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 2007, 27

Sunday, May 27, 2007

08:20:32 pm , 1155 words, 3258 views     Categories: Animation, Denno Coil, TV

Denno Coil #3

This episode struck me as the most rhythmical, with the most forward drive. The team was actually a familiar one to me - storyboard/director Akitoshi Yokoyama and animation director Nobutake Ito. It was a surprise to find Nobutake Ito as AD (though now that I think about it, maybe they had him animate the last few shots of the previous episode as a lead-in to this one?), but after some thinking I remembered that I had seen this exact same team together before, in one of my favorite eps in recent memory, ep 21 of Samurai Champloo. And right afterwards they had worked together again on Kemonozume in the same capacity, namely in episode 5. Ep 10 of Kemonozume was one of the major Ito episodes, with not just AD by Ito but with most animation drawn by Ito. There were only two other animators - one of them Yokoyama. So clearly these two have developed a sort of camaraderie in recent years, and so it makes a little more sense to see them together again. And the results in this episode speak for themselves. This episode is just as tight as the others, but has a much more driven rhythm than the very laid back introductory episodes, particularly the first by Iso.

Animators of note in this episode include ex-Ghibli animator Hiroyuki Morita, who's now directing Gonzo's Bokurano, and ex-Ghibli animator Ikuo Kuwana, director of the memorable OVA Street Fighter Alpha: Generations. The lead animator in SFA:G, Hajime Shimomura, was also in an earlier ep of Coil. I would have expected more of a difference in the look with Ito as AD, but he didn't stick out here nearly as much as he did in his eps of Champloo. Honda and Ito are very different animators, and they have different styles of posing and so on, so there is a difference, but I would have been hard-pressed to notice if I didn't pay close attention. Ito has always focused on creating animation rich with natural and spontaneous poses and gestures, and he also endows this episode with a degree of nuanced acting like Honda. But it's not like in Kemonozume, where we were able to see the more idiosyncratic, raw side of Ito. Here we're seeing the professional Ito.

Really the one who stood out as the star of this episode to me, though, was Akitoshi Yokoyama himself. His directing is fantastic. He is great at creating a solidly structured, thrilling, convincing flow of action, and he gave the Mojos lots of room to play out some incredibly fun - and funny - escapades. I haven't laughed this much watching an episode in a good while. I didn't think Coil would have this kind of breadth for humor, like that hilarious shot of Densuke breaking down weeping, and Oyaji's 10-point landing. I also like the way it sounds like they're using a rubber ducky to make all of Oyaji's vocalizations. The series is indeed much more laid back than I at first anticipated, with all of these humorous touches. It's interesting how it melds imaginative futuristic thinking with a more conventional eye for animated fun and a very retro, everyday feeling in the setting.

Mitsuo Iso recently made a few revealing comments in passing on his home page that are kind of related to this. He comments that, due to the time restrictions of the TV format, he was forced to skip over many of the details of the world in favor of focusing on the silly gags, which is a balance of priorities I wouldn't have expected, but made me like the man even more. He said that eventually these materials may be released in some form. He also says that the high quality of the first few eps was all thanks to the excellent staff, and he was just as surprised about it as us, but that in fact he's taking a very laid back approach to the series, basically going with his instincts rather than attempting to make sure every piece is in the right place. He warns not to have too high expectations on that front, though I'll take his warning with a grain of salt. I actually found it reassuring to read his humble tone, and to read that he has this more easygoing attitude than seemingly apparent from the incredibly well-produced first few episodes. He doesn't take himself too seriously. He takes what he is doing seriously, which is different.

This also reminded me how it's difficult to figure out what the true intentions of a creator are from the finished product, particularly in animation where the input of a large number of people makes it impossible to narrow down the intent to that of a single individual. Too many voices have been added along the way. That is almost certainly also the appeal of animation, that this process can add a richness that the creator might not have even envisioned originally.

I also wonder what the secret is to repeat-watchability. I can watch these episodes over and over again and they don't get old, which is rare. I thought about this back when I first discovered Hamaji's Resurrection and would watch it over and over again, and I think the answer is pretty simple. A solid work of art can withstand viewing from any angle over any length of time. Solid craftsmanship is what makes you want to come back to something to try to figure out how all those little details fit together so seamlessly, to try to learn from that - to steal it even. In this case, another thing that makes this world so appealing and keeps it fresh every time you watch is, I'm starting to think, that Iso seems to tap that way children live in the real world and in their own fantasy world at the same time, and tells the story without any cynicism or modern ambivalence. The show feels in a way like a throwback to an older time, to shows from a few decades back.

I'm also reminded of a comment Takahata or Miyazaki made in an interview I read once long ago, something vaguely along the lines that an audience will not be convinced if you have lots of fantasy going on without any grounding in reality; but just add one element that is realistic, and the audience will, as if by association, suddenly find themselves transported into the reality of the film. Iso sets up a very ordinary situation in the real world, and adds to this reality a thin layer of virtual fantasy. While clearly fantasy, it's all just plausible enough to be believable.

The climax with the Illegal exploding and the space around the protagonists cracking into pieces was quite hair-raising thanks to the excellent handling of the digital processing, presumably by Iso himself. Iso has been credited every episode with digital effects so far.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

03:14:33 am , 841 words, 3812 views     Categories: Animation, Movie, Director

Moribi Murano

Koji Yamamura's latest short, The Principal and the Whale, made for Greenpeace, is up for viewing on the site Whale Love, which seems to have been set up expressly for this purpose. According to an interview on the site, the 2-minute film took him 5 months to make and comprises 1700 drawings, which was 300 drawings over his initial estimate.

I've long been a big fan of the Unico pilot produced by director Toshio Hirata and animators Masami Hata, Shigeru Yamamoto and Mikiharu Akabori at Sanrio Films in 1979, but thought Hirata's feature version of 1981 at Madhouse a step down from the pilot, and thus naively didn't bother to check the last film in the series, 1983's Unico in the Magic Island, expecting it to be a further step down. In fact, the opposite was true, as I've just discovered, having recently seen the film for the first time. It's a step up - a film full of vitality and imaginative ideas, quite different from the first (and the pilot) in tone and style. Whereas it doesn't have the rich and nuanced animation and loving attention to detail of the pilot, it successfully goes in a different direction with a more limited and looser approach to the animation and a focus on lively directing and imaginative design ideas. It feels much closer to the Mushi Pro/Madhouse tradition than the pilot. The freedom with the forms and geometric designs reminds me of another film they did around the same period, this time for Toei - The Golden Bird. The directing betrays a great instinct for timing and camera movement, with lots of zooming around to great effect. Action scenes are imaginatively choreographed, with zippy movement, utilizing large spaces effectively like the chase at the end of Puss 'n Boots. The designs remind me mildly of Masaaki Yuasa, with real variety in the forms, minimal use of lines, and balancing cute with bizarre and slightly disturbing. The mechanical dragon that zooms past at lightning speed in the castle was a fantastic idea and a delight to watch, and the memorably designed villain's shapeshifting was quite imaginative. The castle made of living puppets was also a great idea, and the music scenes were pleasing and didn't rub the wrong way.

Considering how well balanced each element of the film is, and the imaginative ideas on display, I was surprised that a figure as obscure as Moribi Murano had directed such a gem. I didn't remember seeing his name very often, and indeed, this is the only feature he has ever directed. His main area of activity is manga, although he had also been active as an animator for a long time, and still is occasionally.

Murano was born in 1941 in Dalian, China, a city on the coast near Korea. He debuted in 1957 as a manga-ka, and went on to be very prolific in that form. According to Arashi Ishizu, who worked at Mushi Pro in the early days as a production assistant, and who wrote a book about the Mushi Pro figures, Murano had problems with his legs, and was an extremely strong-willed person who didn't get along very well working in a studio structure, which is presumably what led to him striking out on his own as a manga-ka. Among his more well-known works are Hoero Bunbun, which was adapted into a TV series in 1980 and then into a film directed by Toshio Hirata at Madhouse in 1986. There is a fan page on the web where you can read through a number of his manga shorts such as Dokugan Sakon and Chinchiririn. After starting out at Mushi Pro on Atom in 1963, Murano went on to work on many of the Mushi Pro productions of the decade that followed, including Jungle Taitei, Goku no Daiboken (Murano was an inbetweener in eps 13, 14, 23, 31, 32, 35, 38 and 39 and a key animator in 28) and the Animerama films.

Probably the one for which he is best remembered is the adaptation of Shotaro Ishinomori's Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae, which is important in that it was the first TV anime expressly for adults. Murano designed the main characters, was animation director, and directed a few episodes. The animation was unique, drawn in rough bold strokes at Murano's initiative, cleaving with the clean look of previous Mushi Pro productions. In the 1980s, aside from having directed the second Unico film, Murano was involved in a number of other Madhouse productions, animating the special assassination scene in Floating Clouds in 1982, as well as working on Lensman in 1984 and Dagger of Kamui in 1985. Most recently, he directed a 22-minute animated adaptation of Shotaro Ishinomori's Stream Minnow at Madhouse that won the excellence prize at the 2003 edition of the Japan Media Arts Festival. On his site here there is an intriguing image of a gigantic flying vessel that looks like a cross between Moebius and Miyazaki. Above it there is the text "Roger Bacon's The Flying Machine Anime DVD Plan", but no other explanatory text. It would be nice if Murano were working on this as his next animation project.

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