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: June 2008, 02

Monday, June 2, 2008

10:38:27 pm , 945 words, 2438 views     Categories: Animation, Kaiba, TV, Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Kaiba #5

I'm falling way behind on Kaiba, so without further ado, I've now seen the fifth episode twice, and what a great episode it was. This episode is packed to the brim with punch and verve. For all its roughshod stylings, the episode is so vibrant and full of life that it makes you forget how different it looks from what came before. That's what Kemonozume was so great for - for shifting between all these different styles, but doing such a good job of it that it felt altogether natural. I started out expecting a different tack, a more evenly styled one, but with this episode I'm finally starting to get into the rhythm of the series, and to accept that it works quite well.

This was obviously the freest and most spontaneous feeling episode of the bunch in terms of the drawings - which isn't hard, because what came before was quite different, with a far more unified and clean look to the drawings. But I found the drawings and animation a sheer delight, and the episode won me over within seconds and maintained that tension through to the very end. I actually thought this episode felt closest in spirit to Yuasa's sensibility in terms of throwing off reams of interesting, colorful ideas in a torrent of off-the-cuff drawings.

The person to thank is Choi Eunyoung, the emigree animator who handled episode 6 of Kemonozume. In that episode of Kemonozume I felt Choi had done a great job of 'getting' what Yuasa was trying to do with that show, the direction he was trying to go with the drawings, with all those extraneous lines, and had done a better job than any of the other animation directors bringing that unique approach to life. Well, I think this time she's done an even better job. The drawings here are quite different from the previous episodes, but at the same time they strike me as being closer to Yuasa's spirit than any of the previous episodes, which made this feel like the most authentically 'Yuasa' episode yet.

Choi strikes me as the person who best brings alive the look and feel of Yuasa's conceptual drawings, which is something that you don't see very often, as in recent years the drawing side of things has been handled by other people. Choi's unique drawing style comes through very clearly in the early part of the episode, where she revels in creating the many oddly shaped characters who populate the city, and yet it feels like a perfect match with Yuasa's drawings. She has the talent to be able to create a balance that brings out the best of the underlying material, through her voice as it were.

Choi was, as per habit, co-writer (with Yuasa), storyboarder, director and animation director of the episode, and she handled a good chunk of the animation herself as well. This episode was in every sense her baby, although she didn't do everything herself. (there were five other animators) And what a beautiful baby. Every element of the episode was terrifically fun and convincingly handled. The directing was satisfying at every moment, briskly conveying this interesting side-story with its whacked out characters. The timing and angles of the shots were consistently excellent, far better than I would have expected, deftly balancing fun & free drawings with the typical seriousness of the story and underlying message.

The colors were very striking and had great impact in the early parts of the episode in particular, where snapshots of the city's strange scribbly denizens flash before our eyes in image after strikingly colored image, immediately establishing a unique atmosphere for this episode and its planet. I'm guessing this section was all drawn by Choi. The music was a perfect match, too, creating a sort of carnivaleque atmosphere that well suited the sinister and cynical mood of a planet where the value of life has been completely debased, and people discard their bodies at the drop of a hat when they become yesteryear's fashion. Overall, I can't say enough good about this episode.

A big part of the fun and unique atmosphere of this episode came from the madcap show put on by Shigeru Nagashima (a.k.a. "Cho"), who did an amazing job of bringing alive the character of Patch. Kenji Naikai similarly did a brilliant job bringing alive the insane antics of Ohba in episode 10 of Kemonozume. Yuasa is good at casting these great voice actors in these fun roles where they can go crazy and let loose, applying all their years of experience to the task, engaging in all these entertaining vocal acrobatics and improvisations. For some reason I couldn't get Kenichi Endo out of my head while watching this episode, thinking how great he would be if let loose on this kind of voice-acting role.

There were only a few animators other than Choi, but they included Ryotaro Makihara and Koichi Arai, two of my very favorite animators, who are turning up quite frequently. I'm not sure what Arai may have done, but that great close-up shot where Patch goes on a mad, saliva-spitting rant directly into the camera strikes me as looking like Makihara's work. Makihara exhibited a similarly overt Ohira influence in the chase scene he did for the Coo film, although that influence wasn't as obvious in his work on Doraemon. Here it's like he revels in the opportunity to finally be able to draw how he wants, creating this fantastically dense and thrilling shot. That other Madhouse emigree, Jamie Vickers, was also there, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he did in his own episode, which comes up next.