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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Friday, October 7, 2011

05:32:00 pm , 866 words, 2700 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, 2020 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.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

01:57:00 pm , 1603 words, 2987 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Movie

Licca-chan & Burabura

Ajia-Do, the studio founded by ex-A Pro animators Shibayama Tsutomu and Osamu Kobayashi in 1978, produced an interesting series in the early 90s based on toy maker Takara's Licca-chan doll.

Licca-chan, despite being presumably aimed at little girls, was a quality production with a unique style of low-key, imaginative fantasy that I found very appealing for being so different in nature from all other anime out there.

I looked back on it recently and found that there's still a lot to appreciate in the series. Beyond its conventional blandly cute anime style character designs, and despite its intended demographic, it's packed with creative ideas in the world design.

Just take a look at some of the design ideas that grace the first outing in the series, the two-part Yunia OVA series released in 1990:

Licca-chan: Wondrous Yunia Story (1990)

It's a breath of fresh air from most anime. Fantasy anime is pretty common, but few anime look anything like this. This anime is about pure imagination. This is a more primordial kind of fantasy in the vein of Little Nemo, or Alice in Wonderland via M. C. Escher, rather than yet another dungeons and dragons anime.

The story is of little consequence, but is obviously inspired by Alice in Wonderland, with Licca-chan finding herself transported to this fantasy land where she travels around various bizarre locales meeting the strange denizens of an illogical world. Clues are littered here and there suggesting it's all a dream and the various elements (like the nefarious cat) are inspired by her own life.

In recent days there have been a few shorts by Shigeru Tamura - notably Glassy Ocean and Ursa Blue Minor - that are similarly pure fantasy creations, where the the world is dictated not by logic but by whimsy, but it's rare to see something in anime that is so pure in spirit.

I wondered who could have been behind this approach, and figured it must have been the two people credited with "concept art and creature design": Hiroyuki Kato & Keisuke Goto.

A quick search turned up a web site that answered the question succinctly: The two of them appear to have worked as partners under the moniker Studio Burabura since the 80s.

The many wonderful illustrations by Hiroyuki Kato featured on this web site (which is presumably run by himself, as he also has a diary there) are exactly in the same style and spirit as all the elements in the Yunia OVAs that I most liked. And he's got many drawings of fanciful bikes that look just like the flying bike that features at the end of the Ring OVAs. So this is the guy. It was gratifying to be able to single out the brain responsible for all those wonderful ideas.

Hiroyuki Kato is still very productive and has refined his style considerably over the years. I've spent hours enjoying his illustrations. He appears to hold several exhibitions of his recent work at galleries and cafes every year. Here are two of the recent ones: Platypus Government in Exile and Ringing Flowers, Trembling Stars.

Hence, Yunia represents exactly the kind of collaboration that I think produces the best results in anime: Someone of talent from outside of the industry bringing in fresh new ideas.

The Yunia OVAs were followed by two more OVAs next year in 1991: the two Magic Ring OVAs. This time the setting is Licca-chan's real life in Japan, but she finds a magic ring that allows her to see the creatures that lurk in the night when everyone is sleeping. The inspiration this time is clearly Peter Pan, as Licca-chan flies above the nighttime city with the aid of a strange visitor.

The visuals for these two OVAs were more low-key, without the wild imagination of the Yunia OVAs, but they did a great job of creating an atmosphere of mysterious nighttime in this arc, which takes place entirely at night.

Licca-chan: The Wondrous Magic Ring (1991)

I actually preferred this outing to Yunia when I originally saw the set many years ago, because this episode creates a beautiful, delicate atmosphere with the spare, tinkling soundtrack (by a young Kenji Kawai) and the quiet, empty urban nightscapes through which Licca-chan travels.

The atmosphere is one of eerie excitement. Strange ghostly animals go around gobbling up stars, and a dark miasma lurks waiting to pounce on unwitting visitors. When we were children, the darkness of the night inspired in us dreams of adventures and strange creatures lurking in the shadows waiting to be discovered. I liked this episode because it captured exactly how I used to feel about the night as a child.

Looking back on both now, I still appreciate the Ring arc for its atmosphere, but I prefer the Yunia arc for all the many creative ideas that were packed into it by Hiroyuki Kato.

Another thing I admire both arcs for is how they make a virtue of having very few animators. They don't feel cheap even though they have very few animators and don't move all that much. The Ring arc in particular only has four animators in each episode. Akemi Takada's characters retain an air of stately grace throughout. Akemi Takada is incidentally the one who invited Hiroyuki Kato to work on the show.

One more OVA entitled Licca-chan's Sunday was released in 1992, but it's less appealing than these two arcs. It's set in the real world without any fantasy elements, so it doesn't feature any creative ideas on the design side from Hiroyuki Kato. The story is cute and it comes across as a polished version of the classic Pierrot magical girl shows like Emi and Pelsha. But there's little of interest from a technical point of view except for the solid but unremarkable layouts and drawings.

Licca-chan and the Wildcats: Journey to the Stars (1994)

I recently discovered that Ajia-do even produced a full-length feature released in 1994 under the name Licca-chan and the Wildcats: Journey to the Stars. It was nice discovering this because it's a return to the standards of the first four OVAs with its imaginative designs.

It has a strong staff right from the top with Tsutomu Mizushima and Tatsuo Sato directing, concept work from Fujimori Masaya, key animation supervisors including Yoshiaki Yanagita, a story by Tomomi Mochizuki and some animation by Masaaki Yuasa. Despite the impressive staff list, it's not a masterpiece, but it's an enjoyable if slightly underwhelming and uneven film. But it's very different in tone and style from the earlier OVAs.

Most of the creative work comes at the climax, which features a battle between the wildcats of the title and a miasmatic adversary. Unlike the previous OVAs, this movie features some impressive names on the animator front, including Masaaki Yuasa, Susumu Yamaguchi and Hiroyuki Morita. Yuasa's work clearly comes in the climax, which has a lot of exciting fast-paced and imaginative shots. For example, the shot with the horses pictured above seem like his work.

I think Ajia-do was at something of its peak in the early 90s with this series plus Chibi Maruko-chan and a number of one-shot OVAs where they gave staff a lot of creative freedom like the Rakugokan series of which Yuasa directed an episode.

I'd love to see Hiroyuki Kato do some more work in animation, but he's primarily an illustrator. The only anime he ever worked on after Licca-chan was Zettai Shonen (not coincidentally also at Ajia-do under Tomomi Mochizuki), for which he designed the mecha. I'd like to see something that's a pure animated expression of the lovely, creative illustrations up on his site.

More generally, I'd like to see more anime in the spirit of pure fantasy of the Yunia OVAs. Cat Soup comes to mind as being the sort of thing I'm talking about: Something where the driving force isn't character-driven narrative but visual creativity.


Licca-chan: Wondrous Yunia Story (OVA, 1990, 2 x 30 mins)

Script: Kazunori Ito
Storyboard & Director: Tomomi Mochizuki
Character Design: Akemi Takada
Animation Director: Masako Goto
Concept Art and Creature Design: Hiroyuki Kato & Keisuke Goto
Art Director: Satoshi Miura
Concept Art: Masahiro Sato (佐藤正浩)
Music: Norio Maeda
Key Animation:
   Tetsuhito Saito
   Hiroshi Kawaguchi
   Ayako Nishio
   Mitsunori Murata
   Issei Kume
   Mitsuko Moriyama
   Hiroki Takagi


Licca-chan: The Wondrous Magic Ring (OVA, 1991, 2 x 30 mins)

Script: Kazunori Ito, Michiko Yokote
Storyboard & Director: Fumiko Ishii
Character Design: Akemi Takada
Animation Director: Takuya Saito
Concept Art and Creature Design: Hiroyuki Kato & Keisuke Goto
Art Director: Mitsuki Nakamura
Concept Art: Masahiro Sato (佐藤正浩)
Music: Kenji Kawai
Supervisor: Tsutomu Shibayama
Key Animation:
   Hiroshi Kawaguchi
   Akihiro Shibata
   Hiroyuki Nakamura
   Ayako Nishio
Assistance:
Studio Live


Licca-chan's Sunday (OVA, 1992, 30 mins)

Animation Production: Ajia-Do
Director: Tatsuo Sato
Character Design: Akemi Takada
Animation Director: Masako Goto
Script: Yumiko Koda
Music: Kohei Tanaka
Art Director: Satoshi Miura
Concept Art: Masahiro Sato (佐藤正浩)
Supervisor: Tsutomu Shibayama
Layout: Hiroyuki Nishimura
Key animation:
   Akihiro Shibata
   Hiroshi Hara
   Hiroshi Kawaguchi
   Hiroyuki Nakamura
   Masaya Fujimori

   Mitsunori Murata
   Shigeko Sakuma
   Masashi Abiru
   Takeko Mori? (杜孟子)


Licca-chan and the Wildcats: Journey to the Stars (movie, 1994, 78 mins)

Produced by: Ajia-do
Animation production assistance: Group Tac

Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Character Design: Akemi Takada
Art Director: Shichiro Kobayashi
Music: Kohei Tanaka
Animation Director (アニメーション監督): Tatsuo Sato

Storyboard/Line Director/Dialogue: Tatsuo Sato
Scenario: Tomomi Mochizuki
Key Animation Supervisors (作画監督): Yoshiaki Yanagita, Hiroki Takagi, Ikuko Kusumoto
Concept work: Masaya Fujimori
Sub-character Design: Yoshiaki Yanagita
Ending animation: Kazushige Yusa

Animators:
Toshihisa Kaiya
Susumu Yamaguchi
Yoshiaki Tsubata
Akihiro Shibata
Shoichi Nakayama

Yoshihiko Takakura
Hiroyuki Morita
Mitsunori Murata
Masaaki Yuasa
Hideyuki Funagoshi

Hiroshi Kawabata
Yoshiyuki Kishi
Mayumi Hirota
Testsuhito Saito
Kari Higuchi
Hikaru Takanashi

Toshiyuki Yoshida
Hiroko Kazui
Toshiyasu Okada
Yuri Chiaki
Masaru Fukumoto
Nobuhiko Yamada
Toshiko Konno
Ei Inoue
Masahiko Ota

Friday, September 30, 2011

01:32:00 pm , 681 words, 4573 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Osamu Kobayashi directed Dantalian no Shoka #9

Osamu Kobayashi directed Dantalian no Shoka #9

In what's rapidly on its way to becoming a tradition, Osamu Kobayashi directed an episode in the latest show from Gainax, this time one of their less interesting ones between the good ones. His longtime associate Hori Motonobu, acting as sakkan, provides the episode with his usual simple, clean, cute but not cloying character drawings. It definitely feels like Kobayashi in the way it's directed, with the many static shots and close-ups and the style of the acting, but it's not as jarring as his previous work.

The interesting thing about this episode, as most people will probably immediately notice, is the backgrounds. Kobayashi is an interesting creator because he always tries something new, and this is no exception. Kobayashi has in the past done a solo animator episode on Kemonozume, but this time he's done something I don't think I've ever heard of before: he's drawn most of the backgrounds. And it's not just done on a whim; his sketchy, moody backgrounds help establish the fantasyland atmosphere for the episode. I haven't watched the rest of the show, so I'm not sure, but this episode seems to take place in a different 'world', literally a storybook land. The sketchy background drawings aren't just a stylistic choice; they're as intrinsic to the story as the characters.

I like it when situations like this are devised in anime. It's the best of both worlds: You allow a talented creator whose style is not to the liking of many fans because he doesn't bother to try to make his work blend in with the rest of the show, to make an episode set in an alternative reality so that he can do what he does best, and yet it'll jibe stylistically and won't wreck the show. That's just what happened with Satoru Utsunomiya's episode of Aquarion. Usually I have no problem with a single episode sticking out stylistically from the rest of a show as long as the work is of genuine quality. But on the other hand, sometimes even I've found myself on the other side of the fence, arguing that some shows need more stylistic unity and not more idiosyncrasy, so I can see both sides.

The drawings are lovely and establish a moody atmosphere. I particularly like the beautiful long shot of the characters walking with their backs to the camera in the ruins of a church pictured above. In certain moments, this episode has the atmosphere of a film noir and the black and white sensibility of a classic movie from the 30s or 40s like The Edge of the World, which is set in a similarly desolate land - the remote Orkney Isles. Kobayashi is heavily influenced by the French new wave and other oldies, so perhaps that's intentional.

The beautiful draftsmanship of the drawings of the town in the distance and the beautiful stone masonry of the streets show a side of Kobayashi I wasn't familiar with. The drawings are loose and have a reduced palette, but they're realistic somehow. It doesn't feel like something you'd see in a typical anime. I like that Kobayashi can be a joker but he can be serious when he wants to. Parts of the world seem obviously inspired by medieval architecture, while other parts are obvious original creations, but he does a good job blending the two. In large part it's the details in the backgrounds that tell you a lot about the world and make you believe in the world the characters inhabit.

To me, whether it's a sketchy drawing or a unique shot of animation or a skillful layout, what I find I react to is when I sense someone's hand behind the work - when there's a personal touch. Commercial animation is arguably the antithesis of personal creation, but what's unique about anime is that occasionally it allows you to see the personal touch of the creator in the work, and oftentimes it's those moments when a creator is able to express themselves without inhibition, without having to adapt themselves to fit in, that the greatest art is made.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

09:50:00 pm , 842 words, 2672 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Mawaru Penguindrum

Mawaru Penguindrum

The first episode of Brain's Base's new show directed by Shoujo Kakumei Utena's Kunihiko Ikuhara is as well produced as you'd expect, with colorful, artistic visuals, idiosyncratic but sharp directing, and lush sound design, but it may be a hard slog if you are not willing to put up with the peculiarities of this auteur's approach to storytelling and the shoujo manga atmosphere, complete with twinkling stars, androgynous boys and an obsessively animated magical transformation sequence.

I for one never watched Shoujo Kakumei Utena, or rather was never able to watch more than an episode or two, because the style of the directing and the extreme shoujo manga-ness of it all, with the bizarre, byzantine gender and inter-character relations, was just too much for me. Rather than realistic drama, it's expressionistic psycho-drama with events presented in a stylized and metaphorical way. It's sophisticated and assured, but also off-putting if you're not capable of switching to a more 'shoujo manga' mindset.

This show isn't as intense as Utena narratively or stylistically, but Ikuhara's basic stance as a storyteller is unchanged. This is a far more approachable show, and the quality is good, so I'm going to see how far I can get into it.

I find Ikuhara to be one of the best 'shoujo anime' directors after the late Osamu Dezaki. He seems to be able to tap into the mindset of heightened emotion that defines the genre, over the length of a series fleshing out and delving into the various characters' complex emotions in a way few other directors can. Visually, he uses the background art effectively to extend the emotional palette the way Dezaki did in a show like Aim for the Ace!. He's a theatrical director in the sense of the staging as well as the acting.

What I most like about the show isn't the directing or the animation. It's the art. The vivid color schemes, symmetrical layouts, and density of detail in the backgrounds like the shot pictured above, are immediately compelling. Even if nothing else in the show attracts you, it's hard to resist the wonderful art of the show.

That color genius Kunio Tsujita is again the one behind the colors after his work on Casshern Sins and Tatami Galaxy. The art directing team is Kentaro Akiyama and Chieko Nakayama. Chieko Nakayama was art director of episode 1 and the art was done by four people at a place called Studio Pablo.

I didn't like was that the characters and humor and general trappings of the show are otherwise conventional, just through the lens of Ikuhara's more exacting directing style. There isn't much anything tremendously new here, or that would attract a non-anime-watcher. The transformation sequence to me seems like a pointless self-indulgence to gratify the director's fe tish for Sailor Moon-style intricate transformation sequences. Also, drawing all of the bystanders except for the main characters as cardboard cutouts comes across as less quirky and creative than lazy and obvious. It felt more convincing and meaningful when Kenji Nakamura did it in Trapeze.

Ikuhara's visual storytelling style has some surface similarities to that of two other ex-Toei directors who learned the ropes at Toei Animation around the same time in the 1990s: Mamoru Hosoda and Takuya Igarashi. Takuya Igarashi is more quirky and visually playful, while Mamoru Hosoda is more classical and holistic, but their film grammar seems like it evolved from the same place. They like symmetrical layouts lush with detail, always using talented art directors to flesh out their intricate layouts; they're good at incorporating CG and animation and storyboarding in such a way as to achieve much with little, switching to lush animation in sections but mostly making due with little movement by regaling the viewer with mesmerizing background art or theatrically heightened emotional storytelling.

The numerous Toei connections in the show betray Ikuhara's origins: Shinya Hasegawa (animator in the opening/crystal world section) was character designer of Utena (and also worked a lot on Sailor Moon); Masahiro Aizawa (animator in the opening) was a sakkan/animator in Utena and was associated with Takaaki Yamashita; Yoshihiko Umakoshi (animator in the opening) worked on the Utena movie in addition to being a Toei pillar; Takahiro Kagami (animator in episode 1 and the opening) was a regular Toei animator and in recent years worked under Umakoshi on Mushishi (2005) and Casshern Sins (2008); Keiji Goto (animator in the opening/crystal world section) was an animator in Utena; etc.

The show has a lot of women in main staff roles besides the art director: art director Chieko Nakayama, character designer Terumi Nishii, assistant director Mitsue Yamazaki, and Gainax animator Shoko Nakamura. Shoko Nakamura wears several hats on the show as "chief director" of the show under "kantoku" Ikuhara in addition to being one of the two concept designers, being an animator in episode 1 and the opening, being line director of ep 1, and drawing the ending. There are a few other Gainax faces present: Akemi Hayashi was an animator in the opening, episode 1 and the crystal world section. Sushio was an animator in episode 1.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

12:09:00 pm , 809 words, 2320 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Yasuo Muroi directed Sacred Seven #9

Yasuo Muroi directed Sacred Seven #9

I'm always on the lookout for new names that strike me as having potential for greatness, and Yasuo Muroi struck me as one of them from the few bits I glimpsed of his work, notably his animation work on Xam'd. There are a lot of new animators appearing seemingly out of nowhere with a unique style these days, far more than ever before, but most of them don't bowl me over. They're all impressive, but few of them seem to bring something really new to the table. I thought Ryotaro Makihara was one of the more notable new faces who did just that, and Yasuo Muroi also seemed to be one of them, because he didn't just fall into the trap of mimicking the usual suspects that seem to serve as the template for most young new animators these days.

Anyway, after having done miscellaneous animation on various shows since Xam'd (unfortunately most of which I didn't see), it seems he's staged his episode storyboard/directing debut on Sunrise's new show Sacred Seven. The show itself seems hardly notable, but Sunrise shows often have interesting staff, and Muroi seems to have done a lot of work on the show.

I've only watched episode 9 so far, but there was a lot of nice vigorous and lively movement throughout the episode, mostly during the fight between the hero and that lamp-headed creature (I like how he didn't waste any energy on moving the uninteresting moe characters), and Muroi is listed second in the genga credits after erstwhile Champloo action scene stalwart Takuya Suzuki (frere of Tatsuya), so he presumably handled a good chunk of it. It's not quite as refined as what I saw in Xam'd, but this is a different endeavor; he choreographed the whole episode and animated its action. It's a whole different thing when you're storyboarding and directing and not just animating. The significance here is that he's moved on to a whole new stage of his career, and it will be interesting to see where he decides to go from here on out. Ryotaro Makihara hit a similar stage about a year or so ago with his own directing debut.

The final minute or so of the episode is obviously the work of Shingo Yamashita, the guy who recently did so much interesting (if occasionally controversial) gif-animator inspired work on Noein and then Birdy and then Naruto etc. Everyone in the anime industry now seems to have a Twitter account, Shingo Yamashita included, and one of his tweets, if I'm reading it correctly, seems to suggest that he re-used about 90% of the animation from his past work. I hope I'm not misunderstanding. If that's true, it's kind of a surprising admission. Instinctively I assumed this sort of thing was frowned upon. Normally I'd say it's wrong to re-use your own past work, but if it's done creatively and molded to the show at hand, then does it matter? In a sense, isn't all work built on what you've done before? It certainly felt similar to what he's done in the past, though I would never have noticed he used mostly the same raw material as previous segments he animated if he hadn't said so. That issue aside, objectively speaking, the results are definitely viscerally impressive, but more flashy than necessarily convincingly realistic. That's one problem I have with the gif animator generation - they skipped the step of fundamental training, and went straight for the jugular with animation that feels good to watch - animation that sakuga otaku want to watch. I just wonder if that establishes a proper foundation for growth.

Not surprisingly, Kenichi Kutsuna, who is usually present alongside Shingo Yamashita, was also there in this episode, though listed near the bottom so he probably didn't do many shots.

I'm going to go through the rest of the show, not just to see Muroi's work but to see if there's any other good work there, though I will find it hard to endure the characters and totally unoriginal story that seems like yet another Gundam/Eva permutation, updated with a moe cast.

The image at the top is actually from the opening, which features work by Kota Fumiaki, Yasushi Shingo, Shigereu Kimishima and Kazuhiro Miwa. There were a few nice bits in that op, especially the hydra section, pictured above. I suspect Kota Fumiaki did the hydra section, but I haven't seen much of his work lately so I'm not positive what his style looks like. It seems he did "special animation" in the new Ikuhara show, which I'll be checking out soon, so I'll see if that helps confirm anything. Anyway, whoever it is, I like the lines and shapes of the smoke and debris in this section. They're kind of reminiscent of Hisashi Mori with the shadows represented as flat black blobs surrounded by erratic, sketchy forms.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

11:09:00 am , 220 words, 2520 views     Categories: Site News, Misc

Site update & logo design contest

I know I've been quiet for a few months, but things may be sputtering back to life in the coming days. I've been busy with personal stuff, and haven't really been watching any anime or animation, but I'd like to slowly start posting again. The VIFF is starting this week, so I'll probably be posting about the movies I see there to get back into the habit of blogging.

I just ditched my old server, Ion Web, because the site was constantly down over the last month for no given reason, and they offered no support of any kind. In porting everything over, I spruced up the face of the blog a little bit, but it should be mostly the same as before.

I'd like to use this opportunity to change the site logo. I'm tired of the old logos. It's been 7 years since I started writing Anipages. I want something fresh and new to shake things up a bit. A year ago on the forum I held a logo design contest to solicit ideas for logos that reflect the spirit of the blog, but I dropped the ball on that (sorry). I really loved what Huw, Bahi et al. submitted, so I'd like to see if I can revive that and get an awesome new Anipages mascot/logo from someone.

Friday, June 3, 2011

09:35:50 pm , 440 words, 7549 views     Categories: Animation, TV

Hiroshi Kobayashi in C

I've been watching Kenji Nakamura's latest show C for Tatsunoko, and have mixed feelings about it. I appreciate it in the moments grounded in reality that communicate something about how money governs and steers our lives in various ways, but it loses me when it begins to hide behind the fantasy elements about the 'financial world', though there are creative elements in there. The real financial world would have provided sufficient material to make a far more interesting story. Down-to-earth moments like the scenes of dialogue between the protagonist and the older convenience store clerk were nice.

The character designs are less interesting than Kenji Nakamura's previous shows, though some characters are drawn in Takashi Hashimoto's unique style, as in previous shows, like the politicians, but the protagonist and his 'asset' are all drawn in a cute anime style that's an obvious compromise to sell the show. I'm not even that bothered by the way the characters in random shots will be CG animated all of a sudden. It's not a show that's about the animation. Despite my reservations, I'm still watching because the story has an intriguing complexity and does say something about the intersection between money and power, albeit less directly than I would have liked.

Also toned down is what attracted me to Kenji Nakamura's work to begin with - the extreme stylization of the various aspects of show from the idiosyncratic directing featuring jarring and frenetic shot framing to the colorful visuals with the wall-paintings and surreal non-naturalistic backgrounds. There's a clear distinction this time between the naturalistic real world and the more Nakamura-esque visual of the 'financial world'.

Episode 6 had some of the better directing I've seen in the show yet. It was storyboarded and directed by one Hiroshi Kobayashi 小林寛, which smacks of a pen name, because this person seems to have only done two things prior: the recent episode 7 of Tiger and Bunny and the slightly older episode 1 of the Yozakura Quartet OAD that was Ryochimo's directing (kantoku) debut (also Tatsunoko) (storyboard + director (enshutsu) in both cases), and it'd be surprising for someone to both storyboard & direct right from the beginning, much less do it so well.

The episode also features some nice animation for once - running by Sushio (?) at the beginning followed by some obvious Ryochimo fireballs and at the end some easy to spot Hideki Kakita explosions. Was that Yuuki Hayashi at the end with the black blood part? I'm not familiar enough with his work to be sure. (It's funny how they can do all sorts of violent things but they have to blacken the blood in TV anime.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

07:29:04 pm , 235 words, 4332 views     Categories: Animation, Music Video

Celyn Brazier

A remarkable new animated music video for Wagon Christ's track Chunkothy is a 3-minute headlong journey through a bewildering array of everchanging abstract yet symmetrical transformations. The video for Ninja Tune comes courtesy London-based Nexus Productions. The director and animator and mastermind behind the film is Celyn Brazier, who has just uploaded the video to his Vimeo account. Watch it now here.

After you've collected yourself, you can see a few more animated spots made by the director at Celyn's bio on the Nexus Productions web site. Also he's got a blog with some making of.

Then you can go to Celyn's own web site and spend some happy moments browsing through a collection of some of his remarkable, retro-styled but utterly original illustrations. I'm kind of reminded of Manabe Hiroshi with the whole retro-futuristic vibe with clean lines and flat colors and delightful bending of lines and body shape vectors. I'd love to have a huge poster of one of those illustrations on my wall. There's a carnal pleasure in the way those sharp meandering lines slash white space from solids.

About the video, this amazing piece of 2D animation was created in Photoshop. The timing with the music is great, and there's so much detail in there I can imagine spotting something new every time. Apparently it took 6 weeks to make and was inspired in some regard by a certain Norman McLaren film.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

11:24:51 pm , 620 words, 2304 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Animator

Yosuke Oomomo

I just discovered a little film called The River of Brightness made by indie animator Yosuke Oomomo, which you can watch on his Youtube channel along with most of his other films. (Yosuke Oomomo's web site)

It's a pleasantly simple, colorful cutout animation. I don't much like the film overall - it's a little too precious and earnest - but I like the creative and skilled use of cutouts shot through multiple layers of backlit colored glass to achieve the hazy underwater effect. It's sumptuous and convincing piece of animation boldly done the old school way - with stuff - considering it's from a relatively new animator.

The River of Brightness was Yosuke Oomomo's 2009 graduation project from GEIDAI. He started animating in 2006. Like Ryu Kato, this indie animator also graduated from the Tokyo University of the Arts. GEIDAI is clearly a major source of new animated talent in Japan. Yosuke Oomomo was born in 1985 and entered GEIDAI in 2005, acceding to the graduate school thereof in 2009.

The professional sound design and score back up the solid visuals well, making for a film that's unusually viewer-friendly for Japanese indie animation, which more often than not tends to be more raw and emotionally distancing. By contrast, The River of Brightness is polished and creates a nuanced emotional flow with the help of the music. It comes as no surprise that the film won numerous awards upon its release in late 2009, as well as being selected by indie animator Tomoyasu Murata on NHK's Digista.

Yosuke Oomomo made his first two trial outings in animation in 2006 with Fun is There, a simple but charming film showing a boy drawing dinosaurs and having a marvelous time of it, and M'arch, a short MTV spot.

Aya from 2007 is his first longer and more ambitious piece. It's a visual poem in which the patterns on a kimono dance in the night, set to beautiful romantic violin strains by Habuka Yuri, the musical collaborator has has worked with on every project since this one.

The same year he made the briefer Present using puppets, and does an impressive job. The film reminds of old Tadahito Mochinaga puppet animation in tone and style.

That day, that time was made next in 2008 right before The River of Brightness. It's a slightly tedious and twee exercise in vapid but cute images of kids and kittens, but it has a certain visual charm. It's the film in which he first tested out cutout animation.

I'm curiously torn about this animator's work. I'm impressed by his technique, and like that he has a unique sensibility. I like his sense of atmosphere and his naive, childlike style. He makes animation for children suffused with a rare lush and tasteful artistry, and I respect that. But his films rub me the wrong way for some reason. They have an affected daintiness that's a turn-off. It's like Sanrio via Frederic Back. It's too bad, because I like that he's trying to bridge the gap between art animation and children's filmmaking. Sanrio's Little Jumbo was a film made in the same spirit, and it's one of the anime films I most cherish. Something is just a little off for me.

Anyway, I might have some issues with Yosuke Oomomo's work, but at least he's doing work that's untainted by anime, and he's trying some pretty creative and interesting new approaches to animation rather than treading the same narrative styles and expressive tools into the ground.

I had a hard time bringing myself to write a post in the middle of the unfolding tragedy in Japan right now, but felt I should push on. I hope none of my readers or their friends or loved ones have been affected.

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