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 2009, 19

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

11:58:34 pm , 1494 words, 4788 views     Categories: Animation, OVA

Relic Armor Legaciam

To continue with a little more on the legacy of Bebow, the studio founded by Tomonori Kogawa that I talked about in the Cool Cool Bye post, I thought I'd say a few words about another equally obscure OVA released shortly thereafter by one of the studio's offspring of sorts. I mentioned that Hiroyuki Kitazume had formed a studio called Atelier Giga together with some of the best of the other ex-Bebow animators sometime around 1986 after they all left the studio. Today I had the chance to see the first anime in which I've seen the studio actually credited: an OVA released in November of 1987 entitled Relic Armor Legaciam. It's quite nice as an example of the Bebow style in the immediate aftermath of the scattering of its best staff, although as a film it's insubstantial and hardly important.

Hiroyuki Kitazume was the director, and all of the names in the main credits - from character design to animation direction to key animation - seem to be 100% ex-Bebow staff. This film in fact feels like Atelier Giga's own Cool Cool Bye, at least in the sense of it being the film that feel like it serves as the most compact summary of the studio's style, and features work by pretty much all of the most famous of the ex-Bebow animators. This film came out after they had all worked on Gundam ZZ in 1986; Urotsuki Doji episode 1, released in January 1987; and Robot Carnival, released in July 1987. This OVA adds itself to the latter three items as perhaps the best place to sample the legacy of Tomonori Kogawa and his studio, as it feels like the style of each of these animators gradually becomes more personalized and less patently 'Bebow' from this point forward. The years 1986 and 1987 seem like the period when the lessons of Bebow felt strongest in these animators. Relic of an age; legacy of a great animator - indeed an aptly titled OVA.

These two years or so are also, unsurprisingly, the period when many of these animators' work felt at its most loose, free and appealing. Kitazume Hiroyuki's work, for example, seems to become more stiff, overstylized and excessively pretty as the years go by. I find that this OVA shows Kitazume's style at its best, particularly in the child characters, where that patented Bebow combination of strong three-dimensional rendering of the body and features and dynamic and rich posing and facial expressions seems to live on. I find it interesting to watch the film in the light of the sort of work Kogawa was doing - how it measures up, whether they continued to build on what Kogawa was attempting to do. Inevitably, different people develop in different stylistic vectors, and the Bebow legacy seems to me to become quite evanescent if you try to pinpoint it in any direct sense. There doesn't seem to be anybody really carrying on Kogawa's style and pushing it in new directions, although there are fleeting moments in this OVA and elsewhere where a quick, fun bit of movement will suddenly make you perk up. Great animators like Naoyuki Onda and Akihiko Yamashita, of course, undoubtedly learned the lessons, integrated them and developed their own style, which is as it should be.

The versatility of these animators, who could design and move both mecha and characters equally well, comes through well in this OVA, with its organic mecha and variety of designs. Nothing is tremendously original here, but that doesn't distract from the skill with which they do what they do. The directing is surprisingly solid in its pacing and its juggling of the various threads, if slightly slow and lacking in a certain spark of excitement and engagement. I was genuinely looking forward to what would happen on the journey on which the characters make to embark at the end. Unfortunately, Atelier Giga went belly up, and with it the planned continuation. The credits end with the phrase "See you again", which made me wince at the sad irony.

I get the feeling there was a lot of excitement and hope riding on Atelier Giga. This group of creators emanated a strong sense of purpose and unity at this period in time. You sense that they could do a certain very specific thing really well, and they knew it, and were proud of it, and wanted to continue building on that pool of skill. It's unfortunate that this solidarity seems to have sort of fizzled away around this time and they were all were forced to go their own way. (although of course many still worked together on different projects at other studios)

The animation of the film isn't by any means as constantly full of energy and excitement as Cool Cool Bye. It's fairly restrained most of the time, with a lot of static close-ups and torso shots that rely more on the expressive quality of the drawings than on any kind of through-conceived and meticulously animated acting. Mostly the fun acting comes through in the comical sequences with the children, where the drawings have the kind of pliability and appealing looseness that I remember, oddly enough, from Urotsukidoji, of all things. The mecha are quite competently drawn and pleasing to look at, although this is not Char's Counterattack, and there aren't any mecha fights here remotely close to achieving that kind of visceral thrill.

It's mostly the characters that feel nice in terms of the animation. Occasional shots jump out - such as the one at the top of this post, with its more Kogawa-esque, realistic but stylish rendering of the curves of the face, which swings about in this shot from facing right to facing left, each drawing rendered very tastefully and elegantly in the way Kogawa was so good at... or the brief fighting action of the bottom shot, which is plausible in its realistic poses and timing, despite being very limited quantitatively. It's among the few shots in the film that are actually exciting as animation, and is representative of Kogawa in a sense. In Ideon, the actions seemed very quick and to the point. There wasn't movement going on all the time for movement's sake as was the case with Yasuhiko Yoshikazu. With Kogawa, things moved for a reason, and in action shots, that translated to some of the more satisfying bits of action I've seen, as every drawing was made to count, which is the case here. The action is quick but actually animated, and when you step through it you get odd poses like the one shown here that the body takes in mid-movement but that that don't register unless you step through the drawings, like you might if you stepped through a kung-fu fight.

The shot at right, although perhaps hardly a money shot by conventional standards, stands out to me as being among the more appealing in the film, or more to the point, among the more telling and salient. I think what I like about it is that the drawing captures an action in mid pose so well despite being on the screen for just a split second, especially the way the mouth is slightly ajar when the head is cocked back the way it is. I also like the way his legs are folded. It's not that it's pretty or beautifully drawn or anything. It's that they even bothered to draw this drawing. It's perhaps in drawings like this that I feel Kogawa's legacy to be present at the foundation level, for the way that they internalized this instinct for quickly but accurately expressing the body's form in natural poses in a way that's immediately convincing and plausible - and doing it with these clean, elegantly flowing lines and forms.

One surprising name in the credits here is Takeshi Honda, who is credited as an inbetweener under Atelier Giga. I'm not sure if he was involved at Bebow briefly before this, but it's interesting to see that Bebow even played a small part in the early formation of this master animator. Credited alongside him as an Atelier Giga inbetweener is Keiji Goto, who went on to be fairly active and successful as an animator and character designer. Goto is reported to have been trained by Akihiko Yamashita at this time, although stylistically Goto went in a very different direction from the Bebow animators. As for where to see this thing, try your luck at AnimeSuki.


RELIC ARMOR LEGACIAM (50 minutes, 1987)

Creator and DirectorHiroyuki Kitazume
 
Character DesignHiroyuki Kitazume
Akihiko Yamashita
Atsushi Yamagata
 
Mechanic DesignHiroyuki Kitazume
Yukihisa Fujita
Tatsuya Ando
 
StoryboardTomomi Mochizuki
Hiroyuki Kitazume
Hideki Takayama
 
Animation DirectorsAkihiko Yamashita
Hidetoshi Omori
Hiroyuki Kitazume
 
Key animationATELIER GIGA
  Hiroyuki Kitazume
  Hidetoshi Omori
  Akihiko Yamashita
  Naoyuki Onda
  Tomokazu Tokoro
  Koichi Usami
  Masami Kosone
  Keiichi Sato
  Atsushi Yamagata
  Satoshi Iwataki
  Hiroyuki Ochi