Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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« Mamoru Hosoda and the Secret IslandLeading up to Aquarion 19 »

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

02:48:09 pm , 914 words, 1875 views     Categories: Animation

Aquarion 19

Satoru Utsunomiya's highly anticipated episode of Aquarion had already generated a lot of talk, and barely a day after its initial broadcast it's already generated even more, with more than 100 comments on the offical blog (far more than ever before), so I had a good sense of what people thought about it going into the episode. One thing I knew right away was that I was in for something special, like Hisashi Mori's episode of Samurai 7 and Norio Matsumoto's last episode of Naruto. All three are prime examples of the rare phenomenon of a great animator being given the chance to create one episode totally the way he wants to, so that it winds up completely contrasting with the streamlined look of the rest of the series.

Each case, of course, is unique. This episode is special because Utsunomiya didn't just focus on the animation, like the others did, but had a major role in building up the setting and the art for the episode. As a result, there's less of a mismatch in the visuals. Besides having handled the animation directing, he created the unique character designs for the episode, and apparently created a large number of sketches detailing the setting, for which he earned the never-before-seen credits of "bijutsu board" (art board) and "isekai settei" (parallel world design). Clearly this is an episode that is different from the foundation up. The final product is like nothing I've ever seen in anime, closer to Moebius than to anything anyone would expect from Japan. The coloring, animation and backgrounds are perfectly in sync in a way that reminded me of Tatsuyuki Tanaka, who is the only other animator in Japan I know of who could create visuals with such a unique flavor and in such perfect balance. The backgrounds and coloring in particular are stunning. It's almost taken for granted that backgrounds have to be a certain way in anime, which made the backgrounds and whole visual concept here that much more refreshing.

Utsunomiya himself mentioned that he was worried that people turning on the show in the middle of the episode might think they had tuned in to the wrong show. I chalked it up to self-deprecating modesty, but he was right. The visuals of the episode are completely unique in every sense - color, character designs, animation, everything. Some of the comments I've read are negative reactions to this, and I actually came in willing to accept that Utsunomiya's style just wasn't for everyone. However, after seeing the episode, I changed my mind, and realized they were completely missing the point. This wasn't Utsunomiya imposing his style onto the series out of laziness; this was the staff working together to come up with a clever situation that exploited the particular talents of a certain animator, so that he could create something that would be visually stimulating and make sense in the story. Inevitably, some people, even knowing that, will still not be willing to accept visuals that stray from the norm, but it would be terrible if that had a curbing effect on this spirit of adventure, which is what animation is all about. That they had the courage to create the episode in the first place suggests they had conviction about what they were doing. Most of the people who saw the episode understood what the staff was doing, and liked Utsunomiya's unique style. Director Shoji Kawamori himself commented on the blog that he didn't mind at all if the characters looked different in every episode, and had had the designs created with that in mind. In retrospect, that may have been leading up to this. In any case, whatever people thought about the episode, it has generated a lot of discussion about animation, which can only be a good thing.

As a fan, I came in ready to be impressed, but I was impressed for a completely different reason. I would have been happy with the usual Utsunomiya, but what I saw there was him trying to go in a new direction, not just doing a card trick, and that made me happy. Most of the people who liked the episode had never even heard of Utsunomiya, and will probably soon be given to the pleasure of discovering Gosenzosama Banbanzai. While perhaps not as honed a piece as his Paranoia Agent episode, where he had complete control over every shot and hence was able to create an episode with the atmosphere of a miniature film, here he's worked within the confines to create something that is truly refreshing and I know affected a lot of the people who saw the episode - including animators. I can't think of anybody working in anime right now who's doing anything comparable. More than ever I came away feeling that the ideal would be for him to do a movie, so that he could work freely without having to worry about catching flak for inconsequential things.

Although I haven't seen the rest of the series to be able to say for sure, I believe this was the first time a mecha fight was traditionally animated in the series (though the usual CG came in later), and quite nicely at that. Doing so was a great way of increasing the stylistic unity in the episode, which was all about the unique animation, so it felt like a gift to the animation lovers - a phrase that nicely sums up this whole episode. In short, delightful.

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8 comments

Random person
Random person [Visitor]

Yeah, it’s the first time the mecha’s been animated by hand in the series. There have been one or two shots where there are parts of it drawn by hand, but not the entire thing…

Looking through all the comments only a few people at first were like “I can sense Naruto 133 coming” or “Gosenzo Banbanzai-sama kita!” … but *thankfully* the setting was such that the weird animation was intentional, or else I think some of them would be out for Utsunomiya’s blood, even if Kawamori approved of his work…

I was particularly struck by the lighting, I liked the swing scene… I also liked the bit where Apollo slipped on the mecha and was dangling off the edge of it near the beginning.

08/09/05 @ 20:02
neilworms
neilworms [Visitor]

Animated by monkeys comes up yet again…

http://www.l33t-raws.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1857

Most Anime fans don’t know good animation when they see it :P

08/10/05 @ 08:23
jay smith
jay smith [Visitor]

ahh, anime fans dont dont know a thing about animation most of the time!!

you should read the reaction to mindgame on boxtorrents!

“I think the reason why Cat Soup and Dead Leaves aren’t popular is that the artwork although different is strange and frightening bad in instances.”

what the f**k??

08/10/05 @ 10:19
Josh
Josh [Visitor]

They’re just used to the high graphical standards of Love Hina. Cat Soup and Dead Leaves couldn’t hope to compete.

08/10/05 @ 17:15
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

That’s not the only one, you have most people saying that this ep’s animation was rock bottom… I mean sure maybe some of the outside scenes looked odd, but you don’t even need to be an animation critic to see that that is flawed because *animation* is about movement, and not how pretty the pictures are! And the movement was certainly better than most of the series so…

Now if they said the drawings were different from normal I’d congratulate them for having normal eyesight.

08/10/05 @ 22:55
gingersoll
gingersoll [Visitor]

Well it’s all well and good to say animation is all about movement…But there is more to creating life in an image than just making it move about. Animation is the art of bringing an image to life–and often the elegance or beauty of a single frame is responsible for just as much of that life as the movement in said image. There are also many other visual and non-visual (camera, editing, sound) elements which DIRECTLY affect the quality of the drawings and thus the delivery of the animation to the viewer.

And on another topic, who can really blame the fans of this series for sulking over this? Let us set aside our love of interesting animation for a moment and remember that the fans of this show are NOT watching it for the animation–otherwise they would have stopped watching long ago. Is it fair to mock them for an interruption in the feeling and continuity of the series because–in all likely hood–the animation staff is bored out of their minds and desperately wants to do something interesting? This isn’t just a case of a unique animator–this IS an ackward interruption in the overall feel of the series.
It is sad that episodes like this have to be *snuck* into a normal series like contra-ban. Heaven forbid a series is made up entirely of such animation (windy tales is a step in the right direction…)!

08/12/05 @ 15:48
Ryoma
Ryoma [Visitor]

He should have some art lessons, then he should learn a little respect for others work, while i apretiated the art direction in the parallel world. what he did with the rest of the episode its a masacre

11/03/05 @ 19:55
SDS
SDS [Visitor]

I think a lot of anime fans are too hung up on the “anime style.” IT HAS TO LOOK A CERTAIN WAY OTHERWISE IT IS NOT GOOD. Heaven forbid someone might like “ugly” drawings, right guys? ANIME CHARACTERS ARE OUR BEAUTIFUL PORCELAIN GODS AND GODDESSES.

That’s really it. People take issue with the style.

I’m sure everyone has noticed this by now, but Kawamori does not take Aquarion seriously.

11/04/05 @ 06:47