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 2009, 10

Friday, July 10, 2009

01:36:47 pm , 1279 words, 2672 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.