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If I were in Japan, I know where I'd be on July 28: Yokohama. Koji Yamamura is going to be holding a chat with Isao Takahata titled "The Expressive Possibilities of Animation" on that day at the Yokohama EIZONE 2008 event. Sounds exceedingly titillating. Too bad I'll be in Quebec instead.
The satellite station Animax has held a yearly script contest for the last few years. The winning script gets to be produced by a professional animation studio. This year's script for a short film called Takane's Bike was produced by the up-and-coming studio A-1 Pictures, whose Birdy the Mighty just started airing. I was a little dismissive as I started watching Takane's Bike, but after a while I started feeling that at least the story was honest in its simplicity. It's a good old-fashioned, naive, earnest children's film of a kind that doesn't seem to get made often anymore.
More importantly, I could have sworn I'd seen the designs somewhere before. I finally figured out what they reminded me of - the old TV show Mama is a 4th Grader. I wasn't aware of her name, but both were designed by Sachiko Kamimura. Looking into it, I realized that she had also designed one of my favorite anime films from back in the day when I was first starting to watch anime around 1992 - Arslan Senki. That's where I remember these drawings from. It was like seeing an old friend again. She has a distinct and immediately identifiable style that I find very nice to look at, but for some reason she hasn't done much designing other than these two shows, which is why I'd sort of forgotten about her over the years since those shows. Kamimura seems to have started out as a disciple of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko in the 80s. Even in this latest film, a certain twinge of Yasuhiko influence rears its head in her drawings every once in a while. Apart from these two stints designing, she has mostly worked as an animator, animation director and illustrator. Notably, she animated the ending of the re-make of Jungle Taitei in her own identifiable cute but rich style. She was also an animator in many of the Doraemon films.
Sachiko Kamimura has a nice home page where she provides a generous sampling of rejected designs, storyboards, key animation and the like from various shows she worked on throughout her career. It was particularly instructive to discover, for example, that she had animated numerous of the hair-raisingly complicated mob scenes from the Yoshikazu Yasuhiko epic Arion (1986). Even apart from this, Arion featured quite a lot of extravagant animation in Yasuhiko's unique style, including a nice scene from Satoru Utsunomiya (the mid-air attack of the sickle monsters). Kamimura thus adds her name to my short running tab of mob animators, which so far includes only Hiroyuki Okiura and Michio Mihara. It would seem that her work caught the eye of Yasuhiko, as three years later, in 1989, when Yasuhiko came back with another big movie of his own creation, Venus Wars, this time he turned to Kamimura to handle the drawing side of things as the animation director, which in Yasuhiko's richly animated films must have been quite a task.
Before that, Yasuhiko had directed an OVA between his two big films entitled The Song of Wind and Trees (1987), on which Kamimura had worked as character designer and animation director. She provides some examples of her corrections (which in the analog age were drawn on yellow sheets) on her home page. This was another well made film from that era that left a favorable impression on me at the time, perhaps also because it was maybe my earliest exposure to shoujo manga (or at least its anime rendition). I suspect she had a major hand in the animation through her work, helping give it a certain richness and elegance of movement that I remember struck me as seeming different from other anime even back then. A look at the animator list reveals the presence of Ghibli regular Makiko Futaki, who is an expert at just the sort of rich animation I remember the film for. Kamimura, then, turns out to have been one of the main figures behind the Yasuhiko films of yore.
Arslan fared quite well when I had another look at it recently, thanks in large part to Kazuchika Kise's work as animation director, so this is another nostalgic oldie I'd like to have a chance to revisit one of these days to see how my impression may have changed over the years. Maybe it's just my imagination, but it seems like it was more common back in those days to see big studio films like these headlined by these charismatic animation directors who sort of stepped in and took hold of the reins, putting in this massive effort to totally define the feeling of the animation of a film in a holistic sense, really taking the spotlight as the ones who created the feeling of the show through their effort, rather than just correcting the drawings in a rote way as seems more common today. I don't know what it is, but there's something different about the approach on display in films like these from the late 80s.
Great post. I wish more animators would display their work like Kamimura does on her homepage. It’s always fascinating to get a look at the original designs and sketches(as well as illustration work) of a good animator.
When you talk about the Arslan film, I’m assuming you’re referring to the OAV series? I missed out on watching this back in the day, but am curious to do so now. Particulary in light of your endorsement of it.
Broadly speaking, I too have a fondness for the general sensibility of the era around the late 80’s going into the 90’s. Besides the generally nice feeling of texture you got from the pre-digital era animation, there was indeed a greater tendency to see an AD/CD defining the look and feel of a film around his/her unique approach to form and design.
You also feel it was a time when people where experimenting a lot with imaginative approaches to expressive figure-drawings.
Not that I’m so nostalgic to say that everything was better back then(certainly, I think the best of the best stuff being made today probably surpasses most things from any previous era…), but you did feel there was a greater frequency with which a lot of shows/OAVs had a very distinct and cinematically engaging look based around the unique graphic sensibilities of the main animation direction/design staff.
Lots of stuff today does indeed tend to feel very rote and graphically inexpressive. Regardless of it being well-produced.
Also, what’s your impression of the new Birdy The Mighty series btw?(assuming you’ve seen it). I would assume(or hope) it’s a pretty solid piece from the usually reliable Kazuki Akane.
I was a fan of the old OAV version by Yoshiaki Kawajiri(a fairly unusual item from him). I loved Kumiko Takahashi’s art(the most effective and imaginative adaptation of Yuuki Masami’s style I’ve seen yet) Solidly and sharply animated under Kawajiri’s direction. Birdy herself was also a fairly unusual and memorable heroine, strikingly designed and well-acted by Mitsuishi(Misato)Kotono.
Hey, Muffin. I think there were originally two 60-minute Arslan films released, followed by a number of OVAs. The first film is the one I had in mind when I wrote this post. It’s the one to check out if you only check out one item Arslan. The OVAs come as a disappointment after the quality of the films, but the two films, particularly the first, were one of the things that pulled me into anime back then, alongside stuff like 3x3 Eyes. It was just exceptionally well produced in every way, from the rich animation (for which we have Kise to thank, I discovered upon re-watching recently) to Kamimura’s character designs to the great epic orchestral soundtrack (I bought all the CDs for this and 3x3 Eyes) and of course the epic scale of the story, which I think was so refreshing to me back then for being purely (quasi-)historic, without the hackneyed fantasy elements of most anime romances.
I’ve been meaning to write about Birdy and the other new shows, but I haven’t had time… I don’t think I’ve seen the Kawajiri version of Birdy, so thanks for the words about it. The new version is impressive to me mainly because of the young hotshot animators working on it, namely Ryochimo and Shingo Yamashita. Ryochimo’s designs nicely update Yuuki Masami’s unique designs, and his own fetish for this kind of erotic drawing comes through in the erotic design, so they’re a good match. But personally that isn’t what attracts me. It’s their animation, which is quite spectacular, and in a very unique style these young animators are coming up with for themselves, so it’s worth checking out to see that. Other than that, I can’t say the show is enough to get me to want to watch. Akane is a solid director who makes this material watchable, and I suppose it’s intentionally kind of old-styled and I can understand that he wanted to do lighter and more popularly appealing fare after Noein, but I still can’t help but remain skeptical. I’d prefer to see something new, personally.
Yeah, I actually did a bit of research after writing my last comment, and found that the first two parts of the Arslan saga were indeed theatrical movies.
I sampled the first episode of the new Birdy series on YouTube, and it looks nice and appealing. It’s kinda neat to see the charachter again. I dunno what else there is to say at this point. Hard to say exactly how the new version compares to the old OAV. The longer series format, for better or worse, obviously make it more involved and/or soapy…
I’m perhaps inclined to say the OAV version was the more compact and immediately engaging(in terms of art and charachter delineation), and thus more effective for this material.
At any rate, I’m curious to check out more of it.
A clip from the Kawajiri version:
Muffin - I’ve had a look at a bit of the Kawajiri version of Birdy, and it was way better than I was expecting. Not that I didn’t believe you, but I guess I had my pre-conceived idea of the typical Kawajiri style, and this was very different from that, as you mentioned, and pleasingly so. I’m definitely going to watch the whole thing when I have a chance. Not only is the animation extremely solid looking, backed by lots of good animators (Ueda Hitoshi, Yoshinori Kanemori, Takeshi Koike), but the directing has a nice, measured pace that I like. It’s great re-discovering older pieces like this I never had a chance to check out, so thanks for mentioning it. I knew about it, but wouldn’t have gone out of my way to check it out if you hadn’t talked about it.
Hey, Ben. Nice to hear you liked what you saw of the Birdy OAV. It seems a nice example of Kawajiri’s solid technical craftmanship applied to material that doesn’t involve his usual, rather overbearing gothy-cool film noir/comic-book sensibilities.
I’m kinda surprised how lively and likeable the whole thing feels. Also interesting to see Konaka Chiaki as the writer.
Not that Kawajiri hasn’t made some good films in his usual style(I certainly have no issue with the general consensus that Ninja Scroll is one of the premier action films of anime) but he’s really lost me in recent years with stuff like Vampire Hunter D and its silly and superficially plastered-on english-dialogue.
I’ve seen some more of the new Birdy show, and it remains highly watchable. Though the feeling is that while it may be more elaborate than the old OAV, it also feels typically watered-down in terms of charachter and style.
No offense to Ryochimo really, but his soft and subdued designs just don’t compare all that favourably to, or support the material as well as Kumiko Takahashis lovely and striking interpretation of Yuuki’s art.
I couldn’t have said it better, Muffin. You voiced exactly how I felt about Kawajiri and about the new version. Much to my surprise, I find the solid craftsmanship and compactness of the original to work much better than the new version. I was wondering what it was about so much of what’s made today that turns me off, and it’s the way things are padded with material that isn’t particularly compelling. I like the way that they kept things so concise in these older shows. I was finding the new version of Birdy a little too soap-opera-ish and watered down, as you say, for my taste, and I also found that the original did a much better job of getting the material across concisely in a way that maintains interest. And I have to agree about the designs. Now that I’ve seen the originals, I see that Ryochimo’s designs, as nice as they are, seem a little lightweight in comparison to the truly solid drawings of Kumiko Takahashi. On top of which, these are OVAs, so the quality is much denser, and each episode is packed with good animators. Making a TV show is a different enterprise from making an OVA series, and the times have changed, so they’ve both obviously been produced under rather different conditions, and it only makes sense that they would be different, but watching the two side-by-side has been revealing, showing how times have changed, both in terms of production style and in terms of what people want to watch.