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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Friday, November 11, 2005

07:48:50 pm , 824 words, 1353 views     Categories: Animation

Gegege no Kitaro

Though his key animation debut goes back to 1985 in Ninja Senshi Tobikage, the earliest piece I've been able to see from Mitsuo Iso is Wataru 27 from 1988, just because those early shows are that rare. Interestingly, one of those shows is coming out on DVD, namely the third anime version of Gegege no Kitaro, from 1987 (the fourth from 1996 had a few eps directed by Mamoru Hosoda), one of those Toei TV series with no chief director, for which he did inbetween work on ep 88 and then key animation work in four episodes in quick succession near the end. This offers a welcome chance to see some more of his work at this early period, as well as some early work from other people who were starting out at Toei at this time and have gone on to make a name for themselves, like Yasunori Miyazawa (33, 47, 71, 95, 100, AD+KA in 107, the second-to-last episode). Ep 3 has the intriguing combo of Shinbo Akiyuki, Shinsaku Kozuma (his only ep) and Katsuichi Nakatsuru, so perhaps this is where Shinbo got to know Kozuma, whom he later called on for that ep of Yu Yu Hakusho... Also, I've always been curious to see more of the work of Yoshinobu Inano, whose work I know mainly from the non-Itano mecha action in Be Invoked, as he's got a big reputation as one of the more unique animators of the period, and he did a lot of work in the show, including a solo ep. He'd been active with his unique style since many years before, and he reportedly influenced Iso, among others. He animated the ending of the Galaxy Express 999 movie, the parts not done by Iso at the beginning of Gundam 0080 1, and the part where Amuro and Char are talking to each other on horseback in Char's Counterattack, among many other things.

Shigeru Mizuki has long been a personal favorite manga-ka. I don't know how well known he is over here, but I was always amazed by his achievement, which was to handle serious themes like death and war, treated in a totally serious and uncompromising way, totally in his own style, and yet manage to do so in a way that was addressed to all ages and not just adults. He seemed to combine the avant-garde graphic sensibility and focus on psychological and social issues of Garo artists with a broad appeal that none of them had, together with a seemingly bottomless well of brilliant fantasy ideas. His figure drawings aren't really that great, but they have incredible power to convince, and when you get used to them they become downright beautiful. What made him really unique was that he combined these crudely delicious figures with photorealistic backgrounds of run-down buildings and hyper-realistic jungles. The combination was very important to the theme of his stories: The physical detritus of society is the home of his protagonists, who are by association human detritus produced by that society. It's interesting to me that he seems to have become known as a simple teller of children's ghost stories considering the uncompromising subversiveness of his message.

The backgrounds were drawn entirely with pen and with little or no shading, the way Yoshiharu Tsuge did (I think he worked as an assistant under Mizuki for a while, and there's a period when their work looks nearly identical), which is indispensible to the feeling of reality he was trying to achieve. Because despite the way the characters looked and the fantasy that was on display, you always got the feeling that it was grounded in reality. That feeling is something that seems to have been lost these days, probably because people nowadays simply haven't experienced the things that Mizuki Shigeru experienced and depicted in his manga. Through all this he creates an eerily realistic atmosphere that no other manga can approach.

Gegege no Kitaro is his most famous and long-lived story, but it's actually the one I'm least familiar with. I've long avoided the anime versions of this and any of his other work for the obvious reason that what makes Mizuki great cannot be transferred to any other medium. It simply has to be drawn by Mizuki's hand (the poor man only had one; the other was lost in the war) or it's not Mizuki. Where manga nowadays seems drawn to facilitate animation, Mizuki's manga seems to resist animation. His genius was non-transferrable and irreplacable. Now that I think about it, it would be a great achievement if someone could transfer what makes Mizuki great into animation. In that sense, I've long wanted to see Toshio Hirata's version of Sanpei the Kappa, one of Mizuki's masterpieces, to see if he managed to do it, because if anybody could, he could, though at the same time I think that even in hands as capable as his it's still an impossible task.

An interview with Mizuki Shigeru:



Josh [Visitor]

The animation room in my old high school had a couple untranslated volumes of Gegege no Kitaro lying around and, not being able to read Japanese, I had no idea what it was or where it came from, but I spent a lot of time flipping through it just to stare at the drawings. And now, having finally gotten around to looking up his stuff after reading this post, the mystery of the Unknown Manga is solved. Thank you!

11/17/05 @ 16:15
Ben [Visitor]

Cool. Glad to help. I wish my high school had had an animation room… I might have enjoyed going more.

11/18/05 @ 16:02
Eric Fleenor
Eric Fleenor [Visitor]  

This clip from the new movie Gegege no Nyobo has some animation that I think does justice to Mizuki’s manga.

As a Shigeru Mizuki fan I’m really looking forward to seeing this film beginning to end.

12/09/10 @ 13:54
Ben [Member]  

It’s nice to see animation done in the style of his manga like that. I’m also interested in seeing the film as a big fan of Mizuki, though it looks a bit melodramatic in a typical Japanese film way.

12/09/10 @ 21:08