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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.