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I'd been wondering how Madhouse was possibly going to manage to push so many productions through to completion while keeping the quality at a reasonable level. Mostly I was worried about whether their having taken on too many projects would adversely affect Iso's and Yuasa's series. I had forgotten all about Madhouse's situation watching the fabulous first three episodes. Watching episode 4 brought it all back. It appears that it was indeed asking a bit too much to hope for every episode to have the incredible level of quality of the first three episodes. For a thirteen episode series, I would say that it would be an acceptable compromise to have two, max three, episodes like this, if the alternative were no episodes at all. Though more than that would be a little painful too. There probably wouldn't be any other way to get this show produced otherwise. I still think it's a miracle they're even making it. I think maybe that's where Madhouse's secret lies. This ability to take a big chance with a crazy idea and figure out how to get it produced by being willing to compromise in certain areas. It seems like kind of a rough and dirty approach that doesn't go for perfection but favors just getting in there and trying and seeing the best they can do. It won't be perfect, but there'll be moments of perfection.
Where this episode comes in is laying the groundwork for those moments of perfection. To put a positive spin on it, episode four can serve quite well to remind just how brilliant the first three episodes were. To show how those episodes might have looked in any other hands. (shudder) It lacked most everything that made the first few episodes so amazing. The drawings themselves weren't bad. No studio was credited, but this is Madhouse we're talking about, so clearly the animation has to have been the work of Dr Movie. Madhouse uses Dr Movie effectively, if at times a little excessively to my taste, throughout their productions. Mostly for inbetweening, not key animation. Here they're doing the key animation, and while it doesn't move a lot or in a very interesting fashion, it's at a passable level. The drawings are right. It's ordinary animation. Madhouse has been working with Dr Movie for a long time, and Dr Movie has clearly come a long way. Their work on average is probably slightly above the average in Japan. But the real problem is that the average doesn't even remotely compare with the level of what was done in the first few eps by geniuses like Masaaki Yuasa, Nobutake Ito and Nobutoshi Ogura. It hurts when you hit the ground from that height. I honestly don't think this ep is the Dr's fault, though. The writing and directing felt much more fishy to me. An episode can be incredible with great animation and crap directing/story, and vice-versa. Here both were way too average. The one scene that stood out in terms of the animation was the little fight at the beginning. I liked the drawings and movement there. The drawings were really crazy, very free and energetic, you could just feel the guy's pencil flying, which is what the spirit of this visual style is supposed to be about.
I never quite understood the concept of co-productions. It seems to me like everything that's interesting about animation comes about from the artistic sparks that fly when people are working on a team with other people, in the flesh, exchanging ideas and brainstorming and bouncing ideas off other people. I could never understand the concept of getting a bunch of people scattered around the world to work on the same film and expect to see results. I'm sure there are examples where people have managed to get it to work, but it seems like a bit of a lost cause, like a lot of effort for comparatively little result. What this ep suggests to me is that, no matter how long you cultivate a relationship with another studio somewhere else, in the end, if you're not working with a team on the same production floor, then you're just not going to get that 'sync' that is what produces the real magic in animation. But it's late and I'm just rambling so never mind. I don't know what I'm talking about, just venting a feeling.
The thing that perhaps most surprised me about this episode was to discover that the story is set in 1980. This backgrounder episode takes place in 1956, during the youth of the father and mother, thus fleshing out the roots the family tree. I can't help but be reminded of Mind Game, where Yuasa went out of his way to come up with a background story and string of important life events for every one of the characters, even the ones with very little screentime. Think of the yakuza's story. These little snatches of memories, littered throughout the film, helped to give the film its feeling of depth. Also, Yuasa is always very conscientious in his use of color, sometimes even boldly changing the color of the screen to match the tone of a certain scene, and I enjoyed the appropriate sepia tone of this episode.
Where is this show airing right now? I’m dying to see Yuasa’s latest.
Episode 5 should be a lot happier then, there’s some excellent use of Hisashi Mori in there. There’s also a (ex-?)Telecom Animator, Hiroyuki Aoyama providing clean, but lush animation for teh avant-title. He’s one of the ADs for TokiKake too…