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: September 2013, 19

Thursday, September 19, 2013

03:20:00 pm , 2022 words, 21310 views     Categories: OVA, post-Akira, 1990s

Ys

There seems to have been something of a boom in fantasy anime OVAs between the years 1988-1992. Just to name some of the better produced entries, there was Xanadu: Dragon Slayer Densetsu (1988), The Hakkenden (1990-1991), Record of Lodoss War (1990-1991), 3x3 Eyes (1991), and Dragon Slayer (1992).

One that slipped through the cracks in my case is Ys (pronounced like "east" without the "t"). It's a more pure D&D-style fantasy outings in the vein of Dragon Slayer, as it's closely based on a video game. I only caught a glimpse of one scene back in the day, and it left a vivid impression on me. I finally had the chance to watch it in full recently, and I was happy to discover that it's a pretty good show - at least in part. When it's bad, it's dreck, but when it's good, it's awesome.

Two series were released: Ys was released in 7 episodes between 1989 and 1991, and its continuation Ys: The Heavenly Shrine ~Adol Christin's Adventure~ was released in 4 episodes between 1992 and 1993.

The contrast between the two series is stark, both in terms of directing and visuals. Ys I is essentially a by-the-books video game adaptation. It feels stiff and uninspired, with nary a feeling of tension or peril even at climactic moments. The drawings are slack and clean and lacking dynamism. Even the script is weak, creating cyphers who go lifelessly through the motions of a video game and utter dialogue that is embarrassingly facile and lacking in personality.

To be fair, I actually enjoyed even the first series. I'm just judging it objectively. It hits just the right spot when you're in the mood for some mindless but serious (i.e. not postmodern or gag-filled) fantasy anime that pushes all the buttons you want pushed in that kind of material. One of the few animation highlights comes in the second half of episode 2, which was animated by the late Noriaki Tetsura.

Ys II is a continuation that picks up exactly where the first series left off, but suddenly it's like a completely different show. The characters look and move differently, and the directing is much more compelling. The drawings are sharp and stylized, with lots of dynamic compositions that work great as illustrations. The characters are written in a more believable way, not just uttering expository dialogue. They're hot-blooded and tempestuous, with distinct personalities. They're also animated more dynamically, with vivid expressions, and they move through the screen in a three-dimensional way during the action scenes. The effects work is very impressive. The directing creates an epic and tense atmosphere, with quick cutting in the action scenes and exciting choreography that relies heavily on the animation. Even the music feels appropriately hardcore.

Rather than merely reading a script, the characters act out an inner world of thought and emotion, doing things that don't necessarily advance plot but rather make them seem human. For example, when one of the characters' girlfriend is trapped and about to be sacrificed, after first trying to slash through the barrier imprisoning her, he finally gives up, only to start madly punching the barrier in frustration.

All in all, the second series is an impressively powerful and entertaining OVA. Blistering, brutal and angry, its animation feels slightly unhinged and explodes off the screen with raw energy. Even its occasionally sloppiness is endearing. It's everything I love about anime and immediately ranks as one of my favorite OVAs of the post-Akira period alongside all the other post-Akira OVAs I've talked about in the past. It's a kindred spirit to madcap, wildly animated OVAs like Dragon Slayer (1992) and Crimson Wolf (1993).

Ys II feels very similar to Dragon Slayer in its tense atmosphere and speedy directing, although the animation of Ys II doesn't contain nearly as much stretch and squash of the kind used profusely in Dragon Slayer. The characters are loosely drawn but for the most part solid. With only a few exceptions, the movement here is conveyed by arcs of movement, not deformation. That's something that unifies most of the work in the 'post-Akira' school - that it's decidedly not Kanada-school, without much ghosting or stretch and squash and more follow-through.

Adol by Hiroyuki Nishimura

The sudden shift in style between the two series is really bizarre, and it makes you wonder what happened: why the drastic change? Perhaps they rightly felt the first series was on the wrong path and called in some new people to shake things up. That seems to be what happened, because the staff is very different between the two shows. First Jun Kamiya was replaced as director midway through the first series by Takashi Watanabe. He went on to direct the second series. Then the character design changed from Tetsuya Ishikawa to Hiroyuki Nishimura. Finally, the writer changed from Tadashi Hayakawa to Katsuhiko Chiba. Then the animation staff is completely different. All of this adds up to a completely different show.

The most important change was bringing in the talented and versatile Asia-do animator Hiroyuki Nishimura, who redesigned the characters in a more appealing and interesting way. I don't know how the animators were found for the project, but obviously this is a much more talented team than the first show, as every moment of the second series for the most part is a pleasure to watch in terms of the drawings. Even the quieter scenes have careful character animation. The action scenes, meanwhile, are plentiful and thrilling.

The biggest name after Hiroyuki Nishimura is Kazuto Nakazawa, who animated and co-sakkan'd episodes 2 and 3. This was still early in his career, but his immense skill as a mover comes through loud and clear and I suspect plays a big role in making the show so enjoyable. Episodes 2 and 3 have a looser drawing style than episodes 1 and 4. It seems clear to me that Nakazawa was heavily influenced by Satoru Utsunomiya and maybe even other stuff like the work of Shinya Ohira and Shinji Hashimoto in Hakkenden episode 1 from 1990. After all, he has admitted to watching the later Hamaji's Resurrection episode literally 30 times a week after it came out, so he must have been following the previous outings from this school of animators. Nakazawa's characters have bulky forms and enormous hands, and swing their limbs around the screen violently in a way that seems clearly indebted to Hakkenden, particularly the scenes animated by Shinji Hashimoto and Tatsuyuki Tanaka. The Utsunomiya-influenced style of the character animation and the unusual amount of work put into the magic effects reminds me of Legend of Crystania (1995) from a few years after.

Whether it's Nishimura or Nakazawa or a combination of other team members who were responsible for pushing things in this direction, it seems clear that the overall production must have been influenced by the recent post-Akira OVAs in some form or another. Animators in Japan all know one another, far more than we realize, and are being influenced by one another all the time, so it doesn't take long for a certain style or approach to virally spread throughout the industry.

As it happens, Hiroyuki Nishimura actually was an animator on Shinya Ohira's epoch-making Hamaji's Resurrection episode of the second Hakkenden series released just a year after Ys II. There are lots of obvious connections behind this. Hiroyuki Nishimura was, at the time, together with Yoshihiko Takakura, part of Mitsuru Hongo's Megaten "studio", which was basically a workspace for the three animators. Hiroyuki Nishimura and Mitsuru Hongo both started out at Asia-do, as did Masaaki Yuasa, animation director of Hamaji's Resurrection, and had by that point been working together on the Shin-chan films under Hongo.

Hiroyuki Nishimura continued to have a close working relationship with Mitsuru Hongo, culminating with Deltora Quest (2007-2008). Hiroyuki Nishimura is a mutli-talented guy who has, at various points in his career, done just about everything - animating, storyboarding, directing a series, character design, animation director, even scriptwriting. Like ex-Asia-do compatriot Toshihisa Kaiya, he even did work for IG on IGPX, which with its CG robots reminds of his more recent effort Danboru Senki. I still remember him best for his excellent combat animation sequences in the Shin-chan movies. He and Yuasa have frequently helped each other out: Yuasa did layout under Nishimura for Ruin Explorers and Nishimura was an animator in Yuasa's Nanchatte Vampiyan pilot and Slime Adventures pilot, as well as animating the climactic part of Mind Game where Nishi et al. row out of the whale.

Another factor that might play a role is the fact that Haruki Kadokawa is involved as producer. This was apparently one of the very last things he produced before being sent to jail for 4 years for smuggling cocaine and embezzling. Whatever the faults of his productions, Kadokawa anime were a staple of my anime diet back in the day and represented a certain kind of quality. They were always lavishly produced, epic in scope and memorable, if in the end they were largely flawed as films. The first Arslan Wars movie from 1991 is one of my favorite anime from this period. Kadokawa followed this up with another fantasy epic: Weathering Continent (1992). Perhaps Kadokawa's involvement was a factor pushing the quality of the production in the right way.

Director Takashi Watanabe was at the start of his career when he took over Ys in 1990. I didn't know anything about him before watching this, and upon looking into his career, I can't say I'm a fan. He has been very prolific as a series director since then, directing TV shows such Slayers, Shakugan no Shana, Boogiepop Phantom, and Mito no Daiboken, among many other shows, his most recent being Senran Kagura and Freezing Vibration. He seems to specialize in shows featuring fighting bishojo. I enjoyed Mito, but that's about it apart from Ys. He was also the director of Lost Universe, episode 4 of which is the greatest anime TV episode of all time: Yashigani Hofuru. Following that debacle, he apparently felt bad, because he put up a web site explaining the challenges facing a director in the anime industry, presumably to explain the circumstances that led to the production of the infamous episode.

One mystery to me is why there are drawings in episode 1 of Ys II that seem like they came straight out of Nadia of the Blue Water. There is some slight staff overlap, but not enough to explain the overt stylistic similarity.


Other 'post-Akira' OVAs:

Explorer Woman Ray (1989)
The Hakkenden (1990-1991)
Sukeban Deka (1991)
3x3 Eyes (1991)
The Antique Shop (1991)
Dragon Slayer (1992)
Green Legend Ran (1992-1993)
Crimson Wolf (1993)


イース Ys (OVA, 7 eps, 1989-1991)

Script:早川正Tadashi Hayakawa
Director:神谷純Jun Kamiya (1-4)
渡部高志Takashi Watanabe (5-7)
Character Design:石川哲也Tetsuya Ishikawa
Episode 1
Animation Director:石川哲也Tetsuya Ishikawa
Key Animation:菊地晃Akira Kikuchi
松本勝次Katsuji Matsumoto
岡本稔Minoru Okamoto
藤田佳三Keizo Fujita
井上鋭Ei Inoue
唐沢紀江Norie Karasawa
藤井裕子Hiroko Fujii
石川哲也Tetsuya Ishikawa
Episode 2
Animation Director:石川哲也Tetsuya Ishikawa
Key Animation:氏家章雄Ujie Akio
鉄羅紀明Noriaki Tetsura
きのプロダクションKino Production
Episode 3
Animation Director:菅原浩喜Hiroki Sugawara
Key Animation:久保川美明Mia Kubokawa
矢木正之Masayuki Yaki
小丸敏之Toshiyuki Komaru
佐々木守Mamoru Sasaki
清水保之Yasuyuki Shimizu
山本正文Masafumi Yamamoto
井尻博之Hiroyuki Ijiri
山内真紀子Makiko Yamauchi
榊原文Fumi Sakakibara
Episode 4
Animation Director:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Key Animation:篠田章Akira Shinoda
松山光治Koji Matsuyama
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
Episode 5
Animation Director:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Assistant A.D.:松山光治Koji Matsuyama
Key Animation:篠田章Akira Shinoda
松山光治Koji Matsuyama
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
川崎浩充Hiromitsu Kawasaki
吉田仁Hitoshi Yoshida
佐藤英二Eiji Sato
松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Episode 6
Animation Director:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Key Animation:じゃんぐるじむJungle Gym
久保博志Hiroshi Kubo
原勝徳Katsunori Hara
こばやしたかしTakashi Kobayashi
佐々木敏子Toshiko Sasaki
佐藤英一Eiichi Sato
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
吉田仁Hitoshi Yoshida
小山りょうRyo Koyama
永野由美Yumi Nagano
栗井重紀Shigenori Kurii
Episode 7
Animation Director:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Key Animation:じゃんぐるじむJungle Gym
こばやしたかしTakashi Kobayashi
佐々木敏子Toshiko Sasaki
佐藤英一Eiichi Sato
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
吉田仁Hitoshi Yoshida
小山りょうRyo Koyama
中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa

イース 天空の神殿 〜アドル・クリスティンの冒険〜
Ys: The Heavenly Shrine ~Adol Christin's Adventure~
(OVA, 4 eps, 1992-1993)

Script:千葉克彦Katsuhiko Chiba
Director:渡部高志Takashi Watanabe
Character Design:西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
Episode 1
Animation Director:西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
Key Animation:箕輪悟Satoru Minowa
久保博志Hiroshi Kubo
中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa
水畑健二Kenji Mizuhata
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
森可渡士Watashi Morika
栗井重紀Shigenori Kurii
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Episode 2
Animation Director:中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa
水畑健二Kenji Mizuhata
西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
Monster A.D.:箕輪悟Satoru Minowa
Key Animation:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
久保博志Tadashi Kubo
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
箕輪悟Satoru Minowa
鈴木仁史Hitoshi Suzuki
水畑健二Kenji Mizuhata
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
森可渡士Watashi Morika
中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa
Episode 3
Animation Director:中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa
Assistant A.D.:秋山充治Mitsuharu Akiyama
水畑健二Kenji Mizuhata
Key Animation:熊澤英樹Hideki Kumazawa
岡野幸男Yukio Okano
小林多加志Takashi Kobayashi
井上みゆきMiyuki Inoue
佐々木敏子Toshiko Sasaki
久保博志Hiroshi Kubo
森可渡士Watashi Morika
鈴木仁史Hitoshi Suzuki
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
佐藤英一Eiichi Sato
春日井浩之Hiroyuki Kasugai
百瀬恵美子Emiko Momose
祝浩司Hiroshi Iwai
Episode 4
Animation Director:西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
Effect Animation:佐藤英一Eiichi Sato
Key Animation:西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
斉藤卓也Takuya Saito
岡本圭一郎Keiichiro Okamoto
武内宣之Noriyuki Takeuchi
祝浩司Hiroshi Iwai
加藤興治Koji Kato
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
久保博志Hiroshi Kubo
細山正樹Masaki Hosoyama
木場田実Minoru Kibata