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In what's rapidly on its way to becoming a tradition, Osamu Kobayashi directed an episode in the latest show from Gainax, this time one of their less interesting ones between the good ones. His longtime associate Hori Motonobu, acting as sakkan, provides the episode with his usual simple, clean, cute but not cloying character drawings. It definitely feels like Kobayashi in the way it's directed, with the many static shots and close-ups and the style of the acting, but it's not as jarring as his previous work.
The interesting thing about this episode, as most people will probably immediately notice, is the backgrounds. Kobayashi is an interesting creator because he always tries something new, and this is no exception. Kobayashi has in the past done a solo animator episode on Kemonozume, but this time he's done something I don't think I've ever heard of before: he's drawn most of the backgrounds. And it's not just done on a whim; his sketchy, moody backgrounds help establish the fantasyland atmosphere for the episode. I haven't watched the rest of the show, so I'm not sure, but this episode seems to take place in a different 'world', literally a storybook land. The sketchy background drawings aren't just a stylistic choice; they're as intrinsic to the story as the characters.
I like it when situations like this are devised in anime. It's the best of both worlds: You allow a talented creator whose style is not to the liking of many fans because he doesn't bother to try to make his work blend in with the rest of the show, to make an episode set in an alternative reality so that he can do what he does best, and yet it'll jibe stylistically and won't wreck the show. That's just what happened with Satoru Utsunomiya's episode of Aquarion. Usually I have no problem with a single episode sticking out stylistically from the rest of a show as long as the work is of genuine quality. But on the other hand, sometimes even I've found myself on the other side of the fence, arguing that some shows need more stylistic unity and not more idiosyncrasy, so I can see both sides.
The drawings are lovely and establish a moody atmosphere. I particularly like the beautiful long shot of the characters walking with their backs to the camera in the ruins of a church pictured above. In certain moments, this episode has the atmosphere of a film noir and the black and white sensibility of a classic movie from the 30s or 40s like The Edge of the World, which is set in a similarly desolate land - the remote Orkney Isles. Kobayashi is heavily influenced by the French new wave and other oldies, so perhaps that's intentional.
The beautiful draftsmanship of the drawings of the town in the distance and the beautiful stone masonry of the streets show a side of Kobayashi I wasn't familiar with. The drawings are loose and have a reduced palette, but they're realistic somehow. It doesn't feel like something you'd see in a typical anime. I like that Kobayashi can be a joker but he can be serious when he wants to. Parts of the world seem obviously inspired by medieval architecture, while other parts are obvious original creations, but he does a good job blending the two. In large part it's the details in the backgrounds that tell you a lot about the world and make you believe in the world the characters inhabit.
To me, whether it's a sketchy drawing or a unique shot of animation or a skillful layout, what I find I react to is when I sense someone's hand behind the work - when there's a personal touch. Commercial animation is arguably the antithesis of personal creation, but what's unique about anime is that occasionally it allows you to see the personal touch of the creator in the work, and oftentimes it's those moments when a creator is able to express themselves without inhibition, without having to adapt themselves to fit in, that the greatest art is made.
I watched the episode #9 and I love it. Background unifies with his style of animation drawing as whole. As for details and color choices, I like the departure from the usual modified photo BG which the show uses frequently.
I think it’s intentional for him to use French New Wave as inspiration. He did the same thing with Hanamuru Kindergrten ending. It’s great to see inspiration from the outside. I’m tired of watching many other anime titles reference themselves all the times instead of looking somewhere else.
Ben you should check out Blood-C, it contains some pretty well animated fight scenes, but the most notable aspect of the show is the atmosphere and the way the story is paced which to me felt really refreshing, the series pulls no punches, it builds up slowly and then unloads on you like a double barrel shotgun the brutality of the climax is a bit stunning. I am excited for the film.
H park -
I don’t know if Kobayashi used photo reference, perhaps he did, but it still felt more like it was a product of the imagination, like he used the basic style of medieval architecture as a building block to come up with his own creations.
Thanks to your rec I’ve started checking it out. I couldn’t bring myself to watch a whole episode, the characters and situation are just too uninteresting, but the fight scenes in each episode are great. I’ve also been enjoying Yondemasu yo Azazel-san directed by Tsutomu Mizushima, and this show is quite a contrast. I wish they’d made more Azazel-san episodes.
I loved the visuals in this episode, but the story was a bit of a yawn. I guess I set my expectations way too high after seeing the awesome nod to À bout de souffle in Hanamaru Kindergarten, and his Paranoia Agent-like episode of Panty and Stocking.
About the background materials, I was referring to other episodes. Sory about the confusion. You know, Kobayashi used photo reference on other anime titles.