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I've just watched the latest Doraemon movie, this year's Robot Army movie, and it's a well made film. I enjoyed it much better than 2009's Spaceblazer film directed by Kozo Kusuba, which I found insipid and bland. Unfortunately, Kozo Kusuba is directing next year's film. It's too bad, because every other film since 2006's Nobita's Dinosaur has been quite fun and entertaining as well as featuring quite a bit of good animation. The 2011 film gets back to the standard set by the earlier films.
Nobita and the Robot Army is directed by Yukiyo Teramoto, who returns for a second stint after 2007's Underworld movie. This time she has not Kaneko Shizue working under her as animation director but a bigger team headed by up-and-coming animator Naoyuki Asano. Naoyuki Asano has staged a blazing ascent since doing his first work on Doraemon as a key animator in the 2008 Green Giant movie under director Ayumu Watanabe and animation director Shizue Kaneko. The next year he was one of four animation director under Shizue Kaneko, and the year after that he became the chief animation director supervising five animation directors.
The line of development of the new 'look' of the Doraemon movies cam be traced thus: Ayumu Watanabe -> Kenichi Konishi -> Kaneko Shizue -> Naoyuki Asano.
Kaneko Shizue, already a great animator in the movies, did a good job of carrying on the more pliable, hand-drawn look Kenichi Konishi created in 2006, and the newcomer Naoyuki Asano seems like he's continuing to do so. I'm not exactly sure what he does as the chief animation director. An animation director's job is obvious - they correct key animation - but I don't know what the job of a chief animation director entails.
For once I've seen the original movie of which this is a remake (movie #7 from 1986). Dialogue has been rearranged and scenes completely re-staged, but otherwise the remake is identical to the original in the broad strokes. And a big improvement. Usually re-make spells disaster, but the Doraemon films from the 1980s needed updating, and they've done it well here by adding lots of nuance to the character acting and simply updating the technical aspects. The art is of better quality, the directing is tighter.
What before felt two-dimensional and static now feels three-dimensional and dynamic. More effort has been put into bringing out the characters' emotions. Where before they seemed to move like expressionless robots, now they react with anguish and more complex emotions. Their body language and facial expressions are far more pliable and various than before.
There is a bit of a disconnect between the simplicity of the concept of Doraemon and the new look. Doraemon was in step with its simple stories when it was drawn simply and two-dimensionally. The quality of the art now seems to outstrip the material. Before it didn't take much effort to believe it when Doraemon stepped across the Anywhere Door to another place or Nobita put on the Takecopter and flew in the sky. Now it requires an extra dose of suspension of disbelief.
But there's no denying that the films needed updating, and the better quality makes the films much more watchable. They did a good job taking the basic traits of the old show, such as the way they draw a circle around the pupil when a character is surprised, and built on and expanded the range of expressions while still keeping the core of the characters.
Yukiyo Teramoto has brought to this film a sense of lyrical beauty that the original was missing. There is a scene where we watch fog rolling down a valley onto the surface of a lake in the morning light. There's a scene where we watch Nobita walk in a dark forest in silhouette. Neither of these scenes serve any narrative purpose, but they're among the more beautiful in the film. Then there's the scene, pictured above, where Nobita walks through the ruins of his hometown. It's quite a striking scene because the nuanced, realistic rendering of the ruins isn't something we'd expect to see in Doraemon.
The characters not only look more three-dimensional, they move in a more three-dimensional way. They bend their bodies into all sorts of configurations the likes of which you never used to see in the old Doraemon. The opening scene is a good example:
This kind of fun character acting is the essence of the new Doraemon. Even scenes that don't jump out as being flamboyantly animated are full of amusing posing like this that keeps the animation lively throughout.
Aside from the character animation, the effects animation and action sequences in the new Doraemon are also a big improvement over the old movies. For example, the scene where Shizuka accidentally causes the robot to destroy a building is basically the same as the original. Except that now, when the building explodes, it explodes and crumbles with an Akira level of maniacally detailed animation.
This was probably animated by Takashi Hashimoto. The animation of the explosion seems like his style. The animation of the building collapsing is impressively detailed. I haven't seen this level of detail of a building collapsing since Shinya Ohira's animation in Akira. Doraemon isn't where I expected to see it.
Another example featuring good effects and good action is the scene where the enemy robot breaks through the mirror leading to the real world. In the old film, it wasn't very excitingly animated or directed. Action scenes were never Tsutomu Shibayama's forte. In the new film, the scene was animated by a flamboyant animator who makes it a hair-raising experience.
The effects in this scene are quite interesting. Instead of drawing a simple laser beam as in the original movie, this animator makes it a pulsating line of star-shaped energy. The forms are quite beautiful to watch. I suspect this scene was done by Hidetsugu Ito, though that's just a guess and I'm not sure.
The FX throughout the film are generally quite nice, as there was an FX & Mecha Animation Director, a role that you don't normally see in anime. Suzuki Tsutomu, whom I recall for his work on Outlaw Star (op, 12, 23), played this role. Perhaps he is the one who invited another great action animator who did good work on Outlaw Star to the film - Susumu Yamaguchi. Robot Army featured a lot of outside faces like this who have never worked on Doraemon before.
The 2008 Green Giant movie also had an FX Animation Director - Hiroshi Masuda, who played the same role in the 3rd and 4th Naruto movies around the same time (which I wrote about here). Hiroshi Masuda has been involved in most of the recent Doraemon movies. In Robot Army he is credited as one of the animation directors. Incidentally, Hidetsugu Ito also acted as FX Animation Director in the 4th Naruto Movie.
The 2006 Dinosaur movie was notable for the slew of outside animators it brought in. There are a lot of other talented outside animators in Robot Army: Takashi Hashimoto, Hidetsugu Ito, Susumu Yamaguchi, Manabu Ohashi, Fumiaki Kota, Tatsuya Tomaru, Junichi Hayama, etc. Fumiaki Kota has been a regular in the films since Green Giant in 2008. Then there are all the regular faces like Masami Otsuka and Masakatsu Sasaki. Masami Otsuka in this movie was almost exclusively devoted to animating the low-key scenes of interaction between the main characters. It was good casting - it allows him to show off what he's really good at.
"Good animation in Doraemon" used to be an oxymoron. Now it's common sense. Over the last decade, I've come to expect that each new Doraemon film will feature quite a bit of good animation by talented in-house and freelance animators. Ayumu Watanabe's 2006 dinosaur film is probably the best known of the recent Doraemon films, as it was the most flamboyantly animated of the whole series, but pretty much every successive film over the last decade has had a lot of good animation.
That didn't used to be the case. For about the first two decades of the yearly movies, the animation was stodgy and perfunctory. It seems like it was around the time Ayumu Watanabe became involved in the Doraemon movies, at the end of the 1990s, that that animation in the Doraemon movies started to become more active and interesting. Masaya Fujimori was one of the animators who helped spice up the animation in the movies around this time.
It's not coincidentally with the 2003 film, directed for the first time by Ayumu Watanabe, that things really started picking up. The animation director system switched from Sadayoshi Tominaga handling everything to a 4-person system. Talented animators were brought in from the outside like Yuichiro Sueyoshi and Hiroyuki Aoyama. This trend continued with the next film in 2004, which featured Masaaki Yuasa and Kenichi Konishi. Things exploded with the next film, the 2006 remake of Nobita's Dinosaur, and from there onwards each new film has hewed, to a greater or lesser extent, to the standard of more dynamic directing and animation set by the 2006 film. (I wrote about the 2008 movie and the 2010 movie before.)
Here is a summary of the key credits for the Doraemon movies over the period during which the staff transformation took place that led to the improvement of the quality of the Doraemon movies. For more about the Doraemon films, refer to my post on A Production.
|2003 #24 Wind Riders|
|Dir: Tsutomu Shibayama / Chief AD: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Tetsuro Karai, Shizue Kaneko, Masaya Fujimori, Yoshiaki Yanagita|
|Notable animators: Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Masaru Oshiro, Toshiharu Sugie, Atsuko Tanaka, Yoshinobu Michihata, Hiroyuki Aoyama, Yuichiro Yano, Toshihiko Masuda, Hiroshi Nagahama, Koichi Murata|
|2004 #25 Wan Nyan Spacetime Adventure|
|Chief Dir/Line Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / Dir/Storyboard: Tsutomu Shibayama / AD: Tetsuro Karai, Shizue Kaneko, Masaya Fujimori, Masayuki Sekine|
|Notable animators: Masaaki Yuasa, Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Kenichi Konishi, Sachiko Kamimura, Masaru Oshiro|
|2006 #26 Nobita's Dinosaur (Remake of movie #1 from 1980)|
|Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Kenichi Konishi|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Tetsuro Karai, Shizuka Hayashi, Tatsuzo Nishita, Hideki Hamasu, Shingo Natsume, Masakatsu Sasaki, Shizue Kaneko, Masaru Oshiro, Ryotaro Makihara, Hisashi Mori, Shinji Hashimoto, Yasunori Miyazawa, Norio Matsumoto, Takaaki Yamashita, Shogo Furuya, Hiroshi Masuda, Tsutomu Suzuki|
|2007 #27 Underworld (Remake of movie #5 from 1984)|
|Dir: Yukiyo Teramoto / AD: Shizue Kaneko|
|Notable animators: Ryotaro Makihara, Masami Otsuka, Hiroshi Masuda, Masaru Oshiro, Shingo Natsume, Masakatsu Sasaki, Toshihiko Masuda, Shizuka Hayashi, Hiromi Hata, Ayumu Kotake|
|2008 #28 Green Giant|
|Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Shizue Kaneko / FX AD: Masuda Hiroshi|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Shizuka Hayashi, Masakatsu Sasaki, Ryotaro Makihara, Tamotsu Ogawa, Norio Matsumoto, Fumiaki Kota, Masahiro Sato, Yoshihiko Umakoshi, Ikuo Kuwana, Kiyotaka Oshiyama, Shigeru Kimishima, Nobutaka, Naoyuki Asano|
|2009 #29 Spaceblazer (Remake of movie #2 from 1981)|
|Chief Dir: Kozo Kusuba / Chief AD: Shizue Kaneko / AD: Naoyuki Asano +3 others|
|Notable animators: Masami Otuska, Hiromi Hata, Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Shizuka Hayashi, Satoru Utsunomiya, Nobutaka, Motonobu Hori, Masashi Okumura, Fumiaki Kota|
|2010 #30 Mermaid Legend|
|Dir: Kozo Kusuba / Chief AD: Naoyuki Asano / AD: 5 names|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Masaru Oshiro, Yasuo Muroi, Shizuka Hayashi, Majiro, Yu Yamashita, Hiroyuki Morita, Fumiaki Kota, Tetsuro Karai, Hiromi Hata, Hiroshi Shimizu|
|2011 #31 Robot Army (Remake of movie #7 from 1986)|
|Dir: Yukiyo Teramoto / Chief AD: Naoyuki Asano / AD: Hiroshi Masuda +5 others / Mecha & FX AD: Tsutomu Suzuki|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Susumu Yamaguchi, Ito Hidetsugu, Tomaru Tatsuya, Kota Fumiaki, Masaru Oshiro, Manabu Ohashi, Shoko Nishigaki, Takashi Hashimoto, Takaya Hirotoshi, Tobe Atsuo, Shigeki Kudo, Hiroyuki Morita, Junichi Hayama, Masakatsu Sasaki, Nobutake Ito, Motonobu Hori, Hiroki Harada, Ayako Hata, Shinichi Kurita, Takashi Mukoda|
|Director: Yukiyo Teramoto|
|Script: Higashi Shimizu|
|Chief Animation Director: Naoyuki Asano|
|Art Director: Makoto Tsuchihashi|
|Storyboard: Yukiyo Teramoto, Tetsuo Yajima|
|Line Director: Minoru Yamaoka|
|Character Design: Shizue Kaneko|
|Animation Directors: Masahiro Kurio, Tomofumi Nakura, Hiroshi Masuda, Aya Takano, Hiroko Yaguchi, Shingo Okano|
|Mecha and Effect Animation Director: Tsutomu Suzuki|
|Masami Otsuka||Takayuki Uragami||Susumu Yamaguchi|
|Hidetsugu Ito||Tatsuya Tomaru||Koichiro Ueda|
|Masahiro Emoto||Fumiaki Kota||Yukari Karai|
|Masaru Oshiro||Nobuhiro Osugi||Yumi Chiba|
|Hisashi Kagawa||Manabu Ohashi||Takeo Oda|
|Yuki Ito||Osamu Miwa||Hitomi Kakubari|
|Mai Tsutsumi||Daisuke Mataga||Kanako Watanabe|
|Takayuki Gotan||Tetsuhito Sato||Emi Kamiishi|
|Hiromi Taniguchi||Masahiko Itojima||Masayuki Koda|
|Masashi Eguchi||Aki Kuki||Jun Ishikawa|
|Yuko Yoshida||Yukihiro Ishida||Hanako Enomoto|
|Yujiro Moriyama||Kunihiro Abe||Akiko Matsuo|
|Misato Abe||Takahiro Takamizawa||Shinichi Yoshikawa|
|Toshiyuki Sato||Shoko Nishigaki||Riki Matsuura|
|Takashi Hashimoto||Hirotoshi Takaya||Atsuo Tobe|
|Shigeki Kudo||Hiroyuki Morita||Junichi Hayama|
|Masakatsu Sasaki||Nobutake Ito||Mamoru Sasaki|
|Kazuo Sakai||Motonobu Hori||Hiroki Harada|
|Ayako Hata||Shinichi Kurita||Takashi Mukoda|