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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« Kaiba #7Keiji Hayakawa »

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

10:23:37 pm , 1200 words, 2047 views     Categories: Animation, Kaiba, TV, Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Kaiba #6

I don't think I'd be able to come up with something to say about each and every episode of a TV series if it didn't feature the unflagging richness and relentless stylistic unpredictability of Masaaki Yuasa's TV shows. Each episode is filled with an abundance of things that make it stand out as a unique creation, rather than just one in a line of identically manufactured products. In that sense it almost reminds me of Group Tac's long-running Tales of Old Japan omnibus of Japanese folktales, where every episode was done in a different and very imaginative style by a different team, with many of the episodes by single individuals. There are more differences than similarities, obviously, notably in terms of the amount of work packed into those solo episodes in the case of Yuasa's shows, but they share something of the same dedication to filling the screen with ideas that are interesting as animation. There's not a moment where we fall back on the crutches of convention. It's almost exhausting to see work that remains so defiantly fresh at every moment.

I watched this episode a while back, but just re-watched it, and I liked it a lot more this time around. I felt that it was a bit jumbled the first time around, with a bit of shakiness in the dramatic line, but this time around I didn't feel bothered by that at all, and felt quite moved by the episode for some reason. The episode wasn't necessarily setting out to be a tearjerker or anything. I suppose it's just that, as before, it manages to evoke these profound veins of resonance in the viewer in the course of the narrative.

This episode is somewhat of a mirror to episode 9 of Kemonozume in the sense that it's another episode about an aged couple traveling around in their twilight years. There were a number of elements that moved me about it. First and foremost is the turn of events that takes this seemingly content and satisfied elderly couple enjoying their last few years together, and shatters their illusion of happiness into a million pieces. Kaiba is nothing if not brutal and brutally honest about the human condition and the frailty and flaws of memory. It's a devastating moment that speaks volumes about the unknowable depths of the mind and the thoughts and memories we keep hidden from ourselves and our loved ones to maintain a semblance of happiness. Most devastating was to see the old man continue on his way with his brain-dead wife because her body was still "alive and well".

This series at heart is all about the question of what defines us as human beings - our memories, our bodies? Both? Neither?? To some extent it is our memories, but who we are is without any doubt molded by our bodies. There's a sublime sense of identity confusion created by having the protagonist, who is male but currently occupies a female body, in this episode encounter his onetime lover, a female who currently occupies a male body. Their actions (and hence feelings and thoughts) are driven by the lusts of their bodies. It's a situation that's simple but also ingenious and thought-provoking. It takes a while to wrap your head around the mix of genders and identities, but the confused feelings of the protagonists in the odd circumstances are convincingly portrayed. The amusement park where you can peer into the disembodied memories of the deceased was one of the more chilling and biting moments of the episode. One shot near the end showed a wall of round picture frames on the wall of the old couple's ship, shaped like the memory blobs. It seemed a deft ironic comment on how the old woman came to the planet to peer into other people's memories, but instead wound up losing her own. So as usual, there is a lot to be discovered in each shot of the episode. It's densely packed, meaningful storytelling.

In terms of the staff, one of the main figures behind this episode is another emigree animator, like last episode's Choi Eunyoung, who has been making a name for himself in the last few years in an industry otherwise dominated by natives - Jamie Vickers. Jamie was co-storyboarder and animation director. Tomoya Takahashi was co-storyboarder, director and co-writer (with Yuasa). If the episode felt a little mixed up, perhaps it's because there were so many hands at work. Jamie's drawing style is not as unmistakable as Choi's, but there is definitely a unique sense of timing and drawing at work here that sets this episode apart, particularly so the scenes involving Vanilla. I wonder if he might not have been handled by Jamie. Vanilla is a useful character for getting a sense of each animation director's style. Stylistic differences from one episode to the next seem to show up most clearly in him for some reason. So one of the significant aspects of this series is that it represents one of the most visible recent instances of foreigners taking a lead role as creators within a totally Japanese production. Studio 4C, of course, led the way with Tekkon Kinkreet, and I noticed that Jamie provided animation in the opening segment of Genius Party by Atsuko Fukushima, so it's interesting to see the two most creatively fecund studios in Japan sharing many of the same talented faces, both foreign and local.

This episode featured a number of veteran animators, most notably Takuo Noda, who will be 70 next year and has a huge list of work to his credit dating back to 1967 when he first started out at Toei Doga. Among his more well known jobs was animation director of Genma Taisen. He continues working hard as a regular Madhouse animator, having recently animated the nice scene in Mamoru Hosoda's Tokikake where Makoto talks to the old woman. We also find Nobumasa Arakawa, another veteran who has been active for decades and continues to work on the front line. He was one of the main animators behind Future Boy Conan, and if I recall correctly, he animated one of my favorite bits in Tokikake, where Makoto leaps from the riverbank. In addition, we again find litmus animator Koichi Arai and Takayuki Hamada, both in the top spots. There was some very nice movement around where the old lady's memory is sucked out, so I'd suspect one of these guys, possibly Arai.

The designs of this episode really stood out with their extreme shapes sticking out every which way, and I assume them to have been created by Nobutake Ito. Every episode provides crazy new designs for not just the characters but also the features of the planet. The soft organic shapes of the buildings make for rich background images that are always a pleasure to gaze at. I have to re-emphasize the backgrounds, as the backgrounds of this series are such a pleasure to look at and really help define the show's unique visual atmosphere. I also like the way smoke and clouds are animated throughout the series, using these elegant round globular forms. I can remember seeing similarly shaped effects as far back as Cat Soup.

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