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.
April 2007
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Archives for: April 2007, 16

Monday, April 16, 2007

05:53:00 pm , 1152 words, 3244 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, OVA, post-Akira

Green Legend Ran etc

Last night I had a chance to watch a selection of the Academy Award nominees (and winner) for animated shorts. The only one that left any real impression on me was the one that deservedly won the award, The Danish Poet, a witty, wistful, wise little handmade film that leaves you very satisfied. Almost all of the other films were ultra-polished CGI studio films, none of which had anything new to say, so it's all the more sweet a victory for Torill Kove. Bill Plympton's Guide Dog was fun, but it felt like a step down from Guard Dog, without the wonderful, savage satirical bite of the original. Of the CG films, the Hungarian film Maestro was surprisingly the most satisfying one. Usually CG animation seems to always be patterned after US theatrical productions, but this one was different, a formally simple film with a simple punchline, which is precisely why it was satisfying. Other films like One Rat Short were undoubtedly very well made, but I guess I tend to favor films that do much with little.

The animation of the first ep of Tsutomu Mizushima's new baseball series was typically highly worked, but what really caught my eye was all of the bits involving actual baseball playing. There was a separate post for "action animation director", so clearly they must have someone in there as the specialist working on just those scenes, studying actual baseball movement and applying that knowledge to the animation. It's nice to see that they're obviously taking the baseball animation seriously. Seeing this reminds me that I'd like to be able to see more of Samurai Giants to compare, as this was one of the more memorable takes on baseball animation of a few decades ago. I loved the animation in the op/ed by Otsuka. I'd be curious if Samurai Giants was some kind of an influence or distant memory.

I also recently had a chance to re-watch yet another old favorite of mine, Green Legend Ran, which I remember buying from Pioneer on LD back in the days they were among the first companies to put out good bilingual LDs in the west. I'm not sure how the staff that made this 3-OVA series got together, but it's an excellent group all around, spearheaded of course of Tatsuyuki Tanaka, who gave the world its foundation with his image boards. Animators include Shinji Hashimoto, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, Nobutoshi Ogura, Hisashi Ezura, Atsushi Wakabayashi. Apart from an underwhelming ending, it was a strong effort overall. The directing is great, the story is compelling and well told, and the animation is excellent and still exciting to watch. Watching it make me wonder how it came about that ten years later seemingly nobody wants to draw this style of animation anymore, with these simple characters and a focus on creating fun, exciting movement. It's one of the few attempts I've seen at creating an original sci-fi fantasy on a grand scale in the vein of Conan that actually worked. Telecom was obviously attempting just such a thing with Secret of Cerulean Sand, and watching Ran threw into relief why Secret of Cerulean Sand didn't work.

The animation is satisfying in each ep, though it's interesting to note how it differs from ep to ep. Ep 1 is by far the richest, with lots of nuanced work throughout. It's the one where you feel the strongest that this is a film produced by some of the young staff that just got finished working on Akira. It inherits that film's spirit of movement. This is perhaps the episode that stands up best to viewing after all these years precisely because the it's full of a kind of realistic-tinged, full, highly worked movement that was a product of that era and seems to have mostly disappeared these days. The one scene in the series that stayed imprinted in my memory over the years was the last one in ep 1, among the ruins. I wonder who did it. Perhaps Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, as I remember he did similarly nuanced full movement in Akira just before. Ran gesticulating with those huge hands seems like something he might have done. The highlight of the much more restrained and still second ep is the mecha animation. I suspected Shuichi Kaneko might have been involved, but it seems it was due to Hisashi Ezura, who was mecha AD of the ep. Makes sense. I notice he was listed top in ep 3 of Guren, so I'm looking forward to seeing that. The ep doesn't come across as being parsimonious in the animation department despite not nearly as much movement going on because the story is well told. A good positive example that you don't have to be jam-packed with great animation to leave a good impression. Good directing sprinkled with good bits of animation achieves a satisfying balance. The torture sequence was rather surprising for its time and left a strong impression on me. Ep 3 was more movemented, but differently from the first, more restrained and focused, without that flowing movement and very liberal use of drawings of the first ep. Takeshi Honda and Nobutoshi Ogura were co-ADs.

Speaking of Secret of Cerulean Sand, I just got finished watching it, and one ep stood out as noteworthy in the sense that I can't help wishing the rest of the series had been up to its level - #19, one of Hiroyuki Aoyama's episodes. I felt it showed off Aoyama's genius well, because it showed him deliberately emulating that awesome vibe of the old Telecom stuff, and doing it better than the people working alongside him who were the ones who made the best of the old Telecom stuff, like one who had learned from the master and surpassed him. I only knew him to be a great animator before this, but this seems a good example that the best animators like him often have it in them to become the best directors. Mitsuo Iso will soon add his name to those ranks. I could see Aoyama making a great film. He creates a perfect flow of action seemingly effortlessly. He feels like a natural. The framing and the timing of each shot is never haphazard, it always feels very thought out without being preoccupied with stylistics. It's a good example of directing overcoming the limitations of the material. Kazuhide Tomonaga's eps (10 15 18 25) had an exceptional feeling of flow, sprinkled with lots of moments of extremely well thought out and clever action typical of him, and Yoshinobu Michihata backed him up perfectly in each ep in bringing the action scenes to life in very free and fun animation, but in the end even the work of this golden Telecom duo doesn't quite have the impact of Aoyama's episodes. Aoyama's work oozes drama and control at every moment.

I must say I'm saddened to hear of Kurt Vonnegut's death. His books meant a lot to me.