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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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

05:57:07 pm , 961 words, 2559 views     Categories: Animation, Kaiba, TV, Masaaki Yuasa

Kaiba #2

Okay, so it looks like I'll be blogging Kaiba. Few things I watch these days inspire me with the desire to say anything. It's refreshing to be filled with words for once by the great work being done here.

This episode did just what I was hoping: It maintained the quality of drawing of the first episode and sustained the momentum of the story and the very unique dramatic tone established by the first episode. I have this habit of checking the credits before I watch an episode, after doing which in this case I was pretty optimistic going in that such would be the case. The episode is directed/co-written (w/Yuasa) by the eminently reliable Akitoshi Yokoyama, who handled episode 5 of Kemonozume and episodes 3 and 11 of Denno Coil, each of which are among the most solid episodes of their respective series. He's also an animator, having helped animate Kenji Nakamura's episode 10 of Kemonozume, among other things. He's one of the most reliable figures I know at the moment. Whatever he touches, it works big time. Thanks to him, this episode covered a wide range of interesting happenings while maintaining great forward drive and dramatic tension from scene to scene. On top of that, we have Ryotaro Makihara and Takayuki Hamada as animators again, along with, guess who, Koichi Arai, the litmus test animator I mentioned in the last post. Thanks to these great animators, this episode, like the first, is filled with wonderfully movemented acting by the characters. So far, so great.

The drawing side of things is sustained by a very reliable figure: Akira Honma. I was afraid the quality might dip very quickly once Nobutake Ito left the podium as animation director, considering how unusual these characters are. Ito remains as supervisor here, but Akira Honma does a great job of adapting to these very unique designs. I didn't sense any discrepancy. Although apparently a relatively young face, he's been an invaluable in-house resource throughout all of the most interesting Madhouse shows of the last few years - Kemonozume and Denno Coil - showing the malleability of a great animator craftsman. If we could maintain this same level of quality through to the very end, by continuing to go with the sort of talented craftsmen animators and directors we see here, then I think this series would attain a pretty high level of perfection. I doubt it's possible to avoid some unevenness considering the constraints of TV production, but the team they have assembled so far is very reassuring.

If I'm hoping that the quality of the animation and directing are maintained, it's because I'm getting a very good feeling from the story so far, which works on any number of different levels, and I wouldn't want anything to distract from that. While on the surface the show explores the landscape of a fascinating alien world full of unexpected shapes, colors and relationships, making every moment of the show a delightful process of discovery full of new stimuli for the audience, it simultaneously, subtly gets across a number of poignant messages about the human predicament, and that's what's making me very enthusiastic about it - it's got a real sense of depth. The show has a deceptively soft and cute look to the characters and colors that is betrayed by jarringly adult and powerful moments that keep you off-balance and give the show its unique tone and dramatic strength.

I was an oversensitive and depression-prone kid, and one of the things I remember pondering morosely in my moments of angst-induced existential dread was all the people in the world who had come before me - the thought that I had been preceded by billions upon billions of people, all of whom were now dead, memory of their existence completely eradicated. I doubt it's a thought that crosses most people's minds, out of the need to stay sane, but it's a fact of our existence. The scene where we realize the meaning of the yellow clouds reminded me of all that. It's a powerful moment where many of the developing themes in the series seem to converge. And it does all this without being either heavy-handed or alienating, wordy or pretentious. It's all done seamlessly via the unfolding drama, which is the stuff of great storytelling. Without even having to think about it, the story invokes elemental issues deeply rooted in our existence, quite unobtrusively, which in my mind confirms that Yuasa continues to grow and improve as a storyteller. The one thing that bothered me, for that reason, was that they had to wordily explain the concept before the opening in this episode. I thought that was unnecessary. The storytelling here is doing an amazing job of bringing this situation, these characters alive, gradually letting us in on how it all fits together, without having to explain anything. But it certainly is a very peculiar situation that would throw new viewers for a loop if they just tuned in, so I can sort of understand. The story has been developing brilliantly so far, without revealing too much too quickly and without it feeling like they're annoyingly holding back on you, with lots of really cool and weird characters, each with a clearly defined personality. I hope it maintains this pace.

Last time I noted a palpable Shin-Ei feeling to the first episode via the animators. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but I noticed in this episode that one of the voice actors is Wasabi Mizuta, no less - the voice-actor who recently replaced Nobuyo Oyama as Doraemon. In yet another connection, this new character named Butter is obviously an homage to Bakabon Oyaji from the old A Pro show Tensai Bakabon. I'm loving all of these connections.

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4 comments

William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]  

Nice to see you found a new show to keep track of. I saw Kaiba ep 1 and was very pleased.

On an unrelated note, there was a nice sakuga surprise episode of Bleach. Ep 166 aired a couple of weeks ago but I recommend looking at it for the great fight animation.
(The credits were so tiny I couldn’t see who worked on it)

04/29/08 @ 20:30
manuloz
manuloz [Visitor]  

Just to say Michio Mihara is at it again. Episode 4 of Kaiba done all by himself.
http://www.style.fm/as/05_column/mihara2008_001.shtml

+ his last short okashina hotel :
http://www.style.fm/as/13_special/sh_okashina_hotel.shtml

04/30/08 @ 11:21
Ben [Member]  

William:
Very nice work. Thanks for pointing it out. These long-running Pierrot series are interesting for how each one fosters its own group of animators who go on to become better and better within the series. Here it looks like a guy I’ve never heard of called Shingo Ogiso (animation director and one of the key animators) might be one of the main figures behind the quality of this episode, though I don’t really know for sure, since he’s new to me and I don’t recognize anyone else. By way of cross-reference, he also handled episodes 22, 31, 122, 140 and 164 (all AD+KA).

Manuloz:
Holy cripes… he topped himself this time. He did everything from the script to inbetweens himself. That’s a whole ep with 5000 drawings in 9 months. This is a historic first as far as I know.

04/30/08 @ 12:38
Alan Hunt
Alan Hunt [Visitor]  

Hi Ben, I just came acrosss this post http://tinyurl.com/5xhsca that I think relates somewhat to what’s happening in Kaiba.

In a way, both Frank and Kaiba are extending the plasticity of cartoon characters out in a way that seems really wierd at first, but is actually quite logical and inherent in the tradition of popular animation. I’ve been watching lots of old Disney and Ub Iwerks cartoons, and can’t help being disturbed by almost all of them on some level: IE when a black haired dog walks into a Barber shop, gets forced into place by a pair of hands that grow out the back of a barber chair, and is then shaved hairless by a frog using a living electric razer that munches it all up an ingests it. It’s funny and ridiculous, but it’s also playing off the real body revulsion that humans often feel

It seems to me that this is similar to what’s going on in Kaiba. The sex scene in episode 2 with it’s the ridiculous “Stretch me, Stretch me, burst me Burst Me!” might be a logical extension of sex as humans experience it, maybe even as a desire for self-destruction on some level.

The link between Kaiba and the Frank post linked to is that the cartoon plasticity stems from the fact that we want to know what it feels like to have a hole in our chest, or be able to blow up like a giant balloon, or inhabit a body that isn’t our own (Or isn’t even real)

Maybe. I have to think about it more.

05/14/08 @ 05:50