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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Sunday, May 13, 2007

04:19:36 pm , 999 words, 2940 views     Categories: Animation, Denno Coil, TV

Denno Coil #1

Back from my trip, and I just watched Denno Coil 1. Expectations are usually there to be betrayed, and Denno was no exception. It was much more low key than I'd expected, though I'd already read it was very accessible. It treads very carefully ahead while slowly revealing intriguing little elements of the world that are each genuinely interesting when they come up, rather than plunging you headlong into a pool of strange setups that you're forced to accept at face value. Here they slowly lure you in, which works quite well and is a refreshing change from most anime out there. From what I can tell from the first ep, the pacing feels like feature pacing, like a film broken up into small segments, rather than a bunch of small films.

The quality, on the other hand, was just as high as I'd expected. The animation of ep 1 is headed by Katsuya Kondo and Toshiyuki Inoue, two of the major feature animators of the last two decades, with Takeshi Honda as AD. The rest of the animators are good, but not names that might tend to get a lot of notice. It's kind of the polar opposite of Kemonozume. Instead of being all about individualistic and flamboyant animation, it's all about nuance and subtlety. The layout in particular is excellent and helps to bring alive the feeling of presence, the feeling that the characters really inhabit the world on the screen. The pacing combines with the layout and the subtle animation to make the world feel very real. When little electronic glitches appear in a wall, it makes for a rare feeling of genuine surprise and wonder. They reveal just enough and do so in just the right way for you to be left unexpectedly and pleasantly curious to find out how the various details mesh. I came away really wondering what is real and what is virtual, and how the system works. For some odd reason the series reminds me of Doraemon, perhaps because of the setup with kids engaging in adventures with curious gadgets in the streets of the Japanese 'burbs.

Iso was writer and storyboarder, and he was also credited with digital effects. He's credited as creator/writer at the beginning, so either that means he's the main writer or he'll be writing every ep. I'd heard he was going to be doing a lot of digital tinkering throughout the series long ago, and it doesn't surprise me anyway. He's obviously striving for a very specific feeling in the texture of the effects, the mood and everything, and he's going to get his hands dirty to achieve it. He's an animator first and foremost. The first ep had a very nice quiet warm tone with subtle humor that felt very welcoming, kind of a throwback to a quieter and more simple age. The show seems to be a curious combination of the futuristic with the nostalgic. The parts with the laser blast at the beginning and later where the formatting wall is advancing had the same feeling as his work in Rahxephon, so perhaps those were the sections he did. The way digital is used to create patently digital effects on the screen is interesting too. At first I thought it was an encoding glitch. It clashes nicely with the styling scheme of the rest of the screen. The digital effects are very pleasing visually.

The digital effects and animation and everything around the section where Densuke is running towards the exit combined to quite nice effect. And everywhere throughout the episode the character movement was invested with inventive movement and posing that made everything moment interesting. Honda is really amazing. His drawings are always full of surprises, with free and imaginative posing and expressions, loose, with a great feeling in the line. Overall this is definitely quality rarely seen on TV. If the pacing feels cinematic, so does the animation. The animators are feature animators, so it's no surprise. I was so happy to finally see cats well drawn. Another small thing is that I liked the way the clothes felt real and not just pasted onto the characters. When Isako bends down, you can see a gap in the skin where the fabric doesn't reach. And I love the way the hands and fingers were drawn.

I knew I'd have to blog the series when I first heard about it, but this confirms it. It won't be like Kemonozume, where every episode stood out so starkly from the rest that it was pretty easy to blog the series, but I'm sure it will still be rewarding, though I think what will be the real pull of this series is the character interaction, the story, and the minutiae and surprises of the world setup, with the animation at a steady high level. In the end my main feeling coming from this episode is that they've established a unique tone while keeping things at a very accessible level, aimed squarely at general audiences rather than anime fans. I can see where the Ghibli comparisons come in. This is one of the few TV anime I've ever seen that has that sort of broad, neutral audience appeal, at least at this level of quality. I think it's a good thing for this show to have appeared now, since it shows another possible path for the industry, which seems stuck in a rut of fan pandering.

One thing confuses me. It looked like Yasako had a little doll of Oyaji (wearing briefs) hooked onto the zipper of her backpack at the beginning, but she'd obviously never seen Oyaji before Fumie whipped him out... Some kind of meta gag by the staff? And I'm impressed by how Akiko Yajima changed her voice. I would never have known that the voice actor for Shin-chan was playing Kyoko if I hadn't known it beforehand. I guess it's more accurate to say that here we're hearing something closer to her natural voice.

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10 comments

huw_m
huw_m [Member]

Great post Ben. I saw the show last night myself, loved it (despite my lack of Japanese skills). The interaction of real and virtual space is an intruiging concept, as expected of a creative genius like Iso. What are the chances of a decent “groundwork” book of the show being released? (Oh, and I laughed when I first heard Kyouko’s voice cos it made me think ‘Shin-chan’.)

Keep up the great work on your site!

05/13/07 @ 17:10
Random person
Random person [Visitor]  

Hey Ben, welcome back from your trip! Good to see you around again.

I pretty much agree with you on the aspects of the show. At first I was slightly underwhelmed to be honest, but in the end there was something about it that made me actually go and rewatch it again (I haven’t rewatched a single first episode of any of the Spring shows so far). There’s some sort of intuitive feeling that you know it’s just the beginning. Personally I’m very impressed by how thoroughly Iso has thought out the world of Dennou Coil. Just out of trivia’s sake, I wonder if you’ve taken a close look at some of the posters etc. on the walls in the background art? When Isako’s watching the cat from a distance there’s posters behind her looking for the lost Hepburn, and there’s another scene where there’s a poster on a lamppost something along the lines of “Let’s Reformat the City!” with a happy Sacchi on it, and in Yasako’s flashback scene the books on the shelf all have to do with dennou-related phenomena…

I didn’t actually notice the Oyaji plushie, but that probably is some sort of meta gag. Oyaji is proving to be surprisingly popular (well, I have to admit affection for such an adorably off-the-wall sort of character.) I thought Yajima sounded like a female version of Shinnosuke though, but still it was different from whatever she’s done so far (and it’s very nice to hear).

Whatever it is I came away with the feeling that this was beyond doubt the most creative show of the season. It just has that sense of freshness that could only come from really creative ideas, and I agree with you on how nice it is to wach something that is not fan-centralised… To put it in one way it’s something you wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to non-anime watchers.

05/13/07 @ 18:32
Ben [Member]  

Huw M - Thanks. Judging by how big this show is, I’m sure some kind of background material book will be released eventually. It would indeed be great if they released a book of key animation, though I won’t be expecting a book as extensive as the Eva key animation books.

RP - Thank you for the welcome back! I’m happy to be back. I can totally see what you mean. Even I thought it was maybe a little laid back for the first ep. But I think they did a great job of sprinkling such an unassuming episode with lots of little clues that hint at a big story to come. It’s all very tantalizing, without being too overt. I also liked the way Iso introduced lots of the gadgets in a subtle way that doesn’t waste time on wordy exposition. He does it all through visual presentation. I think that’s a gift that comes from Iso’s animator-based way of thinking.

I did notice those cat posters, and that Sacchi poster, though I had to read elsewhere to realize just how much other potentially significant information happens to be sprinkled around on the posters and signboards that appear in various places at one time or another. Reminds me a bit of Kemonozume in that way - every little detail is significant. I’m also quite impressed how thorough the conception of the world is already in the first episode. It’s all been very clearly thought out. We come away with a very good, although still deliberately vague, idea of the basic themes & situation. For an episode so unassuming, it leaves a refreshing aftertaste. I’ve also had the urge to go back and rewatch it several times, which is rare for me.

And yes, I’m loving Oyaji. I like the way he kinda sorta has a butt.

05/13/07 @ 23:40
arkon
arkon [Visitor]  

“And I love the way the hands and fingers were drawn.”

Actually those were one of the things that struck me as odd. In some instances they seemed to be drawn “off". I’m reluctant to say poorly as I’m not exactly the most knowledge when it comes to art/animation etc… but there were a couple of instances where they certainly didn’t look as I expected fingers to look like in those positions etc…

I think one scene was when Fumie(?) confronts Yuko when she has just picked up Hepburn. This one in particular I thought the fingers and limbs of Fumie looked particularly strange… Like when she does a two finger pose sort of. The fingers seem to be bent in weird shapes as if the bones are all over the place. To me personally I thought they looked wrong. Just before that you have shots of her in a combat stance with her right hand looking particularly odd and then we get a closer shot and the same hand looks a lot cleaner, more real so to speak.

I realize I’ve just gone on about the way fingers are drawn in an anime but I just thought after that comment that it was particularly odd. Anyway perhaps that’s what you liked about the way they were drawn. I don’t mean to cause any offence mind you.

Still I very much enjoyed the first episode and I’m starting to become more and more interested in the animation side of things. I think that is in large part due to your site. I have a lot of reading to catch up on as some brief skims through the archive reveal a couple of very interesting looking articles. Thanks so much for your effort and keep up the good work and I hope to chat about things more in the future.

05/25/07 @ 13:47
Ben [Member]  

Thanks for the good comment. No offense taken at all. I think your point is perfectly valid, and I also think it’s great to be able to discuss nitpicky little specifics of the drawings like the way the hands are drawn. A lot of the time the little details can offer a disproportionately large amount of delight.

Yes, the moments you described are precisely the moments where I most liked the way the hands and fingers were drawn. To some extent I will admit that this is a matter of taste, just like whether you like or you dislike the way Ohira draws people. But beyond that I also think that the way the hands are drawn here, despite obviously not being a photorealistic rendering, are brilliantly rendered and betray the hand (no pun intended) of a master drawer. I’ve long heard that hands are one of the more difficult things to get down convincingly in animation. Most of the time, in my experience, the hands are drawn at best perfunctorily, at worst (and most often) downright amateurishly. Some might say the hands here seem amateurish and badly drawn, but to me there’s a difference between bad drawings from someone who just doesn’t have the experience or else just isn’t interested in studying the little details of life like the way hands are drawn (to me the devil lies in the little details) - and between expressive, exaggerated drawings from someone who after years of experience has learned how to whip off a drawing with a few lines to create a drawing that beyond simply having all the details in just the right place also puts just the right degree of emphasis in just the right place, which pushes the drawing beyond merely accurate into the realm of exciting. At least in my opinion, the drawings here have that feeling. The hands here struck me like the scribbles of a Da Vinci - there’s no hesitation in the lines, and with just a few lines he gets down the position and goes beyond that to add a little expressive exaggeration. Obviously comparing the drawings here to Da Vinci is going a little far for the sake of comparison, but I hope you get the idea.

Honestly I was kind of fishing to see what people might have to say about the hands when I made that comment, because I figured people might find it weird to praise such a thing, and I thought the hands offered an intriguing door into an examination of what it is that makes Honda’s drawings here so unique. It’s not just the hands that are uniquely drawn. I thought every pose and every drawing stood out as having just as much of a feeling of curious exaggeration in the poses. This particular kind of exaggeration is a trademark of Honda’s, I think. If you look at his other work, you’ll see that he also exaggerates the folds of the clothing. Every great artist like Honda has their little trademarks like this. Another thing is that one of the reasons I deliberately chose to mention the hands was because I’ve long had this feeling that the hands offer a handy quick indicator about the level of skill of the person drawing the drawing. An amateur might be able to fake the other details, but the hands are usually a dead giveaway, and when you see someone who can draw the hands quickly in all sorts of positions convincingly and with flair like here, that’s a quick sign of someone who knows what they’re doing. My feeling is that Takeshi Honda is one of those people who can create great movement and great drawings with the ease of a master. (ironically, now that I think about it, his nickname is shisho or “master")

Then again, maybe Honda just didn’t have time to get around to correcting those shots and he’s actually not satisfied with those. Who knows.

Anyway, I’m very happy if my site can offer you some stimulation on the animation side of things. None of this is dogma, but it’s fun to talk about these little details.

05/25/07 @ 14:10
Random person
Random person [Visitor]  

Could I just butt in to say that that was a very good comment? I feel the same way about how drawings can show whether the artist is a pro or not. The way that even though they may look “wrong", they’re actually better than the ones that look “right” - I’ve never been able to explain this to my friends or other people in words, but you put it down pretty well. It’s perhaps linked to that whole idea of “heta-uma".

I think it’s a concept that’s usually easier to get when one tries drawing things for themselves. I myself only came to realise it when I started taking serious art courses.

Over time one tends to notice that it’s possible to gauge the way an artist visualy observes, constructs and then represents the world through even simple sketches, and that there are levels of sophistication in this. I added the caveat of “possible” because sometimes I wonder if I’m just projecting my own expectations on artists or animators I normally respect; it can be hard to justify it to other people (for me, at least).

But somehow or the other when I see the drawings of, say, Choi Eun Young, I can tell that that is far from awkward or bad and that she has a clear grasp of anatomy as well as skill with the pencil. If someone asked me why though, I’m still not at a level of understanding where I could explain it other than saying that the lines show that she drew it all very quickly and to do that quickly with such good control of the pencil requires a lot of skill. It’s just intuition or instinct for now, but when I read your comment it was like you put that gut feeling pretty well into words.

Hands have to be drawn in many various positions even in anime (unlike faces where some shows get away with the most basic cliche expressions and leave it at that) and I think there’s less of a formula to drawing them, plus animation directors are relatievly less likely to correct them - which might possibly be why, as you say, hands are a good way to determine the drawing ability of an animator.

05/25/07 @ 22:01
Benjamin Sanders
Benjamin Sanders [Visitor]  

It’s true. Hands are incredibly hard to draw, and the the area I often struggle with in my animations (practice as always) and I think that it is a great way of telling a master.

It’s the ease, the effortless nature of a masters touch in his drawing that’s so fascinating and as you say often so obvious in the hands. I can draw a good hand maybe, but only after labouring away for quite a while, and you can feel that in the drawings. A master who has through their observation and practice learned the patterns the root or the essence of how a hand works is then free to sort of riff off of it. It’s in this way that they achieve this fluidity and appeal and freedom in their drawings.

This is why I think, anyone who criticizes Ohira, and says he can’t draw need only to look at the way he draws hands. They may not be anatomically accurate but they way the convey the essence of the structure and movement that is inherent in a hand, while retaining the individual flavour and texture of line, is a marvel. He is truly a wonderful draftsman.

Likewise I’m always amazed by how brilliantly Matsumoto draws hands, from incredibly simple but realistic and anatomically correct depictions of them, to more casual and unrealistic drawings, but that still feel just… well right. Like his Noein ’spiky’ hands you see sometimes in the action scenes.

05/26/07 @ 03:46
Ben [Member]  

Thanks very much, RP. I agree about your comment that there are some things you only come to realize if you actually put yourself in that position and start attempting to draw these things yourself. Only then do you start to realize what is difficult and what isn’t and so on. I started seeing things a little differently after I started sketching a few years ago.

05/27/07 @ 12:59
Benjamin De Schrijver
Benjamin De Schrijver [Visitor]  

Man, I’m in love with this blog. You first pointed me towards Kemonozume, and now this. What a delightful series.

And I’m in love with these comments too! There are so few sites where you can intelligently discuss animation and drawing in animation like this. And most of those other sites don’t really like or mention japanese work.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the other episodes.

07/20/07 @ 16:09
BanzaiBoB
BanzaiBoB [Visitor]  

What else to add? A show that sneaked up on me in much the same way as Mushishi, tripped over it in a pile of other titles and jsut the briefest look had me hooked… Looks like top contender for the top anime for 2007 imo.

09/23/07 @ 03:57