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Garaga (1989) is an interesting obscurity from the late 1980s. I had never heard of it before looking into it recently while pursuing Anime R's filmography, but it's a rather interesting project for a number of reasons.
Initially planned as an OVA, it was extended to movie length and had a limited theatrical run before being released on video - so in a way it's both a movie and an OVA. The texture of the film is indeed a mix between the two - it has the pacing of a film, but the quality feels more like an OVA.
It is one of the few big theatrical projects that brought together the Anime R animators of the Votoms-Layzner period (or most of them; Kazuaki Mouri and Fumiko Kishi are missing) in one place, headlined by Moriyasu Taniguchi handling the characters and Toru Yoshida handling the mecha.
Garaga was based on a manga by Satomi Mikuriya, who had previously directed (and written and storyboarded and designed) an adaptation of her manga Nora in 1985. She earned a place in anime history for a different reason as the director of the CGI part of the Golgo 13 movie.
The director was Hidemi Kubo, whose career prior to this consisted almost entirely of animation work on the classic Topcraft co-productions like The Last Unicorn and The Hobbit. Hidemi Kubo is actually the younger brother of Tsuguyuki Kubo, the lead character designer during the Topcraft era. I wrote a bit about Topcraft previously here.
By 1985, when Topcraft had disbanded after the production of Nausicaa (1984) and been replaced by Ghibli, many of the ex-Topcraft staff moved to a company called PAC (Pacific Animation Corporation). It's here that Hidemi Kubo, as one of the directors of Thundercats (1985), switched tracks to directing.
Garaga from a few years later was Hidemi Kubo's first big job as a director of an entire project. It's his directing that actually makes me like this project. His directing is very different from anything I've seen in anime before. You sense that there's something 'foreign' about it, something alien to the rhythms and conventions of anime film language. The pacing is more leisurely and relaxed. Scenes of character interaction unfold in a way that catches you by surprise. Watching anime, you come to know how certain characters will respond in certain situations. Kubo's directing is one of the few places I've seen a Japanese director who undermines those expectations, probably quite unintentionally. It's clear that his training at Topcraft is what forms the basis for this unique rhythm.
Even the action doesn't feel like typical anime. In anime you typically have set-pieces that arrive at a set point, and suddenly the program switches gears into 'action scene' mode. That's not the case here. Here everything unfolds as a seamless whole. Occasionally there will be a moment of action that goes on for 30 seconds, but is then subsumed back within the unfolding narrative without any particular shift in rhythm.
The choreography and layout also doesn't have the visuals-centric feeling of most anime. What sets anime apart from commercial productions in the rest of the world is its sense of style and edginess in the presentation of the images. Topcraft was unique for evolving in a vacuum, as it were, uninfluenced by, for example, the very tightly controlled drawing and timing of the A Pro animators in the 1970s. With virtually no limitation on the number of drawings they could use, they didn't develop that very image-based approach to animation that was the result of those limitations that most animators working on Japanese TV shows had to work within. The downside to this is that the storytelling could equally well be criticized for being somewhat bland and monotone and sluggish. It's true that it lacks somewhat in dynamism. But it's such a refreshing change that I think it offers an interesting counter-argument to the typical anime style.
One thing I particularly like about this show is how the frailty of life is well expressed. Often in anime people will receive blow after blow and be fine in a way that would not be possible in real life, or fall from a great height without incurring almost any injury because it would inconvenience the plot for an injury to occur at that point. In Garaga at one point a character is bear-hugged by a bad guy and winds up dying. In any other anime he would have been fine. In another scene, a character falls from his aircraft and another character goes out of her way to pad his fall with a psychic beam. In any other anime, he would have fallen to the ground and been stunned temporarily but gotten up afterwards as if nothing had happened, whereas in reality that fall would have resulted in death or broken bones.
The story itself is rather pleasant story about how a group of space travellers crash-land on a planet and find themselves caught in the middle of a power struggle between three sides - two indigenous populations and a foreign power. The dynamics of manipulation between the different powers were compelling and believable and the film kept me interested the whole time. I liked how the character dynamics felt different from the usual anime. One downside is that there wasn't a very strong single main character for the audience to invest in, but I personally liked that. I like group-based movies like this.
I haven't seen Thundercats since it aired (I watched it in real time) but I suspect if I had a chance to re-watch it I would notice a similarity to the pacing. The only criticism I might have was that in the second half I got very confused and had a hard time following what was going on because there were so many different sides to the conflict and it was difficult keeping them all straight with their similar-sounding names. (well, that, and the big reveal at the end that the android was the bad guy was a little disappointing)
On the animation side of things, the film is almost 100% Anime R. 18 out of the 23 key animators are Anime R people, and the two sakkans are the usual Anime R sakkans. The films does have a very strong Anime R vibe, with many scenes of exciting action, good mecha and effects animation, and character drawings that are clearly identifiable as Taniguchi. Taniguchi designed the characters presumably based on the manga, but he made them his and the designs are pleasing to look at, although they're not as stylized as his Layzner designs. Taniguchi also receives the novel credit of "Total Visual Director" (in English). I'm not sure what it means, but it clearly suggests that Taniguchi had a role that went beyond merely that of a face corrector. Perhaps he did something in the vein of the more holistic work that Tomonori Kogawa did on Ideon, in which Kogawa also designed the colors of the characters, among other things.
Toru Yoshida designed the mecha as well as acting as the mecha sakkan, and his mecha are very cool. The designs are very different from the designs of, say, Kunio Okawara, who was behind most of the Sunrise shows on which Toru Yoshida acted as mecha sakkan. His designs feel slightly more futuristic and realistic, with sleek and minimalistic and curvy shapes as opposed to the showy and flamboyant designs of many Sunrise shows. The mecha aren't animated with quite as much verve as they were in Yoshida's episodes of Layzner, but there are moments where you can see his great sense of stylized effects work, like the elegantly arced smoke trail pictured above.
The only caveat is that for some reasons the drawings feel a little flimsy. The inbetweening was not done by Anime R, so maybe this is part of the reason. It's not nearly as bad as Althea, but it's still noticeable that the drawings are not quite up to the level that the should be considering how much effort has clearly been put into the animation, and that it's not the sakkan's fault.
There are several nice action scenes, but I can't attribute them to a particular animator. The chase with the helicopter seems to have the style of character drawing I noticed during the arcade scene in Sukeban Deka, though since Kazuaki Mouri isn't credited, if it's the same animator, that would mean it's someone other than Mouri who had that style. The good action animators at Anime R at this period would be Hiroshi Osaka from the generation that debuted on Votoms and Takahiro Kimura and Takahiro Komori from the slightly younger generation that debuted a few years later. I suppose the heli scene was of the hand of one of these guys.
The only scene I was able to identify with certainty is Hiroyuki Okiura's. He almost certainly drew the scene in the ruined building (the first pic atop). Everything including the timing, the acting and the drawings point to Okiura. The style of the gestures seems clearly influenced by Akira, which Okiura had just worked on, while the drawings have a vague Takashi Nakamura influence, and the movement has a richness and a style of movement that is simply the pure product of Okiura's genius. The animation in this scene feels wonderful, but it's a little disappointing because it's a pretty low-key scene and doesn't show off his talent for action very well. There are only about two or three action shots and the rest is mostly talking heads. But even in the talking heads shots, Okiura's unique style of timing and drawing is unmistakable.
There were only five non-Anime R animators involved in the film. They are credited in two separate groupings at the bottom below the big Anime R grouping, suggesting two different studios. The Soichiro Matsuda and Shunichi Matsumoto grouping I suspect to have been Studio Mark (which also once featured Yoshiharu Ashino). The Isamu Utsuki, Kenichi Ishimaru and Toyoaki Fukushima grouping I'm not so sure about, but I suspect to be Animation 501. Yuji Yatabe, who is here responsible for the 'structure', was the head of Animation 501, and Isamu Utsuki is credited under Animation 501 in pink jacket Lupin. I've noticed that Hidemi Kubo worked together with Kenichi Ishimaru and Toyoaki Fukushima together on Wataru the year before in 1988, so perhaps he brought them on himself.
Incidentally, I was wondering how the combo of Hidemi Kubo + Anime R came about. It's an odd combination I wouldn't have expected. It seems Moriyasu Taniguchi worked as an animation director on Thundercats and likely met Hidemi Kubo there.
HYPER-PSYCHIC-GEO GARAGA ギャラガ (movie/OVA, 1989, 100min, Aubec/Anime R)
|Director, Script, Storyboard:||窪秀己||Hidemi Kubo|
by Satomi Mikuriya
|Total Visual Director:||谷口守泰||Moriyasu Taniguchi|
|Character Design, Animation Director:||谷口守泰||Moriyasu Taniguchi|
|Mecha Design, Mecha Anim. Director:||吉田徹||Toru Yoshida|
|Key animation:||木村貴宏||Takahiro Kimura|
"Let's create a new history of the Gods."
So ends this re-imagineering of the myths of ancient Greece through the all-seeing eyes of Ryuho Okawa, the "founder and spiritual leader" of Happy Science, a "new global spiritual movement" with "over 12 million followers in 70 plus countries" (according to Happy Science Atlanta).
And so this lavish, two-hour animated feature does. Based on a book by the great leader, it remixes the ancient Greek gods into a wildly imaginative, largely incoherent, entirely anachronistic mish-mash of Christian, Muslim, Confucian and Buddhist spiritual teachings.
This is by far the most beautifully animated piece of religious propaganda I've seen. The good animation comes courtesy of Ajia-Do animator Yoshiaki Yanagida and his team of animators. The ancient trappings are re-created in surprisingly authentic detail. The film feels only a step down from Run Melos as a realistic animated re-creation of ancient Greece.
Unless you knew otherwise, the film actually doesn't come across as blatantly pushing a religious agenda. Watching the film without any knowledge of the subtext, it would probably just come across as a pleasing historical epic interrupted occasionally by some baffling spiritual interludes.
Even during these sequences when the film switches to outlining the belief system of the Happies, it's all so incoherent and outlandish that it's hard to make sense of it. I actually came away from the film wishing the belief system had been laid out more clearly. It probably can't be expressed convincingly because it's inherently loony.
The scenes of the spiritual world are beautifully rendered and pleasing to watch, with vivid coloring, atmospheric lighting, and highly worked animation. The scene where El Cantare appears in the clouds has some impressively animated clouds, and when Hermes visits heaven later in the film, he flies through canyons in laboriously animated background animation. The animators clearly reveled in the opportunity of this big-budget production to draw a more 'cinematic' style of animation than they are usually able.
It's fairly easy to watch the film with the aim of appreciating the nice animation while ignoring the religious subtext. It's basically set up as a piece of grand entertainment, with a hidden message, rather than flat-out preaching. The film suffers less from the lunacy of later films in the Happy Science saga. It has no demon Hitler or re-incarnation of Edison, and no anime Shoko Asahara raining terror on Tokyo. Just ancient Greeks, over which some fairly transparent Christian and Buddhist themes are overlaid.
That's the clever and insidious thing about the movie: it's eminently watchable. Like L. Ron Hubbard's pulpy Battlefield Earth books, this film brings people into a religious mythology through entertainment. The film was released in the theater like any normal film. Happy Science is known for using the big marketing company Dentsu, so these films are obviously the product of a highly sophisticated marketing strategy.
Repugnant but beautiful, Hermes entrances you with its high production quality and leaves you shaking your head at its lunacy. It's essentially two films mashed into one. One film is a nice animated swords and sandals epic, and the other is a ludicrous new age freak-out. One moment we're watching a fairly engaging story about a hero fighting against a mad tyrant in ancient Greece, and the next minute we're flying in the spiritual realm being regaled matter-of-factly with snippets of spiritual wisdom such as: Fish in heaven glow a golden color because they're happy to return to heaven. The color and shape of each flower is determined by its governing spirit fairy.
The Hermes in this film is not the herald of the gods in ancient Greek mythology; he's a regular human. He's a Christ-like messianic figure who grows up to lead the people of the Aegean to freedom from under the tyrannical rule of Cretan King Minos and to pass on his divine revelations. Along the way, Minos's daughter Ariadne helps him defeat the Minotaur in the labyrinth using the legendary Ariadne's thread, so some aspects of the story are more faithful to the Greek myths.
Similarly, Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty, is re-imagined as a princess locked in a tower on the isolated island of Delos whom Hermes rescues and marries, as foretold by prophecy. With a little help from Okawa's Supreme Being El Cantare, who appears in a cloud to bestow a magic scepter, the godly King and Queen lead their people to prosperity.
The whole point of this story is that, in Okawa's world, Okawa and his wife are the re-incarnation of Hermes and Aphrodite. The tactic is as old as the Kojiki of ancient Japan: establish a heavenly mandate by crafting a godly lineage and disseminating it as dogma. It's astounding that it's still possible to use the same centuries-old tactics in the 21st century.
It's not clear to me exactly how much of the outlandish story in this film is meant to be taken at face value, but it's known that Ryuho Okawa professes that he is literally the re-incarnation of Buddha, and he has heard the voice of Kim Jong-Il and Jesus, among other feats, so presumably we are meant to believe that he and his wife are the re-incarnation of Hermes and Aphrodite.
According to this film, it's thanks to El Cantare's intervention that the people of the Aegean learned commerce. All the basic social and technological advances were god-given. Basically every aspect of human progress can be traced back to the good will of El Cantare, who wants us to be happy. It must require special effort to ignore several millenia of human scientific and social progress.
The film is presented as fiction ("It's time to create a new mythology"), but in the implicit understanding that you're supposed to believe it as factual truth. There is a deliberate ambiguity as to how much of this one is expected to accept as truth. Happy Science obviously thrives in this ambiguous zone between fantasy and reality.
The film has an extended sequence that depicts heaven, and much of it looks suspiciously like earth. The retort offered is: that's because earth is just a reflection of heaven. The irony is apparently lost on them that heaven is being represented by animated drawings, each of which was invented and drawn according to the whim of a human being.
The Happy Science saga
Okawa is aptly named. He is the Disney not of the East but of religious propaganda cartoons. Since releasing Hermes, Wings of Love in 1997, he has released a new lavish full-length adaptation of one of his many books every three years, and each one is as impressively produced as this film.
Hermes, Wings of Love ヘルメス 愛は風の如く (1997) (watch from part 1)
The Laws of the Sun 太陽の法 エル・カンターレへの道 (2000) (watch from part 1)
The Golden Laws 黄金の法 エル・カンターレの歴史観 (2003) (watch from part 1)
The Laws of Eternity 永遠の法 エル・カンターレの世界観 (2006) (watch from part 1)
The Rebirth of Buddha 仏陀再誕 (2009) (watch from part 1)
Hermes was produced by Studio Junio, while the rest of the films were produced by Group Tac. They were actually the last films the studio produced apart from A Stormy Night. From what little I've seen skimming through the films, they're each visually quite impressive, with beautiful compositions and coloring that makes sense coming from Group Tac, but the style doesn't have the sort of realistic-school feeling of Hermes, and the stories are far more crazy.
Like The Fox of Chironup, Hermes was produced by Studio Junio, directed by Tetsuo Imazawa, and features a sequence of sea animation from Toshiyuki Inoue (misspelled in the credits) that is worth looking at as a nice piece of Toshiyuki Inoue animation even if you don't watch the film. The overhead shot of the waves in particular is amazing. The acting on the ship in this scene stands out starkly from the animation in the rest of the show, clearly because it was so good as handed in that it didn't need correction and hence you can see Inoue's touch quite clearly in things like the acting and the folds of the clothing.
Yoshiaki Yanagida's characters are beefy and three-dimensional in a way that reminds of Okiura's characters in Run Melos, if slightly less expressive in terms of facial expression and stiffer in terms of physical dexterity. The layouts are realistic if stolid and somewhat monotone, and the animation often seems to be struggling with the realistic angles. It gives you a newfound appreciation for how much Satoshi Kon's meticulous layouts contributed to the realism of Run Melos. Yanagida is a lifelong Ajia-Do animator who has been behind some richly animated shows in the past including Spirit of Wonder (1992), Ruin Explorers (1995) and The House of Acorns (1997). More recently, he was behind the OVAs Kujibiki Unbalance (2004) and Genshiken (2006).
There are numerous other good animators besides Inoue, which accounts for the high quality: Yoshiyuki Hane, Shinya Takahashi, Masami Suda (all Toei), Shigeo Akabori (Studio Junio), Takayuki Goto (I.G. co-founder), Yumi Chiba (4C), Tetsuro Kaku (Shin-Ei), Michiyo Suzuki (Madhouse), Atsuo Tobe (Sunrise). Masami Suda was one of the great Toei animators of the 1980s, and he went on to be one of the main figures behind the animation of the rest of the Happy Science films. Yoshiyuki Hane is a great veteran animator who is still very active. He did a lot of work on the classic Takahata TV shows. He single-handedly animated the beautiful opening of Nils Holgerson.
I suspect that the animators chose to work on this film in an attempt to try their hand at the sort of realistic-school animation that had been created prior in films like Run Melos and Junkers Come Here. The style of the film seems to fall deliberately into that tradition. The later films in the series have nothing whatsoever of this character.
All of the subsequent films were directed by Takaaki Ishiyama and produced by Group Tac, with Yoshiyuki Hane and Masami Suda as character designers/sakkans. Isamu Imakake and Koichi Ohata also contribute designs in each film. Shoichi Masuo is even one of the animators.
The director at the very least is a professed Happy, involved in the films as a believer (just look how happy he looks in this interview), but I'm inclined to believe (hope) that most of the people worked on this film not as believers but because work is work, and there aren't many opportunities to revel in big-budget-style animation.
I assume that Group Tac took on these projects in desperation, in a doomed last effort to stave off insolvency. It's a sad thing when great studios are so starved for work that they are forced to turn to producing this kind of material - AND it still doesn't save them from going bankrupt.
Here is a good post on The Rebirth of Buddha that gives you more of a sense of the lunacy of the rest of the Happy Science saga after Hermes and the cultural context.
On the evening of August 22, 1944, 767 schoolchildren perished when a US submarine mistakenly sank the transport ship Tsushima Maru in the waters of Okinawa as it was evacuating the children from Naha in southern Okinawa to Nagasaki.
Of the vessel's 1661 passengers, only 156 survived, 56 of them children.
Many years later, the survivors of the incident approached Group Tac to produce an animated film retelling the events of the incident. The result was a film entitled Tsushimamaru: Sayonara Okinawa (1982) based in part on a book by Akutagawa Prize-winning author and Okinawan history expert Tatsuhiro Oshiro.
An animated documentary in spirit, the film faithfully retraces the events of the sinking. It uses survivor testimony to recreate the events through the eyes of a young boy, a female teacher and a male teacher who survived to tell what happened. The female teacher, named only Hiroko in the film, is obviously modeled on Hiroko Ishikawa, who in testimony on the site of the Tsushimamaru Memorial Museum relates that she was attending to a child with appendicitis at the time of the attack, exactly as occurs in the film. The other characters also have their real-life analogues.
Visually, the film does not strive for assiduous visual realism like Grave of the Fireflies. The characters are drawn in a uniquely pared down, loose style that is cartoony and caricatural. But it succeeds well in evoking the paraphernalia and atmosphere of the period and of the locale through a more stylized kind of realism that is quite appealing in its own way.
Neither is the film as multilayered and complex in its treatment of its subject as the more sophisticated Grave of the Fireflies (which Takahata has stated is not an anti-war film). But the unsentimental, truthful script of Tsushima Maru makes it one of the more compelling examples of the genre of anti-war children's anime. It lets the harrowing event speak for itself rather than attempting to wring tears from the audience by unnecessarily manipulative tactics.
Without being gory, the film is unflinching in depicting what makes this such a difficult incident to think about, much less watch: the violent death of hundreds of children. Even knowing what is coming, the sequence depicting the sinking of the Tsushima Maru is gut-wrenching.
Japan's troubling history of denying its crimes looms as specter over this and all anti-war anime, but the children here are a proxy for victims of war everywhere - doubly innocent as children and civilians - and the film treads carefully around blame.
The deftness with which the narrative has been woven from shards of survivor testimony is the film's greatest asset. The two screenwriters - both writers for live-action films - keep the film true and real without falling back on anime storytelling conventions. Innumerable animated films have been made in Japan on the subject of W.W.II to teach children of the horrors of war, including The Song of Liang Chu Li, Zoo without an Elephant, and Who's Left Behind. But Tsushima Maru feels distinct from these.
The lightness with which the material is handled visually surprisingly doesn't feel like it is doing a disservice to this inherently very troubling material. Nowhere else in the world would it have been acceptable to make a cartoon out of such a tragedy. But it's the survivors who led the project. They clearly felt this to be a legitimate way of telling their story to future generations. Japan indeed has a very different conception of what stories are acceptable in animation. War, bartending, office life, motorcross racing, mahjong, ping pong - just about every conceivable human occupation, vice, sport or hobby has been dramatized in anime.
The film's unique visuals come courtesy of Ajia-Do, whose trademark simple but lively and pleasingly stylized animation is surprisingly convincing in a more realistic context. Ajia-Do appears to have been sub-contracted by Tac to handle the actual animation. Atsumi Tashiro is the only Tac name in the credits. More specifically, the film was directed and presumably designed by Ajia-Do co-founder Osamu Kobayashi. The characters have the distinct lumpy, pared down approach to form as his contemporaneous New Dokonjo Gaeru (op). The animation was supervised by co-founders Michishiro Yamada, Tsutomu Shibayama and Hideo Kawauchi. The animators are all Ajia-Do staff. It's likely that Tac was approached due to their work on the children's anti-war film Zoo without an Elephant (1982), while Tac probably approached Ajia-Do due to their previous work for Tac on Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi.
The story begins in a place far removed in culture and history from the center of the country: at the southern end of Okinawa. The film unfortunately does not place much emphasis on the specifics of the locale. One of the few signs of the Okinawan setting comes when we see a circle of girls singing a song in Okinawan on the Tsushima Maru. Okinawa's deep-rooted history in opposition to the dominant Japanese culture could have enriched the film's treatment of the incident, but perhaps it was felt that losing the focus on the story of the survivors would have done the tragedy a disservice.
In the town of Naha, a boy named Kiyoshi plays in the ocean with his friends. A teacher urges his students to evacuate to help support their country, and visits Kiyoshi's home to convince his parents.
The allies are encroaching on the mainland after victory in Saipan, and the army has ordered all women, children and elderly - anyone unable to fight - evacuated to the mainland to make way for looming full-scale combat. The army is pressuring local officials to evacuate everyone, so the officials in turn pressure teachers to convince parents to let their children leave. Parents resist, worried about the safety of the waters, and ask for their children to be transported by battleship. The navy is strained, however, and can only obtain a transport vessel.
The male teacher urging the pupils to evacuate in the name of the war is conflicted: patriotic, but honestly believing that he is acting the best interests of the children - to move them to a place where they can be educated in safety - not out of patriotism. Hiroko is more troubled and skeptical. Hiroko Ishikawa recalls, "I've always regretted the fact that all thirteen of the children who applied to be evacuated on my recommendation lost their lives on the Tsushima Maru."
Most of the children have never been on the mainland, and Kiyoshi (inspired by Kiyoshi Uehara, who relates the same anecdote) is excited about the prospect of seeing snow for the first time. He treats the evacuation as a vacation.
People were only informed where to gather on the day before departure. The next day, thousands of parents sat waiting in the scorching sun for hours before finally ushering their children onboard the giant ship.
Mitsuko Ishikawa recalls, "It was the middle of summer, and several children collapsed with heat exhaustion. It was such a miserable experience, especially for those who were about to be separated from their families. It was terrible that they had to say good-bye to their children in such awful circumstances."
Even the dizzying staircase leading to the deck of the Tsushima Maru reflects survivor accounts. The chaos is such that, amid all these people, a man falls into the water and disappears, but nobody notices.
Onboard, conditions are squalid. Children are crammed into bunks and huddle against one another on deck, sleep deprived and hungry.
The incident occurred only two days after the Tsushima Maru set sail. There are controversies surrounding the cause, one regarding the course of the ship. The captain of the Tsushima Maru wanted to tack a zig-zag on the perilous last stretch to Nagasaki, but the commanding officer overruled him because it would waste too much time. The other is regarding whether the US sub knew that children were onboard. Hinting at this, Kiyoshi appears to spot the sub's periscope observing him.
After the first torpedo hit, the ship tilted on its side. Teachers threw rafts overboard and screamed at children to jump in, but many children clung to the boat and refused to jump. Teachers resorted to throwing children overboard. Many children fell to their death against the railing or were swept out to sea as the water rushed in. The film depicts this whole sequence in harrowing detail.
Rescue didn't arrive for days. Mitsuko Ishikawa was rescued after a day drifting at sea, but Kiyoshi Uehara drifted for six days before being rescued. He recalls seeing sharks circling his raft and hallucinating from dehydration and hunger. The film shows an old woman fainting after days on the raft and slipping off the raft and being devoured by sharks.
Those who survived and returned to their homes were warned that they would face a firing squad if they spoke of what had occurred. Kiyoshi Uehara recalls, "When I got back to Naha, I was taken to the police station and was again told to keep my mouth shut. I got back home from experiencing the war at sea, and then experience war on land."
Traumatized and harried by neighbors demanding to know their children's whereabouts, Kiyoshi takes to hiding in the closet. Many of those who returned were killed in air raids that soon overtook Okinawa. Kiyoshi's father is killed in the first air raid, and Kiyoshi barely escapes with his life. The innocent civilians of Okinawa were in a hopeless position, caught between forces greater than them.
The film closes with a list of the names of every one of the children who died on the Tsushima Maru. The magnitude of the death toll sinks in as the names scroll by for a full minute.
This movie marked the directing debut of Osamu Kobayashi and simultaneously, sadly, the end of a great career as an animator. He had been the figure behind the exhilirating, influential and timeless animation of Dokonjo Gaeru from 1972 to 1974. The updated New Dokonjo Gaeru he worked on right before this movie in 1981 proved to be his last big job as a designer/animator/animation director. After Tsushimamaru he focused on directing TV shows, mostly for Pierrot. He never returned to this kind of hard-core material, however. He directed Creamy Mami (1983-1984), Onegai! Samia-don (1985-1986) (clip), Kimagure Orange Road (1987-1988), Moeru Oniisan (1988) (clip), and Nontan to Issho (1992-1993) (op), as well as the movie Kakkun Cafe (1984).
There is nothing particularly outstanding in terms of the animation, but every shot of this film is a pleasure to watch in terms of the drawings because of Osamu Kobayashi's delectably loose style, put for once to a more realistic and serious purpose. He has a great instinct for drawing characters, and a style like nobody else. His loose drawings work surprisingly well in a realistic setting, even though the characters features are stylized in an extreme way, to the point that some of the characters' heads are a huge cube or sphere. They seem more realistic than more detailed characters drawn in a more stereotypical style. They have the simplicity of a good caricature. The shapes of the characters look random and slapdash, but they're a fascinating blend of exaggeration and delicate nuance. They strike me as designs that make great use of negative space.
Probing deeper than the animation, one of the things that makes the Ajia-Do team's work feel so good is the layouts. Tsutomu Shibayama in particular was great at layouts. The early parts of the film have a great flat style of layout that feels like his work. The layouts are never very complicated or flamboyantly artsy - they mostly straight up frame a character's torso - but the drawings are so spontaneous and organic and the movement so honest and free of cliche that each shot is gorgeous. This is one of the last pieces by Ajia-Do that retains the stylistic spirit of the A Pro days.
Several scenes that pass by as stills may have been a victim of schedule. Notable names in the credits include Yumiko Suda, who went on to direct Chibi Maruko-chan, and Masako Goto, whose did nice work on Licca-chan. Two Ajia-Do graduates who went on to make a name for themselves as directors can be seen in an early inbetweening credit here: Mitsuru Hongo and Tomomi Mochizuki. Incidentally, it's on Osamu Kobayashi's shows that Mochizuki learned directing and began to establish his unique style. And Mochizuki later married Masako Goto.
Tsushimamaru: Sayonara Okinawa 対馬丸 ―さようなら沖縄― (1982, movie, 75min, Group Tac/Ajia-Do)
|Director:||小林治 Osamu Kobayashi|
|Script:||大久保昌一良 Shoichiro Okubo|
|千野皓司 Koji Chino|
|Music:||槌田靖識 Yasunori Tsuchida|
|Animation Directors:||芝山努 Tsutomu Shibayama|
|河内日出夫 Hideo Kawauchi|
|山田みちしろ Michishiro Yamada|
|Art:||清水一利 Kazutoshi Shimizu|
|Color Design:||渋谷瑠美子 Rumiko Shibuya|
|Audio Director:||田代敦巳 Atsumi Tashiro|
|Key Animation:||須田裕美子 Yumiko Suda|
|吉本桂子 Keiko Yoshimoto|
|後藤真砂子 Masako Goto|
|大塚典子 Noriko Otsuka|
|若山佳幸 Yoshiyuki Wakayama|
|若山佳治 Yoshiharu Wakayama|
|志村宣子 Nobuko Shimura|
|鏡子加藤 Kyoko Kato|
I saw The Secret World of Arrietty in the theater last night. I had low expectations going in, but unfortunately they were met. While on the surface this is a lush film that vividly brings alive the small world of Arrietty, it is Ghibli lite: all of the vivid coloring, enjoyable character animation, carefully pleasing scene presentation, believable if idealized characterizations, and charming atmosphere, without the substance.
Like all of their previous films not directed by the two founders, Arrietty is directed by a first-time feature director, and clearly suffers for it. Ghibli is still flopping around frantically trying to find its next generation of directors. Two decades on, it feels like we're re-treading what happened with I Can Hear the Sea (1993), when Ghibli tried to bring in a new face - Tomomi Mochizuki seemed like the perfect fit - but wound up creating a bland and forgettable teen drama that had nothing of the fire we expect from the two founders, only the shell of a Ghibli appearance.
They tried again with the very talented Hiroyuki Morita and The Cat Returns (2002), this time in the fantasy vein, but while the film was pleasing and somewhat different in style, it was paper-thin and only served to underline how few directors were even close to the level of the two founders. The next attempt in 2006 with Tales from Earthsea was in my estimation the studio's most disappointing and even repugnant chapter. Bypassing the many talented directors in the industry for Miyazaki's son was a repudiation of the philosophy of craft the studio stood for, as if they had given up on industry-fostered talent and were placing their last bet on an absurd belief in hereditary talent straight out of Francis Galton. Ironically, the most successful attempt was Whisper of the Heart (1995), whose director died not long afterwards.
Nobody will ever be able to replace or replicate Miyazaki. The sooner Ghibli realizes this, the better. Arrietty was a film that seemed perpetually on the verge: On the verge of going somewhere, and on the verge of attaining Miyazaki's level. But it never did. Given a situation with many similarities to Totoro, at no point did I feel any sort of magic or wonder as I did at every point of Miyazaki's film while the protagonists ran around exploring their new home and the surrounding forest. Everything here was sullen, dull, dreary. There was not a moment of dynamism in the film, of surprise, wonder, any sort of explosion of built-up dramatic tension. It was too one-note.
As in Totoro, youthful coming-of-age and awakening were contrasted with illness and fatality. But Totoro was spontaneous, where Arrietty feels calculated and forced. The scenes with the boy talking about his terminal illness were more awkward than moving. The backdrop of divorce and uncaring parents was hinted at in passing in a way that felt like nothing more than a backhanded attempt at a stock Ghibli storytelling convention.
The all-important animation, while lush, never felt immediate. The planning of scenes felt limp, without any unexpected or creative angles or compositions. The characters were generic Ghibli in a way I've never felt before. Ghibli characters always have a that identifiable Ghibli look, but here they were bland to look at in a way that I never felt they were in previous Ghibli outings. Take Hara, for example. Her face wasn't stylized in a way that I found interesting or believable. The old lady who bakes the cake for Kiki in Kiki's Delivery Service felt like a far better rendered and realized spinster, her design and behavior informed by reality just enough to make her feel like an individual. Hara felt too generic, without personality. She felt like a caricature without feeling real, there only because they needed a baddie to capture Homily. It wouldn't be Miyazaki if we didn't simultaneously sympathize with her, but she seemed so shallow and one-dimensional.
The only sequence of animation that stood out to me as feeling particularly interesting was the bit where Homily is captured, and I was disheartened to discover upon looking into it later that, surprise, surprise, it was done by Shinji Otsuka, the guy who in Ghibli film after Ghibli film can be relied upon to provide the one scene that stands out as having the most fun character animation. There were certainly nice enough other moments of animation, like the crow scene, but the exuberant animation felt wasted on a scene that didn't have any dramatic impact, that felt like it was just hitting a milestone in the Ghibli template of necessary pacing tempo shifts.
The whole didn't gel into a compelling world. That is Miyazaki's unique genius. He effortlessly elides elements in a way that doesn't leave you wondering. I came away from Arrietty wondering why this and that had been brought up without any followup. The pacing feels halting and the atmosphere curiously empty, whereas even throwaway scenes in Miyazaki's films always have something to pull you in and carry you along with the flow. I don't think it's unfair to compare the film to Miyazaki, because that's clearly exactly what they set out to achieve. Plus he planned and co-wrote the film.
Speaking of the crow, he was one of the threads that led nowhere. He seemed poised to be such an interesting character, with that great window attack scene (which actually dragged on a bit too long), but then he disappears without a trace. The cat was a jumble too. While hardly original, he could have been a fun character, but his character wasn't consistent at all. Why was he lunging with bloodthirsty eyes at Arrietty one moment only to suddenly turn into Lassie at the end. Also, in that close-up shot of him near the end, he was drawn as this big benevolent furry blob that bore an uncanny resemblance to Totoro. The Jimsy-like Spiller who was introduced as the Arrietty love interest never did much of anything. It's too little too late having him give Arrietty a berry during the credit sequence.
My favorite thing about the film was the backgrounds. They clearly put a tremendous amount of effort into the backgrounds. The backgrounds carry the film. They're what keep the audience interested. More than any previous Ghibli film, Arrietty seems reliant on the background art to create atmosphere and convey information about the world inhabited by the protagonists. The problem is that the backgrounds communicate more than the script and the animation, and as a result, the film feels somewhat static. Throughout the duration of the film, I found that most of my time was spent with my eyes wandering around the screen absorbing the details in the backgrounds.
But I feel like the Grinch saying all this. Believe it or not, I actually liked Arrietty. It's a hard film to dislike, unlike Earthsea. Everyone in the theater seemed rather pleased by the film. It's not bad or unpleasant at all. It's just harmless. It probably set out to be low key, and its slow pace sets it apart from the other Ghibli films in a good way; it has its own atmosphere without striving too much for the fantasy affect of Miyazaki. Perhaps that is the direction to go to eventually discover a new Ghibli voice. In tone it's perhaps closest to Kiki, but less fluffy and sentimental.
What is the right answer to the question of whether Ghibli should continue copying the Miyazaki template, or strike out in a different direction and potentially wind up doing something that nobody wants to see from Ghibli? In all fairness, the former seems like the only possible answer.
One last thing: I was disappointed by the credit sequence. They did the same thing they did in Ponyo, alphabetizing the names. Where's the progress? I expected the letters of every staff member's name to be randomly scrambled and placed into a large block of text. It's so vain of them to list the names of the people who worked on the film.
Ever since the third TV series of 1984-1985, Lupin III has lived on mostly in yearly TV specials of uneven quality that were often disappointing despite frequently ambitious staff casting. The very first TV special was Bye Bye Liberty Crisis, directed by Osamu Dezaki and aired on April 1, 1989. Dezaki went on to direct the first few TV specials before they were handed on to a succession of different directors.
I just saw this film for the first time today, and I was impressed by it. I'm used to disappointment with these TV specials, but I'd easily rank Bye Bye Liberty Crisis as the best post-Fuma Clan Lupin III film I've seen.
It's clear why TMS turned to Osamu Dezaki when they wanted to revive the franchise in TV special form. He had the stylistic flair and directing prowess to make a Lupin III film that was satisfying as a film.
Dezaki's Bye Bye Liberty Crisis is cinematic in a way that most of the later TV specials I've seen aren't. It's adult in atmosphere without taking itself seriously, as Lupin III should be, and it segues between action sequences and drama in a way that's stylish and believable. Each of the main characters shine and communicate their unique personalities. Jigen and Goemon have their own vignettes, and you come away feeling like you understand their personalities and motivations. Goemon especially gets a lot of play and his character comes through very nicely. The atmosphere is romantic and moody in a classy way at the right moments, with jazz, cigarette smoke and city lights, while the action sequences are excitingly directed through clever and artistic staging despite not being fluidly animated and choreographed like the Telecom action sequences.
Dezaki was an auteur with brilliant instinct for how to string together scenes in a way that was both entertaining and full of artistic flair. Bye Bye Liberty Crisis is sprinkled here and there with personal trademarks that you can see in most of his productions like harmony, back-lighting and triple-takes, but it's more subtle and under wraps here than in many other productions. It doesn't feel like he's showing off stylistically. Harmony is the thing where an animated image suddenly turns into a painted image. You see this in almost every Dezaki production. It's done by sending the last cel in a shot to the art department and having them add painted touches directly onto the cel to give it a more hand-drawn and painterly feeling.
An example of Osamu Dezaki's 'harmony' effect
The action scene early on where the baddies kill Jigen's friend and then Jigen shoots one of them and he falls into the river is a textbook example of Dezaki's unique genius for directing of action sequences in a way that is visually beautiful as well as cleverly choreographed. During the climactic last few seconds, diegetic sound is replaced by the sound of a subway train passing in the background, and the bad guy with a bullet in his shoulder falls backwards in slow motion towards an image of the train passing that suddenly disappears with a splash as it turns out to have been the reflection of the train passing by above in the river. Dezaki's action sequences are exciting to watch because he always comes up with clever and artistic ways of presenting actions by a mix of unexpected cutting and framing, sound design and art, rather than just presenting a sequence of naturalistically staged shots.
Osamu Dezaki's creative visual presentation
The second Lupin III TV series established a trend for outlandishly improbable and unrealistic escapades and action sequences. While these were quite fun to watch, it felt like Lupin lite in a way. Without being grounded in reality, Lupin loses a lot of its impact. Bye Bye Liberty Crisis is nice because the action sequences all feel grounded. That in turn creates tension that makes the scenes exciting to watch. The recent special called The Last Job was extremely unpleasant to watch because its action sequences were so over-the-top and unbelievable. They completely ignored physics and turned the characters into meaningless symbols flying all over the screen. There was no sense of imminent danger. Lupin could do anything he wanted, when he wanted. The Lupin of Bye Bye Liberty Crisis is bounded by the rules of physics and gravity, and his action sequences have tension because of it.
It's not just the action sequences where realistic touches make the film more believable. Cars are arguably one of the most important elements of the Lupin III franchise. The defining trait of the show - what set it apart - was how they drew the cars realistically, based on actual models. That was completely abandoned in The Last Job, which was also unpleasant to see. Bye Bye Liberty Crisis is filled with beautifully drawn cars, including an awesome Cadillac Deville that's lovingly drawn in every shot. All of the shots of the cars in this film, even the ones that aren't moving, are a pleasure to watch.
What's Lupin III without some beautifully drawn cars?
One of my favorite parts in the whole film is the scene where the Cadillac Deville taxi drives through the Nevada desert, kicking up a cloud of dust as it swerves around in a 180. It's impressive how realistic the images are in this scene, from the rendering of the car to the camera lens to the dust cloud that obscures the image momentarily. The scene where the enemy cars parachute in later on and start attacking the Lupin gang with guns installed under the chassis is also really well drawn. There's one shot of Lupin running with the kid on his back mixed into this sequence that stands out as having a nice feeling in the timing. Jigen has an awesome moment when he shoots the missile and is blown back by the explosion. This whole sequence is well executed in terms of the animation and the directing. It's a great Lupin III action sequence. The early scene with Lupin driving around the snowplow is also well done. Even Jigen's magnum is lovingly drawn in many shots, down to the "Smith & Wesson" insignia.
The character drawings are also among my favorite in the whole franchise. Noboru Furuse is the character designer and animation director, and I think he did an excellent job putting his own spin on the characters while keeping true to the spirit of the original. The faces are long, the chins dimpled, the hands big and hairy, but it doesn't go as far as Yuzo Aoki in the third series. The characters remain cute and appealing. Best of all, their animation is very lively and supple. The many guest characters are all nicely designed and a pleasure to watch in movement. The slender-faced baddie character especially is nice to watch. It feels like Noboru Furuse's spin on the lanky character designs of Mystery of Mamo, which probably remains my favorite rendering of the characters in the franchise. The opening scene where Zenigata and Lupin wrestle in the elevator shows off the character designs well, with the well-timed animation as their lanky limbs tangle in the cramped space, and the way Lupin's face stretches impishly.
Even the women like Fujiko and Goemon's love interest are lovely and sexy in a way that's in the spirit of Lupin III - bodaceous and foxy in a classy, stylized way. The women in recent Lupin III aren't sultry and sexy the way they used to be, even though sometimes they're better drawn. I prefer the way the women were drawn in the old Lupin III shows because they were stylized in a way that was sexy and beautiful without trying to be pedantically realistic about it. Today's animators don't seem to be as good at appealing stylization as in the old days. Too many animators nowadays seem to default to the same homogeneous drawing style.
The film had a lot of talented animators working on it, which accounts for why so much of the movement and drawings throughout the film are such a pleasure to watch. Talented animators in the credits include Jiro Kanai, Hiroyuki Morita, Masatsugu Arakawa, Osamu Tanabe, Seiji Muta and Kazuyoshi Takeuchi. It's interesting to note the presence of Osamu Tanabe in particular, as he's not associated with this kind of material anymore. Also present is Takahiko Shobu of Studio Iruka, who did a lot of work on the third series a few years earlier.
There was one section in particular that I really liked in terms of the animation. It's the sequence where Zenigata steps off the train with the kid and sits on the bench. There's something about the drawings and movement here that's like none of the other sequences in the film. It's quite clear what it is: It's Akira-esque. It's got a Takashi Nakamura inflection. The shot where the guy gesticulates with his hands makes it obvious. The hands are clearly the product of working under Takashi Nakamura. You only see this kind of gesticulation animation in the years following Akira. Seiji Muta and Jiro Kanai are the two animators in the credits who worked on Akira, so I wonder if it was one of them. Seiji Muta went on to become a regular in the specials.
Whoever it was who animated this sequence appears to have inserted two animator cameos into it: Someone wearing Yasuo Otsuka's trademark driver cap steps off the train before Zenigata (I think it's tradition to have a Yasuo Otsuka reference in each film), and director Osamu Dezaki himself passes behind disguised Lupin as he's gesticulating. That's something I miss about the old days. Animators had more freedom to insert little jokes here and there into their sequences. Many anime nowadays are so straightlaced that they have no tolerance for this kind of playfulness. Animators used to play around and have fun drawing bystanders when they were given a crowd scene. Nowadays the faces in crowds are boring because they're so professionally lacking in idiosyncrasy.
We've gotten a new Telecom Lupin III film roughly once per decade so far, but that rule is soon to be broken. After doing the 2007 Elusive Mist TV special, Telecom is back with a new TV special next month: Seal of Blood: The Eternal Mermaid.
This time Teiichi Takiguchi of Grampa's Lamp directs and Satoshi Hirayama is replaced as the character designer by ex-Nippon Animation animator (and Studio 4°C co-founder) Yoshiharu Sato.
I'm reassured to see Teiichi Takiguchi at the helm, as he did a good job with Grampa's Lamp, but I can't help but feel apprehensive about whether it won't be another disappointment. I don't know whether Telecom has it in them anymore to make good Lupin like the old days. I don't expect it to be as good as Plot of the Fuma Clan, but I wish they could at least come close. At least the character designer has changed, although I suppose you can't entirely blame Satoshi Hirayama for the lack of good movement in The Elusive Mist.
Personally I'd love to see Yuzo Aoki come back to the show and bring on a bunch of today's wild young animators to make another Lupin film in the spirit of Mystery of Mamo or Gold of Babylon. But I doubt the TV station or the sponsors would be willing to accept such looseness anymore.
This month marks 40 years since the first Lupin III series produced by A Production began airing. Eternal Mermaid is thus going to be the 40th anniversary film. It would be a nice touch if some of the staff who worked on the original Lupin III TV series could make an appearance in Eternal Mermaid, although Otsuka already made a cameo appearance in The Elusive Mist. Rumors are circulating of a possible new TV series being produced in conjunction with the 40th anniversary, so perhaps we will see even more Telecom Lupin in the months to come.
30 years after Telecom worked on the second Lupin III TV series, they returned in 2007 with a TV special of their own production, with their own logo capping the end roll: The Elusive Fog. Dozens of TV specials and movies have been made in the intervening 30 years, but this was only Telecom's fourth Lupin film after Castle of Cagliostro (1979), Plot of the Fuma Clan (1987) and Farewell to Nostradamus (1995). This film harkens back to a character from the very first Lupin series: Mamo Kyosuke, the time-traveler who has it in for Lupin for some mysterious reason.
I'd like to say The Elusive Fog was a return to the standards of the early Telecom episodes of the second Lupin TV series, but it is unfortunately not. Everything here is too clean, too slow, too measured. There's no spark, no excitement. For one I don't like the excessively clean way the characters are drawn. There's no personality or spontaneity in the drawings the way there was in the second series. Here the drawings are all DOA. The ironic thing is that the shortage of schedule in the early Telecom Lupin productions may have contributed to producing good work. Here it looks like they had too much time to think about what they wanted to do.
Kazuhide Tomonaga and Yoshinobu Michihata tantalizingly occupy the two top spots in the key animator credits, so they clearly put their all into this. Tomonaga happily returned to drawing a car chase. He obviously did the car chase at the beginning. It was nice to see Lupin being chased by Zenigata in the old Fiat again, and there were a few nicely done shots in there, but it didn't have the tension of his early work. It wasn't choreographed in an exciting way, but more than that, it just felt slack and plain, without the little unexpected rapidfire movements that made the early chases so exciting to watch.
It would have been great if this throwback to the early Lupin work had been a harbinger of more of the same to come, but the rest didn't live up to the opening. With very few animators they were able to create some incredible episodes back then, but here they've got more than 50 key animators and yet there is nary an exciting action sequence in the whole film.
The character animation was also too tame. There were very few sections where the characters came alive and the movement had any kind of zip and good feeling in the timing. I assume Yoshinobu Michihata was responsible for those few moments, but overall the entire approach to character animation was lacking. The movement was just dull. What made those old Telecom productions so nice to watch is that the characters were fun to watch at every single solitary moment thanks to the fun the animators had in posing and moving the characters in all sorts of ways with split-second precision. Here it feels like the characters are encased in a character design that fits them like an excessively stiff suit.
Even the storytelling of Fuma Clan, which is weaker on the story and characterization front than Cagliostro for obvious reasons, felt stronger than the storytelling and character development and directing here. Even aside from the animation aspects, it didn't feel interesting to watch as a film. The pacing was sluggish, no developments were unexpected, no characters were believable.
This outing felt a little lighter overall than their previous Nostradamus outing, which had names like Atsuko Tanaka and Hiroyuki Aoyama involved, and had a big climactic section with a lot of nice animation. Unfortunately the latter two have now left Telecom, along with many others. Among the talented animators remaining are Kazuhide Tomonaga, Yoshinobu Michihata and Hisao Yokobori. But I don't know of any young names at Telecom with the same fire that those guys had at the beginning, so we might not see a new generation of Telecom animators with the same verve as that first generation. Times have changed. In a lot of productions there just isn't the sort of freedom to draw characters however you want the way there was in the old Lupin show.
Yasuo Otsuka, the patron saint of the Lupin anime franchise, made a guest appearance. Two, actually. He drew the 'eyecatch', which uses the same sound effect as the second TV series. Instead of Lupin tripping over his Benz, this time he brakes his Fiat too hard and the whole car flips forward and spits him out the sunroof. The second appearance... well, it's not hard to spot.
I've just watched the latest Doraemon movie, this year's Robot Army movie, and it's a well made film. I enjoyed it much better than 2009's Spaceblazer film directed by Kozo Kusuba, which I found insipid and bland. Unfortunately, Kozo Kusuba is directing next year's film. It's too bad, because every other film since 2006's Nobita's Dinosaur has been quite fun and entertaining as well as featuring quite a bit of good animation. The 2011 film gets back to the standard set by the earlier films.
Nobita and the Robot Army is directed by Yukiyo Teramoto, who returns for a second stint after 2007's Underworld movie. This time she has not Kaneko Shizue working under her as animation director but a bigger team headed by up-and-coming animator Naoyuki Asano. Naoyuki Asano has staged a blazing ascent since doing his first work on Doraemon as a key animator in the 2008 Green Giant movie under director Ayumu Watanabe and animation director Shizue Kaneko. The next year he was one of four animation director under Shizue Kaneko, and the year after that he became the chief animation director supervising five animation directors.
The line of development of the new 'look' of the Doraemon movies cam be traced thus: Ayumu Watanabe -> Kenichi Konishi -> Kaneko Shizue -> Naoyuki Asano.
Kaneko Shizue, already a great animator in the movies, did a good job of carrying on the more pliable, hand-drawn look Kenichi Konishi created in 2006, and the newcomer Naoyuki Asano seems like he's continuing to do so. I'm not exactly sure what he does as the chief animation director. An animation director's job is obvious - they correct key animation - but I don't know what the job of a chief animation director entails.
For once I've seen the original movie of which this is a remake (movie #7 from 1986). Dialogue has been rearranged and scenes completely re-staged, but otherwise the remake is identical to the original in the broad strokes. And a big improvement. Usually re-make spells disaster, but the Doraemon films from the 1980s needed updating, and they've done it well here by adding lots of nuance to the character acting and simply updating the technical aspects. The art is of better quality, the directing is tighter.
What before felt two-dimensional and static now feels three-dimensional and dynamic. More effort has been put into bringing out the characters' emotions. Where before they seemed to move like expressionless robots, now they react with anguish and more complex emotions. Their body language and facial expressions are far more pliable and various than before.
There is a bit of a disconnect between the simplicity of the concept of Doraemon and the new look. Doraemon was in step with its simple stories when it was drawn simply and two-dimensionally. The quality of the art now seems to outstrip the material. Before it didn't take much effort to believe it when Doraemon stepped across the Anywhere Door to another place or Nobita put on the Takecopter and flew in the sky. Now it requires an extra dose of suspension of disbelief.
But there's no denying that the films needed updating, and the better quality makes the films much more watchable. They did a good job taking the basic traits of the old show, such as the way they draw a circle around the pupil when a character is surprised, and built on and expanded the range of expressions while still keeping the core of the characters.
Yukiyo Teramoto has brought to this film a sense of lyrical beauty that the original was missing. There is a scene where we watch fog rolling down a valley onto the surface of a lake in the morning light. There's a scene where we watch Nobita walk in a dark forest in silhouette. Neither of these scenes serve any narrative purpose, but they're among the more beautiful in the film. Then there's the scene, pictured above, where Nobita walks through the ruins of his hometown. It's quite a striking scene because the nuanced, realistic rendering of the ruins isn't something we'd expect to see in Doraemon.
The characters not only look more three-dimensional, they move in a more three-dimensional way. They bend their bodies into all sorts of configurations the likes of which you never used to see in the old Doraemon. The opening scene is a good example:
This kind of fun character acting is the essence of the new Doraemon. Even scenes that don't jump out as being flamboyantly animated are full of amusing posing like this that keeps the animation lively throughout.
Aside from the character animation, the effects animation and action sequences in the new Doraemon are also a big improvement over the old movies. For example, the scene where Shizuka accidentally causes the robot to destroy a building is basically the same as the original. Except that now, when the building explodes, it explodes and crumbles with an Akira level of maniacally detailed animation.
This was probably animated by Takashi Hashimoto. The animation of the explosion seems like his style. The animation of the building collapsing is impressively detailed. I haven't seen this level of detail of a building collapsing since Shinya Ohira's animation in Akira. Doraemon isn't where I expected to see it.
Another example featuring good effects and good action is the scene where the enemy robot breaks through the mirror leading to the real world. In the old film, it wasn't very excitingly animated or directed. Action scenes were never Tsutomu Shibayama's forte. In the new film, the scene was animated by a flamboyant animator who makes it a hair-raising experience.
The effects in this scene are quite interesting. Instead of drawing a simple laser beam as in the original movie, this animator makes it a pulsating line of star-shaped energy. The forms are quite beautiful to watch. I suspect this scene was done by Hidetsugu Ito, though that's just a guess and I'm not sure.
The FX throughout the film are generally quite nice, as there was an FX & Mecha Animation Director, a role that you don't normally see in anime. Suzuki Tsutomu, whom I recall for his work on Outlaw Star (op, 12, 23), played this role. Perhaps he is the one who invited another great action animator who did good work on Outlaw Star to the film - Susumu Yamaguchi. Robot Army featured a lot of outside faces like this who have never worked on Doraemon before.
The 2008 Green Giant movie also had an FX Animation Director - Hiroshi Masuda, who played the same role in the 3rd and 4th Naruto movies around the same time (which I wrote about here). Hiroshi Masuda has been involved in most of the recent Doraemon movies. In Robot Army he is credited as one of the animation directors. Incidentally, Hidetsugu Ito also acted as FX Animation Director in the 4th Naruto Movie.
The 2006 Dinosaur movie was notable for the slew of outside animators it brought in. There are a lot of other talented outside animators in Robot Army: Takashi Hashimoto, Hidetsugu Ito, Susumu Yamaguchi, Manabu Ohashi, Fumiaki Kota, Tatsuya Tomaru, Junichi Hayama, etc. Fumiaki Kota has been a regular in the films since Green Giant in 2008. Then there are all the regular faces like Masami Otsuka and Masakatsu Sasaki. Masami Otsuka in this movie was almost exclusively devoted to animating the low-key scenes of interaction between the main characters. It was good casting - it allows him to show off what he's really good at.
"Good animation in Doraemon" used to be an oxymoron. Now it's common sense. Over the last decade, I've come to expect that each new Doraemon film will feature quite a bit of good animation by talented in-house and freelance animators. Ayumu Watanabe's 2006 dinosaur film is probably the best known of the recent Doraemon films, as it was the most flamboyantly animated of the whole series, but pretty much every successive film over the last decade has had a lot of good animation.
That didn't used to be the case. For about the first two decades of the yearly movies, the animation was stodgy and perfunctory. It seems like it was around the time Ayumu Watanabe became involved in the Doraemon movies, at the end of the 1990s, that that animation in the Doraemon movies started to become more active and interesting. Masaya Fujimori was one of the animators who helped spice up the animation in the movies around this time.
It's not coincidentally with the 2003 film, directed for the first time by Ayumu Watanabe, that things really started picking up. The animation director system switched from Sadayoshi Tominaga handling everything to a 4-person system. Talented animators were brought in from the outside like Yuichiro Sueyoshi and Hiroyuki Aoyama. This trend continued with the next film in 2004, which featured Masaaki Yuasa and Kenichi Konishi. Things exploded with the next film, the 2006 remake of Nobita's Dinosaur, and from there onwards each new film has hewed, to a greater or lesser extent, to the standard of more dynamic directing and animation set by the 2006 film. (I wrote about the 2008 movie and the 2010 movie before.)
Here is a summary of the key credits for the Doraemon movies over the period during which the staff transformation took place that led to the improvement of the quality of the Doraemon movies. For more about the Doraemon films, refer to my post on A Production.
|2003 #24 Wind Riders|
|Dir: Tsutomu Shibayama / Chief AD: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Tetsuro Karai, Shizue Kaneko, Masaya Fujimori, Yoshiaki Yanagita|
|Notable animators: Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Masaru Oshiro, Toshiharu Sugie, Atsuko Tanaka, Yoshinobu Michihata, Hiroyuki Aoyama, Yuichiro Yano, Toshihiko Masuda, Hiroshi Nagahama, Koichi Murata|
|2004 #25 Wan Nyan Spacetime Adventure|
|Chief Dir/Line Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / Dir/Storyboard: Tsutomu Shibayama / AD: Tetsuro Karai, Shizue Kaneko, Masaya Fujimori, Masayuki Sekine|
|Notable animators: Masaaki Yuasa, Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Kenichi Konishi, Sachiko Kamimura, Masaru Oshiro|
|2006 #26 Nobita's Dinosaur (Remake of movie #1 from 1980)|
|Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Kenichi Konishi|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Tetsuro Karai, Shizuka Hayashi, Tatsuzo Nishita, Hideki Hamasu, Shingo Natsume, Masakatsu Sasaki, Shizue Kaneko, Masaru Oshiro, Ryotaro Makihara, Hisashi Mori, Shinji Hashimoto, Yasunori Miyazawa, Norio Matsumoto, Takaaki Yamashita, Shogo Furuya, Hiroshi Masuda, Tsutomu Suzuki|
|2007 #27 Underworld (Remake of movie #5 from 1984)|
|Dir: Yukiyo Teramoto / AD: Shizue Kaneko|
|Notable animators: Ryotaro Makihara, Masami Otsuka, Hiroshi Masuda, Masaru Oshiro, Shingo Natsume, Masakatsu Sasaki, Toshihiko Masuda, Shizuka Hayashi, Hiromi Hata, Ayumu Kotake|
|2008 #28 Green Giant|
|Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Shizue Kaneko / FX AD: Masuda Hiroshi|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Shizuka Hayashi, Masakatsu Sasaki, Ryotaro Makihara, Tamotsu Ogawa, Norio Matsumoto, Fumiaki Kota, Masahiro Sato, Yoshihiko Umakoshi, Ikuo Kuwana, Kiyotaka Oshiyama, Shigeru Kimishima, Nobutaka, Naoyuki Asano|
|2009 #29 Spaceblazer (Remake of movie #2 from 1981)|
|Chief Dir: Kozo Kusuba / Chief AD: Shizue Kaneko / AD: Naoyuki Asano +3 others|
|Notable animators: Masami Otuska, Hiromi Hata, Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Shizuka Hayashi, Satoru Utsunomiya, Nobutaka, Motonobu Hori, Masashi Okumura, Fumiaki Kota|
|2010 #30 Mermaid Legend|
|Dir: Kozo Kusuba / Chief AD: Naoyuki Asano / AD: 5 names|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Masaru Oshiro, Yasuo Muroi, Shizuka Hayashi, Majiro, Yu Yamashita, Hiroyuki Morita, Fumiaki Kota, Tetsuro Karai, Hiromi Hata, Hiroshi Shimizu|
|2011 #31 Robot Army (Remake of movie #7 from 1986)|
|Dir: Yukiyo Teramoto / Chief AD: Naoyuki Asano / AD: Hiroshi Masuda +5 others / Mecha & FX AD: Tsutomu Suzuki|
|Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Susumu Yamaguchi, Ito Hidetsugu, Tomaru Tatsuya, Kota Fumiaki, Masaru Oshiro, Manabu Ohashi, Shoko Nishigaki, Takashi Hashimoto, Takaya Hirotoshi, Tobe Atsuo, Shigeki Kudo, Hiroyuki Morita, Junichi Hayama, Masakatsu Sasaki, Nobutake Ito, Motonobu Hori, Hiroki Harada, Ayako Hata, Shinichi Kurita, Takashi Mukoda|
|Director: Yukiyo Teramoto|
|Script: Higashi Shimizu|
|Chief Animation Director: Naoyuki Asano|
|Art Director: Makoto Tsuchihashi|
|Storyboard: Yukiyo Teramoto, Tetsuo Yajima|
|Line Director: Minoru Yamaoka|
|Character Design: Shizue Kaneko|
|Animation Directors: Masahiro Kurio, Tomofumi Nakura, Hiroshi Masuda, Aya Takano, Hiroko Yaguchi, Shingo Okano|
|Mecha and Effect Animation Director: Tsutomu Suzuki|
|Masami Otsuka||Takayuki Uragami||Susumu Yamaguchi|
|Hidetsugu Ito||Tatsuya Tomaru||Koichiro Ueda|
|Masahiro Emoto||Fumiaki Kota||Yukari Karai|
|Masaru Oshiro||Nobuhiro Osugi||Yumi Chiba|
|Hisashi Kagawa||Manabu Ohashi||Takeo Oda|
|Yuki Ito||Osamu Miwa||Hitomi Kakubari|
|Mai Tsutsumi||Daisuke Mataga||Kanako Watanabe|
|Takayuki Gotan||Tetsuhito Sato||Emi Kamiishi|
|Hiromi Taniguchi||Masahiko Itojima||Masayuki Koda|
|Masashi Eguchi||Aki Kuki||Jun Ishikawa|
|Yuko Yoshida||Yukihiro Ishida||Hanako Enomoto|
|Yujiro Moriyama||Kunihiro Abe||Akiko Matsuo|
|Misato Abe||Takahiro Takamizawa||Shinichi Yoshikawa|
|Toshiyuki Sato||Shoko Nishigaki||Riki Matsuura|
|Takashi Hashimoto||Hirotoshi Takaya||Atsuo Tobe|
|Shigeki Kudo||Hiroyuki Morita||Junichi Hayama|
|Masakatsu Sasaki||Nobutake Ito||Mamoru Sasaki|
|Kazuo Sakai||Motonobu Hori||Hiroki Harada|
|Ayako Hata||Shinichi Kurita||Takashi Mukoda|
Rag dolls, roots, plastic bags and clumps of string come alive and go on a journey of the imagination in Jan Svěrák's wonderful new fantasy film Kooky (2010). Not animated by stop-motion in the traditional way, the film is rather a combination of live-action and puppetry. Technically, it's not animation at all. But it belongs firmly within the great tradition of Czech stop-motion filmmaking, from Jiri Trnka's Midsummer Night's Dream (1959) to Jan Svankmajer's Alice (1988) to Jiří Barta's In the Attic (2009).
The story concerns a little boy whose old, unsanitary pink plush doll gets thrown away by his hygienically obsessive mother. The boy dreams of the little pink doll's adventures as it journeys trying to get back home to him.
Kooky, as he's named, travels through the forest that borders the landfill on the outskirts of town, where he meets an assortment of the gods who inhabit the forest, some good and some not so good. What ensues combines action movie thrills with the intrigue of a power struggle as the elder of the forest helps Kooky evade his pursuers while also struggling to maintain power. For a puppet film, the production values are high. The puppets are finely crafted, the pacing is tightly controlled, and the scenes are precisely lighted, staged and shot. And the whole is balanced by a tone of easy, lighthearted humor that never strives too hard for laughs.
The heart of the film is in the wonderful variety of creatures that they come up with to inhabit the forest. In this pantheistic world, each of these fabulous creatures is a little god representing one of the living materials of the forest - conks, roots, mushrooms, acorns, antlers, etc. They're the pantheistic representatives of the forest ecosystem. The puppets are each different from one another and lovingly crafted from found material. Each comes across as having its own unique personality. Just like Jiří Barta's In the Attic, much of the delight of the film comes in just sitting back and enjoying the parade of strange creatures made of bits and pieces of of inanimate objects.
Each character's mode of existence is tied to its substrate. Kooky knows he's a teddy, and knows that he can't get wet because it takes three days for him to dry. When he does get wet, he takes his own stuffing out to allow himself to dry. With his fake pink fur, he's out of place in the forest and coveted by a rapacious burnt plastic bag and crumpled soda bottle who scavenge the forest for man-made materials to bring back to their rightful home in the dump.
The forest elder who takes Kooky under his wing looks like nothing so much as a wizened old tuber, replete with rhizomes as a wirebrush and taproots as limbs. He's nicknamed Godam because of his foul mouth. Another creature is made of an amalgamation of tangled ropes and strings. He stands between the natural world and the world of man: he's neither purely natural nor purely man made, and hence his personality is neutral chaotic. He's scheming but craven, siding with whomever will permit him to act out his natural compulsion to entangle hapless victims in his web.
Intertwined into the simple narrative about Kooky trying to get home are various themes that give the narrative heft and depth and that make the film more than merely 'kooky' kids fare. It's also about struggling with corruption, group identity, nature vs man, and the importance of imagination. Kooky is a prime example of how to make a children's film. The story and struggle are simple and mythical like a children's book. But at the same time, it's subtly witty, its visuals are gritty and unprettified, its themes are complex and ambiguous, and its tone is grounded and realistic. No cute characters, crude jokes, lazy pratfalls, and pop culture references in a desperate attempt to maintain children's attention.
The beauty of the film is how it's all based on existing reality. You have a metropolitan area bordered by a forest, and beyond that you have the dump where we deposit the detritus of civilization. Those are the basic terms of the deal most developed countries have struck with nature in this day and age. Nature acts like a buffer to guard us from the horrors of our excess consumption, all while the detritus continues to infiltrate and destroy nature in the form of pollution and development. This film merely brings the existing tension between nature and man into tangible form by way of a story and characters that embody the various facets of that tension. And it does so elegantly and implicitly, masquerading as a children's story, rather than trumpet it aloud. It appears simple at first sight, but has a deceptive thematic complexity if you choose to pull it apart.
At first when I saw the pink doll come alive at the beginning of the movie, my heart sank. It felt cheap; a lame gimmick. But very soon you forget that you're watching puppets. Your mind adapts to the surreality of the situation, and it's then that the puppets truly come alive. Deep down, animation is about the suspension of disbelief. Kooky is no different from Grave of the Fireflies in the sense that both films work their magic on our emotions because their art invests dead matter with life. It's just that we rarely experience a moment of dislocation in anime because we're not reminded of its artificiality the way we are in Kooky or in other recent films in the Czech tradition. Perhaps the intent was precisely to create a moment of dislocation that would make us aware of the fact that suspension of disbelief is an implicit part of creativity and imagination, and to remind us of what comes naturally to children, but most adults have lost.
It's only when Kooky switches back to reality and the little boy that we're reminded of the unreality of the situation. The fact that there are no scenes combining live actors and puppetry is telling of the fact that the puppets are creatures of the boy's imagination. And we might not have truly believed in these creatures had there been humans right next to them. Combining the two would have wrecked the fantasy. It would have turned into a cheap Muppets movie. Which Kooky emphatically is not. With its dark overtones and grimy, gritty visuals that never shy away from the inherent ugliness of life, this is a unique type of deeply satisfying children's film that could only have been made in the Czech Republic.
Ajia-Do, the studio founded by ex-A Pro animators Shibayama Tsutomu and Osamu Kobayashi in 1978, produced an interesting series in the early 90s based on toy maker Takara's Licca-chan doll.
Licca-chan, despite being presumably aimed at little girls, was a quality production with a unique style of low-key, imaginative fantasy that I found very appealing for being so different in nature from all other anime out there.
I looked back on it recently and found that there's still a lot to appreciate in the series. Beyond its conventional blandly cute anime style character designs, and despite its intended demographic, it's packed with creative ideas in the world design.
Just take a look at some of the design ideas that grace the first outing in the series, the two-part Yunia OVA series released in 1990:
It's a breath of fresh air from most anime. Fantasy anime is pretty common, but few anime look anything like this. This anime is about pure imagination. This is a more primordial kind of fantasy in the vein of Little Nemo, or Alice in Wonderland via M. C. Escher, rather than yet another dungeons and dragons anime.
The story is of little consequence, but is obviously inspired by Alice in Wonderland, with Licca-chan finding herself transported to this fantasy land where she travels around various bizarre locales meeting the strange denizens of an illogical world. Clues are littered here and there suggesting it's all a dream and the various elements (like the nefarious cat) are inspired by her own life.
In recent days there have been a few shorts by Shigeru Tamura - notably Glassy Ocean and Ursa Blue Minor - that are similarly pure fantasy creations, where the the world is dictated not by logic but by whimsy, but it's rare to see something in anime that is so pure in spirit.
I wondered who could have been behind this approach, and figured it must have been the two people credited with "concept art and creature design": Hiroyuki Kato & Keisuke Goto.
A quick search turned up a web site that answered the question succinctly: The two of them appear to have worked as partners under the moniker Studio Burabura since the 80s.
The many wonderful illustrations by Hiroyuki Kato featured on this web site (which is presumably run by himself, as he also has a diary there) are exactly in the same style and spirit as all the elements in the Yunia OVAs that I most liked. And he's got many drawings of fanciful bikes that look just like the flying bike that features at the end of the Ring OVAs. So this is the guy. It was gratifying to be able to single out the brain responsible for all those wonderful ideas.
Hiroyuki Kato is still very productive and has refined his style considerably over the years. I've spent hours enjoying his illustrations. He appears to hold several exhibitions of his recent work at galleries and cafes every year. Here are two of the recent ones: Platypus Government in Exile and Ringing Flowers, Trembling Stars.
Hence, Yunia represents exactly the kind of collaboration that I think produces the best results in anime: Someone of talent from outside of the industry bringing in fresh new ideas.
The Yunia OVAs were followed by two more OVAs next year in 1991: the two Magic Ring OVAs. This time the setting is Licca-chan's real life in Japan, but she finds a magic ring that allows her to see the creatures that lurk in the night when everyone is sleeping. The inspiration this time is clearly Peter Pan, as Licca-chan flies above the nighttime city with the aid of a strange visitor.
The visuals for these two OVAs were more low-key, without the wild imagination of the Yunia OVAs, but they did a great job of creating an atmosphere of mysterious nighttime in this arc, which takes place entirely at night.
I actually preferred this outing to Yunia when I originally saw the set many years ago, because this episode creates a beautiful, delicate atmosphere with the spare, tinkling soundtrack (by a young Kenji Kawai) and the quiet, empty urban nightscapes through which Licca-chan travels.
The atmosphere is one of eerie excitement. Strange ghostly animals go around gobbling up stars, and a dark miasma lurks waiting to pounce on unwitting visitors. When we were children, the darkness of the night inspired in us dreams of adventures and strange creatures lurking in the shadows waiting to be discovered. I liked this episode because it captured exactly how I used to feel about the night as a child.
Looking back on both now, I still appreciate the Ring arc for its atmosphere, but I prefer the Yunia arc for all the many creative ideas that were packed into it by Hiroyuki Kato.
Another thing I admire both arcs for is how they make a virtue of having very few animators. They don't feel cheap even though they have very few animators and don't move all that much. The Ring arc in particular only has four animators in each episode. Akemi Takada's characters retain an air of stately grace throughout. Akemi Takada is incidentally the one who invited Hiroyuki Kato to work on the show.
One more OVA entitled Licca-chan's Sunday was released in 1992, but it's less appealing than these two arcs. It's set in the real world without any fantasy elements, so it doesn't feature any creative ideas on the design side from Hiroyuki Kato. The story is cute and it comes across as a polished version of the classic Pierrot magical girl shows like Emi and Pelsha. But there's little of interest from a technical point of view except for the solid but unremarkable layouts and drawings.
I recently discovered that Ajia-do even produced a full-length feature released in 1994 under the name Licca-chan and the Wildcats: Journey to the Stars. It was nice discovering this because it's a return to the standards of the first four OVAs with its imaginative designs.
It has a strong staff right from the top with Tsutomu Mizushima and Tatsuo Sato directing, concept work from Fujimori Masaya, key animation supervisors including Yoshiaki Yanagita, a story by Tomomi Mochizuki and some animation by Masaaki Yuasa. Despite the impressive staff list, it's not a masterpiece, but it's an enjoyable if slightly underwhelming and uneven film. But it's very different in tone and style from the earlier OVAs.
Most of the creative work comes at the climax, which features a battle between the wildcats of the title and a miasmatic adversary. Unlike the previous OVAs, this movie features some impressive names on the animator front, including Masaaki Yuasa, Susumu Yamaguchi and Hiroyuki Morita. Yuasa's work clearly comes in the climax, which has a lot of exciting fast-paced and imaginative shots. For example, the shot with the horses pictured above seem like his work.
I think Ajia-do was at something of its peak in the early 90s with this series plus Chibi Maruko-chan and a number of one-shot OVAs where they gave staff a lot of creative freedom like the Rakugokan series of which Yuasa directed an episode.
I'd love to see Hiroyuki Kato do some more work in animation, but he's primarily an illustrator. The only anime he ever worked on after Licca-chan was Zettai Shonen (not coincidentally also at Ajia-do under Tomomi Mochizuki), for which he designed the mecha. I'd like to see something that's a pure animated expression of the lovely, creative illustrations up on his site.
More generally, I'd like to see more anime in the spirit of pure fantasy of the Yunia OVAs. Cat Soup comes to mind as being the sort of thing I'm talking about: Something where the driving force isn't character-driven narrative but visual creativity.
Licca-chan: Wondrous Yunia Story (OVA, 1990, 2 x 30 mins)
Script: Kazunori Ito
Storyboard & Director: Tomomi Mochizuki
Character Design: Akemi Takada
Animation Director: Masako Goto
Concept Art and Creature Design: Hiroyuki Kato & Keisuke Goto
Art Director: Satoshi Miura
Concept Art: Masahiro Sato (佐藤正浩)
Music: Norio Maeda
Licca-chan: The Wondrous Magic Ring (OVA, 1991, 2 x 30 mins)
Script: Kazunori Ito, Michiko Yokote
Storyboard & Director: Fumiko Ishii
Character Design: Akemi Takada
Animation Director: Takuya Saito
Concept Art and Creature Design: Hiroyuki Kato & Keisuke Goto
Art Director: Mitsuki Nakamura
Concept Art: Masahiro Sato (佐藤正浩)
Music: Kenji Kawai
Supervisor: Tsutomu Shibayama
Licca-chan's Sunday (OVA, 1992, 30 mins)
Animation Production: Ajia-Do
Director: Tatsuo Sato
Character Design: Akemi Takada
Animation Director: Masako Goto
Script: Yumiko Koda
Music: Kohei Tanaka
Art Director: Satoshi Miura
Concept Art: Masahiro Sato (佐藤正浩)
Supervisor: Tsutomu Shibayama
Layout: Hiroyuki Nishimura
Takeko Mori? (杜孟子)
Licca-chan and the Wildcats: Journey to the Stars (movie, 1994, 78 mins)
Produced by: Ajia-do
Animation production assistance: Group Tac
Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Character Design: Akemi Takada
Art Director: Shichiro Kobayashi
Music: Kohei Tanaka
Animation Director (アニメーション監督): Tatsuo Sato
Storyboard/Line Director/Dialogue: Tatsuo Sato
Scenario: Tomomi Mochizuki
Key Animation Supervisors (作画監督): Yoshiaki Yanagita, Hiroki Takagi, Ikuko Kusumoto
Concept work: Masaya Fujimori
Sub-character Design: Yoshiaki Yanagita
Ending animation: Kazushige Yusa