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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Monday, March 13, 2006

09:48:58 pm , 747 words, 3416 views     Categories: Animation

Ayakashi 9

The last arc of Toei's omnibus of classic Japanese gothic horror stories is actually an original story, unlike the previous two. I was rather disappointed with the middle arc involving Yasuhiro Nakura (to say nothing of the first, which I was expecting), but I had high hopes that Takashi Hashimoto wouldn't let me down with the last, and after watching the first episode today I'm glad to say that they were definitely keeping the best for last.

The first episode in the arc, #9 of the series, was quite simply stunning. It was one of the most original and refreshing anime episodes I've seen anywhere in a long time. All of the elements combined perfectly, and every moment was precisely honed down to the millisecond. Takashi Hashimoto had never been known for his character animation, and had never done a character design as far as I know, so I had no idea what to expect, and was ready to be underwhelmed. But he upended those expectations in a big way, with inspired and original designs far, far removed from the typical. Each character is wonderfully unique, the expressions rich, the forms comical yet realisic and the lines expressive and free. He himself was the AD of the first ep, so it was truly a delight to see.

The animation itself was rich and nuanced, but what made it truly satisfying is that it works as a whole with everything else - art, sound and directing. The whole world looks like a moving ukiyo-e by Hokusai or Hiroshige, and the characters are overlaid with patterns that make them blend into these surroundings. Mahiro Maeda's attempt at something similar in The Count of Monte Cristo seemed a little forced, but here it works effortlessly. The sound is fascinatingly surrealistic, adding a lot to the elliptical directing. The director, Kenji Nakamura, had previously done the CGI action spectacular Karas, which had impressed me even though I don't usually enjoy CGI. I could tell this guy knew what he was doing. I believe before that he worked as assistant director under Mamoru Hosoda, which perhaps helps to explain his similarly tight, meticulous, detail-oriented directing style. He's got a virtuosic knack for jumping around with shots to create a convincing feeling of space.

It really does come together brilliantly. Every moment is a delight, and he knows how to carry it over the length of the episode so that no moment feels unnecessary. A sense of tension builds through oddly placed shot after oddly placed shot of the eerie (and vaguely familiar) paintings that seem to decorate every nook and cranny of the mazelike building interior, and this tension is eventually released in a fantastic burst of energy that attains the feeling of power it does because it's done with Hashimoto's masterly, controlled animation.

Incidentally, perhaps not surprisingly, Hashimoto is here joined by Hideki Kakita, that other master of explosions and miscellanous effects. How odd to see them together without a massive catastrophe in sight. We could see the two working together on Eureka Seven recently. A few years before we could see them in a slightly more surprising context - Dokkoida, one of UFO Table's earlier shows. Kakita did some nice explosions in 6, while Hashimoto did some in 7. Kakita also did explosions in various other spots. His patently realistic style and meticulous layout make his shots stand out in stark contrast in the show, but it's ceratinly an interesting studio in that they always do their best to make the animation as interesting as possible. They even brought in Naoyuki Onda for one of the episodes, which is almost shocking. It's like they're doing it with a wink to all the animation freaks out there. It's unfortunate that a sense of balance and control in all of the other elements seems to get lost in the process in everything they do. Similarly they also seem to try to have at least a solo animator episode or two in each show, as well as a few duos. Here there's a solo by Futoshi Higashide in 5 that is truly unhinged in the best possible sense of the word. It's probably what brought him to Hiroyuki Imaishi's attention for Dead Leaves. It's a classic example of an animator bursting with energy and talent given the spotlight to ham it up over the length of a whole episode in a manic burst of bravado animated showboating, like Tetsuya Takeuchi did more recently in Honey and Clover.



Random person
Random person [Visitor]

I was also very pleasantly surprised by this episode - it’s one of the most enjoyable anime episodes in quite some time. I loved the rich colours and I really, really like Takashi Hashimoto’s character designs. They’re altogether a pleasure to look at. I suppose he really has a real sense of good design and animation, even though he sticks largely to mechanics and effects. I wonder, has he had these concepts/ideas brewing for some time before?

But I don’t think the show actually overlaid the designs on the characters like in Gankutsuou, except in the (IMO quaintly funny) OP. To me it looks like they actually drew it on. Perhaps they decided not to shade the characters to make up for the loads of colours… Although there’s a nice texture overlaid on the whole screen that makes it look like paper.

I think this episode really made use of the advantages of digitalized animation.

(and on yet another unrelated note, Mushishi 20 was really great, there was Tadashi Hiramatsu too.)

03/14/06 @ 07:28
Muffin [Visitor]

Interesting to hear about Kenji Nakamura. I recently watched the first half of Karas and frankly found it to be too much of a one-note indulgence in overcooked stylistics. Though I’m sure there’s some interesting individual work to pick out. And I probably preferred the CGI effect work over the very anonymous-looking charachter-animation.

Speaking of Naoyuki Onda, have you seen “Gin-iro no kami no Agito” btw? I’m curious to the extent that he was the AD alongside Atsushi Yamagata, whom I’ve liked in the past as charachter-designer.

12/26/06 @ 12:11
Ben [Member]  

I’ve loved everything Kenji Nakamura has one since Karas, but I also wasn’t too excited by Karas. I stopped after the first ep. I thought it was really accomplished technically and all, but offered too little else. I’ve found his more recent stuff better balanced. Don’t miss his three Ayakashi eps if you haven’t seen them.

Yes, I did in fact see Agito not that long ago, but wasn’t inspired enough to write anything about it. Everything was so anodyne. Honestly about the only part of the film I really enjoyed was the first fifteen minutes, which I’m guessing must have been storyboarded by Umanosuke Iida (Space Miners), because that was the only part of the film that had that great rhythm of his. I was also wondering what part Onda might have done, but couldn’t pick it out. It’s not quite as easy as it was in the recent Z Gundam trilogy. The animation hilight in the film was the opening animation by the great but now apparently incapacitated Masami Goto (who did the dogfight in the Cowboy Bebop movie). A real loss if it’s true.

Atsushi Yamagata’s been working on that new Bones series more recently, and I’ve been wishing I could see his designs in the raw to get a sense of what exactly his contribution is… I get the feeling it’s great in the raw, but something’s being lost in the translation.

In Agito he’s credited with “animation character design", and another guy with character design, so he obviously just adapted someone else’s designs to make them easier to move, and it’s note ‘pure’ Yamagata. But I did like the spareness of line and simple shapes of the characters in the film. It had that nice, refined line I remember from his characters in Hakkenden. I don’t know why, but they were using a sort of blurred shadow effect on the characters that I didn’t care for too much. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to Mamoru Hosoda’s shadowless characters. Not a great film by a long shot, but worth a look.

12/26/06 @ 14:55
Muffin [Visitor]

Didn’t Nakamura only do the storyboards in Karas also?

When I first heard about Agito, and watched the fairly attractive-looking trailer, I was sort of hoping it would be good. I’d love to see more of this sort of Miyazaki/Gainax-ish Sci-fantasy films *done right* for the new millenium. Seeing the rather obscure Yamagata involved also got me a little excited.

Yeah, the plot synopsis(as well as the voice-over in the preview) had me sort of groaning a little. But hey, maybe they’d get it right. So what if its an amalgamation of Conan/Nausicaä/Mononoke as well as every other sci-fi adventure anime?

I was probably being overtly optimistic, also seeing as how it was the first theatrical piece by Gonzo. Who seem to have a history of being gimmicky show-offs. And the first batch of negative reviews all sounded pretty convincing and sensible.

I remember liking what little snippets of charachter-art I saw in the trailer. Though I’ve been a good deal less enthusiastic about most of the stills I’ve seen from the film since then. At best it has a sort of non-gaudy, simple appeal. But I take it from your comments that the direction/animation/writing doesn’t do much to bring it to life.
Nice to see you bring up the style of shading btw. I can’t say I like what I’ve seen either. It looks like the very graphically dull digital shading style used in most modern hollywood cartoons. I could imagine this looking particulary alienating on the japanese style of art…

And yeah, I watched Hakkenden(though I haven’t finished it yet) because I wanted to see more of Yamagata ever since I watched Ohata’s GenoCyber where he did some very attractive clear, expressive and well-balanced designs. Ohata may not be a great director exactly, but I value his instinct for crafting films with a dramatically expressive design sensibility. There’s a part of me that would’ve loved to see him do “Karas” with Yamagata:)

Very curious about Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou as well.

Btw, just out of general curiosity. Do you happen to be an admirer of Miyazaki’s Mononoke Hime? I myself have always been puzzled by all the *ecstatic* popular and critical praise heaped upon that film. I frankly find it the dullest and least visually effective film from the director.

12/27/06 @ 16:16
Ben [Member]  

No, for Karas, Kenji Nakamura was the director and storyboarder. It’s pure Nakamura. Actually, I think I’m kind of wanting to go back and have another look at it again, from start to finish this time, now that I’ve had the chance to see more of his other work. I think now I’d finally be able to see beyond the whole Tatsunoko vibe that I’ve never been into, which may have been the reason I couldn’t get into it. From what I’ve read it sounds like there was a lot of interesting experimentation going on behind the scenes in terms of how to approach making an anime film, which has made me want to give it another chance. I felt something unique while watching - not just the directing - but without knowing quite what, it just kind of left me a little confused and baffled.

For Agito, I can’t really say I was disappointed, because it was pretty much what I expected. I guess personally I felt like all the pastiched elements hadn’t been stewed long enough to form a tasty whole. The rhythm also seemed a little lumpy, with no feeling of tension or buildup. I guess, also, I didn’t want to see just a rehash of these old themes, though it’s not really fair to reproach them that. I just prefer to see people push their limits, find new things to say. They wanted to make an action-packed sci-fi adventure in the traditional mold, and they did exactly that. It’s an enjoyable romp.

I’m not a particular admirer of Mononoke Hime, but I did enjoy the film when it came out… though nowadays I’m finding I prefer the Miyazaki of Totoro to the Miyazaki of Mononoke Hime. I rewatched the earlier film for the first time in years a while back, and had forgotten how vivid and spontaneous a film it was. It was so light of touch, without the highly polished sheen of recent Ghibli stuff.

12/29/06 @ 01:56
Muffin [Visitor]

Hmm…I believe you’re right that Nakamura was an episode director. And perhaps assistant director to series creator/director Keiichi Satou?

I can’t really say much about Agito before I see it. But obviously what I meant was that one could hope for(and what the people making the movie should strive for)was a film that feels fresh, has a life of its own and works as a great piece of art regardless of it following certain (broadly defined)genre-traditions/archetypes. Originality may be a virtue, but ultimately a pretty ephemeral one all by itself. I think there’s room enough in the world for another great, engaging sci-fi adventure masterpiece about a young protagonist in a post-apocalyptic world or some such. Agito, by the looks of it, just happens to be a pretty mediocre attempt. So yeah, I think it’s perfectly fair of you to reproach them that.

Either way. I’d certainly love to see Yamagata’s art used to it’s full potential in some movie. Hosoda? Okiura?

I never felt Mononoke’s attempt at a sort of bleak period-realism worked very well. Its sense of movement also struck me as pretty random and “filled-in” compared to the simple graphic expressiveness of Totoro. Something similar could be said of the storytelling. I did greatly enjoy the quirky and atmospheric Spirited Away though. For some reason I’ve never really been compelled to watch “Howl"…

12/29/06 @ 16:52
Ben [Member]  

You’re right about Karas. For some reason I was convinced Nakamura was the chief director, but it seems he was only storyboarder/director of ep 1? Maybe I won’t be checking out the rest after all…

An interesting thing I just found out is that Kenji Nakamura originally started out training to become an animator, but had to quit because of peritendinitis. That’s the same problem Hideki Hamasu had during the making of Perfect Blue. In Hamasu’s case it subsided and he’s now active again, but in Nakamura’s case it caused him to completely change course (luckily he was still an inbetweener and not in mid-career like Hamasu). Not that I’m glad Nakamura got peritendinitis, but fate works in mysterious ways. Got me to wondering how many animators this affects, and why.

Very nicely put about Agito. Don’t get me wrong, I agree. My only real criteria for a film is that it stands on its own two legs and works as a compelling whole, not the quotient of originality. I want to feel “in the moment", whatever the material. Agito was a satisfying fantasy adventure. Gonzo definitely put their all into it, and I respect that. I just didn’t feel in the moment watching Agito. I didn’t feel carried along on a flow. The movie felt halting to me. Their next movie was much improved in that sense. Agito didn’t seem like it had a sense of dramatic drive or tension. Things seemed to float along kind of aimlessly without establishing a rhythm that felt right for the material. Perhaps part of this is because the film was handled by so many directors, storyboarders, etc… Really the film isn’t as bad as all that, I just get to wondering about little ways it could be improved.

I’m mainly familiar with Yamagata as a character designer, but in the new Bones series he’s doing “ikai design", and I’m not quite sure what that entails - what his more conceptual work is like… so it’s hard to say which director he might do good work with. Another figure that caught my attention was Takuhito Kusanagi. I remember really liking his manga “Shanghai Kaijinzoku” many many years ago, and I noticed he’s been getting involved in anime in recent years. I’d love to see his conceptual art for the series. The thing I probably most appreciate about Gonzo is that they always make an effort to bring in interesting people to toss around lots of imaginative ideas in terms of world design and the like - they’re very playful. Their heart is in the right place. I just wish they had someone to corral the ideas into a cohesive hole, and that the stories were strong enough to support the rich visuals.

12/29/06 @ 21:25
Muffin [Visitor]

I recently watched Gin-iro no kami no Agito and, unsurprisingly, found your evaluation to be pretty spot-on. Nice opening sequence, with the moody song and all(though the rest of the soundtrack seems to go for more typical blockbuster action music, in the vein of Steamboy).

I quite liked the early parts of the film. Or, at least found it pleasantly watchable. But the whole thing seemed to go completely auto-pilot about halfway in. The final run was, without exaggerating, quite embarassing. Much like Nakamura’s Tree of Palme, there was a very strong feel that the script was cut down from what was originally planned as a longer series. Though Palme certainly worked much better as an art film/mood piece.

The environments were well-done, I thought. With the crisp background art looking quite striking. Some really memorable images occasionally, like the cracked moon in the sky above ruins covered in lush forest.

The charachter-design and animation generally smelled of high-polish stylistic compromise(another comparison with Steamboy is not out of place). I quite liked how active and free some of the actions of the charachters felt in some scenes(Toola and Agito running and swimming around in the early scenes etc). But generally, everything had that middle-of-the-road expensive but graphically(and dramatically) bland look. “Hollywood anime” might be a fitting term…Atsushi Yamagata’s graphical touch was only evident in a very watered-down form.

Recently, I was surprised and quite delighted to discover that Yamagata was actually the co-characther-designer and storyboarder in episode 2 of the original Chojin Densetsu Urotsukidoji 3-part OAV. Not to mention that he was credited for “Image concept design". Looking back on the episode there are some fairly clear Yamagata touches in the clean but organic way the charachter’s faces are drawn(there’s often a stronger sense of spontaneous expressiveness to the charachters. Not to mention some very weird facial-deformations -Even compared to the other episodes…).

Though I’m unfamiliar with the AD(’s). I’ve always been fond of the unpolished but clear and expressive animation-style of the second Mataiden(Demon Womb)OAV as well. It has that great feel of the art being drawn in a manner that emphasises maximum graphic and emotional expressiveness rather than conforming to some standardized charachter-model. Hideki Takayama’s(who is this guy?) high-energy and evocative direction is no doubt part of this.

I have to say I’m also curious as to what your take on the Urotsukidoji series is. In all its aspects?

09/26/07 @ 12:56
Ben [Member]  

Hm, it’s actually been a very long time since I watched Urotsukidoji - I saw it in the theater, no less - so I can’t give you any sort of informed response. I don’t know much about it. I’ll try to rewatch it. You’ve got me curious. I honestly don’t remember anything about it other than being appalled by how unbelievably ridiculous and embarrassing it was, though the English dubbing no doubt had something to do with that. This was all back in the day when anime was just starting to become a big thing in the US market, and there was all this excitement about seeing anime movies on the big screen… Mataiden I never saw. I sort of stopped bothering with that school after Urotsukidoji. The one ero anime I recall truly liking was the Hiroyuki Okuno piece Virgin Night.

Good comments on Agito. I agree. It kind of feels like they had all these great ideas in scattered form, and sort of sewed them all together, without thinking enough about how it flowed.

09/28/07 @ 00:35
Muffin [Visitor]

I should probably be careful about what sort of thing I’m actually recommending to people…

But seriously…Being appalled is hardly a surprising reaction in regard to Urotsukidoji. The original series in particular is probably also the most uneven in tone(the edited, dubbed version in particular, evidently). Ranging from cheesy teen horror-exploitation to surprisingly dramatically potent and epic. On that note it’s also interesting to follow the evolution of composer Masamichi Amano, from limp 80’s synthesizer sounds randomly honking in the background, to something far more subtle and emotionally evocative.

Watching the early goings of the original didn’t initially impress me either. Having first been acquainted with the series from the opening episode of Urotsukidoji 3: Mirai Hen(aka Return of the Overfiend) which had an already more solidly established Akira-esque sci-fantasy style about it(and a great score by Amano).

At any rate, the best way to watch the series is probably to get the Urotsukidoji Perfect collection which contains the original 3-part OAV as well as the Mataiden 2-part side-quel. Though not very appreciated even by fans of the series, the third and fourth OAVs “Return of the Overfiend” and “Inferno Road” are to my mind, also highly recommended viewing to anyone who could stomach, or even enjoyed the originals and wish to see the story expanded. “Return of the Overfiend” in particular is a very well-developed and expansive post-apocalyptic epic(Think the latter half of the Akira manga, flavored with fantasy elements and tighter plotting).

The budget for the series does seem to decrease with each separate instalment, though the art and direction remain interesting and atmospheric.

On a completely different note, any chance of a piece on “Toki O Kakeru Shoujo” in the near future? It’s certainly one of the finest pieces of anime I’ve seen. Also nice to see Hosoda being a great animator’s director. That is to say, genuinely focused on the minutiae of the animation. It certainly rivals Jin-Roh and Tokyo Godfathers in this regard. I had actually given up hope of seeing such a seemingly simple but deceptively rich and (most importantly)engaging style in a theatrical production.

Also saw Tekkonkinkreet recently, which was certainly an interesting and worthy, if somewhat less engaging cinematic interpretation of the manga.

09/29/07 @ 13:24
Ben [Member]  

I remember you mentioning the director of Urotsuki in the BBS before in a favorites thread, which I found to be at the very least a refreshing choice… your perspective on it is as usual quite interesting, and for old time’s sake I’ll try to re-visit it sometime. I will also try to finally stop being lazy and write my thoughts on TokiKake… Tekkon I’ve been meaning to write about too. Thanks for the urging.

10/05/07 @ 11:41
Ben [Member]  

Muffin, I don’t know if you’re reading this, but I finally got around to watching the first two arcs of Urotsukidoji. I must say that I was impressed, at least by the production quality, so thank you for another interesting recommendation. It’s far better produced than I would have imagined, or remembered, and it’s interesting re-evaluating it through more experienced eyes after all these years (not that I remembered much about it anyway).

I very much enjoyed the animation of both arcs, which were subtly different in quality from one another. I don’t think I was ready or capable of appreciating the animation in and of itself back when I first watched it, separate from the content, so I had no memory of it being particularly noteworthy on that front, but the animation certainly has a consistently high level of quality throughout. It’s a shame that so much good work should have gone into a piece that so few people are going to be willing to watch. Certainly an unusual if not unprecedented level of quality for a show of this nature.

I liked the feeling of the character posing in the first arc, and in particular in the second episode of the first arc. There was this very imaginative and loose approach to the posing and expressions in the everyday scenes in this ep, and the rest for that matter, that I quite liked. It has something of the same feeling as the animation of 3x3 Eyes, in the sense of using very few inbetweens and some obviously quickly rendered but skillful poses that reek of the hand of a veteran.

I was caught off guard when the style changed subtly moving into the second arc, Mataiden. It’s like suddenly we went from watching a skin flick version of Gundam ZZ to watching a skin flick version of Akira, so obvious was it that either the animators had just come from working on the film or had been greatly influenced by it (probably the latter). I guess this is the Akira influence you were talking about. (although I also sense a bit of similarity in terms of the epic story and the characters, e.g. the relationship between Takaaki and Nagumo in the second arc was very Kaneda-Tetsuo-ish, which was compounded by Akira’s clear influence on the facial posing and acting in this arc)

The credits were of little help in figuring out who was behind it all, as most of the names are clearly pen names. But it’s obvious enough from the style that most of the staff are the people behind Gundam Z and ZZ - Hidetoshi Ohmori and Hiroyuki Kitazume are probably there using pen names, while Masami Kosone, Naoyuki Onda and Akihiko Yamashita are there using their real names. I am quite curious to know what’s up with the sudden Akira influence in Mataiden. It’s interesting to see the odd places in which Takashi Nakamura’s influence crops up in the aftermath of that film, as was the case with Satoru Utsunomiya’s style in the aftermath of Gosenzosama Banbanzai… and endless other cases, I’m sure. That’s something of anime’s special quality, the way influences are passed down and evolve through the years like this.

Regarding the story, I found the narrative arc a bit too disjointed, both in terms of the story and in terms of the tone. It didn’t quite achieve the breathless forward drive that I thought it would have needed to succeed. It’s kind of too halting. Also, the the tone is so uneven. You go from extremely graphic imagery of demons having wild orgies and ripping people apart to lame-brained high school hijinx and comic antics that have a teenage mentality about them that seems almost shockingly out of place in the context of the former.

But at the same time it strikes me as nonsense to criticize Urotsukidoji on such grounds, since doing so would betray a serious confusion of the specific intent of the producers with mere conventions of animated film language in Japan. That is precisely what I was guilty of when I (rightfully) was appalled at the ridiculousness and idiocy of what I was watching all those years ago in the theater, when I blissfully knew so little about anime. Viewing it now with the historical context in mind, I can appreciate that it does achieve a surprisingly expansive epic quality for this kind of material, and the production values back it up - although at the same time, it’s for the most part rather staid in its adherence to convention and lack of genuine creativity. For good or ill, it just seems like a conventional, high-quality production of that era, but just with the violence and sex put into overdrive. A case like this is interesting because I’m torn between whether I should even bother to give it the benefit of the doubt and place it in a historical context, where there are things I can appreciate about it, or judge it purely on its own merits (which I did instinctively that first time) and consequently dismiss it out of hand as rubbish.

I had actually been curious to re-visit this for some time because I’m a fan of Eiichi Yamamoto’s early work in anime (directing Tale of a Streetcorner, Kimba, Belladonna and later Oshin), and I noticed he was credited as “Supervisor” of Urotsukidoji. I’d be curious to know specifically in what capacity (and why) he was involved. There were a few images here and there that reminded me of Belladonna, as if in an echo of the film.

11/21/07 @ 01:04
Muffin [Visitor]

Thanks so much for that detailed report, Ben. On the topic of interesting recommendations, I had also been meaning to thank you for your article on Street Fighter Alpha: Generations. I probably would have let it pass me by entirely if not for your piece on it.

Regarding Urotsukidoji, I pretty much suspected you might find something to appreciate in the art/animation. And likewise, that the content/story would be another matter.

And for the most part, I can certainly see where you’re coming from.
I don’t have the time right now, but I’ll probably elaborate on a few matters later on.

11/23/07 @ 13:53
Muffin [Visitor]

Finally found time to sit down and actually write a few proper responses to your Urotsukidoji review…It seems my comment is too long(?) to post in one go, so I’m breaking it up into two parts. This being the first:

I very much share your particular appreciation of the artistry in the second episode(of arc 1). It being the one I also highlighted as the “Yamagata"-episode. While he apparently didn’t do any actual animation work, I do feel his personal approach to charachter-drawings(in particular the faces) came through quite strongly. It was also a considerable, and much-appreciated improvement over the not bad but rather stiff first ep. The most impressive sequence to me was the nighttime confrontation at the building-site. In everything from setting, expressively rendered(and composed) charachter-art and the baroque and dynamic imagery of the monster-battles(Yoshiaki Kawajiri has got nothing on this). Even some of the more ridiculous scenes have a greater sense of conviction or fluidity to them, largely thanks to the artwork.(though I also think the writing/directing gradually improves)

While I think the third ep didn’t have quite the same spontaneous flavour in the art. I was overall very impressed with this one as well. Particulary the latter half of the ep where all hell breaks loose and AmanoJyaku confronts Nagumo/The Chojin. (Amano really pulls some great faces) As well as the generally excellent sense of staging and scale of the apocalyptic events.

Mataiden I very much enjoyed for its generally more fluid and unified(but always interesting) style. The overall tone also seems to me a good deal more consistent at this point. There’s still some silly hijinks, I guess. But it plays out more fluidly and naturally. Feeling like an extension of who these charachters are(and whatever else you can say about them, they are expressively portrayed.). It doesn’t fall into quite the same kind of stilted or grotesque awkwardness of the early parts of the first arc. Also making the contrast of lightness and horror work better. Takeaki was also a charachter who was portrayed very sympathetically. His downward spiral, as well as the relationship to Megumi were things that were handled in an engaging manner, I felt. Even the goofy lech Nagumo felt more sympathetic hanging around Takeaki this time around. It also managed to avoid the worst kind of overplayed sap that somewhat marred the Nagumo/Akemi-relationship in the original.

At the end of the day though, I don’t think the dramatic crux of Urotsukidoji lies in subtle and detailed relationships. It’s best seen as an expansively gestured visual/operatic drama where the focus is on illustrating and reiterating key thematic or iconic motifs(destiny/fatalism, higher virtue vs. baser instinct, the doomed lovers, etc…). The charachters and situations are brush strokes that support the thematic elements. And the thing that ultimately makes the series transcend its flaws to me is its energy, ambition and dedication in sticking to its guns and building up an effective accumulative impact through its arcs. The oft-criticized abandoning of the series earlier charachters(Nagumo & Akemi are pretty much stuck in limbo) in arc 3 & 4 is actually a welcome step forward for the series. Showing a lot of nerve and what I’d call unrestrained B-movie inventiveness in hurling the story into new territory while building on its thematic backbone.(And for whatever its worth, the series does abandon the more conventional teen/highschool fantasy trappings of the original)

12/22/07 @ 10:33
Muffin [Visitor]

This is the latter half of my comments on Urotsukidoji, which I had to break up into two parts to be able to post them:

Suffice to say one needs to have a taste for the sort of expansively gestured, trashy operatics the series indulges in, as well as a willingness to look past its essential goofyness(but then, it is a fantasy). And I do feel japanese anime sensibility is a very fit context to do this sort of thing in. While I’m all for subtle and gentle. I like to see this sort of bravura epic done with nerve and ambition.
It may well conform to a lot of conventions of fantasy anime. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a bad thing in itself. And I am actually quite fond of general anime sensibilities of that era. And I dare say Urotsukidoji, in its entirety is ultimately more ambitious and interesting(It may well be a fluke in lots of ways, but this is irrelevant) than the majority of kind-of-similar (non-adult)productions of the time.

What’s also (historically)interesting about the series is how only the first arc was actually (loosely)based on the original manga. From Mataiden and onward, its basically purely director Takayama(as well as producer Yamaki and writer Noboru Aikawa)’s baby.

As for the gratuitous graphic content. Frankly while this may also be partly a fluke, once you get past the initial ridiculousness of much of it, it’s an unique ingredient that heightens the mood and propels the drama. And I don’t think it’s used nearly as randomly or haphazardly as is generally suggested. We’ve compared the series to Akira on a few occasions. And I would argue there is more pointless random mayhem and destruction in the Akira film than in Urotsukidoji(Otomo certainly has a obsessive fixation on things that blow up or crumble down, causing massive collateral damage). It just happens to be of a kind that is easier to let slip by in the former case. But then ,I’ve never considered the Akira film to be the epitome of tight dramatic storytelling.

Speaking of the Akira-influence I mentioned in a earlier post. I think I was just using it as a general shorthand for expansive, post-apocalyptic epic-ness in quickly describing Urotsukidoji 3. But you’re right about the Akira/Nakamura-ness of the style in Mataiden. There’s also a lot of Tetsuo in the charachter of Níki from the first arc.

I was also amused, if not surprised, to see cult B-anime director and mecha designer Koichi Ohata contributing design and story-concept to the Mataiden arc. The sleek, somewhat cyber-organic look of Takeaki’s monster-form certainly seemed very Ohata-influenced.

Funny how Ohata, Aikawa and Yamagata all got together a year or so later to do their own B-scifi epic Genocyber. In fact the latter half of Urotsukidoji is probably closer to the wacky but inventive sci-fi trappings and darkly mournful tone of that series.

In closing, I must confess to being somewhat of an AmanoJyaku fanboy. His lively, casual anti-hero persona(as well as his kansai-accent) is most amiable. And his charachter is very well-supported by the design sensibility of the series. I’m actually thankful he’s never given much background, or a “charachter-arc” in the more specific sense. His cocky, reliable nature contrasting with his ultimate inability(even unwillingness, at times) to really affect any change to the course of events in the story seems to encapsulate the quite ambiguous and melancholy tone of the series. His final defiant(if somewhat resigned) speech about seeing things through to the end in the original arc is actually one of my favourite moments of operatic pathos in anime.

12/22/07 @ 10:56
Ben [Member]  

Thanks for getting back to me on this, Muffin. Much food for thought in there.

01/04/08 @ 16:01