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For anyone who hasn't seen it, there's an interesting site featuring a single shot of one interesting animated sequence from each episode of Gainax's current TV show Guren Lagan here. It's a nice idea for a feature, and is what one would expect from a series directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, who used to put out fanzines of his own key animation. He's the quintissential animation otaku, so it's nice to see him delighting in all the great work people are turning in for the show. He's managed to pull together great animators from all over the industry, even Norio Matsumoto and Takaaki Yamashita not long ago, and each episode has had tons of interesting work. It's been a real explosion of animated frenzy, even more than I was expecting from the man. The quality is amazing. I just wish I found myself enjoying the show more. Interesting to note that a shot by Tadashi Hiramatsu from episode 15 was the latest installment. (They also have a shot of his from ep 2) I was particularly happy to be able to see a shot by Hisashi Mori from ep 4.
Speaking of whom, I was again happy to find that the shot that Hisashi Mori drew for Kemonozume was included in the selection of key animation that is part of the extras to the recently released box set, as I'd hoped it would be. Mori reportedly drew 125 drawings for the 7-second shot, so they only included about the last 40, which is a bit of a shame, but it's still nice to be able to see. Mori's drawings are incredibly loose and unpolished, functioning as rough tiny slices of a movement so fast that from frame to frame the character is an indistinguishable blob, but in the final animated sequence he comes alive in spectacularly kinetic movement.
I'm a big fan of seeing the drawings up close to be able to get a feeling for the line of the animator, and these extras provided a great tool for doing that. You can page through each drawing of the shot at screen size, which is the best method I've yet seen for presenting full sequences of key animation - better than books, where entire shots often have to be crammed onto a single page due to space considerations. This is an ideal way of dealing with this sort of material, and I wish we'd see more stuff like this. I can't complain, but I do wish they had included more, since they went to the trouble of doing it. There was so much other great work in the show. I would have liked to see Hiroyuki Aoyama's keys, or more of Michio Mihara's keys. They apparently wanted to include a shot by Koichi Arai from episode 3, but the keys had disappeared, so they weren't able to do so.
They included one nice sequence from the fight between Kazuma and the monkey in episode 1, where Kazuma swings at the monkey. It's a particularly interesting shot because it's very educational about the difference in line between animators - how much of a difference subtle differences in line-drawing style can make in the impact of the final drawing. The shot was originally animated by Hiroshi Shimizu, who later did episode 11, but each of his drawings was completely redrawn by Nobutake Ito. The nice thing is that, for this sequence, they present both Shimizu's original drawing and the correction by Ito right afterwards, so that you can see the original line of the animator and how the animation director re-interpreted it. Shimizu's drawings are about as far as possible as you could get from Ito's. The degree of difference is surprising. Ito left virtually none of Shimizu's lines intact, but basically traced over the character. Shimizu provided just the backbone of this sequence. It shows that Ito was maniacally thorough with the work on this episode, and all of his other episodes for that matter.
Another thing in the extras was the 'animatic' style video put together from alternating bits of raw key animation and storyboard for the voice-recording session, or 'afureco' as it's called. This was easily one of the coolest things on the set. They included the one for episode 13. It was fascinating viewing, letting you see in one go all of the materials that went into the polished version in their raw state. What it means is that it's a lot easier to see just how dramatically each animator's drawings differ. You see bits of Yuasa's storyboard, with its distinctive simple forms, followed by bits of corrected animation by Ito, with his very different but equally unmistakable style of rendering facial features, then some animation by an animator, such as the opening animation by Takashi Hashimoto, and so on, which I almost found more satisfying than the final product. Watching it this way I realized immediately when suddenly we entered a sequence drawn by Nobutoshi Ogura, for example - the one on top of the building where Yuka tries to chop off her arm. His style was much more obvious in the raw state like this.
I came away wishing they'd included this for every episode. Instead, they have a commentary for four random episodes by the voice actors that I'm sorry to say is just lame. Why the voice actors? Their comments bring absolutely zero insight into the production of each episode. It's an unfortunately wasted opportunity. It would have been great to hear commentary from Ito, Yuasa, Takahashi, Nakamura et al. on the episodes they did. They could have provided insight into the production style for a show that had an incredibly unique production style that we haven't really gotten much insight into yet. There was an interview with Ito in the booklet that was very interesting to read. Ito is a really interesting guy full of genuine enthusiasm for his work, a real dynamo of an animator willing to push the envelope to create animation with raw power. Otherwise, also included were storyboards and image boards by Yuasa and the standard character sheets by Ito, which were all very welcome.
Cool! Would love to check it out, but unlike with Mindgame, I don’t feel it’s worth the money to order it from Japan.
Why did you never write about the series final, btw? I was interested in hearing how you felt about it and about the series as a whole. I personally felt it jumped the shark at episode 10. The story suddenly shifted completely. In the first 9, everything felt very human. No-one was truly evil, no-one was completely righteous. The whole Shokujinki thing was a great metaphor for some of the bad things of life. Lust, anger, frustration, etc all arose this monster inside of a person, and that was a great way to talk about these things, and how devotion, love, tolerance could win over it if you really want it to and work at it. Yet still, that doesn’t always prevail. It’s difficult. And the series handled that perfectly so far (with the exception of episode 7). It was about not only the real struggles of life, but about life itself, all sides of it, shown through a wonderfully vibrant universe/idea. But then suddenly, everything became completely good guys vs. evil madman. Where we had no good or bad side before, now we had an evil mad villain, who was interesting in his flamboyance, but as a character completely bland. Character development pretty much stopped right there. And how did everything suddenly change into a scifi world with episode 11? Everything was so grounded in today’s world before, and then it seemed like we were suddenly thrown a century ahead. Fortunately, most of the Kazuma storyline did still incorporate what was to me the heart and soul of the series.
The last scene was pretty much perfect. I didn’t feel it was perfectly executed, but it was a great scene, saying what needed to be told in a beautiful way. However, I felt like it made the previous 4 episodes completely useless. All that changed is that a) people died (though people they had lost touch with), and b) they now know there is no cure. The second is very important to the ending and the decision Toshihiko makes, but we didn’t need 4 episodes of “evil flamboyant madman plot to rule/destroy (*) the world” to tell us that. It could’ve been handled so much more nuanced and truthful, and I’m sad they didn’t do that…
(*) forgot which. Says a lot about how the episodes kept my interest.
Granted, they still looked great! But no matter how great an aspect of the series the visuals were, they don’t completely sustain without a solid story to support. Pity, but still a way above-average series.
Thanks for the detailed report on the DVD-box! I would have gotten it, but decided against doing so in the end because of the censors and other assorted reasons.
For the record, I actually agree very much with Benjamin De Schrijver’s comment up there - saved me from a lot of writing, but I have been curious about why you never wrote about the last episode too… although I figured perhaps you were busy or just wanted to leave it hanging or something so I forgot about it in the end.
It seems to be the expected thing to put seiyuu interviews in DVD extras because I see it everywhere, but I do also feel that most of the time they’re relatively useless. The production staff’s comments are always so much more interesting (most of the time) because I feel they tend to have a much closer link to the show and can offer more insightful and informative comments. Oh, and the raw materials of course. Sometimes, though, I think the dearth of interviews/features with the production staff may also have to do with their nature, perhaps unlike seiyuu they are not all too comfortable appearing on DVD giving comments…
Also, I agree with you about Gurren-Lagann. It’s really so fantastically animated, but I can hardly find a reason to make me want to watch it week after week. I suppose I’m going to watch it all in one go when it’s done so I can tune out here and there and just drool at the animation. Having said that this year seems to be quite unbeliveable in terms of good animation popping up so frequently.
I was also curious as to the whereabouts of the episode 13 write up!
I thought the best part about Gurren Lagann was Imaishi’s relentlessly energetic storyboarding for episodes 1 and 8. You can aquire the storyboard for episode 1 here it seems:
Oh, and I believe Hiramatsu is doing the storyboard for the last episode - I’m looking forward to anything he does since I saw his amazing episode of Denno Coil.
Benjamin, you’ve actually voiced a lot of the things I was feeling about the show but didn’t know how to word as elegantly as you have. Not knowing how to express those very mixed feelings was kind of why I avoided writing about the final episode. I was also kind of waiting to see if something would click to suddenly show me what it was that felt ‘off’ about the way the series evolved, but I guess it never did, so I wound up leaving you all in the lurch. Sorry about that. I think what you say makes a lot of sense, and now that I’ve gotten the box set and read a few interviews I think I’d like to write out my feelings about the show overall, just to make the series of writeups complete.. though I know it’s so late as to be pointless now.
RP, you’re probably right… I was thinking how Ito seemed to be a very retiring person who didn’t like to be in the spotlight when I saw that video of him working on the Mind Game Remix DVD. That probably does apply to a lot of the folks who do the actual work. But they should have dragged them on anyway! Audio commentary is a lot less intrusive than a video recording. It just felt so depressing hearing them yakking on about things with Yuasa sitting there not getting to say much interesting, when I know he could have shed some light on a lot of puzzling aspects of the series if he was with a different crowd.
We certainly are blessed to have two shows of the caliber of Guren and Denno shooting great animation at us twice a week like that. Seems like it’s been one of the better years for TV animation, with so many great animators who are usually scattered around in different places all coming together to work on the same show for once.
Huw M, sorry again about that writeup thing. It was lame of me chickening out on that. I agree, Imaishi’s storyboards were stunning. Those were very memorable episodes. Great to hear about Hiramatsu doing storyboard. Looking forward to that.