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.
June 2010
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Archives for: June 2010, 24

Thursday, June 24, 2010

11:37:00 pm , 988 words, 3187 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Director: Masaaki Yuasa, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei

Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei #5

That's me running a Tatami Galaxy marathon. Going to see how quickly I can get through the remaining episodes.

The story of this episode had the most immediate hook for me, personally. I thought its depiction of this cult hiding behind the facade of selling health food was surprisingly believable and well done. It isn't far from reality either here or in Japan - just take a bit of the pyramid scheming madness of Amway, a pinch of the reincarnated thetans of Scientology, and the doomsday auguries of Aum Shinrikyo, and put them together, and voila - Honwaka. Not too far-fetched at all.

It's in moments like this episode that cast satirical light on actual social issues and situations in real life that get my juices running. I was really into the story this time around. Basically, the story this time felt like something anybody could watch and find interesting. The humor was genuinely funny, and the directing did a great job of pulling you in. I think it plays on the feeling of distrust we all have in those people we meet occasionally who are just a little too friendly, and you begin to feel something is a little suspicious about their motivations... The buildup was perfect, leading to the big reveal of the secluded cult headquarters, complete with blindfolds, brainwashing/affirmation sessions a la Lifespring, and an avuncular, charismatic cult leader with a Noah's Ark who plays up fears about the latest ecological and sociopolitical problems and makes even eschatological pronouncements sound so nice and comforting.

Great quality as usual. Very different staff, though. Storyboard was by the director of Texhnolyze and Shigurui, who is obviously involved because this is a Madhouse production and he was on hand, and because, well, he's quite talented. I didn't like either of the latter two shows, but he's done a splendid job adapting to this material.

As has Masashi Ishihama as animation director. I would not peg Ishihama as having the sort of stylistic penchant that would make him a candidate for a Yuasa production, but he has considerable flexibility and is able to adapt to just about anything, from Denno Coil to Welcome to the NHK, and he's been involved in just about every major project in the last ten years. (Speaking of Welcome to the NHK, the comparison with the pyramid scheme in that show is inevitable, and it's interesting that Ishihama was involved in the drawing side of both.)

There were a lot of great moments in this episode, like the cat lounging in the bowl when the narrator is talking about the rumours the ramen-ya uses cats to make his dashi was clever and subtle. And I loved those ridiculous bee antenna caps.

The colors seemed particularly well handled, with the sudden b/w gradient when the protagonist says a faux pas, the all white in the royal jelly factory, the dark blue that night, etc. I liked the visuals in the sequence on the bridge in particular. The colors of the backgrounds and passers-by are a delicately blend of muted yellows setting off the cult members and the protagonist in his bee costume. And there's the colors of the cult members at the end when they're letting out the venom against one another. That scene has great impact combined with the insane animation by Yasunori Miyazawa.

The drawings of the characters in that bridge scene felt really delicately honed and showed off Ishihama's drawings well. It's interesting that he manages to instill each of the cult members with a distinct face despite the fact that each one has the same ^_^ expression stamped on their face throughout. Ishihama is very skilled at that kind of thing. He has a subtle and delicate touch without going overboard in the detail, and he can be really loose with the forms when necessary. There's a lot of personality showing through in the drawings, too, presumably because he lets good drawings by the animators through. There were a lot of great drawings throughout that are fun to go back and step through more carefully after watching the episode, like the sketchy sequence at the end after that very strange and surprising moment that I won't mention here, and the montage of jobs the protagonist has to take to pay for his expensive pyramid scheme lifestyle.

As usual, it's fascinating to see how the characters of this episode either reference or recall select aspects of what has happened in the previous episodes, and the way certain recurring motifs like the fortuneteller and the Mochigumon are repeated almost but not quite verbatim, with subtle changes in phrasing or pacing. You feel this incredible tangle of references and lives and past and present building in your memory, and being twisted around and re-remembered and rewritten.

Good animators included Nobutoshi Ogura, Takashi Mukouda and Ryotaro Makihara. Ogura probably did the very opening section. There were a lot of nice little bits of movement, and great drawings moving in a subtle way in every shot, but no big showoff scenes. It's interesting to see Tokuyuki Matsutake there. He is ubiquitous and was bound to be involved. He is one of the most prolific animators in Japan, I'm sure. His works list is massive. Coincidentally, I just saw him in the most recent episode of Naruto Shippuuden, 166. There were a few good action bits in there and I don't know any of the other animators so I figure it might be him. Heads up: 167 will be the first Wakabayashi episode since Naruto l33t.

Was it my imagination or is the ramen stand owner wearing Mickey Mouse pants?

Storyboard: Hiroshi Hamasaki
Director: Tomoya Takahashi
Animation director: Masashi Ishihama
Supervising animation director: Nobutake Ito

Nobutoshi Ogura, Ryotaro Makihara
Tokuyuki Matsutake, Kenichi Yamaguchi
Toshiharu Sugie, Mieko Hosoi
Takashi Muratani, Kenichi Shima
Mie Kana, Ippei Ichii
Shouta Ibata, Natsuko Shimizu
Naoko Masui

Chiaki Nakajima, Masashi Kariya
Takashi Mukouda, Yasunori Miyazawa
Masashi Ishihama

Thursday, June 24, 2010

11:37:08 am , 777 words, 1800 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Director: Masaaki Yuasa, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei

Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei #4

I'm writing this from the middle of a park where I'd come out to hike six years ago when I first started writing this blog. Ah, nostalgia. I was writing about Mind Game back then, now it's Yuasa's third TV series. Six years changes people a lot. I wonder how many of my readers back at the beginning are still reading, or even watching anime...

With episode 4 it's back to the style of episode 2 - a tight, hermetically crafted overload of the senses. It's Akitoshi Yokoyama at the helm again, which was immediately apparent. He's all sharp turns and rapid-fire creative embellishment. He's one of those directors who's been directing for a good while now, so he has a good grasp of the mechanics of the job, and doing it the easy way would be too boring, so he tries to come up with more challenging and exciting tricks with the directing every time, creating these masterfully edited torrents of crazy images interpreting the story rather than just telling them in a straightforward way using lengthy shots of staged character acting.

I think it's quite brilliant, judged purely from a directing point of view. But on the other hand, it was really bewildering and kind of hard to follow. It feels like a visual analogue of the superfast narration. He creates a barrage of wild images that mirror the fevered rantings of the protagonist, rather than just showing what's going on in the boring old real world. But yeah, really hard to follow. Every shot is highly calculated and precisely timed to create just the right flow. It's a virtuoso display to be sure. It forces you to give up trying to make sense of it all - you've got to relinquish control and be carried along with the flow, sensing what you can. Our brains will piece it together as best they can. It's remarkable how creative he is at coming up with so many and so varied an array of images interpreting the narrative. The vertical line of ancestors above the characters symbolizing the ancestors at the end of the episode in particular was an incredible idea and well executed.

Each episode so far seems to have focused on one of the sub-characters, presenting an alternate potential path through university for the protagonist in which that character plays the lead role in dragging the protagonist down the primrose path. This time the protagonist joins not a tennis club (Ozu) or film club (Jogasaki) or a biking club (Akashi) but a cult club. Mysterious big-chin man Higuchi is the cult leader, and "I"'s duties are to protect and worship the master. The gallery of other sub-characters play supporting roles, dropping hints of their previous roles and behaving in the new situation in a manner consistent with their personalities. Memories of the past episodes seem to float up like fragments of a dream remembered or deja vu.

I was a little confused watching this episode, but I was completely impressed. I'm still not too convinced about the series' gimmick, but I find that I'm enjoying the show more now that I'm getting used to the characters and the narrative style. Now the show feels like a (temporally) cubist vision of the many possible iterations of oneself that might have intersected with all the other possible iterations of one's acquaintances in university. It explores personality not linearly but by running the same characters though different situations and seeing how they react. Though it's not so simple, since in a Pirandellian or otherwise pomo twist the characters seem aware of their situation to an extent.

Character designer and chief animation director Nobutake Ito is in charge of the drawings here. He actually played a supervisory role in episodes 2 and 3, so he has been there making sure the drawings were right the whole time. He's joined by Takayuki Hamada and Hironori Tanaka, who lead the animators. Shimizu Natsuko and Shoko Nishigaki from ep 1 are back. The other animators I've never heard of, but it's still a very strong team, and the results are not an iota diminished from what came before. I think I recognized Tanaka's hand in some of the smoke FX near the end. Kemonozume and even Kaiba had stylistic variation, and the directing tone changed a lot, but so far this series has been pretty smooth in terms of the tone of the directing and the storytelling style.

Storyboard & director: Akitoshi Yokoyama

Animation director: Nobutake Ito

Co-animation directors: Takayuki Hamada, Hironori Tanaka

Takayuki Hamada, Hironori Tanaka
Natsuko Shimizu, Shoko Nishigaki
Satomi Higuchi, Mai Tsutsumi
Kenichi Fujisawa, Fuminori Tsukita
Ippei Ichii, Kana Harufuji
Masahiro Iwasaki