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The last few days I've been doing some catch-up on what's new lately. I haven't watched much anime the last few months, so I missed out on a quite a bit of the little bits of good animation that have been done here and there, of which apparently there's been quite a bit. It's a shame that so much good work is done in shows that otherwise are of otherwise little interest to me, much less to a non-anime watching audience. The talented animators deserve a bigger audience. I'm beyond tired of seeing good work buried in crap shows that I wince having to watch just to see some good animation. I pretty much can't bring myself to write about it anymore. Luckily there are a lot of you guys out there tweeting or blogging about this kind of news, so it's easier than ever to catch wind of a good bit of animation in some crap show or other.
A-1 Pictures' iDolm@aster is a case in point. Tadashi Hiramatsu did animation in the opening of this show that I had to mute to be able to endure watching for two minutes and it still made me vomit in my mouth a little. Such a great animator relegated to doing this crap. So much for A-1 Pictures being the new ambitious studio on the block. A lot of Gainax people staffing this one. With that and the news of Trigger's formation, it seems there's a big exodus from Gainax going on right now. I'm not terribly crushed. I've been wanting some of the talented people working at Gainax to go elsewhere to have opportunity to do work that is not dictated by the bizarre whims of this studio, which admittedly did get a lot of fine work produced. But I obviously was not the only one feeling it was time for them to move on.
Hiroyuki Imaishi directed a five-minute sequence in the latest episode, episode 15, which is worth checking out if you're not tired of his style yet.
In other disappointing news, a great animator whose work I used to really like, Susumu Yamaguchi, is directing Sunrise's new Gundam show, Gundam AGE, and it looks really stupid. Normally it should be considered a pretty big prop to be appointed to direct the latest sally in one of anime's biggest franchises, but personally I think his talent is completely wasted here. Without his personal stamp on the work, what's the point? There are other people who can competently helm yet another humdrum Gundam. Susumu Yamaguchi is about more than that. It must be a cushy position, so I can't blame him. How much of a living could he have made just sticking it out as a lowly animator doing awesome but unrewarding animation?
The answer to that seems to be hinted at by Kiyoshi Tateishi, who occasionally goes by the name Takashi Shiwasu (see his home page): not much. Tateishi is an animator who's been active since about 2000. Recently he was animator in the opening of Bones' No. 6 and just-started Un-Go. He blogged at some length five days ago about "escaping" the anime industry, stating that he decided to take a break from the "mire" of working in the anime industry, complaining about bad working conditions (though his wording was pretty vague, so I'm not sure exactly what he was talking about).
The sad thing is that when I hear about all these talented people working in the industry, the only thing I can ask them is: Why bother? You could make a way better living, and probably live a happier life, doing something else. Which is the last thing I want to have to say to them, since I enjoy their work. But it's the hard truth. The answer will probably be because they love animation, and that's the right answer, but there's clearly something wrong when people that are pretty talented like Kiyoshi Tateishi (he's got some solid drawing skills that make him a good layout man) can't take it anymore and up and quit.
There was some good work in the otherwise bland and generic new IG outing Guilty Crown. Notably the fight looked like Yutaka Nakamura, but he's not credited, so I don't know who it was. Could it be Toru Okubo? Has he gotten that good since his already pretty good action scene in Tsubasa Chronicle in 2006? Admittedly that's a long time to improve, but I haven't really followed his work closely, so I don't know.
Bones' No. 6 episode 10 had some animation from one of the more appealing of the younger hot-shot animators working today, Yoshimichi Kameda, who did a lot of similar work on Bones' second Fullmetal Alchemist TV show. I find his style a little forced and striving for effect, but I still like his work better than a lot of today's young animators. At least it feels like he's devised his own approach rather than just mimicking Yoshinori Kanada or something. I'll have to check out this show to see if there was any other good work. Bones has been so prolific since I took a break.
Naruto Shippuden's new opening starting with episode 231 is a typically wacky piece by Akitaro Daichi. What an odd idea to get this guy to do a Naruto opening. Either they forgot to look at his CV or they wanted to inject some absurdity into the absurdly long-running show. It's got some enjoyably crazy animation in it. Animators include Hiromi Ishigami, Tokuyuki Matsutake, Hiroyuki Yamashita and Yu Yamashita.
Bones' Un-go is the latest Noitamina show. I suppose the fact that it's distantly inspired by Ango Sakaguchi is supposed to make it edgy, but so far it just looks like anime. It's the Fullmetal Alchemist team, so perhaps that's why they've got Yun Koga doing designs. FMA was huge with the HS girls apparently. Seiji Shimizu seems like the one they turn to to make them a long, talky, story-based pan-gender hit. The one thing I liked about the show was the two shots of the guy flipping around the in the opening, and the ending, which is uncredited for some reason but fairly screams Norimitsu Suzuki. I've no idea who did that flipping part - Yasuyuki Noda? Yuki Komatsu?
Speaking of openings, Gundam AGE's had Yasushi Muraki, but there was nothing in the opening that was really good. I suppose he did the part where the two giant robots fight each other with light sabers, but it wasn't particularly enjoyable to watch if it was him, which is unusual. Ken Otsuka, Akira Amemiya, Shingo Abe and Iwao Teraoka presumably drew the other mecha parts of the op.
Whatever happened to Yasuhiro Aoki? He seemed poised to take off as a director. Now he's animating fights in Madhouse's latest Marvel superhero anime Blade? Way to go, anime. That's how to use talent. He animated some part of the fight in episode 9 together with Satoru Utsunomiya. Extraordinarily considering the talent involved, the animation is totally uninteresting.
The most satisfying episode animation-wise that I've seen during my catch-up has been Bleach episode 341. It's the closest thing to a Naruto 133 that I've seen in the show. Animators involved include Hironori Tanaka, Fumiaki Kota, Hiroshi Kamogawa, Yuki Hayashi, Takaaki Wada, Shinichi Kurita and Yoshimichi Kameda. There are two big explosions in the episode at around the 1/3 mark (image 1 above) and 2/3 mark (image 2 above). Both are really beautiful and in a totally different style. The second one is obviously Hideki Kakita. The first one I'm not so sure. The whole action scene around the first explosion is really amazing. I suppose it must have been the work of Hironori Tanaka and/or Shinichi Kurita. The fight at the beginning was also nice, though it pales in comparison to the insanity of the animation around the first explosion. The explosion fan in me was satiated after watching this. Some of the best explosion work in recent memory.
Excellent article as always Ben.
I love Yoshimichi Kameda & Hironori Tanaka’s work..hands down my two favorite animators..what do you think of Gundam Unicorn?
I dunno if you can really say that the great staff in Idolm@ster is wasting itself; people like Nishigori, Hiramatsu and even Sushio, who is serving as animation director for episode 17, seem to like drawing cute girls and working in bishoujo anime. I honestly think they’re just doing what they like.
Siete - I agree, actually. Some of these guys really do enjoy drawing cute girls. And honestly I enjoy Hiramatsu’s cute girl drawings; they’re pretty well done. In some cases it’s not a question of animators being forced to draw stuff against their will, and it is nice to see well done animation of female characters. But I just think their talent is wasted doing exclusively that kind of thing, especially on this kind of hardcore moe show.
Michael - Thanks. Yeah, Tanaka and Kameda seem to have firm support among sakuga fans, and I understand why. I actually really enjoyed Gundam Unicorn. I can’t remember liking any Gundam in recent years except that one. I might write something about it.
Whoa, I had no idea Yasuhiro Aoki had done some work on that Blade anime, together with Utsunomiya no less. Probably because I dropped it after the first ep.
Interestingly, it seems Aoki also contributed animation on the OP of Madhouse’s new anime Hunter x Hunter, which is also very surprising, if not disappointing. I definitely agree with what you just said about anime’s talent management.
Nice to get some impressions on recent stuff, Ben.
About iDolm@aster: haha, so I’m not the only one that needs to mute the audio to be able to watch certain shows…
About Bleach 341: I agree it had some of the best explosion work in recent memory (the one in your first image was particularly impressive), but I thought the action was pretty disappointing. Like most of the Bleach fighting episodes the combat totally lacked rythm, and the actual fighting animation looked so far away from the stuff you see on the big Naruto episodes.
When it comes to action, I’m afraid the only episode that comes close to being “the Naruto 133 of Bleach” is still Bleach 166.
I wonder who was responsible fot this two shots at Guilty Crown–>
I can’t help it, it looks like Hiroyuki Okiura….(O_O)
It’s sad to see an experienced animator leaving the industry. It’s a clear sign that he doesn’t see the better future being animator. If he found a better gig that pays better, then god bless him.
Although animators leaving the industry for better life is not a new thing, I feel that their business practice, along with current economy, made things worse. I’m wondering about how organizations like AJA or JANICA is doing to improve the living standard of animation professionals.
Until animation studios can begin to consistently produce original content that gains significant popularity, one cannot expect anything but the most base commercial product to be the order of the day.
Unfortunately in Japan the market is under an absolute monopoly. There really is no place for the indies to squeeze in unless they are willing to sell their skin along with their shirts. The problem with that approach is it requires a perfect batting average to gain enough independence that the artist can then demand a place in the market without giving everything to big brother. Ghibli managed to do that. No one else has even come close.
Realistically, if one wants to watch big studio animation, one must be satisfied sifting through the junk for the gems.
Yeah, it’s disappointing to see him stumble back like this to being an animator. But he did start out as an animator of action scenes (though I’m not very familiar with his early work), so I guess it makes sense that he would fill in the gaps between jobs with a little animation work here and there. I just wish there was some cutting edge studio out there that would put talent like him to work on edgy new projects. He used to be employed at 4C and did lots of good work there. I expected to see him direct something there eventually. I wonder what happened.
Thanks for reminding me about Bleach 166. I’d completely forgotten about it.
I thought so too! The movement looks like Okiura, vaguely, even if the drawings don’t. It’s possible he did uncredited work, or just helped out a little touching things up, though it seems unlikely. Perhaps a younger animator there is influenced by him.
H Park & gingersoll -
4C and Madhouse have managed to find a different way of doing things by switching between artist-centric projects and more commercial bankrolling projects. That’s one way. I don’t know much about how projects come about, but I get the feeling we need a totally different way of launching projects, something closer to how a film like Persepolis or Waltz With Bashir got made and distributed around the world. I’d like to see a Japanese animated feature that attains success because it isn’t promoted as being anime.
I just don’t think their talent is being wasted; they’re just working in what they want to work. If the industry was so bad that the situation that this was the only work they could find, I would consider it a waste, sure. But I just don’t think that’s the case at all. Even if they’re not working in what I specifically want them to work in, I’m glad they’re able to work in what they want to work.
Hey Ben what did you think of the Mirai Nikki Opening?It reminded me of the 1st Death Note opening with the visuals in that crazy blue and red color tones also what did you think of the final piece of animation at the end of the Guilty Crown’s first episode?Keep up the great work!
Nice article Ben!
Didn’t Aoki recently do a 3D short for 4C?
I agree with Siete. Talent isn’t being wasted, my assumption is they’re doing what they want to do. Usually, when the animators work on something that might be a meager show, it’s because they have a friend, compatriot or senpai that asked them to take some scenes. I see it as doing it for camaraderie and a paycheck. Especially with the situation over in Japan’s animation industry, beggars can’t be choosers…
Will - Did he? I didn’t know about it. Please point me to whatever it is if you know. I’d like to see it.
Mark - The Mirai Nikki OP was OK. Not my favorite but well enough made. I think Shinpei Tomooka did the bit of animation at the end, maybe with Naoto Hosoda. They seem to work together a lot. The end of Guilty Crown ep 1 was a decent action piece, though there was a lot of CGI for my taste. A lot of work was put into the visuals overall, for sure. Too bad it felt so deliberately generic.
Thanks. Glad to see 4C is keeping Aoki busy. “3D animation"? As in 3D glasses? I usually hate 3D but I’m eager to see this.
“closer to how a film like Persepolis or Waltz With Bashir got made and distributed around the world. I’d like to see a Japanese animated feature that attains success because it isn’t promoted as being anime.”
I couldn’t agree with you more. Yet it seems like anime tried that in the early 2000s with stuff like Jin Roh, and didn’t really succeed at it. I wish there was something like it again that was aimed more at a film festival circuit/arthouse audience.
Kon was almost there. Paprika got a ton of buzz amongst the film literati I feel that if he was still around he would be to the point where his name could sell a film. It might happen with Dream Machine even though sadly, there won’t be any more that’s even remotely from him :(.
I can’t help but feeling that good anime died with Satoshi Kon, I know that’s not entirely true, but I feel like the industry had more hope with him in it than it does now.