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 2011, 09

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

11:55:00 pm , 761 words, 5811 views     Categories: Animation, Movie, Lupin III, Studio: Telecom

Telecom Lupin movie #4: The Elusive Fog

30 years after Telecom worked on the second Lupin III TV series, they returned in 2007 with a TV special of their own production, with their own logo capping the end roll: The Elusive Fog. Dozens of TV specials and movies have been made in the intervening 30 years, but this was only Telecom's fourth Lupin film after Castle of Cagliostro (1979), Plot of the Fuma Clan (1987) and Farewell to Nostradamus (1995). This film harkens back to a character from the very first Lupin series: Mamo Kyosuke, the time-traveler who has it in for Lupin for some mysterious reason.

I'd like to say The Elusive Fog was a return to the standards of the early Telecom episodes of the second Lupin TV series, but it is unfortunately not. Everything here is too clean, too slow, too measured. There's no spark, no excitement. For one I don't like the excessively clean way the characters are drawn. There's no personality or spontaneity in the drawings the way there was in the second series. Here the drawings are all DOA. The ironic thing is that the shortage of schedule in the early Telecom Lupin productions may have contributed to producing good work. Here it looks like they had too much time to think about what they wanted to do.

Kazuhide Tomonaga and Yoshinobu Michihata tantalizingly occupy the two top spots in the key animator credits, so they clearly put their all into this. Tomonaga happily returned to drawing a car chase. He obviously did the car chase at the beginning. It was nice to see Lupin being chased by Zenigata in the old Fiat again, and there were a few nicely done shots in there, but it didn't have the tension of his early work. It wasn't choreographed in an exciting way, but more than that, it just felt slack and plain, without the little unexpected rapidfire movements that made the early chases so exciting to watch.

It would have been great if this throwback to the early Lupin work had been a harbinger of more of the same to come, but the rest didn't live up to the opening. With very few animators they were able to create some incredible episodes back then, but here they've got more than 50 key animators and yet there is nary an exciting action sequence in the whole film.

The character animation was also too tame. There were very few sections where the characters came alive and the movement had any kind of zip and good feeling in the timing. I assume Yoshinobu Michihata was responsible for those few moments, but overall the entire approach to character animation was lacking. The movement was just dull. What made those old Telecom productions so nice to watch is that the characters were fun to watch at every single solitary moment thanks to the fun the animators had in posing and moving the characters in all sorts of ways with split-second precision. Here it feels like the characters are encased in a character design that fits them like an excessively stiff suit.

Even the storytelling of Fuma Clan, which is weaker on the story and characterization front than Cagliostro for obvious reasons, felt stronger than the storytelling and character development and directing here. Even aside from the animation aspects, it didn't feel interesting to watch as a film. The pacing was sluggish, no developments were unexpected, no characters were believable.

This outing felt a little lighter overall than their previous Nostradamus outing, which had names like Atsuko Tanaka and Hiroyuki Aoyama involved, and had a big climactic section with a lot of nice animation. Unfortunately the latter two have now left Telecom, along with many others. Among the talented animators remaining are Kazuhide Tomonaga, Yoshinobu Michihata and Hisao Yokobori. But I don't know of any young names at Telecom with the same fire that those guys had at the beginning, so we might not see a new generation of Telecom animators with the same verve as that first generation. Times have changed. In a lot of productions there just isn't the sort of freedom to draw characters however you want the way there was in the old Lupin show.

Yasuo Otsuka, the patron saint of the Lupin anime franchise, made a guest appearance. Two, actually. He drew the 'eyecatch', which uses the same sound effect as the second TV series. Instead of Lupin tripping over his Benz, this time he brakes his Fiat too hard and the whole car flips forward and spits him out the sunroof. The second appearance... well, it's not hard to spot.