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: December 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

06:28:38 pm , 1011 words, 11818 views     Categories: Animation, Denno Coil, TV

Denno Coil epilogue

Denno Coil ended about a week ago, so I thought I would post my thoughts on how the series progressed since the last episode I blogged, episode 12. I try to avoid discussing anything remotely specific about the plot when I blog something, for one because it would be a spoiler, but more importantly because I find there to be no point. So I wind up trying to analyze what's being done with the directing or what is interesting stylistically.

There was enough going on stylistically and in terms of the directing in the first season to make blogging each episode rewarding. With the second season the nature of the show began to change. It was like the expository portion was over, and we were now moving into the main body, where we would finally get serious and explore the theme that Iso had hinted at in the beginning as being the driving force - namely, the theme of the interconnectedness of people. I found that I could probably not productively blog each episode anymore, since most of what was happening was happening mostly on the level of the plot and the character interrelations. It's best for everyone to make up their own minds about the story. It's boring reading about that sort of thing anyway. Best to just watch it. So I stopped blogging it.

The first 14 episodes had been entirely written by Mitsuo Iso. Starting with episode 15, the credit was shared. My guess is that Iso maybe provided the rough draft and someone else fleshed it out. All of the work must have caught up with him, preventing him from writing the rest, which is a shame. Much of the catchy quality of the show came from his writing, so losing that made a difference. The tone of the show seemed to change a bit. Suddenly the focus was quite clear, without the silliness and imaginative touches of the early episodes. That was an appealing part to me. Things also became a little repetitive. It seemed like we were going nowhere for a long time, stalling for time, and there was nothing really new being presented in terms of the cyber world or in terms of plot. I got the impression that things were being drawn out to fill in the space, when this climactic portion might better have been fit within a few episodes.

The quality of the show nonetheless remained at the same level, which in itself is a remarkable achievement. It may have gone down ever so slightly, but they put up a really strong fight throughout - the regulars like Toshiyuki Inoue, Kumiko Kawana, Kazutaka Ozaki, Yoshimi Itatsu, et al. Hiroyuki Aoyama even re-appeared a few times, as did Ayako Hata, Takashi Mukoda and Masashi Ando. At the very least, Denno Coil achieved an unusually high average level of quality for a TV anime. Real quality, as in interesting and nuanced movement by good animators, not just frame count or pretty drawings. The last episode unsurprisingly featured an impressive array of big-name animators, and I was happy to see young Shin-Ei animator Ryotaro Makihara (who I mentioned before) in ep 25. Tetsuro Karai appeared several times, so perhaps he pulled Makihara in. I was surprised that character designer Takeshi Honda never reappeared as an animator after episode 1, but I'm guessing there's a lot of tug-of-war going on among the big directors for someone of his caliber.

I quite enjoyed the second, more focused half for what it was trying to do, but it wasn't as captivating to me as the first half, where each episode was fresh and full of new ideas. My main problem was that the plot suddenly seemed to get stuck in third gear, rather than gradually ratcheting up. Also, the concept driving the plot became somewhat murky near the end as the explanations behind the cyber self seemed to push plausibility and border on philosophy. I really like how Iso used the concept to discuss issues of identity and mortality, but by the time the climax arrived, the balance felt out of whack and the climax came across as kind of forced and sudden, with lots of explanations suddenly falling from the sky. Perhaps the padding had drawn things out for too long. Dropping lots of mysteries at the beginning only to answer them all right at the end is a style of plotting that has never done much for me. I don't think the climax should have relied on sudden revelations, at least not so much. The characters' motivations should have been enough. Maybe things would have been different if Iso had written every episode, or if they could have done it all in 18 episodes or 20 episodes instead of having to adhere to these fixed numbers - 13, 26. Who knows.

In any case, Denno Coil was a rare instance when someone set out with an interesting, original idea for a TV show and got it made with solid backing from a bevy of the best animators in the industry. Mitsuo Iso the animator shone through in the digital wizardry of the scenes involving the cyber-gadgets and apparitions. These scenes achieved an unusual level of depth that went beyond the flat confines of the conventional 2D look of anime. It was these scenes that made the cyber world of Denno Coil come alive and feel real and immediate. Despite any shortcomings the story might have, the concept was very stimulating and convincingly fleshed out. The characters were fun and engaging, and they developed in a fairly convincing way over the course of the show in response to the events. The show addressed some serious questions without taking itself too seriously. The animation was consistently top-notch throughout while never stooping to being an end unto itself. The animation served the material and emphasized nuanced observation and craft over eye-candy flashiness. More than anything, it was a rare instance of a TV show that succeeded in creating its own self-contained world with its own unique rules and aesthetic. It was a real success on many levels.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

01:56:44 pm , 603 words, 3453 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Kang Won Young

I think I've often mentioned in the past how I wished I knew of some new Korean animators with a distinctive style. I don't know anything about how things are done over there, but I figured there had to be at least a few industry animators developing an individual style like in Japan. As I said in the previous post, I saw some animation in Lee Sung-Gang's Yobi that definitely fit the bill - the part where the adult version of the girl pinches the cheek of the alien, and the other parts with the lady. I had absolutely no clue who could have done it, though, as the ability to guess such a thing comes from prior knowledge of an animator's work, which I didn't have for any Korean animation. Peter Chung was kind enough to point out in the BBS that those scenes were done by Kang Won Young. He's listed first in the credits, so I should have suspected as much. Peter also noted that Kang did the first 50 shots of Peter's Tomb Raider Re\Visioned. Fantastic, I thought. Here we have a positive ID of two scenes from a great new animator with just as distinctive a style and as brilliant a sense of timing as any I've seen in Japan. So I just had to share this with anyone who missed it.

Peter's Tomb Raider Re\Visioned is a brilliantly dense 3x5-minute mini-series packed with enough material to fill a movie. The economy of storytelling is typical of Peter, every moment conveying something of significance that keeps things pulsing ahead, juggling between various points of view and keeping us constantly surprised with bizarrely unexpected twists and turns. All the while, he crafts a delightful satire of the endless mire of Family Feud-style antagonism between the plethora of mankind's organized religions, which would be as hilarious as it is here if it weren't so depressing. Holy warriors indeed, with their cross-branded uzis. With Peter's usual understated but spot-on humor there, the only thing missing is Peter's own fantastic animation. Thankfully, we have Kang Won Young there to help fill in the gap with some brilliant action animation of his own. I don't know how Kang developed, but he has a sense of timing that seems very unique in the sense that it has a kind of jumpiness and freeness with the drawings that feels atypical of Korean (much less Western) animation and closer to the spareness of Japanese animation. Yet at the same time I couldn't picture anything quite so richly acted coming from Japan. Although I probably haven't seen enough Korean animation to judge fairly.

There was much animation in another recent Korean feature, Aachi and Ssipak, that caught my eye as being among the most excitingly choreographed I've seen in any Korean animation so far. The very simple character designs they adopted for the film seemed calculated for this purpose, to allow them to focus on moving the characters around freely without having to rely as much on making pretty drawings. The film is a lot of fun and refuses to take itself seriously for a moment, delivering just what it sets out to deliver - bad-ass action, violence, silliness, funny satire, and poo. I much preferred the home-grown insanity of this film to the anime-inspired look and feel of Wonderful Days. Scenes like the fight on the staircase were very exciting to watch, although I wasn't sure whether that was accountable to the animation so much as simply to the choreography, as I'm not sure where the line is drawn between the two in Korea.