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: August 2006, 20

Sunday, August 20, 2006

12:08:14 am , 739 words, 1656 views     Categories: Animation, Kemonozume, TV, Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Kemonozume #2

The second episode was a very satisfying followup to the first, going in a slightly different direction, but remaining unpredictable and spontaneous. It feels like with the second episode we can start to see a bit of the direction things are headed, in terms not just of the story but of the tone. The first episode was so hard to pin down in tone, and so much ground was covered. It was difficult to have time to get into any of the happenings before we were moving along. Now, with the exposition out of the way, it feels like we have finally shifted gears into the gritty buildup of the story. I'm rubbing my hands in anticipation.

The second ep was thrilling, but in a different way than the first. I would even say that, finally, with this episode, I'm seeing what I truly wanted to see from the series. Gripping drama. It was inevitable that Yuasa had to do exposition in the first episode, and he did an incredible job of it, but finally getting past that has allowed him to rip his teeth into the meat. And boy has he done it with gusto.

The episode was written, storyboarded and directed by Yuasa - pure Yuasa. No co-writer this time. If the episode feels more focused, maybe that has something to do with it. The focus is on showing the developing love between the two protagonists, and I found this part of the episode to be convincing and moving. It's difficult to pin down what it is that makes Yuasa's directing unique, but it has something to do with his handling of the timing of the little things that are happening in each shot, the way things simply flow naturally in a way that feels right. The scene on the rooftop is a prime example. Yuka speaks a line laden with meaning to Toshihiko, who remains oblivious to its true significance. She then playfully dips backwards over the ledge. It's a moment filled with tension. That tension is resolved in a wonderful stroke when Toshihiko gently extends his hand behind her back and brings her back up. The timing of the movement is perfect, and it simply feels "right". It's a perfect moment. It provides satisfying resolution to that moment of tension, all in a brief, elegant gesture that responds with its own metaphoric answer.

But the part of the episode that had the most impact on me was the last ten minutes. It's rare that I am able to become so engaged in a story that my heart begins to pound, but it happened with the fantastic scene at the funeral. I was immediately reminded of the scene in the Yakitori shop with the yakuza at the beginning of Mind Game. Here there was that same incredible, creeping, hair-raising buildup of tension. You sense that each of the characters has a serious stake in what is unfolding, so you feel for each of them, because you understand their motivation. All of those conflicting motivations combine in the scene to create a complex web of resonance. Oh, I almost forgot - my 'other' favorite part of the episode was the very first shot, which was just a great sucker punch of an opening shot, and also wordlessly conveyed that headlong feeling of 'falling' in love. That was another thing that struck me - again we see Yuasa's great skill at telling a story without needing words.

The animation was interesting. Nobutake Ito was again the animation director, but here it seemed clear that he didn't have time to put the tremendous amount of effort he obviously put into the first episode. There wasn't that croquis-like quality to the drawings, with those great gestures. It was still good, but the drawings felt cleaner and less alive. It felt like we could see the animators' touch more clearly, and the animators seemed to be getting used to the characters, with the faces looking more consistent. The acting was still well observed and the drawings spontaneous and free as before, but Yuasa the storyteller seemed to take the fore. Yuasa and Ito were also credited as animators. Yuasa probably did the action scene with the monster at the beginning. With news of a Mihara episode coming up and probably other interesting names, I'm very curious to see what other people are going to bring to the animation of the show.