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Sunday, October 29, 2006

11:13:19 pm , 775 words, 3311 views     Categories: Animation, Kemonozume, TV, Masaaki Yuasa

Kemonozume #7

SEXYIt's time to jump off the wagon of Kemonozume abstention. Several weeks have passed and Michio Mihara's episode just aired, so I need to do some serious catching up. I actually watched Osamu Kobayashi's episode a few weeks back, but honestly wasn't quite sure how to write about it, so I kind of let it drag. Re-watching it today mainly confirms most of the feelings I had about it when I first watched it. First of all, I commend Kobayashi on a great job. He directed and animated the entire ep singe-handedly, and it's no small task to do that. It's always a treat to see Kobayashi's work, and it was a treat here too. I can't think of many commercial TV projects where someone with a style as un-commercial as Kobayashi's - and as seemingly unsuited to the series in question - would be given free reign for an entire episode, totally uncorrected. It would have been cowardly and redundant to call in Kobayashi and then correct him, so it's good that they saw this through the right way. We'll be seeing a very different kind of one-man-show in the just-aired episode 12 with Mihara, who unless I'm mistaken just before this would have handled the much-talked-about climactic sequence of Satoshi Kon's latest film. Kobayashi and Mihara are about as different a couple of animators as you could find, and I love that about the show - that it embraces a diverse range of possible interpretations. What unites them them is a sense of adventure and bravado as animators. Whoever it is who works on the show, we see their work in the raw. We see the real face of a certain animator. It feels like this placing of animators who have a passion for their work over stylistic unity redresses a fundamental imbalance in the conventional approach to TV animation.

As for Kobayashi's work, it's basically what one would expect. Kobayashi strikes me as tremendously great when working as a series director, and when working at the opposite end of the scale, on wild fantasy shorts of his own creation, but he doesn't seem very well suited to working within the system as a cog in a machine. Needless to say, I mean that as a compliment. But in a sense, that is what he is having to do here, even though Kemonozume provides him with absolute freedom. It's just that, while watching the episode, I wasn't sure that it really worked. I had my doubts as to whether his style was really suited to this show, which is ironic since this show has embraced such a wide range of styles so far. Here they went even further than they've gone before by having Kobayashi do the ep, as if to see just how far they could push this concept, and in the end perhaps that's what makes the episode interesting. In a sense there is some similarity to what we see in Ito's episodes - Kobayashi's drawings also have that rough touch. His drawings feel alive and honest. In that sense they're similar, and Kobayashi's work fits within the spirit of the show. But in the end Kobayashi is not a mover like Ito. Ito creates beauty through drawings in motion. Kobayashi works on a different level. Kobayashi seems in his element when creating a fantastic world full of zany ideas of his own creation, not when having to move someone else's characters. Actually, I found that I really liked the way little bits of his animation were injected subversively into the fabric of Nobuteru Yuuki's sleek drawings in the first episode of Paradise Kiss. His style seemed well suited to use in a subversive capacity like that.

As for the episode itself, it was probably the most sexual episode so far. Each episode has usually had its share of erotic happenings, but here the whole pivot of the episode was the issue of Toshihiko's ability (or inability, as it were) to get off with his gal. It's an interesting situation: They're uncontrollably attracted to each other, yet sexual arousal triggers transformation, preventing sexual consummation - one hell of a vicious circle. The catfight was fun, and there were a few shocking revelations that kept things quite interesting. The main thing I came away with from this episode was just how adult this series is - 'adult' in the sense that it delivers ero without moe. It's only on watching this episode that it occurred to me how rare a thing it is to see sex portrayed in an honest fashion like this and not played up for titillation or as fan service.

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8 comments

enrico Casarosa
enrico Casarosa [Visitor]

I felt differently about this episode … while it’s immensely impressive that he directed and animated it all, I came out feeling this was way too close to fan service. While many other eps in the series do exactly what you’re noting, dealing with sex in an honest and open fashion, this episode felt a little too skewed for me … Kobayashi took these characters on too much of a left turn … so much that watching the beginning of episode 9 I had a strange feeling of disconnection, as if I had missed something … and needed to get caught up with the characters again …
I am not sure if the radically different style added to that,
but I think it’s more about where he took the story than just the visuals …

I’d be very curious to know how they work the story out when a director has its own episode to work on, does he have a synopsis ? How much freedom is he given ?
It’d love to know how much is Yuasa involved, if at all, with these kind of episodes … and wether he has work out an overall arc for the series …

just some thoughts …

thanks for your always interesting commentary!

e

10/31/06 @ 23:37
Ben [Member]  

Thanks for the stimulating input, Enrico. I’m glad to hear a slightly different critical slant on this. This episode in particular seems like it could be viewed any number of ways, which I actually kind of like.

First of all, basically Yuasa is the brain behind everything. He came up with the basic overall story and characters, and he would also be the one who devised how the story would be split up into the various episodes over the length of the series. This is just what I can extrapolate from his credits: He is credited with “gen’an” or “created by” and with “shirizu kosei” or “series structure".

After he sets up the basic structure, the scriptwriters come in to write each episode. Yuasa was also credited with writing a few episodes, as I noted. Even apart from these I suspect that, as the creator and director, he must check each script and make any changes he feels need to be made, and probably consults with the writers at some point during or before the writing of the scripts.

After this the script is handed to the storyboarder. Sometimes the storyboarder is also the episode director. If there is a different ep director, then that ep director is basically just responsible for “processing” the storyboard as he sees fit into the final product. Really the storyboard is the important element determining how the ep will look in terms of shots and pacing and so on. One point I’m not sure about is whether the storyboarder or the ep director assigns shots to animators. I assume it must be the storyboarder, as I’ve often heard cases of a storyboard being written a certain way expressly with a certain animator in mind; it wouldn’t have been written (drawn) that way otherwise. I remember Imaishi storyboarded the bunny girl running across the gun in FLCL expressly with Yo Yoshinari in mind, and more recently Atsushi Wakabayashi storyboarded the action in Naruto 133 a certain way expressly for Norio Matsumoto.

Sorry if this is more information than you asked for, I’m just kind of going through it to sort out in my head how Kobayashi’s approach in this ep was different. The obvious basic difference is that everything is concatenated into one role. No ep director interpreting someone else’s storyboard, no shots being assigned to animators. Kobayashi drew the storyboard based on the script he was given, animated each shot, and processed the whole into the finished product by himself. “Processing” is actually the term often used to refer to what the “enshutsu” or episode director does - he processes the instructions on the storyboard. It’s more of a technical role, really.

Personally, whether it be episode 3 by Nobutoshi Ogura or episode 6 by Choi Eunyoung, what I’ve seen so far is that a totally personal visual style is adopted for each episode, some closer to Nobutake Ito’s basic framework than others, and to me Kobayashi’s style falls in line with this approach. I see what you’re saying, don’t get me wrong. I also thought this episode felt a bit too different from the rest. He does have a unique directing approach - the ep feels like we’re watching an ep of Beck, I guess that’s just his style - but I still feel that it’s more his drawings that make the ep kind of stick out. The script wasn’t written by him, after all, so what’s happening wasn’t his idea. He just processed the script. I think the scriptwriter is one of the regulars who’s been writing the series so far, though I don’t remember for sure, so I assume that what happened is sanctioned by Yuasa, as is what happens in every episode.

Sorry I can’t give any more specific details. I’d love to hear from Yuasa into the specifics like this - how he came up with the story, how he broke it down into episodes, to what extent he was involved in the writing, and to what extent he supervised the various steps from writing to storyboarding to directing. With this episode, as with the rest, as the director I’m sure he must have looked over the storyboards, but the part I’m not sure about is just how much correcting he’s done. Watching this episode, for example, it doesn’t feel like he intervened in Kobayashi’s work much at all. He seems to lay out the basics with the story and breakdown, and after that gives the animators/directors/storyboarders a lot of breadth to do their thing the way they feel it needs to be done.

All of this is total speculation. Just my feelings.

11/01/06 @ 12:08
Regis
Regis [Visitor]

I totally agree with Enrico about the beginning of Ep 9. There was a definite disconnect from 8 and 7. Oddly enough though, as I watched 7 and 8, they felt quite sequential and took the story further. Now, how that was accomplished is another story. I feel a little bit like the both of you regarding the eroticism in ep 7. While it served many fans a lot of service, I also felt that it was somewhat necessary especially to support the feeling of the Rie/Yuka duel at the end. I think perhaps Kobayashi’s direction might not have been the best to support all the acting and the story beats in it, but it was enough take the audience with it. I really liked Kobayashi’s work on Paradise Kiss, and feel that it certainly fits the tone of that story much more than Kemonozume. Personally, and especially in comparison to some of the other eps (i.e. 5&6) I feel that the direction was far too tight on the characters all the time. With so many close ups and medium shots I think something was lost in the acting and in how we connect to the characters. Perhaps this is why this criticism is coming up.

Well, after lengthy posts and comments, I’m just glad there are people out there talking about it.

Re

11/01/06 @ 14:20
Ben [Member]  

Very good point re the excessive use of close-ups. It feels like that’s one of the factors that makes the episode feel a little more static and monotonous than the other episodes.

11/01/06 @ 14:43
enrico Casarosa
enrico Casarosa [Visitor]

very very interesting Ben …. thanks for some of the clarifications … they make a lot of sense, even the one closer to speculations …

Overall I am enjoing the unexpected left turns (the serie sure has plenty), even the ones that I am not so sure about might prove to work toward a larger picture … we’ll see …

Regis- good point about the tightness of shots … it all seems to make up his own particular style …
His shots choices and animation is really nothing like Yuasa and some of the other directors … I love the more kitenitc rough animation and wide angle shots that populate most of the episodes and that truthfully make this series’s style unique and refreshing …

ultimately I admit I miss those things in some of the episodes that stray away from the main style …
I am still hooked by the story … but there’s been at least 3 episodes where I tune out because of weird stuff happening either stylistically or in animation quality.
Think for example of some of the fights between flesheaters and the mechsuits in ep 8 … there were a good 5 or 6 shots that looked completely amateurish … painful to look at … and kind of spoiled an episode that had some really nice stuff in it …
but I am getting ahead of myself … we’ll have that discussion when Ben reviews ep 8 … ;)

One thought that came to my mind a few times watching Kemonozume … is that Yuasa’s style seems really hard to do …
him and his top choice animators do these uncanny “might look crappy at first sight but really mindblowingly brilliant” drawings and layouts … and they move their sketchy drawings in unique, chancy and kinetic animation …
all these things and are very hard to match by some of the not quite A-grade crews ….

anyway. getting late and I am rambling … but … this is fun … it’s a great series to discuss .. just like Mindgame was a great movie to talk and chat about …

ok … later !

e

PS

I’ll have to look up Paradise Kiss, I haven’t seen any of it …

11/01/06 @ 22:36
Ben [Member]  

I liked the way you described the style of Yuasa et al, and how there are really only a handful of folks who manage to capture that feeling… I guess that’s where the challenge lies in doing a whole 13-ep series like this. Yuasa’s style is so hard to get down - Mind Game worked because he controlled every shot himself - so it winds up being a question of seeing how much they can make the style hold up. There are going to be times when it doesn’t. They’ve clearly gone out of their way to scrounge up as many similarly-minded animators as possible to try to get it to hold up, but none of them is Yuasa, and they all have a more or less different tack. Some like Kobayashi I never even associated with Yuasa’s style, though others like Ogura are slightly closer in degrees of separation. I enjoy seeing how each takes a hint from Yuasa’s style, to see how it might loosen up their work.

11/06/06 @ 00:31
Benjamin De Schrijver
Benjamin De Schrijver [Visitor]  

Guess I’m way late with this comment, but here goes:

The animation felt really awkward to me in the beginning, as you said it didn’t quite feel part of the general style of the series, but after a while it didn’t bother me as much anymore.

What did bother me, however, and probably took some attention away from the animation, was the writing. To me, all 3 lead characters - not including Kazuma - were written completely out of character. I see that the writer wrote ep 4 and 5, which hardly included those 3, so that might explain a lot (I did enjoy those episodes, though). Yes, you can see the reasons behind why eg. the couple’s starting to get frustrated with eachother, or why Rie looks for him, or why he gives in into having sex with a) a drunk Yuka who’s acting like a whore, and b) Rie, who’s also acting like a whore. But those reasons aren’t supported by the characters at all. Nothing in the previous episodes ever implied that they could do all these things, or make those choices. Now if they had spent some time inbetween showing this psychological transition of the characters, it might have worked, but they don’t do that. Pretty much as soon as the episode starts the previously shy, even unconfident Rie is admiring her breasts and touching herself in the shower thinking about Toshihiko, Yuka’s being an annoying nag and alcoholist, and Toshihiko himself is a controlling unconsiderate a-hole. What I doubt could have been justified by that extra time spent, though, was the Rie-Yuka fight in the end. This could’ve been a wonderful deep psychologically tense moment, that defined more character, set up conflict for the future, and was riveting on the screen, but all we get is a silly teenage-girl fashion bitch fight. And to make matters worse, the acting in this episode wasn’t very good and telling either.

I have to say I did like most of the Kazuma moments. Especially where he tries to casually kiss Rie, but instead it feels completely awkward, and the Citizen Kane-like scene with Ooba (great editing there between that wonderful long shot cutting back and forth with the close-ups on the wine).

I hope the series get back on track afterwards.

06/22/07 @ 03:14
Ben [Member]  

Thanks for the great analysis, Benjamin. I think this is a much more valid criticism of the ep than many of the other criticisms I’ve heard that tend to focus on just the oddness of the look or the flatness of the directing style. It makes sense that the “left turn” of the characters’ personalities that Enrico was talking about to some extent predates Kobayashi’s hand and goes back to the writer. For what it’s worth, the writer isn’t a professional anime screenwriter.

07/03/07 @ 19:16