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: August 2008, 01

Friday, August 1, 2008

12:31:53 am , 695 words, 2257 views     Categories: Animation

The solo

I've long been fascinated by a phenomenon that seems to be unique to Japanese animation - the solo animator episode, where a single person draws all of the key animation for an entire TV episode. There have been many over the decades, and it's rather common in the simply designed situation comedy style shows produced by A Pro/Shin-Ei (you can still see good solo work done on Shin-chan, for one), but it's rarer in typical productions these days. I've pointed out a number over the last few years, the latest being Michio Mihara's episode of Kaiba.

A new one has turned up in the series World Destruction. Kensuke Ishikawa drew all of the key animation for episode 3, although there were lots of seconds. (meaning he drew rough keys that people cleaned up) So it isn't quite a solo of the purity of, say, Mihara's episode of Kaiba, where he not only didn't have seconds, he even drew most of the inbetweens himself. I'm not too impressed with the work, but it's always an interesting thing to see, which is why I mention it here. Solo episodes are nice because they offer the rare chance to get a sense of what it is that defines animator style, in the broad sense. They also, of course, offer an intimate and extended look at a particular animator's style and skills, which is great if it's a great animator, but even if it's not, they help give a sense of what it is that sets animators apart from one another in general terms, i.e. how to go about identifying the different traits that distinguish animators from one another; what each animator brings to the table through his or her unique talent. That can be hard to do without prior knowledge of an animator's style in most episodes, which typically feature a dozen or more animators with different styles, not to mention varying degrees of correction by the animation director. Kensuke Ishikawa also storyboarded and processed the episode, so you can clearly see a distinct personality at work in terms of not just the animation but also the staging and so on.

Not all solo episodes are necessarily showcases for an animator, but rather merely the result of scheduling expediency. Veteran Toei animator Nobuyoshi Sasakado has the distinction of being probably the single most prolific creator of solo animator episodes, the quality of which are however consequently consistently nominal, at best, at least from the few episodes I've sampled. He obviously has speed on his side, which I gather must be an asset in TV production in Japan. His approach represents the diametric opposite of the approach of a Michio Mihara. It's about quantity over quality, a pragmatic way of helping speed along production for the company, whereas in the case of Mihara if anything even longer was spent producing the episode in order to achieve better quality that met the animator's standards. Another animator named Yoshitaka Yajima apparently did a lot of solo flying throughout the various Digimon series as part of the in-house rotation team, probably falling into the expediency category.

Here's a list of some good solo episodes from past and present.

Goku's Big Adventure #12 & #21 (1967) by Sadao Tsukioka
New Lupin III #14 (1977) by Kazuhide Tomonaga
Gold Lightan #41 (1981) by Takashi Nakamura
Hanaichi Monme OVA #2 (1989) by Hideki Hamasu
Hanaichi Monme OVA #5 (1989) by Koichi Arai
Eat Man #7 (1997) by Norio Matsumoto
Legend of the White Whale #21 (1997) by Hirotoshi Takaya
Dokkoida #5 (2003) by Futoshi Higashide
Samurai Seven #7 (2004) by Hisashi Mori (only part A)
Gankutsuoh #9 (2004) by Yasuhiro Seo
Honey & Clover #7 (2005) by Tetsuya Takeuchi
Tweeny Witches OVA #4 (2005) by Shogo Furuya
Aria the Natural #2 (2006) by Takaaki Wada
Kemonozume #12 (2006) by Michio Mihara
Kaiba #4 (2008) by Michio Mihara

The opening featured some nice work, as did the first episode, in which Yasunori Miyazawa did a very distinctive section. I also liked the fighting after Miyazawa's section, and wonder if it might not be the work of Shuichi Kaneko. The only shot in the op I was able to identify was that of the unmistakable Nobutoshi Ogura, near the end, but I surmise that Hideki Takahashi or Kyoji Asano probably did some of the other good bits.