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A Japanese-produced adaptation of the French picture book series Rita et Machin aired one year ago on NHK. It's about the adventures of an energetic little girl and her lazy pet dog. The pictures are appealingly spare and simple and the stories have an easy and genteel understated humor that makes them enjoyable even for an adult.
Considering how many good studios France has, I'm surprised they chose to do this in Japan. But they did a good job adapting it in a way that remains true to the atmosphere and look of the original, without 'animefying' it.
The 26-episode show was co-produced by Nippon Animation and French studio Planet Nemo, but it seems to have been mostly done in Japan. And many of the episodes were not done by Nippon Animation staff. That's what makes the show so good, actually. They got some surprising outside faces to do episodes. From Madhouse they got Toshio Hirata, Hirotsugu Hamazaki, Manabu Ohashi, Hideki Futamura and Hiroshi Shimizu. From Studio Live they got Kojina Hiroshi and Hiroaki Yoshikawa.
But the most interesting thing about the show is that someone on the show took the bold initiative of crossing the indie/industry divide to invite several indie animators I've talked about before on the blog to each do a solo episode. Ayaka Nakata, Yosuke Oomomo, Hiroco Ichinose and Tomoyoshi Joko of Decovocal, Oswald Kato and Hotchi Kazuhiro each did a solo episode. The show was co-directed by indie animator PON Kozutsumi, whose short Organic I just tweeted, and I suspect it may have been him who invited these people.
It's vindicating of the talent of today's new generation of indie animators, and suggests how much richer anime could be if there were more mixing between indie and industry, that their episodes are easily the best episodes in the show.
Episode 7 by Hotchi Kazuhiro has some of the most distinctive and pleasing animation in the show. Hotchi Kazuhiro also drew backgrounds for a few episodes. He's been active now for about 10 years as an independent animator. He has a unique graphic style with lush, densely drawn images. See his web site for some examples. Doudou from 2002 is probably my favorite short he's done.
Episode 9 by Tomoyoshi Joko of Decovocal has rich animation and clever ideas, with spoons competing over strawberries turning into a bear and dragon with horns locked. Episode 18 by Ayaka Nakata was perhaps the most impressive of the show, full of great compositions, lovely drawings, detailed animation and imaginative transformations. Episode 19 by Yosuke Oomomo was a delightful musical episode with toys that come alive and a couch that turns into a piano.
Even the episodes that didn't stand out like these were enjoyable to watch because the characters are fun and the humor isn't overdone. The show is for children but it's not kiddy and inane. That's perhaps what has made the original such a best-seller internationally. The humor translates in every language.
I like the 5-minute format of the show because, first of all, it's easy to watch. Many anime episodes feel needlessly long. Each episode here felt the perfect length. The short length also allows a talented creator to hone the episode more.
It's great to see anime creators set to the task of animating something so different like this. It can only help broaden their horizons and show that there are lots more styles out there to explore. They need to make more home-grown shows that are as visually unique as this. They've got picture books that are just as nice - viz The 11 Cats.
Planet Nemo offers one episode of the UK English dub up for viewing on their web site. It's episode 21 in the Japanese ordering, by Madhouse veteran Manabu Ohashi. Manabu Ohashi also happens to have headed the animation of the actual episode 1 that introduces the characters, and the episode stands out for its more nuanced and observed movement. His work in Little Twins similarly stood out in a subtle way.
Episode 10 headed by Madhouse animator/director Hirotsugu Hamazaki had some of the most expert animation in the show. It was restrained but you could sense the technical expertise with the complicated shots of the fishing. It was nice to see one of my favorite Madhouse figures, Toshio Hirata (whom I wrote about long ago) here with an episode, as this material is eminently suited to his temperament, with its languid pacing and gentle humor. The person who did episode 20, incidentally, Hiroshi Kojina, is a longtime Studio Live animator who replaced the late great Toyoo Ashida as president of the company upon his recent death. It was a nice surprise to see Hideki Futamura here, as I'm a fan of his work, but I don't know what his presence signifies; is he at Madhouse now too?
リタとナントカ Rita and Whatsit staff list
|Title||Storyboard||Director||Animation Director||Key animation|
|#1: Rita and Whatsit||Masaaki Kidokoro||Manabu Ohashi|
|#2: Rita and Whatsit go to the ocean||Jun Takagi||Yoshiyuki Ichihashi||Yasuko Sakuma||Yujiro Moriyama, Noboru Takeuchi|
|#3: Rita and Whatsit have a guest||PON Kozutsumi||Saya Takamatsu|
|#4: Whatsit's house||Yoshiyuki Ichihashi||Hiroki Fujiwara|
|#5: Rita and Whatsit play soccer||Oswald Kato (+composite)|
|#6: Rita and Whatsit go to the pool||Kazuma Fujimori||Yuki Hishinuma|
|#7: Rita and Whatsit on Sunday||Yoshiyuki Ichihashi||Yasuko Sakuma||Miho Higashi|
|#8: Rita and Whatsit go on a trip||Hotchi Kazuhiro|
|#9: Rita and Whatsit have an argument||Tomoyoshi Joko||Decovocal (+finishing & composite)|
|#10: Rita and Whatsit go fishing||Hirotsugu Hamazaki|
|#11: Rita and Whatsit's secret hiding place||Toshio Hirata|
|#12: Rita and Whatsit and the lost baby duck||Hiroco Ichinose||Decovocal (+finishing & composite)|
|#13: Rita and Whatsit go on a picnic||Kazuma Fujimori||Hideaki Uehara||Hiroki Fujiwara||Moe Usami |
|#14: Rita and Whatsit's masquerade party||Hiroaki Yoshikawa|
|#15: Rita's new bike||Hiroshi Shimizu|
|#16: Rita and Whatsit go to Paris||Kazuma Fujimori||Masaru Yasukawa||Hiroki Fujiwara|
|#17: Rita and Whatsit go shopping||Kazuma Fujimori||Yuki Hishinuma|
|#18: Whatsit's birthday||Ayaka Nakata|
|#19: Rita and Whatsit put on a concert||Yosuke Oomomo|
|#20: Rita becomes a detective||Hiroshi Kojina|
|#21: Rita and Whatsit go to school||Masaaki Kidokoro||Manabu Ohashi|
|#22: Rita and Whatsit gardening||PON Kozutsumi|
|#23: Whatsit catches a cold||Hideki Futamura||Hiroki Fujiwara|
|#24: Rita and Whatsit wish upon a star||Teppei Tani|
|#25: Rita and Whatsit go for a walk||Yuki Hishinuma||PON Kozutsumi||Saya Takamatsu|
|#26: Rita and Whatsit's Christmas||Masaaki Kidokoro||Yasuko Sakuma||Yoshiaki Fukamachi|
Toei has produced another little gem of highly stylized directing and visuals in their just-released OVA Kyoso Giga. The film is a fast-paced romp full of bright colors, highly deformed and active animation, and constantly surprising angles and layouts.
The directing is in the willful and flamboyant mold that characterizes all the great Toei directors of the last two decades, of which there is quite a long list, most notably Shigeyasu Yamauchi, Kenji Nakamura, Mamoru Hosoda, Takuya Igarashi and Kunihiko Ikuhara. They tell a story not by plopping characters in the middle of the screen and letting them talk, but cutting in an unpredictable rapid-fire between elliptical shots in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and coming up with new approaches to visual presentation and stylization and pleasing new ways of combining the CGI and hand drawn elements. The director here pushes this style to such a breakneck extreme that I had a hard time following it and it left me dizzy and hoping it would stop soon, though I still enjoyed every moment. It feels very much of the Toei lineage, but it's directed by a director I've never heard of: Rie Matsumoto. Turns out she's a new face who has only come to prominence in the last few years. She apparently got interested in animation after being impressed by Mamoru Hosoda's Children's War Game, and decided to join Toei for that reason. She's been mostly active directing Toei's franchise for little girls Precure.
There isn't a moment that lets you rest in the 30-minute outing thanks to the constantly creative visual presentation, the beautiful background art with a nice stylized rendering of old Kyoto, and the edgy and high-energy animation. The designs of the characters and especially the monsters are fluid and full of unexpected angles. The monsters in particular are drawn in a loosely appealing way with flowing and jagged forms. The action scenes move something crazy thanks to a handful of powerful young animators working on the show, but even in the non-action scenes the director maintains interest through a mix of Hosoda-styled densely layered formalistic shots with different things happened on different layers, shifting unexpectedly between realistic images of the characters in the real world and highly stylized images of the characters walking through some kind of alternative universe of the imagination full of colorful decorations hanging from strings and eye-poppingly colorful geometrical patterns.
The animation director and character designer is Yuki Hayashi, who has made a name for himself in the last few years as an interesting animator with a sense for well-timed action that uses a minimum of means. Not coincidentally he also did most of his work on Precure. I like his youkai (monster) characters in particular. They're drawn with long, loose, flowing forms. But even the cute protagonists are cute in a way that isn't annoying for trying too hard to look cute. Their drawing style is clearly identifiable as recent Toei. Working under him are other talented animators like freelance ex-gif animator Shinichi Kurita, Toei regular and FX specialist Takashi Hashimoto and even Tate Naoki, the flamboyant animator from Toei's franchise for little boys One Piece. Hopefully Toei will rope in Hisashi Mori for some good work in a future episode. Tatsuzo Nishita would be nice too. Haven't seen him in a while.
The script by Miho Maruo is witty if a little frustrating in its deliberate ellipsis. You're obviously meant to not understand what the heck is going on in this episode - one of the characters even speaks for the audience: "I have no idea what the heck is going on." But it's well done, for what it is, juggling a lot of characters while keeping the story pulsing forward.