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: July 2008, 21

Monday, July 21, 2008

07:38:27 pm , 1146 words, 3690 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Movie, TV

Osamu's new show

I've been too busy to write about the new batch of shows that came out a few weeks back until now, but there were a number of nice surprises among the bunch. First and foremost was the new series by Osamu Kobayashi, a show with the windy title Mahoutsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto: Natsu no Sora. Not knowing he was involved, I didn't expect anything, but I sensed something different as soon as the show started, with that unmistakable slow pace and odd combination of blocky characters in close-up layouts over photorealistic backgrounds. Actually, in this case they are literally photos, and that is a big part of what gives the show its character, and what made me so happy with the project. Kobayashi, as ever, is deeply involved, scripting each episode (probably), and his directing takes on a new, cooler, more earnestly emotional and less goofy style that really works well with the material. But the unique combination of great designs by Yusuke Yoshigake and photos presumably taken by Kobayashi himself make for quite an impact.

In looking back over 1001 Nights recently I was reminded that the Eiichi crew were among the first in the modern 'anime' era to combine such a variety of media in a commercial production. Yuasa updated that tradition with his unique incorporation of live-action and background photos in Mind Game and then Kemonozume, and Osamu Kobayashi is also creating his own unique mixed-media hybrid in his work. I think he'd already done something incipient in this direction in his previous show, Paradise Kiss, particularly that fantastic opening sequence in the first ep, where Osamu's loopy imaginary ghosts and goblins were pasted over shots of the nooks and crannies of Tokyo, but here what he's done is full-bore and quite striking at first sight. And quite effective. To me it's important that the visual element in animation, be it the character designs or the styling of the backgrounds or whatever, provide something that really captures you in some way with some new and interesting ideas, rather than just following a pattern, and the visual scheme in this series satisfyingly (to me) creates a visual atmosphere that immediately announces this series as unique, without even needing to get to know the characters or story.

The animation itself is also in a style that's unique to Kobayashi's projects, with very spare animation that's somehow still realistic in its timing and acting, like it was in Beck because he deliberately and studiously avoided using cliched anime expressive symbols to allow the characters to express themselves in a more realistic fashion, all without relying for this on realistic or particularly nuanced designs. I hope this series will be shorter so that Kobayashi can maintain a tight rein over the direction, as Beck lost me in the middle parts when things got watered down, but the first three episodes of Mahoutsukai have all been pretty tight. The animation aspect has been really satisfying. Young animator Kenichi Kutsuna, one of the most famous of the new generation of gif-animators-turned-pros that includes brethren Ryochimo and Shingo Yamashita (working over on Birdy) here is credited as "special animator". Kutsuna is not as flamboyant as the others, so I'm not too sure of his style, but this series promises be to be a good way of getting to know how far he's progressed since Satoru Utsunomiya hand-picked him back in the heady days of Noein. There was some nuanced low-key stuff going down at the beginning of the second episode, so maybe that's what he's doing these days.

Character designer Yoshigaki Yusuke himself and Osamu's close associate Motonobu Hori are also there in each episode. The opening was a delight with the way every shot has a totally different look to the drawings. Every animator is an animator with personality, and a very different personality at that. Obviously there was no correction. It looks like a fun opening to try to figure out shot by shot. If you want to give it a shot, the animators were, in this order (presumably by number of shots): Yusuke Yoshigaki, Osamu Kobayashi, Yasuomi Umetsu, Tokuyuki Matsutake, Motonobu Hori, and Kenichi Kutsuna. The ending was a surprise because it was animated by Osamu Kobayashi and none other than old Madhouse veteran animator Manabu Ohashi, that great animator of the Cloud section of Robot Carnival, the opening of Treasure Island, and countless other gems. He's an animator about whom I've wanted to write more for a long time, though there's so much to say I never got around to it. Overall, excellent stuff, Osamu! Keep it coming.

Of course, the photo up top isn't from Osamu's new show. It's from the latest One Piece movie, which was by far the most impressive to me in terms of the animation after Hosoda's Baron movie. My first viewing of the climactic battle quickened my pulse in a way I wasn't expecting of a One Piece movie. I was delighted that Hisashi Mori was there with a long sequence that is by far the easiest to identify in the film, but the other sequences had possibly even a greater impact on me. Particularly so Zoro's sword fight on the ships in the first quarter of the film. The only names other than Mori that I could figure were probably responsible for the action were Takaaki Yamashita and his protege Tatsuzo Nishita. My first guess was that Mori might have done it due to the magnificent FX, but Mori's scene later on is quite different, and I believe Nishita has drawn beautiful FX in his work on a number of occasions, such as Gaiking ep 21, and has this kind of very fluid (as opposed to Mori's much more limited style) animation like that seen here, if you look at his scene in Kemonozume ep 8 where the people are lobbing molotov cocktails at the buster suits. So I'm guessing Nishita may have done the boat scene and Yamashita maybe did the sequence immediately preceding Mori's where Sanji tries to shake off the afro hairball from his leg, as the latter was the only scene in the film where characters moved in a way that seemed remotely affected by gravity and balance, and Yamashita is great at bringing a bit of acting alive like this. Of course, that's only a guess. After a bit of searching I discovered that Hiroki Tanaka, that animator who's been drawing hyper crazy impossible-to-follow action in Toei's PreCure, was probably responsible for the very fast action in the climax that I was really wondering about. That had quite an impact. Another animator with whose work I'm not at all familiar, Yuuki Hayashi, may have done other nice bits of the action. Today's Toei is very different from the Toei of yesteryear, but it continues to foster very good animators who create animation that moves something wicked.