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Friday, January 19, 2007

12:14:42 am , 1581 words, 14503 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Music Video, Yasuhiro Aoki

Amazing Nuts

I finally had a chance to watch Studio 4C's latest project, Amazing Nuts!, and it was very interesting in a lot of ways, not least the actual shorts. But even moreso it was interesting to see how Studio 4C continues to come up with new approaches to creation and distribution. As producer Eiko Tanaka describes it, this project was about killing three birds with one stone: Each short is (1) a standalone music video, (2) a promo pilot for a series or film, and (3) part of a standalone DVD release. Rather than just making standalone shorts as they always have, here they're making a wise investment in their future by trying to tie in their shorts to a future project. I admire that Tanaka is willing to take a chance on a risky project like this. It seems to suggest a possible way for people in the industry to free themselves from the endless mire of having to adapt popular manga in order to get the backing to make anything. Give talented creators a chance to create original works like this and see the results. Use the talent that's there rather than relying so much on another unrelated field. Having seen the shorts, I can say that they are all interesting in their own way. Two are entertainment, one is artsy, one is for (weird) children. They each work as a unit, and each seem to have their own future potential. The two traditionally animated shorts are full of interesting ideas and are the obvious major candidates for future expansion. I could see those two becoming popular TV shows. Another aspect of Tanaka's gambit is directly involving fans by the DVD method, so that they can make their voice heard in terms of what they would like to see. I remember how the results of the online Mind Game questionnaire were directly applied to the DVD release.

I was also impressed by the DVD package. The set comes in two version, a basic version and a full version. The full version comes with a big book containing lots of interviews as well as the full storyboard for the two shorts that had a storyboard, and a long interview DVD. Personally I came into this almost solely to see Yasuhiro Aoki's film. I was very happy with Studio 4C for giving him the chance to make his own film, and was eager to see the result. The result did not disappoint, but I also came away with not just that but an interview with the man as well as his full storyboard for the film, so as a fan I couldn't be happier. Studio 4C obviously understands that, and created a package that is very rewarding to fans who truly love the act of creation that is animation, want to know more about its every step, and want to support their favorite creators. Connecting the creators to the fans in this way is one of the things I most like about Studio 4C. I remember Tadanari Okamoto talking about how a similar idea of tying fans into the creation-support loop.

As a producer, Tanaka appears to be starting to try to take more control of things. I get the distinct impression that she mistakenly blames the studio's director-centric approach for Mind Game's not having become a big hit (how could it have become a megahit playing in three theaters and nobody knowing it even existed?), and is trying to take a more active part in the projects now, as she did in the studio's recent Black & White film, where she had direct input into the film in the American style. This also feels the case here, where Tanaka's concept is the driving force. Nonetheless in each project we still get to see a talented creator's voice very clearly and distinctly expressed, so the studio's major appeal has thankfully not changed.

As for the films, the first thing that strikes you is that each short looks and feels nothing like any of the others. It doesn't feel like they're just changing the look and style in a narrow stylistic sense for variety's sake, but rather that each director's unique approach and the unique nature of the material give rise to a different set of production methods. That is also something the studio has been known for. One film might demand detailed CG set, one might demand intricate and lively cel animation, one might demand a blend of CG and live action. Interestingly, apparently this is just the first sally in the series, and several other shorts are in different stages of production at the moment.

I came in aware of only two of the creators working on this set - Yasuhiro Aoki and Daisuke Nakayama. I knew their films would be interesting, but wasn't sure about the rest. Glass Eye was an interesting poetic meditation that I liked because it felt distinct from anything else I've seen from the studio. A writer with no experience in animation was brought in to direct the film because they had liked the very visual nature of a script he had written. I've often felt that some of the more refreshing and unexpected approaches to animation have come from people with no experience in animation like this. The other film was a much more commercial full-CGI film about a diva, but even this I could see finding its own niche on morning TV. Daisuke Nakayama's film was a revelation about the man's vivid and assured style. We'd seen design work from him before, but it feels like this is what he's been really wanting to do the whole time - wild, fun, somewhat western-influence cartoony mayhem, like a hip-hop version of Imaishi. I could see this being popular in the west.

But by far the film that appealed the most to me, personally, was Yasuhiro Aoki's Kung-Fu Love. It was a very accomplished film for a mere 10 minutes, full of the subtle humour and inventive directing I've come to expect from Aoki, with lots of excitingly choreographed and lovingly animated action, a very original approach to color full of radiant hues that make for consistently ravishing viewing, fun and catchy characters, a great story setup with lots of little subversive touches here and there courtesy of writer Shinji Obara, all of it gelling perfectly into compellingly unique whole that tantalizingly hints at a vast canvas that you come away hungering to know more about. Very successful both as a pilot and a short film. I hope we can see this hint of greatness given the chance to flower that it deserves. Apparently Aoki had in fact drawn enough storyboard and other background material to fill a full-length feature, but had to whittle all that down to a mere 10 minutes. I hope that one day we can see the full-length film that Aoki already had conceived fully-formed in his head. I could also see this working just as well as a TV series. Aoki has an intrinsically filmic approach - every shot is perfectly composed and thought out, every element of the screen communicates something interesting, and the rhythm is masterfully controlled. Aoki is a great entertainer. I could see him becoming a great director.

The timing and the forms of the animation in the short are also distinctive and hint at the huge amount of research and work Aoki obviously put into coming up with an original style of animation for the action that is at the heart of the film. Taking a hint from Hong Kong action flicks, the action shifts between very precise and fast action and extremely detailed and fluidly animated slo-mo shots that give the viewer a lingering and detailed look at the speedy moves that just flashed before our eyes. Testament to the effort that went into the animation is the fact that roughly 8000 drawings were used in the 10-minute film, which is about 5 times the volume of an average TV episode. I recall there was a slo-mo shot of Shiela cooking a pancake near the end of the last episodes of Tweeny Witches that Aoki did, #38, which in retrospect seems to point towards the slo-mo aesthetic in Kung-Fu Love. Aoki's surreal, somewhat meta sense of humor comes through pretty well in certain scenes, such as the scene where the two lovers argue in the ryokan. There's always an unexpected little amusing element somewhere livening things up. Sometimes he has a cunning strategy of tricking the viewer into focusing on a main action and then having something strange going on somewhere else on the screen, sort of in the spirit of the ball experiment by Daniel Simons. Revealing about Aoki's approach is a comment in the storyboard to the animator of the scene where the two lovers are sitting on the beach: "Put more effort into making the cat do things". We see the two protagonists sitting there without moving too much, but the cat is doing all these funny antics beside them. It's an intriguing method of hilighting the main action. Of course, a big part of this project is the collaboration with Japanese pop artists, and Aoki's protagonist was lovingly modeled after the singer of the song, Kumi Koda. Aoki is a real pro who approaches his work with sincerity and tremendous gusto. It feels like he's just reaching the peak of his powers, and I hope we get to see that energy put to good use in the coming years.

Kung-Fu Love

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15 comments

Q
Q [Visitor]

I love how the intense and colorful visual style 4°C is known for never seems to fade.
I absolutely love the 1rst short, it was perfect for song.
Where can one order the full version dvd you mention?

01/19/07 @ 11:36
Ben [Member]  

Any importer of Japanese R2 media such as CDjapan.

01/19/07 @ 11:42
Neil Clingerman
Neil Clingerman [Visitor]

Just watched it, and I’d have to agree with Ben on the short Kung Fu Love, it was awesome.

My problem with this whole thing is the lack of good music, it really takes away from teh animation, I had to dig through my own library to replace the pop-drivel that that was put to this stuff…

Also, got to see fluximation, same story, except the animation was made for Utada, so I had to just bear with it… Really liked Cannabis’ short, the intro by morimoto, and the short titled “You make me want to be a man". Who animated that last one? I was impressed enough by it that it overwhelmed the badness of the drivel pop music :P.

01/21/07 @ 14:28
Ben [Member]  

I think that last one was by Morimoto’s wife, Atsuko Fukushima. Good that we’ll finally be able to see some more serious work from her in the upcoming Genius Party. She’s still so good even after all this time not doing that much work.

01/21/07 @ 17:02
William Masssie
William Masssie [Visitor]

Great post as always Mr. E, It’s a shame that it’s difficult to get Studio 4Degrees C works in this country (USA), or the fact that it’s so rare to see interesting sakuga anime in the first place, Denno Coli sounds like something to behold though.
On a random note, I had randomly stumbled upon an anime episode with surprisingly strong (although very restrained) character drawings in it. The respective anime is death note, I had already appreciated it for it’s atmospheric direction and mature feel but episode 14 seemed a step above all the others because of the especially solid character drawings and attention to animation on the mouths, this is above the stubbornly average work of the rest of the series at least. I have no idea who worked on it, but I feel it was only a few select people who animated on that particular ep or even a one man show maybe?This is a Madhouse production so it’s probable they have at least one animator worthy of praise, the 1st episode had some fair drawings/movement in it as well (in some parts). In retrospect, I suppose it’s not anything too noteworthy scince the show has little to no action and this episode is really mainly talking heads, but it seemed signifiganct if only for the fact helped with the feel for the show. Plus there is WAY too much cheating in the animation of mouths in anime anyways :p

01/24/07 @ 00:05
Ben [Member]  

They did put some effort into moving the chins, didn’t they (if nothing else). In any case, it wasn’t a one man effort. I haven’t seen the other episodes to be able to make any comparison, but it seems probable that any difference in the feeling of the character drawings here is because of the animation director of this particular episode, Junichi Takaoka.

01/24/07 @ 19:34
KNDY
KNDY [Visitor]

Greetings, I just want to write and say that I love your review.

I’m actually sitting here writing my review on “Amazing Nuts” regular, special edition and the soundtrack/DVD. Although my review tackles more on the music interaction with the animation and the different releases (I leave the technical aspects of animation to you guys), but just wanted to say that I really enjoyed what you wrote.

My personal favorite was GLASS EYE. I found the whole short awesomely beautiful.

Each short definitely made me wanting more. So, I think that Studio 4C and Tanaka may have accomplished what they wanted to do. With Avex investing so much into entertainment outside of music, I hope to see more projects like this.

For those wanting to purchase “Amazing Nuts!", I highly recommend getting the box set. The making of DVD and the booklet warrants a purchase of the box set. The single DVD is still cool but spend the extra $20 and get the box set.

As for possibility of a release in the US, I would think that there is a possibility because of ADV Films picking up a lot of anime films which feature Avex artists or production teams. So, I would imagine there is a chance for a US release. We’ll see.

Anyway, keep up the great work, just wanted to give a shout out to you and back to lurking!

kndy

01/24/07 @ 22:47
Ben [Member]  

Thanks very much for the word of support, kndy. Looking forward to reading your review. I know I didn’t really give a comprehensive review or focus enough on the music tie-in aspect. I also kind of wish I had spent a little more time going over each of the pieces in depth, now that I look over this post, especially Glass Eye, which I liked a lot more than I make out.

01/27/07 @ 11:35
kndy
kndy [Visitor]

Hi everyone,

I asked the anime division of AVEX to see if there were any pitches to any anime companies for release and unfortunately, I don’t think there were any takers. The trailer received interest but they had received no reaction on the full release at all (which is not a good thing). The producers hoped to expand the project by one or two more episodes but at this time nothing is known.

kndy

02/01/07 @ 10:49
NeoTokyoLabyrinth
NeoTokyoLabyrinth [Visitor]

Death Note looks really good, there’s some wonderful animation in it. Madhouse generally tend to have a pretty high standard, It’s interesting that they seem to be top pick for Shonen Jump Advanced adaptations, what with Death Note and the upcoming Claymore, Naruto and Bleach look good thanks to Studio Pierrot and Madhouse is handling the more adult stuff.

03/11/07 @ 05:29
wayne
wayne [Visitor]  

I was hoping Kung-Fu Love could be a full fledged anime instead of just a short. The animation is so unique and eye catching. I think if a petition is made from fans something might come of it.

11/24/07 @ 21:35
austin
austin [Visitor]  

loved it just seeing the demo of it i can tell it’s gonna be great.

07/19/08 @ 21:55
person
person [Visitor]

I flipp’in love Kung Fu Love. I hope they do make a film or series for it and Global Astroliner. Maybe if enough people ask for it (or demand it >:D)They’ll make it.

12/01/09 @ 17:28
Ben [Member]  

I just want to tell 4C: Look at all the comments on Youtube! I was clearly not wrong in guessing that this thing would go over well with fans over here, and that people would want to see a TV series made out of this pilot. Of course, it can’t be helped if they shopped the series around to potential sponsors and no one bit, considering the very difficult environment the industry finds itself in right now, so I don’t really blame them. I’m sure they would have done it if they had had the opportunity. I don’t think it’s too late, though. Who knows, maybe there’s still a chance it will get produced if the right sponsor steps up. If that ever does happen, I hope that fans who liked the pilot will do the right thing and be there to support such a worthwhile project not just morally but with their pocketbooks. Studios that dare to create something of value that doesn’t cater slavishly to the lowest common denominator need our support.

Anyway, yeah, definitely, ask them! If everyone who wants to see this made into a series tells Studio 4C that they want it done, it can only help.

12/02/09 @ 10:28
UB
UB [Visitor]  

I don’t see the big deal about Kung Fu Love. Global Astroliner is the best by far.

12/26/09 @ 19:52