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I'm writing this from the middle of a park where I'd come out to hike six years ago when I first started writing this blog. Ah, nostalgia. I was writing about Mind Game back then, now it's Yuasa's third TV series. Six years changes people a lot. I wonder how many of my readers back at the beginning are still reading, or even watching anime...
With episode 4 it's back to the style of episode 2 - a tight, hermetically crafted overload of the senses. It's Akitoshi Yokoyama at the helm again, which was immediately apparent. He's all sharp turns and rapid-fire creative embellishment. He's one of those directors who's been directing for a good while now, so he has a good grasp of the mechanics of the job, and doing it the easy way would be too boring, so he tries to come up with more challenging and exciting tricks with the directing every time, creating these masterfully edited torrents of crazy images interpreting the story rather than just telling them in a straightforward way using lengthy shots of staged character acting.
I think it's quite brilliant, judged purely from a directing point of view. But on the other hand, it was really bewildering and kind of hard to follow. It feels like a visual analogue of the superfast narration. He creates a barrage of wild images that mirror the fevered rantings of the protagonist, rather than just showing what's going on in the boring old real world. But yeah, really hard to follow. Every shot is highly calculated and precisely timed to create just the right flow. It's a virtuoso display to be sure. It forces you to give up trying to make sense of it all - you've got to relinquish control and be carried along with the flow, sensing what you can. Our brains will piece it together as best they can. It's remarkable how creative he is at coming up with so many and so varied an array of images interpreting the narrative. The vertical line of ancestors above the characters symbolizing the ancestors at the end of the episode in particular was an incredible idea and well executed.
Each episode so far seems to have focused on one of the sub-characters, presenting an alternate potential path through university for the protagonist in which that character plays the lead role in dragging the protagonist down the primrose path. This time the protagonist joins not a tennis club (Ozu) or film club (Jogasaki) or a biking club (Akashi) but a cult club. Mysterious big-chin man Higuchi is the cult leader, and "I"'s duties are to protect and worship the master. The gallery of other sub-characters play supporting roles, dropping hints of their previous roles and behaving in the new situation in a manner consistent with their personalities. Memories of the past episodes seem to float up like fragments of a dream remembered or deja vu.
I was a little confused watching this episode, but I was completely impressed. I'm still not too convinced about the series' gimmick, but I find that I'm enjoying the show more now that I'm getting used to the characters and the narrative style. Now the show feels like a (temporally) cubist vision of the many possible iterations of oneself that might have intersected with all the other possible iterations of one's acquaintances in university. It explores personality not linearly but by running the same characters though different situations and seeing how they react. Though it's not so simple, since in a Pirandellian or otherwise pomo twist the characters seem aware of their situation to an extent.
Character designer and chief animation director Nobutake Ito is in charge of the drawings here. He actually played a supervisory role in episodes 2 and 3, so he has been there making sure the drawings were right the whole time. He's joined by Takayuki Hamada and Hironori Tanaka, who lead the animators. Shimizu Natsuko and Shoko Nishigaki from ep 1 are back. The other animators I've never heard of, but it's still a very strong team, and the results are not an iota diminished from what came before. I think I recognized Tanaka's hand in some of the smoke FX near the end. Kemonozume and even Kaiba had stylistic variation, and the directing tone changed a lot, but so far this series has been pretty smooth in terms of the tone of the directing and the storytelling style.
Storyboard & director: Akitoshi Yokoyama
Animation director: Nobutake Ito
Co-animation directors: Takayuki Hamada, Hironori Tanaka
Takayuki Hamada, Hironori Tanaka
Natsuko Shimizu, Shoko Nishigaki
Satomi Higuchi, Mai Tsutsumi
Kenichi Fujisawa, Fuminori Tsukita
Ippei Ichii, Kana Harufuji
Hirofumi Suzuki is animating Shippuuden 166 and Atsushi Wakabayashi is directing, writing and animating Shippuuden 167. Kind of epic actually.