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I'm always on the lookout for new names that strike me as having potential for greatness, and Yasuo Muroi struck me as one of them from the few bits I glimpsed of his work, notably his animation work on Xam'd. There are a lot of new animators appearing seemingly out of nowhere with a unique style these days, far more than ever before, but most of them don't bowl me over. They're all impressive, but few of them seem to bring something really new to the table. I thought Ryotaro Makihara was one of the more notable new faces who did just that, and Yasuo Muroi also seemed to be one of them, because he didn't just fall into the trap of mimicking the usual suspects that seem to serve as the template for most young new animators these days.
Anyway, after having done miscellaneous animation on various shows since Xam'd (unfortunately most of which I didn't see), it seems he's staged his episode storyboard/directing debut on Sunrise's new show Sacred Seven. The show itself seems hardly notable, but Sunrise shows often have interesting staff, and Muroi seems to have done a lot of work on the show.
I've only watched episode 9 so far, but there was a lot of nice vigorous and lively movement throughout the episode, mostly during the fight between the hero and that lamp-headed creature (I like how he didn't waste any energy on moving the uninteresting moe characters), and Muroi is listed second in the genga credits after erstwhile Champloo action scene stalwart Takuya Suzuki (frere of Tatsuya), so he presumably handled a good chunk of it. It's not quite as refined as what I saw in Xam'd, but this is a different endeavor; he choreographed the whole episode and animated its action. It's a whole different thing when you're storyboarding and directing and not just animating. The significance here is that he's moved on to a whole new stage of his career, and it will be interesting to see where he decides to go from here on out. Ryotaro Makihara hit a similar stage about a year or so ago with his own directing debut.
The final minute or so of the episode is obviously the work of Shingo Yamashita, the guy who recently did so much interesting (if occasionally controversial) gif-animator inspired work on Noein and then Birdy and then Naruto etc. Everyone in the anime industry now seems to have a Twitter account, Shingo Yamashita included, and one of his tweets, if I'm reading it correctly, seems to suggest that he re-used about 90% of the animation from his past work. I hope I'm not misunderstanding. If that's true, it's kind of a surprising admission. Instinctively I assumed this sort of thing was frowned upon. Normally I'd say it's wrong to re-use your own past work, but if it's done creatively and molded to the show at hand, then does it matter? In a sense, isn't all work built on what you've done before? It certainly felt similar to what he's done in the past, though I would never have noticed he used mostly the same raw material as previous segments he animated if he hadn't said so. That issue aside, objectively speaking, the results are definitely viscerally impressive, but more flashy than necessarily convincingly realistic. That's one problem I have with the gif animator generation - they skipped the step of fundamental training, and went straight for the jugular with animation that feels good to watch - animation that sakuga otaku want to watch. I just wonder if that establishes a proper foundation for growth.
Not surprisingly, Kenichi Kutsuna, who is usually present alongside Shingo Yamashita, was also there in this episode, though listed near the bottom so he probably didn't do many shots.
I'm going to go through the rest of the show, not just to see Muroi's work but to see if there's any other good work there, though I will find it hard to endure the characters and totally unoriginal story that seems like yet another Gundam/Eva permutation, updated with a moe cast.
The image at the top is actually from the opening, which features work by Kota Fumiaki, Yasushi Shingo, Shigereu Kimishima and Kazuhiro Miwa. There were a few nice bits in that op, especially the hydra section, pictured above. I suspect Kota Fumiaki did the hydra section, but I haven't seen much of his work lately so I'm not positive what his style looks like. It seems he did "special animation" in the new Ikuhara show, which I'll be checking out soon, so I'll see if that helps confirm anything. Anyway, whoever it is, I like the lines and shapes of the smoke and debris in this section. They're kind of reminiscent of Hisashi Mori with the shadows represented as flat black blobs surrounded by erratic, sketchy forms.
Ben, it’s good to see you back. I hope you had plenty of time to get away from anime.
I don’t know why, but I think the industry is doing cannibalization on its own. It’s natural for animators to take on directorial roles, but it’s better when the directorial posts are occupied by people from diverse fields. Also I think I’m seeing former-animator-turned-director doing animating here and there.
About GIF animations, I do like their expressions, but I think it only pleases sakuga otakus. I’m sort of a Sakuga Otaku myself, but sometimes I do get tired of watching hyper energetic animation with extreme poses and camera angles. Sure, it excites fans, it’s also wasteful on shows that don’t have narrative merit.
To me, the proper foundation is all about observing real people and making his or her own unique interpretation. It gets frustrating when you see a limited set of poses, gestures, and facial expressions for a long time. Now I’m finding some pleasure looking at pro-level Anime/manga style illustrations with better and diverse set of face and body expressions. They just need to adjust exaggerations a bit, but they look pretty damn good.
Hopefully those animators don’t get too complacent with their styles. Exciting they may seem, but eventually it’ll get boring.
Great to see you posting again!
I have a little question, is Takuya Suzuki related to Tatsuya Suzuki? From what I can tell, they’ve been working together on many shows since the mid 90s. Are they yet another pair of brothers in the industry?
Thanks. Yeah, I took a good rest from anime and feel like I’m ready to get into it again for a while.
Yes, it’s true, some people who direct a series then revert back to animating. Either it’s in their blood or they have to work like everyone else. Yasuomi Umetsu is suddenly very active as a lone animator in openings and things, and after directing Bokurano, Hiroyuki Morita is back to being a lone animator…
And I agree about the sakuga otaku thing… It seems like their work is specifically aimed at pleasing sakuga otakus, and being a sakuga otaku I can appreciate it, but I can also see its limitations. You’re exactly right that the wildly frenetic animation of the ex-gif animators is impressive the first time you see it but it gets a little monotonous after a while - the tone of much of their animation is so similar and constant. There isn’t much evolution or stylistic breadth. I don’t see any of these guys trying to become another Toshiyuki Inoue.
Sorry it wasn’t clear in the post. Yes, they’re brothers as far as I know. I even mentioned that as far back as 2004.