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Rather than there being a sort of fundamental tone from which there's the occasional key change, it seems like every episode of this series is in a different key. Each episode has its own particular style thanks to the animation director, and a unique atmosphere and thematic approach. Nobutoshi Ogura's ep 3 seems the nearest kin to this lyrical and heartfelt ep, which comes across as a deep breath taken before we take the big dive into the climax.
I enjoyed this ep much more on the second watching. On the first, I wanted more to be happening and found myself bored. On the second, I was able to attune myself to the pacing and finally appreciate all of the various aspects of this episode.
First of all, this episode is quite notable for a reason that might not be immediately apparent: Every single animation drawing was drawn by a woman. I'm not just talking key animators - the animation director, all four key animators, all second key animators, and all inbetweeners were women. That's unprecedented as far as I know, and it seems highly unlikely to be a coincidence, so it's clear that this episode was intended as the Women's Episode. Kayoko Nabeta has in fact been an animator I've wanted to find out more about since seeing her name in various places after Cat Soup, and from what I see here she has a very appealing style, so I can see why Yuasa keeps coming back to her. She appears to have finished her inbetweening days after GITS in 1995, and then gone on to work on various IG productions, including, notably, Yuasa's Vampiyan Kids pilot, on which she adapted the designs for animation.
What most impressed me about Nabeta from this episode was not necessarily her own style on display, but more her approach as an animation director. She seems to approach the task like Kenichi Konishi, restricting corrections to touches here and there in order to retain each animator's particular flavor, rather than thoroughly correcting everything to impose a homogenous look. As a result, I could identify several distinct styles at work throughout the episode, for which reason I nicknamed the episode "the four Yukas" in my head. I don't know who did what, but I found it a good opportunity to study style. I went from one section to the other and noted clear differences in the styles on display. I found that looking at unmoving shapes like eyebrows and noses helped to make it easier to identify different approaches to line/form. For a while Toshihiko will look decidedly cute and cartoonish, with a bigger nose and eyes than usual, then later on he'll look closer to Ito's designs, with the small eyes and flatter nose. The end in paricular looked very much like Ito. A few closeups at the very end I would have mistaken for Ito.
Then there were the two guest characters. Their designs were wonderful. I don't know who designed them, but presumably it was Ito. On the second watching I found that I very much appreciated that they had taken pause to dedicate an entire episode to two such characters. An aged couple, one physically disabled, the other blind. If Kemonozume has been a story about a persecuted minority, then this seemed an extension of that - this episode focuses on, not a minority, but a vast group of humanity that tends to get slighted by society, shunted off into a corner, because we would rather not have to deal with them. We'll all reach this stage one day, and a day not that far off, so that's our fate too. This episode was a long and loving look at that group, and I found that moving. Perhaps that's another sense in which I found this to be the Women's Episode. Not to stereotype, but it had the sensitive, caring touch that I associate with some of my favorite films by women filmmakers - particularly so the last scene on the shore. Throughout the episode dialogue took the fore. The old couple described in detail the little things that happened in their lives leading to the present - words brought alive by Hisako Kyoda's wonderful delivery, with its breezy, mischevious tone - convincingly establishing two nuanced and human characters in a short span. On the shore, the dialogue between Toshihiko and Yuka, at a younger stage on the same path, was possibly the most moving heart-to-heart I've yet seen between the two, convincingly capturing the tone of two (comparatively) young lovers anxious about the future but basking in the simple happiness of being with one another. It was a very nice scene. Many of the most beautiful scenes in the series have been the scenes of calm romance between the two protagonists.
Stylistically, we saw more integration of live-action than anywhere before. Or at least, its presence was felt more. It seemed to be used mostly for short close-ups of hands in action, as with the cooking. In terms of plot developments, the entire episode was exclusively devoted to this side-story, so very little progress was made in the big picture, but there was one important plot point that seemed to be hinted at, though I don't want to go into detail. All will be revealed in the end, so I'll wait eagerly for the answer. Yuasa has been slowly spinning an intricate web of clues. Many things that I paid no heed before are now beginning to make a bit more sense. Like most of Yuasa's work, I have no idea where things are headed, which keeps things interesting. Other little bits... Nobutoshi Ogura drew an amusing little avant this time around, in his patented pointy-limbed style. There were a number of very beautiful images in the ep, most notably the image of the car driving across the shallow lake, as if in the sky... though I found myself wondering where in Japan there's a place like that.