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: April 2008, 23

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

05:57:07 pm , 961 words, 3050 views     Categories: Animation, Kaiba, TV, Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Kaiba #2

Okay, so it looks like I'll be blogging Kaiba. Few things I watch these days inspire me with the desire to say anything. It's refreshing to be filled with words for once by the great work being done here.

This episode did just what I was hoping: It maintained the quality of drawing of the first episode and sustained the momentum of the story and the very unique dramatic tone established by the first episode. I have this habit of checking the credits before I watch an episode, after doing which in this case I was pretty optimistic going in that such would be the case. The episode is directed/co-written (w/Yuasa) by the eminently reliable Akitoshi Yokoyama, who handled episode 5 of Kemonozume and episodes 3 and 11 of Denno Coil, each of which are among the most solid episodes of their respective series. He's also an animator, having helped animate Kenji Nakamura's episode 10 of Kemonozume, among other things. He's one of the most reliable figures I know at the moment. Whatever he touches, it works big time. Thanks to him, this episode covered a wide range of interesting happenings while maintaining great forward drive and dramatic tension from scene to scene. On top of that, we have Ryotaro Makihara and Takayuki Hamada as animators again, along with, guess who, Koichi Arai, the litmus test animator I mentioned in the last post. Thanks to these great animators, this episode, like the first, is filled with wonderfully movemented acting by the characters. So far, so great.

The drawing side of things is sustained by a very reliable figure: Akira Honma. I was afraid the quality might dip very quickly once Nobutake Ito left the podium as animation director, considering how unusual these characters are. Ito remains as supervisor here, but Akira Honma does a great job of adapting to these very unique designs. I didn't sense any discrepancy. Although apparently a relatively young face, he's been an invaluable in-house resource throughout all of the most interesting Madhouse shows of the last few years - Kemonozume and Denno Coil - showing the malleability of a great animator craftsman. If we could maintain this same level of quality through to the very end, by continuing to go with the sort of talented craftsmen animators and directors we see here, then I think this series would attain a pretty high level of perfection. I doubt it's possible to avoid some unevenness considering the constraints of TV production, but the team they have assembled so far is very reassuring.

If I'm hoping that the quality of the animation and directing are maintained, it's because I'm getting a very good feeling from the story so far, which works on any number of different levels, and I wouldn't want anything to distract from that. While on the surface the show explores the landscape of a fascinating alien world full of unexpected shapes, colors and relationships, making every moment of the show a delightful process of discovery full of new stimuli for the audience, it simultaneously, subtly gets across a number of poignant messages about the human predicament, and that's what's making me very enthusiastic about it - it's got a real sense of depth. The show has a deceptively soft and cute look to the characters and colors that is betrayed by jarringly adult and powerful moments that keep you off-balance and give the show its unique tone and dramatic strength.

I was an oversensitive and depression-prone kid, and one of the things I remember pondering morosely in my moments of angst-induced existential dread was all the people in the world who had come before me - the thought that I had been preceded by billions upon billions of people, all of whom were now dead, memory of their existence completely eradicated. I doubt it's a thought that crosses most people's minds, out of the need to stay sane, but it's a fact of our existence. The scene where we realize the meaning of the yellow clouds reminded me of all that. It's a powerful moment where many of the developing themes in the series seem to converge. And it does all this without being either heavy-handed or alienating, wordy or pretentious. It's all done seamlessly via the unfolding drama, which is the stuff of great storytelling. Without even having to think about it, the story invokes elemental issues deeply rooted in our existence, quite unobtrusively, which in my mind confirms that Yuasa continues to grow and improve as a storyteller. The one thing that bothered me, for that reason, was that they had to wordily explain the concept before the opening in this episode. I thought that was unnecessary. The storytelling here is doing an amazing job of bringing this situation, these characters alive, gradually letting us in on how it all fits together, without having to explain anything. But it certainly is a very peculiar situation that would throw new viewers for a loop if they just tuned in, so I can sort of understand. The story has been developing brilliantly so far, without revealing too much too quickly and without it feeling like they're annoyingly holding back on you, with lots of really cool and weird characters, each with a clearly defined personality. I hope it maintains this pace.

Last time I noted a palpable Shin-Ei feeling to the first episode via the animators. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but I noticed in this episode that one of the voice actors is Wasabi Mizuta, no less - the voice-actor who recently replaced Nobuyo Oyama as Doraemon. In yet another connection, this new character named Butter is obviously an homage to Bakabon Oyaji from the old A Pro show Tensai Bakabon. I'm loving all of these connections.