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Category: Anime R

Friday, October 18, 2013

07:39:00 pm , 2099 words, 11011 views     Categories: OVA, Anime R, Dove, Toshifumi Takizawa

New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine

In this day and age when every other anime is fantasy anime, it's hard to conceive of a time when there was no fantasy anime. But such was the case around the time of Aura Battler Dunbine in 1983.

Created and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino at Sunrise in 1983, Dunbine was one of the pioneer fantasy anime. Tomino pumped out one classic show after another during these years when he came unto his own as a creator and director. Just the year before in 1982, he directed the classic Xabungle TV series and Ideon: Be Invoked movie. His work prior to Dunbine was basically sci-fi robot anime, but with Dunbine he went in a new direction.

Largely influenced by Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa manga (the movie wasn't released until the year after), Dunbine was one of the groundbreaking fantasy anime, made at a time when audiences weren't used to fantasy anime, and the show paid the price for it. With its daring insectoid mecha designs, kids hated the toys. This placed pressures on the show's toy sponsor, Clover, that appear to have led to Clover shortly going out of business. The show was forced to switch the setting from the fantasy world of Byson Well to modern-day Tokyo in the second half.

Despite this shaky start, Dunbine continued to live on in various media, most notably the novel format. The 1980s were the auteur boom in anime, and Tomino attempted to blossom into an auteur. He penned novels to flesh out the world of Byston Well, two of which eventually got adapted into anime: Garzey's Wing (3 eps, 1996) and The Wings of Rean (6 eps, 2005-2006).

But the very first anime continuation actually came just a few years after the TV show: the 3-episode New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine. Tomino had a habit of releasing compilations of every TV show he directed, and Dunbine was no exception. A novel approach explored with the Dunbine collection was to include a new 30-minute OVA with each compilation.

New Story takes place 700 years after the events of the TV series, and tells the story of a young boy and girl who fight a group of so-called "Black Knights" seeking to recover a legendary Aura Battler to conquer the land of Byston Well. The characters are mostly new, but apparently the boy and girl are a resurrection of the protagonists of the TV series, and the evil mummy who seeks to re-open the door connecting Byston Well to our world is a character who was doomed to eternal life at the end of the TV show. It's actually all rather confusing because you are just plunged right into the action without any explanation. A basic knowledge of the premise of the Aura Battler mecha is obviously assumed, since these OVAs appended compilations of the TV show.

The story progresses quite quickly and without any undue exposition, not wasting a minute of its meager three episode allotment. The fantasy world is richly expressed, with many colorful creatures and settings. The whole story evolves over one quick arc of action, with the tables turning several times leading up to the cataclysmic denouement that you expect of a Tomino production. The influence of Nausicaa is quite palpable in the overall world view, style, and monster designs. A millipede-like underground monster immediately reminds of the flying millipede monster that attacked Nausicaa underground. For good or ill, however, the story avoids the thematic complexity of Nausicaa, opting instead for stock heroism and nonstop battle.

Directed by erstwhile Tomino associate Toshifumi Takizawa, New Story is a visually unique and intense fantasy that for all its cacophany of constant action comes across as underwhelming somehow. What New Story has going for it is that it's a tautly directed sprint across the land of Byston Well, with far more of a focus on the hardcore fantasy elements than the original TV series. Cramming in so much story into three episodes is a risky endeavor that I can't say pays off completely, but it's an intense ride that grips you from start to finish. Tomino regretted not having started the TV show out with more of a bang, and felt the show never recovered from starting on the wrong foot, so perhaps this is what led to the peremptory dash of New Story.

By 1988 Takizawa was a great talent in his own right, but he never had pretensions of auteur-dom like Tomino, so he didn't have the sort of identifiable traits that help make such directors popular, but rather remained a pliable craftsman, adapting himself to whatever he worked on to invest it with his own brand of taut cinematic storytelling. In New Story, Takizawa does a good job of emulating a Tomino-esque style of directing. The show has all of the breakneck pacing and manic cutting that are staples of Tomino's work - the cinematic framing with characters engaging in actions while talking rather than straight shots of talking heads, the sequences of pans and zooms to maintain a feeling of forward narrative momentum. The presentation is so determinedly oblique and frenetic, in fact, that it renders the story somewhat hard to follow at times, true to the Tomino aesthetic.

What sets the series apart and makes it notable is its production style: The mecha are mostly drawn with background drawings rather than animation drawings. Typically in anime you have the animation drawings, drawn on cels with flat colors, overlaid over the backgrounds drawn by the art department. Sometimes if you need a bush or something "in front of" a character, you will have something called a "book" - basically a piece of background art drawn by the art department, but with its outline cut out so that it can be placed on top of the animation drawing. This makes it seem like the background surrounds the characters.

What seems to be happening in New Story is that they've drawn all the mecha as books. Either this, or they invented some new technique to allow them to paint on cels the way Tadanari Okamodo did in The Soba Flower of Mt. Oni (which I obviously doubt). So you basically have the mecha drawn as background art in the midst of a shot in which all of the rest of the character and effect animation is drawn on cels, which have a completely different color scheme that makes the difference quite stark. It actually contributes well to giving the OVA a more fantastical atmosphere befitting the material. We're accustomed to seeing mecha in the simplified forms and flat colors of cel animation, so it feels sumptuous to see the mecha rendered this way. Rather than a toy advertisement, it actually feels like a fantasy world. The monolithic, plodding movement that results from having to use a single drawing also contributes to imparting a feeling of the vast size of the mecha.

Above you can see some examples of the art mecha drawings interacting with the cel drawings. It makes for a slightly unsettling experience, as it upturns how we've been trained through experience to parse the animation screen. Normally the cel drawings can affect the backgrounds, but not vice-versa. Here, the background drawings are affecting the background drawings. For example, in the left drawing, the art mecha crashes into the art wall, producing cel bricks and dust.

This is an unusual choice for a mecha show, since the whole point of using animated drawings is so that you can simplify the drawings to complete the animation in a shorter time. It's not unprecedented, though. Nausicaa was the show's big influence in many ways, so it's possible that the Ohmu were the inspiration behind this technique. It also brings to mind the way the castle in Howl was animated with patches of background art to give it that special look. Coincidentally or not, the photography director of most of the great Sunrise OVAs of this period, including New Story, was Atsushi Okui, the guy who went on to come up with that special way of animating the castle in Howl.

This technique must have been adopted in order to bring alive the unique mecha art drawn by Yutaka Izubuchi. The original mecha designer of the TV show was Miyatake Kazutaka, and he is the one who pioneered the more daring, organic, non-linear designs that make Dunbine unique, but Izubuchi gradually wound up taking over as designer on the TV show. A book of his artwork called Aura Fhantasm pushed this design aesthetic even further, featuring far more organic and daring drawings than the original TV show, really bringing out the insectoid nature of the designs.

Above is an example showing the contrast. The only way to bring these drawings alive would be to draw them as background art, and I assume that is what led to this approach being adopted for this OVA series. This would have been impossible in a TV show, but perhaps the OVA format allowed them more liberties. I'm curious whether this would have had the effect of lengthening or shortening the production process, since it cuts down on the number of drawings but conversely requires more complicated drawings.

There are actually some shots where the mecha are drawn as usual on cels, which is confusing. I'm guessing that rather than this being a time constraint thing, there were simply occasional shots that required actual movement to convey the action, which wouldn't be possible with a single art drawing panning across the screen. Apparently the stylistic mismatch didn't bother them - it's actually confusing when suddenly, from one shot to the next, the mecha look completely different, with the flat colors of cel shading. This highlights the fact that, although visually sumptuous, the downside of this technique of using bg art for the mecha is that it is somewhat static and lacking in dynamism. No sprightly mecha fights when the mecha are art drawings - only looming pans.

The staff side of things is fairly different from the TV series, which contributes to making the OVA feel distinct. The character designer is Takehiko Ito (under the pen name Hiroyuki Hataike) rather than Bebow's Tomonori Kogawa, and the mecha designer is Yutaka Izubuchi rather than Miyatake Kazutaka. The music is by Reijiro Koroku rather than Tsubonou Katsuhiro. (Koroku was a student of Koichi Sugiyama, who did the music for Ideon) And of course, the storyboarder/director is Tomonori Kogawa rather than Tomino. I'm rather fond of the music, which has a stridently modernist sound that reminds of a contemporary composer like Wolfgang Rihm.

The animation is the product of the same studios I talked about last time: Anime R and Dove. Not surprising given how constant a presence they are in (non-Tomino) Sunrise productions of this era. Anime R basically sakkans Dove's animation. Moriyasu Taniguchi is the sakkan and Toru Yoshida is the mecha sakkan, while the animators are the main Dove animators in Mellowlink: Hiroshi Koizumi, Nobuyoshi Nishimura, Misao Nakano and Shinichi Sakuma. Mellowlink was produced by this same team immediately after New Story. Of course, due to the nature of the production, that doesn't leave Toru Yoshida much to do, but perhaps the mecha animation wasn't entirely handled by the background department, but rather done like a Dezaki 'harmony' shot, in which they key animator draws a drawing, and this is painted over by the art department. Perhaps Yutaka Izubuchi himself even helped with the mecha drawings. The credits are unhelpful in this regard.

The annoying thing is that something went wrong with the animation and the character drawings are not up to the level that they should be in view of this staffing. There is some decent animation, but much of it is marred by sub-par drawings in which the proportions seems to be wavering dangerously close to falling apart. The drawings are wobbly and weak in a way that reminds me of Good Morning Althea, which leads me to suspect that the inbetweens are the problem. But the inbetweens are by Dove, so I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, this is not nearly as good a showcase of Anime R and Dove as their next project Mellowlink.


New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine (OVA, 3 eps, 1988, Sunrise)

Creator & Supervisor:富野由悠季Yoshiyuki Tomino
Director & Storyboard:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
Line Director:篠幸裕Yukihiro Shino
Script:五武冬史Fuyunori Gobu
Character Design:幡池裕行Hiroyuki Hataike
Mechanical Design & Special Advisor:出渕裕Yutaka Izubuchi
Animation Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Mecha Animation Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Music:小六禮次郎Reijiro Koroku
Key Animation:(ep 1)スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
(ep 2)スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
(ep 3)スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
 佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
 アニメ・アールAnime R
 吉田徹Toru Yoshida
 糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

05:48:00 pm , 3249 words, 10353 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Anime R, Dove, Toshifumi Takizawa

Armor Hunter Mellowlink

I've already written about the canonical analog outings of Armored Trooper Votoms: the TV show, the three early one-shot OVAs, and Radiant Heretic. The only show from the early period I didn't cover in that post was Armor Hunter Mellowlink, which is a side-story not involving the main characters in the rest of the Votoms productions. I just had the chance to watch it, and it was every bit as good as I was expecting. As much as I love the Votoms saga, it's a huge endeavor to get into it. Mellowlink is a dense, high-quality, 12-episode summation of what makes Votoms best in a one-shot series format that doesn't require piecing together a long, complicated story. It might be the best place to start for newcomers.

Mellowlink is a more unmitigatedly serious story than it might seem at first sight from the bland, boyish character design of its protagonist, who looks like a young Shirotzugh. It makes for nice viewing because it focuses largely on pushing forward with its uncomplicated linear narrative arc without wasting too much breath on side-stories or world building or other genre conventions. It's mostly a straight-up hardcore military revenge flick. Despite being borne of a robot show, it's largely devoid of robots. It's more realistic, if not completely realistic per se, with a more down-to-earth, unglamorous style of storytelling. I've always wanted to see this kind of show done in an unmitigatedly realistic style for once, without the token hijinx and predictable storytelling elements, and this show comes closer than most shows, though it still inevitably falls victim to many genre conventions. It's not purely hard-boiled and has some moments of predictably jarring comic relief. However, for a Sunrise production, it's largely devoid of mecha robo tomfoolery, and its tone is for the most part quite serious-minded and unadorned in a pleasing way.

Mellowlink is essentially a story of revenge. Mellowlink Arity was a member of a platoon that was sent to certain death to cover the theft of a military arsenal by a band of corrupt military commanders. The skilled platoon fights valiantly but is eventually overcome, and all but Mellow are killed. Mellow's unexpected survival throws a wrench in the plans, so Mellow is made the scapegoat in a show trial to deflect blame for the scandal. However, he escapes and vows to hunt down the men responsible for the death of his comrades. The series is essentially broken down into two halves. Each of the first six episodes are stand-alone episodes in which Mellow hunts down a military commander involved in the scandal, while the second half is a continuous story that gradually ties all the threads together and reveals the sordid machinations of the military.

Mellowlink is set in the same universe as the rest of Votoms, but features a completely different cast, and presumably takes place on the sidelines of the main show. Whereas Votoms features sci-fi trappings like spaceships and teleportation in addition to more realistic Vietnam-style stories, Mellowlink omits the sci-fi and hones things down to the (IMO more appealing and characteristic) realistic war-story facet of the saga embodied by the 2nd arc of the original TV show, the Kumen Arc. Indeed, the Kumen jungle features in episode 3 of Mellowlink, while episode 2 of Mellowlink harkens back to the first arc of the TV show, the Udo arc, with its dystopian future city and AT battling arena.

Directed by Takeyuki Kanda rather than Ryosuke Takahashi, Mellowlink does for Votoms what The 08th MS Platoon later did for Gundam: explore the down and dirty world of the grunts of their respective universes in a high-quality OVA side-story. Kanda had helped Ryosuke Takahashi direct his first robot show Dougram from 1981 to 1983 and later worked with Takahashi on the two sub OVAs Silent Service and Deep Blue Fleet. He died midway through production of The 08th MS Team. He is perhaps best known for Round Vernan Vifam, a classic 1980s Sunrise robot show.

Despite being set in the far future, Mellowlink feels cut from the cloth of a WWII film in design and atmosphere. Mellowlink rides around in a motorcycle-sidecar combination, and the outfits and architecture seem to be a mix of Victorian and mid-20th century. If Votoms attempts to eliminate the yuusha/heroic element from the robo anime genre by making the robots nothing but mechanized weapons in the form of mass-produced bipedal tanks, Mellowlink seems to go one step further by creating a robot anime in which the hero doesn't even pilot a robot. The hero specializes in killing ATs with nothing more than his wits and an anti-AT rifle, the robo anime equivalent of an anti-tank rifle.

Mellow studiously avoids killing anyone except his intended victims, namely the ranking commanders who ordered his platoon's death. He never kills any underlings, only targeting the higher-ups who use foot soldiers such as himself as throwaway pawns. In true kataki-uchi samurai movie fashion, before killing his victim, he hands them the dog tag of one of his fallen comrades to drive home the justice of his revenge. He is a stoic combination of commando and MacGyver. Overwhelmingly outgunned, he he uses his wits, his surroundings, and his foot soldier training to outwit his opponents. At the final moment, he smears his face with blood, oil or whatever liquid is available and makes it a point to kill his victim not with a bullet but with the bayonet-like Pile Bunker on the end of his anti-AT rifle. This is critical to his revenge. His platoon was stripped of its ATs and sent to certain death armed with nothing but these archaic weapons, so Mellow makes it a point of pride to kill his enemies in the overwhelmingly outgunned state in which they left him.

Mellow is a simple character both in design and script. His expression is one of permanent glowering, he never smiles, and on the rare occasion that he speaks, it only in relation to his cause. His personality is not very complex, and we don't learn much about him beyond his single-minded quest. He is a no-nonsense revenge machine deliberately pared down to steely sinew and purpose. The show fills the void of personality with the mysterious side characters whose significance is revealed apace. Mellow is there as a vehicle to tell a story about military corruption and to provide for a charismatic hero in the spirit of Chirico Cuvie, his obvious model. Mellow is a more likeable character because he is not a superhuman like Chirico. His wits and military training are what keep him alive, not some supernatural agency. A tragic sense of purpose lies behind Mellow's strong, silent personality, but deep down he's a sensitive kid who can get flustered by a beautiful girl.

The series feels tight and well structured. Its pacing feels just right for the story it tells. It's entertaining, with nice action sequences, and the plot about military cover-ups that gradually unfolds is satisfyingly believable, perhaps having vaguely been inspired by the recent Iran-Contra affair. It's not a space opera with battling heroes, but a grimy story about the dirty underbelly of political machinations within military organizations, which see soldiers as nothing more than cannon fodder. Mellowlink is the kind of anti-hero who we want to root for: simple and oblivious to political intrigue, he is only out to do what is right by his sense of basic human justice, and single-handedly faces down the powers that be with the ingenuity and determination of a lone wolf.

The recurring character Kiek is interesting, as he develops into an important plot element later on, but to the end the female sidekick/romantic interest Lulucy felt as superfluous and distracting as the side-characters in Votoms. The story of a girl of royal lineage who ran away to become a roving card dealer seems thrown in and poorly developed, and it never feels believable for a girl like her to be tagging along with Mellow as he sprints around killing ATs with a giant rifle. That aspect feels like one of the show's weakest points.

The episodic nature of the show makes each episode a surprise by providing Mellowlink with new terrain in which to work his battle tactics. The pithy one-word English episode naming seems appropriate to the terse atmosphere, and also serves to indicate the new battlefield of each episode. It's very entertaining watching how a lone individual can outgun an AT using the most basic of technologies (an AT rifle and mines) through clever tactics. In episode 1 he infiltrates a military base and lures out its commander, engaging in a one-on-one in desert-like terrain. In episode 2 he fights in the jungle. In episode 3 he battles it out in the arena.

Episode 4 is perhaps my favorite in the series. Storyboarded by series director Takeyuki Kanda and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe in one of his earliest jobs as director, it's a masterful example of visual storytelling. Most of the episode transpires without dialogue. The hunter becomes the hunted as Mellow is lured by one of his targets into the interior of a wrecked battleship with its nose rammed into the earth. The ship is tilted at an angle, so all of the action in the episode takes place at an angle, creating a disorienting effect that makes the action all the more tense and unpredictable, as the characters are struggling at every moment to maintain their balance in their surroundings. The best part is that no mecha whatsoever are present in the episode (except as physical obstacles). This seems like the ultimate expression of the whole Votoms universe to me. First you turn the heroic mecha robo into nothing but war machines, then you have the hero not even pilot a robo, then you strip away the robos altogether, and you get to what, deep down, the show was about all along: a tense, realistic, detail-oriented action-heavy hard-sci-fi thriller, devoid of the MacGuffins.

Episode 5 is a flashback episode that fills us in on the background. Written by Ryosuke Takahashi himself to get the details of this important setup episode right, it avoids being a straight "flashback" episode by having Mellowlink wandering through the desert and supposedly hallucinate a dream in which he re-lives the events that led to his platoon getting massacred. The death of Mellowlink's platoon doesn't have much emotional impact because we had never seen the characters until a minute before they're killed, but I don't mind this. It was obviously done this way due to length constraints, but I prefer this to being regaled with episode after episode of meaningless character development that is obviously merely there to manipulate me into feeling for characters whose fate is to die. The flashback ends just as Mellowlink escapes from the courtroom, cleverly avoiding the task of fleshing out precisely how he achieved such an improbable feat, surrounded as he was by armed soldiers.

Set in a prison, episode 6 is one of the weaker episodes, although there's nothing technically wrong with it. I just don't like its ill-conceived mix of brutality and cutesiness. It has some powerful torture scenes that set a heavy tone for the episode, only to be followed up immediately by scenes of cute anime girls dancing on a stage. It's like going from Violence Jack to Creamy Mami in the same episode. Obviously it wasn't possible for Takahashi to excise all of the conventions and create something of a truly uniform tone until later with Pailsen Files, although Takahashi is an entertainer first and foremost, and has himself said that he doesn't want to make dark stories, so I'm sure he signed off on the lighter elements in Votoms as well as here. I obviously have expectations of Votoms not on par with those of the creator.

The episodes from 7 onward continue with a continuing story that comes to a head with the gradual revelation of the truth behind the scandal.

The animation

Mellowlink is the summum opus of the two studios behind the best of Votoms: Anime R and Dove. This is the ultimate expression of their work on the show, as the two never worked on the show again in such a solo fashion, although Toru Yoshida did act as mecha sakkan on Radiant Heretic along with a few scattered R/Dove animators. The combination of good storytelling and animation by R and Dove make Mellowlink a supreme pleasure to watch, one of the best OVAs of the period that nobody has seen.

The mecha action scenes that are the calling card of the show are thrilling and dense. There's a style of hand-drawn mecha action here that was a product of the age and can no longer be seen anywhere. Even within a few years on a show like Gundam 0083 the style of the mecha action is already very different - heavier, more laborious, less dynamic and pliable. The years around 1988-1989 are among my favorite years for mecha animation.

Moriyasu Taniguchi's characters meanwhile are appealingly designed without being quite as idiosyncratic as SPT Layzner. Character animation was never the forte of Dove or R, per se, but the characters are for the most part satisfyingly animated due to Taniguchi's stylish corrections, even if sometimes you wish the expressions and body language were a little more dynamic. R seems to invest the characters with a little more spontaneity and verve that is the product of the studio's culture that was more forgiving of personality and play than Dove. That comes through in the animation. Dove's animation remains solid and professional, while R's is more willful and nuanced.

R and Dove essentially alternate handling an episode, although there is a lot of overlap, some of which is due to the extenuating circumstance of the death of Hiroshi Koizumi midway through production. This is the last Votoms outing featuring the two studios that defined the show up until that point. The next outing, Radiant Heretic, switches up the staff.

The main differences between Mellowlink and the rest of Votoms is: the characters here are designed by Moriyasu Taniguchi of Anime R, rather than Norio Shioyama, and the director is not Takahashi Ryosuke but Takeyuki Kanda (who also storyboards episodes 2, 5, 8 and 11 under the pen name Yuichiro Yokoyama). Also, Soji Yoshikawa is not involved as a writer. Otherwise, Ryosuke Takahashi handles the series structure and writes two episodes, episode 5 and 11. Hiroki Inui provides another lovely noodling avant-jazz score, and Kunio Okawara designs the mecha, as in the rest of Votoms.

Toru Yoshida of Anime R is the mecha sakkan for the Anime R episodes, and his mecha and effects are beautiful. At this period of time Anime R still had most of its best animators, and they put their all into their episodes here. Hiroyuki Okiura even shows up for a bit in the last episode. Dove, meanwhile, was at the height of its powers, and Hiroshi Koizumi did the last work of his tragically brief life in episode 6. It seems the show was originally supposed to be produced entirely by these two studios, but this changed with the death of Hiroshi Koizumi, and they had to start calling in other studios from episode 6 onwards to finish the episodes on time. Studio Dove is credited as mecha sakkan in episodes 2 and 4, but this actually means Hiroshi Koizumi.

Apparently the reason for this is that the president of Dove, Tadashi Yahata, had this thing against any single individual gaining attention at Dove; he wanted the studio as a whole to receive credit. Yahata had no need for star animators or individuality, and he placed arduous demands on his animators and was the first to open the door for them to leave if they complained. This is just one aspect of the unforgiving, hard-nosed atmosphere at Dove that drove many animators away from the studio. It's also why you could get talented animators like Hiroshi Koizumi toiling away there and yet not receiving much recognition for their work in their time. It's a philosophy that's the antithesis of a more easygoing and artist-centric studio like Anime R, where play was not just permitted but understood to be the driving force of creativity. And yet the two studios produced magnificent animation that blends perfectly together on a string of Ryosuke Takahashi shows in the late 1980s. It's a strange and beautiful mystery.

The Dove mecha sakkan credit in episode 6 stands for Nobuyoshi Nishimura, who stepped in as pinch hitter to fill in the void left by Hiroshi Koizumi. Toru Yoshida acted as the mecha sakkan on all of the remaining episodes, in which Dove was mostly involved in piecemeal fashion alongside other subcontractors, obviously under considerable systemic stress due to the loss of their lead animator.

On the directing side of things, Takizawa Toshifumi storyboards episode 1, but Takashi Imanishi, Shinji Takamatsu and Shinichiro Watanabe/Takeyuki Kanda take over from there on out, and for the most part do a very fine job indeed. I'm particularly impressed by the Watanabe/Kanda episodes for a reason I find hard to pin down. They have a feeling of more deliberate cinematic presentation. This was only Watanabe's second job as episode director after the Dirty Pair OVAs the previous year. He drew his first storyboard immediately after Mellowlink in 1990.


Armor Hunter Mellowlink 機甲猟兵メロウリンク
(OVA, 12 eps, 1988-1989, Sunrise)

Director:神田武幸Takeyuki Kanda
Created by/Series Structure:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Character Design/Sakkan:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Mechanic Design:大河原邦男Kunio Okawara
Music:乾裕樹Hiroki Inui
Art:平川英治Eiji Hirakawa


Episode 1: Wilderness

Storyboard:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
Director:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
 
アニメアールAnime R
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
浜川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa
小森高博Takahiro Komori
小川瑞恵Mizue Ogawa
福江光恵Mitsue Fukue
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
能地清Kiyoshi Noji


Episode 2: Colosseum

Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
 
Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


Episode 3: Jungle

Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:アニメ・アールAnime R
井上哲Tetsu Inoue
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
小森高博Takahiro Komori
福江光恵Mitsue Fukue
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
 
スタジオ・ムーStudio Mu
黄瀬和哉Kazuchika Kise
山本佐和子Sawako Yamamoto
大島康弘Yasuhiro Oshima


Episode 4: Leaning Tower

Storyboard:高松信司Shinji Takamatsu
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


Episode 5: Battlefield

Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:アニメ・アールAnime R
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
小森高博Takahiro Komori
井上哲Tetsu Inoue
吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
 
スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


Episode 6: Prison

Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
 
堀沢聡志Satoshi Horisawa
武藤照美Terumi Muto
筱雅律Masanori Shino
河村佳江Yoshie Kawamura


Episode 7: Railway

Storyboard:高松信司Shinji Takamatsu
Director:
 
Asst Sakkan:八幡正Tadashi Yahata
Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
Key Animators:西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


Episode 8: Ghost Town

Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
井上哲Tetsu Inoue
小森高博Takahiro Komori
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
福江光恵Mitsue Fukue
吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
光岡玲子Reiko Mitsuoka


Episode 9: Forest

Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Director:
 
Asst Sakkan:山田きさらかKisaraka Yamada
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:スタジオマークStudio Mark
中西賢治Kenji Nakanishi
林伸昌Nobumasa Hayashi
森脇賢治Kenji Moriwaki
高梨光Hikaru Takanashi
 
グループゼンGroup Zen
野田康行Yasuyuki Noda
福原惠次Keiji Fukuhara
藤田正幸Masayuki Fujita
 
武藤照美Terumi Muto
筱雅律Masanori Shino
中沢登Noboru Nakazawa


Episode 10: Castle

Storyboard:高松信司Shinji Takamatsu
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
 
タイガープロダクションTiger Production
宮崎龍四郎Tatsushiro Miyazaki
本間正Tadashi Honma
大戸幸子Yukiko Oe
鈴木佐智子Sachiko Suzuki


Episode 11: Base

Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
藁谷均Hitoshi Waratani
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
津幡佳明Yoshiaki Tsubata


Episode 12: Last Stage

Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:アニメ・アールAnime R
沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
河村佳江Yoshie Kawamura
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
小森高博Takahiro Komori
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
 
スタジオダブStudio Dove
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
 
福井享子Ryoko Fukui
1 commentPermalink

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

02:21:00 pm , 1380 words, 5517 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Anime R

Capricorn

Capricorn (1991) was the next OVA produced by Aubeck after Garaga. This time it's a real OVA, only 47 minutes long. I just watched this for the first time, and can report that it is not worth revisiting. It has nothing of the quality or charm of Garaga. It's just a sloppy, quickly made adaptation of a manga that doesn't work as a story and has virtually no animation of interest to rescue it. The only reason I write about it here is because it involves Anime R, and the reason why it turned out so crappy is more interesting than the OVA itself.

Due to the relative success of Garaga, the production company Aubeck had intended to use the same staff to produce their next project, an adaptation of the mangaka Joji Manabe's Capricorn. Hidemi Kubo was scheduled to be the director and Anime R was to do the animation again. After Hidemi Kubo drew the storyboard, though, for some reason he had to duck out of the project. That was the first blow. Then, due to scheduling problems, Anime R was not able to devote their full energy to the project. In the end, aside from being headlined by animation director Moriyasu Taniguchi and mecha animation director Toru Yoshida, there are just a few second-tier R animators (none of the stars like Hiroshi Osaka or Hiroyuki Okiura) and the rest of the animator team was apparently thrown together in a rush.

After Hidemi Kubo left, Taniguchi took on the job of animation director on the condition of being able to choose who was to direct the project. The person he chose is Takashi Imanishi, whom Taniguchi had worked under recently on the Sunrise projects Votoms, City Hunter and Armor Hunter Mellowlink. Imanishi was still young but Taniguchi was impressed with his work on these projects. Taniguchi also apparently chose Shinichiro Watanabe, who had begun to make the transition to director, but the credits do not show any trace of his presence if he was indeed involved. Imanishi wound up re-drawing the storyboard based on Kubo's storyboard, so sadly there is probably only scant trace of Kubo's touch left. Perhaps another major reason the project feels rushed is that Takashi Imanishi, Toru Yoshida et al. were concurrently putting most of their effort into the big OVA project Gundam 0083. Rather than being a big effort on their part, it feels like they were just pinch hitters brought in to bring the project to completion.

The results really show that this project was made in a rush. The animation is TV quality for the most part. Even the few bits where the animation is somewhat lively, like the scene in the house at the beginning, where the animator draws the character going through some fun posing, and the scene where the dragon girl escapes her captors a little later, don't really feel that impressive. The very loose drawings reminiscent of Urusei Yatsura show that they were trying for a looser style of animation that would enable more playing around, but even in this department the animation does not feel particularly nice. Any random episode of Urusei Yatsura did that kind of animation better. The drawings don't look bad in the same way as Good Morning Althea. They don't feel like they look wrong because of bad inbetweening. They just feel like the animators didn't have time to draw the animation.

The animation doesn't even feel like it bears the very strong imprint of a sakkan, much less one with such an identifiable style as Moriyasu Taniguchi. Either by this time he wasn't drawing things in such an idiosyncratic way as he did on Votoms many years earlier, or he just didn't actually do that many corrections here. Similarly, I don't feel the very strong impression of Toru Yoshida in the mecha. The only times when I feel his imprint are in a few shots of the grub-looking ships flying by. They were clearly his design and probably drawn by him. So all in all, it's pretty disappointing from an Anime R anime. Not the best showcase of Anime R's style. But then again, they were involved in a ton of projects, and I'm sure that most of them are not that impressive.

I'd be inclined to give the show a pass despite the lackluster animation because I'm actually kind of partial to this style of lighthearted, gag-filled, playful anime. But it just doesn't work. The story is too compressed, first of all, so it doesn't work as a film. But more importantly, even the character animation and drawing aren't that great. The characters just aren't funny or fun to watch they way they are supposed to be. Normally I love this kind of fun and playful character designs, with its many wacky characters based on animals with chicken, frog, cat heads, etc. I love shows like Kaiketsu Zorori that have simple kiddie designs that allow the animators to have more fun moving them. But somehow that equation didn't work in favor of Capricorn. They seem to have set out to make it a simple carefree romp giving the animators room to fill it out with playful animation, but perhaps because of the short schedule, it just wound up feeling cheap, without the playfulness that would have been necessary to make the simple design aesthetic work. Incidentally, the show seems to have ripped off another with the same aesthetic, Spaceship Sagittarius, which is also a lighthearted science fiction romp populated by anthropomorphic animals featuring an anthropomorphic frog character who speaks in Osaka-ben.

Incidentally the mangaka Joji Manabe is NOT the same person as the Oh Pro animator Joji Manabe. They are two different people. For a long time I was confused about this and thought they were the same person, assuming the animator had eventually given up animating and switched to drawing manga or something. The name is actually spelled slightly differently: Joji Manabe spelled 真鍋譲治 is the mangaka who debuted in 1984, whereas Joji Manabe spelled 真鍋譲二 is the Oh Pro animator from the 1970s who worked on such things as Lupin series 1 (1971) and 2 (1977-80), Dokonjo Gaeru (1972-74), Heidi (1974) and Galaxy Express 999 (1978-1981).

When I saw the animation of Capricorn, it made me think of Urusei Yatsura, so the first person that came to mind was Yuji Morikawa, the guy whose name is synonymous with pioneering the wildly exaggerated reaction animation with huge mouth and eyes that defines Urusei Yatsura. There are several shots with huge-mouthed reactions in that style here. But no, surprisingly, he isn't involved. I think I've also long found myself mixing up Yuji Morikawa and Joji Manabe, too, for some reason.

A note about the credits: I've done something novel this time and placed a note by the key animators identifying which studio they belonged to. I thought it would be an interesting way of showing how the key animation credits (in Capricorn and generally) are a mix of animators from different studios. Whereas in Garaga the only studio credited with "Production Assistance" (which is a credit that is often used to credit the subcontracting studio that produced the actual animation), in Capricorn about a dozen studios are mentioned, so with a little research I was able to figure out who belonged to which one.

The first person listed, Ayaka Gun, is probably a pen name. The only other place the name appears is in Pop Chaser, which also featured one other Anime R animator, Kazuaki Mouri, so obviously it's one of the better Anime R animators. I understand why s/he used the name in Pop Chaser - everyone was doing it almost as a joke - but I don't know why they felt the need to use a pen name here. I wonder if it might not be Toru Yoshida himself, because he's from Kagawa prefecture, which contains a district called Ayaka-gun.


Capricorn カプリコン (OVA, 1991, 47mins, Aubeck)

Planning:谷田部雄次Yuji Yatabe
Director:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Created by & Structure:真鍋譲治Joji Manabe
Script & Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
真鍋譲治Joji Manabe
Char. Design & Anim. Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Mecha Design & Mecha A.D.:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animation:綾歌軍Ayaka Gun(Anime R)
吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
井上哲Tetsu Inoue
能地清Kiyoshi Noji
河野利幸Toshiyuki Kono
 
村中博美Hiromi Muranaka(Studio Mu)
山本佐和子Sawako Yamamoto
大島康弘Yasuhiro Ojima
井藤誠Makoto Ifuji(Animation 501?)
飯飼一幸Kazuyuki Igai
福島豊明Toyoaki Fukushima
 
小倉康治Yasuharu Ogura(Atelier Fukuro)
川島達矢Tatsuya Kawajima
大城勉Tsutomu Oshiro(Studio Emu)
安藤義信Yoshinobu Ando
阿部正実Masami Abe
木村光雅Mitsumasa Kimura(D.A.S.T.)
中平晴也Haruya Nakahira

Sunday, July 1, 2012

04:04:00 pm , 1847 words, 5105 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Movie, Anime R

Hyper-Psychic-Geo Garaga

Garaga (1989) is an interesting obscurity from the late 1980s. I had never heard of it before looking into it recently while pursuing Anime R's filmography, but it's a rather interesting project for a number of reasons.

Initially planned as an OVA, it was extended to movie length and had a limited theatrical run before being released on video - so in a way it's both a movie and an OVA. The texture of the film is indeed a mix between the two - it has the pacing of a film, but the quality feels more like an OVA.

It is one of the few big theatrical projects that brought together the Anime R animators of the Votoms-Layzner period (or most of them; Kazuaki Mouri and Fumiko Kishi are missing) in one place, headlined by Moriyasu Taniguchi handling the characters and Toru Yoshida handling the mecha.

Garaga was based on a manga by Satomi Mikuriya, who had previously directed (and written and storyboarded and designed) an adaptation of her manga Nora in 1985. She earned a place in anime history for a different reason as the director of the CGI part of the Golgo 13 movie.

The director was Hidemi Kubo, whose career prior to this consisted almost entirely of animation work on the classic Topcraft co-productions like The Last Unicorn and The Hobbit. Hidemi Kubo is actually the younger brother of Tsuguyuki Kubo, the lead character designer during the Topcraft era. I wrote a bit about Topcraft previously here.

By 1985, when Topcraft had disbanded after the production of Nausicaa (1984) and been replaced by Ghibli, many of the ex-Topcraft staff moved to a company called PAC (Pacific Animation Corporation). It's here that Hidemi Kubo, as one of the directors of Thundercats (1985), switched tracks to directing.

Garaga from a few years later was Hidemi Kubo's first big job as a director of an entire project. It's his directing that actually makes me like this project. His directing is very different from anything I've seen in anime before. You sense that there's something 'foreign' about it, something alien to the rhythms and conventions of anime film language. The pacing is more leisurely and relaxed. Scenes of character interaction unfold in a way that catches you by surprise. Watching anime, you come to know how certain characters will respond in certain situations. Kubo's directing is one of the few places I've seen a Japanese director who undermines those expectations, probably quite unintentionally. It's clear that his training at Topcraft is what forms the basis for this unique rhythm.

Even the action doesn't feel like typical anime. In anime you typically have set-pieces that arrive at a set point, and suddenly the program switches gears into 'action scene' mode. That's not the case here. Here everything unfolds as a seamless whole. Occasionally there will be a moment of action that goes on for 30 seconds, but is then subsumed back within the unfolding narrative without any particular shift in rhythm.

The choreography and layout also doesn't have the visuals-centric feeling of most anime. What sets anime apart from commercial productions in the rest of the world is its sense of style and edginess in the presentation of the images. Topcraft was unique for evolving in a vacuum, as it were, uninfluenced by, for example, the very tightly controlled drawing and timing of the A Pro animators in the 1970s. With virtually no limitation on the number of drawings they could use, they didn't develop that very image-based approach to animation that was the result of those limitations that most animators working on Japanese TV shows had to work within. The downside to this is that the storytelling could equally well be criticized for being somewhat bland and monotone and sluggish. It's true that it lacks somewhat in dynamism. But it's such a refreshing change that I think it offers an interesting counter-argument to the typical anime style.

One thing I particularly like about this show is how the frailty of life is well expressed. Often in anime people will receive blow after blow and be fine in a way that would not be possible in real life, or fall from a great height without incurring almost any injury because it would inconvenience the plot for an injury to occur at that point. In Garaga at one point a character is bear-hugged by a bad guy and winds up dying. In any other anime he would have been fine. In another scene, a character falls from his aircraft and another character goes out of her way to pad his fall with a psychic beam. In any other anime, he would have fallen to the ground and been stunned temporarily but gotten up afterwards as if nothing had happened, whereas in reality that fall would have resulted in death or broken bones.

The story itself is rather pleasant story about how a group of space travellers crash-land on a planet and find themselves caught in the middle of a power struggle between three sides - two indigenous populations and a foreign power. The dynamics of manipulation between the different powers were compelling and believable and the film kept me interested the whole time. I liked how the character dynamics felt different from the usual anime. One downside is that there wasn't a very strong single main character for the audience to invest in, but I personally liked that. I like group-based movies like this.

I haven't seen Thundercats since it aired (I watched it in real time) but I suspect if I had a chance to re-watch it I would notice a similarity to the pacing. The only criticism I might have was that in the second half I got very confused and had a hard time following what was going on because there were so many different sides to the conflict and it was difficult keeping them all straight with their similar-sounding names. (well, that, and the big reveal at the end that the android was the bad guy was a little disappointing)

On the animation side of things, the film is almost 100% Anime R. 18 out of the 23 key animators are Anime R people, and the two sakkans are the usual Anime R sakkans. The films does have a very strong Anime R vibe, with many scenes of exciting action, good mecha and effects animation, and character drawings that are clearly identifiable as Taniguchi. Taniguchi designed the characters presumably based on the manga, but he made them his and the designs are pleasing to look at, although they're not as stylized as his Layzner designs. Taniguchi also receives the novel credit of "Total Visual Director" (in English). I'm not sure what it means, but it clearly suggests that Taniguchi had a role that went beyond merely that of a face corrector. Perhaps he did something in the vein of the more holistic work that Tomonori Kogawa did on Ideon, in which Kogawa also designed the colors of the characters, among other things.

Toru Yoshida designed the mecha as well as acting as the mecha sakkan, and his mecha are very cool. The designs are very different from the designs of, say, Kunio Okawara, who was behind most of the Sunrise shows on which Toru Yoshida acted as mecha sakkan. His designs feel slightly more futuristic and realistic, with sleek and minimalistic and curvy shapes as opposed to the showy and flamboyant designs of many Sunrise shows. The mecha aren't animated with quite as much verve as they were in Yoshida's episodes of Layzner, but there are moments where you can see his great sense of stylized effects work, like the elegantly arced smoke trail pictured above.

The only caveat is that for some reasons the drawings feel a little flimsy. The inbetweening was not done by Anime R, so maybe this is part of the reason. It's not nearly as bad as Althea, but it's still noticeable that the drawings are not quite up to the level that the should be considering how much effort has clearly been put into the animation, and that it's not the sakkan's fault.

There are several nice action scenes, but I can't attribute them to a particular animator. The chase with the helicopter seems to have the style of character drawing I noticed during the arcade scene in Sukeban Deka, though since Kazuaki Mouri isn't credited, if it's the same animator, that would mean it's someone other than Mouri who had that style. The good action animators at Anime R at this period would be Hiroshi Osaka from the generation that debuted on Votoms and Takahiro Kimura and Takahiro Komori from the slightly younger generation that debuted a few years later. I suppose the heli scene was of the hand of one of these guys.

The only scene I was able to identify with certainty is Hiroyuki Okiura's. He almost certainly drew the scene in the ruined building (the first pic atop). Everything including the timing, the acting and the drawings point to Okiura. The style of the gestures seems clearly influenced by Akira, which Okiura had just worked on, while the drawings have a vague Takashi Nakamura influence, and the movement has a richness and a style of movement that is simply the pure product of Okiura's genius. The animation in this scene feels wonderful, but it's a little disappointing because it's a pretty low-key scene and doesn't show off his talent for action very well. There are only about two or three action shots and the rest is mostly talking heads. But even in the talking heads shots, Okiura's unique style of timing and drawing is unmistakable.

There were only five non-Anime R animators involved in the film. They are credited in two separate groupings at the bottom below the big Anime R grouping, suggesting two different studios. The Soichiro Matsuda and Shunichi Matsumoto grouping I suspect to have been Studio Mark (which also once featured Yoshiharu Ashino). The Isamu Utsuki, Kenichi Ishimaru and Toyoaki Fukushima grouping I'm not so sure about, but I suspect to be Animation 501. Yuji Yatabe, who is here responsible for the 'structure', was the head of Animation 501, and Isamu Utsuki is credited under Animation 501 in pink jacket Lupin. I've noticed that Hidemi Kubo worked together with Kenichi Ishimaru and Toyoaki Fukushima together on Wataru the year before in 1988, so perhaps he brought them on himself.

Incidentally, I was wondering how the combo of Hidemi Kubo + Anime R came about. It's an odd combination I wouldn't have expected. It seems Moriyasu Taniguchi worked as an animation director on Thundercats and likely met Hidemi Kubo there.


HYPER-PSYCHIC-GEO GARAGA ギャラガ (movie/OVA, 1989, 100min, Aubec/Anime R)

Director, Script, Storyboard:窪秀己Hidemi Kubo
Based on:御厨さと美
「惑星ギャラガ」
"Planet Garaga"
by Satomi Mikuriya
Total Visual Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Structure:谷田部雄次Yuji Yatabe
Character Design, Animation Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Mecha Design, Mecha Anim. Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key animation:木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
小森高博Takahiro Komori
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
柳沢まさひでMasahide Yanagisawa
逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
加瀬政広Masahiro Kase
沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
大島康弘Yasuhiro Ojima
尾林幸男Yukio Ohayashi
井上哲Tetsu Inoue
志村直美Naomi Shimura
能地清Kiyoshi Noji
藤井満Mitsuru Fujii
上井康宣Yasunobu Kamii
岩村幸子Sachiko Iwamura
有本大作Daisaku Arimoto
 
谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
 
宇都木勇Isamu Utsuki
石丸賢一Kenichi Ishimaru
福島豊明Toyoaki Fukushima
 
松本俊一Shunichi Matsumoto
松田宗一郎Soichiro Matsuda

Friday, June 29, 2012

11:51:00 pm , 1123 words, 4115 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Anime R

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
垪加等
Hitoshi Haga
山下悟
Satoru Yamashita
佐藤雄三
Katsuzo Sato
坂本英明
Hideaki Sakamoto
長岡康史
Yasuchika Nagaoka
品田広志
Hiroshi Shinada
大平直樹
Naoki Ohira
矢野淳
Atsushi Yano
和田浩一
Koichi Wada
溝呂木浩章
Hiroaki Korogi
塚田明
Akira Tsukada
土屋幹雄
Mikio Tsuchiya
太田博光
Hiromitsu Ohta
福島豊明
Toyoaki Fukushima
奥村四郎
Shiro Okumura

Friday, June 22, 2012

11:58:00 pm , 3690 words, 4626 views     Categories: OVA, TV, Anime R, Dove, Toshifumi Takizawa

SPT Layzner

After Armor Trooper Votoms (1983-1984), Ryosuke Takahashi continued making robot shows at Sunrise, although from what I've seen none of them were quite the same as Votoms and tended to adhere more closely to the Sunrise robot template. The next show he did after Votoms was Panzer World Galient (1984-1985), which seems to mix fantasy with sci-fi. Then came SPT Layzner (1985-1986). I just had a chance to watch Layzner for the first time and enjoyed it, though it's very flawed and far from a classic like Votoms.

What Layzner has going for it is some tremendously strong animation from Anime R. Essentially, the animation of Lazyner was provided by three studios: Anime R, Dove and Bebow, in descending order of importance.

Anime R is by far the most important presence on the show. This is perhaps the show with the highest concentration of Anime R animation. 21 out of the show's 38 episodes were entirely (or mostly) animated by Anime R. The opening and ending were animated by Anime R animators Kazuaki Mouri, Toru Yoshida and Fumiko Kishi. The character designer was Anime R founder Moriyasu Taniguchi, who was invited back to design his own characters because of his great work as sakkan on Votoms. Taniguchi would also go on to be character designer of Mellowlink, in which Anime R provided about half of the animation. The other half was provided by Dove.

The story

Layzner is an odd show. I want to like it, but the story is too cliched and too much of a mess, largely due to circumstances beyond the control of the writers and director. When it works, it works well, and comes across as a more realistic version of the alien invasion story. The writing is fairly strong thanks to the sci-fi anime masters Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, Yoshitake Suzuki (AKA Fuyunori Gobu), Yasushi Hirano and Tsunehisa Ito. The characters feel individual and the urgency of the situation is convincing. The biggest problem is that it isn't consistent to the initial premise. To be more blunt, SPT Layzner jumps the shark big time. The last half of the show is a classic example of a show jumping the shark. It feels like two shows crammed into one, neither of them very happy about being forced to abide one another.

Part one begins as your typical Sunrise show: An alien army is coming to invade the earth, but a mixed alien-human named Eiji defects from the army to warn the earth of the impending danger. Along the way he saves a group of children visiting the Mars base, and enlists them to pilot giant robots and fight their way back to Earth. Sunrise was apparently so pleased with the setup of Round Vernian Vifam, in which a group of children visiting space one day suddenly find themselves caught in the middle of a war, that they decided to copy it almost verbatim in SPT Layzner. Anime advances by small variations on successful formulae.

The setup is hardly original, and it tested my patience for a while, but eventually I got into it on the strength of the animation and the fact that the story is told in a fairly hard-boiled and no-nonsense way. It proceeds very slowly, meticulously depicting each step of the way as the kids battle their way back to earth. By the time we get to episode 24, the story has gotten fairly interesting, taking on a bit of sociopolitical commentary. The protagonist Eiji is interrogated by a suspicious U.S. army rather than welcomed with open arms as he expected, and a lot of the drama comes across as an angry satire about the atmosphere of international suspicion during the Cold War. The writers do a good job with this material. I was starting to like the show by this point.

Then bam. Right when the story seems poised to finally start coming to a head after such an extended and even plodding setup, suddenly things do a 180. All of the many character interrelation and plot element threads that had been patiently built up and interwoven over the course of two dozen episodes are peremptorily dropped without any warning. Part two begins abruptly after a recap episode in episode 25. Suddenly all the characters are grown up and we're in a post-apocalyptic future in which the earth as been taken over by the aliens and everyone has big hair, shoulder pads and hockey masks straight out of Mad Max, or more relevantly, Fist of the North Star. Masked police go around burning books just like in Farenheit 451. (Oddly, some animator drew Katsuhiro Otomo's Highway Star as one of the books being burned. Otomo's influence apparently extends into the post-invasion future.)

Fist of the North Star is the appropriate comparison. It was airing simultaneously, and was likely copied intentionally. It seems that sales of the kind of toys the show was advertising had begun to drop across the industry, and so at midpoint into the series they decided to completely change the show's story and opt for the popular post-apocalyptic formula in a desperate attempt to increase ratings and hence boost toy sales. The story is now about Eiji leading a resistance against the occupying aliens. It's basically Fist of the North Star meets Gundam, without the exploding heads.

The change in tone and style is so radical and without warning that it's difficult to take the show seriously from this point on. And not long after they begin the second part, suddenly the show gets cancelled, and they have to rush the ending. Part 2 was probably planned as two seasons, but was reduced on short notice to one, so they had to suddenly skip ahead in episode 35 and jump right to the ending in episode 38, without explaining how we got there. The Ideon movie was famously released to complete the story after the TV series was unexpectedly canceled just short of completion. So it went with Layzner. After the show ended, two 60-minute recap OVAs were released (one for part one and one for part two) followed by an OVA telling what happened between episode 37 and 38. Many shows during the ensuing years did the same, but in the OVA rather than theatrical format, and Layzner was one of the first.

If anything, the show is an interesting case study of the way in which forces greater than the director and his staff have historically controlled the length and content of TV anime. Seasons are added and canceled capriciously and on short notice, causing the staff to scramble and come up with ad-hoc solutions. Ironically enough, this sometimes produces a happy ending. The final Ideon movie and final SPT Layzner OVA wound up bringing their stories to a conclusion in better quality than could have been expected within the originally anticipated TV schedule. But it should be remembered that both were made only at the insistence of their directors, who felt compelled to give their audience their rightful catharsis.

Episode 26: Hiroyuki Okiura

Anime R in SPT Layzner

If there's one reason to watch the show despite the story's flaws, it's because Layzner is in a way the summum opus of Anime R.

Moriyasu Taniguchi's characters have never gotten such a grand stage, and they've never been so appealing. Taniguchi's characters are pleasingly stylized, with elongated heads and angular features. This dude in episode 37 is the most extreme character design in the show, but gives a quick sense of his style. I like his designs far more than Norio Shioyama's, which seem bland and old-fashioned. Taniguchi had verve and his characters felt more cutting edge for the time, although he was clearly influenced by Tomonori Kogawa, and by Masami Suda of Fist of the North Star by the time of part 2.

The real star of the show, though, is of course the mecha and the mecha animators. Designed again by Kunio Okawara as in Votoms, the robots are brought alive with energy by the young animators of Anime R. Just about every episode of the show has some pleasing mecha animation, and a handful of the episodes have some of the best mecha animation of the entire period. Layzner is one of the feasts of mecha animation of the 1980s.

Basically the Anime R staff is the same as Votoms, except that everyone has been bumped up a notch in the hierarchy. Toru Yoshida is now a mecha sakkan and Hiroyuki Okiura is now a genga man.

The Anime R episodes of Layzner are split into three teams, each headed by a different animation director, to enable them to cover the whole show:

SakkanKey Animators
谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
山田香 Kaoru Yamada
浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

Mecha sakkan:
吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
野中幸 Koh Nonaka
小森高博 Takahiro Komori
村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka中島美子 Miko Nakajima
山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
大島康広 Yasuhiro Ohjima

There is some variation in the arrangement early on, but this is the basic arrangement they settled into. There's one strong mecha animator in each group who was usually in charge of the mecha in their team's episodes, with the rest handling the characters: Hiroyuki Okiura under Moriyasu Taniguchi, Toru Yoshida under Fumiko Kishi, and Sawako Yamamoto under Hiromi Muranaka.

Note that, soon after this, the Hiromi Muranaka group split into a separate but affiliated sister studio called Studio Mu. At this point in time the Muranaka team is still credited as Anime R, but Studio Mu has shown up in the inbetweening credits.

Episode 17: Toru Yoshida

Toru Yoshida was involved in episodes 1, 6, 11, 17, 21, 28, 34, 38. He apparently did some of his best work on Galient between Votoms and SPT Layzner, but sadly I skipped over that one, so I'm missing an important piece in the evolution of his style, but I will get to that show eventually. Episode 17 with the unmanned robots attacking the kids on the moon is one of his best episode, with very stylish and exciting mecha drawings and effects. As impressive as Yoshida's work was on Votoms, you can see significant improvement here. The mecha animation is among the most powerful and detailed of the era. I like that by this point Yoshida has gone beyond his Kanada-school influence and developed his own style: more realistic but still extremely exciting and thrilling, with a focus on densely packing the screen with effects and movement.

Sawako Yamamoto was involved in episodes 7, 14, 19, 24, 29, 36. I wasn't familiar with this animator prior to watching Layzner, but she apparently went on to do a lot of mecha work later in her career, a rarity for a female animator. Sawako Yamamoto was the mentor of another of R's many alumni, Asako Nishita, who was one of the more prominent female animators of the 1990s and 2000s. Yamamoto was one of the mecha sakkans on Ryosuke Takahashi's recent Gasaraki, which was apparently his ultimate attempt to do a 'real robot' show and do it right. Episode 36 of Layzner in particular features some great mecha fighting in the streets presumably of Yamamoto's hand. Episode 29, meanwhile, doesn't feature any mecha animation and is all focused on character animation, showcasing what the Mu team was better known for.

Hiroyuki Okiura was involved in episodes 12, 16, 20, 26, 33, 38. He actually acted as mecha sakkan in his episodes from episode 20 onwards even though he is not credited as such. Okiura had similarly actually drawn key animation on Votoms (1983-1984) and Galient (1984-1985) even though he was still being credited with inbetweening. His official debut as a genga-man came on Bismark (1984-1985), in which he drew all of the mecha action scenes in the episodes in which he is credited. So technically Layzner is his sakkan debut, although his official sakkan debut only came with Black Magic M-66 a year later.

Okiura is the star mecha animator of Layzner. If you watch nothing else of the show, Okiura's scenes are worth seeking out on their own merits, especially episode 26. What made people sit up and pay attention still comes through loud and clear almost 30 years later. Even amidst all of the great work by Yoshida et al. on the show, there is something fundamentally different when Okiura's work comes on the screen. First of all, it just moves more. Okiura was inspired by Takashi Nakamura, and his goal was to create the richest and most dense animation he could. Due to the restrictions on the number of drawings (about 6000 in Layzner, still way more than the average episode today), Okiura had to work closely with his fellow animators to calculate the number of drawings in each shot. He had them use less drawings for the character scenes so that he could use more drawings on the mecha scenes. On top of this, the mecha animation feels more realistic in its movement. The movement is more detailed and weighty, and more precisely calculated. Whereas many mecha animators just threw their mecha about in whichever way - whatever looked coolest - Okiura had a patently more methodical way of moving his mecha. The camera angles feel more realistic and have more variety. You already sense that Okiura is one of those animators who animates like a director. Okiura had apparently convinced the director of Bismark to re-storyboard the last episode of Bismark so that it had more action scenes because Okiura felt it did not have enough action. He wanted to be challenged, not given an easy way out.

His work on episode 26 in particular is one of the classics for the ages. His scene starts from the point where Layzner comes out of the water. The maniacal level of detail in the fragments should immediately remind of his mob scene in Akira. I recommend watching some of the other mecha scenes first for comparison purposes so you can see how different Okiura's animation is, but even if you don't, I think it should still come through loud and clear how impressive Okiura's animation is. It was this episode that first revealed his true powers to the world and showed that he had some uncommon skills that surpassed even those of the many other great Anime R animators who inspired and taught him. Episode 33 is also notable for being the only episode with mecha action from start to end. The animation isn't as powerful as episode 26, but the sheer amount of movement packed into the episode is impressive.

The remarkable thing: he was aged only 19 when he worked on Lazyner. He turned 20 during Black Magic M-66. Anime had a lot of early bloomers, but Okiura is one of the most memorable.

Bebow

The other episodes are all decent, with some good animation here and there, but nothing that equals the best R episodes. Bebow's good work was mostly done in the character animation. Bebow handled episodes 23, 32 and 37. Notable names in their episodes include Akihiko Yamashita, Masahiro Yamane and Masanori Shino. Episode 32 was actually Masahiro Yamane's debut. He is one of the best mecha animators of the 1990s, during which time he did a lot of work with Masami Obari on Sunrise 'yuusha' shows, helping define their mecha animation as mecha designer and mecha sakkan. The best Bebow episode is probably episode 32, which features the bad guy you love to hate, Gostero, who seemed to die several times in the series only to keep coming back, hamming it up with a whole episode of his outrageous antics. The drawings all feel patently Bebow, and they show how good they are at drawing the body and face in various poses.

There is one oddball episode in the bunch: episode 15. It was sakkan'd by the Studio Z5 team of Hideyuki Motohashi and Chiharu Sato. It stands out for the more Kanada-style effects work and mecha posing and the way the characters are drawn in a more 'bikei' character style that is obviously the work of Hideyuki Motohashi.

On the directing side of things, the series features episode storyboarding/ directing work by Tetsuro Amino early in his career, prior to debuting as a series director. Other storyboarders/directors include Takashi Imanishi, who I mentioned in my post on Votoms, and Katsuyoshi Yatabe, who went on to direct many of the same Sunrise 'yuusha' shows I mentioned earlier. Toshifumi Takizawa pays a brief surprise visit in episodes 12 and 17 as storyboarder, and as usual, his episodes stand out for their more cinematic feeling. Episode 12 in particular is a very fine Takizawa episode, while in episode 17 the combination of Takizawa's storyboard and Toru Yoshida's fantastic mecha animation makes for riveting viewing. I think the series would have benefited from his more serious style of directing, but obviously he was busy with other projects.

The final OVA

The final OVA is a combination of footage from the last TV episode with new footage interspersed to flesh out the scenes that they had not had enough time to elaborate upon. The character animation appears to have been re-drawn, but the mecha animation was re-used.

For the new bits, there are some impressive mecha action sequences. Okiura surprisingly didn't animate any mecha scenes, although some of the footage he animated for the final TV episode (the part where Layzner is flying through space surrounded by a halo at the very end) was re-used in the OVA. He animated the fistfight in the cylinder. This is because he was too busy at the time working on Black Magic M-66. The mecha sequences were presumably animated primarily by Toru Yoshida, Sawako Yamamoto, Hiroshi Osaka and perhaps some others including Hiroshi Koizumi of Dove. Toru Yoshida is only credited as an animation director alongside Moriyasu Taniguchi and Kishi Fumiko, but this presumably means mecha sakkan.

I'll close by noting that you can see future director and producer Shinichiro Watanabe and Masahiko Minami here in the credits as animation runners. Both started out as runners at Sunrise before evolving in their respective directions.


Blue Comet SPT Layzner 蒼き流星SPTレイズナー (TV series, 38 eps, 1985-1986)

StoryboardDirectorSakkanKey Animators
1あかい星にてアニメ・アール Anime R
井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi

Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
2彼の名はエイジスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
高橋幸治 Koji Takahashi
佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
3その瞳を信じて長崎重信 Shigenobu Nagasaki
布告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase伊東誠 Makoto Ito
4心のこしての脱出谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
横山健次 Kenji Yokoyama

アド・コスモ Ad Cosmo
直井正博 Masahiro Naoi
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
5まもられても、なお…スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
高橋幸治 Koji Takahashi
藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani

遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
6とり残されてアニメ・アール Anime R
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi

Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
7血はあかかったアニメ・アール Anime R
中島美子 Miko Nakajima
山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
8彼の叫びに応えて寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
9生きる道を求めて長崎重信 Shigenobu Nagasaki
遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
布告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe桜井美知代 Michiyo Sakurai
10エイジ!?と呼んだスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
高橋幸治 Koji Takahashi
藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase
江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami
八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
11地球の艦が来た!アニメ・アール Anime R
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
12さよならの赤い星アニメ・アール Anime R
逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
山田香 Kaoru Yamada
浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
滝沢敏文 Toshifumi Takizawa今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
13宇宙にむなしくスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
中野美佐緒 Misao Nakano
西村誠芳 Nobuyoshi Nishimura
谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
14異星人に囚われてアニメ・アール Anime R
村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
中島美子 Miko Nakajima
山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
15蒼き流星となって遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi本橋秀之 Hideyuki Motohashi
佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
16月よ!こたえてアニメ・アール Anime R
逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
山田香 Kaoru Yamada
浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa

青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
長崎重信 Shigenobu Nagasaki
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
17群がる殺人機アニメ・アール Anime R
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura
滝沢敏文 Toshifumi Takizawa加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
18そして地球へスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
中野美佐緒 Misao Nakano
西村誠芳 Nobuyoshi Nishimura
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
19とどかぬ想いアニメ・アール Anime R
村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
中島美子 Miko Nakajima
山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise

遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
20レイズナーの怒りアニメ・アール Anime R
逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
山田香 Kaoru Yamada
浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa

青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
21我が名はフォロンアニメ・アール Anime R
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
岩村幸子 Sachiko Iwamura

長崎重信 Shigenobu Nagasaki
佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
長谷川浩司 Hiroshi Hasegawa
加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
22フォロンとの対決スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
中野美佐緒 Misao Nakano
西村誠芳 Nobuyoshi Nishimura
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
23奇跡を求めてビーボォー Bebow
沢田正人 Masato Sawada
筱雅律 Masanori Shino
南伸一郎 Shinichiro Minami
山下明彦 Akihiko Yamashita
山本正文 Masafumi Yamamoto

遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe中村悟 Satoru Nakamura
24光になったエイジアニメ・アール Anime R
村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
中島美子 Miko Nakajima
山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise

スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
25駆けぬけた宇宙
高橋良輔 Ryosuke Takahashi
26時は流れた!アニメ・アール Anime R
逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
山田香 Kaoru Yamada
浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
27華麗なるル・カインスタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
藁谷均 Hitoshi Waratani
佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma
中野美佐緒 Misao Nakano
西村誠芳 Nobuyoshi Nishimura
谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
28クスコの聖女アニメ・アール Anime R
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
野中幸 Ko Nonaka
今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
29再会・謎の招待状アニメ・アール Anime R
村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
中島美子 Miko Nakajima
山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
大島康広 Yasuhiro Oshima
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
30ベイブル奪回作戦青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
佐藤千春 Chiharu Sato
杉山東夜美 Mayami Sugiyama
山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino藤本義孝 Yoshitaka Fujimoto谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
31仕組まれた聖戦スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma

宇津木勇 Isamu Utsuki
阿部和彦 Kazuhiko Abe
山田浩嗣 Hirotsugu Yamada
谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
32ああ、ゴステロビーボォー Bebow
矢木正之 Masayuki Yaki
辻清光 Kiyomitsu Tsuji
筱雅律 Masanori Shino
河上裕 Yutaka Kawakami
山根理宏 Masahiro Yamane
山下明彦 Akihiko Yamashita
佐藤敬一 Keiichi Sato
小曽根正美 Masami Kosone
沢田正人 Masato Sawada
加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase沢田正人 Masato Sawada
33死鬼隊の挑戦アニメ・アール Anime R
逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura
山田香 Kaoru Yamada
浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
34狙われたアンナアニメ・アール Anime R
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
野中幸 Ko Nonaka
小森高博 Takahiro Komori
知吹愛弓 Ayumi Tomobuki今西隆志 Takashi Imanishi貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi

Mecha sakkan: 吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
35グラドスの刻印スタジオ・ダブ Studio Dove
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
佐久間信一 Shinichi Sakuma

遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
山内貴美子 Kimiko Yamauchi
臼田美夫 Yoshio Usuda
加藤義貴 Yoshitaka Kato
川手浩次 Hirotsugu Kawate藤本義孝 Yoshitaka Fujimoto八幡正 Tadashi Yahata
36敵V-MAX発動アニメ・アール Anime R
村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
中島美子 Miko Nakajima
山本佐和子 Sawako Yamamoto
黄瀬和哉 Kazuchika Kise
大島康広 Yasuhiro Oshima
網野哲郎 Tetsuro Amino加瀬充子 Nobuko Kase村中博美 Hiromi Muranaka
37エイジ対ル・カイン青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi

ビーボォー Bebow
矢木正之 Masayuki Yaki
沢田正人 Masato Sawada
河上裕 Yutaka Kawakami
山根理宏 Masahiro Yamane
谷田部勝義 Katsuyoshi Yatabe谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi
38歪む宇宙アニメ・アール Anime R
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
吉田徹 Toru Yoshida
井上哲 Tetsu Inoue
逢坂浩司 Hiroshi Osaka
山田香 Kaoru Yamada
浜川修二郎 Shujiro Hamakawa
高橋良輔 Ryosuke Takahashi江上潔 Kiyoshi Ekami谷口守泰 Moriyasu Taniguchi

Mecha sakkan: 沖浦啓之 Hiroyuki Okiura

Blue Comet SPT Layzner ACT-III: The Seal 2000
蒼き流星SPTレイズナー ACT-III 刻印2000
(OVA, October 21, 1986)

Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Character Design:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Mechanical Design:大河原邦男Kunio Okawara
Storyboard:網野哲郎Tetsuro Amino
加瀬充子Nobuko Kase
Technical Director:加瀬充子Nobuko Kase
Animation Directors:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
Key animators:山田香Kaoru Yamada
野中幸Ko Nonaka
沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
 
浜川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa
井上哲Tetsu Inoue
糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
佐々木一浩Kazuhiro Sasaki
小森高博Takahiro Komori
 
村中博美Hiromi Muranaka
中島美子Miko Nakajima
山本佐和子Sawako Yamamoto
黄瀬和哉Kazuchika Kise
大島康広Yasuhiro Ohshima
 
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano

Thursday, June 7, 2012

01:49:00 am , 1886 words, 3989 views     Categories: Animation, Anime R

Anime games

I don't play games anymore, but I'm interested in the dynamic between animation and games. Games owe a lot to animation. Yoichi Kotabe brought Mario alive. Animated openings to games remain common, and many narrative-style games incorporate cut-scene animation (Popolocrois IMO being the crowning example), but most interesting to me are games where the actual game play consists of hand-drawn animation. LD games were the first of this kind.

After the release of Don Bluth's groundbreaking Dragon's Lair laserdisc arcade game in 1983, there was a brief fad for this new format up until about 1985, when it fizzled out due presumably to the limitations of the gameplay. Between 1983 and 1985, several Japanese games were made in the same mold as Dragon's Lair using LD technology. Although obviously none of them were anything near the level of the amazing animation in Bluth's game, some of them had impressive animation.

Initially, in 1983, the releases were hacked together from previously extisting movies: Cliffhanger from bits of Cagliostro (and also Yuzo Aoki's car chase scene from Mamo) and Bega's Battle from Harmageddon (Yamato and Galaxy Express 999 also later got this treatment), but in 1984 they started putting out original titles. Some of these like Ninja Hayate and Badlands had bad animation and generally sloppy production of the kind you'd expect from a cheap knockoff made as a quick cash-in, but Cobra Command, Road Blaster and Time Gal had impressive animation.

Time Gal (1985, Taito/Junio, Arcade LD Game)
Director:今沢哲男Tetsuo Imazawa
Character Designer:我妻宏Hiroshi Wagatsuma
Animation Director:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
Animators:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
井上俊之Toshiyuki Inoue
うつのみやさとるSatoru Utsunomiya
...?...

Full Game Play: Past - Present - Future

Time Gal is my favorite of the Japanese LD games. It features a girl travelling around different eras of history, riding on the wings of Zero fighters, fighting pirates, dodging asteroids and aliens and dinosaurs and giant robots. Stylistically it's closest of the Japanese laserdisc games to the Don Bluth originals. It's a lighthearted romp starring a spunky heroine running around evading various colorful enemies, whereas the other games tend to be dry affairs without humor or personality, with you just driving or flying around shooting things. The creators admit to deliberately modeling Time Gal after Space Ace.

Time Gal also has some of the best animation of any of the Japanese LD games. The animation comes courtesy of none other than the selfsame Kazuaki Mouri I just talked about, who was the animation director. In addition, the animators include no less than Toshiyuki Inoue and Satoru Utsunomiya. The animation appears to have been produced by Studio Junio (The Fox of Chironup, Hermes, Wings of Love), although they are not credited, because the director and animation director are Junio people, and of course Toshiyuki Inoue was at Junio at the time. As it happens, so was Utsunomiya. He had apparently just joined Junio because he admired Inoue's animation on Gu-Gu Ganmo and wanted to work near Inoue. These two had an interesting rivalry going at the time. Inoue had similarly become aware of Utsunomiya at the same time. He had wondered who the amazing animator was behind the good genga he'd seen turned in on Around the World in 80 Days, whose chief animation director was Junio founder Takao Kosai, and later discovered it to be Utsunomiya.

The game has 16 stages, five each of which take place in the past, the present and the future. Satoru Utsunomiya's section is Stage 4 with the mammoth, while Toshiyuki Inoue animated Stage 7 with the god of death, as well as possibly Stage 13 with the giant robot in the tunnel and Stage 16 with the last boss.

I particularly like Inoue's stage with the giant zombie skeleton swinging a scythe. The forms are beautiful and the timing feels incredible, and the whole thing takes place in the middle of this slow animated panning effect, as if it wasn't challenging enough to just draw the action by itself and he wanted to pose himself the further challenge of maintaining proper proportion and perspective in motion. It's a great snapshot of just how amazing an animator Toshiyuki Inoue already was at this early stage in his career. (he had just debuted a year before)

Satoru Utsunomiya's brief but intense segment with the mammoth is quite an eye-opener and reveals a side of him that we're not used to seeing anymore. This was before he developed the distinctive solid style for which he's become known. At this stage he was still drawing very wild and free animation full of comically exaggerated effects and timing.

I suspect Kazuaki Mouri may have animated some of the other sections, but I don't know for sure. The very first stage with the dinosaurs, for example, has some very nice movement that was perhaps of Mouri's hand.

Cobra Command (1984, Data East/Toei, Arcade LD Game)
Director:高山秀樹Hideki Takayama
松浦錠平Johei Matsuura
Animation Director:亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
Assistant Animation Director:今隅眞一Shinichi Imakuma
Animators:亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
白土武Takeshi Shirato
白浦烈Baik Nam Yeul
佐々木正光Masamitsu Sasaki
大島城次Joji Ohshima
八島義孝Yoshitaka Yajima
本橋秀之Hideyuki Motohashi
青鉢芳信Yoshinobu Aohachi
Road Blaster (1985, Data East/Toei, Arcade LD Game)
Director:高山秀樹Hideki Takayama
Chief Key Animator:稲野義信Yoshinobu Inano
Background Design:Yoshiyuki Yamamoto
Animators:白浦烈Baik Nam Yeul
今隅眞一Shinichi Imakuma
的場茂夫Shigeo Matoba
金大中Kim Dae Jung
Kaoru Shinbo

Full Game Play: Cobra Command - Road Blaster

These two titles were produced by Data East, who farmed the animation out to Toei. Toei had actually prior to this been put in charge of the animation of Ninja Hayate, but they had really botched that one. These two are in a different league. Both are challenging and fast-paced games packed with nonstop action. The animation also doesn't stop in either one. There isn't a still moment - every moment is animated, because the motion of the vehicles is all depicted by hand-drawn animation.

It would have been inconceivable to animate a conventional anime production the way these are. Storyboarding long shots that go on for upwards of a minute and consist entirely of nonstop animated backgrounds would have been a sure ticket to being fired. These games were in a unique position of being able to be lavished with an unprecedented density of animation for a Japanese production. There were occasional moments in TV productions where a wild animator like Masahito Yamashita would create a crazy sequence of background animation, but these games pushed background animation to a whole new level.

The person behind the quality of Cobra Command was Hajime Kamegaki, the Kanada-school animator who together with Hideyuki Motohashi (here also present as an animator) did so much good work on TV shows in the 1980s from their legendary Studio Z5.

The person behind the quality of Road Blaster was Yoshinobu Inano, one of the greatest animators nobody has ever heard of. He was one of the most talented animators at Toei in the late 1970s/early 1980. He pioneered a unique kind of quasi-realistic animation that went on to influence many later great animators including Mitsuo Iso. You can see his style most clearly in the opening of the game where the punks wreak havoc in the city, sending bystanders running.

Captain Power: Battle Training (1988, 3 VHS tapes, AIC)
Animation Directors:大平晋也Shinya Ohira
矢野淳Atsushi Yano
Key Animators:Vol. 1
西井正典Masanori Nishii
伊藤浩二Koji Ito
田野雅祥Masayoshi Tano
生亀信幸Nobuyuki Namakame
山中英治Eiji Yamanaka
Vol. 2 & 3
逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
濱川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
貴志芙美子Fumiko Kishi
太田雅三Yuzo Ohta
伊良原正也Masaya Irahara
山中英治Eiji Yamanaka

By 1988 when the three VHS tapes of this game were released, LD anime games were dead. This game is basically just straight animation without any branching or death scenes. You were supposed to aim your toy gun at the screen and a sensor in the gun would detect when you had properly targeted the flashing missiles on the screen and eject the pilot from your toy if you had not.

Captain Power: Battle Training picks up where the latter two titles left off: it's one long, extended, nonstop torrent of background animation and explosions. I'd go so far as to say it's the crowning achievement in background/effects animation in anime. Where the previous two titles were actually pretty iffy in a lot of the background animation, almost all of the BG animation here is impressive, and much of it is downright stunning. I already wrote about this a long time ago, so I won't re-hash my gushing, but I really love this thing. It's my bible of anime FX animation.

Shinya Ohira is of course the big name behind the incredible beauty and power of the animation here, but the fact is that he was backed up by some of the best mecha and effects animators of the day. Most significantly, Anime R was behind the animation of parts 2 and 3. Hiroshi Osaka, Fumiko Kishi, Masahiko Itojima, Hiroyuki Okiura, Toru Yoshida, Kazuaki Mouri - all the best Anime R animators worked on parts two and three. That makes this another great introduction to the style of Anime R at their peak after U-GAIM (and SPT Layzner if you have a little more time to spare), although in this one it can be a little difficult to distinguish between the Anime R bits and the Ohira bits.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, the entirety of Captain Power: Battle Training can be viewed online.

Yarudora series (1998-2000, 6 volumes, Production I.G, PS & PS2)

Vol. 1: Double Cast (1998, PS)
Vol. 2: Kisetsu wo Dakishimete (1998, PS)
Vol. 3: Sampaguita (1998, PS)
Vol. 4: Yukiwari no Hana (1998, PS)
Vol. 5: Scandal (2000, PS2)
Vol. 6: Blood: The Last Vampire (2000, PS2)

Many years after the LD game boom, Production I.G. picked up the torch of animated games with their Yarudora series from 1998-2000, plugging animation into the popular formula of anime-styled but illustration-based sim games. Rather than a reflex-based adventure game where you were dodging foes like in the early days, this time you were guiding your character through a complicated story. You made choices at key junctures, which led to different possible outcomes: anime via Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. The stories were alternately psychological and violent. The last two volumes Scandal and Blood were action outings as opposed to the more psychological preceding quartet.

The highlight of the series is Yukiwari no Hana, which looked very different from all of the other volumes due to the beautiful Jin-Roh-esque pared-down realistic character designs and dark-hued visual concept of Masatsugu Arakawa. I'd still like to see more anime that look like this.

The last outing in the Yarudora series was a game tie-in with Hiroyuki Kitakubo's Blood: The Last Vampire movie. In a curious coincidence, it happened to be Shinya Ohira's comeback to animation after several years of absence. He animated the scene here and his style is unmistakable. The animation is reminiscent of Hamaji, which was the last thing he had done before leaving the industry a few years earlier. Anime games have marked two significant points in Ohira's career - the peak of his FX period and the start of his current character-as-FX period.

Bringing things full-circle, Ohira was even behind the next step in the evolution of animated gaming: He directed a playable animated stage of the recent Asura's Wrath game that is not only a monumental new piece of animation in its own right (a worthy companion piece to Wanwa), but that also pushes the neglected genre of traditional animated gaming forward into the new millennium, with its more involved gameplay and the fact that it is an online download. The short seems to hark back to the LD games of yore, since it involves an extended sequence of fast action requiring quick reflexes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

10:20:00 pm , 1140 words, 3565 views     Categories: Animation, Pilot, Anime R

Pony Metal U-GAIM

Pilots are among my favorite form in anime. From the Lupin pilot to Tomonaga's Nemo pilot, many pilots are amazing creations that have become classic shorts in their own right. They capture the full energy of the staff in the early stages of enthusiasm for a production before they hit the brick wall of deadline and production-floor reality that often makes the actual production pale in comparison.

Pilots for productions that eventually got made usually see the light of day, like Masaaki Yuasa's Nanchatte Vampiyan pilot, which is a classic instance of the pilot being better than the actual production turned out to be.

Pilots for productions that fizzled, though, often never do, or are taking eternally long to do so - as is the case for Mahiro Maeda's R20 Galactic Airport pilot and Umanosuke Iida's Spirit pilot. There's every possibility the reason they remain unreleased is because they're not impressive, but the inability to see them makes you curious. Many items that remained hidden for years turned out to be amazing when re-discovered.

I just discovered another pilot for a production that never got the green light that is a shining example of the pilot form: Pony Metal U-GAIM. Watch it here.

The 3-minute pilot was produced in 1986. It's not difficult to see why this pilot didn't get produced. It's actually difficult to believe that a show with this premise was seriously being pitched. It almost seems like they just did it as a parody for fun.

The story is apparently a crossover between Heavy Metal L-Gaim and Creamy Mami. The heroine of magical girl show Creamy Mami, Yuu Morisawa, was killed in a car accident, and like Tetsuwan Atom, she is brought back to life by her genius scientist father in the form of a super-powerful crime-fighting robot.

What makes this pilot great is that it's 100% Anime R, and was produced by Anime R at the height of its powers, so it's packed full of Anime R goodness. Anime R's work is mostly buried in Sunrise robot shows from the 80s that don't get much play from fans anymore, so they've never received their due respect over here (though the same could be said for many great subcontractors of yore). This pilot offers a dense summation of what made Anime R great, so it's the perfect introduction to this studio.

The actual animation only lasts for 1 1/2 minutes, but it's all very densely packed and lovingly produced. All of the big names at Anime R at the time were involved, including Kazuaki Mouri, Hiroyuki Okiura, Toru Yoshida and Hiroshi Osaka. Oddly enough, Hiroyuki Kitakubo even helped a bit with the animation. This was just a year before Kitakubo turned to Okiura and Anime R to do the heavy animation lifting on his Black Magic M-66. Mouri had previously helped on Kitakubo's Pop Chaser under a pseudonym.

Everything that made R great is packed in here: quasi-realistic and lovingly animated mecha, missiles and explosions, insanely detailed shrapnel, and crazy-ass idiosyncratic character animation, all of which is unified by its consummate craftsmanship.

The most obvious section is Hiroyuki Okiura's section. This was only his second year as a key animator, but it didn't take long for his animation to stand out. Right from the beginning in SPT Layzner in 1985 his animation stood out for its more realistic style and the incredible density of his drawings and animation. You can see that clearly in the scene here where the robot erupts up from the pavement, with the fluid movement, very detailed depiction of the cement cracking into little bits, and the more realistic style of the animation as opposed to the more playful and deformed style of other parts of the pilot. Compare it with the two shots Okiura animated for the opening of the Zillion TV series the next year in 1987. He drew those shots smack when he was super-busy working on Black Magic M-66. One of Okiura's identifying traits at this period was that he drew crazy-detailed fragments, and the fragments had this way of just disappearing in mid-air. He presumably learned this from Takashi Nakamura, one of his great influences at the time.

The episode is also filled with nice explosions and other effects work, presumably much of it of the hand of Toru Yoshida, although the effects work does not look like what I've seen of his very early work in Votoms. His effects work appears to have evolved very quickly over the ensuing years.

What I most like about this pilot, though, is that it provides the key to Kazuaki Mouri's style. He was the character designer, animation director and lead animator, so it's really Mouri's baby. Mouri's section is also extremely obvious, but you have to know what you're looking for. I suspect Mouri drew the opening scene with the bystanders, the shot of the father operating his crazy machine, and the shot of the two dudes running. If you look at the bystanders, they are drawn in a very distinctive way that is without any doubt of the same hand as the animator who drew the arcade brawl scene in episode 1 of Sukeban Deka that I wondered about in my post on this 1991 OVA, where Mouri was credited. The style of movement of the father operating the machine also reminds of the style of movement in the Sukeban Deka scene. I'd like to find at least another piece Mouri worked on where this style is evident to feel totally convinced it's him, but it seems fairly likely. The action here also has the speedy feeling of the action in Dragon Slayer, where Mouri was the combat supervisor.

Mouri is something of an opening specialist, having animated quite a few near-single-handedly, including SPT Layzner (1985, with Toru Yoshida), Mister Ajikko (1987, with Masahiro Kase), Samurai Troopers (1988, with Moriyasu Taniguchi) and Carimero (1992), as well as directing the opening of Taa-chan (1993). Mouri left Anime R and joined Group Tac in 1989, which is where he did the latter two items. He is another great Anime R animator deserving of more recognition.

Kazuaki Mouri select works
Ideon (1982)
Tetsujin 28 (1981)
Dougram (1981)
Game Center Arashi (1982)
Sasuga no Sarutobi (1982)
Votoms (1983)
Ranpo (1984)
Bismark (1985)
Pop Chaser OVA (1985)
Karuizawa Syndrome OVA (1985)
Genmu Senki Leda OVA (1985)
Dream Hunger Rem OVAs (1985-1992) CD
Dancougar (1985)
SPT Layzner (1985)
Gu-Gu Ganmo movie (1985)
Pastel Yumi (1986)
Windaria movie (1986)
Zillion (1987)
Black Magic M-66 OVA (1987)
Mister Ajikko (1987) Char des/sakkan chief
Watt Poe OVA (1988)
Cleopatra DC OVA (1988)
Five Star Stories movie (1989)
Moomin Adventure Diary (1991)
Dragon Slayer OVA (1991)
Yadamon (1992)
Moldiver (1992)
Nintama Rantaro (1993)
Biograpy of Gusko Budori movie (1993)
Fatal Fury movie (1994)
Irresponsible Captain Tylor (1994)
Tobe! Isami (1995) Character designer
Voogie's Angel OVA (1997)

Pony Metal U-GAIM (Pilot, 3 mins, 1986, Anime R)

Producer:大町光徳Mitsunori Ohmachi
Created by:Project-U
Char Design & Sakkan:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
Mechanic Design Assist:山下育人Ikuto Yamashita
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
明貴美加Mika Akitaka
今南二Nanji Kon
Art:横瀬直士Naoshi Yokose
Key Animation:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
柳沢まさひでMasahide Yanagisawa
逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
北久保弘之 (ゲスト)Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Guest)

Friday, June 1, 2012

12:51:00 am , 6777 words, 7240 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, TV, Anime R, Dove, Toshifumi Takizawa

Votoms

In the shadow of Gundam, one of the most successful and long-lived of Sunrise's real robot shows has been Armored Trooper Votoms. I finally had the opportunity to watch Votoms for the first time just recently, and find it still holds up very well after all these years, especially as a contrast with the overwrought style of Yoshiyuki Tomino. Where Yoshiyuki Tomino's Gundam is filled with flamboyant intergalatic drama and angst and robotic heroics, Ryosuke Takahashi's Votoms is earthy and dark and anti-heroic.

Watching Votoms made me realize what I found tiresome about Sunrise's shows: they're always full of kids, and the drama is hence full of puerile antics and melodrama. Votoms is refreshing because all of its characters are adults, and the drama is for the most part cool and restrained and intimate rather than grandiose and theatrical. It's one of the great classics of hard-boiled realistic sci-fi in anime.

The protagonist of Votoms is a cold-hearted soldier by trade, not a kid forced against his will into battle. Where the kid protagonists of the various Gundam outings are against war initially but eventually seem to succumb to the temptation of glory and become heroes, the protagonist of Votoms, Chirico Cuvie, is an anti-hero from the outset: a stone-faced soldier with blood on his hands who finds himself most alive in the heat of battle. Rather than the violence-glorifying heroic action of a Star Wars, the world of Votoms seems closer to the inglorious mud and blood of a Vietnam war film like Apocalypse Now. Flag is one of the best anime of recent memory, with its realistic style and believable geopolitical drama, and the roots of the war documentary style of Flag go back to Votoms.

What I like about the show is that it's one of the most original amid the huge crowd of 1980s robot shows. The characters are all adults, and are for the most part relatable without behaving in an unduly exaggerated way. The story is a refreshing change from the cliched Sunrise formula. Rather than being a grandiose space opera filled with philosophical banter, the essence of the show is a small-scale story about the dirty everyday life of soldiers. The eternally defiant protagonist embodies a kind of anarchic heroism out to destroy all hegemony. There is a lot of good animation throughout the show's various outings. It's a pleasure to finally be able to discover this gem of a saga.

The story of Votoms is simple in outline: The mercenary Chirico seeks the truth behind why he was betrayed by his comrades, and eventually this transforms into a quest to discover the truth of his own identity. Many people have written about Votoms in more insightful detail about the show's political overtones and story intricacies than I possibly could, so I'll skip over the details of the story focus on what really interests me, and that's the technique.

Initially broadcast as a one-off TV show from 1983 to 1984, Votoms spawned a nearly overwhelming number of sequels, prequels and offshoots of various lengths and styles, making it a daunting show to dig into, since unlike Gundam most of these actually take place on the same continuum and feature the same characters. I didn't know where to start initially, since a number of the followup OVAs take place before the TV series, but I found it best to go in production order to appreciate how the staff's technique and approach to the material evolved over the years.

The style changes dramatically over the years, since the show has been in production almost continually since 1983 right on down to last year with the most recent outing, Alone Again. Initially it was all hand-drawn, but starting with Pailsen Files in 2007 they switched to using CGI for the robots. This post will focus on everything that was done in the hand-drawn period:

- The TV series (1983-1984)
- The three ensuing one-shot OVAs:
      The Last Red Shoulder (1985)
      Big Battle (1986)
      The Roots of Ambition (1988)
- The 5-episode OVA series The Radiant Heresy (1994-1995)

The only thing I haven't watched from this period is Mellowlink, produced 1988-1989, as it's a side-story not involving Chirico. The CG outings starting with Pailsen Files appear to have been produced by the same team that did Flag.

The animation subcontractors behind Votoms

There are two basic stars of the animation of Votoms: Anime R and Studio Dove. Although other subcontractors worked on the show, these were the two studios whose animators provided the most impressive animation in the series.

In the TV series, Anime R is the real star. Studio Dove is present, but they don't start shining until the later OVAs. The Last Red Shoulder featured good animation from Anime R, Studio Dove, Bebow and Magic Bus. Big Battle and The Roots of Ambition were mostly animated by Studio Dove. Mellowlink was animated by Anime R and Studio Dove. The Radiant Heresy from several years later features a completely different animation staff, so its animation looks and feels distinct within the Votoms saga. The next outing came more than a decade later with Pailsen Files, which had CG mecha.

The escalating quality of the mecha animation in Votoms is a beautiful thing to behold. You can see with each passing year the animators becoming stronger at their craft. Anime R shines in the TV series, Studio Dove shines in the last two one-shot OVAs, and Mellowlink was evenly divided between Anime R and Studio Dove. I have yet to see Mellowlink, but I assume it is the culmination of these respective studios' work on the show.

I've written about Anime R many times in the past (Black Magic M-66, Dragon Slayer, Sukeban Deka), and their work on Votoms is one of their defining moments. It was their work on robot shows like Votoms and then Bismark and SPT Layzner that propelled Osaka-based Anime R to fame as one of the best mecha animation subcontractors in Japan, and THE best animation subcontractor outside of the Tokyo region.

Anime R was one of big supports of Ryosuke Takahashi's Sunrise robot shows. They were involved right from the start with his first 'real robot' show Dougram (1981-1983). They worked on his Votoms (1983-1984), Galient (1984-1985) and SPT Layzner (1985-1986). Incidentally, it was after having proven their mettle on all these Ryosuke Takahashi robot shows that Anime R was called in to work on Black Magic M-66 in 1987.

Founded near the end of the 1970s by Moriyasu Taniguchi 谷口守泰 and Harumi Muranaka 村中博美, the studio initially featured talented animators like Kazuaki Mouri 毛利和昭 and Fumiko Kishi 貴志夫美子 on shows like Ideon and Dougram. It was right around the time of Votoms that many of the names that went on to propel Anime R to fame joined the studio: Hiroyuki Okiura 沖浦啓之, Kazuchika Kise 黄瀬和哉, Hiroshi Osaka 逢坂浩司, Toru Yoshida 吉田徹 and Masahiko Itojima 糸島雅彦. Their work was so impressive that many of these animators left Osaka for Tokyo because they were in such demand. Although Anime R is in the distant past for them, without Anime R we might not have gotten some of our best animators.

The Votoms TV series (1983-1984)

The defining characteristic of the show is of course the unusual mecha. Rather than one-shots like a Gundam, the scope dog in Votoms is a mass-production model. So although some might be customized with different weapons, they're all essentially just mass-production bipedal armed military vehicles. Hence they don't have the heroic nuance of a Gundam. The unique scope design is also quite interesting and refreshing, as I always found robots with faces ludicrous.

This doesn't change the fundamental fact that this show was a commercial to sell robot toys, but at least the robots were a refreshing change from the typical humanoid robots. The various details of the mecha such as the pivoting action and camera lens-inspired eyepiece were clever and made the mecha feel like a military weapon where each part had a practical use, rather than a hero robot whose parts were just there to look cool. The scary-looking infrared goggles the pilots have to wear also added to the impression of utilitarian accuracy in the paraphernalia, not to mention creating a sort of emotional distance appropriate to the more emotionally stark atmosphere.

The irony is that the toys saved the show. Ratings were low, but strong toy sales saved the show from being canceled. I would have thought they wouldn't have sold because they're not the kind of cool toys I wanted as a kid - I loved transforming toys like the Autobots and Transformers.

The TV series is roughly divided into three arcs: episodes 1-13, 14-26, and 28-52. Each arc has a different tone and setting. The first is a Blade Runner-esque story set in a future overrun by motorcycle punks, the second is a Vietnam war movie-style story, and the third is in more of a conventional Sunrise space opera style reminiscent of Ideon.

My favorite by far is the second arc, the Vietnam arc, and that's where I feel the show shows its true potential and intent. I feel like this is what Ryosuke Takahashi really wanted to do with this material. I wish the entire series had been like this arc. The other arcs we've seen done to death in other shows, but there's nothing quite like the Vietnam arc of Votoms in any other anime. Rather than a space opera or post-apocalyptic action movie, it's a realistic and gritty war movie.

Episode 16 I think is the exemplary episode in the Vietnam arc. It tells a story similar to what we've seen in Vietnam war movies like Apocalypse Now, and focuses on the whole guerrilla war aspect in a way that none of the other episodes do sufficiently. The team is going upriver when they run across a small village and decide to investigate. The complexity and pathos of the situation comes through well in this episode, with the locals being brutally threatened with execution by the military outsiders because they're suspected of hiding guerrillas. Episode 21 touches on this again with an incident where they investigate a temple and find it to be an arms stockade. It's in the moments inspired by reality like this that the conflict at issue in this arc comes alive the best.

When I feel the show works its best is when the side-characters are absent and we're focused on Chirico and his army platoon. There are three side-characters who show up on and off throughout the show. I never got used to them and continued to find them immensely distracting and annoying. It's the moments in the show that they were absent, particularly during the Vietnam arc, that I liked the show the best. These characters felt like a mindless concession to the convention of comic relief, when this show didn't need any such thing.

The first arc is my least favorite because the post-apocalyptic situation is cliched and the side-characters are particularly annoying. The last arc building towards the climax starts out somewhat boring, but gets interesting eventually despite feeling like it cops out on being a hard-boiled military series in favor of becoming a grand space opera with supernatural overtones.

The sub-plot involving romantic interest Fiana didn't wreck the atmosphere as I thought it would. I thought their relationship worked rather well, especially in episode 29 where it's just Chirico and Fiana. They made an odd but interesting couple, drawn to one another for a reason that is never entirely made clear, and both equally emotionally distant.

The mecha star of Votoms TV: Toru Yoshida

Toru Yoshida was a mecha/fx animator in episodes 14, 22, 29, 33, 39, 46, and 52

With remarkable consistency, he was responsible for the most exciting mecha animation scenes in the show. Almost every episode that I had singled out as having particularly impressive animation I later discovered to have been of the hand of Toru Yoshida. The reason it wasn't immediately obvious to me was that he is not credited in many of the episodes he worked on.

Toru Yoshida had just begun as an inbetweener at Anime R in 1983 working under Kazuaki Mouri on the gag show Sasuga no Sarutobi. Anime R at the time was divided into two sections: one working on Sarutobi and another working on Votoms. Yoshida wound up being called over to work on the Votoms section because Yoshida had drawn some mecha in Sarutobi and Moriyasu Taniguchi suspected Yoshida might be of more use on Votoms.

Although he is credited as an inbetweener for a few episodes, and receives his first genga credit in episodes 33, 39, 46 and 52, Yoshida in fact drew key animation in several episodes prior to this. He drew uncredited key animation in episodes 14, 22 and 29. I had noted the effects animation in these episodes but couldn't for the life of me figure out who was responsible for it. Later on, I discovered that Yoshida confessed on his personal web site to having drawn key animation uncredited on these episodes, and it dawned on me that it was Yoshida who had drawn virtually all of the parts in the show that struck me as being particularly well animated.

Yoshida started out distinctly a Kanada-school animator in terms of his style of FX, presumably influenced by his mentor Kazuaki Mouri, but quickly developed his own very unique take on FX animation that would go on to influence the likes of Shinya Ohira. He is one of the great FX animators of anime history, one of the pioneers of a quasi-realistic approach to FX leavened by thrilling Kanada-style timing and forms.

Episode 14 features some of the earliest good mecha action work on the show, with an exciting scene in the forest at the end full of zippy movement and lively FX. This was Toru Yoshida's uncredited genga debut. Episode 22 features a great battle scene in the river at the climax. Episode 29 has some nicely drawn mecha in space at the end of the episode, though there isn't much action. The first half of episode 33 features the beautiful smoke FX that Yoshida was so good at. Episode 39 features a good battle in the second half with lots of angular effects and lush smoke. Episode 46 is the climax of the show's animation: it's the biggest bash of good animation in the show. If you only check out one episode for the animation, it's this one. It's packed head to toe with great mecha and fx shots.

Just about the only episode with good animation that I can't attribute to Toru Yoshida is episode 27, the climax of the Vietnam arc. It has a number of very cool shots of flowing smoke as well as nice mecha action. Although Bebow is not credited, this was clearly a Bebow episode going by the staff involved, none of whom was involved in any other episode.

In an interesting side-note, Toru Yoshida was apparently one of the inbetweeners of Daicon IV. Yoshida isn't part of the proto-Gainax group, so I didn't see how he could have gotten involved, but it makes a bit more sense knowing that Daicon IV was made as the opening film of the Japan Science Fiction Convention, which was held in Osaka that year.

The character animation star of Votoms TV: Moriyasu Taniguchi



Taniguchi's Chirico versus the standard Shioyama Chirico

Anime R founder Moriyasu Taniguchi acted as the sakkan on all of the Anime R episodes: 2, 9, 14, 22, 29, 33, 39, 46, and 52.

The remarkable thing is how much Taniguchi's drawings stand out. His episodes are one of the classic examples of how a good sakkan can elevate the quality of an episode. His drawings look very different from the original designs by series designer Norio Shioyama, but the funny thing is, they look better. Taniguchi actually upstaged the character designer. His drawings have a much more sharp and refined look in terms of the facial features, and he even invests his character animation with more subtelty and nuance than the other episodes. The characters look and behave in a more convincing way in Taniguchi's episodes than in any of the others. In many of the other episodes, the characters are quite badly drawn, and their acting and expressions don't match what is happening in the script. It's only under Taniguchi's hand that the characters come alive and become more expressive in a way appropriate to the given situation.

Episode 29 is one of the best episodes in the show, with some of the best Taniguchi drawings in the show. It's a superb episode all-over, probably my favorite in the show due to fantastically moody directing by Masashi Ikeda 池田成 that gives the episode real atmosphere and tension. I wish more of the episodes in the show had felt like this episode. I like that the episode features only the two protagonists. There are no other characters to ruin the atmosphere with hijinx or other distractions. On top of that, there are some Toru Yoshida mecha drawings at the end. Masashi Ikeda went on to become the director of the smash hit Samurai Troopers (again with character designer Norio Shioyama) as well as the latest entry in the Votoms saga from last year, Alone Again.

I sense the influence of Tomonori Kogawa in Taniguchi's drawings in such things as the way the eyes are drawn, and in the way he draws the face when looking up at an angle, something Tomonori Kogawa pioneered in Ideon. His drawings just feel better stylized than Norio Shioyama's. Evidence to how highly Ryosuke Takahashi thought of Taniguchi's work is the fact that Taniguchi sakkan'd the last episode, rather than the character designer, as is normal. The series closes with Taniguchi's radical interpretation of the characters, rather than the original character designer's own drawings. Ryosuke Takahashi wound up coming back to Taniguchi and appointing him character designer a few years later for one of his other triumphs, SPT Layzner, in which Anime R provided a tremendous amount of good animation (alongside Dove). Perhaps in honor of Norio Shioyama's generosity with Taniguchi's liberties on Votoms, Taniguchi apparently refused to act as chief animation director on the show to respect the individuality of the individual sakkans.

The directing star of Votoms TV: Toshifumi Takizawa

In addition to being the "chief episode director", Toshifumi Takizawa 滝沢敏文 drew the storyboard for no less than 13 episodes: 4, 6, 9, 13, 18, 27, 30, 33, 35, 38, 45, 51, and 52.

I wrote about Takizawa extensively before in my posts on Dirty Pair and Crusher Joe. I love his directing style, and Votoms is one of his biggest projects from his Sunrise period.

His work on the TV series comes between his early work on Ideon and his work on Dirty Pair. I'm not sure exactly what the nature of his work consisted in this show, but I presume it to have been something along the line of 'director of the episode directors'; maintaining a consistent tone to the episodes by guiding the episode directors. In the episodes he storyboarded you can clearly see his distinct approach to directing at work even though he did not do the actual processing of any of his episodes. The episodes are full of the focus on visual storytelling and forward momentum that made the last Ideon movie so powerful, not to mention the Dirty Pair and Crusher Joe OVAs.

Takizawa drew the storyboards for the climax of the three arcs of the TV series: 13, 27 and 51. Each of these is a great example of his directing style at its finest. He brings each arc to a conclusion in magnificent form with extended action sequences that unfold largely through visual storytelling without relying excessively on dialogue. Episodes 27 and 51 are particularly impressive in this regard.

Votoms OVA 1: The Last Red Shoulder (1985)

The first of the many OVAs to be released came out just a year after the TV series ended. Chronologically, it takes place between the end of the first arc (the Blade Runner-style Udo arc) and the beginning of the second arc (the Vietnam-style Kumen arc).

Story-wise, this is one of my favorite Votoms outings because it doesn't feature any of the annoying side-characters, and it's exclusively about Chirico and his soldier comrades on a mission. This is the episode where they introduce the character of Pailsen, who played a big role in Chirico's past. He just recently got an extensive prequel OVA series with 12 episodes in Pailsen Files, which chronologically is the earliest outing in the saga. It's all quite confusing to try to organize. Here in The Last Red Shoulder, Chirico and his former war buddies go after Pailsen to kill him for using and then discarding them when they were no longer needed.

This episode features some good action animation in the climax, which is presumably of the hand of Toru Yoshida, who here receives his sole Mecha Animation Director credit in the series. (if you don't count Mellowlink) The animation only credits Anime R as a studio without crediting any of the specific animators. Similarly, the credits list Studio Dove, Bebow and Magic Bus without listing who from these studios was involved. Studio Dove was involved in the TV series and went on to do the animation for the next two OVAs, and its star mecha animators were Hiroshi Koizumi 古泉浩司 and Hitoshi Waratani 藁谷均, so perhaps they were the ones involved here. Perhaps the Bebow animators were those in episode 27.

Unfortunately, the episode was not directed by Toshifumi Takizawa because he was busy directing Dirty Pair, but he would come back with the next OVA. It's not as exciting as the Takizawa-directed episodes, but still quite enjoyable.

The assistant technical director here was Takashi Imanishi 今西隆志, who started out as runner on Votoms. He switched career to directing with this episode, going on to become the technical director of Roots of Ambition, episode storyboarder/director of Mellowlink and finally full-fledged director of Radiant Heresy.

Votoms OVA 2: Big Battle (1986)

In the next OVA outing, Chirico and his sidekicks fight a maniac driving a gigantic tank. Chronologically, this episode depicts the events that transpired between the climax of the third arc of the TV series (the space opera-ish Quent arc) and the cold sleep depicted in the last episode as having taken place a year after the events of the TV series climax.

Takizawa comes back as the storyboarder and director of this episode, so this is probably the most thoroughly Takizawa outing in the whole Votoms saga. The directing is indeed fantastic. The scene where a minute goes by wordlessly as water floods in and the characters hold on for dear life is full of amazing tension, and I love the attention to little details such as where Chirico has to crawl backwards on his back with his shoulder when he's pinned to the floor, or Fiana's aghast reaction when her hand quickly jerks under the control of the machine. Takizawa also meticulously depicts how the time bomb is armed: twist two knobs, press them down, then press a button on the side. The climactic episode of the TV series was also a meticulously detailed depiction of Chirico going around pushing in rods to shut down a massive computer. I also like how when the bad guy gets shot in the head, his cyborg implant deflects the bullet and you can see the metal peeking through his skull.

The animation is really strong throughout, and this time it's not Anime R who's to thank, it's Studio Dove. This perhaps makes sense because Takizawa had since formed a close relationship with Studio Dove during the course of his work on Dirty Pair. Indeed, they provide excellent work here in no way inferior to Anime R. Norio Shioyama's drawings here are also far better than they ever were, and the characters look fantastic as a result, almost reminiscent of the style of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, with great feature definition and more nuanced character acting. It feels like we're finally seeing Norio Shioyama's characters brought alive in a way that does them justice, as opposed to being re-invented through the lens of Moriyasu Taniguchi.

The scene where the protagonists drive up to the big tank are particularly impressive for the amount of detail packed into the shots and the precision with which effects are layered on top of one another. The scene feels very dense visually, with every little element being controlled carefully. It makes for an exciting scene that vividly conveys the speed at which things are happening.

The only problem with this otherwise excellent and supremely entertaining OVA is that it doesn't really feel like what I want to see from Votoms. It's too fun for that. I expect dark, bleak soldier action from Votoms, not the madcap action we're regaled with in this episode. The episode essentially feels more like a Crusher Joe episode than anything. That's not a bad thing per se; it's just different. This is essentially an entertainment side-story rather than a beefy story contributing to chronicling Chirico's past like the previous and next OVAs.

Votoms OVA 3: Roots of Ambition (1988)

The third of the one-shot OVAs following the TV series is chronologically the earliest in the saga. This is the starting point of the whole story. Here we find out how Chirico came to have a vendetta for Pailsen.

This is by far my favorite single outing in the Votoms saga. This OVA pins you to your seat, as well as digging into the nitty gritty of Chirico's sordid past. None of the previous Votoms are quite this bleak and intense. It delivers exactly the kind of story I want to see from Votoms: a hard-boiled story about Chirico and other soldiers told through tight dramaturgy and fierce mecha battles, without silly antics. Hard-boiled indeed, this is by far the bloodiest Votoms outing. Blood and death are depicted here more bluntly than ever before.

The quality is also the best of any of the Votoms OVAs. The animation this time is entirely done by Studio Dove, and this OVA singlehandedly proves that they are one of the criminally underappreciated subcontracting studios of the 1980s. With a mere five animators, they manage to provide a level of quality that is nothing short of stunning. The mecha and effects animation is far more intricate and nuanced than anything before. This is clearly the culmination of Dove's work on Sunrise mecha shows. The mecha animation here would have been the work of Hiroshi Waratani and Koji Takahashi, while in the previous OVA it would have been the work of Hiroshi Waratani and Koizumi Hiroshi. The other Dove animators listed would have done the characters.

By 1988, mecha animation was becoming more and more realistic. It was only a year later in 1989 that Mitsuo Iso drew his groundbreaking realistic animation for the opening scene of War in the Pocket. The speed of the evolution of mecha animation in the 1980s was remarkable. Just a few years earlier this level of detail would have been inconceivable.

Helping to give this amazing animation its impact is the fact that the episode was storyboarded by Toshifumi Takizawa. His storyboard creates a perfect balance between the drama and the episode's thrillingly choreographed action sequences. Takizawa didn't direct the episode; that was done by Takashi Imanishi, whom I mentioned before. This was one of his first steps towards the director's chair. Together they make this episode into a magnificently crafted piece of entertainment.

Votoms OVA series: The Radiant Heresy (1994-1995)

After The Roots of Ambition, the last Votoms outing the Dove and R team worked on would be Mellowlink, but I haven't seen that, so I'll leave that for another time. Several years later, this new 5-episode OVA series came out. This time the staff was pretty much completely different except for the leads of director Ryosuke Takahashi and character designer Norio Shioyama, so this outing feels quite different from everything that came before. There is a lot more connection with the present in terms of the staff. People like Jiro Kanai, Norio Matsumoto, Yutaka Nakamura, Yasushi Muraki, Akitoshi Yokoyama, Masami Goto, Isamu Imakake, Toshihiro Kawamoto and Akihiko Yamashita are all still very active in this or that production today.

Toru Yoshida is another element of continuity. He is the mecha animation director again. A few other Anime R names are scattered throughout the credits, including Takahiro Komori and Fumiko Kishi, while one or two Dove names are also to be seen, but for the most part it's new faces.

As the preceding list indicates, the genga staff is pretty impressive, although the animation isn't the extravaganza this would seem to suggest. The animation is rather strong at some fundamental level even when the animation isn't particularly impressive. I think that's due to one of the most surprising names in the credits: Hisashi Nakayama. None other than Hisashi Mori. He was involved in each episode doing key animation and/or layout assistance. I suspect it's his hand in maintaining the quality of the layouts that gives much of the animation its vague feeling of fundamental strength.

I'm not able to identify his animation with complete certainty this early on, but the scenes with Loccina in episode 3, for example, jumped out at me the first time I saw them, and feel like they might be of his hand. They're my favorite scenes in this series. There's a strange dynamism and roughness to the animation that doesn't look like any other scene in this OVA series. It was great seeing this character brought back from the TV series, as he's one of my favorite characters, and interesting to see him come back in the form of a half-crazed monastic scholar of all things Chirico. The gritty drawings in the scene combine with the gravelly, possessed voice-acting of Banjo Ginga to great effect. Of course, this doesn't jibe with the fact that Mori started out as a mecha animator, so maybe he just handled the mecha scenes. Some of the effects in the first half of episode 2, for example, feel like Mori, as do the gorgeous explosion and flame effects near the end of episode 1.

The character drawings of Chirico and Fiana here are a little disappointing. It feels like after the peak of Big Battle Norio Shioyama never quite managed to draw the characters as impressively again. They feel somewhat bland and expressionless. Some of the side-characters like Loccina are a notable exception.

The battle at the beginning of episode 5 has a really nice timing to it, though I can't pinpoint who it might be. Masami Goto maybe? It's the same with the other episodes. There are nice bits here and there, though it's hard to say which animator in the above list did them as this is still pretty early in most of their careers.

The mecha animation overall doesn't feel like it tops what was achieved by Studio Dove in The Roots of Ambition, even though there are moments were the mecha animation clearly shows a new and more modern take on FX and movement compared to the animation in that 1988 OVA. The animation of the Dove animators and Toru Yoshida just felt good to watch in a way that most of the mecha animation here doesn't, and it was done by way fewer animators.

The story of the episode is fairly interesting. Taking place many years after the events of the TV series, it places Chirico in a world in which he has come to be viewed with something approaching religious fear. The story makes some smart commentary on the political use of religion, a subject Ryosuke Takahashi came back to in Flag, but the directing is somewhat lacking in dynamism and it makes me long for the days of Toshifumi Takizawa's directing. Takashi Imanishi's directing isn't bad per se, it's just a little plodding. Even in the action scenes there's never a feeling of real tension.

The episode does benefit from impressive attention to detail in the spirit of the Sunrise productions of this era, with highly detailed backgrounds and stills of the mecha being packed with far more detail than pre-1990 mecha were.

The story ends on a real downer, I must say, and I wish they hadn't done what they do at the end.

In memoriam Hiroshi Koizumi

I'd like to take a moment to remember Hiroshi Koizumi. He will not be familiar to anyone over here because he died suddenly in 1988 not long after working on Big Battle. He was killed in a freak car accident when a truck rear-ended him while he was stopped at a red light on his motorbike on his way home from work.

Hiroshi Koizumi was one of Studio Dove's great animators, and certainly one of the best mecha animators of the 1980s in Japan. However, due to the fact that he worked at a small subcontractor and died so early into a short career (he only debuted in 1983), even in Japan among animation aficionados he is not very well known, to say nothing of over here.

Koizumi was responsible for drawing no less than 10% of the animation of that classic of mecha space operas, Char's Counterattack. That is an astounding amount of animation by any standard, especially by the standards of such a high-quality film. Apparently much of the climax of the film in this video is his work, including the magnificent hand-to-hand mecha combat at the beginning. He drew many shots in the first half of Five Star Stories, another movie from this era with impressive mecha animation. As the best animator in the studio, he was the only Studio Dove animator working on these two prestigious feature films. His last job was as mecha animation director of episodes 2 and 4 of Mellowlink, although he is not credited as such and only Studio Dove is credited as the mecha animation director for some reason. He was scheduled to be the mecha animation director for each Dove episode.

Here are some links to a few genga drawings by Koizumi that never got used. They were uploaded by Nobuyoshi Nishimura of Studio Dove.
Anna from Layzner
Kei from the Dirty Pair TV series
Doodles on a genga for Ninja Senshi Tobikage

Hiroshi Koizumi works:
Dougram (1981-1983)
Votoms (1983-1984) 8, 12, 18, 20, 23, 28, 31, 35, 41, 45, 49, 51
Dorvack (1983) 31
Vifam (1983) 30
Bismark (1984) 4, 26, 33, 37, 43, 47
El Gaim (1984) 22
Galvion (1984) 14, 21
Galient (1984) 5, 10, 14, 18, 21, 24
Tobikage (1985) 2
Z Gundam (1985) 8, 13, 17
SPT Layzner (1985) 2, 5, 10, 13, 18, 22, 27, 31, 35
Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder (1985)
Dirty Pair TV (1985) 8, 9, 25, 26
ZZ Gundam (1986)
Galient OVA (1986)
Votoms: Big Battle (1986)
El Gaim OVA (1986)
Dead Heat (1986)
Dragnar (1987)
Dirty Pair movie (1987)
City Hunter (1987) 7, 8, 16, 12, 19, 22
Kimagure Orange Road (1987) 5
Mister Ajikko (1988) 33
Gundam: Char's Counterattack (1988)
Mellowlink (1988) Mecha Sakkan 2, 4
Five Star Stories (1988)

I hope this can help in small part to get him some recognition, even if it's a little late after all this time.


Armored Trooper Votoms 装甲騎兵ボトムズ (TV series, 52 eps, 1983-1984)

StoryboardDirectorSakkanKey Animators
1終戦 War's end清水恵蔵 Keizo Shimizu
川筋 豊 Yutaka Kawasuji
牟田清司 Seiji Muta
京 春香
Kyo Haruka
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
清水恵蔵、塩山紀生
Keizo Shimizu, Norio Shioyama
2ウド Udo上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
松野達也
Tatsuya Matsuno
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
3出会い Encounter森 安夫 Yasuo Mori
山中英治 Eiji Yamanaka
奥田万里 Mari Okuda
松野達也
Tatsuya Matsuno
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
4バトリング Battling布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
神宮 慧
Hajime Jingu
5罠 Trap加藤 茂 Shigeru Kato
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
木のプロダクション Kino Production
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
上村栄司
Eiji Kamimura
6素体 Protid中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
西城 明
Akira Saijo
7襲撃 Raid谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
新田敏夫 Toshio Arata
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
谷沢 豊、新田敏夫
Yutaka Tanisawa, Toshio Arata
8取引 Transaction青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
9救出 Rescue上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
10レッド・ショルダー Red Shoulder多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
金子紀男 Norio Kaneko
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
鈴木英二、塩山紀生
Eiji Suzuki, Norio Shioyama
11逆襲 Counterattack中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
吉田 浩
Hiroshi Yoshida
桐野克己
Katsumi Kirino
西城 明
Akira Saijo
12絆 Bonds布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
吉田 浩
Hiroshi Yoshida
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
神宮 慧
Hajime Jingu
13脱出 Escape青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
二宮常雄 Tsuneo Futamiya
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二、塩山紀生
Eiji Suzuki, Norio Shioyama
14アッセンブルEX-10 Assemble EX-10上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
松野達也
Tatsuya Matsuno
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
15疑惑 Doubt中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
吉田 浩
Hiroshi Yoshida
桐野克己
Katsumi Kirino
西城 明
Akira Saijo
16掃討 Search and destroy谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
新田敏夫 Toshio Arata
金子紀男 Norio Kaneko
笹木寿子 Masako Sasaki
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
17再会 Reunion多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
高橋資祐
Motosuke Takahashi
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
神宮 慧
Hajime Jingu
18急変 Turn of events八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
上村栄司、塩山紀生
Eiji Kamimura, Norio Shioyama
19思惑 Anticipation中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
康村正一
Seiichi Yasumura
西城 明
Akira Saijo
20フィアナ Fiana中村プロ Nakamura Pro
アニメ・アール Anime R
マジックバス Magic Bus
加藤 茂 Shigeru Kato
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
-高橋良輔
Ryosuke Takahashi
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
21遡行 Upstream青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
加藤 茂 Shigeru Kato
笹木寿子 Masako Sasaki
山崎享子 Ryoko Yamazaki
清島孝一郎 Koichiro Kiyoshima
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二、塩山紀生
Eiji Suzuki, Norio Shioyama
22触発 Contact上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
桐野克己
Katsumi Kirino
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
23錯綜 Complication八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
神宮 慧
Hajime Jingu
24横断 Crossing中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
富沢雄三
Tomizawa Yuzo
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
西城 明
Akira Saijo
25潜入 Infiltration谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
金子紀男 Norio Kaneko
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
上村栄司
Eiji Kamimura
26肉迫 Closing in八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
福井享子 Ryoko Fukui
清島孝一郎 Koichiro Kiyoshima
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
27暗転 Turn for the worse寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
所 智一 Tomokazu Tokoro
矢木正之 Masayuki Yaki
遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
坂本英明 Hideaki Sakamoto
詫 祐二 Yuji Tsuge
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
28運命 Destiny青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
二宮常雄 Tsuneo Futamiya
マジックバス Magic Bus
アニメ・アール Anime R
中村プロ Nakamura Pro
-高橋良輔
Ryosuke Takahashi
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
29二人 Two上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
30幻影 Illusion中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
西城 明
Akira Saijo
31不可侵宙域 Forbidden zone布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
スタジオダブ Studio Dove
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
32イプシロン Ipsilon青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
清島孝一郎 Koichiro Kiyoshima
福井享子 Ryoko Fukui
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
上村栄司、塩山紀生
Eiji Kamimura, Norio Shioyama
33対決 Showdown上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
吉田 徹 Toru Yoshida
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
34惑星サンサ Planet Sansa中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
西城 明
Akira Saijo
35死線 Near death藁谷 均 Hitoshi Waratani
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
36恩讐 Love and hate神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
高橋資祐
Motosuke Takahashi
康村正一
Seiichi Yasumura
上村栄司、塩山紀生
Eiji Kamimura, Norio Shioyama
37虜 Captive多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
38暗闇 Darkness中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
西城 明
Akira Saijo
39パーフェクト・ソルジャー Perfect Soldier上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
吉田 徹 Toru Yoshida
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
40仲間 Friendアニメ・アール Anime R
中村プロ Nakamura Pro
オールプロダクション All Production
-高橋良輔
Ryosuke Takahashi
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
41クエント Quentスタジオダブ Studio Dove
藁谷 均 Hitoshi Waratani
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
八幡 正、塩山紀生
Tadashi Yahata, Norio Shioyama
42砂漠 Desert布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
福井享子 Ryoko Fukui
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
43遺産 Legacy青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
木下ゆうき Yuuki Kishita
清島孝一郎 Koichiro Kiyoshima
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
44禁断 Forbidden中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
松下佳弘 Yoshihiro Matsushita
和泉絹子 Masako Izumi
時矢義則 Yoshinori Tokiya
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
西城 明
Akira Saijo
45遭遇 Encounterスタジオダブ Studio Dove
藁谷 均 Hitoshi Waratani
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
きのプロ Kino Pro
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
46予感 Intuition加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
吉田 徹 Toru Yoshida
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
糸島雅彦 Masahiko Itojima
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
47異変 Fortuity布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
48後継者 Successor奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
柳沢哲也 Tetsuya Yanagisawa
石田 誠 Makoto Ishida
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
西城 明
Akira Saijo
49異能者 They of special powersスタジオダブ Studio Dove
藁谷 均 Hitoshi Waratani
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
溝井裕二 Yuji Mizoi
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
康村正一
Seiichi Yasumura
八幡 正
Tadashi Yahata
50乱雲 Thunderhead波戸根良昭 Yoshiaki Hatone
松原徳弘 Norihiro Matsuhara
塚本 篤 Atsushi Tsukamoto
佐々木喜子 Yoshiko Sasaki
貴島優子 Yuko Takashima
河口俊夫 Toshio Kawaguchi
香川 浩 Hiroshi Kagawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二、塩山紀生
Eiji Suzuki, Norio Shioyama
51修羅 Battle青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
スタジオダブ Studio Dove
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
52流星 Shooting star加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
吉田 徹 Toru Yoshida
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
糸島雅彦 Masahiko Itojima
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi

The Last Red Shoulder ザ・ラストレッドショルダー (OVA, 54 mins, 1985)

Created by & Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Character Design & Anim. Dir.:塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
Mechanical Animation Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Script:はままさのりMasanori Hama
Storyboard:加瀬充子
谷田部勝義
Nobuko Kase
Masayoshi Yatabe
Technical Director:加瀬充子Nobuko Kase
Assistant Technical Director:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Key Animation:アニメアールAnime R
スタジオダブStudio Dove
スタジオビーボオ―Studio Bebow
マジックバスMagic Bus
福井享子Ryoko Fukui
清島孝一郎Koichiro Kiyoshima

Big Battle ビッグバトル (OVA, 56 mins, 1986)

Created by & Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Character Design & Anim. Dir.:塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
Script:はままさのりMasanori Hama
Storyboard & Technical Director:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
Key Animation:スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
藁谷均Hitoshi Waratani
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
 
服部真奈美Manami Hattori
福井享子 Ryoko Fukui
加藤義貴Yoshitaka Kato

Red Soldier Document: The Roots of Ambition レッドショルダードキュメント 野望のルーツ (OVA, 57 mins, 1988)

Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Character Design & Anim. Dir.:塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
Script:吉川惣司Soji Yoshikawa
Storyboard:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
Technical Director:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Key Animation:スタジオダブStudio Dove
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
高橋幸治Koji Takahashi
藁谷均Hitoshi Waratani
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura

The Radiant Heresy 赫奕たる異端 (OVA, 5 eps, 25 mins each, 1994-1995)

Created by & Chief Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Director & Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Episode Directors:原田奈奈
中野頼道
大熊朝秀
Nana Harada
Yorimichi Nakano
Nobuhide Ookuma (Takashi Imanishi)
Character Design & Anim. Dir.:塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
Assistant A.D.:横山彰利
(+小林利充
Akitoshi Yokoyama
Toshimitsu Kobayashi in ep 2)
Script:吉川惣司Soji Yoshikawa
Mechanical Animation Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Music:乾裕樹Hiroki Inui
 
Key animation:(Episode 1)
阿部邦博Kunihiro Abe
村木靖Yasushi Muraki
小森高博Takahiro Komori
舛館俊秀Toshihide Masudate
松本憲生Norio Matsumoto
松本文雄Fumio Matsumoto
加藤茂Shigeru Kato
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
中山久司Hisashi Nakayama
馬場俊子Toshiko Baba
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
スタジオダブStudio Dove
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
 
A.D. help:小林利充 Toshimitsu Kobayashi
 
Layout Assistant: 中山久司 Hisashi Nakayama
 
(Episode 2)
アニメロマンAnime Roman
スタジオダブStudio Dove
安藤美行Miyuki Ando
金井次郎Jiro Kanai
尾形雄二Yuji Ogata
加藤茂Shigeru Kato
[Chinese names]
横山彰利Akitoshi Yokoyama
中山久司Hisashi Nakayama
 
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
 
Layout Assistant: 中山久司 Hisashi Nakayama
 
(Episode 3)
飯野泰造Taizo Iino
服部真奈美Manami Hattori
加藤茂Shigeru Kato
金井次郎Jiro Kanai
佐藤修Osamu Sato
永田正美Masami Nagata
[Chinese names]
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
小林利充Toshimitsu Kobayashi
中山久司Hisashi Nakayama
中村豊Yutaka Nakamura
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
京都アニ
メーション
Kyoto Animation
 
(Episode 4)
服部真奈美Manami Hattori
門上洋子Yoko Kadogami
馬場俊子Toshiko Baba
鵜飼美樹Miki Ukai
岡田和久Kazuhisa Okada
江原仁Jin Ehara
川元利浩Toshihiro Kawamoto
入江泰浩Yasuhiro Irie
中田雅夫Masao Nakata
加藤義貴Yoshitaka Kato
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
横山彰利Akitoshi Yokoyama
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
小林利充Toshimitsu Kobayashi
 
Layout Assistant: 中山久司 Hisashi Nakayama
 
(Episode 5)
門上洋子Yoko Kadogami
馬場俊子Toshiko Baba
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
久行宏和Hirokazu Hisayuki
金田正彦Masahiko Kanada
服部真奈美Manami Hattori
加藤義貴Yoshitaka Kato
後藤雅己Masami Goto
山下明彦Akihiko Yamashita
牧野行洋Yukihiro Makino
小森高博Takahiro Komori
西村貴世Takase Nishimura
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
横山彰利Akitoshi Yokoyama
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
中山久司Hisashi Nakayama
鈴木勉Tsutomu Suzuki
今掛勇Isamu Imakake
[Chinese names]
アニメアールAnime R
スタジオダブStudio Dove

Saturday, May 5, 2012

07:28:00 pm , 1985 words, 3333 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Anime R

Black Magic M-66

One of the classics of the golden age of OVAs is Black Magic M-66 from 1987. It was one of my favorites back when I was getting into anime, with its violent, exciting action and hard-boiled, no-nonsense story. It was a superb high-quality one-off - exactly what I wanted to see in an anime OVA - although in the end it felt a little slight and undeveloped.

I just re-watched it for the first time in many years, and the quality was far better than I'd remembered, probably because I didn't have the ability to appreciate good animation back then. The animation has impressive tension and energy.

As a film it's a bit problematic. It seems like it would make a strong film in theory, and it maintains interest at every moment due to the cinematic pacing and high-quality animation, but something about it feels off overall. But in the end it's a nice OVA with some uniquely detailed directing and animation, and is well worth re-visiting.

The film was co-directed by the author of the original manga, Shirow Masamune, and Hiroyuki Kitakubo. Shirow Masamune drew the storyboard himself, so this is probably the highest-grade Shirow Masamune anime. Later films like Ghost in the Shell bear the heavy imprint of their director.

I'm not sure exactly how the work was divided between the two directors apart from this, but perhaps Kitakubo was something of a line director on the project, Shirow Masamune providing the skeleton and details and Kitakubo putting them together, i.e. handling the technical matters of anime production about which the manga creator would have been ignorant. From Blood: The Last Vampire to Rojin Z, Kitakubo is unsurpassed at making highly dense short entertainment packages, and this film is no exception.

This was Shirow Masamune's first time ever drawing a storyboard, so he used the recently published storyboard for Miyazaki's Nausicaa as a reference on how to draw the storyboard. This certainly accounts for the film's unique feeling. His storyboard is extremely detailed, like his manga (see some examples here), so very little in the final product was left up to chance. No person acquainted with anime production would have storyboarded the film in the way he did; they would certainly have taken an easier way out, according to what they understood by experience could be achieved within the given deadline. The film apparently wound up many months over schedule, presumably due to the demands of the storyboard, resulting in its release being delayed by almost a year. The Gundress debacle is testament to how much of a generous concession this was on the part of the production company. But Masamune Shirow's direct input was simultaneously the film's liability and its greatest asset, because he brought an outsider's approach untainted by conventional anime thinking to the task of presenting the story.

But what was bad for the production company is good for us, as in the end it's because they were able to lavish such detail on the animation that the film still holds up after all these years. This unusually long production period resulted in a tight film in which each shot is highly worked, there is no wasted moment, and the action and effects animation is truly impressive. At around 45 minutes, it has the pacing and atmosphere of a film, but the length of a slightly longer-than-usual direct-to-video release. In that respect it's reminiscent of Hiroyuki Kitakubo's later Blood: The Last Vampire.

The narrative is satisfying because it's driven by visual storytelling rather than wordy explanations. They do an impressive job of visually conveying a future (yet familiar) world of believable cybernetic military sci-fi trappings. The storytelling is lean, the script is pleasingly serious and no-nonsense, consisting mostly of authentic-sounding terse and cryptic military exchanges. The action scenes are long and meaty, with each physical action depicted in convincing detail. The coloring palette of the film is toned down in a way that helps make it feel more realistic.

That's not to say it's dead serious. The films balances seriousness with fan-service. The film opens (predictably for an AIC production) with a nude scene that is saved from being in poor taste only by the fact that it's quite funny and isn't played up for lurid fetishism. The shot where Sibelle picks the sheet from the bottom of the pile and the pile topples over but she doesn't even notice because she's so intent gives the scene a pleasingly tongue-in-cheek tone. Kitakubo's only previous directing credit was Cream Lemon: Pop Chaser, which despite being the pioneering adult anime was more funny and exciting than titillating. Kitakubo also gives the film an edge of cleverness through directing tricks, for example when he cuts from a photo of the professor in the newspaper to the headlights of a vehicle where his eyes were. Rintaro did a similar gag in Download.

Despite the effort put into the details, the cumulative effect of the film is underwhelming for some reason. It feels sluggish and lacking in tension. But the serious-minded story, detail-oriented directing and powerful action scenes more than make up for this, and in the end, it may not be a Great Film, but it's closer to being one than most OVAs. At the very least, it's a damn sight better than the boring Appleseed OVA that came out one year later. It's a satisfying and entertaining little action film.

The animation

The quality of the film is strangely uneven. The animation is very high quality, but the backgrounds are not very good overall, and flat-out bad in some shots. Even the animation, which is quite strong, feels somehow rough. It feels in essence like highly polished TV animation, rather than the movie-caliber animation of Akira from the next year, for example. Despite striving for cinematic feeling, the film's layouts are fairly standard, without the careful simulation of camera lens focal length that is one of the subtle but important ways Akira and other films achieve a feeling of reality. To be fair, there aren't many OVAs that top this one in terms of animation quality. And most importantly, the animation is very satisfying. The action is good, and the drawings feel good at every moment.

Hiroyuki Okiua, Toru Yoshida and the other animators of Osaka subcontractor Anime R are to thank for the quality of the animation. Hiroyuki Okiura oversaw the characters and Toru Yoshida oversaw the mecha. This was Okiura's first job as sakkan. He had just debuted a few years before, mostly drawing impressive mecha animation on a few Sunrise shows like SPT Layzner (1985-1986), and very quickly made a name for himself at a very young age. Astoundingly, he turned 20 during production of Black Magic M-66. Toru Yoshida, meanwhile, had debuted not long before Okiura, first coming to prominence on Armor Trooper Votoms (1983-1984), on which Okiura worked as an inbetweener. Okiura drew what is one of his first genga in the last episode, uncredited, while Yoshida was still being credited as an inbetweener early on in the series despite the fact that he was drawing genga, so they debuted very close together.

The character animation is strong throughout thanks to Okiura's laborious work as sakkan. Despite having been pegged a mecha animator in his first few years, Okiura didn't view himself as such. He just wanted to draw detailed animation like one of his idols Takashi Nakamura, and in anime at the time the mecha animation was one of the places where there were fewer restrictions on the number of drawings you were allowed to use. That's the reason many 'mover' type animators like Okiura - and Shinya Ohira - started out as mecha animators. This was Okiura's first step towards becoming a character animator. Even at this early stage, you can sense Okiura's uncommon skills. The character animation feels unusually rich, even in throwaway shots like the shot at the beginning where Sibelle is writing something down, although this is no doubt also in part thanks to Shirow Masamune's detailed storyboard and Kitakubo's detail-oriented style of directing.

The key animation credits are divided between Anime R, Atelier Giga and AIC/freelance animators. I wrote about Atelier Giga before in my post on Cool Cool Bye and Relic Armor Legaciam. It was an informal gathering of ex-Bebow animators. Although Atelier Giga did not survive long past 1987, many of its animators stayed on at AIC for years to come. The impressive names in the AIC/freelance grouping are Shinya Ohira and Satoru Utsunomiya. I suspect Utsunomiya handled the scene in the restaurant, though I'm not positive.

Anime R receives a prominent spot in the credits, and its animators were responsible for many of the best parts in the film. This is in essence an Anime R film in terms of the actual drawings, although the production company was AIC/Animate. The big battle that is the highlight of the first half of the film was animated by Hiroyuki Okiura, Toru Yoshida and Kazuaki Mouri of Anime R. Okiura handled the beginning in the forest up until the impressive turning shot where the robot hurls the vehicle (pic 3 at top), and the rest was animated by Yoshida and Mouri. Mouri in particular did the impressive shots where the robot wields the metal pipe in beautiful acrobatic action (pic 4). Okiura also drew the climactic scene on the rooftop (pic 1). Shinya Ohira helped Okiura out with this section by animating a few shots where the building crumbles (pic 2). This is the same year that Ohira worked on the effects extravaganza that is the Captain Power home shooter game, and Toru Yoshida was the other big figure behind the animation of Captain Power, so Toru Yoshida may have been an influence on Ohira's development into an effects animator. This scene in Black Magic M-66 is also presumably what led to Ohira animating the smoke and building crumbling in Akira. Amusingly enough, right after Akira, Ohira animated another crumbling building in an episode of Peter Pan sakkan'd by Okiura. Ohira was an animator in Okiura's sakkan debut, and he is an animator in Okiura's latest film.

Black Magic M-66 came out a year before Akira, and in fact it feels reminiscent of Akira in various subtle ways. It almost feels like a dry run for Akira. The basic elements are similar - gruff general and crazy scientist after a rogue experimental subject with superhuman powers on a killing spree - and the military elements are depicted (visually and by the script) very realistically and methodically, and even the gestures sometimes feel similar. It's presumably seeing Okiura's work on Black Magic M-66 that prompted Katsuhiro Otomo to invite Hiroyuki Okiura to work on Akira. After working under Nakamura on Akira, Okiura went on to provide great animation under Nakamura again in Peter Pan and Catnapped, not to mention becoming one of the key figures behind the two Ghost in the Shell films alongside fellow (ex-)Anime R animator Kazuchika Kise, who is also present as an animator here (though he was technically at Anime R sister studio Mu).

Incidentally, the impressively nuanced animation in the elevator just before the climax was animated by two animators who aren't credited. It was animated by Yoshiyuki Ichikawa 市川吉幸 based on roughs by Yuji Moriyama 森山ゆうじ. Both were members of Studio MIN, formed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo himself in 1982. MIN was one of the many artist collectives euphemistically known as a studio that were formed in the 1980s. MIN disbanded in 1991, immediately after production of Kitakubo's Rojin Z.


Black Magic M-66 ブラックマジックM-66 (Animate Film/AIC, OVA, 1987, 47 mins)

Created by:士郎正宗Masamune Shirow
 
Director/Script/Storyboard:士郎正宗Masamune Shirow
Director/Structure/Character Design:北久保弘之Hiroyuki Kitakubo
 
Animation Director:沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
Mechanic Animation Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
 
Art Director:本田修Osamu Honda
Music:片柳譲陽Yoshiharu Katayanagi
 
Key Animation: アニメアール Anime R
 吉田徹Toru Yoshida黄瀬和哉Kazuchika Kise
浜川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
柳沢まさひでMasahide Yanagisawa寺田浩之Hiroyuki Terada
逢坂浩司Hiroshi Ousaka沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
 アトリエ戯雅 Atelier Giga
 宇佐美皓一Koichi Usami
岩瀧智Satoshi Iwataki
ところともかずTomokazu Tokoro
小曽根正美Masami Kosone
さとうけいいちKeiichi Sato
仲盛文Morifumi Naka
林宏樹 Hiroki Hayashi
田中正弘 Masahiro Tanaka
宇都宮智 Satoru Utsunimiya
橋本浩一 Koichi Hashimoto
清水義治 Yoshiharu Shimizu
大平晋也 Shinya Ohira

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