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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Sunday, October 25, 2009

04:08:31 pm , 650 words, 1789 views     Categories: Animation, TV


I haven't watched anything from the new season for once. The only show I've checked out is Trapeze. Anything I missed? I had kind of high expectations for Trapeze going in, and honestly they weren't really met. I think I have a pretty good idea from the first episode what they're going to be doing stylistically for the rest of the show, and while I'm sure I'm going to enjoy the directing and the stories, I'm disappointed there's nothing that strikes me as really new in Kenji Nakamura's new show the way Bakeneko and its continuation Mononoke did. It felt like I was watching Kemonozume or Mind Game with the way the live-action was integrated, mostly in close-ups of the face, just like how Yuasa did it. Yuasa's film and shows each felt like they were exploring their own unique stylistic universe, whereas Trapeze doesn't really feel anchored to any strong visual concept. If anything, it just feels like a free-for-all. It's certainly fun, but I can't say I was too convinced by the first episode. I felt it was a little too ditzy and over-the-top with all the colors and the random strangeness without any of the things they were doing having any impact or actually meaning anything other than being there just to look weird. That, and the whole story was kind of boring. The next episode is about a guy with a permanent erection - killer-sounding material. I really like the concept overall of exploring a new person's mental or physical complexes or illnesses in each episode, which is what I'm guessing this is going to be, but I kind of feel like there needs to be more actual exploration of the psychology of the person and less random strangeness for it to really work. That was the real problem, more than style - that we didn't come away feeling like we knew the inner workings of this guy's psyche very deeply.

Yuasa's shows similarly were very daring with the mixing of media in the animation and the vivid and bold use of colors, but the combination actually felt balanced and harmonious in his hands, whereas in Trapeze the gaudy colors and random mixing of media just feels a little gimmicky and even tacky. I'm sure part of that is deliberate, though, so I don't want to dismiss it out of hand. Nakamura is a sophisticated director, and I'm sure that part of the syrupy synthetic feeling of this episode is intentional. At the very least, the show has a unique tone like nothing I've ever seen before.

And I was really not too impressed by the characters by Takashi Hashimoto this time around. The characters worked fairly well in Mononoke and its predecessor, but I didn't much like the designs here. It's not even about the animation so much as just the designs of the faces, which just don't do anything for me.

Anyway, it's still entertaining and definitely strange and like nothing else out there at the moment, and that can only be a good thing. Part of why I haven't watched anything this season is that I've been too busy. But that's the surface excuse. Mostly I just don't have the patience to wade through the ocean of same old same old anymore. At least this show is refreshing and unpredictable. It's quite amazing how literally dozens of shows are made every season and usually only one or two max actually attempt to do something that doesn't look and feel like everything else that has come before.

The subject of the next episode reminds me of something I overheard while I was in a coffee shop one day: "It's a problem when you can't get it up, but it's even worse when you can't get it down". It was raining outside, and the person was apparently having trouble with the latch on their umbrella.



christiaan [Visitor]  

I agree, but there is something to submitting to the same-old; try Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. Always chasing after that “same new feeling that you got when you watched” kills your viewing experience too. The machine that creates these “sameold shows” caters to the consuming demographic obsessed with cute faced young girls. We should be so lucky to get even one show a year that’s worth watching all the way through form a machine like that.

10/25/09 @ 18:13
Leedar [Visitor]  

I thought it was a little weird that TM8.0 has no karisuma animation at all. I can think of many reasons, but you’d think that the relatively simplified drawings would provide the chance for something.

I don’t mean to insinuate anything, but was the staff more comprised of women than average? All of the top series credits except for director, 3D director and sound director appear to be.

10/26/09 @ 23:18
Ben [Member]  

I only watched up to episode 3 of TM8.0, but I’m assuming there wasn’t any good animation afterward? I suspected there wouldn’t be based on how things were going. Being a Bones production, I was expecting the quality of episode 1 to be maintained to an extent, so the low level animation of eps 2 and 3 were a disappointment to me. The first ep did a decent job in creating a modicum of nuanced acting that I felt utilized the pared down designs. I wanted to see a whole series like that. I guess maybe there were production issues behind the scenes we don’t know about… or maybe the director didn’t have enough pull to get the good ‘realistic’ animators onboard the way Mitsuo Iso did with Denno Coil. That, and they’re probably tied to other projects. Still, Bones has lots of good animators, so it’s curious that they chose not to use them on TM8.0. It could really have used good character acting.

I don’t know about the women thing. It’s quite possible. I’ve seen a number of shows in the last few years that appeared to be staffed primarily by women.

10/27/09 @ 01:20
LainEverliving [Visitor]  


Well, a few notes of TM8.0…

First, it was a co-production between Bones and Kinema Citrus, so not all the animation was actually done at Bones. Secondly, did you notice the huge number of other companies involved in the key and 2nd key animation credits? So, even less was actually done at Bones. The total Bones output on the series was significantly less than normal, for reasons that I don’t entirely understand (likewise, the really terrible Eureka Seven movie was outsourced to Kinema Citrus as well). It seriously makes me wonder if the company is having issues.

That all said, I still like TM8.0 for its others merits, like the fact that it’s an interesting and involving series. In answer of your question about the animation, I haven’t seen much further than you, but I do know that Yasuomi Umetsu did work in the final episode (episode 11), as did some other people with good credits. It’s certainly significantly better than most of the other stuff put out this year, which has been substantially awful on the whole in terms of TV animation. After the great material that was aired last year, it’s been a massive letdown with only a (very) few exceptions. I chalk a lot of it up to the fact that Madhouse has made almost nothing due to being so involved in their movie work.

Speaking of Madhouse, are you going to give Aoi Bungaku Series a chance? Not sure what the animation will be like, but the designs are all good, and of course the source material is classic. I figured that one would be right up your alley, especially considering Atsuko Ishizuka is doing the last two episodes herself.

Otherwise, maybe just stick with features. I’m discovering the Kara no Kyoukai movies right now (a few years late for some), much to my delight. It’s always wonderful to discover a whole company that I’d been ignoring actually can make something of meaning and beauty. And as for TV stuff, I guess I can hope better thoughts for next year, although if the market doesn’t improve there won’t be money to pay for anything of quality.

10/31/09 @ 21:44
h_park [Member]


I’m surprised that you don’t know why Bones subcontracted their animation labor to a different company. It’s a standard practice for a major studio to hire subcontractors. In Bones case, I believe they didn’t have enough infrastructure and manpower to handle multiple projects. This year alone, like what, 5 titles? Each episode takes 3 months to finish, so farming out is a must to make season premier on time.
Also there is major shortage of talents in whole Japanese animation industry. So that may affect the total output as well. If Japanese animation industry offers the same or similar benefit as western counterpart, every young and eager talents will go to Japan.

11/09/09 @ 19:15
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

@H park,

Of course, I know about subcontracting very well. I did mention it in my original post with regards to the 2nd key animation. My issue for the questioning is more to do with BONES going so much into subcontracting all of a sudden. At the point TM8.0 started airing (July), BONES was only working on FMA: Brotherhood, which they subcontracted key animation and 2nd key animation on as they are wont to do for a long series, as well as getting plentiful production assistance on numerous episodes. Subsequently, they’re just working on Darker Than Black: Ryūsei no Gemini, and they’ve done a little production assistance on Mahoromatic: Tadaima Okaeri, but otherwise that’s it.

Now, there was the Eureka Seven movie, but let’s face it, almost the entire thing was recycled footage with only minor changes, and what was new was drawn almost entirely by subcontractors, especially Kinema Citrus. Now, Kinema Citrus was, before this and TM8.0, known for absolutely nothing of consequence. But they’re given the huge job of animating two high-profile projects for BONES. I don’t know about you, but the whole thing strikes me as very strange.

Just for comparison purposes, back in 2007 BONES released Sword of the Stranger, which took several years (I believe 2-3) to animate, along with the original Darker Than Black, Ayakashi Ayashi: Ayashi Divine Comedy, and finished the TV version of Ghost Slayers Ayashi. Meanwhile, they also found the time and manpower to help with inbetweening and monitor work for Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, and inbetweens for Mobile Suit Gundam 00. They managed to do all this without significant reliance on outsourcing, and certainly no co-productions. So, we’re talking about a similar level of production being underway, but not as much dependence on having the work done out-of-house. Now, I know that FMA is a big drain on the staff, but seriously, none of the top BONES people worked on either TM8.0 or the Eureka Seven movie, and I’m not seeing them rushing toward Darker Than BLACK either, so I think I’m justified in having some serious concerns. I mean, when I compare to Madhouse, they’ve been making 7 movies all at the same time this year, and still managed to put out 5 TV series. I know they’ve got DR Movie helping and all, but really, there’s just not any comparison. What I am noticing about these BONES shows is that they’re sticking to established titles they already are associated with or own, and it seems like they’re playing it very safe and just trying to take in some cash. TM8.0 was the only original production all year, for a company that thrives on originality otherwise. And, it gets sent mostly out of house. Honestly, if this isn’t cause for at least some notice or concern, I don’t know what is. BONES has been having assorted issues, as far as I can tell, since that supposed leaked staff list document went out, and I worry that they’re having a harder time than we might suspect in this present market. At the very least, the fact that they’re so conservative this year (and that they actually put out a downright bad movie, a simply unimaginable prospect previous to now) makes me think there’s more going on there than we know.

11/13/09 @ 00:17
bahijd [Visitor]  

I’m not sure about this anime.
I haven’t watched it yet but the trailer looks like some pseudo Yuasa.
I wonder what Yuasa thinks about this anime.
The good thing on Yuasa is that he is experimental and he always could get positive reactions to his experiments.

Mononoke had a lot more style….and the character-design of mononoke was really impressive.

11/13/09 @ 01:41
Manuloz [Visitor]  

You should not worry too much for Bones until next spring when we will see more of what’s coming next for them.

If we don’t here about some of the top staff from bones is maybe because they are working on something else than DtB or FMA. You should know the production of one of their next porject Heroman is underway. At least 12 episodes are already finished.

As for Kinema Citrus, the studio must be related to Bones on some forms. First time i heard of it was when Eureka 7 movie was announced. Studio Bones ran on there website the staff recruitment announce for Kinema Citrus.
Masaki Tachibana director of TM8.0 is one of the founder of the studio. That might explain why TM8.0 is as much a Kinema Citrus project as Bones … if not more.

11/13/09 @ 05:44
LainEverliving [Visitor]  


Well, that makes sense about Tachibana. Maybe what they want to do is try to link the two studios for future projects, and this is how they’re starting out. Or maybe Kinema Citrus is a spin-off from BONES. I wish there was more information online about this, as it’s highly confusing (especially if you only have English-language sources, which is what I’m mostly confined to).

With regards to Heroman, I haven’t been able to figure out if that’s a high-profile sakuga show for them or not. I’ve been basing assumptions on how Madhouse is handling the Marvel stuff, which is that they are side projects between original works for the main staff. Rintaro can come swoop in and direct a bit of footage (like he did for the Wolverine preview) before going back to his main stuff. After that, though, they entrust the majority of work to the junior staff or to DR Movie. So, what you get is a mix of mostly younger animators or outsource, with some big individual moments from the senior staff moonlighting on the show. I assumed that BONES would do the same for Heroman, but the big difference of course is that they are co-creating that series and therefore probably have more financially riding on it than Madhouse (which is just doing commission work).

So, assuming your theory is correct and all the senior staff and money is tied up on Heroman, we’ve got a good answer for what’s up with BONES. But I’m still not entirely satisfied. It doesn’t seem at all like the studio’s style to be totally pinning 2010 on foreign co-productions or commissions (like the Halo anime) and leaving their domestic-targeting work to Kinema Citrus. Moreover, the lack of original productions in the tradition of Eureka Seven, Wolf’s Rain, Sword of the Stranger, and the like make me either think that Masahiko Minami thinks they won’t sell, or that they don’t have the financial resources to make them. If the later is the case, then it would explain the necessity to make foreign stuff on commission (you get your cash upfront, and usually a goodly amount of it), but it doesn’t make me feel any better about the company’s future. Only time will tell, I guess, if I’m overreacting or if there really is something amiss here.

11/13/09 @ 19:25
Ben [Member]  

LainEverliving -

Thanks for the info about Kinema Citrus. I feel like I’m completely in the dark here, because I didn’t even know that it was largely a Kinema Citrus production and not a Bones production. I guess I didn’t really pay close attention to the details. That certainly answers the question that were swirling in my head as to why this show felt so different from (=worse than) every Bones production I’ve seen so far. And I’m not just talking in terms of animation. Very little about this production, about which I was very enthusiastic in the lead-up, did anything for me, which was disappointing because I liked Bones because they almost always came through with bursts of good directing or animation. I figured for a short-run series like this about such an interesting idea they would be putting all their energy into it. And it would have been great for this series to succeed at what it was doing, to show that the original productions that are Bones’ specialty can achieve greatness, as opposed to gensaku-based stuff, which was all the more disappointing to me.

It seems that Bones has reached the stage in its life when it has begun to expand with branch-off studios and so on in order to build a strong base of production support to allow it to survive and grow… These things have to be done to survive, but I hope they don’t lose sight of what they represented up until now and still manage to maintain the quality of their work like they did before even under these new arrangements. They’ve established a brand that to me represents quality (even if frankly I can’t think of any production by them as a whole that I like - but that’s a personal issue), and I’d hate to see that tarnished.

Anyway, it does seem to have been a bit quieter than last year in terms of interesting new productions being released. I think it’s like that in the industry. It’s cyclical. Occasionally releases will converge such that you’ll get an amazing year like 2004, followed by a fallow year in which the studios are working on a new project. But I won’t even claim to be in the know about the health of the industry. I’m so ambivalent about the whole thing - I love the good stuff, but I loathe the vast majority of productions, so I sometimes feel like the heroine of TM8.0 at the end of episode 1 about the anime industry.

Thanks for pointing out Aoi Bungaku. Hadn’t heard of it. I checked out the first episode, and it was indeed watchable, although not mind-blowing. Still, It’s always nice to see a new Madhouse series. They stand out in terms of atmosphere and content.

11/16/09 @ 10:37
LainEverliving [Visitor]  


The thing about Aoi Bungaku is that it’s going to keep changing directors and styles throughout (due to it being based on several different literary classics by some very different writers). Probably this won’t much affect things on the sakuga end (since most of the staff is either junior Madhouse or the same freelance people that seem to make everything, good or bad, that’s on TV today), but do keep in mind that things aren’t going to be consistent for the show. Based on your past reported feelings on most stuff (Madhouse included) I figured you wouldn’t care much about the directors other than Atsuko Ishizuka, and her two episodes aren’t until the very end, so you may want to drop back in at that point. Of course, I’m completely talking about things I have no real knowledge of, since I STILL haven’t watched a whole episode of Aoi Bungaku yet, but I do know from the website that she’s doing episodes 11 & 12, and I know your fondness for her (shared by myself), so here’s hope for those being good.

I don’t think its so much a ‘health of the industry’ issue as it is a money issue. If no one buys anything, then there’s no money to make new works. Furthermore, if the only stuff that sells is moe pantsu garbage, then guess what, more moe pantsu garbage. I’ve written about this and wallowed in my own disgust enough to feel miserable for most of the year (which I have, I assure you), but if you want to read my thoughts on this at greater length, I’ll refer you to an article I wrote for a friend’s blog. You can check it out at the link below.

Apologies for any formatting issues you may experience, but it’s still legible.

Personally, I blame the otaku who are holding the industry hostage with their incredibly poor taste. I don’t know exactly when the otaku movement was marginalized so completely into the racist, nationalist, misogynistic pit that it has become, but I’m sure it happened sometime around the time that anime heroines all turned pubescent in appearance and the merits of story, direction, and animation were all thrown overboard for intimate discussions of whether frilly lace or shimpan panties are preferable. If anime ends up failing, it will be the fault of the otaku, and the otaku alone. Once upon a time I may not have cared if anime and its fans committed ritual suicide amid a pile of their own excrement, but nowadays I’m too committed to and in love with this medium to see it go to hell without a fight. That’s why you really have to be extra passionate and fight extra hard for the things that are good, and try to tell the people who made them that they are good and that you appreciate their efforts, since if there isn’t some kind of affirmation besides the votes in purchasing yen, we’ll all be having K-ON! and Bakemonogatari forced down our throats for eternity. I’ve never personally heard of it, but I suspect there must be a Buddhist hell devoted to torture by moe. I’d just rather not see it here on earth, if it can be avoided.

And yes, sorry for the rant, but it’s hard not to feel something about the way things are going these days. Some yell about politics… I yell about anime. ^__^

11/16/09 @ 20:44
Ben [Member]  

Impressive (and harrowing) article on the funding side of the plight that now faces the industry, LainEverliving.

I have no problem with moe fans committing ritual suicide in a pile of their own excrement, so long they don’t take the rest of us with them. It feels like that’s what’s happening: potential talent either being scared away from the industry or forced to work on this material, to the detriment of none more than the industry. How many other Ohiras out there got fed up with having to eat shit for a living and left for greener pastures? And of course, this on top of not even being able to earn a decent living doing it. Honestly, part of me feels that if this is all the industry can offer (not just compensation-wise but in terms of opportunities for creativity), talented people should probably work elsewhere. Something needs to be done about that.

I agree that the best thing for a lone fan to do in the face of hard times like these is simply go on championing the people doing the truly creative work in the industry. Have passion for the work that moves you, and communicate that passion in a way that people can understand.

11/30/09 @ 23:31