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: July 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

07:39:00 pm , 879 words, 4023 views     Categories: TV, Space Dandy

Space Dandy #15

Dandy gets lured to a faraway planet by the prospect of partying with a hot alien, but winds up in the sights of a bizarre smile-hunting puppet.

This is one of the less slapstick episodes, which is not to say one of the more serious. Dandy doesn't have serious episode like Champloo did to contrast with the silly episodes. What Dandy has is weird episodes, and this is one of them alongside episode 11 about the library book. I don't mind weird, but the problem with this episode is that it doesn't quite gel. It doesn't have a clear thrust, and leaves a weak impression, even though technically it's quite well produced.

The writer is Nobumoto Keiko from episode 8 about Laika the dog. Her style is notably different from her junior and the show's dominant writing force, Kimiko Ueno. She's more old school, sometimes even a little stuffy, weaving complex themes into her stories rather than merely pumping out lighthearted comedy. When it works, it works, but here it feels like a bit of a jumble, combining things arbitrarily to suit the plot. The river of time in the climax seems a little underdeveloped and casually thrown in. The buildings appearing out of the river at the climax only felt nonsensical and forced, whereas a similar tactic in the climax of Mind Game was convincing visually and metaphorically.

The main alien in the show, the Ukelele Man, is one of the show's first dark characters, but he seems burdened with a bit too much thematic striving on the part of the writing. An entertainer trapped in a rigid, emotionless mask - a tragic creature, the only one of his race, he seeks out other creatures to steal their smiles. It's oddly portentious in the company of zombies and boobies. I was a little reminded of the pierrot episode of Cowboy Bebop written by Sadayuki Murai.

That doesn't mean the episode is horrible. It's enjoyable enough to watch. I like the idea of an episode about masks, and this episode is interesting in that it latches onto that strange disturbing tension that makes masks fascinating, with their frozen expressions of glee or fear or what have you. A spirit seems to inhabit them, which is probably why they've been used in religious rituals the world over.

The luxurious schedule of the show also guarantees that there will be no low-quality episodes. There's no struggling with deadlines here like in Ping Pong, and it shows. Everything is almost too well polished. The storyboard is by Masashi Ikeda, who I remember as the director of episode 29 of Votoms, although obviously he's gone on to do much work as series director for which he's better remembered now. It doesn't have a lot of quirks, but it gets the job done well enough.

I had a hard time figuring out what the crew were arguing about at the beginning, and then I realized it's a band called Shakatak that apparently only people in Japan still care about. The show manages to drum up some pretty obscure old music references every once in a while.

Yurkio Chiba sakkans the characters and Bones regular mecha man Eiji Nakata presumably handles the mecha. I'm quite fond of Yuriko Chiba's rendition of Dandy - more lanky and angular but with some great expressions, and an almost Lupin-esque elfin quality. There was some nice lavish surfing animation at the climax. I'm guessing Eiji Nakata himself handled this, since surfing robots were his thing in Eureka 7, and Yutaka Nakamura handled the Ukelele Man burning up at the end. His amazing rendering of the flames and quick timing are distinctive. My favorite bit in the ep was the handful of shots where the Ukelele Man comes alive from the tree, but I don't know who did those. Maybe Chikashi Kubota?

On the design side of things, we got another cool design from Takuhito Kusanagi - the mailman - but as usual it was on the screen for literally 3 seconds and had about as many drawings as the design. The Ukelele Man was designed by manga-ka Sho Tajima, who I remember back in the day from the manga Madara. There wasn't much animation in the episode that really brought the character alive in a way that did justice to the movement of a puppet. The opening scene probably moved him best. I would have liked to see some animation in the style of that old episode of Ninku with puppet-fu animation by Tetsuya Nishio.

Kiyotaka Oshiyama designed the guitar player at the beginning, Shingo Natsume the praying mantis aliens, and main character designer Yoshiyuki Ito the capybara alien. As usual, they throw in alien designs from a variety of people with very different styles into one episode, making for a pleasing variety. Hideyasu Narita of the art studio Kusanagi designed some very nice scenery for the alien planet. I'm assuming Takuhito Kusanagi is unrelated to the art studio, though I've always wondered about that. (their names are written differently)

The episodes often have special guest voice actors in addition to guest designers, and this time around the big name was Toshio "Ataru" Furukawa. He must be getting up there in years, but his voice is still youthful enough, if without the high-pitched intensity of his old role.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

04:38:00 pm , 813 words, 3151 views     Categories: TV, Space Dandy

Space Dandy #14

Dandy & co are back after a few months' absence with another season. I missed the show and I'm glad to get to see more. It's got a nicely balanced combination of silliness and creative animation and design work that makes it easy to watch. It's space opera via the cartoon. I can't get enough.

The show comes back with a bang. Writer Kimiko Ueno delivers one the most absurd episodes yet: Dandy & co. are beset by a horde of parallel universe doppelgangers. Storyboarding this material into great entertainment is Goro Taniguchi, who gave us the racing episode, one of the other most entertaining episodes in the show.

The episode plays up the parallel universe aspect that has been hinted at since the beginning, revealing the truth in one go without any real fanfare, almost like an afterthought. Which is perfect for this show.

Dandy seems to remember being a truck driver in a past life, and it turns out he was actually remembering an alternative universe version of himself. The episode regales us with a bunch of different visions of how Bones' Space Dandy could have gone. We could have had a typical cheesy anime version where he's a cool bidanshi and Honey is an annoying sqeaky-voiced anime babe hanging off his neck. Or the Osamu Tezuka version where QT speaks in autotune. The afro-haired Ideon Dandy with a Ganga Rubu QT. Space Ninja Dandy headed by Char Dandy. Space Cop Dandy starring Cobra Dandy. Essentially the episode lets Dandy play dress-up as all of the classic space anime heroes of yore. We even get an Attack on Titan Dandy. I mentioned being reminded of Schrodinger's Cat in a previous episode, and one of Meow's incarnation here is a Schrodinger's Alien.

If the show's gimmick has been its variety of designs by different folks, this episode is the biggest bash of that aspect yet. It featured one-shot designs by no less than 8 folks, all in completely different styles befitting completely different shows. Apparently the reason for this large number of designs is this: the designs were not actually made for this episode but were the early pre-production design ideas for what direction to go with the show. So the parallel universes we're seeing are actually, not metaphorically, different versions of the show that might have been. That's a clever way of utilizing pre-production work that would otherwise have gone unused.

I'm particularly partial to Naoyuki Asano's heta-uma Space Ninja team, but there's lots of great fun designs in there. Yoshimichi Kameda's sex doll girl looks like an homage to Lasa from Birth. What was that white substance on her face supposed to be? It didn't look like tears to me. Kameda also designed the seemingly Tezuka manga-inspired Goku Dandy & crew. Talented designer Shigeto Koyama, who most recently worked on Kill La Kill, provided some very stylish designs for the blue-haired Dandy crew. Yutaka Nakamura, of all people, provided some designs - a first for the animator as far as I'm aware. There are so many new designs that they didn't even show all the designs on the home page this time around. I don't know who designed the Ideon crew, but I appreciate the thought that went into the design: Dandy looks like he has Lupin's face and Cosmo's hair. Add that to the growing list of Ideon references in the show.

On the animator side of things, there's a lot of fun work in there in disparate styles befitting the different designs. I'm assuming Naoyuki Asano animated his own Space Ninja team, which moves with the same heta-uma aesthetic as the music video he did recently. I think the attack of Meow in the blue-haired bidanshi Dandy scene was animated by Kanada-school animator Toshiyuki Sato, who provided the scene in the hallway in the zombie episode. I like the drawings of the slot machine scene, but I can't ID the animator. Stepping through the drawings, I was surprised to find some subliminal advertising for Pocari Sweat and Domino's Pizza.

Yoshimichi Kameda's Goku characters were animated with verve first by Norifumi Kugai and then Bahi JD. Bahi's section is shorter this time but just as densely packed as the bit he did in episode 1, with the crew being tossed around in the air by an attacking enemy, in the process doing a bunch of quick actions in mid-air such as Dandy attempting to surf on Meow. Goku Dandy is a Michael Jackson wannabe, so he does the moves, but they're not quite right. His moonwalk looks like him running backwards. Eagle-eyed Jackson fans will spot some typical 90s Jackson moves packed into Bahi's brief but dense attack shot. I think I would have liked to see this Dandy with a show of his own. Gosei Oda and Shintaro Doge are there, too, but I couldn't ID their work this time around.