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This episode felt like one of the less mind-bending and more straightforward of the bunch so far. It almost felt too pat how cleanly it explained what had happened in the previous two episodes (not to spoil it). It's easy to say now, but I actually kind of suspected this might not be the case about Keiko.
I see now that this and the previous two episodes form a unit; one for each girl, and one for each of the three clubs that the protagonist decided to join to maximize his efficiency. So the only loose ends that were tied here were those for this trilogy. The reason for the repetition has yet to be explained, something I expect will happen eventually. One thing I admire about what they've done, despite finding the repetitive structure somewhat tedious, is that it feels cumulative. It doesn't feel like they're starting from scratch each time. You sense that aspects of previous episodes have a subtle impact on the new situation, so that it's neither purely repetitive nor purely linear. It's like a dream being re-dreamt. The basics are the same, but the details vary, and echoes of the previous version peep through here and again. It feels like they've carefully woven a painstakingly complex web of meaning.
In regards to the directing, this episode felt functional at best. Many of the episodes have their own special character due to the director in question, but this one felt kind of generic. It didn't feel particularly unique. It felt like it simply did what was necessary to push the plot forward and bring the plot threads from the previous two episodes to a clear conclusion, without any unique approach being presented in terms of the directing or mood. Perhaps it's because storyboarding, directing and animation directing weren't all done by one person like some of those previous episodes.
On the animation side, the staff was very similar to that in episode 1. The drawings were supervised by the chief animation director this time. I liked a number of the drawings here, like the drawing of the hand when the protagonist is holding the book. There were some interesting shapes and angles in there. Otherwise, the quality was good, but nothing stood out as mind-blowing.
I don't want to knock the quality, because it is just as good as ever. The layouts in particular are as fun and inventive as ever. That's an arena in which this series excels, like all Masaaki Yuasa productions. He and, presumably influenced by him, his staff are great at coming up with interesting ways of framing the shots. Even before Mind Game, Yuasa's productions stood out for all the comically angled and extremely wide shots he used so effectively. You can see a number of these angular wide shots in this episode, as in the previous episodes. I like the way the shot in the hallway of the university is framed, and that wide shot of the interior of the 'ideal' protagonist's home, with all the odd angles in there.
Layout is a pretty important fundamental element that doesn't get as much attention from fans as, say, the animation or the directing, because it's a little harder to assess. I have a hard time distinguishing between what's a quality layout and what's just there from the framing in the storyboard. I wonder to what extent Nobutake Ito was involved in the layouts. There is no separate credit, although I know that sometimes an animation director of his caliber will do most of the layouts, or at least correct them. (since usually layouts are drawn by the gengaman based on the konte) The layout policy varies from production to production, or at least it does on productions where the directors care enough about the animation like this one.
Finally, the color work in this show is remarkable. The opening credits pass by so damn fast I never really noticed, but checking it now I see that Kunio Tsujita is credited as color supervisor. He's done excellent work here. His color design does a great job of giving each shot its own unique texture, and differentiating the mood from scene to scene, from very subtle gradations in the real world to more wildly divergent coloring in the fantasy sequences. I often find myself admiring the coloring of a shot, which is something that rarely happens to me. Usually the layout or animation or art will stand out. Casshern Sins is another show that I remember had great coloring. Right after writing the previous sentence I looked it up real quick to see who the color designer of Casshern Sins was, and HOLY S*** it's Kunio Tsujita. Look for this guy's name. It's the mark of quality.
Storyboard: Hiroshi Shimizu
Director: Junichi Fujise
Animation director: Nobutake Ito
Takayuki Hamada, Shouko Nishigaki
Natsuko Shimizu, Sawako Miyamoto
Kenichi Fujisawa, Nobuhiro Takefuji
Fuminori Tsukita, Yoshihiro Maeda
it’s a good thing that you brought up layout system. When I asked Jan Scott Frazier about difference between layout and key animation years ago, he said that both are the same. I’m thinking about it now and I believe he gave me an half-ass answer. If a layout establishes the very first K.A. frame and clear B.G. with right camera angle, then it’s a finalized “blue print” of that shot. That’s my take on it. (Right now, I’m enjoying Studio Ghibli layout collection and it’s beautiful)
Speaking of Kunio Tsujita, I’m surprised that you brought up his name. Usually colorists are considered lowest part of the animation artist ladder among fans. I haven’t kept up with his website or his Anime Style column. I still think he’s becoming very influential colorist. Weird thing is that he doesn’t consider his work as “artistic” according to Oguro’s Animage interview.
H Park - That’s a weird thing for her to say. Considering her experience, I suspect there must have been some kind of miscommunication or misunderstanding. I’m sure she must know more than anybody that layout is an early step in the key animation process that, as you say, acts as a blueprint of the movement, establishing the relationship between the character and the background in a more specific way than the konte, etc. But maybe the animators conceptualize the process differently than do laymen like me. Where I see distinct tasks maybe they see one integral thought process.
It’s kind of ironic, but I never did read that serial of his, precisely because the topic of coloring wasn’t interesting enough. It sounds really interesting. There’s just too many of them. He’s very prolific - on top of that he’s got at least seven other blogs about food, movies, etc etc.
I kind of understand where he’s coming from. He’s basically doing a somewhat creative job in an industry, and has to collaborate with a large group of people to create something that’s the product of many people’s labor; he can’t just do his own thing. He’s not a wild-haired artist selling abstract paintings out of his garage. But I also think he’s being humble. What he has done in this show and Casshern Sins is exceptional because it shows personality and creativity, yet it fully benefits the show rather than standing out in a bad way. That’s the ideal combination. Like many of my favorite directors and animators, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that he considers himself a craftsman rather than an artist.