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I know I've been quiet for a few months, but things may be sputtering back to life in the coming days. I've been busy with personal stuff, and haven't really been watching any anime or animation, but I'd like to slowly start posting again. The VIFF is starting this week, so I'll probably be posting about the movies I see there to get back into the habit of blogging.
I just ditched my old server, Ion Web, because the site was constantly down over the last month for no given reason, and they offered no support of any kind. In porting everything over, I spruced up the face of the blog a little bit, but it should be mostly the same as before.
I'd like to use this opportunity to change the site logo. I'm tired of the old logos. It's been 7 years since I started writing Anipages. I want something fresh and new to shake things up a bit. A year ago on the forum I held a logo design contest to solicit ideas for logos that reflect the spirit of the blog, but I dropped the ball on that (sorry). I really loved what Huw, Bahi et al. submitted, so I'd like to see if I can revive that and get an awesome new Anipages mascot/logo from someone.
Stefan Nutz is currently engaged in a very interesting one-man project. He is going around interviewing Japan's indie animators on video for the purpose of eventually putting together a documentary about Japanese indie animation.
You can see the progress of his project, and perhaps provide him support and ideas for questions, on his web page at:
Stefan is based in Austria, and has been dealing with Japanese film for about a decade now in his capacity as a director, editor and sometimes DP for the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Agency). He is hoping to put together a 60 minute documentary possibly to be supplemented with 30 minutes of animation highlighting the work of the creators he interviewed.
Stefan's purview is not limited to indies, however, as witness the latest post on his blog, in which he reveals that he will be visiting Studio 4C later this month. Great news. Studio 4C is not just the studio we all love. They act as something of a missing link between the industry and the indie scene, working within the industry but with the mentality of independence of an indie. I wouldn't have thought to include them in a documentary about indie animation in Japan, but let's face it, they've produced some of the most creative and appealing animation in Japan, and this is one of the few times they'll have been covered for a foreign audience, so it's a great idea to balance out the project and shed light on the various facets of 'being indie' in Japan.
The image above shows Naoyuki Niiya, director of the old classic indie film Squid Festival that I wrote about in 2005, whom Stefan has interviewed already. Also interviewed will be Hiroshi Harada (Midori), Keita Kurosaka (Midori-ko), Mirai Mizue, Tomoyasu Murata and Atsushi Wada, among others.
Pixar artist Grant Alexander just posted a great account of a visit that some Gainax staff recently paid to Pixar in California: Gainax at Pixar. He got to meet with none other than the great Sushio, one of my favorite animators at Gainax right now, among several other people who worked on Panty & Stocking. I can't think of two animation cultures more different, but I know the staff at Pixar are great people who are open to the influence of anime, Miyazaki and beyond, so perhaps it's not so surprising after all. It's great to see interaction between great studios across the divide, to see that creators with different working styles can still respect and admire each other.
It's fascinating observing how life changes people. What are you doing today that you never expected you'd be doing 10 years ago? Here I was listening to the 2004 album Game Boy by a chiptune artist who goes (went) by the name of Lo-Bat, and I look at his home page and find that he's evolved into a graphic novel illustrator. I like his style, too - loose, classical, whimsical with a very European vibe. I'm fascinated by the phenomenon of exercising different vectors of your brain and becoming an artist or expert in two otherwise unrelated fields.
Obviously it is much easier to experiment in different arts in the comfort of your home now just with a little software, resulting in more artists trying their hands at media seemingly unrelated to their 'home' field. But all the way back to Norman McLaren and his amazing Synchromy you've had artists crossing over the divide, so it's nothing new. There's always been the urge to try your hand at a new art; it's just easier now. I know that all it takes is giving it a try, and it's probably more manageable than it seems, but it still amazes me when I see someone who's a great musician making great visuals. I find it hard to believe they're done by the same person.
Thank you all for reading for another year. Here's wishing all of you out there the best in 2011.
"What do you want to see in anime?" was maybe my favorite post this year. It was fascinating hearing so many varied dreams and hopes about anime - proof that anime fans aren't monolithic.
I doubt I'd still be blogging after 6 years if it weren't for all the stimulating feedback I receive, so a sincere thanks to all of you for being there.
As usual, I don't have a goal with this blog. I write about whatever fascinates me at the moment. Luckily the ocean of anime is vast. There is much that remains to be explored. I'll keep shining an eclectic light on things here and there.
Masaaki Yuasa has a new TV series starting in April entitled Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, again made at Madhouse. I haven't seen an official English title, but it needs one, cause it sounds interesting in Japanese but is pretty unwieldy to translate: Four and a half mat myth compendium. But then again, maybe that's a perfectly sound anime title, if A Certain Scientific Railgun is kosher. Nobutake Ito is again the character designer. The designs are extremely attractive, with the visual sensibility of Taisho-era illustrations, and again a big change from everything the team has done before. Judging by some of the movement in the second half of the video clip visible on the site now, I'm sure Nobutake Ito and the animators will be creating some great movement with these designs. The color design looks vivid and wild in the vein of Mind Game, and the chamber music is quite an interesting and unusual sound for anime. The script sounds cerebral and witty, the series being based on a novel this time around. This promises to be the best thing since... well, Yuasa's last project.
Te Wei, one of the great animation artists of the last century, passed away a short time ago. He was the originator and master of the brush ink animation style. He didn't produce many shorts in his patented style, but the three that he did shine on decades later as unsurpassed masterpieces of serene beauty. They seem to me to bridge the centuries and channel the poetry of another age. Watch them if you haven't. It's time for me to revisit them to remember this great artist.
I'd like to see another good feature from Korea. Mari iyagi was great, but Yobi was disappointing, and Wonderful Days I didn't like as a film because I felt it too indebted to anime, remarkably technically adept though it was. Aachi & Ssipak, if you're able to stomach the over-the-top crassness and violence, was much more creative and interesting as a concept and just plain fun, with some excitingly choreographed, well-animated action sequences, and a much more original vision.
On a related note, I just saw the crass and violent Dante's Inferno, and it featured work by a number of Korean studios, some of it quite good. It's an awful film that's jettisoned the original's poetry for a linear first-person slasher video game with one level boss after another, and is interesting almost solely for the variety of styles brought to the table by the different studios. I usually like this sort of thing by default because I enjoy the idea of seeing the same subject interpreted by different visual artist, and I did enjoy it in that sense, but in the end it's more one of those films you feel obliged to see because there happens to be some technically worthwhile work in it than one that you watch because it's actually good. It wasn't even the violence and crass visuals that put me off so much as the inept script that yammers away constantly, non-stop in every single solitary shot. That's one thing that makes it patently obvious that the script was written by a westerner - American animated features don't know when to shut up. They're uninterested in or incapable of letting the visuals or the atmosphere do the talking, Pixar being a notable new exception.
There have been a number of multi-studio anime omnibuses in the last few years, but where this differs is that it's one continuous story, so that from one moment to the next, in the same uninterrupted narrative flow, the character designs, art, animation and directing suddenly do a 180. I personally enjoyed it. And I'm actually inclined to suspect that this approach wouldn't be that shocking or off-putting to general audiences, as people have become much more acclimatized to visual experimentation in recent years. Heck, seeing these different approaches side by side was the only redeeming feature of what otherwise just felt like a stupid video game - and what's worse, a video game where you don't even have any control. Which is ironic considering the source material is one of the great poems of western literature. Sadly, there's some decent work in this film. I just hope that it doesn't always take shallow projects like this for talent to get work.
The opening by Film Roman sure isn't where the decent work comes. The good work starts quite a ways in after the Saturday morning cartoon animation, with the section from Manglobe directed by Shukou Murase, which is visually the sleekest and overall one of the strongest in the film. The pacing is cinematic and the staging elegant and formal. The drawings are delicate and the faces realistically drawn, albeit in a somewhat 'generic western face' kind of way. Ironic that the Japanese can draw a better westerner than a western studio. (though the first section, too, appears to have been entirely animated by Korean studios) Murase not only directed but was character designer and his own sakkan, so he's in large part to thank for the exceptional quality of the section. Nobutake Ito is one of the animators in his section.
The next section from Dongwoo directed by Jong-Sik Nam, looks very different, much more loose and cartoony, with lots of movement going on constantly. The drawings were a little too crude for my taste, but there were a few moments that stood out as having interesting movement, and generally I appreciate that it moves a lot. The first section moves a lot too, but all of the movement sucks.
It was the next two sections that most impressed me. The fourth section looked to me like the work of a Japanese studio, with its very Kanada-ish approach to movement, while the fifth section immediately struck me as the work of a Korean studio. Surprisingly, both were the work of the same Korean studio - JM Animation. Looking into it, I now see that JM Animation is the studio behind Wonderful Days, which makes sense. I haven't watched it, but JM Animation produced a piece of animation for MTV last year on the subject of human trafficking. (important subject, but looks lame) Both sections four and five are very strong in terms of the visuals and directing. I particularly liked section 5, directed by Kim Sangjin, with its excellently rendered grotesque character designs. This section's visuals are some of the more unique and assured in the film. Section four, directed by Lee Seunggyu, is quite well done, with a more unified stylization of the characters than the previous section, where the characters just look kind of sloppily drawn. I thought they were a little too ruly and clean for this material and preferred the edgy shapes of the fifth section.
The last section, from Production I.G. and directed by a surprising face for the studio, Yasuomi Umetsu, was well-produced but surprisingly dull considering the pedigree. 'Stolid' is the term that comes to mind. The pacing was sluggish and the staging seemed badly done. There are way too many distant or oblique shots striving for a cinematic feel that comes off better in the Manglobe film. The Korean and Japanese films here have a clearly different approach to presenting the material, with more of a focus on the characters acting things out in the Korean films, but more oblique framing and slow pans or moody distant shots for you to savor the drawings and framing in the Japanese films. It's like the Japanese approach their animation with the mentality of live-action cinematographers, and they try to animate things in a realistic way to achieve impact, whereas the Koreans know they're making animation and achieve impact through more expressive animation and less of an obsession on detail and realistic timing and careful framing. Animators include Koichi Arai, Seiichi Nakatani, Nobutoshi Ogura, Nozomu Abe.
Continuing in my quest to dig up obscure old OVAs, Bounty Dog maybe isn't that obscure but it's another older OVA I never saw back then but just checked out. What jumps out at you first about this thing is the color. For some reason the whole thing has this weird sickly yellow sepia tone that's kind of nauseating to look at and doesn't really make any sense artistically. There is some decent mech drawing and animation, but nothing extravagant. The character drawings aren't interesting, and the directing aims for a sort of gritty low-key realism seemingly inspired by Patlabor 2 from the year before, but it doesn't work, not helped by bad art and an uninspired story with no interesting characters, and just feels sluggish and boring. Not nearly as interesting as some of the other OVAs made around this time. Animators in ep 1 include Toshiyuki Tsuru and Takahiro Kishida. Animators in ep 2 include Yasuhiro Seo, Hiroyuki Morita, Masahito Yamashita, Masahiro Koyama, Nobuyoshi Habara (under his Mamoru Konoe pen name), Toru Yoshida, Toshihiro Kawano, Tomohiro Hirata, Tadashi Itazaki.
Riki-oh is another 2-episode OVA from this period - this one from studio Magic Bus from 1989 and 1990. Toei did a great 6-OVA series called Crying Freeman in this vein of big manly muscle men committing acts of gory violence right around the same time, and theirs is infinitely better in all respects - story, directing and animation. Riki-oh is like a lame knock-off of Crying Freeman. The two episodes are an interesting study in contrasts in terms of how to handle the 'macho style' - in episode 1 the drawings are by Yasuhiro Seo, whom I remember for a solo episode he did in Gankutsuoh, and they're great, really bringing alive the personality of the villains through densely rendered drawings full of lines and ruffles that give each of the grotesquely ugly villains' faces a unique look. The second episode is very different, with character designs by Akio Sugino. The bodies and faces are drawn a lot sleeker and smoother and without the grotesque detail that's the whole raison d'etre of this drawing style, and without good drawings, there's very little to maintain interest. The animation isn't particularly remarkable per se; it's more about the drawings themselves, which make this ridiculous material kind of fun to watch with an ironic mindset. I noticed two interesting faces in the inbetween credits: Kenji Mizuhata in ep 1 and Shuichi Kaneko in ep 2.
Three animal shorts for you:
Sankichi and Kojoro from Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, by Hirokazu Fukuhara.
Dreams by Chie Arai.
Old Fangs by Adrien Merigeau.
The last one was sent to me by 'sanafabich', and I really liked it. A number of commenters have noted some astute criticisms, and I agree with some of them, but lack of quicker beats isn't something that bothered me about the film. In fact, I think that that is one of the film's main assets. Slow pacing can be a hard thing to pull off, and a shot without dialogue is anathema to most ADD-afflicted western animation, but good filmmaking isn't just about cramming in as much as possible. It's about creating a space for a story to breathe, and I think they've found a nice style for the material they wanted to convey. I like that they inserted those shots of live-action leaves at the beginning. I think the designs are great, meshing well with the stylized, angular backgrounds. The music is spot-on. I think it's a pretty ambitious subject to tackle, especially using those designs, and I like how the film creates an atmosphere midway between real life and a fable. It does a decent job of evoking some weighty themes with very few words - the chasm that separates us from our memories of the distant past, the desire to reconnect with our estranged loved ones. Of course, it does feel like something is missing, as it doesn't quite achieve a strong enough impact. It all remains a bit too oblique and hinted-at. Maybe it's that the two friends accompanying the young wolf don't seem to serve much purpose, or the storytelling is a little too clipped, or that I don't know what the little wormy thing the father was holding was, or the brief glimpses of the boy's childhood seemed kind of random and unnecessary, or the dialogue wasn't necessary... not sure. But I still love the visuals and the directing sensibility - the way that random shot of the crows scuffling was inserted at just that moment was just magic. I find it a much more interesting and enjoyable film than a lot of more popular and laboriously produced shorts I've seen in the last year.
Waltz with Bashir
My Dog Tulip
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Azur et Asmar
Secret of Kells
Les triplettes de Belleville
I think the other list caters way too much to classical western animation aesthetics. Even Spirited Away seems like it's there only because it's the closest fit of any non-western animated feature within that aesthetic. The key thing to remember is that each list is a reflection of the writer of the list, which is why I prefer not to pretend to be objective. These are ten of the 'more interesting' animated films made in the last decade. IMO. I feel bad leaving out a lot of the great anime films, but that would probably be a different list. What I value is when a film carves out its own narrative and visual ethos and its technique complements the material, rather than simply relying on some classical template the way most big-studio western features do, and I think most of the films above do that to a greater or lesser extent. So many films are made each year around the world now, though, so I wonder if there are any really great films that I missed. I know of a number of interesting-sounding features from the last few years that I'm curious to see: $9.99, The District, Princess, Mary and Max, Legend of the Sky Kingdom, We are the strange, Blood tea and red string... It would be nice to hear what people with a more international bent think are the ten most interesting films of the last ten years.
I don't know much about western animators, but I love effects animators, and the effects in Michel Gagné's Prelude to Eden are pretty nice. I'd like to see more of his FX work. He has apparently been the man behind the effects in a number of features over the last two decades including The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. Striking how different the approach to FX is compared to a Takashi Hashimoto or a Soichiro Matsuda. Also, though I'm not a gamer, I like animation-based video games, and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet seems like a great application of animator talent to create a unique gaming look and feel - Dragon's Lair via Lotte Reiniger. Apparently Shinya Ohira animated a lot of the old Blood game. It would be nice to see that work some day.
Yasuhiko Yoshikasu's The Song of Wind and Trees (1987) was one of the quintessential shojo anime movies for me, but Toshio Hirata's earlier adaptation of a manga by the same author Doorway to Summer (1981) looks even better. Hirata's very slow and image-oriented directing style seems a better match with the characteristic atmosphere and look of shojo manga than Yoshikazu's more fluid animation and cinematic pacing. From the few clips in this video, it looks like one of the best anime renditions of a shojo manga I've seen. Maybe it's exaggerating a little, but it seems like an audiovisual equivalent of a shojo manga, rather than simply an anime based on a shojo manga. I'd like to see it in full one day. I'm not particularly a fan of shojo manga/anime, but it's a rare thing to see it adapted in a way that captures its true spirit, and find it admirable when that is done well. Yoshiaki Kawajiri did layout, Kazuo Tomisawa was sakkan, and the art director was the incomparable Yamako Ishikawa (art director of Rintaro's Labyrinth Labyrinthos). Seems like an undeservedly neglected early Madhouse gem.
I've always loved a good animated music video. I think it's the ideal form for animation in many ways - animation at its most operatic and expressive. Digital production seems to be fueling a boom in animated music videos. I've found any number of them made in the just the last year or so. I just started an Animated Music Video blog to collect all the good animated music videos out there in one place. Let me know if you want to post vids on there and I'll set up an account for you. A lot of the official vids I've seen aren't even that good. Some fan made ones, like this one by Charles Huettner for a great Animal Collective song, beat a lot of the official vids, with its perfect match of colorful, richly morphing abstract visuals to a pulsing, driving song. There is a huge range of style and imagination on display in animated music videos, and some have excellent storytelling going on.
Another video that I guess you could call a 'fan made' video is this great video by Yusuke Nagano, the father of the singer of the song in the video. Very nice song and animation, with a simple lo-fi feel that I appreciate. Regular Philip Rogosky tipped me off about this one, and also about Yusuke Nagano's illustrations, which much to my own surprise I wound up poring over for well over an hour after thinking I'd just have a quick look. I couldn't tear my eyes away. His tasteful approach to color, the elegant and creative compositions, the great posing captured in tasty lines - all very appealing. The retro nostalgia for the freer days of his childhood is brilliant stuff, and I also really dig the stylish and sexy drawings of svelte beauties.
This has probably been reposted on every person and their dog's blog, but this time-lapse footage of the Los Angeles wildfire is quite amazing. Nature's devastating FX animation. OB sakuga nerd comment: Reminds me of Toshiaki Hontani's Akira smoke.
I thought this illustration by awesome Japanese indie animator Kei Oyama was pretty funny. It reminded me of a certain drawing by H Park in the forums.
The Photograph of Jesus short by Laurie Hill is a superb example of animation in a documentary context.
Indie animator Hiroshi Matsumoto has a cool style, using cutout animation to bring alive a lush fantasy world. I just wish the clips on his site were longer. Fun site design, too. Reminds me of Samorost 1.
The next Naruto animation folly has been served up. This time it's episode 1-2-3 of Naruto Shippuden, and strangely enough, I don't see Naruto at all. It's a Hirobumi Suzuki episode, and not an Atsushi Wakabayashi episode, so not as cunningly paced and digitally caressed and kind of sloooow and dragged out as Suzuki's episodes always are. But the animation of the episode is sharp, and there are the good bits of action you'd expect from Norio Matsumoto, who as usual is joined by his progeny Yama and Ryo-timo. Assorted Naruto riff-raff animators who did self-indulgent/show-offy work on the show over the years like Hiroyuki Yamashita and Sesshagoro (presumably somebody's infantile pen name) are here too; all the Naruto movers collected together. I'm not sure whether it's because it's a Suzuki episode or what, but it doesn't really excite me like in the old days.
Hah, BoingBoing blogged about Belladonna yesterday. Belladonna hits the (fringe of the) mainstream. I only wish the fansub floating around out there had a translation that remotely did justice to the script of this film. I did a translation of the film myself a few years back that I think is pretty decent in conveying the coolness of the script, if I do say so myself, but I was paid for that, so I'm hesitant about releasing it.
I'm looking forward to the upcoming series by Kenji Nakamura, Mid-Air Trapeze (Kuchu Buranko), and not just because it will be nice to have something to watch, although that will have to wait until October. It will be worth the wait, if the team that brought us Mononoke (Kenji Nakamura x Takashi Hashimoto x Toei) live up to all the high expectations I've got of their next project. Interestingly, the material comes from a Naoki-award-winning novel, which is a refreshing change from the usual use of light novels as source material, these being aimed primarily at children and adult children. The Naoki award is Japan's literary award given to new writers. I actually haven't read many of the awardees, but of the few I have, I quite enjoyed punk rocker-turned-literati Ko Machida's books, so if the other awardees are as interesting as he is, then this was a great idea. The Naoki award is surely a great mine of material that could push anime in new directions. I would prefer original material, but some very great work has been done based on source material, and so far Nakamura has the golden touch.
Civilization is more fragile than you think. This simple slide show illustrating some of the situations discussed in the amazing book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which depicts what would happen to the trappings of civilization if humans were to suddenly vanish from the face of the earth, is ten times more compelling than Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. Episodes 2-3 of the latter make little obvious use of the supposed voluminous research that was conducted for the series, so far doing very little to illuminate the consequences of such a disaster. Needless to say, I'm disappointed, as so far the show feels like a terrible waste of a superb opportunity. Instead, we are treated to endless shots of a blank-faced anime character wandering around, being shouted at by cardboard cutouts of human beings. I am probably wrong in criticizing this series, though, because they clearly set out with a goal that was at odds with what I wanted to see, so I should just accept that as the case and see where they go with it. I was quite turned off, however, by the maudlin directing of episode two and horrible production quality and excruciating boredom of both episodes. I sincerely hope that the subsequent episodes become more interesting and I start to like the show, as I do plan on following it. I'm just disappointed because I would love to see this subject matter done justice in some animated/audiovisual form. As it stands I recommend that you read The World Without Us instead of wasting your time with this show.
Speaking of things I'm looking forward to, Mamoru Hosoda's new film Summer Wars comes out pretty soon in Japan. I'm really looking forward to that, particularly (surprise) for the animation, because it sounds even better than his last film. It's got talented ex-Telecom animator Hiroyuki Aoyama doing the animation character designs and acting as one of the four sakkans. There are a ton of characters across the entire age range in the film, so it will be interesting to see how they're all made to move differently in line with their age and personality. Aoyama is good at nuanced character animation. Most of all, though, to be honest, it's the action scenes I'm looking forward to, because Toei animator Tatsuzo Nishita is the action sakkan, and I adore his style of action animation. It's an unusual post, and it was clearly granted to him because of his talent with action. It's a treat to be able to see a whole movie filled with his action animation. Apparently you can watch the first five minutes of the film online on the official website, but I'm not going to watch it. I'm going to wait to see the whole thing.