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: November 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

04:01:33 pm , 982 words, 5340 views     Categories: Animation

Recent viewing

Haven't been watching much lately other than going through my box set of Hajime Ningen Gyators, which continues to entertain me to no end. I find I can watch an episode a day and never get sick of it. Can't say that for many other shows. Even Ganso Tensai Bakabon or Dokonjo Gaeru, other A Pro shows from the same period, get kind of repetitive if you watch too much, but I never tire of the stone-age family. The drawings are always lively and spontaneous and the stories crazy and fun. Though as the series progresses I find that it becomes a little tamer in terms of the stories, which lose a bit of their edge and become kind of watered down and cliche where once they were unhinged and unpredictable. It seems like the classic case of station complaints changing the course of a series, as happened to a show similar in spirit, Goku no Daiboken, though it's not as extreme here. It happens right around the time this cutesy and unneeded Amanojaku character is introduced.

Minoru Maeda, an animator who wasn't on my radar up until watching Gyators, is one of my favorite animators from the series. He's got one of the more pronounced styles on the show, drawing the characters with huge blocky limbs and really sharp angles, putting the characters through inventive distorted poses, and coming up with interesting layouts. It doesn't move much in his hands, in contrast with Yoshiyuki Momose or whoever, but he carries it with his drawings. In the first three quarters of the show he usually draws a half episode by himself, but in the last quarter he draws four full-fledged solo animator episodes. (by which time the show switches to a single-story format, rather than two 10-min stories) I've long associated him with Group Tac, as he's been a mainstay in their projects over the years, but he actually worked at Gyators sakkan Takao Kosai's Studio Junio from Gyators onwards and throughout the 80s, until co-founding his own subcontracting studio, Synergy Japan, in 1988 (together with Hiroshi Azuma and Minoru Okazaki, the latter of whom was one of the regular episode directors of Gyators). He's most well-known perhaps as being the character designer of Dr. Slump, directed by Minoru Okazaki, and then Anpan Man, as well as sakkan/"chief animator" of Dragonball & Dragonball Z.

I watched Cencoroll, an episode-length one shot produced based on a pilot from a few years back that impressed me when it made the rounds because of its skillful animation. Even the FLCL-inspired sensibility seemed fairly well executed, albeit not particularly original. Drawn out to nearly thirty minutes, it's a languid and desultory bore with no real reason to exist. It's amazing and all that Atsuya Uki could do all the animation, backgrounds, etc. by himself, but I don't quite see the point if he doesn't have anything to say other than rehashing anime cliches and making them more boring. There are some genuinely creative indie animators working in Japan who have created their own conceptual worlds and idioms, but when it comes to people who think in anime tropes like this, and who are actually quite talented in the technical aspects, I think the world would be better served if they worked as a cog on a worthwhile project rather than creating a short that did nothing much more than to seem like a failed attempt at grandstanding when they just don't have what it takes as an artist to be directing, at least at this stage.

I said I didn't particularly enjoy the sexy nurse schtick in Trapeze, but I've changed my mind. I now think it's one of the best things about the show. The reason being it's quite clever how they've subversively replaced the element of 'moe', with its sexualization of a nonexistent drawn character, with an actual human female (though of course she's rendered as a drawing most of the time). I would hardly call Gyators the pinnacle of artistic expression, but it's testament to the astonishingly limited range in which the industry has now boxed itself partly by catering so obsequiously to the fad for this peculiar genre (although that is certainly not the only reason) that something as harebrained as Gyators seems so amazingly fresh and different from everything being made today. It can't be healthy that there doesn't seem to be freedom anymore in the industry to explore different styles of material and visuals.

I re-watched Arion a few days ago and find that despite being a failure as a film, it's a valiant attempt, and it's directed with conviction and passion that I don't find in many films these days. One part stood out to me in terms of the animation - the part where Lesphina breaks the bonds of Arion and allows him to escape. It's short but stands out from the rest. At first I suspected Norimoto Tokura or Shinji Hashimoto, because it has that proto-realistic but strange feeling to the timing and a rich, fluid motion. It feels like it's conceptualized differently from the rest of the animation in the film. It even had a bit of Utsunomiya feeling to it, though I know Utsunomiya did the part on the flying monster later on, so it couldn't be him. I couldn't find the full credits, though, so I don't know if they're involved. The only name in the truncated credits I've found that seemed a possible fit was Toei animator Yoshinobu Inano, and that turns out to have been correct. Okiura, who cites Inano as an influence, mentions in an interview that he'd similarly been impressed by the scene when the film came out. Inano seems to have been one of those seminal proto-realistic animators who paved the way in the 80s for a whole slew of more well-known realistic animators who built on his approach.