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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Monday, June 2, 2008

10:38:27 pm , 945 words, 2481 views     Categories: Animation, Kaiba, TV, Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Kaiba #5

I'm falling way behind on Kaiba, so without further ado, I've now seen the fifth episode twice, and what a great episode it was. This episode is packed to the brim with punch and verve. For all its roughshod stylings, the episode is so vibrant and full of life that it makes you forget how different it looks from what came before. That's what Kemonozume was so great for - for shifting between all these different styles, but doing such a good job of it that it felt altogether natural. I started out expecting a different tack, a more evenly styled one, but with this episode I'm finally starting to get into the rhythm of the series, and to accept that it works quite well.

This was obviously the freest and most spontaneous feeling episode of the bunch in terms of the drawings - which isn't hard, because what came before was quite different, with a far more unified and clean look to the drawings. But I found the drawings and animation a sheer delight, and the episode won me over within seconds and maintained that tension through to the very end. I actually thought this episode felt closest in spirit to Yuasa's sensibility in terms of throwing off reams of interesting, colorful ideas in a torrent of off-the-cuff drawings.

The person to thank is Choi Eunyoung, the emigree animator who handled episode 6 of Kemonozume. In that episode of Kemonozume I felt Choi had done a great job of 'getting' what Yuasa was trying to do with that show, the direction he was trying to go with the drawings, with all those extraneous lines, and had done a better job than any of the other animation directors bringing that unique approach to life. Well, I think this time she's done an even better job. The drawings here are quite different from the previous episodes, but at the same time they strike me as being closer to Yuasa's spirit than any of the previous episodes, which made this feel like the most authentically 'Yuasa' episode yet.

Choi strikes me as the person who best brings alive the look and feel of Yuasa's conceptual drawings, which is something that you don't see very often, as in recent years the drawing side of things has been handled by other people. Choi's unique drawing style comes through very clearly in the early part of the episode, where she revels in creating the many oddly shaped characters who populate the city, and yet it feels like a perfect match with Yuasa's drawings. She has the talent to be able to create a balance that brings out the best of the underlying material, through her voice as it were.

Choi was, as per habit, co-writer (with Yuasa), storyboarder, director and animation director of the episode, and she handled a good chunk of the animation herself as well. This episode was in every sense her baby, although she didn't do everything herself. (there were five other animators) And what a beautiful baby. Every element of the episode was terrifically fun and convincingly handled. The directing was satisfying at every moment, briskly conveying this interesting side-story with its whacked out characters. The timing and angles of the shots were consistently excellent, far better than I would have expected, deftly balancing fun & free drawings with the typical seriousness of the story and underlying message.

The colors were very striking and had great impact in the early parts of the episode in particular, where snapshots of the city's strange scribbly denizens flash before our eyes in image after strikingly colored image, immediately establishing a unique atmosphere for this episode and its planet. I'm guessing this section was all drawn by Choi. The music was a perfect match, too, creating a sort of carnivaleque atmosphere that well suited the sinister and cynical mood of a planet where the value of life has been completely debased, and people discard their bodies at the drop of a hat when they become yesteryear's fashion. Overall, I can't say enough good about this episode.

A big part of the fun and unique atmosphere of this episode came from the madcap show put on by Shigeru Nagashima (a.k.a. "Cho"), who did an amazing job of bringing alive the character of Patch. Kenji Naikai similarly did a brilliant job bringing alive the insane antics of Ohba in episode 10 of Kemonozume. Yuasa is good at casting these great voice actors in these fun roles where they can go crazy and let loose, applying all their years of experience to the task, engaging in all these entertaining vocal acrobatics and improvisations. For some reason I couldn't get Kenichi Endo out of my head while watching this episode, thinking how great he would be if let loose on this kind of voice-acting role.

There were only a few animators other than Choi, but they included Ryotaro Makihara and Koichi Arai, two of my very favorite animators, who are turning up quite frequently. I'm not sure what Arai may have done, but that great close-up shot where Patch goes on a mad, saliva-spitting rant directly into the camera strikes me as looking like Makihara's work. Makihara exhibited a similarly overt Ohira influence in the chase scene he did for the Coo film, although that influence wasn't as obvious in his work on Doraemon. Here it's like he revels in the opportunity to finally be able to draw how he wants, creating this fantastically dense and thrilling shot. That other Madhouse emigree, Jamie Vickers, was also there, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he did in his own episode, which comes up next.



LainEverliving [Visitor]  

It’s great to see Choi and Jamie getting more work, especially on an interesting show like this. I’ve got a lot of respect for people who’ve come to the industry from elsewhere (partly as I’m trying to do it myself), and I’m especially thrilled that Madhouse has provided the environment for them to work and the opportunities to do great animation. They’re really the only anime company that’s made strong efforts to bring in people from other countries (don’t forget Cindy Yamaguchi, who lives in San Fransisco and actually *flies in* to Japan whenver there’s an assignment that interests her!), and I think that’s allowed Madhouse to really pick up some interesting styles and creative voices that otherwise wouldn’t be present in the anime world. I for one don’t feel at all threatened by non-Japanese people working in anime… so long as they stay authentic to a genuine artistic vision, and don’t just try to manipulate the style for profit (as has been unfortunately seen from time to time).

I’ve thankfully not encountered this attitude much lately, but there used to be a real serious argument made by certain fans that anime could “only be made by real Japanese” and that allowing, much less encouraging, foreigners to draw the sacred sakuga was going to ruin the medium. Now, there may not be many foreign talents at work within the industry, but frankly, saying that ethnicity has anything to do with it is preposterous, and just reflects a form of cultural racism (which, interestingly, seems to be equally matched by fans on both sides of the Pacific). The Korean animators at D.R. Movie and elsewhere are becoming increasingly good, and I suspect that in a few years more, they’ll start creating their own original productions (possibly with help from Madhouse) that will be able to compete with the original-to-Japan projects. Likewise, I’d like to at least hope that, as more anime companies open up offices in the U.S., that American animators who love the medium will have a chance to experiment and work in it. I’ve met a fair number of ex and current Disney staff who’ve expressed a love for the style, and I bet you anything that a combination of Disney character-oriented full animation and Japanese scene-oriented detail animation would result in a really wild and interesting experiment. It might be a few years from now, but I’d like to see such a project made, possibly at Madhouse (since they’re getting more active in the States) or somewhere else.

At any rate, the sooner that artistic prejudice is stamped out, the better. I just know that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of quality animators around the world waiting for the opportunities of working in Japan (or in their home countries and sending the animation via delivery or the internet) without any cultural or ethnic restrictions. Anime can only get broader in approach, style, and content with more inclusion, and the way I see it, a continual state of evolution (and revolution) is what keeps animation so fun to watch. Choi and Jamie are good pioneers, and I sincerely hope they are the first of more to come.

06/03/08 @ 01:37
Ben [Member]  

Thank you for a great comment offering up much food for thought.

I couldn’t agree more how impressive it is that, not only are these emigree animators getting to do work in Japan, but Madhouse is providing them with an unique situation that gives them unprecedentedly generous creative freedoms, rather than relegating them to smaller tasks with no controlling creative stake. I’ve long felt that cross-pollination from fields abroad - new blood - is one of the best things for strengthening any creative endeavor, particularly so animation, which in Japan, and I’m sure elsewhere, otherwise tends to fall into patterns of repetition, where staid ideas feed on each other in a self-perpetuating loop. Infusions of creative new approaches can only help to revitalize things. Talent is talent, wherever it calls home, and I salute Madhouse for having the genius to realize that. There’s a sense of bubbling creative anarchy at Maruyama’s studio - of constantly seeking out new faces and new approaches to creative collaboration - that I admire, and hope it acts as a model for other studios.

I don’t know whether you’ve heard or not, but as I recall, Madhouse is working on adapting Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, which falls in line with what you were saying. I too would be very curious to see the results of a collaboration between western and Japanese animators/directors - one that was the result of close collaboration with serious efforts made to come up with a true hybrid approach to the animation that combined the best elements of the two, and not simply throwing western animators into an anime production, or vice-versa. I’m not sure whether this upcoming production will be the former, or rather simply another anime-styled re-versioning of a Western product a la Toei’s PowerPuff Girls. I hope the former, but we’ll see.

06/03/08 @ 08:22
manuloz [Visitor]  

I think Disney’s involvement on Stitch is solely as producer - well that’s the feeling i get from their other projects with Japan Fireball & Robodz.

If you want to see the trailer (screener) for Stitch it’s here :

06/15/08 @ 07:49
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

To both Ben and manuloz:

Yeah, I knew about the Stitch! anime from a while ago, but I hadn’t seen any content from it other than pictures of the display from TAF up until now. Thanks for posting the link, manuloz!

As for how this is all going to turn out… well, I suppose that’s anyone’s guess, but I think probably what we’ll end up having with Stitch! is a Disney-styled show that has some light anime touches. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to be the kind of full-scale collaboration between nations that I was talking about, but it will (hopefully!) make for a good start. If Disney is impressed with what Madhouse delivers, I hope it might open the door to greater projects between the two. My personal dream would be a kind of ‘international Fantasia’ where Disney could work with other studios (Madhouse, maybe Ghibli, people in Korea, and of course in Europe and Canada) to make a Fantasia film featuring complete segments made in other countries and with international sensibilities. I’d love to see what Madhouse could do on a Disney-sized feature budget… could you imagine the segment they’d create? I don’t know if anyone on here is familiar with Fantasia 2000, but the best segment in that film was the Firebird sequence, which was done almost entirely at the Disney Feature Animation Paris studio (the most promising within Feature Animation, and now sadly closed). Based on that success, I’d like to see other works done in a similar fashion around the world. But of course, that’s still a fair ways off.

Personally, I think if Madhouse hired, say, Andreas Deja or James Baxter during some downtime (they’re both busy guys, but their not *always* busy), a really interesting piece of ‘fusion animation’ could be produced. There’s a lot of potential with the opening up of the respective animation industries to one another, and I kind of think that the best is yet to come for these cross-cultural collaborations. Stitch! and the Batman compilation will be good tests, and hopefully, there will be more down the road to look forward to.

06/16/08 @ 19:48