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: June 2012, 29

Friday, June 29, 2012

11:51:00 pm , 1123 words, 6746 views     Categories: OVA, Studio: Anime R, 1980s

Good Morning Althea

I tend to write about the good OVAs, but they're in the minority. Most OVAs are justly forgotten. The 1987 OVA Good Morning Althea is a prime example of an OVA misfire boasting terrible storytelling and animation. Colony Drop just recently did a write-up on exactly why this show is so bad, so I won't go into the details here, but I thought I'd write my own thoughts as I just had a look at it.

It's not the worst thing I've seen, but it doesn't have much to recommend it. The poor directing and hackneyed and jumbled story weren't even the worst part of it to me. it's the drawings. They're awful. It looked like fan anime to me. It was impossible for me to take most of the scenes seriously because the character drawings consistently had the amateurish quality of fan art, with the features of the faces and the body proportions drawn all wrong, and clumsy linework.

The directing is admittedly pretty weak. Hideki Tonokatsu doesn't do a particularly great job of making the story flow interestingly, making it coherent, making the action exciting, or making us invest in the characters and their situation. A show with a stupid story can be saved by good animation, and vice-versa. Althea boasts a lethal combination of bad drawings and bad directing.

It's not that the animation is bad, though most of the animation is lackluster. There are actually a few shots of decent mecha action, like this one. The mecha look pretty cool, and there's competently drawn most of the time. The fact is, the OVA has some pretty good staff in the credits, which makes it hard to understand why the show turned out so bad. Anime R is a strong presence: Moriyasu Taniguchi is the animation director and Hiroshi Osaka is the mecha animation director. There are a few talented people in the credits including Yasuchika Nagaoka, Hideaki Sakamoto, Atsushi Yano and Hiromitsu Ota, but for the most part it's a mixed bag. It feels like one of those shows where there were issues behind the scenes at the last minute that led to some sudden drastic staff changes. It feels like it was produced in a big scramble.

The mecha drawings are usually OK, but there's something fundamentally wrong with the character drawings here. I had a hard time placing my finger on why the drawings in this OVA feel 'off', but I've come to the conclusion it's because of the inbetweens. I have a hunch Althea is a case of animation ruined by bad inbetweening.

Most of the names in the credits of Althea are Japanese, but but presumably due to time or budget constraints, the inbetweening alone was outsourced to a South Korean studio. Anime is known for using South Korea for its inbetweens. I'm not sure when this began, but it was probably in the 1980s. Althea was made at an early stage in the industry when the quality was far worse than it is today, and even today it's common knowledge that there are tremendous limitations on what inbetweeners can or will do.

Animation drawings of a high caliber like those of Okiura or Ohira apparently require very talented inbetweeners to get the drawings right. If their keys were outsourced to a cut-rate studio, the animation would be ruined. They simplify lines and subtle actions, as you can see if you closely compare the animation of this shot by Bahi JD with the final product.

I've long heard that the inbetweening stage is a surprisingly important stage that, beyond merely being there to 'fill out' the movement drawn by the key animators, can actually kill the animation if done wrong. Inbetweening is a skill that requires talent in its own way, like key animation, and it has its share of hacks doing lackluster work. To many people, inbetweening is (understandably) a paycheck far more than it is a labor of love. At the same time, if you outsource something for very little money and want it back the next day, don't expect good quality.

In anime, you never see the lines drawn by key animators (or you do only in special cases). What you are seeing in most anime is the lines drawn by the inbetweeners. The inbetweeners re-trace the key animation drawings. They don't just shoot the key animation drawings interspersed with inbetweens; they re-draw the keys and draw the inbetweens from scratch (or from reference drawings).

I've been examining Anime R in detail over the last few weeks because in a way they embody the anime paradigm, something that has been lost in today's atomized and outsourced and freelance age: the master-student relationship of inbetweener and key animator - an animator beginning at a studio as an inbetweener, learning the ropes under talented animators, and eventually working his way up to key animation. The inbetweeners and the key animators worked together under the same roof. Anime R's episodes were always inbetweened by Anime R. Hiroyuki Okiura and Hiroshi Osaka were inbetweeners inbetweening Toru Yoshida and Kishi Fumiko's animation before they acceded to drawing key animation.

With a very small team that knew each other's skills very well, they achieved beautiful results in those Sunrise (and other) shows of the 1980s. That has been the traditional situation in Japan, and it fosters a more deep knowledge about the process, but with inbetweens more likely to be outsourced today, it feels like the unique paradigm of the craftsman-student relationship has become a victim of progress. If I'm right about Althea, it shows the perils of corrupting that relationship.

Althea was apparently pitched by Ichiro Itano, and perhaps even initially planned to be directed by Itano. After starting out as a groundbreaking mecha animator, he went on to direct or otherwise back a number of OVAs in the 1980s, starting with Megazone 23. He created a number of overweening adult epics filled with violence and action that sound cool on paper and shine briefly technically but wind up being pretty disappointing and forgettable. The thing I've noticed is that the quality of the OVAs he was involved in is consistently uneven. There are occasional moments of strong animation that bring alive the concept, but often his projects feel rushed and awkward somehow or other, not to mention being in poor taste sometimes. Good Morning Althea is the prototypical Itano production in that sense.

Good Morning Althea (OVA, Dec 1987, 50min, Animate Film)

Concept:板野一郎Ichiro Itano
Storyboard & Director:殿勝秀樹Hideki Tonokatsu
Character design:菊池みちたかMichitaka Kikuchi
Settei Design:池田一成Kazuya Ikeda
亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
Animation Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Assistant A.D.:柳沢まさひでMasahide Yanagisawa
Mecha A.D.:逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
Key animation:浜川修二郎
Shujiro Hamakawa
Hitoshi Haga
Satoru Yamashita
Katsuzo Sato
Hideaki Sakamoto
Yasuchika Nagaoka
Hiroshi Shinada
Naoki Ohira
Atsushi Yano
Koichi Wada
Hiroaki Korogi
Akira Tsukada
Mikio Tsuchiya
Hiromitsu Ohta
Toyoaki Fukushima
Shiro Okumura