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It seems like it all happened so fast. It was only a few months ago that I was surprised to hear about Yuasa's new series, and now the last episode just aired. I originally thought 13 episodes was probably a good safe number, but now that I'm halfway into the series I find myself wishing they had two seasons. For one, just because I don't want the wonderfulness to end so soon, but another part of me is feeling they might have used an extra season to make things flow a little smoother. I noticed that each episode leaps considerably in time. I like that approach, actually, but sometimes it feels a little too sudden. It's hard to tell how much time, if any, has expired between one ep and the next. But to an extent I think that's just Yuasa's style. He avoids overemphasizing anything, sometimes to an extreme degree.
I couldn't resist having a look at the creds for the final ep, and was amazed by the lineup - Takashi Hashimoto, Masahiko Kubo, Koichi Arai, Nobutoshi Ogura, Yasunori Miyazawa, and Soichiro Matsuda, plus all the best of the regulars. But now that I've watched ep 8, I see that this alignment of the stars had actually occured before. The staff roll is even more eyepopping in ep 8 to an extent - Nobutoshi Ogura, Yasunori Miyazawa, Soichiro Matsuda, Takaaki Yamashita, Tatsuzo Nishita, Coosan, Hiroyuki Okuno and even Hirotsugu Kawasaki (director of the second Naruto movie). Great lineup, and surprising. I would never have expected to see Yamashita and his protege here. From what I can tell it looks like maybe Yamashita did part of the torture session and Nishida the start of the attack, though surprisingly I wasn't able to ID many other sections. I also liked the bit at the end of the bathtub scene where Hobari languorously draws his hand across Yuka's claw. Even more of a surprise was to see Miyazawa make an appearance. I had wished out loud before that he would appear in the show. I'm looking forward to seeing what he did in the last ep.
But most of all, I was delighted to see Koichi Arai take the stage as the episode's animation director and animator of the "avant". (the segment 'before' the theme song) Arai had appeared before in the show, but it was an unexpected delight to see him given his own ep. Could this be the first time I've seen him working as animation director since 3x3 Eyes? Ah, actually, there's the Koikaze op, but that's it. That aside, then, Yuasa managed to do what nobody else has managed to do in the intervening decade and a half - get a whole ep out of Arai again, which I'd been hoping someone would do so I could see what his work might look like now. Stylistically it looks very little like what I saw in 3x3 Eyes. But I've never associated Arai with a paritcular style, and in fact I've always thought that he was a great specimen of a highly versatile neutral animator able to adapt to any style without allowing his own touch to seep in too much. Here, the part that really felt Arai was the avant. He's clearly evolved a bit since then, and there wasn't so much of the wonderful touch that I so appreciated in 3x3 Eyes, but there were moments when I thought I could sense a distant echo of that touch in the flashback stills. The girl looked like Pai in certain shots. In the ep itself, it seems like he did a great job of adapting himself to a style closer to that of Ito/Yuasa while investing the faces with his own more nuanced expressions.
Strangely enough, the episode wasn't exploding with the sort of animated frenzy I would have expected of such an all-star cast. There were moments that felt great, but overall the situation didn't seem that conducive to providing many opportunities to create vivid movement - though of course there was the attack scene at the end, which did have some nice work. The good bits there were were more nuanced and less kinetic.
It was a riveting episode, both in terms of what was happening and how it was presented. The storyboarder/director was Yuichi Tanaka, who I'm not too familiar with, though I see he was an animator on a few recent Ghibli films. Yuasa co-wrote the script. The script was really powerful, and the directing fully backed it up, doing a good job of creating an atmosphere of painfully intense claustrophobia. The first few minutes in particular were quite hair-raising. Live-action was effectively used again. Using live-action for only that particular object was a wonderful touch. It seemed like doing so kind of provided the key that was needed to make the situation feel vivid and real to the audience, which it might not have had it consisted only of animation. It's like when you're watching a horror film - you know it's fake, so it doesn't shock. With animation sometimes, you know it's animated, so it doesn't strike you as real. Using that piece of live-action seemed to step over that line and make the scene take hold of you the way animation rarely is able to alone. That texture evoked all the sweat, fear, and cold of being confined in the dark as a prisoner. This episode felt like it brought to the fore the theme of terrorism/resistance that has been a kind of undercurrent throughout the show so far. It had moments that were genuinely shocking in a way that few other gory or violent anime are. The avant, on the other hand, showcased the gruesome humour that is unique to this show. If I had one complaint, it's that I would have liked there to have been a little more effort put into conveying what Yuka was thinking/feeling that whole time, even just little hints here and there.
Cool. Arai and Yuichi Tanaka together. I’m pretty fond of both these guys past works I’ve seen(Obviously 3x3 Eyes in Arai’s case, mostly NieA #1 & Haibane #8 for Tanaka). And it makes sense for me they’d work together. But I didn’t quite imagine it’d be on this particular series.
I actually watched just the so-called “Avant” part of this episode on YouTube just to see what an old favorite was up to these days.
Though I must say, what I saw was less Koichi Arai and more Koichi Ohata…Did catch me a bit off-guard. Guess it was kind of “fun” when her torso plopped out of that evil Digimon…
That part was so unexpectedly horrifying that I found myself only able to laugh out loud.
Was pleasantly surprised recently when I discovered Yuichi Tanaka had done charachter-designs for the “To Aru Majutsu no Index” anime. Of the recent batch of anime tv shows I’ve sampled, I actually liked this one a great deal. While it’s obviously not the kind of thing that’ll have the indy/sakuga crowd going crazy over its uniqueness. Based on what I’ve seen I actually found it to be all-round highly well-made, and well…fun.
And there was something else…something about the designs. I kept noticing an unusual degree of interesting quirks and nuances in the charachters expressions that kept me engaged.
And in retrospect a lot of it is obviously thanks to Tanaka’s subtle but unmistakeable influence.
A couple of choice screencaps:
Also a shot from Tanaka’s episode of NieA_7: