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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Thursday, September 16, 2004

02:20:39 pm , 675 words, 956 views     Categories: Animation

Fujin Monogatari

Shinji Arakawa 荒川眞嗣 and Shichiro Kobayashi 小林七郎 create visuals that are among the most original I've seen in a TV anime in years. Everything melds perfectly. Kobayashi is one of the super-veteran art directors who has done so much good work it's impossible to remember it all. And he continues to be prolific. Last I heard he was working on no less than three TV series. It's been a while since I was so struck by his work, at least since his work with Dezaki in the late 70s. I haven't followed his recent work, but here we get the rough-hewn quality that is what I think he excels at, and it perfectly suits the animation.

The two seem to have been conceptualized together, and it's a truly happy result on the screen. Arakawa's credits hints at just how original an approach they take: not only CD but also "visual concept". There's a shot where there are three or four layers of background swirling around on the screen, and it just sent shivers down my spine. Art and animation are working towards the same end, and it's like nothing else I've seen in anime. Needless to say, the animation is the most interesting thing for me. And the names are there to back it up: Koichi Arai, Yasunori Miyazawa, Hiroyuki Imaishi, Nobutoshi Ogura. The op alone features Ohira, Nishio, Honda, Arai, Miyazawa.

What surprises me is that I find myself with curiously mixed feelings about the obviously Ohira-inspired designs and overall concept. Lest there be any doubt, Ohira is in the op. His shots are easy to pick out: The whole screen explodes in movement. Why mixed? Well, I've always had the impression of Ohira as this volatile force playing with the conventional designs and animation to see just where it might lead him. Yet here we have a whole series based on his approach. I love it, and it's a dream come true for an Ohira fan like me, but it's just kind of strange to see his style transformed into a pattern, when in fact it's always seemed to be kind of a rebellion against pattern. I was half hoping he'd play against expectation and draw really clean characters.

But I enjoyed it very much. This is just what I've been wanting to see. Someone picking up Ohira's thread and taking it in an interesting new direction. Every shot is incredibly pleasing. For one, the deliberately "sketchy"-looking design is refreshing for being out of the norm, and makes it easier to move the characters. Rather than trying to get every little detail right, the animators can spend time actually animating. Interesting ideas abound in the representation of wind, both in the animation and in the art. The wind is graphically expressed with bold lines, a throwback to the era before Miyazaki when lines were widely-used expressive tools and not the bogeyman of so-called realism. Lines in animation? The very thought!

Kobayashi has always seemed like the antipode of the photorealisic art directors like Nizo Yamamoto, and it's a something of a stroke of genius to have matched him up with the new rough school of animation as represented by Ohira and now Ogura. His color sense in particular comes through wonderfully in things like those flags. The story is nothing revolutionary, and the directing is slightly more leisurely than I would like, but it's eminently watchable and a huge cut above par. While we're at it, the music leaves me less than ambivalent, but it can be said to work in the context.

I was rewatching the 1969 Moomin, and for some reason this time around I awoke to the brilliance of Hisashi Inoue. Rather than quality going up and down due to the director or AD (in this case every episode had the same director and AD team), the best episodes are the ones he wrote - 2, 3, 6, etc. His gag sense is on par with Goku. This series also happens to feature Shichiro Kobayashi as a background painter, probably one of his earliest jobs.

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