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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« Keita Kurosaka's Midori-ko this year?Honey Tokyo »

‹ Friday, April 9, 2010 ›

02:51:00 pm , 867 words, 3040 views     Categories: Animation, TV

The new season

The two Fuji TV Noitamina shows coming up over the next two weeks by Masaaki Yuasa and Mochizuki Tomomi are both going to be well worth a look, particularly the Yuasa one of course. The producer of Noitamina is a savvy guy with a keen sense for how to balance daring new programming with accessibility, and what he's trying to do is truly praiseworthy. Noitamina has thus far provided a space for the production of some genuinely impressive and daring programming - notably Mononoke and the same director's Trapeze - balanced out with anime of a more people-friendly, shojo-ish bent such as Honey & Clover. Which is not to say the latter are forgettable. Every show has stood out as having mature stories and directing and being refreshingly bereft of the hardcore pandering that plagues anime today, in line with the goals of the producer to reach out to audiences who otherwise would not watch anime. That's exactly what anime needs, so I hope the producer's daring gambit pays off, although unfortunately there is an inherent contradicting in attempting to do cutting-edge programming that the general populace will embrace. The double feature that commences this month provides a clever solution to this problem - air one that is a more creatively aggressive production that will cater to non-users looking for something different and new, and another that is backed by a popular manga with an original edge that will appeal to a broader audience. Perhaps some in the broader audience will be pulled in by the unabashed creativity the more daring show.

A newer contender in the late-night arena is TV Tokyo's Anime no Chikara. It purports something similar - slightly more daring, creator-centric productions than you'd see on regular daytime programming. But slightly is the operable term. The first show, So Ra No Wo To showed promise and technical proficiency that was torpedoed by cowardly adherence to the moe template.

Their second show just started, Senko no Night Raid by A-1 Productions (Ookiku Furikabutte), and I enjoyed it a lot more. I would actually be willing to follow the show despite it not doing anything new or daring with the animation, designs or overall concept. It's just very well directed, and the character acting is not repulsive, which is a refreshing change. The characters act low key, normal. There are none of the cliched expressive symbols or cliched behaviors. I found the first episode eminently watchable, which is a rare thing for me when the animation, designs or SOMETHING in the concept aren't strikingly original or creative. It's just good entertaining story anime, the way anime should be done, not perverted, pandering garbabe.

One thing I liked about the show was the fact that, for the Chinese dialogue spoken by characters who are Chinese (Shanghainese) nationals, they got actual Chinese speakers, and for the Japanese characters who are speaking Chinese, their non-native language, they got the Japanese voice-actor to speak the dialogue. So the Japanese characters' spoken Chinese has the appropriate bad accent, while the Chinese characters' spoken Chinese sounds right. (although if we're going to be anal about it (yes please) I'm not sure whether they're speaking period-appropriate Shanghainese). Anime usually never bothers with details like this, but they are crucial. So it serves as a positive sign that the director has his head on right.

I'm usually the big Bones cheerleader, but I didn't much care for Heroman. I will probably continue watching it simply because of the fact that the animation and designs are more creative and well-produced than any of the other shows this season so far, and Bones usually maintains that quality from episode to episode, but the show itself is utterly tame and unexciting compared to Soul Eater, which grabbed me from the first episode. And the concept is just so stupid and lazily conceived. They didn't even bother to provide some kind of plausible reason for why this kid's toy transformed into a big remote-controllable hero robot when lightning happened to strike it, which he apparently had guessed was going to happen because he was running towards the thing in panic mode. The pivotal scene was insultingly moronic. Of course, realistic directing is hardly the point of the hero shows that are the template here, but isn't it kind of bad if they can't be bothered to come up with something remotely believable to justify the central plot device? Or are they trying to making a smug point about the laziness of hero show plotting? Anyway... Takashi Tomioka was in the episode (presumably the action at the end) and hopefully some of the talent that graced the opening will pepper the actual show (Fumiaki Kouta, Yasuo Muroi, Kenichi Yoshida).

I checked out a bunch of other shows (when will I learn) but there wasn't anything else interesting. Shin Itagaki did do a crazy sequence at the end of the moefest Mayoi Neko Overrun, but honestly I'm not too big on his style. It feels like a copy of Imaishi, but even more jumpy and crazy, which is saying a lot. When movement reaches such an extreme level of overstylization, it ceases to be character animation and becomes incomprehensible noise.



h_park [Member]

It’s interesting that Japanese are using given time slot to broadcast good balanced animations. I wonder if TV Tokyo’s “Anime no Chikara” followed Fuji TV’s “Noitamina"’s suit?

Anyway, There is that worrisome pattern where Moe type shows are having undeserved amount of action, gesture, and FX animations despite its retarded content.

I just got started reading Noitama producer’s interview from Anime Style. It’s funny that producer calls himself “otaku". Mind If I put Noitamina rating data from Animage 09/2010?

Honey & Clover
Highest Rating(HR): 4.2%
Average Rating(AR): 3.1%

Paradise Kiss
HR: 3.7%
AR: 3.1%

HR: 5.0%
AR: 3.5%

HR: 4.9%
AR: 3.5%

Honey & Clover 2nd Season
HR: 4.2%
AR: 3.3%

Hataraki Man
HR: 5.1%
AR: 4.0%

Notame Cantabelle
HR: 5.5%
AR: 4.4%

HR: 4.8%
AR: 3.5%

HR: 5.3%
AR: 4.6%

Hakaba Kitarou
HR: 5.8%
AR: 4.8%

Library War
HR: 4.6%
AR: 3.5%

Antique bakery
HR: 4.5%
AR: 3.5%

Notame Cantabelle 2nd
HR: 6.6%
AR: 3.5%

Genji Monogatari
HR: 4.2%
AR: 3.3%

Eden of the East
HR: 5.0%
AR: 4.0%

Tokyo magnitude 8.0
HR: 5.8%
AR: 4.3%

04/09/10 @ 18:22
wah [Visitor]  

>>There are none of the cliched expressive symbols or cliched behaviors.

Wait wait wait wait. Hold the phone. I watched the first episode of this show and found it terribly boring, mostly because I found the characters to be horribly cliche. There’s the free-spirit easy-going guy who never follows orders, the well-groomed gentleman who always follows orders, the big guy who doesn’t say much, and the girl who always screws up because she’s a girl. There’s also the typical jolly old chief and his assistant who does nothing but stare off into space. The degree to which it adhered to established formulas was painful.

I’m not just getting on this show’s case because I am heavy consumer of moe-themed anime. I’m getting on this show’s case because it utterly fails as a mature anime. If you want to do a period piece with a supernatural twist, you gotta do it at least as well as Baccano. At the very least compose some exciting action scenes, jeeze.

I will however concede that the linguistic attention to detail was somewhat admirable. But that was the only good part.

04/11/10 @ 09:42
Ben [Member]  

Haha, point taken. You’re certainly right. Maybe I was a little forgiving because it didn’t contain neko girls and pantsu, which I found amazingly cutting edge for an anime today. These aren’t believable human beings, which honestly I’ve very rarely seen in anime. FOR ANIME, I thought it was decent. Take off those rose-colored glasses, and yeah, it’s hardly a departure. I should have said “less” not “none", and with that sentence I was thinking not of the personalities but of the way they were animated. At least it’s a step in the right direction. Next if we could please get away from the cliched character types you astutely point out, that’d be even better.

I did go out of my way to say there wasn’t anything creative or original in this show, but that it was “watchable", which is hardly a ringing endorsement. I kind of liked the action scene, to be honest. It wasn’t all hyper and overdone in the way that usually turns me off in anime. But I can see where you’re coming from. There’s only barely enough to keep me watching.

04/11/10 @ 10:22
Régis [Visitor]  

I tried Katanagatari, but couldn’t get through the second episode - there was way too much talking! Still digging some other shows from the previous season - DURARARA! feels like something pretty original (yup, similar crew from Baccano) even if it starts with stock characters. Heroman intrigues me as a Bones production, but after watching the opening, I felt like I saw everything I needed to see. Night Raid is next on my list, so I’ll take your review as a recommendation, even if it strives for slightly above mediocre right now.

04/11/10 @ 11:22
gaguri [Visitor]  

I don’t think I’ll be able to get in touch with this season, but I do want to let you know of a series called “Rainbow - Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin". I know nothing about it yet except that it’s by Madhouse studio, but from the few people whose opinions I trust, it may just be the best anime of the year. I’d like to hear your take on it, if you do choose to watch it.

04/12/10 @ 08:03
Ben [Visitor]  

H park -

It must be patterned after Noitamina… It’s the same exact concept. It’s sad to see talented animators developing under the influence of a creativity-poisoning fad like moe instead of developing an original style of their own. It’s like a whole generation of potential talent is being squandered. Even the ones struggling to develop their own style have to work over and over on shows that I’m embarrassed to have to watch just to see their work.

Thanks for the ratings data. Not surprising that Mononoke isn’t anywhere near the top.

Regis -

You said it. Katanagatari was so talky I couldn’t even watch ten minutes of the first episode.

Gaguri -

If that’s the one about kids in a juvenile detention facility, it looked comically melodramatic from the snippets I saw, but I’ll check it out more closely to be sure. Kind of reminded me of the atmosphere of Akagi.  

04/12/10 @ 14:55
John.M. [Visitor]  

Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou No Shichinin : To be the first episode, has started in spectacular fashion. It shows the cruelty and reality of the prisons of the time with a jailer who is Police Brutality made man and one doctor says that while protecting the health of young offenders, it is actually a perverted. To underline this sense of survival and friendship that these characters will develop during the series. The manga is recognized for having won the Shogakukan Award for best Seinen 2006.

04/13/10 @ 09:32
Siete [Visitor]  

Toei’s newest Precure entry, Heartcatch, has been surprisingly decent; everything is very energetic and full of life and the animation gets away with a lot thanks to the wonderfully cartoony Yoshihiko Umakoshi’s character designs.

Other than that, I’ve always been surprised by how undeservedly good K-ON!’s animation is and the first episode second season was no exception: filled with female animators that pay a lot careful attention to visual characterization.

04/13/10 @ 18:25
Ben [Member]  

Gaguri -

I watched the first episode of Nisha Rokubou.

I think it’s great to see a manga with this subject matter adapted into anime - better than seeing another light novel or baseball or magical princess or mahjong anime. It has the potential to be a good long-running story anime that features actual character development in the real world. That’s great.

The downside for me is that, since the show is intended for younger viewers, the drama is very melodramatic, with the jailers behaving in this exaggerated evil and/or sinister way, and the shots and directing all being constantly waaay too dramatic in a very old-school Ashita no Joe kind of way.

Personally, as an adult, that’s not how I would have liked to see this material handled. I think exaggerating the behavior actually has the opposite effect of lessening its impact. How much more effective would it be for the evil to be banal and systemic and a by-product of circumstance, not merely the whim of a crazed jailer. I think there is valid drama and tragedy that could be explored in this material, as did the movie Papillon, but this isn’t the way to do it, at least not in a way a grown adult would believe. I would have liked to see this material done in a realistic way, without the conventional manga exaggeration and melodrama.

Still, this is intended for young audiences, and I think for that audience it’s potent material that is worth doing, even in this form, so once more I’m impressed by Madhouse’s choice of material. If that’s what it takes to get younger viewers to watch an interesting, hard-edged, meaningful anime that isn’t just trying to get them to buy goods, then so be it.

Addendum: Madhouse pioneered the sort of dark and heavy drama you see in this show with Ashita no Joe in 1970, which was technically Mushi Pro but was done by Dezaki right before he founded Madhouse, so I consider it proto-Madhouse. Though I’ve only seen the first episode, this show seems to me to follow in that tradition in every respect, from the retro style of the designs to the subject matter looking at the violence-filled life of down-and-out youngsters in the lower ranks of Japan to the overwrought style of the directing.

Siete -

Good to hear from someone who has the eye to appreciate the animation of Precure and the nuance of Yoshihiko Umakoshi designs. I’ll have to sample some of the new show, though it’s kind of hard to know where to start. Any suggestions?

“undeservedly good” perfectly captures my mixed feelings about the good quality of shows like K-On… It’s sad to see how many good new animators’ work I’m missing because I can’t stand that kind of show, heh.

04/13/10 @ 22:35
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

Ben & Siete -

The “undeservedly good” of K-ON is due simply to the fact that Kyoto Animation has many good animators, particularly women, that they’ve trained up over the last five years (and especially lately to replace the people who jumped ship with / followed Yutaka Yamamoto to found Ordet). It isn’t “undeserved,” they’ve worked for a long and hard time to get those people, and since they’re not freelance, they don’t work on anything else. I don’t like K-ON at all myself, and I haven’t liked anything Kyoto Animation has done post-Yamamoto (although I’ve not seen much of it), but I do have to give them credit for being dedicated at developing talent and pushing them to do their best. I think the studio is one of the great success stories of the mid-2000s, but that they’re still caught like so many others in the cycle of doing contract-only work most of the time, so that they don’t receive the full benefit. Long-term, they might be able to gain a better foothold, but for the moment, everyone has to remember that they’re being contracted by Kadokawa or Key/Visual Art’s, and so they have to make what they’re offered. If that’s moe, then that’s what they make. When Kyoto Animation has enough ready cash to take a real risk, we’ll see what they ultimately want to do with themselves.

I know I fall too easily into the trap of dismissing work because I don’t know the animator or don’t consider the studio top-level, but I’ve ended up missing out on so many things being elitist that way that it’s really appalling. I didn’t realize how good Gonzo was all these years until they were nearly gone, and now that they are nearly gone, I’m left with remorse that I went around badmouthing them for years. The same kind of attitude, if not the risk of dissolution, is being connected an awful lot with Kyoto Animation, and it does bother me. It’s perfectly all right not to like the content of what they’re making, but as far as the people who work there, and the animation they’re creating, they deserve all the quality they’re showing consistently, often with tiny episode crews. We’ve got to give them the respect they’re due, and just hope that in the future, they’ll have more freedom to do other kinds of things if they like. And in the meantime, there’s great story shows like Air, Kanon, and Clannad to enjoy that don’t suffer quite so badly from the K-ON cuteness that’s dragging everything down in this business.

04/14/10 @ 21:50
pete [Member]

L.E. no one is dismissing the animators here or any other member of the production staff. Only the animators themselves are entitled to judge their work.
Reminds me an interview with an actor where he was asked whether he devoted much of his work to tv series and he replied he was doing it to earn his daily wage since no actor can live from theater alone.
Besides the producers dont have international animation viewers like us in mind, so we are covered. Had a japanese told such comments, he would have been labelled a traitor!

04/15/10 @ 10:46
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

Pete -

Point taken. I guess I’m a little prone to quick reactions, and I’m especially sensitive because the industry on the whole right now is in such awful shape. With the economies of the world all breaking down, and Japan in particular very poorly off in terms of the money that was available just a few years ago, the studios and financiers are getting very limited in what they will make. So, it becomes all the more important that what is made sells at least somewhat decently, or we won’t have any more in the future. All these new animators who are getting started on moe may be able to do better things in the future, but they’ll never get the chance if anime as whole doesn’t make it. So, whatever it is that we can find we like, even if only partly as much as the classics of the past, we have to try and support more, especially now. That’s why I can find places in my heart for Kyoto Animation’s drama series, and go for things I normally might overlook (like Heroman, which, having just watched the first episode, is certainly very pretty and quaintly charming).

On a happier note, though, FUNimation just announced a streaming deal with Noitama for both of the new shows, so everyone who wants to watch them freely and legally now can. The license isn’t for home video, just for streaming, so FUNimation is going to probably check out how many people watch to determine if they want to license for DVD or Blu-Ray. So, not that anyone on here probably needs any encouragement, but I’d urge you to watch the episodes this way, and rack up a lot of views so that FUNimation gets the message and brings the shows over on video. Especially for Yojō-Han Shinwa Taikei, the pressure is on to show that there’s serious demand for a Yuasa series outside Japan. If enough of us stream the first few episodes into the ground, maybe FUNimation (and others) will get the message, and we’ll finally have Mind Game, Kaiba, Kemonozume, and other unlicensed and unconventional Madhouse series like Denno Coil over here in the next few years. It’s up to you and me, fellow fans!

04/16/10 @ 01:26
Leedar [Visitor]  

Maybe ‘anime’ needs to fail for better animation to be made. ‘Anime’ looks like a creative dead end to me.

04/18/10 @ 17:13
Zambot3 [Visitor]  

Japanese animation doesn’t need to explain anything.If you don’t have an imagination to fill in the blanks, maybe you are too old.
Would you rather watch Family Guy? C’mon!

04/25/10 @ 14:17