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 2009, 14

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

02:16:02 pm , 1395 words, 5286 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

New season thoughts

Before I write a few thoughts on anime I've seen recently, behold Felix's Machines, one of the most ingenious concepts, constructions and videos I've seen in a good while. Felix Thorn, a young electronic musician living in the UK, has been putting together a DIY orchestra of cannibalized instrument parts in his apartment for the last few years, which he connects to his computer, and somehow coerces to play music he has programmed on his computer. Felix's Machines are fascinating on any number of levels. They create a marvelous show of twitching machinery - piano hammers hitting xylophones, a synaesthetic light show, and mediating the coldness of electronic music, which perhaps puts off many people to some of the best music made in the last decade, through the warmth of instrumental sounds. You can see two rawer videos of Felix's Machines in action playing Felix's Music on Youtube.

I've been meaning to write my thoughts about the exit of the last season and entry of the new one, but I've been so uninspired by everything I've seen of the new one so far that I haven't been able to muster the energy yet. Until watching episode 2 of IG's new show Sengoku Basara, that is. Quite obviously, it's been a while since I've been inspired to a post by something I've seen, but this episode is what I was waiting for. Funny it should come not in episode 1 but in episode 2. Episode 1 was fun, but not mind-blowing. Episode 2 was splendiferous. It was a fantastic, entertaining episode jam-packed with the manic energy of which only this form called anime is capable. It was directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani, whom I first noticed now quite a few years back with some animation in the Tsubasa Chronicle movie and the opening of Blood+, I think. He's since done numerous items, each one consistently showing him to be one of the most talented up-and-coming faces at the studio. I wrote about his episode of Chevalier, but not about Tokyo Marble Chocolate, which I really enjoyed. I admired how successfully he managed to pull off its daring structure, and also to create endearing characters in such a short span.

Ep 2 of Sengoku Basara has him on storyboard and directing, with Kyoji Asano on AD. He's backed up by animation from none other than Norio Matsumoto and one of my favorite younger animators, Shingo Natsume, whom I haven't seen in quite a while actually. This episode reminds me of his episode of Chevalier in the feeling of tightness of directing it has. When he's able to focus exclusively on these two tasks, Naoyoshi Shiotani does great work, just like another director who this season debuted as series director - Atsushi Wakabayashi. His Guin Saga so far is pretty much what I was expecting: weak and disappointing from a director who in the capacity of lone episode director was able to do such brilliant work.

Shiotani started out as an animator, and I think it shows up in his work in this episode, in the most basic sense that he creates scenes that have a riveting effect on the viewer by dint of their combination of great animation with exciting pacing and staging. He uses Norio Matsumoto fantastically in the showdown in the field, adding these incredible colors and sketchy effects to convey the intensity of the gimmick of the series, where the battles between the heroes, which might elsewhere have been portrayed by something so mundane as a sword fight, are here magnified to ridiculous, landscape-destroying clashes of brightly colored light. I've never seen anything like these sketchy drawings from Matsumoto before, so I wonder if he himself did them or whether Shiotani modified his work in the studio. He uses Shingo Natsume for the exciting charge of the castle, and creates another great scene. I thought I was seeing Hisashi Mori at first when I saw that scene, but later figured it must be how Natsume is drawing these days. He seems to have been influenced by Mori over the last two years. The showdown with the old man also has the hair-raising intensity that is a perfect match for this series' overtly silly and anachronistic re-visioning of feudal Japan, with all its off-the-wall nekketsu energy, and looks like it might have been animated by Shiotani himself. I recall he seems to have animated the scene with the old man in his Chevalier episode, so he seems to have a fetish for animating old men. A refreshing change of fetish for anime.

I've never been particularly interested in Kenji Kamiyama as a director, mainly because he's so far been devoted almost exclusively to directing Gits, which never did anything for me and I never watched, so I've never really had the chance to examine his work as a director in a neutral context. I was given that chance this season with another show from IG called Eden of the East. In spite of its obvious title, the first episode turned out to be quite enjoyable and intriguing and got me wanting to find out more, which no other first episode this season did (including Sengoku Basara - I only watched it because it was fun). He has a unique perspective that comes through in the odd situation, with its very subtle hint of a political tinge coming through already. The character designs by Satoko Morikawa are very cute, but not cloyingly so, and a refreshing change from the typical cookie-cutter 'cute' that riddles the rest of the season. I've long associated her exclusively with the World Masterpiece Theater, as I learned her name from the amorphous, blob-like characters in Lassie. But she's come a long way, and I like how that lineage has evolved in new directions (although of course she adapts someone's design concept). The fact that Yoshihara Masayuki is co-director makes me particularly eager to see where it goes. I recall liking his work on the sniper scene in Kamiyama's Gits film, so the two appear to be joined at the hip these days. At first glance the show seems to be IG's answer to Denno Coil, with its round kid designs and its tone and content, but I'm sure it will develop in a very different direction.

I enjoyed the first episode of Cross Game at first, despite entering with skepticism about the need to create yet another Adachi Mitsuru anime in this day and age. It was a well paced and had a simple, classical story setup that was a welcome change from everything else I've had to watch, and it had an unexpected punch at the end. But thinking about it, I was turned off by the manipulativeness and ease of hinging the emotional impact on the death a child. I also disliked how the faces were impassive and unchanging across every emotion, as it seems like a good design, one that would warrant more freedom with the expressions, kind of like Ayumu Watanabe's revamped Doraemon. But I still liked the directing by Osamu Sekita, and it's a refreshing change from the look and material that dominates today's anime environment, so I might watch a bit more to see if it's worth it. It's been a long time since I was inspired to watch an entire series based not on its merits in terms of the animation or directing, but on the story and characters. It's interesting how, even in the spring of 2009, we can still get a new baseball anime. It's like without a baseball anime on air, people feel a vacuum that needs to be filled. Do young kids today still enjoy this sort of thing the way young kids (heck, back then the entire country) watched Kyojin no Hoshi in the 1960s? The tenacity of certain genres is impressive to me.

I think I watched or sampled over 20 shows, but that's about it in terms of stuff that was remotely bearable. Nothing too exciting this season. And I probably missed it, but I didn't notice any Madhouse shows this season, which was a real surprise. Instead, IG takes the spotlight this season in terms of interesting shows. Madhouse has been in the spotlight with great shows for quite a while now, so perhaps they're preparing for the next wave. I was honestly kind of sad not to see some more good new Madhouse shows.