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: November 2006, 19

Sunday, November 19, 2006

01:03:24 am , 984 words, 3886 views     Categories: Animation, Kemonozume, TV, Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Kemonozume #11

With this ep we find ourself racing headlong towards the finale, and bad, bad things begin happening to all of the protagonists. One of the things that makes this series unique is that it keeps you guessing in interesting new ways - not just in terms of the story, but also in terms of the way the story is told (to say nothing of the stylistic variety). The sudden, unprompted flashback in ep 4, the side-story in ep 5, the lyrical beauty of ep 9 right after the shock of ep 8. As soon as you try to pin it down, it squirms out in another direction. I'm not sure whether it's worked in all cases, or how much of it was premeditated, but it's always been an exciting ride.

It's been particularly interesting how the series has juggled the serious/comic aspect. In Yuasa's template in episode 1 we can see the ideal balance the director was obviously aiming at, seguing from horror to comedy or blending the two in the same moment to create a curious hybrid, neither pure comedy nor pure horror, with an atmosphere and a visual approach that immediately set the series apart. Most of the rest of the series has been endowed with this atmosphere to an extent, but ultimately Yuasa's rare genius is what accounts for that delicate balancing act on display in the first episode, and consequently few of the other episodes, over which he didn't have complete control, quite manage to provide the tremendous satisfaction that the first ep did because of the way it balanced all of those various elements.

What the series has turned out to be about, instead, is seeing how different people adapt themselves to Yuasa's seemingly inimitable approach. The TV format all but precludes the level of control we saw in Mind Game. So instead of fighting against this, it feels like they've gone with the flow and successfully adapted their approach to the format. My first instinct was to wish that the whole series could have been like episode 1, and I was a little put off by the lack of unity, but after thinking about it, I appreciate the results. Yuasa has always taken a kaleidoscopic approach, throwing in unepected elements at unexpected times, surprising us with high-velocity animation one moment and jumping to live-action footage, or jumping from hair-raising scenes to hilarity in a way that seems only natural, as he did in Mind Game. This series seems to do that on a macro level, examining a different mood and style in each episode. Partly this is intentional, but it also cunningly uses the inescapable unevenness of a TV series to its advantage. The avants are a further extension of this. They add a dash of unique animation to the mix. On the surface seem like they have nothing to do with the main story, but they also help flesh out the setting with little snippets of a day in the life of various flesheaters. Reportedly they decided to use the avants to show how nasty the flesheaters are, which they felt they hadn't done enough in the series itself.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It's too early to make an assessment yet. I got to thinking about this because the pacing and tone was so different in this ep. This and the previous ep were each written/storyboarded/directed by one person, so the particular director's style comes across as all the more than eps where the tasks are split up. The ep feels more unified when it's all done by one person, but by the same token it also feels all the more different from the surrounding eps.

The director here was Hiroshi Shimizu, who up until recently worked alongside Yuasa as an animator on all of the Shin-chan films, his last being Yakiniku Road in 2003. He also happens to have worked on pretty much all of the Ghibli films of the 90s. Here he also animated the avant, which provides a welcome opportunity to get down his style, as he doesn't have nearly as individual a style as Sueyoshi or Yuasa, so I've never been able to pick out his Shin-chan work. In this episode he places the focus squarely on that villain we've grown to love to hate, Ohba, who hams it up with some wonderful and horribly insane antics. With Kenji Naikai as the voice actor, he's a diabolically fun character to watch. Shimizu's style is to singlemindedly stick with the flow of action, which is very different from Kenji Nakamura's roving eye. Though Shimizu also comes from Shinei, he seems very different from Yuasa. He strikes me as having a good sense of his own style already, with a cleaner line and more of a traditional approach than Yuasa. What the two share is a passion for creating animation driven by motion.

The animation in this ep struck me as significantly cleaner feeling than much of what I've seen elsewhere, particularly Shimizu's own avant. It was still possible to identify different styles at work, since Ohba was the main character throughout, giving different people the opportunity to move him, but the basic approach felt different. The expressions and poses were more cartoonish and exaggerated than what I've come to expect of Ito, but nonetheless lively and interesting, and brought the character alive nicely. There were a few interesting faces in the credits, including Tadashi Hiramatsu and Hiroyuki Aoyama, and one scene stood out from the rest - the brief fight between the two flesheaters. Perhaps it was by one of them. I also rather liked the bit with the secret police in the tubes. The interesting timing and more geometric forms kind of felt like Nobutoshi Ogura. Interesting also to see Sayo Yamamoto as one of the assistants to Shimizu. I liked his Champloo work but haven't seen anything since, though I'm sure he's been active.