5 of 1977, or seeing the faint outline of his later style in his earliest work on Ken the Wolf Boy from 1963, or discovering Osamu Dezaki's crazed early work on Goku in 1967 after having only been familiar with the trademark Dezaki style of Blackjack or Cobra or Aim for the Ace... There are always little side-jobs a creator has done over the years that can be interesting to discover for the insight they can offer on a person's evolution or hidden, unexplored possibilities.

No one offers a better example of this than Dezaki, who was rather prolific on a variety of TV shows during the early 70s after the breakup of Mushi Pro, leaving behind a healthy stock of material waiting to be rediscovered by an intrepid fan. While at Mushi Pro Dezaki worked alongside many of the people who he would go on to take with him when he left the studio to form Madhouse with Masao Maruyama et al., most prominently Sugino Akio, who worked with him on Tomorrow Joe. Masami Hata stayed at Mushi Pro until the very end in 1973 and did his earliest work for TMS under Dezaki that same year.

The decade of the 70s for Dezaki consists almost exclusively of work for TMS because Yutaka Fujioka provided the funding for the founding of Madhouse, so there was a sort of obligation relationship there. Dezaki was one of the people to whom Fujioka turned to provide a pilot for Nemo, the project that was essentially the reason Fujioka got into animation in the first place, which should make it clear how close they must have been. Dezaki was one of the pillars of TMS, even while not technically being a TMS person. It was for TMS that Dezaki directed the bulk of his most famous TV work - Aim for the Ace (1973), Gamba's Adventure (1975), Treasure Island (1978), etc. All of these are still fairly popular today, as is his very first show, Tomorrow Joe (1970). But between the two came his very first job as TV series director for TMS in 1973 - Jungle Kurobée - which still remains a mystery item to most people, for the unique reasons outlined below.

A Pro is more famous as being the force behind those distinctive TMS shows with fast-paced action and simple designs like Dokonjo Gaeru and Ganso Tensai Bakabon. This is the style that eventually led to Doraemon, albeit in watered-down form, sapped of the zing and animated frenzy that made these early shows so memorable. Jungle Kurobée falls into that line at first sight, but it was directed by Dezaki with animation from the still young Madhouse, rather than A Pro. The Madhouse of this era is permanently associated with Sugino in my head, so the stylistic disconnect is a little hard to fathom. But the fact is, there's a lot of overlap in the staff in these early formative years, accounting for the similarity - first and foremost Yoshio Kabashima, who would go on to be one of the main A Pro people, also working one more time with Dezaki on Gamba's Adventure in 1975, which is the last time we see Dezaki doing this sort of material. So Kurobée sort of acts as the missing link between Goku (1967) and Gamba (1975) for the gag vein of Dezaki that I've always loved. Dezaki recently directed a film of Hamtaro that I'd be curious to see, as the material seems an obvious extension of this stylistic line. I've heard it's quite dynamic, which is exactly what I'd expect, knowing his early work. This material seemed to liberate him to get in touch with a primitive inner energy that you don't see in his other more 'realistic' work, and that's something I'd have liked to have seen more often, but I think it started to be out of tune with the times from the 80s on.

Stills from: ep 1a (Dezaki storyboard); 5a; 3b (Hata storyboards)

Kurobée was cancelled after only 31 eps, while Dokonjo ran for more than two years, but this had more to do with the fact that Ultraman was airing in the same time slot as Kurobée on another channel than because of an inherent difference in quality. Kurobée shares most of the qualities that made and make Dokonjo and A Pro's later shows so exhilirating and fun, from the dynamic cutting and simple layout and designs to the vivacious and characterful animation that pushes the medium of limited animation to its limits. Kurobée further benefits from the acid wit and manic pacing that characterized Dezaki's work on Goku. Dezaki himself admits to having a particular soft spot for this series. This was his first job for TMS after Fujioka had gave him the money to found his own studio, so he really put the effort in to do the best work he could to pay back the favor, and it shows. The first ep, which Dezaki storyboarded (he did 8 other storyboards and a lot of correcting), bursts with an inexplicable frenzied energy. He achieves a sort of nirvana state in the pacing, with events unfolding less based on logic than on a sort of genius instinct for what will create the most viscerally exciting flow of unexpected action.

The story itself is simple, as the series is purely episodic, with only the vaguest running narrative. In that it's like all of the other shows that followed. But the basic story is at the root of the show's woes. It's why Kurobée has been banned from ever being shown on TV or released on video in Japan. Kurobée is the story of a boy from the imaginary country of Pirimi in Africa. By mistake one day he stows away on a plane heading to Japan and overnight finds himself in an alien land unlike anything he's ever seen. A Japanese family finds him and offers him shelter for the night, and in return he vows to repay the favor. He digs a large hole several meters deep, indicating that he will have repaid the favor once he has filled the hole with rocks, one rock for each good deed, as is the custom in his land. The rest of the series relates his escapades trying to repay the favor, one good deed at a time. It's a classic clash-of-cultures setup, with Kurobée acting as a sort of naive cypher there to spotlight the foibles of Japanese society. Walkabout came out two years earlier, and must certainly have been an influence on Hayao Miyazaki when he came up with the basic premise just before leaving A Pro for Nippon Animation.

The problems started when the manga version by Fujiko Fujio was reprinted in 1989. (The manga was written while the anime was airing, but only loosely parallels the anime.) An activist group formed to combat discrimination against Africans in Japan successfully petitioned for the banning of Little Black Sambo on the basis of its racist portrayal of Africans, and subsequently brought the same accusation against Jungle Kurobée. The publishers, and Fujio himself, decided to play it safe to avoid litigation, and the book was retracted. The anime version was not technically implicated in the whole debacle, but by association it is effectively banned as well, meaning no reruns or DVD release.

I support this group's fight. Discrimination is alive and well in Japan and elsewhere, not only against blacks but against native Ainu, burakumin and others. It just doesn't seem like banning Jungle Kurobée is the solution. For one, it's highly debatable whether the accusation is true. It seems fairly obvious that Kurobe is not a vehicle to caricature a specific culture or race. Kurobe could have been a fairy from a magical kingdom and the clash-of-cultures setup would have functioned just as well. The anime itself hasn't even been impugned. Cowardice and/or laziness to address the accusation on the part of the publishers and creator are largely responsible for its disappearance. The show's inherent quality and historical value make it regrettable that any circumstance should prevent it from being seen. Rather than allowing a third party to make the decision for us, the most satisfying solution would seem to be to give posterity the opportunity to judge the matter with its own eyes.