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I've been looking forward to this episode, the penultimate one, because one of my favorite new animators of recent years, and an animator who has been doing a lot of great work on this series, has mounted his debut as an animation director on the episode - Ryotaro Makihara. Makihara first came to my attention for the work he did on the various Shin-Ei feature productions that showed him to be one of the best new animators at the studio. Masaaki Yuasa, of course, had done a lot of work on Shin-Ei's Crayon Shin-chan, so there is a deep-rooted connection, and it's perhaps less surprising to see Makihara coming to work under Yuasa now that he is presumably freelance, but it's nonetheless great to see.
Makihara's work is unique because he has a certain delicacy of touch that I haven't seen anywhere. He brings the characters' actions alive in a way none of the other animators do, not just in the movement but in the attention to detail in the acting, and in the expressions and posing, which are quite free and lively while always seeming just right and not sloppy or overdone. His animation convinces, while also feeling great in terms of the timing. His work emanates a kind of playful seriousness of purpose. He's one of the few of the new generation of animators over there who strikes me as approaching animation from a fundamental perspective, without being preoccupied by fads in terms of the approach to the timing or to the style of drawing. In Makihara and in general, Shin-Ei's legacy is obviously a focus on packing in as much movement as possible into this type of simple character rather than uselessly packing detail into the drawing to sell the character as a product, which goes rather against the dominant trend of the industry. I think any number of great scenes in Kaiba were as vivid and convincing as they were due to his ability to bring a character to life. Makihara is one of the few of the scads of new animators out there of whom I fully expect to see great things to come judging by what he's up to already. Makihara on the animation side and Akitoshi Yokoyama on the directing side are in my estimation the two biggest up-and-coming stars of this show. I could see their styles complementing one another, too, if they ever get together to do work, which would be great to see.
The episode was written and storyboarded by Masaaki Yuasa, and processed (directed) by Masahiko Kubo, who has handled a lot of the effects animation throughout the series. The animation of this episode was rich not only due to Makihara but due to the great list of animators on the episode, including Michio Mihara, Choi Eunyoung, Hideki Kakita, Jamie Vickers, Takayuki Hamada, et al, to say nothing of that core of women animators present throughout almost the whole series. This series has been characterized by the way a small team centered mostly on these figures have been behind the animation, maintaining a uniform level of quality and a feeling of unity.
As is usual in Yuasa's productions, you can never guess where things are going, particularly near the end, when he seems to pull one rug out from another from beneath you. In the second-to-last episode, the story still drives ahead satisfyingly, feeling like many of the threads are coming together and the narrative is coming to a head rather than just wheeling unpredictably out of control. I wouldn't claim to say I understand everything, but I'm actually OK not understanding everything when it's all as interesting as it is here, and there's too much that would need explanation anyway. He's elided and hinted just enough to get you by, although there are definitely things that can be hard to catch sometimes. I think Yuasa will probably continue down the road of simplifying his storytelling the way he has been, if just because he's heard a lot of people asking for precisely that, but I just hope he doesn't go too far, because that's the aspect that makes his storytelling so unique, compelling and refreshing.
The episode featured a great albeit short action sequence, and was otherwise exciting and satisfying. I'm delighted that Yuasa managed to create a series with such a feeling of unity to almost every episode, and look forward to seeing how it will wrap up.
Nice to see you’re keeping up with the underatted shows Mr. E.
Hmm, trying to think of anything else I’ve seen.
Oh yes, WATCH MICHIKO AND HATCHIN, LIKE YESTERDAY. Manglobe has done it again (visually at least). Tons of fun, special kudos to the actors and actresses for the characters (note how I didn’t use seiyuu).
Only other thing I’ve been doing is slogging through Macross Frontier. It’s not a masterpiece, it isn’t even a great show on it’s own (I say “decent"). But it’s fun none the less. If not for the usual Macross theatrical bravado and melodramatic silliness than for the STUPIDLY AWESOME 3D MECH FIGHT ANIMATION.
It’s like Star Wars essentially, the whole franchise is mediocre narrativelly speaking but the huge ass scope of it seduces you so much you don’t care anymore.
Oh yea Yoko Kanno, um if this were Hollywood it would be the equivalent of a James Horner or the like but scince this is anime that’s exemplary. Not her BEST work, but it still kicks the crap out of most other anime OST work.
I don’t know, maybe underseen, but Kaiba seems pretty well regarded by the few people who’ve seen it as far as I can tell.
I’m not really keeping up with much apart from Soul Eater and Casshern these days, though add Michiko now… which honestly I was a little underwhelmed by. The production values were quite nice and all, but that’s no surprise, and it wasn’t really anything that awesome either. I did like the very interesting and unusual atmosphere of it all, and the way they’ve really created this feeling of a road movie just setting off on a long arc right from the first episode. The script (dialogue) is pretty interesting, as is the acting, as you noted. What bothers me is that it’s got kind of a weird balance, with the cute designs on the one hand but these over-the-top stereotype characters like the nutso priest, or Michiko herself, on the other. From the children to the adults, the characters often seem like nothing more than stereotypes of convenience. It’s also got this uneven tone veering between crazed sadism and happy-go-lucky hijinx. You don’t know whether to take it seriously or not. Most of all, though, I couldn’t stand the overdone bullying in the first ep, which kind of ruined it for me. Also, I think it’s set in Brazil, but I couldn’t really tell, apart from the occasional background, as it wasn’t much integrated into the narrative, so I kind of tended to forget that fact. I thought that was kind of a waste. I don’t like the idea of using a foreign country like Brazil as an ‘exotic setting’ to begin with, but particularly so when all you’re doing is making ordinary anime that really could have taken place anywhere. Perhaps that will change, and the Brazilness will come in later. Anyway, I’m still definitely following it, because I get the feeling it will improve, or at least grow on me, and it’s certainly achieved an interesting atmosphere so far. And the production values are good. Oh, and I quite liked a few of the soundtrack tunes. Shinichiro Watanabe is there as sound producer.