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 3, 2011

09:35:50 pm , 440 words, 8802 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Hiroshi Kobayashi in C

I've been watching Kenji Nakamura's latest show C for Tatsunoko, and have mixed feelings about it. I appreciate it in the moments grounded in reality that communicate something about how money governs and steers our lives in various ways, but it loses me when it begins to hide behind the fantasy elements about the 'financial world', though there are creative elements in there. The real financial world would have provided sufficient material to make a far more interesting story. Down-to-earth moments like the scenes of dialogue between the protagonist and the older convenience store clerk were nice.

The character designs are less interesting than Kenji Nakamura's previous shows, though some characters are drawn in Takashi Hashimoto's unique style, as in previous shows, like the politicians, but the protagonist and his 'asset' are all drawn in a cute anime style that's an obvious compromise to sell the show. I'm not even that bothered by the way the characters in random shots will be CG animated all of a sudden. It's not a show that's about the animation. Despite my reservations, I'm still watching because the story has an intriguing complexity and does say something about the intersection between money and power, albeit less directly than I would have liked.

Also toned down is what attracted me to Kenji Nakamura's work to begin with - the extreme stylization of the various aspects of show from the idiosyncratic directing featuring jarring and frenetic shot framing to the colorful visuals with the wall-paintings and surreal non-naturalistic backgrounds. There's a clear distinction this time between the naturalistic real world and the more Nakamura-esque visual of the 'financial world'.

Episode 6 had some of the better directing I've seen in the show yet. It was storyboarded and directed by one Hiroshi Kobayashi 小林寛, which smacks of a pen name, because this person seems to have only done two things prior: the recent episode 7 of Tiger and Bunny and the slightly older episode 1 of the Yozakura Quartet OAD that was Ryochimo's directing (kantoku) debut (also Tatsunoko) (storyboard + director (enshutsu) in both cases), and it'd be surprising for someone to both storyboard & direct right from the beginning, much less do it so well.

The episode also features some nice animation for once - running by Sushio (?) at the beginning followed by some obvious Ryochimo fireballs and at the end some easy to spot Hideki Kakita explosions. Was that Yuuki Hayashi at the end with the black blood part? I'm not familiar enough with his work to be sure. (It's funny how they can do all sorts of violent things but they have to blacken the blood in TV anime.)



h_park [Member]

Glad to hear from you again.

I felt that “C” is trying to make an expression out of real life observation. Recent economy is still affecting everyone and I think that Kenji Nakamura is trying to understand the complexities of the world that influence our lives.

If this was a live action show, no one would take it seriously. I’m not a fan of YuGiOh-like battle as fantasy representation of financial dealings. It would be be nice if the show explain how their battles influence of the events of the real world in visual detail. Just like any institution, the financial world is greatly influenced by human elements.

I have feeling that the show is also about exploration of characters’ humanity and current Japanese generation’s search for the future.

As Ben mentioned, it’s interesting to see animators doing directions. However, it feels like they’re short handed.

06/04/11 @ 16:50
Ben [Member]  

You’re exactly right, this anime is interesting because it explores how the economy affected Japanese people, who were hit double hard because of the stagnation after the bubble burst followed by the recent downturn, so it would have been nice to see this explored with more focus and not diluted by the fantasy elements. There is so much potential for interesting stories to be mined in this material about the very specific and tragic situation in Japan as well as what has happened in the rest of the world. It’s a great idea to have done such a story now, almost a no-brainer, though I doubt anybody else would have.

The latest episodes are about economic contagion. In the show, it’s Singapore that disappears financially, which seems to elude to the 1997 Asian financial crisis that originated in Southeast Asia. We often hear about dire numbers such as the Nikkei losing 3/4 of its value or debt exceeding GDP that seem to obscure the human impact of the economic woes. I like that this series tries to show the human impact by the concept of the future changing, and people disappearing, every time one of the economic battles takes place.

You’re again right that it feels the production is short-handed. There have usually been at least three sakkans in each episode, if not more, and there were three storyboarders of episode 8, which is quite unusual and dire, I think. The CG characters were the obvious first symptom that they don’t have much schedule.

One note, Yasunori Miyazawa did a characteristically easily identifiable section in episode 8.

06/05/11 @ 09:29
h_park [Member]

That’s the thing. We know that “C” is a fantasy with economic reality as basis. Economy is something that everyone can relate to while being animation medium have free reign to express however it wants. I think it would be awesome if we can see how characters’ play influencing the show’s real world financial exchanges. So far, we’ve seen characters altering the history by showing disappearances and events that never happened. If Nakamura doesn’t clear that up soon, it’ll become another card-battle-of-the-week anime. He is doing something right and I just don’t want to see him screw up. He is presenting a subject matter that hits close to home and his show has potential to inform and to inspire viewers.

I think it’s inevitable for Japanese productions to have skilled labor shortage. Despite rising animation quality, their age-old business practice is not fostering the new people nor new opportunity. They never made hit shows that brings money to them. Regardless of industry type, young people will not the join if they don’t see the future. It’s like manufacturing industry here. Still, I see some potential with CG even though it’s not perfect.

There is something I don’t know about Japanese TV media. Do they ever do reruns?

I’m seeing “famous” names popping all over dozen or so titles. I’m guessing that talented animators are attracted to the show because it’s original and the concept seems inspiring.

06/05/11 @ 21:02
Muffin [Visitor]

Hi Ben, great to see a new post.

The idea of presenting real-world social issues through fantasy scenario, or alternatively, giving dramatic weight to fantasy scenario through social/philosophical themes really should be a no-brainer in the world of art and fiction(particulary animation).

What I did feel from wathing a few random episodes of “C” was that perhaps they were being a bit over-elaborate and methodical with the scenario of wacky Yugioh-style card-battles in alternate dimensions representing financial dealings. Coming off more like novelty cleverness rather than expressionist/artistic emphasis of a theme.

But I’ve not really been following the show properly to make any final judgments.

Of the new season of shows I’ve sampled though, my favourite by far is Noitamina’s “Ano Hi mita Hana no namae o bokutachi wa mada shiranai"(Or preferrably “AnoHana").

I didn’t have any particular expectations going in, but it’s a thoroughly engaging youth drama with attractive designs and animation backed up by tight direction and writing.
Apparently, it’s by the Toradora team, though this is a considerably more somber and mature drama.
I’m loving the work of CD/AD Masayoshi Tanaka who’s got a cute style augmented with all sorts of idiosyncratic expressions, poses and movements. Something that was apparent in their last effort as well, but here it takes on a much more nuanced and realistic vibe.

Really, based on what I’ve seen it’s probably the one show I would go out of my way to recommend.

I also found the one episode I saw of Shinbou’s “Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko” to be well-done and amusing, though people allergic to anime tropes might want to approach with caution.

“Tiger and Bunny” is entertaining and has some decent banter, though it’s also rather (self-consciously)gimmicky.

“Hanasaku Iroha” is a very pretty-looking and watchable soap-opera, if anyone is interested.

I watched a episode of Tsutomu Mizushima’s “Yondemasu yo Azazel-san” without a single clue what it was about, or even that it was directed by Mizushima but found myself chuckling through the thing. Mizushima’s pretty good at this sort of weird humor. I liked his cute and silly “Ika Musume” too.

The worst thing I watched this season was no doubt “Sofuteni". Some third-rate fanservice-comedy about girls in a tennis club. It was probably also the only show I watched that really REALLY seemed dedicated to living up to every single negative stereotype about modern anime.

btw Ben, have you watched Keiichi Hara’s Colorful? I highly recommend it.

I was actually kind of sceptical going in, feeling that Hara was perhaps being a bit too plain in his direction. But while I might have some very minor gripes, It was ultimately an amazing piece of work. A genuinely carefully constructed and wholly engaging mature drama the likes of which you rarely see.

Being a long-time Atsushi Yamagata fan, I was also quietly moved by the fact that here I was finally watching a great intelligent anime drama featuring his refined, attractive designs.
If anything I think it was a great move by Hara to get Yamagata onboard. His very tasteful and distinctively nuanced depictions of the characters is definetly one of the things that carry you through the film

And oh yeah, Hiroshi Kobayashi seems an interesting figure. I watched Ryochimo’s Yozakura Quartet video and found it a highly attractive and watchable piece with confident and measured direction. And the drawings are just lovely throughout, with Ryochimo’s unique style coming through stronger than ever before.

06/06/11 @ 03:35
Ben [Member]  

Hey, Muffin, thanks for the comment. Good to know you guys are still around after me disappearing for so long…

I agree with both of you guys’ points about the Yu-gi-oh card-battle aspect of the show being one of its liabilities. I also wish this aspect felt more like an organic extension of the theme of global finance rather than a tacked on sideshow. I’m guessing the show would never have gotten greenlighted without the alternate reality/card battle aspect. I don’t mind it per se, I just wish it was better integrated. I appreciate that at least he’s managed to invest this stale trope of anime - alternate reality to which protagonist transports each episode to do battle with virtual sidekick - with some kind of real-world relevance, while simultaneously being able to do play around with creative visuals and more dynamic directing…

I also find that too much of the show is devoted to the relationship with the protagonist’s ‘asset’… It’s just the least interesting part. It’s obvious why the kawaii loli asset is there - you have to have such a character in this day and age - but I just find it a distraction from the truly interesting part of the show, the part that hasn’t been done to death already in the industry, namely the aspect about how events in the financial world trickle down to affect us in our daily lives.

Thanks for the recommendations of new shows, Muffin… I would not have checked them out otherwise. I watched episode 1 of AnoHana and it was everything you said it was, and just what I’d expect from the Toradora team. Thoroughly watchable and impressive, really, as good a low-key everyday drama as I’ve seen in quite a while.

In my case, though, the undeniable quality of what they’re doing is just not able to overcome the handicap of the conventions to which they’re forced to adhere. I sound like a broken record harping on about the designs whenever I talk about a show, but the designs are important. As sensitive as the designs here might be, they just are too close to standard template in their calculated cuteness. They keep the show from rising to the level of a great everyday drama because I feel like I’ve seen the same characters over and over before. I even suspect that through force of habit of having to animate the same kind of character, it’s skewed animators towards a certain kind of ‘anime acting’ that doesn’t match real-world behavior. In this case, the acting is more toned down and the personalities are also less stereotypical, so I don’t mean to harsh too much on it, because there is a lot of nice nuanced stuff in there. Masayoshi Tanaka really is very talented, and I got great enjoyment out of every moment of the animation in episode 1, and on top of that the acting and personalities of the characters were all fairly refreshingly believable and restrained, so it was all the more disappointing to me that the designs kind of dragged it down.

So is the story about a schizophrenic youth coming to terms with his disease, how his life is affected by the voices he hears, and how society shuns and ostracizes mentally ill people like himself? If it’s not, and I doubt it is, it should have been. It would have been way more interesting.

I actually like the basic premise of the story - about a youth’s downwards spiral triggered by a traumatic experience - but the girl ruins it for me. The girl is intensely annoying in both her manic behavior and squealy voice, a stock loli character there to cater to the fetish of a particular viewership and not at all meaningful or original, babbling on constantly in the supposedly adorable way these characters always do, swinging around making supposedly darling faces and flitting about and batting her arms in a supposedly squee way that is in fact merely intensely and infuriatingly grating and cliched. I find she clashes with the tone of the rest of the show, which is otherwise so low key and understated.

Anyway, I have lots of negative things I could say about it, but the fact is I really did kind of enjoy the first episode and want to see a bit more, which is more than I can say for any show (other than C) in months… I do like the work this team does, it’s just that they’re forced to work within the style of the day on these projects, and I’d like to see them liberated to do more unconventional material since they’re quite talented.

Thanks for the other recommendations. I watched episode 1 of Tiger and Bunny, and it’s basically a superhero show for children, so I can’t begrudge them that, but it’s not for me. It’s well enough put together, but there’s nothing particularly creative about it in the designs or concepts to draw me to it.

I really liked Tsutomu Mizushima’s old comedy shows and wished he would do something as funny as Hare Nochi Guu again, so I’ll have to check out Azazel-san just to see how his work holds up now.

I did indeed watch Colorful - was quite excited about it - and it didn’t disappoint me. I felt it was his best film by far, with some of the most sincere and honest and human moments I’ve seen in an anime in years. I was eager to show the film to some people, so I was eagerly awaiting the fansub, but it was laden with errors in important sections, enough to change the meaning of the film, so I’ll have to hold off until someone translates it right. It’s a shame. It’s a film with crossover potential to non-anime watchers - the first great realistic film in a long time.

And you’re right that Atsushi Yamagata’s animation was quite nuanced and did a good job of bringing the characters alive. I know how big a fan of Yamagata you are, so it’s great to see Yamagata get to do a project like this that really let him showcase his skills as a creator of nuanced character acting.

H Park - About reruns, I know that they do play reruns of shows, but I’m not sure of the exact policy. There are anime satellite stations exclusively devoted to playing old anime shows in their entirety in one run, but I think independent local stations in Japan also play re-runs. Jarinko Chie is one of the notable cases - it was re-run constantly for years after its original broadcast on various stations - showing how beloved the show was, presumably because it was so very Japanese and specifically Osakan in its humor and story.

Addendum -

I just started watching episode 2 of AnoHana, and the very first scene has some great animation. I thought at first it was Matsumoto, but judging by the credits I’m guessing it’s Akira Takada, who has worked with Matsumoto very often in the past and obviously has been heavily influenced by him. I just love his style of everyday acting. Great sense of timing and beautiful lines and forms, with interesting loose posing, all done with spare animation that feels realistic and yet feels good as animation.

I actually really liked the second episode, better than the first. Lots of very nice low-key everyday detail and good nuanced but not overdone animation throughout. That style I associate with Matsumoto was present in various places throughout other than the first scene, so I’m a little confused who did those parts.

06/07/11 @ 21:45
Muffin [Visitor]

I remember getting a pretty bizarre vibe from the financial card-battle thing in “C". Like, who’s the audience for this show anyway?

I think the style on display in AnoHana is certainly very good and worth appreciating on its own terms. It has a definite striking look and is good at vividly bringing the material to life. Whether it is appropriate in supporting, or operating on the wavelenght of something like Hara’s Colorful is another matter, and perhaps not that relevant at this point. I don’t feel a pressing need to mould director Tatsuyuki Nagai or animator Masayoshi Tanaka into another Keiichi Hara or Hiroyuki Okiura. And for good or worse, I’m fairly certain they’re working in a style of their own choice here.

I can see why the girl Menma would raise the ire of some people. Though I find her perfectly innocuous. She’s mostly an archetype and a narrative hub around which the other characters turn. And she is brought to life with verve by the animators.
Suffice it to say I’ll reserve my bile for stuff that is genuinely ugly(like maybe Evangelion 2.22 the more I re-watch it…), as opposed to stuff one can attach a lot of ugly meaning to.

Too bad about the dubious translation of Colorful. With something as carefully and sensitively constructed as this, bad translation could likely leave people cold.

It was great seeing Yamagata’s designs really put to worthwhile use. I got the feeling Yamagata subtly and tastefully added a layer of design flair to Hara’s very modest approach to imagery.
Maybe sometime I would like to see Hara work with animator Yoshiaki Yanagida. Takahiro Kishida would be a good match too, I think.

06/10/11 @ 14:15
Anonymous [Visitor]  

Hey Ben, I thought you might appreciate this: a documentary on Dezaki after his passing.

06/21/11 @ 10:17
Neil [Visitor]  

I work in the financial industry, so I was absolutely intrigued by this show and it was a quick watch on Hulu for me, so why not I decided.

Two episodes in and I’m disappointed, I was hoping that since they had a financial adviser on staff that they’d get closer to the global financial market, at best producing a satire ala the manga “National Quiz” where it gets the fundamentals of political theory down and it informs an absurd story that satires issues of democracy gone too far. I wanted that for this show, is it too much to ask?

I’m going to watch a few eps and see if it at least somewhat takes it in a better direction, as the main character is still disoriented and hopefully just hopefully something good will come out of it… sigh.

It would be amazing if two powerful characters got in a credit default swap battle and it caused contagion that could be felt in the real world…. again too much to ask I guess :P.

At least the show with Koizumi playing Mahjong knows what it is and delivers (not good mind you, but immensely entertaining)…

07/12/11 @ 07:41
Neil [Visitor]  

Oh and the “asset” is such a pandering to the Otaku. I guess that makes her an “asset” to those who want to make money off this show. (*drumb roll and symbol crash)

07/12/11 @ 07:43
CM [Visitor]  

Can you please review/comment on the Redline movie?

08/21/11 @ 14:50
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]  

Hey, Ben!

Long time no type.

Been trying to find myself so to speak post college (found my way toward TEFL courses and JLPT prep, heh)

Between that and anime fatigue (so few shows for non-otaku!)
I really haven’t been watching many shows.

Been half heartedly watching Bleach (it’s filler right now), the animation and drawing in this latest arc is surprisingly sharp in spots.

Starting from ep 319 (if you watch one watch that one) there are some surprisingly crisp fight scenes. It’s not every episode and it’s not platinum like Naruto’s best work but still rather good and worth a look.

The recently finished Marineford Arc of One Piece had a bevy of great work in it, continuing the tradition began since the show entered the mid 300s (The Thriller Bark arc for peeps in the know).

Here’s a great sampling in MAD form;

I’d recommend looking at it as it’s a much more fun experience than Oda’s now cluttered manga (especially with the sakuga) but the damned DBZ syndrome kinda precludes anyone without a lot of free time or patience I am afraid (it started to get to ME, even).

I did a little digging, aside from Shida (my fav), Tate and Kuroyanagi, most of these guys (and gals) are freelancers.

I hope they stick around for the upcoming new arc, should be tons of fun!

Also saw Strong World (finally). Really fun movie, LOVED Naoto Takenaka’s hammy performance as main villain Shiki. The animation isn’t as raw as we saw in Baron Omatsuri or the Chopper remake but it’s just as strong and much more polished (ACTUAL CLEAN UP WORK…GASP)!

What have you been up to?

09/07/11 @ 02:39
Ben [Member]  

Hey William. Long time indeed. Thanks for dropping by again. I’m still trying to find myself and I graduated a looong time ago.

I’ve been experiencing anime fatigue as well, partly because things have been pretty busy in my life, but also because there’s not much new stuff that interests me these days. I guess I’m going through a rest period right now. I considered writing some things about certain movies that came out recently, but felt like other people had already written about them saying things I felt, so I didn’t want to waste my breath. I even started feeling tired of my own writing, like I was just repeating myself these days, so I thought I’d give it a rest for a bit.

Anyway, thanks for the update on One Piece… It’s remarkable how much good animation is coming out of that show all of a sudden. There must be an enlightened producer bringing in all these good animators or something. And at the same time I find it depressing how many new names there are that I’d never heard of that are quite talented. I can’t even begin to understand how the creator of that MAD can identify so many of those animators. Shida and Tate I understand; they have a unique style that jumps out even to someone who’s never seen the show before. But I can’t identify the others, and as far as I know they’re pretty new. I guess I haven’t watched the show enough.

I saw Strong World quite a while back and remember enjoying it, though as you say it’s not quite as full of vivid animation as the Chopper or Hosoda movies.


Sorry for the late reply. I saw Nekohiki no Oruorane (Oruorane the Cat Player) a while back. It’s a rarity I never expected to see, but I was disappointed by it. Weak story and weak animation. Disappointing because it has Shichiro Kobayashi doing art and is solo animated by Toshiharu Murata. (albeit with assistance from Eiji Suganuma and Shiho Takeuchi, both obviously better animators) And disappointing because I liked director Mizuho Nishikubo’s earlier Takeshi Shudo OVA Radio City Fantasy, which has been one of my favorite OVAs for a long time.

09/09/11 @ 16:03
braves133 [Member]

Ben, whenever you feel like doing so you should check out Dantalian no Shoka episode 11 (otherwise know as the 9th episode that’s aired of Dantalian; they’ve have some peculiar numbering system here). Osamu Kobayashi was the episode director and Motonobu Hori was sakkan. Yuasa did some key animation too.

09/10/11 @ 13:56
Ben [Member]  

Thanks, Braves. I checked it out and I really liked it. It looks like Kobayashi drew most of the backgrounds. Never seen him doing that before, except maybe in his early shorts, but they’re beautiful and show a side of him I hadn’t quite known. Kind of reminded me of that Utsunomiya episode of Aquarion where they set aside a whole episode in a separate world and let Utsunomiya do his thing so that it wouldn’t seem too out of place. In addition to the bits that screamed Kobayashi there was some nice animation in there. I’m guessing Yuasa did the insectoid monsters, but it felt uncharacteristic of him, like he was holding back. I guess in a way it’s nice to see that he has control over his technique and can adapt to the subject matter at hand and doesn’t stick out a like a sore thumb whenever he works on a show not his own.

09/25/11 @ 09:44
Ben [Member]  


I saw Redline quite a while back, so I’ve kind of forgotten it now, and honestly I didn’t write anything about it at the time because it feels like everyone has already said all that needs to be said about it, and I don’t think I have anything significant to add, but I’ll be sure to write something once I get the chance to re-watch it.

09/28/11 @ 13:10