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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« Music vids & Animation Show 2008What makes animation interesting? »

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

01:37:35 am , 1143 words, 3853 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, TV

Recent viewing

Just a quick post to mention a few things I've seen recently.

Soul Eater 34 was great, peppered with lots of exciting animation and overall simply feeling very tight in every aspect, even more than usual. This was an unusual episode. It was storyboarded by Tensai Okamura, and directed by a kind of loose-cannon figure in the industry right now, Hiroshi Ikehata, who was behind Hayate no Gotoku ep 39 among other episodes that stand out for their craziness the way Imaishi's did before he went big. It was a Telecom-outsourced episode, with Koichi Suenaga and Taichi Furumata acting as animation directors and my favorite Telecom animator, Yoshinobu Michihata, heading the animators. I was happy to even see Christophe Ferreira, aka lebuta on the forums, in the episode. More than three years ago I wrote a post about a series he was trying to get produced called Buta. I don't know what came of it, but it's nice to see that Christophe is still involved with Telecom. Can't help but wonder what he might have done here... Anyway, congrats on the nice ep, Christophe. Fellow Frenchman David Encinas was even there. I think he started out at Ghibli, at least judging by this video, so it's interesting to see that he's at Telecom now. Great to see more westerners infiltrating the ranks.

From the look of it, about half of the animators were Telecom and the other half were brought on by Ikehata, for example Masakazu Sunagawa, Ron Kamiya and Hokuto Sakiyama, who are regulars on the episodes he does. The trait that unifies the latter three, besides the wildness of their animation, is that they're all extremely new faces who have only been working as key animators for a few years now, yet already exhibit a flamboyantly individual style. They're among a deluge of new faces that have appeared on the scene in the last few years creating idiosyncratic animation right off the bat, without going through the usual process of development. It almost feels like we're seeing a paradigm shift happening right now, with the way some new animator seems to freakishly appear out of the blue with a fully formed style every other week. It's a new phenomenon that obviously has a lot to do with technology. The abundance of information available today on the internet and the deluge of media allow people with similar tastes to study their influences in more depth than ever before, as well as copy them and get their fan work out there where it can be seen and communicate with like-minded fans. A lot of these people started out as gif animators, including Hiroshi Ikehata himself, and I think that accounts a lot for the style of animation they produce, both its good and negative aspects. Sakiyama, for example, is a total Ohira epigone, (heck, proudly so), as you can see from what he did in Macademy Wasshoi 11 - and for good or ill, that can be said about a lot of these people. But then again, Ohira himself started out as a Yamashita epigone, so hopefully some of these people will eventually go beyond merely being imitators. (the animation at the beginning of Wasshoi 11 is by another Ikehata regular, Toshiyuki Sato, who adopts a Kanada-inspired splattery style that seems maddeningly pervasive among this young generation)

Interestingly enough, just before this there were two interesting episodes of Naruto. The team of storyboarder/director Toshiyuki Tsuru and animation director Hirobumi Suzuki, who were responsible for the only non-Wakabayashi Matsumoto episode, 48, did a one-two punch of eps 82 and 85 of Shippuuden. 82 is a quiet episode featuring long static shots that showcase the drama side of Tsuru, while 85 is more what one would expect from the show - a nice action episode with lots of nice fighting animation. Norio Matsumoto is there, but unlike the Wakabayashi episodes, he didn't do as big a chunk, and there are a lot of other animators, so it's a very different beast. His part doesn't even feel very polished. And overall, it does not have the impact of Wakabayashi's episodes. But it's still nice enough. Main character designer and super animator Tetsuya Nishio is there as an animator, apparently for the first time in the actual show. I catch a mild whiff of Sky Crawlers in his drawings here, so I guess this is one of the first things he did afterwards. Connecting to what I was saying above, gif-animator-turned-pro Shingo Yamashita is there after his stint on Birdy, as is Naruto regular Hiroyuki Yamashita and veteran Tokuyuki Matsutake.

Speaking of Atsushi Wakabayashi, it's too bad that we probably won't be seeing any more Naruto episodes from him, since he'll be busy for a good while directing his new show, but it'll be interesting to see what he does with his show. I'm looking forward to it. But I'm also kind of afraid. I've seen people who do great work as solo storyboarders/episode directors turn to series directors, and it doesn't work. What's great is when he is the one working to cram quality into a single episode, not when he's supervising other people doing that. The job is fundamentally different. But it will still be worth looking forward to.

Michiko & Hacchin 4 had what I presume to be some animation by Takaaki Wada that was an interesting parody of his work on Kaleido Star - an adult version of the vivid and rich dance animation he was so well known for. Otherwise I'm surprised to find myself alienated by the show.

Ep 6 of Casshern had some surprise fight animation by Norio Matsumoto. I particularly enjoyed ep 7. It had a really nostalgic feel to it, like the kind of show they used to make but don't make anymore - something that is obviously quite a conscious thing, as they went out of their way to get Mami Koyama to play the part of the tragic female character. It's wonderful to be able to hear more Mami Koyama after all these years. It's clear that this role simply needed her voice. She embodies a certain state of mind and personality that no other voice actor does. In Minky Momo and Goshogun it feels as if the roles were written for her, and writer Takeshi Shudo confirmed in interviews that she was a big inspiration. The characters would be unthinkable without her. She helped create those characters, with her husky, sensual, very womanly voice speaking of a new kind of strong female character - a complex blend of philosophical, witty and tragic. Anyway, I quite like the old-school feel Shigeyasu Yamauchi has achieved with the show.

Ep 13 of Xam'd had some rather odd animation where Akiyuki's friend transforms, and I wonder if it wasn't by Kaichiro Terada, another one of these relatively young animators with a perhaps slightly too idiosyncratic style for his experience level.



h_park [Member]

After reading this, I got this feeling that all these new animators are in a state of experimentation. Eventually all of them will their own voice, I hope.

Ben, I’m surprised to hear you mentioning a voice actor’s talent. Since most of us don’t have skill in oral Japanese and lack objective judgment on foreign language acting, I, myself try not to discuss things that I can’t comprehend. You’re the only one who can make that kind of judgment because of your profession.
I hope the direction of site doesn’t steer toward Japanese voice acting. It’s just too subjective and I don’t want see some hardcore voice actress Otaku making long statement about how wonderful his favorite voice actress.

On Cassehrn Sins, I felt that the art direction was interesting. It looks like 70’s anime wasteland, and yet geometrical environmental design makes it more alien.

11/25/08 @ 14:06
Ben [Member]  

Sorry about that little rant, H Park. Won’t happen again. I totally understand your fear, but keeping my statements focused on things we can all follow objectively is something I’ve tried to be careful about over the years, as I know how alienating discussion of this material can be if not handled properly. I’m not interested in seiyuu per se anyway. This is one of the rare cases you’ll ever have heard me talk about a seiyuu on my blog. In this case, as I tried to explain, I guess I actually felt that the choice of voice-actor was intrinsically tied to the effect the director was attempting to achieve, which I thought most people wouldn’t catch, so I thought it was worth mentioning. I could be totally wrong, of course, but it wasn’t just self-indulgence. I thought that there was clear significance in choosing a voice-actor who had been involved in defining the exact feeling in older material that he seemed to be attempting to emulate in this episode. But in the end, it’s still a little subjective, so yeah, sorry about that… I just wanted to get it out of my system. (I don’t usually care about voice actors, but I’ve had a soft spot for her for a long time)

Anyway, I didn’t mention it in this post, but watching the episode again, the art is really beautiful in this episode in particular, with the way the tower is drawn using this rich cross-hatching texture… This series uses the backgrounds in a very expressive way that seems less common today and kind of reminds me of the good Shichiro Kobayashi from the 70s, back when he would do stuff like the art for Dezaki’s Sekai Mukashi Banashi episode using all these wildly flying lines and colors…

11/25/08 @ 14:55
fe2cruz [Member]

I feel strangely alienated by Michiko just like you. It feels like a commercial or pop song with all the right hooks, but combined in a way that makes it almost annoying. This made me think hard about why I even bother watching this stuff. Apologies for my rambling, but here is what I came up with: For the most part I look to Studio 4C (thanks to your posts) for the most progressive advancements in the medium. For the rest I need what seems to be completely unique to this medium, though I don’t know if there is a term for it, sheer overemphasis on design, techniques and the process of a subject. Bartender is a romantic look inside mixology, Capeta/InitialD are like animated courses in race style driving culture and mechanics, Nodame is like a japanese course in classical music and conservatory culture, then finally Champloo is like a deconstructionists’ dissertation mashup in Japanese fudal history and hip-hop. More than docu-edu-dramas-serials, They work hard to suspend your disbelief by immersing you into the culture from every possible angle and detail. Aside from maybe the radio programs of “This American Life” and “Radio Lab” no other media can truly make an audience feel engulfed, excited and in anticipation for the subject. Its like a design/pornography. While Mind Game, Kaiba, Akira and the like can truly shock my senses, on the level of a good painting or well crafted cinema, unless I’m in a theatre I am still able to look away from the screen and escape the medium. When viewing the subject-immersive series listed earlier that is not the case. Even when the character design is flawed or the production and music standards lowered, during the span of an episode I cannot look away.

thanks for your great posts on the medium it really helps me weed through the mess of it all and stay excited /involved


11/25/08 @ 17:37
h_park [Member]

Ben, there is no need to apologize. I was bit concerned, that’s all. I thought, “oh no, Ben went nuts after all these animation talks!” Just kidding.
You have thing for this voice actor, and that’s no problem for me. Everyone has his or her own favorite actor to admire.
I read somewhere that Japanese voice actors play important role in animation because their acting provides support for technically deficient animations. It’s designed so that voice acting makes audience pay less attention to not-so-great animation and focus more on acting. I do get fascinated by actors ways of producing all kinds of crazy voices. Heck, I still get blown away when that Crayon Shinchan voice actress creates that voice.

It’s just that I’ve seen foreign otakus who have this thing for Japanese voice actors and they make ramblings about how their great voice actings are when those fans’ Japanese skill is questionable. Getting impressed by voice is one thing, but judging acting skill?

Anyway, I just read Guin Saga novel which Wakabayashi is going to direct. He said he’s going focus more on characters than action. Hopeful we get to have well directed show with tight storyline. I really missed old-school wizard & sorcery Anime. Nowadays so called fantasy genre anime is video game derivative…

11/25/08 @ 21:54
h_park [Member]

I forgot to mention one thing. According to Comic Box magazine, David Encinas started his profession at Disney studio in France. He started his new job at Ghibli as inbetweener. I wish I knew what shows he worked on past 10 years. Did Disney started to shut down foreign branches in late 90’s, right?

11/25/08 @ 22:25
William Massie
William Massie [Visitor]  

In response to H park. yes that is true Disney did begin to shut down it’s foriegn branches in the late 90s. I think the Japanese and French ones went first. The Canadian one only lasted for a few years in the late 90s (I remember some great work they did on Mickey Mouse Works) and the last one to remain was the Sydney one, which I think just recently kicked the bucket.

Sad shame though, Disney’s foriegn outfits aside from the high quality TMS work that was done for both Disney and WB TV (and dependent on your opinon, some of Spumco’s work) were the only places to find interesting animation work in American TV. I won’t go into just how far we have fallen scince then.

Wow, it’s super cool how they have foriegners working on shows nowadays.

Also interesting, while I LOVE Michiko and Hatchin (and am still moderately digging Casshern) I personally could never get into Xam’d, despite being all around a farily good adventure show.

11/26/08 @ 05:47
pete [Member]

Regarding Japanese being better than a dub: in countries with strong dubbing tradition such as Italy, most voice actors for live-action films and series started their career with anime in the 70s, thus helping to make Italy the second country in Otakus right after Japan (I mean in population ratio).

Also in Germany the voice actors had a rich history in reading audiobooks. Some of their performances have nothing to be jealous of the Japanese.

Dubbing a series is much more difficult than subbing it. But also thanks to the voice actors of the dubs did anime turn popular outside Japan. In a way they had to rewrite the script and dialogues.

11/28/08 @ 10:30