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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« TOKIKAKE "BEST" —Asahi ShimbunMitsuo Iso interview »

Monday, July 24, 2006

11:12:52 pm , 819 words, 2732 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Flag

I had a look at the reviews for Mamoru Hosoda's new film, just to see how they compared to the reviews for Goro's, and the contrast was very revealing. Page upon page one one-star reviews for the latter, and page upon page of five-star reviews for Tokikake. The reviews are usually well thought out for both films, outlining convincingly why each film deserved its extreme rating. One anecdote sticks in the mind for Hosoda's film. Several reviewers state that not a single person stood up until the end of the credits for Tokikake. Not just most people, but nobody. I think that says a lot. Reading the reviews has made me even more excited about the film. It's that kind of film again - the kind that gets you excited just reading people's enthusiastic reviews. I was hoping Hosoda had made his best film yet, and it sounds like he has. The irony is that it's going to be seen by very few people, while the other will be seen by many.

I watched the first episode of Ryosuke Takahashi's Flag. I was tremendously impressed by the visuals and the tone of the piece. It was just what I wanted from Takahashi. A piece of animation completely grounded in today's specific realities, namely the realities of conflict zones, without naive melodrama, and not adhering to dramatic formula, but flowing somewhat randomly, like a documentary. The gimmick of every shot being seen through a camera is used effectively and does not get annoying, as we regularly switch perspectives between different lenses and characters, and the story is interspersed with 'photographs' throughout. The piece acts as a sort of homage to the art and the power of photography, and as an amateur photographer I really appreciated that aspect. The story is centered around the myth of the holy grail of photographs - the photograph that is able to change the world for the better. I would have liked them to dig deeper into this concept, and really give a meditation on the utility of photography in this day and age, focusing on the feelings of the photographer protagonist as she makes the transition to the conflict zone, and also for them to use the basic situation as an opportunity to do some geopolitical commentary, but I think that may be asking a bit too much, as the story appears likely to go in a more adventure-based direction. It's probably the closest we're going to get, so I'm going to follow it. My major disappointment was why the hell they had to have a damn bipedal robot to wreck the whole atmosphere. Come on, we're not in the 80s anymore Ryo.

I was also intrigued by the animation. The way they went out of their way to use frames to express stretch and squash, and the whole atmosphere of the movement screamed non-Japanese animation, but it didn't make sense, because there was no way they would have outsourced to America or something. Seeing the credits made it all fall into place. Kazuyoshi Takeuchi. He's probably the only animator I'm a fan of even though I've only seen one scene of his work. He animated that great German Shepherd scene in Akira, in the traffic jam. It's an interesting sequence, because it's full of incredible exaggerated but fluid and dynamic poses and movement of a kind that you don't see in the other sequences of the film. I remember reading that the other animators thought it was going to look ridiculous when they saw his drawings as he was in the process of animating the scene, but they were completely surprised and impressed by how it looked in motion. It's an interesting example of that wondrous aspect of animation - that you can't tell how a sequence is going to work in motion just looking at a single drawing. Put it all together, and suddenly it comes alive. Well, the reason for him having this completely different approach from the rest of the animators is that he was trained working on co-productions like Wuzzles and Duck Tales of all things. I'd long wanted to see more of his work, because I'm interested in animators like this who straddle these two worlds, as Tomonaga does with Telecom's co-productions, but he's quite elusive and this is the first time I've seen his name since Akira. The acting is very western in style, but kind of toned down a bit, so I think it strikes a nice balance. It's fascinating to compare how much his entire philosophy towards movement differs from that of his compatriots. I'd be curious to know how he came to go in such a direction. This would have been in the mid-80s, in the heydey of Telecom, and immediately after the closing of Sanrio Films, the two Japanese studios of the day that sort of straddled the Pacific, so to speak.

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9 comments

Muffin
Muffin [Visitor]

I’m just hoping “Tokikake” will be licensed outside japan sometime. Truth be told I’ve never seen any of Hosoda’s stuff. But going by your descriptions, I’m very curious to do so. I seem to remember you charachtarizing his direction once as Mamoru Oshii without the pretentiousness, which sounds great.

Not that I’ve ever really minded Oshii’s “pretentiousness” all that much. I actually feel “Innocence” in particular is pretty self-aware(in a straight-faced sort of way) of this aspect. I remember a rather funny sequence near the end of the film where Motoko uses one of the films many philosophical quotations as an action-film one-liner before blowing away some dolls: “Thus a mirror bears a glimpse, but not scrutiny". Very dry, and not particulary lingered on. It feels more like a part of the films aesthetic texture, rather than some half-hearted and disjointed attempt at “depth".

Interesting to see that the charachter-designer is Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. I don’t dislike Sadamoto, though I often feel his designs come out the best when he’s got an AD that can add a bit of diversity to his expressions and style. FLCL being the obvious and best example(and not just when things are going completely crazy).

Are you familiar btw, with the animator Yoshiaki Yanagida? He’s been a key animator in a few major anime films like Jin-Roh and Vampire Hunter D(2000) as well as being the AD/CD in the “Scientific Boys Club” part of the second Spirit Of Wonder OAV, where he brought in a somewhat rough, but interestingly loose and organic style of drawing and movement with a notable attention to flexible(non-cartoony) facial expressions.

I first became curious about him from his work as animation charachter-designer on the Takuya Sato/Yoshitoshi ABe anime series “NieA Under 7″ where he took ABe’s already appealing art and built on the individuality and range of the charachters expressions in the process of transferring them to animation.

Of the current 4 “ABe-series"(Lain, NieA, Haibane, Texhnolyze) NieA probably has my favourite charachter-art(though I wouldn’t discount Kishida’s Lain). It’s also a series I’d recommend for a lot of other reasons. With perhaps the most likeable main female charachter(Mayuko) I’ve encountered in anime.

07/25/06 @ 08:15
Ben [Member]  

Tokikake is going to be your perfect introduction to Mamo-tan. In fact, going on what I’m hearing, this is probably going to be the first thing he’s made that I think even people who don’t watch animation might enjoy - one of those rare anime films like GOTF or Mind Game. That’s the best kind IMO. If you like what you see, then you will promptly wish to seek out his other stuff to deepen your appreciation of Mamoism.

Don’t get me wrong, I was fan enough to fansub Angel’s Egg a decade ago, and I still rewatch Gosenzosama, but I just seem to find less to appreciate in his more recent work. It’s probably just that I’ve changed and he hasn’t. But I totally appreciate where you’re coming from.

It’s really interesting that you would make that comment about Sadamoto, because that is precisely what made me happy with this film. I feel exactly the same way, and thankfully here Sadamoto is not the AD. Instead, we have all of the ADs from Hosoda’s last film playing the part (with Sushio replaced by Hiroyuki Aoyama). I noticed this very clearly when I saw the trailer. The drawings were obviously Yamashita’s and not at all Sadamoto’s. I am not a fan (no offense to SY - few anime CDs do it for me), but it’s exactly as you say - his designs provide a good neutral base for other ADs to work with, which is kind of mysterious and fascinating.

I’m not familiar with Yoshiaki Yanagida, no. I have wanted to revisit Spirit of Wonder again, though. Yet another one of those shows I saw way back in the day… I remember liking how different the designs were, though I also remember not being too impressed by the film as a whole.

I haven’t actually watched NieA in its entirety. I’ve only watched ep 12 because it was the only one done by Tokoro Tomokazu. I was still under the impact of Haibane at the time and couldn’t bring myself to watch what seemed like nothing more than a slapstick version of Haibane. I know it’s not, and I’m sure it’s a well done series in its own right if I gave it a chance. The characters were fairly strongly developed in the episode I saw, and the mood was nice and subdued. I’d like to have a proper look sometime. I also really liked the Tom Waits-ish singer they used.

07/25/06 @ 20:04
Philip Daniel
Philip Daniel [Visitor]

Gedo Senki actually got a review saying that the movie is decent:
http://jasongray.blogspot.com/2006/07/tales-from-earthsea-screening.html

07/26/06 @ 11:04
Muffin
Muffin [Visitor]

Right. From what I’ve seen, the art does indeed have a different flavour than pure Sadamoto. I think Sadamoto is a very technically skilled artist whose (current)style is also very lacking in idiosyncracies. In a way, his style is very “anime standard". But of a very technically complex variety.

Very generally speaking, this sort of a minimalist template for expression is a very intrinsic part of japanese cartoon-art. The very kind of thing that’ll have the gaijin peanut gallery holloring “It all looks the same!". From where I’m standing though, I see a lot of value in being trained in this sort of fundamentally less surface detail-oriented psychological approach to expression. It’s very much the reason I find japanese art so compelling and rich in subtleties. The fact that a lot of it is stylistically uninspired is simply an unfortunate side-effect.

Speaking of Sadamoto, what’s your take on Gainax and Tsurumaki’s Gunbuster 2? It looks equal parts intriguing and peculiar. Though I’m sure it’s worth seeing for the visual style alone.

I believe there are two separate Spirit of Wonder OAV series. I haven’t seen the first one, though I believe Yanagida also worked on that one. I can’t say the overall storytelling in the one I saw was particulary impressive either. But Yanagida’s style did hold a lot of interest for me. It reminded me a bit of a cruder verion of the visual style in something like Jin-Roh. With more expressively drawn faces. He wasn’t involved in the 2 shorts that accompany the main piece though.

I had a somewhat similar experience with NieA and Haibane. Except I came into Haibane after NieA and found the opening episodes a bit…well, “twee” both in style and storytelling. Though I’m certain the best stuff is yet to come. And it’s probably about time I finished it. I do feel the art in both Haibane and Texhnolyze generally seem to be a step down from the more bold, organically expressive look of Lain and NieA(even though Texhnolyze in particular has a *very* polished and consistent look).

I did particulary like the look of eps 8 of Haibane judging from the screenshots I’ve seen though.

I’m fairly sure you’d enjoy NieA. It only suffers a little from a couple of very “filler” -feeling episodes in the middle(eps 5 & 6). As is the case with the art, it has a very organic, multi-faceted sense of charachtarization and storytelling

07/30/06 @ 13:26
Ben [Member]  

I was interested to realize recently that Yanagida was the character designer/animation director of Asia-do’s Kaiketsu Zorori, which though aimed at small children has a nice refreshing simple vigor with its cartoonish designs, of a kind you don’t see very often in anime.

One of the main reasons I like Haibane is for the script. The animation is admittedly lackluster, though not bad, in the episodes in which Matsumoto or Kishida or Takada were not involved, but to me the incredible level to which the characters are fleshed out into real people amply makes up for that. It probably doesn’t come through in the transaltion, unfortunately, but the Japanese script is among the best I’ve ever heard for an anime series. Haibane was one of the few times, possibly the only one since Anne and Marco and Heidi, at least to my eyes, that I felt an anime TV series had succeeded in creating this level of depth of characterization.

I’ve never really understood Gainax, and over the last few years they’ve pretty much lost me… I couldn’t get into Gunbuster 2, although I was impresed by how technically well produced it was. The coloring and art seemed to carry the show. But I’m quite looking forward to Guren Lagan. I think this is going to be the best thing they’ve done since FLCL.

08/06/06 @ 12:42
Muffin
Muffin [Visitor]

Guren Lagan, that’s the mecha show with Imaishi directing I believe? Gainax does seem to make a lot of odd things inbetween extremely interesting stuff. I *am* a big fan of the End Of Evangelion movie in all its glorious beautiful madness, and with FLCL, I felt for a while they could do no wrong.

Just got the second disc of Haibane and can definetly say I’m hooked. The episode with Kuu was tremendously affecting. Though in a very low-key manner. And the visual direction *is* very fine really. I also see how well the whole thing slowly keeps building itself up. Oh, and I do understand japanese, so no problem there.

I’d be very interested to see ABe being involved in writing/designing a feature-film sometime.(Add Kishida or Yanagida to the mix and I’d be in heaven) Maybe get him together with Ryutaro Nakamura again.(better stop daydreaming now…)

You can see some of Yanagida’s design work for NieA on Tsuka’s site btw:

http://www.catsuka.com/gengal_artworks.php?id=niea7

08/06/06 @ 16:09
Muffin
Muffin [Visitor]

Whoa. Just finished watching the much anticipated eps.8 of Haibane Renmei. Much impressed in every way(as well as with the series as a whole). Checking out the credits I was pleasantly surprised to see Yuichi Tanaka as the AD. I remember Tanaka being credited as “sub-charachter designer” in NieA, as well as setting the tone for the series as AD of eps 1 with his very solid and nuanced rendering of the charachters.

Overall I was very pleased with the style of art and movement in this ep. Which seemed to have a somewhat more organic and flexible feel from the other(very solidly drawn)episodes.

Though I was also interested to see that Takahiro Omori of Koi Kaze was the storyboarder and episode director.

I’m also quite getting into Texhnolyze. Intriguing and frequently gripping stuff. If one can stomach the extremely self-indulgent cinematic style and brooding charachters. Have you seen this series btw?

08/15/06 @ 14:43
Ben [Member]  

Great to hear your impressions of ep 8. One of the most perfect episodes I’ve seen. Interesting to hear about Tanaka. Another name I’ve seen here and there but not yet correlated enough to get a picture of his style.

I’d really like to get a detailed breakdown of the animation in ep 8. I’m pretty sure Matsumoto did the animation of the sequence with the kids (unless that was Kishida??), but I’m not sure about the rest, and most of the rest is really nice. Apart from that, this was the ep that made me discover Takahiro Omori, and I’ve been hoping he would create some more work like this. I could picture him making a great film. I recommend you check out Arjuna 9, which he did (talked about it here) because it’s also incredible and has that patented Omori power.

I remember really liking the silent first ep of Texhnolyze. I found it fairly pretentious, but still well enough made to make it worth looking past that. I was ready to follow it to the end, but after watching the following eps, most of which were “marunage” or approximations thereof, I quickly lost interest… I can’t remember whether I stuck with it or gave up midway through.

08/17/06 @ 11:27
Muffin
Muffin [Visitor]

I’m pretty fond of the Arjuna series. And I remember the scene with Juna & Tokio at the beach in eps 9 as one of the more memorable images. Lots of other good stuff too. Starting with Kishida’s designs, Kanno’s soundtrack, the gorgeous opening episodes. Norio Matsumoto’s stuff(eps 4) and the very impressive and memorable episode with the math teacher.

I hear what you’re saying regarding Texhnolyze. It has a very polished and “inbetweened” look, but the keyframes are awfully dull and predictable. The best one can say is that it looks consistent. I did find the overwhelmingly bleak tone simultaneously tiresome but fascinating, and appreciated much of the story-development in volumes 2-3. Liked the ending song by Gackt too.

08/18/06 @ 16:15