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, June 29, 2012

11:51:00 pm , 1123 words, 6715 views     Categories: OVA, Studio: Anime R, 1980s

Good Morning Althea

I tend to write about the good OVAs, but they're in the minority. Most OVAs are justly forgotten. The 1987 OVA Good Morning Althea is a prime example of an OVA misfire boasting terrible storytelling and animation. Colony Drop just recently did a write-up on exactly why this show is so bad, so I won't go into the details here, but I thought I'd write my own thoughts as I just had a look at it.

It's not the worst thing I've seen, but it doesn't have much to recommend it. The poor directing and hackneyed and jumbled story weren't even the worst part of it to me. it's the drawings. They're awful. It looked like fan anime to me. It was impossible for me to take most of the scenes seriously because the character drawings consistently had the amateurish quality of fan art, with the features of the faces and the body proportions drawn all wrong, and clumsy linework.

The directing is admittedly pretty weak. Hideki Tonokatsu doesn't do a particularly great job of making the story flow interestingly, making it coherent, making the action exciting, or making us invest in the characters and their situation. A show with a stupid story can be saved by good animation, and vice-versa. Althea boasts a lethal combination of bad drawings and bad directing.

It's not that the animation is bad, though most of the animation is lackluster. There are actually a few shots of decent mecha action, like this one. The mecha look pretty cool, and there's competently drawn most of the time. The fact is, the OVA has some pretty good staff in the credits, which makes it hard to understand why the show turned out so bad. Anime R is a strong presence: Moriyasu Taniguchi is the animation director and Hiroshi Osaka is the mecha animation director. There are a few talented people in the credits including Yasuchika Nagaoka, Hideaki Sakamoto, Atsushi Yano and Hiromitsu Ota, but for the most part it's a mixed bag. It feels like one of those shows where there were issues behind the scenes at the last minute that led to some sudden drastic staff changes. It feels like it was produced in a big scramble.

The mecha drawings are usually OK, but there's something fundamentally wrong with the character drawings here. I had a hard time placing my finger on why the drawings in this OVA feel 'off', but I've come to the conclusion it's because of the inbetweens. I have a hunch Althea is a case of animation ruined by bad inbetweening.

Most of the names in the credits of Althea are Japanese, but but presumably due to time or budget constraints, the inbetweening alone was outsourced to a South Korean studio. Anime is known for using South Korea for its inbetweens. I'm not sure when this began, but it was probably in the 1980s. Althea was made at an early stage in the industry when the quality was far worse than it is today, and even today it's common knowledge that there are tremendous limitations on what inbetweeners can or will do.

Animation drawings of a high caliber like those of Okiura or Ohira apparently require very talented inbetweeners to get the drawings right. If their keys were outsourced to a cut-rate studio, the animation would be ruined. They simplify lines and subtle actions, as you can see if you closely compare the animation of this shot by Bahi JD with the final product.

I've long heard that the inbetweening stage is a surprisingly important stage that, beyond merely being there to 'fill out' the movement drawn by the key animators, can actually kill the animation if done wrong. Inbetweening is a skill that requires talent in its own way, like key animation, and it has its share of hacks doing lackluster work. To many people, inbetweening is (understandably) a paycheck far more than it is a labor of love. At the same time, if you outsource something for very little money and want it back the next day, don't expect good quality.

In anime, you never see the lines drawn by key animators (or you do only in special cases). What you are seeing in most anime is the lines drawn by the inbetweeners. The inbetweeners re-trace the key animation drawings. They don't just shoot the key animation drawings interspersed with inbetweens; they re-draw the keys and draw the inbetweens from scratch (or from reference drawings).

I've been examining Anime R in detail over the last few weeks because in a way they embody the anime paradigm, something that has been lost in today's atomized and outsourced and freelance age: the master-student relationship of inbetweener and key animator - an animator beginning at a studio as an inbetweener, learning the ropes under talented animators, and eventually working his way up to key animation. The inbetweeners and the key animators worked together under the same roof. Anime R's episodes were always inbetweened by Anime R. Hiroyuki Okiura and Hiroshi Osaka were inbetweeners inbetweening Toru Yoshida and Kishi Fumiko's animation before they acceded to drawing key animation.

With a very small team that knew each other's skills very well, they achieved beautiful results in those Sunrise (and other) shows of the 1980s. That has been the traditional situation in Japan, and it fosters a more deep knowledge about the process, but with inbetweens more likely to be outsourced today, it feels like the unique paradigm of the craftsman-student relationship has become a victim of progress. If I'm right about Althea, it shows the perils of corrupting that relationship.

Althea was apparently pitched by Ichiro Itano, and perhaps even initially planned to be directed by Itano. After starting out as a groundbreaking mecha animator, he went on to direct or otherwise back a number of OVAs in the 1980s, starting with Megazone 23. He created a number of overweening adult epics filled with violence and action that sound cool on paper and shine briefly technically but wind up being pretty disappointing and forgettable. The thing I've noticed is that the quality of the OVAs he was involved in is consistently uneven. There are occasional moments of strong animation that bring alive the concept, but often his projects feel rushed and awkward somehow or other, not to mention being in poor taste sometimes. Good Morning Althea is the prototypical Itano production in that sense.

Good Morning Althea (OVA, Dec 1987, 50min, Animate Film)

Concept:板野一郎Ichiro Itano
Storyboard & Director:殿勝秀樹Hideki Tonokatsu
Character design:菊池みちたかMichitaka Kikuchi
Settei Design:池田一成Kazuya Ikeda
亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
Animation Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Assistant A.D.:柳沢まさひでMasahide Yanagisawa
Mecha A.D.:逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
Key animation:浜川修二郎
Shujiro Hamakawa
Hitoshi Haga
Satoru Yamashita
Katsuzo Sato
Hideaki Sakamoto
Yasuchika Nagaoka
Hiroshi Shinada
Naoki Ohira
Atsushi Yano
Koichi Wada
Hiroaki Korogi
Akira Tsukada
Mikio Tsuchiya
Hiromitsu Ohta
Toyoaki Fukushima
Shiro Okumura


busterbeam [Visitor]

The only Ichiro Itano-directed OVA I’ve actually seen was Battle Royal High School. I expected good, campy fun and ended up with an incoherent mess that failed at even being a ‘here’s some cool bits from the manga, screw plot’-type deal. It was generally poorly put together and not even the animation was particularly good most of the time.

It’s pretty much impossible to pick out the good from the bad when it comes to campy, silly old anime, especially OVAs. You can end up with something that was just hated because of the radically different tastes of 80s/early 90s anime fans and that deserves far more exposure today (I’ve streamed Birth to random internet people and not one of them thought, “this is irredeemable", a lot even had fun) or you can end up with something that’s truly just poorly made and not even ’so bad it’s good’, just boring. It seems to be a 50/50 thing.

06/30/12 @ 04:42
Ben [Member]  

Very true, I agree. What is good or bad with these old OVAs is almost always subjective, and winds up being an arbitrary decision usually in my case based on if the good outweighed the bad (the ‘good’ in mind usually being good animation). Many of the OVAs that I wind up liking like Crimson Wolf I liked not because they had any more coherent a plot than Althea but because the crazed tension of the animation IMO managed to make up for the other shortcomings. Most people would probably just dismiss it outright as crap without noticing the interesting animation. It’s usually the case that I wind up liking a show because it has interesting animation despite having a crappy story, rather than vice-versa.

In the case of something like Iczer-1, it’s almost like the show achieves greatness despite itself, rather than setting out to become an Officially Great show like for example Giant Robo. A friend of mine compared Iczer-1 to biker girl porn. Pure campy trash that achieves greatness because of its sheer audacious ludicrousness. Anyone looking for a good serious story will find it ridiculous, but if you put yourself into its mindset, it works better than many of the shows that set out to tell a good conventional story but failed.

And yes, there’s the fact that taste evolves, and many fans just aren’t able to appreciate certain styles in the past because they don’t have a proper historical perspective to make them able to appreciate the good animation that was produced at that period, instead judging the old anime by current standards and finding it lacking. Or just plain not being able to see good animation. It’s hard to believe, but I ran across one person on Twitter just recently who appears to maintain that Fujiko Lupin is well animated, and doesn’t believe there are people who think 1970s Lupin had good animation.

As for Itano, I’d say Battle Royale is probably my favorite of his films, even if just because it is more fun and has some nice bits of animation here and there, rather than being just an excuse for gory and tasteless violence like Violence Jack or Angel Cop. (although again, these had some redeeming bits of impressive animation)

06/30/12 @ 08:51
busterbeam [Visitor]

From what I’ve seen, the Violence Jack manga has some pretty cool and creative stuff in it; it’s just that the OVA seems to have taken a pretty standard chapter and made the psychotic stuff more graphic by having a less cartoonish art style and focusing on the rape stuff in a far ‘pornier’ way.

Well, admittedly some 70s Lupin episodes are pretty cheap and slideshowy; perhaps the Twitter person you talked to didn’t really see the overall-good episodes of 70s Lupin.

If he/she did, well… yeah, I certainly think there are some pink & red jacket stories that have far more lively character movement than the typical Fujiko episode. But even then, I do acknowledge that it can be harder to tell. At least, I find it significantly less odd than someone looking at a blatantly fluid, well-timed and elaborate Naruto fight scene and saying “wow, this clearly has less effort put into it than the average manga-tracing episode!” solely because the character designs have been simplified or it looks ‘wacky’; that only seems like a by-product of watching too much super-cheap slideshow anime.

What I do to help people understand why I like the visuals of 70s Lupin is make side-by-side comparisons between the modern stuff and the older material, and show just how… alive the characters often felt in the old series. Most people will probably grow to appreciate 70s anime more if you showcase the difference between good cartooning and talking-heads, pseudo ‘realistic’ artwork. Similar stuff applies to those who say that the Fujiko show is “Monkey Punch-style” or looks like the manga. Actually showing the manga art and Fujiko’s art side-by-side should make it obvious that the styles are radically different and that Fujiko is blatantly lacking the varied posing and cartoony aesthetics of Monkey Punch’s work.

06/30/12 @ 18:10
h_park [Member]

Ben, it’s good thing that you brought up example of bad inbetweening in animation.

Since Inbetweener’s cleaned up drawings are the ones that always have been inked and painted, it’s Japanese fault for shortchanging their inbewteeners. I don’t want to go in detail, but you know what I’m talking about.

Remember the clean-up process I’ve posted on the forum? Even though it’s just tracing, inbetweeners have draw delicate lines carefully or everything falls part. Good example I think of is one scene in Escaflowne the Movie where Sakkan’d drawing falls apart by badly finished inbetweens. Nobuteru Yuuki’s Sakkan drawings got ruined by bad inbetweens. I’ll post the comparison pics later on.

Having watched all Naruto TV episodes back-to-back past several weeks, that show has so many bad inbetweens that I’ve lost count. As I watched the show, I noticed that bad episodes always have a Korean subcontractor, Jinwoo Animation, which have been doing substandard work. It’s not that all Korean subcontractors are bad or anything, but some subcontractors are not reliable, period.

Speaking of animation appreciation in anime, people tend to forget that animation is all about perception of motion. I do admit that good camera work saves static pictures from becoming dull. However, people shouldn’t judge it by prettiness standard. For example, it has to be on-model; it has to be up to date with trends; it has to show quirky details on static pictures. those fan standards are shallow and get old fast. Animators are not too fond of strict adherence to on-model because it sucks out the fun in expression.

If fans want pretty pictures, then they should read manga rather than spending 30 minutes watching a show.

07/01/12 @ 00:58
drmecha [Member]  

Interesting, your theory about labor problems because of outsourcing! Almost certainly be right.
Another example of a Anime R work woefully poor is Romanesque Smmy.
It’s my post about this ova:

07/01/12 @ 04:08
drmecha [Member]  

Oh!. If I remember correctly. The first inbetweenwers saw plenty of Koreans who think it was maybe in 1988.
Although you probably already had before.
An earlier example I think they were chapters of Macross TV (1982/83).

07/01/12 @ 04:18
pete [Member]

H Park

Recently I watched the Blueray rip of Future Boy Conan. I had seen years ago some low quality hardsub rips. It is as if I am watching a new series.

Reading your post, I think I found every aspect of the creative animation you describe inside that series! Amazing really! Regarding animation creativity and seeing the staff involved, I think this is the best anime TV series I’ve seen.

07/02/12 @ 09:49
Ben [Member]  


It’s true that the quality of the 70s Lupin varied, so sure, if you’re comparing the bad episodes to Fujiko, then of course it’s not better. But my point is that back then they were able to achieve great quality with very small teams. When the episodes are good, it’s not because they have 30 animators. It’s because there are one or two animators who are doing most of the episode and managing to make every drawing count and feel interesting as a drawing or movement. In Fujiko Lupin they often have 30 animators per episode and there still isn’t a decent drawing or movement to be found. But the fact is that most people do not have the faculty of distinguishing quality drawings even if they are staring them in the face. To most people, the drawings of Fujiko no doubt equal better animation because they are more detailed and have a more finicky and intricate design, even when it’s a sub-par drawing that doesn’t feel good as a cartoon in terms of the posing, the line work, etc. It’s a sign of paltry visual faculty to be unable to see that quality does not equate with detail, and that simple drawings can be better drawings. It’s difficult to argue the point without having to go into a basic education about art appreciation and drawing, so I think your method of showing the two side by side is actually probably the best and quickest method of getting the point across.

H Park -

I’m curious to see that Escaflowne comparison you mention. I know in theory that bad inbetweening can ruin animation, but for lack of the materials to make the comparison it’s often difficult to provide a specific example to readers that makes it clear what this entails. You would need to have the sakkan’s corrections for that.

Drmecha -

Ew, Romanesque Sammy looks awful. Anime R certainly wasn’t involved in nothing but masterpieces. They were also heavily behind Dream Hunter Rem, which I’ve only seen a bit of, but recall not being very impressed by.

Pete -

What TV series are you talking about??

07/02/12 @ 13:13
h_park [Member]

I will post the comparison pics either on 7/3 or 7/4. I just need to do some screen capture and take a snapshot from Escaflowne movie Genga book. After that, I’ll just post them on the forum.

I think you’ve got wrong person.

07/02/12 @ 23:33
pete [Member]


I meant the 1978 TV series Future Boy Conan (Ootsuka, Miyazaki etc).It was released on Blue Ray.
Some of the backgrounds and the animation look even better than last time I remembered, having watched lower quality versions.

H Park

I was referring to your post about animation and perception of motion with that TV series in mind

07/03/12 @ 00:10
h_park [Member]

As I promised , I posted the Escaflowne movie’s comparison pics on the forum.

Oh Okay. I thought you were talking about Future Boy Conan to Ben.

Like you said, Naruto TV has great animation sequences here and there, but they’re so random. I had to write down episode number that catches my eyes.

07/04/12 @ 14:34