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: May 2006, 14

Sunday, May 14, 2006

10:28:00 pm , 1431 words, 4674 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, post-Akira

Revisiting 3x3 Eyes

I recently had the chance to rewatch an old favorite of mine, 3x3 Eyes. This was one of the shows that I watched in the very early days alongside Akira and Warriors of the Wind that lured me into anime. I remember not only buying the soundtrack(s) but also buying the original Japanese manga and attempting to read it with my then-rudimentary (nonexistent) Japanese skills. Mostly I just marvelled at Yuzo Takada's art.

I had completely forgotten what each of the 4 eps in the 1991 OVA series was about in the intervening decade, but as soon as I started watching, it all came back to me. The music in particular. The music is by the composer Kaoru Wada, and I'm surprised to find that my appreciation of it hasn't changed too much in the intervening years. It's still great, driving, exciting stuff, greatly contributing to the epic aura, and so much more musically substantial than most anime soundtracks. It's a big part of why the show had such an impact on me. I'd recommend seeking out his orchestral compositions to anyone who liked the soundtrack and wanted to hear more music like it. What I've heard is similar, and even better, in that it stands alone as drama-in-music. He's another great Japanese orchestral composer who also happens to have done soundtracks, like Akira "Godzilla" Ifukube.

Apart from that, I'm glad to say that my evaluation hasn't diminished. This is still a very memorable and enjoyable series watched today, and in fact I found it more genuinely engaging than most of what I see being made nowadays. It succeeds in creating a convincing feeling of adventure and epic grandeur, which seems to have become a lost art today. Here the spirit of adventure is natural and unforced and unselfconscious, which is unbelievably refreshing to see today. The people behind the unique feeling of the show, apart from Takada Yuzo, who wrote the original manga on which it's based, are director Nishio Daisuke and animation director Koichi Arai. Watching it you really feel that the directing and animation are working together as a unit to create this unique feeling.

Nishio went on to direct lots of Dragonball and more recently Kindaichi and a number of other shows with the Himeno/Araki animation director duo. What I like about the directing here is that the characters don't feel like they're going through paces. Each development is truly unexpected, and you're actually watching wondering what's going to happen next. A lot of things are elided over, unfortunately, and go unexplained, which leaves you scratching your head in spots, presumably because of the need to compress the massive original comic, but he manages to do it in a way that it seems natural, so it doesn't feel like the show has holes. Just the opposite, it feels good to watch something that doesn't feel like it has to fill in every little detail. It keeps moving to new places instead. Nishio's directing doesn't feel insulting or pandering, and never gets boring. It's truly balanced stuff. It's unfortunate that I haven't seen much from him since then.

What I came away from upon rewatching the OVAs was a feeling of a promise unfulfilled. I'm not talking about the fact that the series gets cut off right when it's getting good. I may sound perverse for saying so, but I kind of liked that things remained open that way. It's sad to see a story you like come to an end. I always found that unresolved mystery of what was going to happen somehow pleasant. What I'm talking about, rather, is that this show had a certain feeling of expansive adventure convincingly directed that I expected to find in all anime, and haven't. That's the downside to starting high. It's downhill from there. Most anime I've seen since then is predictable in story and characters and never succeeds in creating a genuine feeling of dramatic scale. That feeling of truly enjoying each moment of a long saga, of getting into the characters, isn't something I've gotten very often since then from anime, which is surprising since so much anime has attempted to create that sort of thing.

Last but not least, the other element is Koichi Arai. It's through his pen that those characters come alive. Not only are his designs a great interpretation of the original manga, I really feel that it's because of his drawings that interest is maintained constantly. Naturally it wouldn't work without Nishio's directing, but they work perfectly in sync. Right before this Arai drew all of the animation for an episode in an OVA series called Hanaichi Monme, and Nishio was the director of the episode. I've heard good things both about Arai's animation of the episode and the potent, realistic directing of Nishio, and so it's clear they had a wonderful symbiosis going. That's the sort of thing I most like to find - a great director/animator team. Nishio and Arai were the best together. I can't think of any other show on which Arai's style has been featured so prominently, as since then he's gone back to focusing on working as a solo animator. It's good in a sense, because I'd rather see him work as an animator, but part of me would like to see another short assay like 3x3 Eyes from Arai, to see what he'd do with it today.

What is it about his characters that I like so much? It's that they're expressive, and their expressions don't feel hackneyed, taken from the repertoire. They feel genuine. They feel like his own work. That's another broken promise - most anime I've seen since then can't be said to have that feeling of uniqueness. I find the difference especially stark in comparison with the bulk of anime being made now. There are very few times when I feel an animation director has come up with his own set of expressions and his own approach to form and so on. In Arai's hands each drawing feels right. Even in cases where drawings have been extensively corrected nowadays, I still don't get that feeling. It's a question of whether you have that touch or not. It also may have been a product of the era. Utsunomiya Satoru's Gosenzosama Banbanzai had just come out the year or two previously, so perhaps we're seeing the early influence of its unique approach to character animation in 3x3 Eyes. There's a strong feeling of three-dimensionality in the characters that seems similar, and a different basic approach towards what to move and when. The faces are modeled in a realistic fashion that reminds a bit of Otomo, so Akira may also have been a recent memory.

I also had a chance to watch the continuation that was made about four years later, this time three 45-minute eps. Perhaps nostalgia is a factor in there somewhere, but the continuation didn't have the magic of the first series for me. It was simply anime. It was Arai and Nishio who made the first series so unique, and without them it was just anime. Even Kaoru Wada's soundtrack seemed a little limp this time around, almost like a watered down version of the first. Exemplary of the stark difference are the designs, which did very little for me. There wasn't that feeling of enjoying the drawings throughout that there was under Arai. The contrast is actually helpful since it throws into relief the unique nature of Arai's drawings.

What's interesting is that the second series had about three times more animators per episode, yet it didn't have that feeling. The first series had Hideki Hamasu in each episode, clearly acting as the unspoken "main animator". I couldn't pick out his work, but he presumably must have done the main action sequences. Each episode of the second series had a number of interesting figures, and the action scenes were fairly good quality. The best was easily the bit around the 30-minute mark of ep 1, from the point where Yakumo summons Tochao to where he's stabbed, about thirty seconds in total. Toshiyuki Inoue is in the credits, and going by the date of production, 1995, I think it jives with the sort of movement Inoue would have been creating by that time. I also rather enjoyed the gesticulation around the point where the little girl is hit by the car in the second episode. To list interesting names I noted: ep 1 has Toshiyuki Inoue, Yasuhiro Aoki; ep 2 has Jiro Kanai, Yasuhiro Aoki, Aoki Mariko, Masami Goto; and ep 3 has Tatsuya Tomaru, Masahiko Kubo, Keisuke Watabe.