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.
July 2009
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
 << < Current> >>
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    

Who's Online?

  • Guest Users: 5

  XML Feeds

powered by b2evolution

Archives for: July 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009

05:20:09 pm , 652 words, 3699 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

New Kenji Nakamura joint coming up later this year

I'm looking forward to the upcoming series by Kenji Nakamura, Mid-Air Trapeze (Kuchu Buranko), and not just because it will be nice to have something to watch, although that will have to wait until October. It will be worth the wait, if the team that brought us Mononoke (Kenji Nakamura x Takashi Hashimoto x Toei) live up to all the high expectations I've got of their next project. Interestingly, the material comes from a Naoki-award-winning novel, which is a refreshing change from the usual use of light novels as source material, these being aimed primarily at children and adult children. The Naoki award is Japan's literary award given to new writers. I actually haven't read many of the awardees, but of the few I have, I quite enjoyed punk rocker-turned-literati Ko Machida's books, so if the other awardees are as interesting as he is, then this was a great idea. The Naoki award is surely a great mine of material that could push anime in new directions. I would prefer original material, but some very great work has been done based on source material, and so far Nakamura has the golden touch.

Civilization is more fragile than you think. This simple slide show illustrating some of the situations discussed in the amazing book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which depicts what would happen to the trappings of civilization if humans were to suddenly vanish from the face of the earth, is ten times more compelling than Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. Episodes 2-3 of the latter make little obvious use of the supposed voluminous research that was conducted for the series, so far doing very little to illuminate the consequences of such a disaster. Needless to say, I'm disappointed, as so far the show feels like a terrible waste of a superb opportunity. Instead, we are treated to endless shots of a blank-faced anime character wandering around, being shouted at by cardboard cutouts of human beings. I am probably wrong in criticizing this series, though, because they clearly set out with a goal that was at odds with what I wanted to see, so I should just accept that as the case and see where they go with it. I was quite turned off, however, by the maudlin directing of episode two and horrible production quality and excruciating boredom of both episodes. I sincerely hope that the subsequent episodes become more interesting and I start to like the show, as I do plan on following it. I'm just disappointed because I would love to see this subject matter done justice in some animated/audiovisual form. As it stands I recommend that you read The World Without Us instead of wasting your time with this show.

Speaking of things I'm looking forward to, Mamoru Hosoda's new film Summer Wars comes out pretty soon in Japan. I'm really looking forward to that, particularly (surprise) for the animation, because it sounds even better than his last film. It's got talented ex-Telecom animator Hiroyuki Aoyama doing the animation character designs and acting as one of the four sakkans. There are a ton of characters across the entire age range in the film, so it will be interesting to see how they're all made to move differently in line with their age and personality. Aoyama is good at nuanced character animation. Most of all, though, to be honest, it's the action scenes I'm looking forward to, because Toei animator Tatsuzo Nishita is the action sakkan, and I adore his style of action animation. It's an unusual post, and it was clearly granted to him because of his talent with action. It's a treat to be able to see a whole movie filled with his action animation. Apparently you can watch the first five minutes of the film online on the official website, but I'm not going to watch it. I'm going to wait to see the whole thing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

10:05:51 pm , 1199 words, 4209 views     Categories: Animation, Music, Music Video

Chiptune

Something I've always liked in animation is the notion of restrictions. Animation itself seems to impose certain inherent restrictions. Sometimes, more interesting results can be achieved when a set of restrictions are imposed. For example, the way Norman McLaren made a film entirely out of vertical lines scrolling back and forth. (AND one with just horizontal lines) Another example is Kiyoshi Nishimoto's Laughing Moon (2000), in which an entire short film is made by creative reconfiguration of a set of 12 blocks. I haven't been able to find the latter online, but it is available on a DVD from the British Animation Awards. I think having some sort of restriction maybe forces you to be more creative with the available materials, and also focuses the viewer's attention on that creativity by eliminating distractions. Pixel Film by Garth+Ginny is a cute, fun example of this. I like how they've managed to make an appealing film using (presumably) only 50x50 pixels. The material being restricted here is the information resolution. What's the smallest resolution at which a compelling film could be made?

This film is part of a wave of creative work being done in the 8-bit and 16-bit format, both in graphics and music. Stemming partly from nostalgia for the early video game culture of the Atari, Nintendo and other game systems of my youth, people all over the world today are using retro video game equipment to make videos and music, and making it available online for free in user communities like the 8-Bit Collective, which is one of the most vibrant user-driven artist communities I've run across. They are creating art that deliberately embraces the limitations imposed by antiquated technology. To some (including me), a significant part of the appeal of this music is nostalgia for the familiar clipped and pure sounds created by the microchips in these old technologies. Many of the creators active in the genre are too young to have experienced all that as kids, though. For them, and, I believe, most of the great artists working in the genre, called chiptune, it's more than that. Everyone is different, so the motivation of the people making the music is as varied as the music is, but I think one of the fundamental appeals of using retro equipment like this is the creative challenge of restriction; of having to use a limited range of channels and sounds to create a compelling piece of music. That, and the empowerment of appropriating a technology and re-visioning it towards your own creative ends.

I myself had of course heard a lot of chiptune music in my youth without realizing it, and have fond memories of those games and their soundtracks that transported me to faraway lands. Today's chiptune is a direct extension of the music of these games in sound, spirit and execution. There are a huge number of artists active, some of whom are of very high caliber. Even the stuff of lesser caliber is usually always enjoyable. There's something about the crisp, precise chiptune sound that makes the music always fresh and lively. The music itself is extremely varied, since we're talking about a method here and not a style(?). Some of it is peppy and melodic, some has a driving electro beat, some has fast complex rhythms, some constantly changing, some is a symphonic landscape. If you liked the music of Omodaka's Kokiriko Bushi, you might like to listen to some more chiptune. Omodaka is definitely near the top of the pile, but the chiptune community is huge and has many great artists, and it's constantly evolving. It feels like a music that's really fresh and in its prime.

I've become kind of scary-obsessed with the stuff ever since I discovered it through the music of Chinese chiptuner sulumi, two of whose albums I found in a music store in Beijing one year ago. To convey the extent of my scary-obsession, and hopefully spread the infection to others, I shall confer some of my acquired wisdom. Here are a few good places to start for anyone who likes this stuff and wants to hear more.

♦ Compilations: The Crunchy Records Compilation, 8-bit collective compilation and Sea of Ice are a great place to start to get an overview of the genre by some of its best artists.

♦ Net labels: 8bitpeoples and II (Pause) have a back-catalog of great albums by chiptunes' best and are regularly updated.

♦ Albums: Shnabubula's Controller 1 was the revelation of my chiptuned life.

♦ Some 8bc artists: PDF Format, Blitz Lunar, Henryhomesweet, Zabutom

♦ Artists:

    ◊ Shnabubula creates thrilling virtuoso pieces that are whirlwinds of inventive melody and rhythm. Shnabubula is possibly the most musically gifted chiptune artist I've heard. Check out his keyboard chops. ◊ Disasterpeace is the chiptune artist who elevated chiptune to art with his epic musical canvases where the rhythm and melody are constantly evolving. The label he founded, II (Pause Music), is taking chiptune to the next level. (8bc account) ◊ Little-Scale is undoubtedly one of the true geniuses of chiptune, taking an intellectual approach to the creation of music by delving into algorithm-controlled music-creation and hacking the old technologies in intriguing ways to come up with new sounds. (Music, Blog) ◊ Goto80 is one of the mainstays of the chiptune community, a wildly prolific artist who is constantly putting out every manner of sonic exploration. His albums and songs are a bit hard to find because they're all over the place, but he is an incredible artist who creates music that is truly alive in its experimentation. (Blog) ◊ Aleksi Eeben is the iconoclast of online electronic music. I don't know if he qualifies as true chiptune, but he is too interesting to leave out. He creates music with a melodic sensibility that is like nothing else out there. He may not be for everybody, but he is a true original and I never tire of listening to his music. (all six of his albums for free download)

♦ Songs:

    Shnabubula: Dueling ConsolesFighter X: HypergiantWiklund: Fantasy FlightVenn & Euler: Wagering LightsDisasterpeace: Death Satellite EvasionRabato: Ass SlapPDF Format: Walrus ReportMalmen: Chips DoodlesZabutom: Retardation!Goto80: MidivsimperialGrandma: Strawberry Rhubarb OppaiSyphus: PeskimoSulumi: Trembling Stars

A documentary on chiptune came out recently entitled Reformat the Planet, and right now I'm really hoping it will be coming to this year's Vancouver International Film Festival two months from now.

To close on a more OT note, I've been on the lookout for good chiptune music videos for months now, but I have yet to find one that is a true standout as a music video besides Omodaka's Kokiriko Bushi. The promo video for Saitone's Overlapping Spiral is one of the more decent ones I've found, while the video for
Goto80's Polycanyon is representative of the trend in the chiptune community to use 8-bit graphics to provide the video accompaniment to their music. Otherwise, I've found that most of the chiptune videos, like the one for Meneo's Papi, tend to be amusing but not that compelling as music videos.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

08:00:46 am , 1455 words, 8903 views     Categories: Avant-Garde, Movie

L'Ange

Patrick Bokanowski's L'Ange is one of the great masterpieces of filmmaking of the last half century. If Oscars were given out for experimental films, it would surely have taken the award in 1982, when after 5 years of filming and editing Patrick finally unleashed this magisterial visual feast upon audiences. Although I don't know how much playtime the film actually got in France. Full-length feature it may be - a rarity in true experimental filmmaking - it is, however, as far as can be from a conventional narrative film, and bears comparison to few other films of its length. Yet its power, visual beauty and conceptual ingenuity are unparalleled, and more than 25 years since its release it still shines on as a beacon of the unexplored possibilities of the cinema. For a film making copious use of the special effects technology of its time, the magical images of L'Ange don't feel dated. They feel of no time. Bokanowski's magnum opus simultaneously pays homage to the atmosphere and anticipation of the early days of cinema and points towards an unknown future. More than ever today, I feel, this film is invaluable - even if it serves merely as a shock to the system to show us something that goes against all of the notions of moviemaking to which we've grown accustomed.

It was back in 2002 when this film ravished my innocent brain. I clearly remember renting the Japanese laserdisc on one of my frequent hunting expeditions for odd and unusual films to Seattle's legendary Scarecrow Video. It was thanks to them that I discovered L'Ange. And it was, oddly enough, the Japanese who seem to have been the first to make the film available in consumer format. Famously, there was a tiny cinema in Tokyo that, out of sheer love of the film or some fierce sense of conviction of the film's importance, screened L'Ange every night for about ten years in the 1990s. I don't know how many times I've discovered a great animator through the Japanese. If they hadn't released a DVD of Florence Milhaile's films, I probably would still not know about her work.

In any case, I remember being mostly just baffled and bewildered watching the film, and even dozing off for a little bit. But unlike many experimental films I've sampled over the years, I got kind of excited every time I thought about the film. It was one of those rare experiences in the movies when you've been privy to something truly new that isn't likely to catch on and become worn into the ground as a new fad. To me at least, seeing new things has been one of my prime motivators in watching the movies, and this movie was like nothing else I'd ever seen. I think that impact is part of where the film's importance lies. The feat of having created a cohesive and hugely compelling work of art completely shunning narrative in the long format is a major achievement. And the film doesn't just feel like a string of random experimental pieces, despite being episodic in format. Continuity is conveyed in a variety of ways, primarily so thematic unity around the concept of repetition. The superb cut-up music by Patrick's wife Michele mirrors Patrick's sliced-up sequences in its subtly varying layers of spliced recordings from traditional instruments like the cello - old sounds made to sound modern.

I've been waiting for this film to be released on DVD so that I could re-experience the film in its full glory. Clips have been available on Youtube, but this is not a film that can be appreciated badly compressed. It is in fact almost meaningless to watch if it is not in a high quality transfer, the images are manipulated so precisely and the effect often so delicate. Which is why I was delighted to learn that the British Animation Awards, who prior to this released a number of DVDs featuring great short animation not only from Britain but around the world, were planning on releasing both L'Ange and Patrick's other short films. Patrick made short films both before and after, L'Ange being sort of his summum opus. The BAA have done a wonderful job with the DVD. It's affordable, contains a very nice making shot back in 78-79 as well as an enlightening interview with Michele, and is internationally accessible, as it can be ordered in both NTSC or PAL and comes on a region-free DVD. There is no longer anything preventing a viewer from appreciating L'Ange in high quality as it was intended to be seen, any time, in the comfort of his or her own home, and that is pretty incredible. All you connoisseurs of edgy cinema out there should do yourselves a favor and support the BAA's bravery by discovering L'Ange.

L'Ange is interesting from an animation standpoint, too. Patrick's genius is the all-encompassing nature of his visual creativity. He dreams up wild images, and devises never-before-seen ways of bringing his images to life. A single sequence in L'Ange, say the stairwell sequence, for example, might include a section of constructed stairs, followed by an empty section that in the studio would be filled in with a trompe-l'oeil drawing of stairs bending in an impossible direction, followed by an actor at the top waving hello, which would be shot and then be manipulated in-studio to achieve the perfect balance of light and shadow. In another sequence, we see what appears to be an engraving from the renaissance of a painter squatting before a proto-camera-like-instrument, sizing up a draped model sitting at the foot of a low-lying table. Suddenly the painter's arm inches forward, and we realize that the image is a real one, meticulously staged and painted and processed to seem like an engraving. In another sequence, beams of light fade in and out in a continuous procession, illuminating a set of stairwells on which figures stand motionless, caught in the act of ascending or descending. They could be real, or they could be puppets, or the entire thing could be animated. L'Ange blurs the boundaries between the animated and the real, creating atmospheres we've never seen before and ingeniously devised illusions that are alternately ravishingly beautiful, comical and otherworldly.

L'Ange actually strikes me as being primarily animated, in spite of most of the scenes having been filmed with live actors and sets. The reason is that the shot footage serves merely as an element that is manipulated and rearranged in the studio, much as an animator might study a sequence of live-action and pick out certain parts to use to animate a character's movement. Patrick's virtuosic editing is the vehicle that creates the film's texture. Many of the sequences have such a vast number of cuts as to seem almost subliminal in effect, approaching animation frame rates. The concepts for each of the sequences in the film have their origin in a visual idea that Patrick sketched out ahead of time, much like conceptual sketches in animation, and the final images throughout seem to exist on the plane of painting or art photography rather than that of an ordinary movie.

The variety of techniques and textures in each of the sequences give the film an illusion of heterogeneity belying its strong thematic unity. There is no narrative, but throughout you sense various themes being mulled over from various different perspectives, both literally in terms of the different camera angles and zooms and so on, and in terms of the actual nature of the repetition - sometimes a person repeating an action, sometimes light diffusing through different arrangements of lenses. The primary theme is repetition. A figure will be pictured going through a single motion, over and over again, from a sampling of the infinite number of possible angles and views from which it could be seen.

The very basic nature of the actions depicted - a character walking across a room with a jug of milk, a man lunging at a suspended doll with a sword - brings to mind Eadweard Muybridge's pioneering sequences of proto-cinema, which themselves shed light on the relationship of photography to motion with their world-changing sequences of photographs of actors going through mundane actions. When looped, they seem caught, like Patrick's characters, in some infernal warp in the time-space continuum, doomed to walk up an endless staircase for eternity. The endless procession of the staircase is one of the film's central images, and perhaps its inspiration came, albeit subconsciously, from Muybridge. Several years later Marcel Duchamp created a painterly expression of time in the nude descending the stairs. Bokanowski closes the loop by creating actual moving images that seem similar in spirit to Marcel Duchamp's artistic interpretation of Muybridge's revelation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

08:53:04 am , 672 words, 3366 views     Categories: Animation

Genga books

A while back I was asked if there were any good collections of key animation that could be bought online. A lot of books have been put out, but most of those went out of print very quickly, and to find them now you'd have to buy them second-hand from an auction site like Yahoo! Japan Auctions. Here's a few that are still in print:

Denno Coil
GITS: SAC (1) (2)
Guren Lagan (1) (2) (3) (Movie)
Eva 1.0

There are actually plenty of others for recent TV series, but the ones above are among the few that are of interest from an animation standpoint. The Denno Coil book I recommend wholeheartedly. It is very big and, needless to say, contains lots of great animation work by some of the best animators in the industry, much of which I was seeing for the first time in the raw. Genga books are really great for getting a better sense of how it is that animators differ from one another, as looking at the actual drawings immediately makes it obvious how different animators differ in terms of line and form. My only beef with the book, and with all genga books that I've seen actually, is that they don't name the animator for each shot, so you're still left guessing. I haven't gotten the Guren Lagan books yet, but there was tons of great work in there, so I'm very tempted to.

Out of print but good if you can find:

A whole slew of Eva books
Nadia
FLCL
Dead Leaves
Takaaki Wada

I have the Wada book, and it's a very nice book. Books focused on one animator like this are wonderful, and I wish more were available. There's nothing better for learning how to identify an animator. The Nadia book, like most of Gainax's books, is quite nice and contains the time sheets for the more complicated shots, which is very nice. The only problem again is no attributions.

You can also find a ton of books if you search for 原画集 gengashu (key animation collection) on Yahoo! Japan Auctions. Unfortunately, most of the results are for bishojo-type adult books or for TV series of little animation interest, as "gengashu" also happens to be the generic term for art book, so you really have to search hard to find anything of interest. But fanzines collecting key animations by good animators are indeed put out every year, and you can find these at Comike, which is presumably where most of the items up for sale here came from. Hiroyuki Imaishi, for example, has long been known for putting out genga collections of his own work, and he seems to still be doing it, having hit at least volume 10 so far. Would be nice to see these collected and published for real and available on Amazon. You've got the fans now, Imaishi. You can also find collections for older series like Vifam and Gundam Z made by avid fans, as well as collections of genga by younger animators like Fumiaki Kota. I'd particularly like to get the book of the latter's key animation, as he's one of the more interesting younger faces. I'm sure there's a ton of other good little collections like this, as this is merely a sampling of what I found upon quick perusal. (just remember you have to be in Japan to bid on most of these)

Vifam
Gundam Z & ZZ
Bubblegum Crisis
Hiroyuki Imaishi collection no. 9
Re: Cutie Honey op/ep 1 (also published by Hiroyuki Imaishi himself)
Fractal (genga by Kota Fumiaki, Toru Yoshida, et al. on various shows)
Fumiaki Kota

I should also mention that the Roman Album books for the Ghibli films contain a smattering of genga. (although not by any means a large number - that is something Ghibli should rectify by putting out genga books like Gainax does) One thing I really liked on the Kemonozume DVD box set was a collection of genga that you could click through. I wish this would be done consistently for series with good animation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

02:45:44 pm , 443 words, 1609 views     Categories: Animation, Animator: Yoshinori Kanada

More Kanada

As people digest the news, we're seeing more posts and things about Yoshinori Kanada's recent passing, and as I expected, that includes more videos being uploaded covering his work. A nice new video was just uploaded containing extended clips from five key series Kanada worked on in the late 70s, in chronological order: a clip from an episode of Gaiking (1976), a clip from the same episode of Zambot 3 (1977) I mentioned yesterday, a clip from ep 2 of Daitarn 3 (1978), and a longer and better-quality clip from the ep of Don De La Mancha (1980) that I linked. It gives a good slice of some of his best work of this period, and shows his evolution over the years towards even freer forms and richer and wilder movement. One example is the background animation. Birth is rightly famous for its scads of lively background animation. In this sequence of clips you gradually see background animation becoming more and more prominent, culminating with the full-fledged background animation of Don De La Mancha. It wasn't long after this that Urusei Yatsura began broadcasting, and a young Masahito Yamashita picked up Kanada's torch and created some of the wildest background animation sequences of this era. Kanada was probably one of the first ones to make an art of background animation, to turn a background animation sequence into a platform for showing off his animation skills, and to really go crazy with the animation. You feel watching the sequence that he was having as much fun animating it as it is for us to watch. I also like that the clip covers just the TV work he did over this period, as I find Kanada's work more lively in the TV format. His movie work is good in that it's more worked, but it's also more constrained and less spontaneous.

Someone also uploaded the Kanada episode of the NHK TV program Anime Yawa, which is great if you understand Japanese. (no subs) Guests include Takashi Murakami and Hiroyuki Kitakubo. Takashi Murakami talks about Kanada's influence on him, showing one of his art books in which stills from Kanada's work are juxtaposed side-by-side with Murakami's paintings. I like Murakami's positing that single stills of Kanada's intricately gnarled fire dragon or other effects can be taken apart and still stand on their own legs for their abstract beauty and the latent energy they emanate. That's an aspect that seems to have been inherited, consciously or not, by animators like Shinya Ohira - the compelling paradox of animation that is beautiful art in motion as well as frame-by-frame (in an abstract sense quite apart from the question of resemblance to a deliberately designed character).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

11:59:01 pm , 785 words, 3815 views     Categories: Animation, Animator: Yoshinori Kanada

Kanada's Zambot 3

Zambot 3 is a classic example of a decent series dragged down by bad animation. It's easily the worst animated of the classic Yoshiyuki Tomino shows. And yet, it rises above the shoddy drawings and movement to be one of his best pieces due to the good directing, hard-edged story and surprise ending, which were a milestone in the day and certainly influenced a a number of popular shows in later years. It's not that I blame the animators, although many of them probably weren't that talented. None of the episodes had an animation director (sakkan), and many of them were drawn by a single person, presumably in about two hours. The series has some touchingly dramatic moments thanks to Tomino's storyboard, but their impact is unfortunately lessened by the crude animation.

Standing out dramatically amongst this cavalcade of botchery are the episodes with animation by Yoshinori Kanada - 5, 10, 16 and 22. The most notable of these in terms of the animation, among other reasons, is episode 16, the infamous "human bomb" episode, which is still shocking even seen today. If you only see one episode, it should be episode 16, because it was only animated by two people - Yoshinori Kanada and Kazuo Tomisawa - whereas these two are joined by Osamu Nabeshima and Masakatsu Iijima in the other episodes. It's the episode with the most distilled essence of Kanada in the series, or of anything I've seen by Kanada from this period. (his work on Gaiking from a year earlier in 1976 is also among his best and worth checking out)

Kazuo Tomisawa had worked as an inbetweener on an episode of Dokonjo Gaeru with key animation by Kanada a year or two before. The credits in Zambot only say "animation", without splitting it into key and inbetween, so I'm not sure what the breakdown is - whether Kanada drew the keys and Tomisawa inbetweened, or they both just drew straight animation - but I'm willing to bet that it's more the former, because the episode looks and feels like it was entirely drawn by Kanada.

This episode is one of the best episodes to watch to get a sense of what Kanada's style was like in the mid-70s period, when he was already starting to develop his personal style and really having fun with the TV work, but hadn't quite reached full maturity. The drawings are rough and quick like most episodes, as befitting uncorrected animation, but the facial expressions and poses are always rendered skilfully rather than sloppily as in other episodes, and more than anything, there's lots of fun little movements and gags littered everywhere.

This episode happens to contain one of my favorite sequences of animation by Kanada - this one. I love this sequence because of its combination of dynamic action with bold line work and quick cutting. The timing and choreography of the movement here shows what it was that set Kanada apart from the other animators of his day. He had an instinct for creating motion that felt exciting to watch, and his animation communicates expressly via movement and drawing. His movements and drawings were always doing something, and were a delight to watch, even when they weren't particularly highly worked. Kanada could do a really quick and sloppy drawing that felt spot-on and was absolutely hilarious. Most animators in TV anime in the 70s used limited repeats and jumps of the kind that Kanada uses, but none of them quite seemed to know how to make them interesting and fun until Kanada showed the way.

It's instructive to compare the movement and drawings of this episode with the other episodes. It will show you immediately what I'm talking about. You don't see the characters in the other episodes making the kind of amusing faces and little movements you see them doing here. An example is this shot of the robot swinging the sword, in which he inserts lots of drawings with a zippy timing that makes it fun to watch and interesting as animation, followed by a funny pregnant pause before the laser swats him away. It's a world apart from the stiff, boring animation of the robot battles in the rest of the series. It's an innocuous shot, but it distills the essence of Kanada's innovation - the attitude of having fun with the work, and of turning what many animators seemed to treat as rote drudgery of having to churn out TV animation quickly and badly into an opportunity for personal expression and fun. Kanada showed that even limited animation could be an art form. Kanada's masterful manipulation of timing and drawing developed over the course of the early 70s to me exemplifies Japan's unique contribution to animation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

08:48:52 am , 391 words, 5231 views     Categories: Animation, Animator: Yoshinori Kanada

Yoshinori Kanada passes away

It's a sad day for the world of animation. One of the best and most influential animators of the last 30 years in commercial Japanese animation has reportedly passed away at the age of 57. The news comes from Anido. I don't know how many times I've written about Yoshinori Kanada in these pages. It's not just that I loved his inimitable and delightful work; he was simply that important and influential, and anime would look and move differently today if he hadn't existed. He was really the linchpin figure of the last 30 years in many ways. So many people either became animators because of him or were influenced by him in anime, it's almost impossible to quantify who he influenced or in what way he was an influence. Something like Guren Lagan would be unthinkable without him. Aside from his influence, though, he wasn't just a historical relic. He was still putting out interesting pieces of animation every once in a while, and I was always happy in the knowledge that we could expect continue to see the occasional piece from him. Far from being a distant echo of his past work, he was continuing to develop his trademark style. In many ways, his work was better than ever, as witness the freewheeling awesomeness of the Hanjuku Eiyu 4 game opening. He had numerous very talented followers, but to me, Kanada was always #1. Nobody else could nail that style of animation like the man who invented it, and I never tired of watching his work, old or new. I'm deeply saddened by the thought that we'll never get to see another new piece of Kanada animation. RIP, Yoshinori Kanada.

Here are some related posts.

Karisuma Animators bio
Happy Birthday, Yoshinori Kanada
The Kanada School
Birth
Kanada revisits Gaiking

Here are some Youtube vids featuring his work:

Luckyman opening 1
Luckyman opening 2
Scenes by Kanada from the OVA Download
Hanjuku Eiyu 3D game opening
AMV for Kanada's magnum opus, Birth
Unusual line animation sequence from movie Talking Head
Kanada's animation from the climax of Genma Taisen
A half episode of Plawres Sanshiro by Kanada

On NicoVideo there are two videos collecting opening/ending sequences drawn by him (early ones in full, later ones obviously in part):
One
Two

And here's a short clip from one of Kanada's best pieces, episode 6 of Don De La Mancha.

Friday, July 10, 2009

01:36:47 pm , 1279 words, 2674 views     Categories: Animation

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

The first episode of Bones' new show Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 went over well with me. The directing and animation were solid and left a strong impression, without needing to resort to any sort of silly antics or extravagantly animated action. It stuck to a very even and carefully poised tone throughout. In that sense it reminded me of Mamoru Hosoda's first Digimon film - the short one in which we see the big brother and little sister wandering around Tokyo alone. The situation was similar, of course, with this time the big sister chaperoning the little brother, but more than that it was the approach to the directing that struck as similar. I don't recall seeing such an approach elsewhere since Hosoda. Denno Coil had that same feeling of calmly depicting the reality of children in the streets, but it was different, with more antics, more sci-fi, not that it wasn't massively successful and fun at what it did. It's something I've been wanting to see more of in anime generally - the act of deliberately sidestepping of all the overacting, the implausible reactions, the stereotypical facial expressions and so on that you only find in anime but that have become so commonplace as to virtually become synonymous with anime, the lingua franca of the industry. What I felt watching this first episode was that it was refreshing and liberating to see an episode that didn't feel the need to insert all sorts of extraneous gags, misadventures, sweat drops, little swirls twirling on the screen, and similar tools that have become secondhand. I liked Osamu Kobayashi's Beck, among other reasons, because it deliberately avoided such things. I think doing so helped a lot in making the characters more easy to relate to, at least for me. The rest of the series will not have the wonderful feeling of calm reality of this episode, I suppose, and the dramatic reasons why this episode needed to be this way are obvious (establishing the blessing of calm normalcy to which the girl is oblivious, and which is about to vanish abruptly), but it was still a pleasing episode and I'm glad it exists. I think it's testament to how believable the situation felt in comparison with most anime that when the remote-controlled robots came out I was a little disappointed that they had to insert an element that felt like a tired anime cliche into an otherwise fine episode. I'd like to see an episode completely devoid of such material. I was reminded of my disappointment when suddenly giant walking robots came into the picture in the otherwise comparatively real-word-based Flag.

The concept may not be particularly original, and may have been depicted any number of times on the big screen, but it's nice to see an anime take on it, and I'm curious to see where they take it. I hesitate on the one hand because the concept seems to underestimate children's ability to understand the world around them and appreciate how good they've got it, and comes across as kind of preachy. It seems like every generation bemoans its youth as disaffected and spoiled. But I don't doubt this generation faces its unique issues, and I find that the little girl's plight feels universal to a extent - I'm sure there have been times in everyone's life when as a child you felt the way the girl does in this episode, at least to an extent (maybe not wishing everything would be destroyed). I know there was a long period in my childhood when I was an ungrateful brat who didn't appreciate the loving family he had. That part of the episode was particularly convincing and successful - all of the little irritations that seem inconsequential taken one by one but that, over time, pile up and can tear a sensitive child to shreds. I know that feeling all too well, and I give major kudos to the director for pulling off that aspect of the episode successfully without merely making the child seem like an irritating anime character. Her behavior and reactions are fairly believable for a child. The only thing that I felt was unnecessary was timing the earthquake precisely at the moment of her text-message. It felt silly and needlessly confusing, as if it were foreboding that everything we're about to see is in fact merely a dream or an illusion, which only lessens the potential impact of the situation. I think it was a good idea to make this series, though, and director Masaki Tachibana seems to have been a good choice of first director. Depicting such a scenario, and putting in the effort Bones has to make it convincingly real enough to have the intended effect (which is obviously crucial in this case - otherwise who cares? it's just anime), seems worthwhile because it's compelling material that is grounded in reality, and it's a refreshing change from the type of material that has come to dominate the industry.

I mostly enjoyed the designs and animation, not despite but because there wasn't anything particularly extravagant in the animation. Instead, they kept everything low-key. I like that they didn't go overboard in attempting to make the animation realistic. I've noticed in some shows or animators a misconception that adding lots of unnecessary movement will automatically make the character feel more alive, when mostly if not done well it just feels ludicrous and annoying. The realism here seems achieved by the measured pacing, excellent layouts and subdued character acting. I don't know many of the animators, other than that they're names I've seen here and there in recent anime, but most of the animation feels nice; it feels apropos. I wish the girl had had a slightly more realistic design, but overall I really like the general direction of giving the kids non-cute designs. Note only one white highlight in the eyes. I wish they had opted out on even it, but I guess it was the least they had to put in to not seem lifeless. I particularly liked the drawings of the passengers on the train, and felt like that's what I'd like to see more of. I think the main characters have to be made more appealing and generic, and the real potential comes out in the side-characters. I remember Koichi Arai drew alot of really cool-looking side-characters in 3x3 Eyes. Norio Matsumoto, too, drew some great side-characters in one of his clips. Animators sometimes do much more interesting work when they're not drawing the main characters. Actually, the animation also reminded me of Digimon - that pared down style, with that particular shape to the face and eyes. Of course, a lot of children's anime adopt this particular look to appeal to children. I think it's possible to use the pared down look to be both appealing and realistic, and that was achieved to an extent here, but not quite enough. If it doesn't have at least some character it just comes across as bland.

I received my Tadanari Okamoto box set on the 24th, and I've been sampling films here and there slowly, to drag out the pleasure. I'll probably write a post later about the films I haven't seen, as there are so many. Okamoto's subjects may not necessarily be oriented towards adults or striving overtly for artistic effect, but I find that despite that his films are consistently deep, every shot consistently inventive, with care and love put into every bit of animation, spare though it may be. I find nothing's wasted, and every shot of every film is a delight. He's got that rate lightness of touch that conceals great wisdom.