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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Monday, April 16, 2007

05:53:00 pm , 1152 words, 3270 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, OVA, post-Akira

Green Legend Ran etc

Last night I had a chance to watch a selection of the Academy Award nominees (and winner) for animated shorts. The only one that left any real impression on me was the one that deservedly won the award, The Danish Poet, a witty, wistful, wise little handmade film that leaves you very satisfied. Almost all of the other films were ultra-polished CGI studio films, none of which had anything new to say, so it's all the more sweet a victory for Torill Kove. Bill Plympton's Guide Dog was fun, but it felt like a step down from Guard Dog, without the wonderful, savage satirical bite of the original. Of the CG films, the Hungarian film Maestro was surprisingly the most satisfying one. Usually CG animation seems to always be patterned after US theatrical productions, but this one was different, a formally simple film with a simple punchline, which is precisely why it was satisfying. Other films like One Rat Short were undoubtedly very well made, but I guess I tend to favor films that do much with little.

The animation of the first ep of Tsutomu Mizushima's new baseball series was typically highly worked, but what really caught my eye was all of the bits involving actual baseball playing. There was a separate post for "action animation director", so clearly they must have someone in there as the specialist working on just those scenes, studying actual baseball movement and applying that knowledge to the animation. It's nice to see that they're obviously taking the baseball animation seriously. Seeing this reminds me that I'd like to be able to see more of Samurai Giants to compare, as this was one of the more memorable takes on baseball animation of a few decades ago. I loved the animation in the op/ed by Otsuka. I'd be curious if Samurai Giants was some kind of an influence or distant memory.

I also recently had a chance to re-watch yet another old favorite of mine, Green Legend Ran, which I remember buying from Pioneer on LD back in the days they were among the first companies to put out good bilingual LDs in the west. I'm not sure how the staff that made this 3-OVA series got together, but it's an excellent group all around, spearheaded of course of Tatsuyuki Tanaka, who gave the world its foundation with his image boards. Animators include Shinji Hashimoto, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, Nobutoshi Ogura, Hisashi Ezura, Atsushi Wakabayashi. Apart from an underwhelming ending, it was a strong effort overall. The directing is great, the story is compelling and well told, and the animation is excellent and still exciting to watch. Watching it make me wonder how it came about that ten years later seemingly nobody wants to draw this style of animation anymore, with these simple characters and a focus on creating fun, exciting movement. It's one of the few attempts I've seen at creating an original sci-fi fantasy on a grand scale in the vein of Conan that actually worked. Telecom was obviously attempting just such a thing with Secret of Cerulean Sand, and watching Ran threw into relief why Secret of Cerulean Sand didn't work.

The animation is satisfying in each ep, though it's interesting to note how it differs from ep to ep. Ep 1 is by far the richest, with lots of nuanced work throughout. It's the one where you feel the strongest that this is a film produced by some of the young staff that just got finished working on Akira. It inherits that film's spirit of movement. This is perhaps the episode that stands up best to viewing after all these years precisely because the it's full of a kind of realistic-tinged, full, highly worked movement that was a product of that era and seems to have mostly disappeared these days. The one scene in the series that stayed imprinted in my memory over the years was the last one in ep 1, among the ruins. I wonder who did it. Perhaps Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, as I remember he did similarly nuanced full movement in Akira just before. Ran gesticulating with those huge hands seems like something he might have done. The highlight of the much more restrained and still second ep is the mecha animation. I suspected Shuichi Kaneko might have been involved, but it seems it was due to Hisashi Ezura, who was mecha AD of the ep. Makes sense. I notice he was listed top in ep 3 of Guren, so I'm looking forward to seeing that. The ep doesn't come across as being parsimonious in the animation department despite not nearly as much movement going on because the story is well told. A good positive example that you don't have to be jam-packed with great animation to leave a good impression. Good directing sprinkled with good bits of animation achieves a satisfying balance. The torture sequence was rather surprising for its time and left a strong impression on me. Ep 3 was more movemented, but differently from the first, more restrained and focused, without that flowing movement and very liberal use of drawings of the first ep. Takeshi Honda and Nobutoshi Ogura were co-ADs.

Speaking of Secret of Cerulean Sand, I just got finished watching it, and one ep stood out as noteworthy in the sense that I can't help wishing the rest of the series had been up to its level - #19, one of Hiroyuki Aoyama's episodes. I felt it showed off Aoyama's genius well, because it showed him deliberately emulating that awesome vibe of the old Telecom stuff, and doing it better than the people working alongside him who were the ones who made the best of the old Telecom stuff, like one who had learned from the master and surpassed him. I only knew him to be a great animator before this, but this seems a good example that the best animators like him often have it in them to become the best directors. Mitsuo Iso will soon add his name to those ranks. I could see Aoyama making a great film. He creates a perfect flow of action seemingly effortlessly. He feels like a natural. The framing and the timing of each shot is never haphazard, it always feels very thought out without being preoccupied with stylistics. It's a good example of directing overcoming the limitations of the material. Kazuhide Tomonaga's eps (10 15 18 25) had an exceptional feeling of flow, sprinkled with lots of moments of extremely well thought out and clever action typical of him, and Yoshinobu Michihata backed him up perfectly in each ep in bringing the action scenes to life in very free and fun animation, but in the end even the work of this golden Telecom duo doesn't quite have the impact of Aoyama's episodes. Aoyama's work oozes drama and control at every moment.

I must say I'm saddened to hear of Kurt Vonnegut's death. His books meant a lot to me.



Mr. Mush
Mr. Mush [Visitor]  

BE, I happened to have a chance to watch The Danish Poet piece as well as the Maesto one (haven’t got around to watch the other pieces you mentioned). I have to agree with you that TDP was a brilliant one. It’s a very heartwarming, romantic, happy-ending story; it also contains some nice humour. I suppose deep down, we are all looking for warmth, or things that can move us. TDP is definitely the one. I also admire its story-telling style. I realize, after watching some high tech fancy animation, simpel is always the best.

04/16/07 @ 23:47
7Th [Visitor]  

DAMN! Remember when in the previous posts comments when the guy said we could even see Norio Matusmoto in Gurren? The probabilities for that have increased tend fold, Osamu Kobayashi’s episode 4 may really have him and Ryo-Chimo.

04/17/07 @ 10:14
Muffin [Visitor]

Ran was also quite an old favourite of mine. Though I’m perhaps inclined to be somewhat less generous than you regarding the story past episode 1. I did feel the general drop in quality from the often genuinely engaging charachter lineart and movement in the first ep really hurt the show. Perhaps because the plotting as well as the general dramatic drive of the last episodes rarely felt more than competent.
Still, it was an interesting piece overall. With some great conceptual design & ideas. And like you mentioned, the torture sequence, as well as the battle sequences in the desert were memorable stuff.

I’ll never forget the visit to the odd ruin/oasis in the first ep though. Some really great combination of art direction and charachter(as well as effects)animation here. I loved Ran & Aira’s interaction. Tons of surprising, delightfully expressive images, shapes & movements, as well as moments of subtle beauty. Some of the finest moments in japanese anime can be found here. Charachters just *looked* great too. You really felt they were drawn as they were because it was the best possible design choice in order to make them as appealing and engaging as possible.

I would have loved to see a movie with a refined & sustained level of this sort of artistry and movement. In the vein of Tokyo Godfathers perhaps.

04/17/07 @ 18:09
Muffin [Visitor]

Was meaning to ask: What parts in AKIRA did Kazuyoshi Yaginuma do?

In “Ran", I was particulary fond of the bits where Aira is about to fall off the cliff and Ran pulls her up. Also the way she looks around confused and stumbling afterwards. There’s some lovely expressive, individual frames used in conjunction with the animated movements.

As rare as this level of quality might be in japan, you just don’t get animation with this sort of *feel* in the west…A lot of this sensibility seem to originate from the japanese language: heavy on ambiguities, symbolism and visual texture. Some people seem to have a exceedingly hard time wrapping their heads around such a notion. That you actually need to learn how to “read” visual images in more than one way.

What are your thoughts on this?

04/19/07 @ 14:40
Ben [Member]  

Yagi did the part at the beginning of the stadium scene, around the shot where Tetsuo and Kaori are walking along, with Tetsuo leaning on Kaori for support. The nuance in that shot is great.

It’s exactly that whole section I was talking about. There’s a ton of great work packed in there - Ran almost tripping, Ran gesticulating, Aira brushing off her skirt as she gets up, Ran catching Aira, etc. As you say, lots interesting little things going on in the animation if you pay close attention. It’s animation that rewards close viewing. Combined with the appealing characters, story, art and everything, it’s a scene I find myself wanting to come back to and rewatch pretty often. There aren’t many scenes that do that for me. A sign of greatness in my book.

I can’t say I know where it originates, but I can certainly agree that it’s a kind of animation that is unique to Japan. This kind of animation is the whole reason I like Japanese animation. Culture is not irrelevant, but I tend to take a more historical perspective. I try to figure out how each case of interesting animation came about by looking at who made it. I prefer to look at history in the broad sense as the product of a vast number of tiny personal histories, decisions, and influences.

But I think I understand what you’re getting it. There are different ways to appreciate animation. There’s isn’t one “right” way of animating. You have to be open to that. I like Japanese animation because it seems like people are always actively trying to discover their own new ways of animating. In the best cases like here the animation and story and directing etc all meld into a perfect whole like animation I’ve seen nowhere else. The animation itself is invested with a sort of drama over there that heightens the drama of the story.

04/20/07 @ 16:32
Muffin [Visitor]

Hmm…according to the latest Tatsuyuki Tanaka MAD video on youtube, it seems that it was indeed Tanaka himself who animated the scenes from where Ran turns into a water blob and Aira almost falls off the cliff:

04/23/08 @ 16:28
Ben [Member]  

Scratch what I’d written before. I’ve looked into an interview with Tanaka, and he confirms he did the later part. Failure to check facts led to a pretty silly misunderstanding on my part all these years. Sorry about that.

04/24/08 @ 07:57
Muffin [Visitor]

Ah…I see. Everything makes sense now, really. I’m assuming he did the entire sequence at the oasis, including Ran and Aira messing around with the fountain water.

I did wonder a lot about who could have done such detailed yet unpredictable and effortlessly expressive animation other than Tanaka.

04/27/08 @ 13:29