Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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« VIFF 2010 thoughts part 3VIFF 2010 thoughts part 2 »

Thursday, October 21, 2010

05:27:45 pm , 930 words, 1913 views     Categories: Animation, TV

New shows

Bones again has Takuya Igarashi heading their latest show Star Driver. The quality of everything is very high, consistently, even up to ep 3, as is typical for the director and Bones. But I find they've just given up completely on the content, choosing to rehash all the cliches in the book rather than gamble on another ambitious experiment in epic fantasy with a more broad appeal that fans probably won't even bother to get behind.

As with Eureka Seven and Xam'd, they've assembled a strong team in every facet. Their shows consistently produce the best mecha action animation seen on TV these days. And it's not just Yutaka Nakamura. Today there's no end to the list of young animators doing sharp and exciting work right off the bat. You find a combination of old veteran mecha figures like Ken Otsuka and new outside faces like Hironori Tanaka as well as relatively new though now vetted in-house faces like Yasuyuki Kai.

Ep 1 had Shingo Abe on mecha AD and animation from Yutaka Nakamura, Takahiro Shikama, Hironori Tanaka, Yasuyuki Kai, and Shingo Abe.

Ep 2 had Ken Otsuka on mecha AD and animation from Soichiro Matsuda, Shingo Fujii and Takahiro Shikama.

Ep 3 had animation from Yasushi Muraki, Shingo Abe, Jun Arai, and Yasuyuki Kai.

The nice action in ep 1 was of course by Yutaka Nakamura and preceded by Hironori Tanaka, who also did the 'eyecatch'. The designs of the robots are fairly imaginative and certainly laboriously drawn. The action in ep 2 was actually also quite nice, and though I personally couldn't identify it, supposedly it was partly the work of Takahiro Shikama and Shingo Fujii. Yasuyuki Kai and Takahiro Shikama are also credited with 'Psybody design assistance', suggesting they worked on the mecha scene in the second half of each episode.

I was wondering what the deal was with the side-scrolling in the op, because it's a clear copy of the side-scrolling Nadja opening. Then I realized that Nadja was also directed by Takuya Igarashi, so I guess it's just something Igarashi likes doing. The interesting thing, though, is that Igarashi didn't do either openings. The opening of Nadja was done by Mamoru Hosoda and the opening of Star Driver was done by Shinichiro Watanabe. I suppose maybe Igarashi gave the instruction to do the sideways scrolling thing.

I just noticed some unusual credits in that Star Driver opening. The aforesaid Takahiro Shikama is credited with layout. Usually they don't credit layout because it's supposed to be done by the gengaman, but it's interesting to see them using this system here, presumably for the purpose of unity. Shingo Abe was the mecha AD of the op, so he's obviously one of the main mecha guys on the show. He was one of the main mecha guys on Xam'd. It's pretty amazing though how ubiquitous Hironori Tanaka has become. Here he's credited with not only animation but also with the unheard credit of "motion design", which someone already pointed out and wondered about in the forum. That'll require an interview to elucidate because they're doing something new there.

Jun Arai is one of those young animators who likes to mimic Yoshinori Kanada/Masahito Yamashita, and he did a scene in that style in ep 3 that feels completely out of place and embarrassing to watch. The scene right after was really great, though. I suppose it was by Yasushi Muraki.

I'm also enjoying Hiroyuki Imaishi's latest effort Panty & Stocking. At least it's full of energy. Every shot is packed with some interesting action or joke. It seems like a return to the silly, slapstick, all-out-crazy tone of Dead Leaves. This show feels a lot more like pure Imaishi than Guren Lagan, though I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not. I'm not too keen on the 2D styling or the content, but I'm enjoying the show nonetheless. Pure silly fun, like a cross between Powerpuff Girls, Dead Leaves and Ebichu. The sperm story in episode 3 was inspired.

I find it sad that humor in anime always has to be as broad and simple-minded as possible. The jokes in this show are funny because they're more risque and adult and something of an improvement over the usual approach to sex in anime, which irritatingly pussyfoots around the subject with bloody noses and exaggerated shyness, but it's still sex and shit jokes. I want to see humor with the sort of wry, understated wit of, say, My Dog Tulip, not the adult version of preschool potty jokes. But at least Imaishi has his own brand of humor that doesn't feel like any other anime out there. Whatever you might say about the show, the fact is that Imaishi is one of the only people in the industry besides Yuasa right now who has enough talent to be the ground-up guiding vision behind a show like this. The vast majority of people in the industry lack the vision to come up with their own comprehensive visual ethos and approach to animation the way Imaishi does. That alone makes this show vastly more watchable than anything on air right now, including the above Bones show. The skilled animation in that show feels so wasted.

I kinda sorta was able to endure the first episode of Togainu no Chi and thought I might be able to watch it, but then the second episode set me straight and I felt embarrassed for having been so forgiving, because the first episode wasn't even that good and the signs were pretty obvious that it would be a typical crap show.



LainEverliving [Visitor]  

I was at BONES in mid September and saw Yasushi Muraki’s original genga for his cut in Episode 3 of STAR DRIVER. The key animation had just been photographed (aka scanned for coloring) at that point and was sitting in a cut folder to be boxed up and inventoried, and eventually sent to the shredding company (as, apparently, all the animation there is). Getting to look through the cut drawing by drawing, right there in the studio (incidentally, with Toshihiro Kawamoto at my side telling me about how production was going), was a pretty incredible experience. I also don’t know how they can destroy such beautiful drawings after they’re done with them (although, as was said, they don’t have the resources to keep storing them anymore). I haven’t seen as much of STAR DRIVER thusfar as I would have liked (since I always seem to miss the 5 pm broadcast), but I’m looking forward to watching more of it and seeing that art colored and moving on the screen.

As far as innovation goes, though, this is one of the worst years ever for the business, so they have to consider commercial concerns first or risk bankruptcy. Being here in Japan has made me very much more aware of how the studios are hanging by a thread (this isn’t referring to BONES particularly, but in general). So if they have to make more commercial things for the moment until the business improves, then I can understand, and I’ll just try to enjoy these works too until the situation gets better and they can take more risks again. Even just making a show right now that’s original, like Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt or STAR DRIVER, is a really big risk, so I have to respect their tenacity and wish them well for it. I hope these shows work out for them so that they can keep making more works in the future.

And meanwhile, there’s always REDLINE, which I fully expect to have a write-up here at some point…

10/21/10 @ 23:35
dany [Visitor]

I wouldn’t necessarily call Star Driver unambitious. Judging from the pre-show interviews, Igarashi and Enokido do seem to have both a motive for doing the show and things they want to achieve with it. Like “what’d a robot show look like, made by someone new to robot shows (Igarashi)?”

So I dunno. Yeah, pretty cliché so far, but I’m definitely interested in what would “change Igarashi’s image” to a “bad-boy director".

10/22/10 @ 00:04
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]  

Well, to each his own.

I happen to really LIKE Star Driver. It’s cliched to the max but it’s balanced at least. It’s a how do you describe it, very controlled hammyness. I attribute this in part to Igarashi directing.

Panty and Stocking is filthy, overindulgent junk food. But I look forward to it everyweek because it works perfectly well as junk food comfort wise. It’s rudeness is appealing in a gimmicky sort of way. PLUS, they actually got down the aspect of SHOW DON’T TELL. It’s the visual storytelling (blatently mimicking western styles) and imaginativeness that really keeps me coming back. Great weekend anime. (And the soundtrack is badass).

Only other thing that really sticks out from an animation standpoint is Sore Demo Machi wa Mawatteiru. Another show “helmed” by Shinbo and his boys in the SHAFT department. The comedy is a little overraught and the animation a little fidgity. But it’s very lively with good art design. And the opening directed by Yasuomi Umetsu is so fun!

I won’t entertain the idea that Manglobe’s new adaption of the World God Only Knows would interest anyone here. It’s otakuy to the max, but I enjoyed the original Shonen Sunday manga and the visuals are crisp and clean although the acting is typical anime style which as far as Manglobe goes is a disapointment. I hope they don’t deviate too much from their original more experimental bent (Champloo, Proxy, Hatchin) otherwise all their animation talent is going to waste.

That’s all I saw from an animation standpoint. Shaft’s other show, Arakawa under the bridge I watch more for it’s comedy than anything else.

10/22/10 @ 13:37
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]  

sorry, I meant to say, “CONTENT-WISE” in reference to PanSto

10/22/10 @ 13:37
Ben [Member]  

Laineverliving -

It’s a crime that the genga of talented gengamen isn’t preserved. I’ve heard that in the early days Hirobumi Suzuki was in the habit of taking home Norio Matsumoto’s keys once the studio was done with them to preserve them because they were too precious.

It’s true that on the scale of things Bones’ new show is nowhere near as bad as everything else on the air, I’ll give you that. The last thing in the world I want is for Bones to go out of business, so I’m definitely wishing them well whatever they do. But I retain my doubts that conservatism is the solution. There has to be an avenue out of the dead end the industry is in today - make crap or die financially, but make crap and die creatively. But I’m just an ignorant fan who doesn’t know how hard it is to get something made in the industry. At least there’s tremendous technical quality in Bones’ work and I can’t second-guess that.

Seems like I’m the only person left who hasn’t seen Redline. But yes, I’ll write about it once I get to see it.

William -

Yes, for sure Igarashi’s directing makes it very balanced and controlled feeling.

I had a look at Sore Demo ep 1 and you’re right that the animation is quite lively.

I also watched snippets of something called Bakuman. My main impression was that if the drawings in the ending are from the manga, they didn’t do a very good job of adapting them in the anime. They managed to sap away the appeal of the manga in the anime drawings.

Oh, and I really liked the ‘opening’ of episode 1 of Bakuman, which was a pretty well done parody of Yoshinori Kanada’s openings for Lucky Man. I was wondering who did it but couldn’t figure it out.

10/22/10 @ 21:23
pete [Member]

le, nice to have such experience visiting a studio and talking with the animators.

As for panty and stocking, i think it would have worked better as a movie, like aachi and ssipak. That kind of humor does in its turn become too repetitive for TV. Nice animation though.

10/23/10 @ 02:03
h_park [Member]

Oh man, shredding genga drawings sounds like horror to fans. Okay, there is that big issue of storage because Japan doesn’t have ample space like here. That I understand that. However, I’m not too shocked to find out that they have to destroy them. Disney studio threw away their drawings and cels. Other Japanese studios gave away their drawings and cels to kids who want them.

It seems like the studio is bound by contract on issues of selling and reproducing animation drawings. It’s not like these guys are becoming rich by drawing cartoons. It’s sad that small companies can’t make more money from labor of love.

At least, there should be decent resolution scans for photographing, so it’s not completely lost.

10/25/10 @ 03:02
Ben [Member]  

I’m not sure if this is true or not, but I seem to remember hearing that one of the motives for companies destroying this material is to preclude its being put up for sale on auction sites at cutthroat prices, as happened in the past.

I’m confused about the protocol in this regard, however, because you still get a lot of animators putting out dojinshi of their genga for all sorts of shows and selling them at Komike. (Hiroyuki Imaishi has done this for years) I wonder if this is just tolerated or it’s actually legal for them to reproduce these drawings and sell them for profit that way. I like this idea and I wish more animators did it and the zines were more easily obtainable.

I like what Satelight did with Noein, actually taking the completed, inbetweened animation drawings and photographing them like that so that they could be used as ‘line test’ extras on the DVD release. I suppose that’s a viable compromise, though it’s a lot of work to photograph that all over again. I wish companies like Bones would do something like this. Actually, they did do something comparable for Xam’d with that special page highlighting good animation shots. Stuff like that shows Bones has their priorities right and understands that that stuff is a great resource for learning about animation - not to mention showing off how well done their shows are.

10/27/10 @ 01:33
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

Regarding the shredding issue, after I heard what was going to happen to all the Heroman genga (they had seven episodes of it boxed up and literally spilling off the shelves on the first floor of the studio office), I actually begged Kawamoto to at least keep some of it. He said they save the opening genga for every show, so there will always be those drawings archived (since there aren’t very many of them, they’re easier to store). He said they also used to store genga, but it filled up the warehouse where they were keeping it, and after the artists concluded they weren’t looking back at it even years later, it was decided that they couldn’t afford to keep the warehouse anymore, much less save any of the more recent things. So frankly, it’s a question of economics, pure and simple. They can’t afford to store the drawings, so they have to dispose of them. Kawamoto clearly wasn’t happy about it, though (since his own work on episode 26 of Heroman was about to be boxed too), and he also explained that on some shows (Heroman included, apparently) they are contractually obliged to destroy everything (except the opening genga, apparently, which must be exempted for some reason). He also very regretfully told me that he wished he could give me a box as a souvenir, but that he just couldn’t do it. Later on, I sent him an email explaining that on productions where they’re not contractually obliged to destroy the drawings that they could donate them to an archive or library, but he’s yet to respond to that, and quite possibly won’t. At the very least, if they consider it though, it would be a plus.

As for reproducing genga in a self-published book, I think that’s more or less allowed so that the individual artists can show off their stuff (sort of like a portfolio), and also so they can make a little extra money. This is more okay, though, when it’s the character designer or director (I can’t think of too many regular animators who are publishing this stuff regularly). And lastly, regarding the shredding as a prevention of things being sold on auction sites, I think that’s part of it, and my friend at Madhouse did note that many studios destroy their material because they’re afraid it will be stolen (or copied) if they don’t. All in all, a very sad state of affairs for the art that it’s come to this, though. At least if it’s sold in an auction, there’s the possibility someone like me will end up with it, take good care preserving it, and ensure future generations can study it (I hope someday to create a museum exhibit with my collection, and with things others have managed to save).

10/27/10 @ 12:07
Naruto [Visitor]  

Will you write something about Osamu Kobayashi’s Pansto episode 5.2?

10/31/10 @ 10:49
Ben [Member]  

Didn’t know he’d done it, but sure I’ll try to write something about it. Very curious now.

LainEverliving -

Thank you very much for the notes about the shredding issue. It makes sense that lack of space is the main factor, though it’s still sad that nobody has managed to figure out a solution to this very basic issue.

Braves -

Thanks for the news about the upcoming Yuasa movie. That is great to hear. As is the news about him returning to Shin-chan. I suppose this means he’ll be coming back as an animator on the movies, but I’d love to see another Shin-chan TV episode from him. More Buriburizaemon would be great. So tragic that Shiozawa Kaneto is gone.

11/01/10 @ 00:00