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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« ShokaYojouhan Shinwa Taikei #1 »

‹ Monday, June 14, 2010 ›

07:35:02 pm , 857 words, 1797 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Masaaki Yuasa, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei

Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei #2

Back from the dead I am and I've just watched the second episode of Tatami Galaxy, my first anime in a good month. How ludicrous to be blogging episode 2 when episode 8 is already out, you say. Episode 2 is ancient news now! Even yesterday's tweets about the latest episode are already old news. Nothing is fast enough anymore. I want the latest updates YESTERDAY, damn it, that way I can be the first kid on the block with the new dose of info crack. Welcome to the slow boat called Anipages.

Anyway, damn fine stuff, this, at least technically. There is some massively tight and accomplished directing on display here, to say nothing of quality animation, cool design work, great colors, and nice music. Even if you can't get into the story or the characters or even the style of the narrative, which I can't, there's too much good stuff here not to give it at least a one-over. I'm just disappointed that so much good work is going into material that inherently will never attract anyone but existing anime fans.

So, no. I'm still not feeling the show after the second episode. But for the quality of the production I will keep watching, and because I don't want to abandon a Masaaki Yuasa show. Yuasa never does a hack job, and this is very high proof Yuasa. The work here is just as sophisticated and accomplished as anything he's done before. It's probably the most dense and complex narrative he's ever done. At every moment throughout each episode we are regaled with some form of relevant detail regarding the characters and their thoughts and actions in the form of a playful and creative animated embellishment. Things are constantly shifting and fast-forwarding and rewinding and jumping around. It's quite an exhausting ride - one that I don't think would appeal to any casual viewer who might happen across this show. Kaiba had far more audience appeal. The problem for me isn't that it isn't audience-friendly, but that I think it might be trying too hard. I miss the down-to-earth human warmth of his previous work.

If anybody cares about the staff who were behind this quality work, I'll be giving a run-down of the main folks for each episode, as usual.

Storyboarder and director: Akitoshi Yokoyama. Look up my posts on Kaiba to read up on all the great work he did on that show. (Specifically, he was involved in episodes 2, 3, 7 and 9.)

Animation director: Shoko Nishigaki. This appears to be her debut as animation director of a TV episode. I remember her from Kaiba, where she worked as a key animator. I don't keep up with who has done what that much anymore, but a cursory search suggests that she's a young animator who started out in the last few years.

Animators: This episode was a dream team on the animation front. I felt that the animation was really stellar while I was watching the episode, but I didn't suspect it to have been this good a lineup. There were only three key animators: Norio Matsumoto, Hirokinori Tanaka and Shingo Yamashita. (though there were some 'second key animators') Norio Matsumoto is of course the great maestro from whom it seems much of the young generation to emerge in the last five years has learned. Hirokinori Tanaka is a wildly prolific animator who in the last two years has revealed an incredible talent for creating exciting movement on a very short schedule, having done work on innumerable episodes (probably over 100), to say nothing of movies, much of it quite exciting as animation. Shingo Yamashita is another precocious upstart who has rapidly developed his own voice. He's one of the many new animators who came into the industry from the gif animator community. He notably did a lot of good work on the second Birdy TV show.

There were a lot of great bits. I loved the part at the beginning with the guys holding the strings and the part with the protagonist changing clothes. I think these were by Norio Matsumoto. Later on the blob fx from the paper balls was nice.

I don't have much to say about this content this time. I can't relate to the behavior or thought patterns of these characters, which is the main impediment for me to enjoying this show. I'm left to watch their crazy antics and enjoy the craftsmanship. The directing is very impressive. Structurally this was a tight, flawlessly constructed episode, as Yokoyama's episodes always are.

As for what happened in the episode... Here I was expecting to begin to see a linear narrative begin to unfold and characters begin to be fleshed out, but it seems we are dealing with a more meta affair. The events of the first episode have been revisioned in a different situation, and the protagonist throws hints of having a recollection of the previous version, like we're seeing a dream interpretation of the previous day's experiences. A lot of other meta stuff going on, with names like Godard being dropped and the protagonists creating a meta narrative about their rival director's Hollywood-inspired historical epic.

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8 comments

km
km [Visitor]  

I felt the same as you when the first episode aired but it’s grown on me. At least Ozu is quite fun to watch.

You probably know it by now but Yuasa storyboarded, directed and animated his own special part of Koji Masunari’s new film.

Are you going to write something about Shoka? I thought the Hakkenden-like designs and fantastic animation completely made up for any shortcomings the story(?) might’ve had.

06/15/10 @ 00:59
Régis
Régis [Visitor]  

Not to spoil anything, but I’m up to date with the latest episode and loving every one that I see. I keep reading that Yuasa fans find this show more restrained, but so far it’s my favorite. The story and the characters are so appealing that the animation doesn’t have to be in your face all the time (something I felt somewhat in Kemonozume, but much less so in Kaiba.) Anyway, be patient. I may be the exception and was hooked since the beginning, but the fact that it’s only gotten better makes it all worth it.

06/15/10 @ 00:59
LainEverliving
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

I too will echo Régis for what I’ve seen so far. I think the show is quite good and may actually have a slightly broader appeal than you (Ben) think, especially in Japan for people who’ve read the novel. It does seem as though a lot of people who weren’t previously aware of Yuasa are also getting into it, and all the episodes are highly rated on FUNimation’s website. As for relating to the characters, I don’t think you’re necessarily supposed to, but rather to just observe them. That’s how I’ve approached the show, and thus far it’s been a pretty good experience. Generally of course I do like the shows that I feel close to emotionally, but this sort of thing is also interesting once in a while.

As for Shouko Nishigaki, she’s primarily a GAINAX animator who worked a lot on Gurren Lagann and has also assisted on Evangelion 2.0. If you keep watching Yojō-Han, you’ll see her animation in episode 4 and beyond.

By the way, are you going to do a write-up for any of the recent theatrical films? We’ve got Trigun, Redline, Mai Mai Miracle, and of course Summer Wars (which I’m assuming you’ve seen) just from Madhouse, along with Evangelion 2.0, the last Kara no Kyoukai film, and a lot more, so there’s a lot of animation ground to cover potentially. And while I know you don’t cover Hollywood animation that much, if you haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon, it had some really beautiful CG animation in it that you should check out.

06/15/10 @ 10:56
Ben [Member]  

km -

Thanks for reminding me about Shoka. I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks insanely cool. Wow, scary to think I might have missed this. I find it looks way more crazy than Hamaji. The jagged lines look vaguely like what IG did with Windy Tales.

And no, I didn’t know that Yuasa had done that. Tanoshimi.

Regis -

I suspect I will start to find the attitudes of the characters and their pretentious way of talking less and less annoying as I get used to it, but it’s a shame I have to make an effort to like a Yuasa show. I think maybe people who didn’t know Yuasa to begin with might have enjoyed the show more than me. I was coming in with some preconceptions about his prior work and what to expect going forward that this show went against. Actually, that’s my problem with the show. Not that it goes against my preconceptions, but that the way it does so is to hew closer to a more ‘anime’ feel. Everything that came before didn’t feel like any other anime out there. That’s not a tack I wanted to see Yuasa take. Maybe I’m wrong. The comments on Youtube are quite enthusiastic. I noticed, though, that the views have gone down with each episode. Though it seems to go up and down a bit, which I don’t understand.

And I didn’t mention it in the post, because I assume everyone who blogged about it did, but man, the boob wall was funny.

LainEverliving -

Yeah, I agree that this feels less like a show that is supposed to capture the viewer through emotions than through the intellect. But that’s precisely what spurred me to comment that this material fundamentally has less broad audience appeal. Sophisticated postmodern narrative experiments don’t sell; emotional involvement does. But you can’t deny that the reaction on Youtube seems to be positive. I just wonder how much higher the numbers would be if it had been Kaiba getting this treatment instead. Kemonozume, granted, probably doesn’t have that much more broad audience appeal, despite being a much more conventional narrative with very clear emotional involvement in the two protagonists.

I doubt I have anything really interesting to say about those films, but I will try to write my impressions of Redline and Mai Mai Miracle when I see them. I saw Summer Wars a long time ago, but I never mustered up the energy to write about it. I was quite disappointed, honestly. I should probably take the time to parse out why that was. I’ll consider having a look at How to Train your Dragon, since you recommend it, though otherwise I would probably have given it a pass. It didn’t look too remarkable or original. Is Trigun worth having a look at?

06/15/10 @ 12:43
Adrian
Adrian [Visitor]  

Yojo-Han didn’t catch on for me until at least the third episode but I’ve really gotten to love it since. It’s been an increasing pleasure to watch as I’ve gotten accustomed to the story telling and the characters. It’s such a dynamic and fluent way of telling a story - where everything didn’t but then again did happen anyway - and it’s amazing how it all fits together so well.

My first reaction to Summer Wars was a bit of disappointment because it lacked the punch of Tokikake. But I’ve seen it three times now and like it a lot better. It’s just such a story overload with tons of different plot threads going on and more characters that anyone could care for. Watching it again gave me time to appreciate all the details (I really love how the children are portrayed and always are up to something) and to follow plot much better, which in turn made me appreciate it more as well. I’m also partial about the portrayal of Oz - I really like the way it is explained but can’t get myself to like the game-like style of the characters.

06/15/10 @ 13:15
LainEverliving
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

Following up to the movie stuff (which I seem to have started as a tangent of this thread)…

First off, I should be clear and say I haven’t seen any of the films other than Summer Wars and How to Train Your Dragon. So, I don’t know how Trigun turned out (other than the very good fan reaction from the screening at Anime Boston), and I’ve only seen clips from Redline and Mai Mai Miracle (which admittedly impressed me greatly). As for Kara no Kyoukai, I’ve seen the first five films and loved them all, but I haven’t seen the last two yet, so I was somewhat curious what others thought so that I’d know if I should build up more anticipation or try to moderate my expectations.

I guess I’ll answer Summer Wars first. I just saw it not too long ago under not the best circumstances, but I loved it anyway and was totally swept along in the story. It doesn’t have the same clear emotional hook as TokiKake, but it’s a wonderful collection of interesting characters and really captures the ‘group dynamic’ that you sometimes get in the best family films. The animation performances of each individual character, I felt, wasn’t quite as good as in TokiKake, but the sheer volume of animation of the family was impressive. I also really liked the Oz world, and the King Kazuma (Kazma? I keep seeing different romanizations of the name) fight scenes were very nice (especially when he is flying near the middle of the film). I loved the art designs as well, for both the real and Oz worlds. The demographic skew seems younger and broader (as was borne out by the box office in Japan), but it’s fine for Hosoda to try and do that, and I think the film really shows off his ability to make a film that has something anyone can enjoy, from the young kids to the teens and adults to the animation fans. Personally, I can’t wait to see it again. As for his future projects, I hope Hosoda will go for a smaller cast and story next time, so he can go back to getting amazing nuanced performances from just a few characters like in TokiKake. Or, alternatively, if he could meld the epic qualities of Summer Wars with that intimate nuance of animated performance, that would be really amazing and would blow my mind. I think if anyone working can do it, he can, so I’m very optimistic and couldn’t be more happy with where he’s going. Oh, and if I were him, I’d hold onto Satoko Okudera like my life depended on it, ‘cause she’s a GREAT screenwriter and will deliver him many more quality stories to come if he keeps working with her.

As for How to Train Your Dragon, the first thing you need to do is completely forget about any trailers you’ve seen. They don’t do the movie justice, other than telling you roughly what it looks like. What you do need to get in your mind is a bit of the vibe of Lilo & Stitch (the directors, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, previously made that film at Disney before John Lasseter bounced them out of the company over a dispute on the film that ultimately became Bolt) with the sense of wonderment that Avatar created, only now completely in glorious animation. The story and characters are simple but very engaging, and the personality animation is utterly fantastic. I haven’t seen much of the Illusion of Life in CG animation (it first appeared, in my opinion, in 2008 in both WALL-E and briefly in Bolt), but this film has it in spades, again and again in beautiful scenes between the boy and the dragon. The best personality stuff is during the moment when they bond. Played out in pantomime, this is a beautifully staged and acted scene that completely makes you believe the characters are real. I met the two animators who did a lot of the work in the sequence, and I have to say, they really nailed it beyond any possible expectations. And as for the flying scenes, they are absolutely amazing and beautiful. Again, think Avatar, but with a more animated feeling to it. One of the best shots, when dragon peaks out in the atmosphere and starts to fall back to earth (with the boy flies out of his flying harness and starts to fall), was done by a really good female animator named Kathy Zielinski, and I think the feeling of weightlessness is captured to perfection. Considering they did all the animation for the film IN A YEAR, I think they did an astounding job that easily ranks as among the very best done in American CG. You really owe it to yourself to check it out. Even if you don’t like the story that much, I think the animation lover in you will be blown away by the craftsmanship and wonderful work. Oh, and try and see it in 3D, on the biggest screen possible, if you can. It’s totally worth it.

Anyway, that’s it for my pitch. Here’s to more movies! ^__^

06/15/10 @ 17:49
h_park
h_park [Member]

Ben,
I really don’t care if you’re the first one with latest info. What we love about your blog entry is the substance, not the speed. You had to take of your personal business which is far more important.

laineverliving,
Hey Nicholas, I can’t be at Anime Expo this year. I’m saving my money for trip to Japan and I’m not too happy about recent price gouging from AX.

06/15/10 @ 19:38
LainEverliving
LainEverliving [Visitor]  

h park,

That’s too bad you won’t be able to come to AX. Having Kawamoto-san this year is going to be a real treat, so I’m looking forward to it, but I can understand wanting to save your money for Japan. It looks like I’ll be there myself in the fall, though, so who knows, maybe we’ll end up running into each other there.

06/17/10 @ 12:18