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 20, 2011

09:52:00 pm , 737 words, 1775 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III Part 2 episode 30

Ever since I watched episode 78 of the second Lupin III series the other day, it got me wanting to watch more, so I've started going through the series, though not in order yet. I just watched episode 30, one of the episodes mostly animated by Yuzo Aoki, and I really enjoyed Aoki's drawings, so I thought I'd just post some snaps from the show since I don't have time to write anything long today.

This episode finds Zenigata and Lupin captured by a Gadaffi lookalike trying to mount a revolution in the middle of the desert in Morocco. Yuzo Aoki's style comes through best in the Gadaffi character and his minions. He doesn't have to worry about drawing them on model like Lupin and Zenigata. Maybe he even designed the sub-characters for this episode himself.

The hilarious thing about this episode is that the Gadaffi character evokes Tensai Bakabon. I don't know whether it was intention or not, but the drawing style of the face is similar in a lot of the shots, and they use the same voice-actor, Masashi Amenomori. So the whole time he's talking about starting a revolution with his army of foreign mercenaries, all you can think about is Bakabon Papa. I guess I got this because I've been watching TMS's amazing Ganso Tensai Bakabon series from 1975-77. (See an image from the legendary 'gekiga' episode of that was entirely drawn Sanpei Shirato style by Manabu Ohashi, watch the crazy opening featuring the moon crashing into the earth directed by the late Osamu Dezaki.)

Even just in the general mood and looseness of the drawings the second Lupin series reminds me a bit of Bakabon as well as the other mid-70s TMS shows - Gyators, Dokonjo Gaeru, Gamba's Adventure, etc. It reminds me far more of those than it does of Cagliostro or any of the latter-day Lupin outings. Those mid-70s TMS gag shows were all so dynamic, free and unconcerned with being pretty and orderly. You didn't really see anything as free and crazy in the 80s, much less later.

I used to dislike the second series because of that wackiness - I preferred the more grounded first series - but now I appreciate it a lot more. It's a very different show. It's much looser in its stories, the quality is much more uneven, and it doesn't take itself seriously at all. They take the implausibility of the show's various gimmicks to absurd extremes. In the first show they tried to make it at least somewhat plausible when Zenigata showed up at the most unexpected moments to try to arrest Lupin. Now they just say 'The hell with it.' It's almost like watching Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny.

I just like the roughness of the lines in these opening close-up shots of a jeep. And the fact that the little details are right. It's very Yasuo Otsuka-esque, lavishing loving detail on a jeep. Otsuka actually did a lot of uncredited animation and correction work throughout the show.

General Gadaffi via Tensai Bakabon. I like the way his head looks like it's coming out of his chest. Yuzo Aoki has a way of stylizing certain elements of the body like the hands here that you start to be able to identify as his work after you've seen it a few times.

I like this gnarly drawing of his hand.

Zenigata surrounded by the mercenary army.

Zenigata and Lupin captured.

Look at this terrible drawing. It's from the second half of the episode. It looks totally different from the first half. The shapes are loose in all the wrong ways. There's none of the obvious instinct for stylization borne of experience that Yuzo Aoki learned working on all those A Pro gag shows. At one point around the middle of the episode the drawings suddenly get really bad like this. The weird thing is that Yuzo Aoki is the only animator credited, but obviously this couldn't have been drawn by him. Maybe they forgot to credit the other guy, or he didn't want to be credited because he did such a terrible job. Still, I kind of like the fact that in this series you can see such dramatic changes in drawing style from one moment to the next. It's not always great, but at least the drawings are full of variety and personality, and occasionally there's some better animators like Yuzo Aoki to show how it's done.

Monday, October 17, 2011

03:44:00 pm , 2031 words, 9227 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Doraemon 2011 movie: Nobita and the Robot Army

Doraemon 2011 movie: Nobita and the Robot Army

I've just watched the latest Doraemon movie, this year's Robot Army movie, and it's a well made film. I enjoyed it much better than 2009's Spaceblazer film directed by Kozo Kusuba, which I found insipid and bland. Unfortunately, Kozo Kusuba is directing next year's film. It's too bad, because every other film since 2006's Nobita's Dinosaur has been quite fun and entertaining as well as featuring quite a bit of good animation. The 2011 film gets back to the standard set by the earlier films.

Nobita and the Robot Army is directed by Yukiyo Teramoto, who returns for a second stint after 2007's Underworld movie. This time she has not Kaneko Shizue working under her as animation director but a bigger team headed by up-and-coming animator Naoyuki Asano. Naoyuki Asano has staged a blazing ascent since doing his first work on Doraemon as a key animator in the 2008 Green Giant movie under director Ayumu Watanabe and animation director Shizue Kaneko. The next year he was one of four animation director under Shizue Kaneko, and the year after that he became the chief animation director supervising five animation directors.

The line of development of the new 'look' of the Doraemon movies cam be traced thus: Ayumu Watanabe -> Kenichi Konishi -> Kaneko Shizue -> Naoyuki Asano.

Kaneko Shizue, already a great animator in the movies, did a good job of carrying on the more pliable, hand-drawn look Kenichi Konishi created in 2006, and the newcomer Naoyuki Asano seems like he's continuing to do so. I'm not exactly sure what he does as the chief animation director. An animation director's job is obvious - they correct key animation - but I don't know what the job of a chief animation director entails.

For once I've seen the original movie of which this is a remake (movie #7 from 1986). Dialogue has been rearranged and scenes completely re-staged, but otherwise the remake is identical to the original in the broad strokes. And a big improvement. Usually re-make spells disaster, but the Doraemon films from the 1980s needed updating, and they've done it well here by adding lots of nuance to the character acting and simply updating the technical aspects. The art is of better quality, the directing is tighter.

What before felt two-dimensional and static now feels three-dimensional and dynamic. More effort has been put into bringing out the characters' emotions. Where before they seemed to move like expressionless robots, now they react with anguish and more complex emotions. Their body language and facial expressions are far more pliable and various than before.

There is a bit of a disconnect between the simplicity of the concept of Doraemon and the new look. Doraemon was in step with its simple stories when it was drawn simply and two-dimensionally. The quality of the art now seems to outstrip the material. Before it didn't take much effort to believe it when Doraemon stepped across the Anywhere Door to another place or Nobita put on the Takecopter and flew in the sky. Now it requires an extra dose of suspension of disbelief.

But there's no denying that the films needed updating, and the better quality makes the films much more watchable. They did a good job taking the basic traits of the old show, such as the way they draw a circle around the pupil when a character is surprised, and built on and expanded the range of expressions while still keeping the core of the characters.

Yukiyo Teramoto has brought to this film a sense of lyrical beauty that the original was missing. There is a scene where we watch fog rolling down a valley onto the surface of a lake in the morning light. There's a scene where we watch Nobita walk in a dark forest in silhouette. Neither of these scenes serve any narrative purpose, but they're among the more beautiful in the film. Then there's the scene, pictured above, where Nobita walks through the ruins of his hometown. It's quite a striking scene because the nuanced, realistic rendering of the ruins isn't something we'd expect to see in Doraemon.

The characters not only look more three-dimensional, they move in a more three-dimensional way. They bend their bodies into all sorts of configurations the likes of which you never used to see in the old Doraemon. The opening scene is a good example:

This kind of fun character acting is the essence of the new Doraemon. Even scenes that don't jump out as being flamboyantly animated are full of amusing posing like this that keeps the animation lively throughout.

Aside from the character animation, the effects animation and action sequences in the new Doraemon are also a big improvement over the old movies. For example, the scene where Shizuka accidentally causes the robot to destroy a building is basically the same as the original. Except that now, when the building explodes, it explodes and crumbles with an Akira level of maniacally detailed animation.

This was probably animated by Takashi Hashimoto. The animation of the explosion seems like his style. The animation of the building collapsing is impressively detailed. I haven't seen this level of detail of a building collapsing since Shinya Ohira's animation in Akira. Doraemon isn't where I expected to see it.

Another example featuring good effects and good action is the scene where the enemy robot breaks through the mirror leading to the real world. In the old film, it wasn't very excitingly animated or directed. Action scenes were never Tsutomu Shibayama's forte. In the new film, the scene was animated by a flamboyant animator who makes it a hair-raising experience.

The effects in this scene are quite interesting. Instead of drawing a simple laser beam as in the original movie, this animator makes it a pulsating line of star-shaped energy. The forms are quite beautiful to watch. I suspect this scene was done by Hidetsugu Ito, though that's just a guess and I'm not sure.

The FX throughout the film are generally quite nice, as there was an FX & Mecha Animation Director, a role that you don't normally see in anime. Suzuki Tsutomu, whom I recall for his work on Outlaw Star (op, 12, 23), played this role. Perhaps he is the one who invited another great action animator who did good work on Outlaw Star to the film - Susumu Yamaguchi. Robot Army featured a lot of outside faces like this who have never worked on Doraemon before.

The 2008 Green Giant movie also had an FX Animation Director - Hiroshi Masuda, who played the same role in the 3rd and 4th Naruto movies around the same time (which I wrote about here). Hiroshi Masuda has been involved in most of the recent Doraemon movies. In Robot Army he is credited as one of the animation directors. Incidentally, Hidetsugu Ito also acted as FX Animation Director in the 4th Naruto Movie.

The 2006 Dinosaur movie was notable for the slew of outside animators it brought in. There are a lot of other talented outside animators in Robot Army: Takashi Hashimoto, Hidetsugu Ito, Susumu Yamaguchi, Manabu Ohashi, Fumiaki Kota, Tatsuya Tomaru, Junichi Hayama, etc. Fumiaki Kota has been a regular in the films since Green Giant in 2008. Then there are all the regular faces like Masami Otsuka and Masakatsu Sasaki. Masami Otsuka in this movie was almost exclusively devoted to animating the low-key scenes of interaction between the main characters. It was good casting - it allows him to show off what he's really good at.

"Good animation in Doraemon" used to be an oxymoron. Now it's common sense. Over the last decade, I've come to expect that each new Doraemon film will feature quite a bit of good animation by talented in-house and freelance animators. Ayumu Watanabe's 2006 dinosaur film is probably the best known of the recent Doraemon films, as it was the most flamboyantly animated of the whole series, but pretty much every successive film over the last decade has had a lot of good animation.

That didn't used to be the case. For about the first two decades of the yearly movies, the animation was stodgy and perfunctory. It seems like it was around the time Ayumu Watanabe became involved in the Doraemon movies, at the end of the 1990s, that that animation in the Doraemon movies started to become more active and interesting. Masaya Fujimori was one of the animators who helped spice up the animation in the movies around this time.

It's not coincidentally with the 2003 film, directed for the first time by Ayumu Watanabe, that things really started picking up. The animation director system switched from Sadayoshi Tominaga handling everything to a 4-person system. Talented animators were brought in from the outside like Yuichiro Sueyoshi and Hiroyuki Aoyama. This trend continued with the next film in 2004, which featured Masaaki Yuasa and Kenichi Konishi. Things exploded with the next film, the 2006 remake of Nobita's Dinosaur, and from there onwards each new film has hewed, to a greater or lesser extent, to the standard of more dynamic directing and animation set by the 2006 film. (I wrote about the 2008 movie and the 2010 movie before.)

Here is a summary of the key credits for the Doraemon movies over the period during which the staff transformation took place that led to the improvement of the quality of the Doraemon movies. For more about the Doraemon films, refer to my post on A Production.


Doraemon movie staff 2003-2011

2003 #24 Wind Riders
Dir: Tsutomu Shibayama / Chief AD: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Tetsuro Karai, Shizue Kaneko, Masaya Fujimori, Yoshiaki Yanagita
Notable animators: Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Masaru Oshiro, Toshiharu Sugie, Atsuko Tanaka, Yoshinobu Michihata, Hiroyuki Aoyama, Yuichiro Yano, Toshihiko Masuda, Hiroshi Nagahama, Koichi Murata
2004 #25 Wan Nyan Spacetime Adventure
Chief Dir/Line Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / Dir/Storyboard: Tsutomu Shibayama / AD: Tetsuro Karai, Shizue Kaneko, Masaya Fujimori, Masayuki Sekine
Notable animators: Masaaki Yuasa, Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Kenichi Konishi, Sachiko Kamimura, Masaru Oshiro
2006 #26 Nobita's Dinosaur (Remake of movie #1 from 1980)
Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Kenichi Konishi
Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Tetsuro Karai, Shizuka Hayashi, Tatsuzo Nishita, Hideki Hamasu, Shingo Natsume, Masakatsu Sasaki, Shizue Kaneko, Masaru Oshiro, Ryotaro Makihara, Hisashi Mori, Shinji Hashimoto, Yasunori Miyazawa, Norio Matsumoto, Takaaki Yamashita, Shogo Furuya, Hiroshi Masuda, Tsutomu Suzuki
2007 #27 Underworld (Remake of movie #5 from 1984)
Dir: Yukiyo Teramoto / AD: Shizue Kaneko
Notable animators: Ryotaro Makihara, Masami Otsuka, Hiroshi Masuda, Masaru Oshiro, Shingo Natsume, Masakatsu Sasaki, Toshihiko Masuda, Shizuka Hayashi, Hiromi Hata, Ayumu Kotake
2008 #28 Green Giant
Dir: Ayumu Watanabe / AD: Shizue Kaneko / FX AD: Masuda Hiroshi
Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Shizuka Hayashi, Masakatsu Sasaki, Ryotaro Makihara, Tamotsu Ogawa, Norio Matsumoto, Fumiaki Kota, Masahiro Sato, Yoshihiko Umakoshi, Ikuo Kuwana, Kiyotaka Oshiyama, Shigeru Kimishima, Nobutaka, Naoyuki Asano
2009 #29 Spaceblazer (Remake of movie #2 from 1981)
Chief Dir: Kozo Kusuba / Chief AD: Shizue Kaneko / AD: Naoyuki Asano +3 others
Notable animators: Masami Otuska, Hiromi Hata, Yuichiro Sueyoshi, Shizuka Hayashi, Satoru Utsunomiya, Nobutaka, Motonobu Hori, Masashi Okumura, Fumiaki Kota
2010 #30 Mermaid Legend
Dir: Kozo Kusuba / Chief AD: Naoyuki Asano / AD: 5 names
Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Masaru Oshiro, Yasuo Muroi, Shizuka Hayashi, Majiro, Yu Yamashita, Hiroyuki Morita, Fumiaki Kota, Tetsuro Karai, Hiromi Hata, Hiroshi Shimizu
2011 #31 Robot Army (Remake of movie #7 from 1986)
Dir: Yukiyo Teramoto / Chief AD: Naoyuki Asano / AD: Hiroshi Masuda +5 others / Mecha & FX AD: Tsutomu Suzuki
Notable animators: Masami Otsuka, Susumu Yamaguchi, Ito Hidetsugu, Tomaru Tatsuya, Kota Fumiaki, Masaru Oshiro, Manabu Ohashi, Shoko Nishigaki, Takashi Hashimoto, Takaya Hirotoshi, Tobe Atsuo, Shigeki Kudo, Hiroyuki Morita, Junichi Hayama, Masakatsu Sasaki, Nobutake Ito, Motonobu Hori, Hiroki Harada, Ayako Hata, Shinichi Kurita, Takashi Mukoda

Doraemon: Nobita and the Robot Army (2011) main staff credits

Director: Yukiyo Teramoto
Script: Higashi Shimizu
Chief Animation Director: Naoyuki Asano
Art Director: Makoto Tsuchihashi
Storyboard: Yukiyo Teramoto, Tetsuo Yajima
Line Director: Minoru Yamaoka
Character Design: Shizue Kaneko
Animation Directors: Masahiro Kurio, Tomofumi Nakura, Hiroshi Masuda, Aya Takano, Hiroko Yaguchi, Shingo Okano
Mecha and Effect Animation Director: Tsutomu Suzuki
Key Animators:
Masami OtsukaTakayuki UragamiSusumu Yamaguchi
Hidetsugu ItoTatsuya TomaruKoichiro Ueda
Masahiro EmotoFumiaki KotaYukari Karai
Masaru OshiroNobuhiro OsugiYumi Chiba
Hisashi KagawaManabu OhashiTakeo Oda
Yuki ItoOsamu MiwaHitomi Kakubari
Mai TsutsumiDaisuke MatagaKanako Watanabe
Takayuki GotanTetsuhito SatoEmi Kamiishi
Hiromi TaniguchiMasahiko ItojimaMasayuki Koda
Masashi EguchiAki KukiJun Ishikawa
Yuko YoshidaYukihiro IshidaHanako Enomoto
Yujiro MoriyamaKunihiro AbeAkiko Matsuo
Misato AbeTakahiro TakamizawaShinichi Yoshikawa
Toshiyuki SatoShoko NishigakiRiki Matsuura
Takashi HashimotoHirotoshi TakayaAtsuo Tobe
Shigeki KudoHiroyuki MoritaJunichi Hayama
Masakatsu SasakiNobutake ItoMamoru Sasaki
Kazuo SakaiMotonobu HoriHiroki Harada
Ayako HataShinichi KuritaTakashi Mukoda

Saturday, October 15, 2011

06:14:00 pm , 676 words, 4747 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Music Video, Animator, Short

Satoshi Murai

My latest indie Japanese animator discovery is Satoshi Murai. In 2009, one year after graduating from the Graphic Design Department of Tama Art University, he animated a beautiful, dreamy music video for the song A Play by Japanese alternative electro-hop outfit ALT (ALT home page).

It's a ravishing video that doesn't scream "music video" the way most do. It comes across more like a visual poem. I didn't even realize it was a music video until after looking into it.

The video begins with a woman's voice saying, "There are an infinite number of worlds over here, over there, and inside you. But they're also nowhere. The curtain will soon fall. The journey will soon end. It's time for bed."

In a city somewhere in the world, a child is tucked into bed in. This soft, faint scene from our plane of reality then fades out, and the screen explodes into color as a bubble floats up and bursts into a dream-creature that's half television/half beetle. A male voice launches into a rambling, monotone recitation of disjointed poetic images, and the visuals echo his strange words and rhythm, morphing between abstract and identifiable forms. It's like we're witnessing the ether from which the images of dreams are created as our brain pieces together the shards of our everyday experiences into a bizarre visual collage.

Like the words, the hazy images morph quick and fast and create an intoxicating experience that evokes the fertile, poetic creativity of the brain as it cooks up dreams at night. "Nobody remembers the beginning. It's dark outside now. That day I lost something and I gained something in exchange." Sometimes the images directly mirror the words, other times go on their own trajectory: A coffee thermos hovers in mid-air pouring coffee, and morphs into the eye and beak of a bird. A fish runs with human legs. A black and white TV shows a flickering image of a pair of trousered legs walking. For just a second we catch a glimpse of a house hidden in the trees at dusk.

The video feels so unlike a regular music video because of the abstract song. Rather than a catchy pop song, it's a glitchy wash of ambient synths through which a voice swims in a monotone random-walk recitation of playfully alliterating, randomly rhyming chockablock phrases that evoke disjointed images. It's the Japanese answer to alternative hip-hop bands like Clouddead. The visuals and audio are a perfect match with one another, neither making sense but both seeming to make sense together.

The visuals occasionally remind me of Gianluigi Toccafondo, with broad splotches of paint tracing distorted renderings of familiar objects that transform into other objects by stretching and warping. But A Play is far more varied and flexible in its technique and texture. It isn't exclusively produced by painting over and transforming live-action images the way Toccafondo's work seems to be. It switches between very broad abstract painted strokes and more minutely detailed traditional animation, such as the moment where ants are meticulously drawn milling about in a grayscale pencil cross-section of the sleeping boy's head.

As it turns out, Satoshi Murai himself is part of the ALT collective, and he either did or helped with the music of this video. He also does his own solo music. Satoshi Murai's Soundcloud page features the same brand of pleasingly glitchy ambient electronica. So he's an animator-musician, like Ryu Kato. The ALT collective have a number of other visually interesting music videos available on their home page.

I don't know if Satoshi Murai is still part of ALT, but he's currently part of another collective - the Tymote collective, an 8-member group that does cutting edge creative work in motion graphics, illustration and music. You can see more work like A Play in the Palm station ID that Satoshi Murai did at Tymote for the 24-hour music station Space Shower TV. Explore Tymote's home page to see more of the outstanding visual inventiveness of this group.

Like most animators working today, Satoshi Murai has a twitter feed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

05:18:00 pm , 1323 words, 3017 views     Categories: Animation

Misc recent viewing

Bleach 341

The last few days I've been doing some catch-up on what's new lately. I haven't watched much anime the last few months, so I missed out on a quite a bit of the little bits of good animation that have been done here and there, of which apparently there's been quite a bit. It's a shame that so much good work is done in shows that otherwise are of otherwise little interest to me, much less to a non-anime watching audience. The talented animators deserve a bigger audience. I'm beyond tired of seeing good work buried in crap shows that I wince having to watch just to see some good animation. I pretty much can't bring myself to write about it anymore. Luckily there are a lot of you guys out there tweeting or blogging about this kind of news, so it's easier than ever to catch wind of a good bit of animation in some crap show or other.

A-1 Pictures' iDolm@aster is a case in point. Tadashi Hiramatsu did animation in the opening of this show that I had to mute to be able to endure watching for two minutes and it still made me vomit in my mouth a little. Such a great animator relegated to doing this crap. So much for A-1 Pictures being the new ambitious studio on the block. A lot of Gainax people staffing this one. With that and the news of Trigger's formation, it seems there's a big exodus from Gainax going on right now. I'm not terribly crushed. I've been wanting some of the talented people working at Gainax to go elsewhere to have opportunity to do work that is not dictated by the bizarre whims of this studio, which admittedly did get a lot of fine work produced. But I obviously was not the only one feeling it was time for them to move on.

Hiroyuki Imaishi directed a five-minute sequence in the latest episode, episode 15, which is worth checking out if you're not tired of his style yet.

In other disappointing news, a great animator whose work I used to really like, Susumu Yamaguchi, is directing Sunrise's new Gundam show, Gundam AGE, and it looks really stupid. Normally it should be considered a pretty big prop to be appointed to direct the latest sally in one of anime's biggest franchises, but personally I think his talent is completely wasted here. Without his personal stamp on the work, what's the point? There are other people who can competently helm yet another humdrum Gundam. Susumu Yamaguchi is about more than that. It must be a cushy position, so I can't blame him. How much of a living could he have made just sticking it out as a lowly animator doing awesome but unrewarding animation?

The answer to that seems to be hinted at by Kiyoshi Tateishi, who occasionally goes by the name Takashi Shiwasu (see his home page): not much. Tateishi is an animator who's been active since about 2000. Recently he was animator in the opening of Bones' No. 6 and just-started Un-Go. He blogged at some length five days ago about "escaping" the anime industry, stating that he decided to take a break from the "mire" of working in the anime industry, complaining about bad working conditions (though his wording was pretty vague, so I'm not sure exactly what he was talking about).

The sad thing is that when I hear about all these talented people working in the industry, the only thing I can ask them is: Why bother? You could make a way better living, and probably live a happier life, doing something else. Which is the last thing I want to have to say to them, since I enjoy their work. But it's the hard truth. The answer will probably be because they love animation, and that's the right answer, but there's clearly something wrong when people that are pretty talented like Kiyoshi Tateishi (he's got some solid drawing skills that make him a good layout man) can't take it anymore and up and quit.

There was some good work in the otherwise bland and generic new IG outing Guilty Crown. Notably the fight looked like Yutaka Nakamura, but he's not credited, so I don't know who it was. Could it be Toru Okubo? Has he gotten that good since his already pretty good action scene in Tsubasa Chronicle in 2006? Admittedly that's a long time to improve, but I haven't really followed his work closely, so I don't know.

Bones' No. 6 episode 10 had some animation from one of the more appealing of the younger hot-shot animators working today, Yoshimichi Kameda, who did a lot of similar work on Bones' second Fullmetal Alchemist TV show. I find his style a little forced and striving for effect, but I still like his work better than a lot of today's young animators. At least it feels like he's devised his own approach rather than just mimicking Yoshinori Kanada or something. I'll have to check out this show to see if there was any other good work. Bones has been so prolific since I took a break.

Naruto Shippuden's new opening starting with episode 231 is a typically wacky piece by Akitaro Daichi. What an odd idea to get this guy to do a Naruto opening. Either they forgot to look at his CV or they wanted to inject some absurdity into the absurdly long-running show. It's got some enjoyably crazy animation in it. Animators include Hiromi Ishigami, Tokuyuki Matsutake, Hiroyuki Yamashita and Yu Yamashita.

Bones' Un-go is the latest Noitamina show. I suppose the fact that it's distantly inspired by Ango Sakaguchi is supposed to make it edgy, but so far it just looks like anime. It's the Fullmetal Alchemist team, so perhaps that's why they've got Yun Koga doing designs. FMA was huge with the HS girls apparently. Seiji Shimizu seems like the one they turn to to make them a long, talky, story-based pan-gender hit. The one thing I liked about the show was the two shots of the guy flipping around the in the opening, and the ending, which is uncredited for some reason but fairly screams Norimitsu Suzuki. I've no idea who did that flipping part - Yasuyuki Noda? Yuki Komatsu?

Speaking of openings, Gundam AGE's had Yasushi Muraki, but there was nothing in the opening that was really good. I suppose he did the part where the two giant robots fight each other with light sabers, but it wasn't particularly enjoyable to watch if it was him, which is unusual. Ken Otsuka, Akira Amemiya, Shingo Abe and Iwao Teraoka presumably drew the other mecha parts of the op.

Whatever happened to Yasuhiro Aoki? He seemed poised to take off as a director. Now he's animating fights in Madhouse's latest Marvel superhero anime Blade? Way to go, anime. That's how to use talent. He animated some part of the fight in episode 9 together with Satoru Utsunomiya. Extraordinarily considering the talent involved, the animation is totally uninteresting.

The most satisfying episode animation-wise that I've seen during my catch-up has been Bleach episode 341. It's the closest thing to a Naruto 133 that I've seen in the show. Animators involved include Hironori Tanaka, Fumiaki Kota, Hiroshi Kamogawa, Yuki Hayashi, Takaaki Wada, Shinichi Kurita and Yoshimichi Kameda. There are two big explosions in the episode at around the 1/3 mark (image 1 above) and 2/3 mark (image 2 above). Both are really beautiful and in a totally different style. The second one is obviously Hideki Kakita. The first one I'm not so sure. The whole action scene around the first explosion is really amazing. I suppose it must have been the work of Hironori Tanaka and/or Shinichi Kurita. The fight at the beginning was also nice, though it pales in comparison to the insanity of the animation around the first explosion. The explosion fan in me was satiated after watching this. Some of the best explosion work in recent memory.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

04:19:00 pm , 1080 words, 3659 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Animator, Short

Ayaka Nakata

Ayaka Nakata's Cornelis (2008) is an enigma. A man dressed in a red blazer, red pants, red hat and red suit stands motionless at the center of the screen. He shushes the viewer a few times, as if to silence an unruly audience before his performance begins. His finger still to his mouth, suddenly he slides to the floor, his finger suspended in mid air above his body. A strange dance begins. His blazer seems to take on a life of its own. It peels off him, inverts itself to its white interior, and gives birth to an identical copy of Cornelis - adorned in white blazer, white pants, white hat and white suit. Cornelis and Cornelis' converse peer at each other warily across opposite shoulders, in sync, as if across a twisted mirror. Then they hug each other and begin a strange dance in which their peeled off clothes give birth to more and more Cornelis clones. The dance escalates to a swirl of bodies that finally implodes into the kernel of the orignal red Cornelis.

I was baffled at first, but then came to realize that trying to dig for some deeper meaning is probably beside point. I suspect this film is meant to be enjoyed as a pure exploration of dance and motion. It's like a beautiful modern dance piece, heightened to the fifth dimension of animation where you can contort and transform the human body in ways not possible in real life. It's like George Schwizgebel via Erica Russell - an abstract dance in celebration of the freedom of animation.

Every moment of the animation is packed with nuance. The expressions and body movements of the man at each juncture all seem to betray some unknown emotion - joy, surprise, anguish - at which has just transpired, as if he were miming out a dramatic story. The way he holds his hat above him, inverted, at just such an angle, with such an expression of conviction and purpose, seems to have some obvious meaning to him that we just don't grasp. The man's deliberate poses and expressions make the whole affair seem simultaneously amusing and deadly serious.

The film was supposedly originally conceived without sound, as a pure exercise in abstract body motion. Ayaka Nakata states in an interview that, after every action, she would ask her character Cornelis what he wanted to do next, and would animate the next movement that came to mind. Thus the film evolved in an unpredictable new direction after every juncture, purely as a way of following the inner logic of the character.

All I know is that it's an enjoyable film, and a well made one. It's a beautiful abstract dance of bodies that's never boring or predictable. At every turn you're surprised by some new way that the bodies intertwine and invert and swirl around. The animation work is strong in its spareness and deliberatness. Nothing is wasted. It does what it needs to do in 3 minutes without dragging it out, and feels like it says what it wants to say. The bodies are well drawn in all sorts of configurations, without being over-animated.

I like this film because it feels pure and assured. There's no pretense of attempting to convey a deep message or emotion, or striving for effect, like there is in a lot of films by young Japanese indies. The style is well controlled, showing an effortless ability to come up with creative new ideas that don't feel predictable. A look at the illustrations on her web site confirms that she has a fresh and rich imagination. Each illustration is completely different in its style and concept, but presents some creative new blending of concepts.

As it says in her profile, Ayaka Nakata has been working on commercial ad work since her graduation. Cornelis was the first film she made after graduating from Tokyo Zokei University. Earlier during her studies she made three films: The Day When a Tongue-Clicking Bird Appeared (2004), Grandma's Needlework Room (2005), and Kikimimi, Act 2: Mirrors (2007).

The Day When a Tongue-Clicking Bird Appeared (watch here) is her first film, and she didn't do most of the animation. It's obviously more rough around the edges, but still a pretty good execution of an interesting concept. A man wakes up one morning to find a bird on his head. The bird clicks its tongue "tsk" every time something annoying happens to the man. Every time it does so, it gets bigger and bigger. The next morning, he finds the bird gone, but finds that other people have been infected by the bird's irritated clicking, and have become irritable clicking birds themselves. The cutting is fast and controlled, and she develops the story at just the right pace for its meaning to come through loud and clear. The bird is the little demon of impatience in all of us. Urban alienation and anomie only propagates more of the same.

Grandma's Needlework Room (watch here) is completely different in style and tone, but even more assured and well executed than the previous film. It's a brief but moving remeniscence about a little girl's experience in her grandmother's needlework room. In a short span, thanks to its warm, lamplight palette, the tender images of this film make us feel the weight of emotion of the narrator's memory. The film is remarkably not schmaltzy or excessively sentimental. The film accurately conveys how magical and grand certain things seemed when we were children, that when revisited seem prosaic. The farm where I spent summers in France growing up had shrunk in both grandeur and magic when I re-visited it many years later. Through something very specific and personal she manages to tap the universal. The only problem is the sound design, which could use polishing. Cornelis has a perfect accompaniment that complements every little movement.

I haven't seen her graduation film, Kikimimi, Act 2: Mirrors, but I assume it must be worth seeing. I like that you can see the artist improving with each film. Since making Cornelis Ayaka Nakata has been working mostly on advertising animation, but she also recently did an episode of Rita et Machin, a series based on the French picture books of the same name that also featured episodes directed by an unusual assortment of indie and industry talent such as Toshio Hirata, Hideki Futamura and Hiroco Ichinose.

中田彩郁 Ayaka Nakata filmography

2004: 舌打ち鳥が鳴いた日 The Day When a Tongue-Clicking Bird Appeared
2005: おばあちゃんの作業部屋 Grandma's Needlework Room
2007: 聞耳 第2幕 鏡 Kikimimi, Act 2: Mirrors
2009: コルネリス Cornelis
2011: リタとナントカ「ナントカのおたんじょうび」Rita et Machin: L'anniversaire de Machin

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

03:47:00 pm , 826 words, 2471 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III Part 2 episode 78

Lupin III Part 2 episode 78

About two years ago animator Aaron Long (Youtube page) wrote on his blog a three-part post about a particular episode of the second TV series of Lupin III that began airing in 1978 and ran for 178 episodes. You can read his posts here:

Lupin III: Ice Robot Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

I just recently discovered Aaron's posts and loved the drawings he'd posted. I hadn't seen the episode in question, but I could tell he had indeed struck upon one of the more interesting episodes in the second series. The drawings are just great, with crazy and loose posing and expression the likes of which you rarely see in anime. Yet the drawings are solid and look good, not sloppy. They have a great sense of stylization. Most people focus on the closing Miyazaki episodes, but there was a lot of other good work done in the second series.

The episode in question is Episode 78, which aired on April 9, 1979. I looked into it and found the staff behind the episode rather easily. The head animator of this episode is Yoshio Kabashima, one of the great ex-A Production animators. The storyboarder of this episode was also an ex-A Pro animator: Yuzo Aoki. Both of them acted as the animation directors of the Mamo movie released in 1978, the same year the second TV series started. Neither of them are well known in the west, but both were among the best animators of their time in Japan, with supple character drawings and dynamic movement that were a pure product of their A Pro heritage

I was really impressed by Aaron's post, because without even knowing the names of the people responsible for either episode 78 or the Mamo movie, he manages to connect the two. He realized that the same guy (or guys) had to have been responsible for the two. And he's exactly right.

Yoshio Kabashima is better known for being the animation director behind Osamu Dezaki's Gamba's Adventure, one of the great classics of anime. He was also the animation director of Yasuo Otsuka's Tenguri and animated the scenes with the calf. I'd actually mentioned Yoshio Kabashima's involvement in this episode of Lupin way back in 2004 in a post on the staff behind the New Lupin series.

Yuzo Aoki in the 70s was one of the wildest and most flamboyant animators you've never heard of. His episodes of Lupin III stood out from the others, and I'm sure it's these that Aaron is thinking of when he talks about the animator behind this episode, even though Kabashima happens to have been responsible for a lot of the good drawings here, like that pictured above. Even in Hajime Ningen Gyators, a few years earlier in 1975, a show in which everything is so individualistic and outrageously drawn, Yuzo Aoki stands out. He's one of the few animators I've been able to identify on the show. In Mamo he's best known for animation the insane car chase with that massive truck, but he also animated much of the scene with the helicopter at the beginning.

These two ex-A Pro animators together acted as the animation directors of the Mamo film a year before episode 78 of New Lupin, giving that films its distinctive character styling, with its lanky characters and very flexible and loose approach to character drawing that is so at odds with Yasuo Otsuka's work on the first Lupin III show from 1972, to say nothing of Cagliostro from 1979. If Cagliostro seemed like a throwback to the earlier show, Mamo was the companion piece to Part II, with its wacky, unpredictable, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink atmosphere of cartoonish anarchy and very loose drawings.

Yoshio Kabashima unfortunately didn't do much else in the New Lupin III series, but Yuzo Aoki did much great work both as a storyboarder and an animator. His episodes are worth seeking out on their own, as even seen today they have a very unique character. Here is a list of what episodes he worked on in New Lupin III:

青木悠三 Yuzo Aoki's work on New Lupin III (1978)
30: Key animation (solo)
35: Key animation (half episode)
45: Storyboard
50: Storyboard
51: Storyboard
57: Storyboard
69: Key animation
74: Key animation
78: Storyboard
(85: Uncredited key animation?)
96: Storyboard and key animation
106: Storyboard
107: Storyboard
117: Storyboard
124: Storyboard (and uncredited key animation?)
128: Storyboard
129: Storyboard (and uncredited key animation?)
134: Storyboard
138: Storyboard (and uncredited key animation?)
143: Storyboard
146: (Uncredited key animation?)
149: Storyboard (and uncredited key animation?)

Episode 78 is actually the first episode in what's known colloquially among Japanese fans as the Broadway series. The Broadway series refers to four episodes storyboarded by Yuzo Aoki and written by Yoshio Urasawa that take place on Broadway and are mostly pure slapstick episodes: episodes 78, 106, 117 and 128.

Here are a few snapshots from episode 69, the episode where Zenigata falls in love but his girl gets killed by the gangster Cabane. Yuzo Aoki animated most of the second half, and his style comes through very well in this episode. The drawings of Cabane and his gangsters near the end in particular are high proof Yuzo Aoki.

Monday, October 10, 2011

03:59:00 pm , 1098 words, 3415 views     Categories: Animation, Movie, Foreign

Kooky

Rag dolls, roots, plastic bags and clumps of string come alive and go on a journey of the imagination in Jan Svěrák's wonderful new fantasy film Kooky (2010). Not animated by stop-motion in the traditional way, the film is rather a combination of live-action and puppetry. Technically, it's not animation at all. But it belongs firmly within the great tradition of Czech stop-motion filmmaking, from Jiri Trnka's Midsummer Night's Dream (1959) to Jan Svankmajer's Alice (1988) to Jiří Barta's In the Attic (2009).

The story concerns a little boy whose old, unsanitary pink plush doll gets thrown away by his hygienically obsessive mother. The boy dreams of the little pink doll's adventures as it journeys trying to get back home to him.

Kooky, as he's named, travels through the forest that borders the landfill on the outskirts of town, where he meets an assortment of the gods who inhabit the forest, some good and some not so good. What ensues combines action movie thrills with the intrigue of a power struggle as the elder of the forest helps Kooky evade his pursuers while also struggling to maintain power. For a puppet film, the production values are high. The puppets are finely crafted, the pacing is tightly controlled, and the scenes are precisely lighted, staged and shot. And the whole is balanced by a tone of easy, lighthearted humor that never strives too hard for laughs.

The heart of the film is in the wonderful variety of creatures that they come up with to inhabit the forest. In this pantheistic world, each of these fabulous creatures is a little god representing one of the living materials of the forest - conks, roots, mushrooms, acorns, antlers, etc. They're the pantheistic representatives of the forest ecosystem. The puppets are each different from one another and lovingly crafted from found material. Each comes across as having its own unique personality. Just like Jiří Barta's In the Attic, much of the delight of the film comes in just sitting back and enjoying the parade of strange creatures made of bits and pieces of of inanimate objects.

Each character's mode of existence is tied to its substrate. Kooky knows he's a teddy, and knows that he can't get wet because it takes three days for him to dry. When he does get wet, he takes his own stuffing out to allow himself to dry. With his fake pink fur, he's out of place in the forest and coveted by a rapacious burnt plastic bag and crumpled soda bottle who scavenge the forest for man-made materials to bring back to their rightful home in the dump.

The forest elder who takes Kooky under his wing looks like nothing so much as a wizened old tuber, replete with rhizomes as a wirebrush and taproots as limbs. He's nicknamed Godam because of his foul mouth. Another creature is made of an amalgamation of tangled ropes and strings. He stands between the natural world and the world of man: he's neither purely natural nor purely man made, and hence his personality is neutral chaotic. He's scheming but craven, siding with whomever will permit him to act out his natural compulsion to entangle hapless victims in his web.

Intertwined into the simple narrative about Kooky trying to get home are various themes that give the narrative heft and depth and that make the film more than merely 'kooky' kids fare. It's also about struggling with corruption, group identity, nature vs man, and the importance of imagination. Kooky is a prime example of how to make a children's film. The story and struggle are simple and mythical like a children's book. But at the same time, it's subtly witty, its visuals are gritty and unprettified, its themes are complex and ambiguous, and its tone is grounded and realistic. No cute characters, crude jokes, lazy pratfalls, and pop culture references in a desperate attempt to maintain children's attention.

The beauty of the film is how it's all based on existing reality. You have a metropolitan area bordered by a forest, and beyond that you have the dump where we deposit the detritus of civilization. Those are the basic terms of the deal most developed countries have struck with nature in this day and age. Nature acts like a buffer to guard us from the horrors of our excess consumption, all while the detritus continues to infiltrate and destroy nature in the form of pollution and development. This film merely brings the existing tension between nature and man into tangible form by way of a story and characters that embody the various facets of that tension. And it does so elegantly and implicitly, masquerading as a children's story, rather than trumpet it aloud. It appears simple at first sight, but has a deceptive thematic complexity if you choose to pull it apart.

At first when I saw the pink doll come alive at the beginning of the movie, my heart sank. It felt cheap; a lame gimmick. But very soon you forget that you're watching puppets. Your mind adapts to the surreality of the situation, and it's then that the puppets truly come alive. Deep down, animation is about the suspension of disbelief. Kooky is no different from Grave of the Fireflies in the sense that both films work their magic on our emotions because their art invests dead matter with life. It's just that we rarely experience a moment of dislocation in anime because we're not reminded of its artificiality the way we are in Kooky or in other recent films in the Czech tradition. Perhaps the intent was precisely to create a moment of dislocation that would make us aware of the fact that suspension of disbelief is an implicit part of creativity and imagination, and to remind us of what comes naturally to children, but most adults have lost.

It's only when Kooky switches back to reality and the little boy that we're reminded of the unreality of the situation. The fact that there are no scenes combining live actors and puppetry is telling of the fact that the puppets are creatures of the boy's imagination. And we might not have truly believed in these creatures had there been humans right next to them. Combining the two would have wrecked the fantasy. It would have turned into a cheap Muppets movie. Which Kooky emphatically is not. With its dark overtones and grimy, gritty visuals that never shy away from the inherent ugliness of life, this is a unique type of deeply satisfying children's film that could only have been made in the Czech Republic.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

12:05:00 pm , 938 words, 2304 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Short

Animation Nation at VIFF

The only animation program at this year's VIFF was a program called Animation Nation. It featured shorts mostly from the US and Europe. It's disappointing that the VIFF hasn't continued their 'alternative anime' series. That should be a staple at the festival. Animation doesn't seem high enough on their priorities. And Animation Nation was - without exaggeration - the worst collection of animated shorts I've ever seen.

The whole affair was a failure in my opinion, even though I know from the roars of laughter in the hall and the hearty applause that most of the other theatergoers disagree with me. The selection was IMO uninteresting, lopsided (without any Asian or other films from outside the big western nations), and the unprofessional presentation was not befitting a major world festival. There was a one minute gap between each short, and boxes kept popping up on the screen throughout the show as they tinkered ceaselessly with the brightness and zoom. This all should have been handled before the screening. It was like watching a few videos at a friend's house, not a screening.

The selection felt like it was put together by someone who didn't really understand animation. The contrast with the Ottawa 'best of' selections is instructive. There, each film seemed to represent some different aspect of animation, some different approach. Each was different and valid in its own way. Many different narrative styles and techniques were represented. Films weren't selected based on superficial criteria or the extent to which they were crowd pleasing.

The most telling thing about this selection is that many of the films barely had any animation at all. They were mostly live action, with a few spare touches added in post pro. It would be fine to have one film like this in a selection, but half of the running time devoted to this kind of film? A quarter of the remaining half was uninspired CGI. One of the films, Brick Novax's Diary, wasn't animation at all; it was puppets and sets filmed without virtually any movement. It was clearly chosen solely for its MTV style sarcastically retro, pop-reference humor. And it went on for 16 minutes. It would have been fine viewed on its own, but it felt out of place.

What's left is about 20 or so minutes of decent work in a 95 minute screening. Bike Race by Tom Schroeder was more than decent. You can watch it online, and I heartily recommend doing so. It's a fine short well-deserving of being seen by more people. It's a sort of documentary animation, the visuals expounding on an audio track of two men and a woman narrating a recollection of their experiences with a bike race and the romance that budded unexpectedly. Though it looks rudimentary in style, the animation is rich and creative and very witty and meaningful in how it responds to and interprets the narration. It's essentially the only item in the whole selection that was a good animated short.

The music video Lose This Child (which obviously you can also watch online) was a very good animated music video, and it's perfectly fine to include a music video in such a selection, a good idea even, but it's not a difficult task to include a good animated music video; many are made each year. It's just weird that there was only one really good narrative animated short in the whole selection. Lose This Child is impressive technically, because supposedly it was all shot over the span of one night. It's so lushly animated and sophisticated in structure that it's almost hard to believe. I guess they must have meticulously planned out everything to the smallest detail beforehand.

The Man With the Stolen Heart was a decent film, but it was marred by a too-wordy voice-over. It would have been twice as strong without any words. It's the only other item in the selection that came close to being a good animated short. Advanced Cybernetics was the only abstract short in the selection, which underlines the populist bent of the selection. It was visually arresting, but it felt too short.

The festival will be showing two feature-length animated features. I missed seeing Tatsumi, the panel-by-panel adaptation of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's Floating Life, partly because I wasn't sure it was worth seeing. I feel like I should give it a chance. I'll be seeing the Czech film Kooky tomorrow and look forward to it.

I was fooled by the catalog description into believing the film The Green Wave was an animated feature film in the style of Waltz with Bashir, but was disappointed when it turned out to be a 'mere' documentary with the occasional sequences of recollection rendered in drawings (not animation). That said, it was a good, heartbreaking documentary about the recent Iranian uprising that was mercilessly crushed by the regime.

Annoyingly, there are actually a few Asian animated shorts being screened at the festival, but they're scattered around everywhere, being shown before a live-action feature here and there, rather than together as one unit. There is even a new animation battle by Nobuhiro Aihara and Tanaami Keiichi, which I really want to see. They even have Koji Yamamura's new short Muybridge's Strings, and yet instead of having that as the highlight of an animated short collection, as it deserves, they've lumped it together with a bunch of random live-action Canadian short films. This is inept and disappointing. The small theater was pretty near full at the Animation Nation screening, so I know there's enough of a geek and/or animator community in Vancouver to have supported at least one collection of Asian shorts.

Friday, October 7, 2011

05:32:00 pm , 866 words, 2559 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Animator, Short

Masaki Okuda

I checked out the web page of NHK's Digista program the other day to catch up on their recent programming and see if I could find any interesting films, and found that they have changed their name and their format since I first wrote about them in 2004. It's now called Digista Teens and they don't seem to do things like they used to, inviting guest hosts like Satoshi Kon. It looks kind of cheesy now, slightly watered down, and far less interesting. But I found one film that stood out to me, so at least it seems they still do feature some interesting talent.

The film was Masaki Okuda's Kuchao, made in 2010 as his first-year film at Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai). (Watch a clip here). That clip is unfortunately all I've been able to find. The full film is over 3 minutes long.

Even not having seen the full film, the powerful and appealing animation in this clip is enough to tell me Masaki Okuda is a name I'll be looking out for. Kuchao is not infected by anime influence and has an original look and feel. For a 'mere' 3 minute film, it's densely packed. There's something happening every second. It's dynamic, fun and exciting, stylistically mature and controlled, creative, constantly shifting, with shifts in speed and perspective coming quick and constant, and tells a simple story with verve and humor.

Kuchao seems vaguely influenced by Koji Yamamura and perhaps even Tadanari Okamoto (Kuchao brings to mind Okamoto's three Ningen Ijime shorts, which also featured a quick-talking narrator and fast-paced marker animation), but it's not just copying. Masaki Okuda has digested the influences well and seems to have stylistic flexibility and openness. He shows that he has a good understanding of what makes animation interesting and isn't superficially stuck on one style.

Okuda's previous film was Orchestra (watch on Youtube), a delightful 6-minute animation from 2008 made by Okuda together with Ryo Ookawara and Yutaro Ogawa earlier, I think during his third year at Tama Art University. The stylistic contrast with Kuchao is sharp - this film is black and white, all squiggly lines. But this film has the same dynamism and fire as Kuchao, the same basic interest in reaching to the roots of animation.

Yutaro Ogawa is the illustrator of the group, and it's his interesting drawings based on disconnected squiggly lines that the film is based on. It was Yutaro Okuda's idea to bring Ogawa's drawings to life in a piece of animation. They chose the fourth movement of Beethoven's 2nd symphony because of the variation it offered in tempo and mood, which would allow them to explore different ideas within a short span, and because of its playful tone that goes against the typical notion of classical as being stiff and musty museum music. The animation closely follows every up or down in Beethoven's score, the squiggly lines flying around and bending and re-configuring themselves unpredictably into different faces and shapes at every moment. The team is creative at coming up with different ideas for how to respond to the music, and the film is never boring or repetitive.

In an interview, Okuda mentions that it was an encounter with Yuri Norstein's Tale of Tales many years ago as a child that got him interested in animation - not anime. And it's this that led to him getting into animation in university. Thus his influences have been indie world animation since the very beginning, which clearly accounts for the fundamental difference in his work compared with that of so many of his generation - not just in terms of how his work looks, but in his attitude towards animation. That animation isn't about superficial beauty or following trendy design ideas to cater to a wide audience. Animation shouldn't be limited to one style or one narrative mode; everyone has it in them to come up with something nobody has seen before. Indeed, it should be the animator's duty to challenge themselves to do something creative and new with each new film. He follows in the footsteps of other Japanese indies who made a virtue of constant creative renewal and experimentation like Tadanari Okamoto, Koji Yamamura and Tomoyasu Murata.

It's heartening to see that there are still young animators with a more open view of animation turning up on the scene in Japan. I enjoy seeing work from new animators like this willing to try to explore new stylistic approaches we haven't seen before, to do things with animation that can only be done with animation rather than being stylistically hidebound to naturalistic storytelling mimicking live-action. Tama Art University and Geidai in particularly seem to have done a lot to foster talented new indie animators in the last few years.

Born in Yokohama in 1985, Masaki Okuda studied at Tama Art University and then Tokyo University of the Arts. He made his first film, Garden of Pleasure (快楽の園) in 2007. He just completed his second-year film at Tama Art University, the 12-minute Uncapturable Ideas (アイデアが捕まらない。). He has already won numerous awards for Kuchao at festivals around the world. Masaki Okuda has a blog where he provides updates on his work.

Masaki Okuda 奥田昌輝 filmography

Garden of Pleasure 快楽の園 (2:30, 2007)
Orchestra (6:40, 2008)
Kuchao くちゃお (3:48, 2010)
Uncapturable ideas アイデアが捕まらない。 (11:52, 2011)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

05:56:00 pm , 629 words, 1942 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Tsutomu Mizushima's Blood C

Tsutomu Mizushima's Blood C

I just skimmed through IG's recent Blood C at someone's recommendation. I couldn't bring myself to sit down and watch every episode of the show, because it's essentially just splatter porn, and there's nothing unique about the visuals or characters that would otherwise have pulled me in. But if you have the stomach for it, some decent effort was put into the action sequences in each episode.

Director Tsutomu Mizushima is an odd choice for this material at first sight, since in my mind he's a gag anime director. (He showed he still has the touch with Yondemasu Yo Azazel-san just recently.) But deep down he's an acutely visual director. Blood C is for the most part conventional, with too much talking and expository dialogue, but despite the material, in many spots his visual side shines through.

He can usually be relied on to put in a few visually interesting scenes, whatever he's directing. If he's got a good animator, he'll choreograph the scene in such a way that it really showcases that animator's work - think of the scenes by Yasunori Miyazawa and Shinya Ohira in the XXHolic movie. In his old gag anime he made frequent use of talented animators to spice up his dramatic climaxes with exciting action sequences, like the Dama chase in Hare Nochi Guu.

The fight scenes in this monster-of-the-week horror show aren't cop-outs with pretty stills and close-ups. They're quite beefy and long, with wide-angle shots, and feature tricky body movement that requires work and skill to animate. As he always does, Mizushima got his animators to put a lot of work into the animation of the action scenes. The rest of the show looks more like a typical anime, with mostly stills and only perfunctory movement, but in the action sequences it comes alive.

The battle with the jizo statue at the beginning of episode one is a good opener. I like the drawings of the statue here. I'm not sure who did it, but Kazuchika Kise was assistant sakkan, so perhaps he was involved. There's an unusually long pause right before the battle that's quite striking. It's classic Mizushima. Timing is a key element in all of his shows. He's adept at timing shots just so to achieve precisely the intended effect. His debut Hare Nochi Guu was known for its super-fast humor.

IG perennial Yasunori Miyazawa appears twice in the show: In episode 2 he animates the train monster and in episode 12 he animates part of the climax with the bunny monsters. He's a regular in Mizushima anime. He did a lot of work on the XXHolic show. He's ideally suited to animating monsters.

The armor monster in episode 8 was nicely drawn. I don't know who it could be, but animators Takuro Jinbo and Mamoru Kurosawa are present.

Episode 9 is the most impressive in terms of animation, but also one of the most gruesome. It puts me in the difficult position of not liking the material being animated, but admiring the technique with which it's animated. Most of the scenes with the spider monster are well animated. The layouts are strong and three-dimensional and the line work stands out. The monster feels very alive. A lot of relish was put into animating it.

Youngish IG animators Shin Itadaki and Takayoshi Katagiri are the sakkans of this episode, and they're credited separately at the top of the genga credits together with Takuya Saito and Kazuchika Kise, so presumably this group handled the good parts of this episode.

The climactic episode 12 also features some nice animation at the climax with the bunny monsters, but it's also the most gory and distasteful scene in the show. Animators include Tetsuya Nishio, Minoru Maeda, Shuichi Kaneko and Yasunori Miyazawa. I could only pick out Miyazawa's section.

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