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: October 2010, 16

Saturday, October 16, 2010

09:58:30 pm , 1155 words, 4523 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Ore wa teppei

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This show is a rather interesting little oddity - the last gasp of A Pro, you could say. It features work by most of the best staff from the good old days of A Pro just before they left. Yet it's a terrible show. You get the feeling you understand why they left after you watch this show, though I doubt it was the sole reason.

I'd known about this show forever, but I thought it was produced by Nippon Animation, so I didn't pay it much heed. It turns out that Nippon Animation was just the company that planned the show. They farmed it all out to Shinei, newly renamed from A Pro, who did the actual production.

The show aired Sept 12, 1977 to March 27, 1978. Its odd episode run of 28 episodes is the result of being cancelled because ratings dropped after Lupin III Part 2 started airing on a different station in the same time slot.

So this was technically the second Shin-Ei Doga production after Tenguri. After this they again produced animation for Nippon Animation on Ikkyu-san before starting their own productions The Red Bird and Doraemon, but all the really good animators like Yoshifumi Kondo, Osamu Kobayashi and Yasuo Otsuka had left by that time. It's for the work of these guys, then, that this show is worth checking out. Otherwise it doesn't have much going for it.

I watched the first half of the show to wring out every little bit of good work I could out of it. It's not the worst thing I've ever seen, but it's a hell of a mess. There's a smattering of good work here and there, but the quality and look of the show is very uneven.

The show is based on a Chiba Tetsuya manga, like Ashita no Joe. While the former works pretty well after all these years thanks no doubt in large part to Osamu Dezaki's directing, Ore wa Teppei is nigh unwatchable save for the sporadically good drawings and movement, due largely to the jumbled story and awful concept behind the characters.

I won't go into detail as to why except to say that the antics of Teppei and his father, which are supposed to come across as the slap-happy hijinx of two wild souls unfettered by the rules of civil society, are so mercilessly overplayed that it soon feels like you're watching a father and son with severe mental illness, and the show becomes very uncomfortable to watch. On top of that, the story is uninteresting and schizophrenic, beginning as a madcap comedy, suddenly shifting into a 'spokon' show one moment and then to a family drama the next, and never making up its mind as to what it's trying to do. But the most excruciating part of the show is the character of Teppei and his father.

All that said, there's something endearing about the show. At least I was able to watch 11 episodes, which I can't say for many shows these days. Maybe it's something about the atmosphere of shows during this period that's appealing, or because the drawings and the layouts alter the impact of the material and are reminiscent of the better A Pro moments from around this time. When the good players are on the screen, it's as if a good show were struggling but failing to emerge from the morass.

Topping the list of interesting names is Yasuo Otsuka. He's credited with layout alongside Tsutomu Shibayama (see op credit above). Studio head Daikichiro Kusube is credited as character design as well as animation directing alongside Toshiyuki Honda (later Animaru-ya co-founder) and Sadayoshi Tominaga (later one of the main animation directors of Doraemon).

On the animator side, you get Yoshifumi Kondo in episodes 1, 4 and 5. Surprisingly, his work isn't as identifiable as elsewhere. I spot a flicker of interesting motion here and there in these episodes, but nothing like the obvious genius on display in Dokonjo Gaeru, Future Boy Conan and later Tom Sawyer.

Other animators present include Osamu Kobayashi, Tomekichi Takeuchi, Michishiro Yamada and Eiichi Nakamura. I spotted a young Atsuko Tanaka credited with inbetweening. Osamu Kobayashi left after this with Michishiro Yamada and Tsutomu Shibayama to form Ajia-do. Throughout the show you get occasional moments here and there where the movement suddenly has a fun zip, or the drawings have a pleasing character different from the old-fashioned Chiba Tetsuya drawings, but most of the time the animation is pretty lackluster. Obviously this is not the same studio that produced Dokonjo Gaeru. I mean, it is, but they've changed.

Maybe it's just that the nature of the material didn't suit them. It's a sequential daily life drama narrative like the WMT shows of Nippon Animation, but done in the style of an A Pro gag show. A Pro was good at doing cartoonish characters animated in a lively way and gag-filled stories, not drama-heavy real life stories.

Storyboarders include Hiroshi Fukutomi (2, 26, 27), Tsutomu Shibayama (28) and Yoshio Kabashima (18). Yoshifumi Kondo even storyboarded an episode - episode 19. It's the only storyboard he ever did, so it's a rather precious piece of his filmography.

The nice thing about the show is that you can spot a lot of these guys. For example Otsuka, obviously one of the main reasons I wanted to watch this show. He's only credited with layout, but you can really feel his drawings throughout episode 1. I suppose either he drew rough genga as well or people based their genga closely on his layouts, because episode 1 has a wonderfully Otsuka-esque feeling in many of the shots, even in terms of the movement. For example in the following shots you can sense Otsuka just from the drawing/layout:

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It wouldn't be Otsuka without a jeep, though that jeep is a bit sloppy for Otsuka I must say, considering how much he loved jeeps. Is that him working on the jeep there wearing a police uniform? I think Otsuka must not have done much after this, or only sporadically, because there's isn't as much of a strong Otsuka flavor to the rest of the show.

As another example, there's an extended scene in episode 11 that screams Osamu Kobayashi:

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The opening is also cute and has a strong A Pro character in terms of the sharp movement and stylization. I suppose it was animated either by Osamu Kobayashi or Tsutomu Shibayama.

The most pleasing moments of this show are ironically those like the above where the designs from the original manga are absent and the animator's drawing style takes the fore.

Misc: I spotted Toshifumi Takizawa of Dirty Pair fame as assistant director. The first episode was storyboarded by a mystery figure named Hajime Kurama, whose name turns up no other hits in Google. Obviously a pen name.

Bonus for people who scrolled down this far looking for an embedded Youtube video: A small vid I made in 2003 of scenes I'm guessing were animated by Yoshifumi Kondo in Tom Sawyer.