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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Thursday, October 7, 2010

09:13:20 pm , 814 words, 2140 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Yoshifumi Kondo in 1977

Most people remember Yoshifumi Kondo as the director of Whisper of the Heart, but I find this kind of ironic because for the other 90% of his career he was an animator. I remember Yoshifumi Kondo more as a great animator who did a lot of great animation on A Production shows in the 1970s and Nippon Animation shows in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It's understandable but regrettable that his work from this period remains unknown. None of these A Pro shows are available over here. But it's misrepresenting his achievement to remember him only for Whisper of the Heart. Though a beautiful film that would undoubtedly have been different under anyone else's hand, it doesn't show the real individuality of Yoshifumi Kondo the way his animation does.

Naturally, he did great work on the Ghibli films in the 1980s and 1990s as well. But I wrote about that before. I'd like to shine the light on some of his early work today.

I just had the chance to discover two little gems that Yoshifumi Kondo did in the period just before he left A Pro, right after working on Tenguri but before leaving to work on Future Boy Conan. This was the period when he was reaching the height of his powers as an animator, having worked by then for almost a decade as a TV animator. He did two episodes of Madhouse's Folk Tales of the World omnibus show.

He worked on the following two episodes:

Photobucket
Episode 66 "Why the turtle walks slow" (click for video)
Character design, animation, art, backgrounds
(folk tale from Cameroun, aired in May 1977)

A short summary for those who don't understand Japanese, as these aren't subbed: One day, the king of the animals, the lion, gave away certificates to all the animals proving that they were the best at one thing. The turtle gets the diploma of slowest animal alive. He sets his eyes on a cute impala, but she's not impressed by his diploma for obvious reasons. So he devises a scheme to trick the elephant and the hippopotamus into convincing the lion king to pronounce the turtle the strongest animal alive. His scheme works, but it's all in vain, because by the time he gets back to her she's already found the male impala.

Photobucket
Episode 86 "The man who switched places with his wife" (click for video)
Character design, animation, director
(folk tale from Norway, aired in July 1977)

One day, a housewife in Norway, sick of her husband constantly nitpicking her work, suggests they trade places for a day. Hilarity ensues.

These episodes don't really show off the mover side of Kondo as much as showing a side of him we really didn't see as much - him creating a short film from the ground up by designing and moving every element. You'd have to watch his work in Dokonjo Gaeru or Tom Sawyer to see the mover side.

It's more for the designs that these shorts are nice, although the movement of the turtle in a number of shots is certainly quite fun. Kondo reveals his blood as an A Pro animator here through the loose but efficiently stylized designs that look great using just a few lines and that move in a fun way with just a few drawings. I like the way the designs are cartoonishly stylized but not over-stylized. I like that you see a Yoshifumi Kondo uninfluenced as of yet by Miyazaki. His influences at this point are mostly Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama, which shows up clearly in these films. I don't like the way most western designs these days are over-stylized. I find that these achieve a nice middle ground.

This is one thing that Madhouse's show was great for - giving talented animators of the day a chance to work on a short format with more creative freedom to try out things than they'd have on a show unified around a single design concept, which is pretty much 99% of shows. It'd be nice to have another show like this today, because there are so many young animators today who seem like they could develop into something great if they had the chance to experiment with unusual ideas for design and movement, but are stifled by having to work within the same rigidly homogenized anime design ethos.

As much as I love Group Tac's Tales of Old Japan, the show that Madhouse copied, I think in some ways Madhouse improved on it. The Group Tac show was too often very thinly produced, whereas the animation and designs are a little more worked in the Madhouse show. Group Tac's show seems to hold back in favor of a lightweight, neutral cartoonish feeling, whereas Madhouse's show feels more individualistic and stylish. There's nothing like this being produced anymore, so I'd think there would be a big opening for such a show.

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