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The second episode was a very satisfying followup to the first, going in a slightly different direction, but remaining unpredictable and spontaneous. It feels like with the second episode we can start to see a bit of the direction things are headed, in terms not just of the story but of the tone. The first episode was so hard to pin down in tone, and so much ground was covered. It was difficult to have time to get into any of the happenings before we were moving along. Now, with the exposition out of the way, it feels like we have finally shifted gears into the gritty buildup of the story. I'm rubbing my hands in anticipation.
The second ep was thrilling, but in a different way than the first. I would even say that, finally, with this episode, I'm seeing what I truly wanted to see from the series. Gripping drama. It was inevitable that Yuasa had to do exposition in the first episode, and he did an incredible job of it, but finally getting past that has allowed him to rip his teeth into the meat. And boy has he done it with gusto.
The episode was written, storyboarded and directed by Yuasa - pure Yuasa. No co-writer this time. If the episode feels more focused, maybe that has something to do with it. The focus is on showing the developing love between the two protagonists, and I found this part of the episode to be convincing and moving. It's difficult to pin down what it is that makes Yuasa's directing unique, but it has something to do with his handling of the timing of the little things that are happening in each shot, the way things simply flow naturally in a way that feels right. The scene on the rooftop is a prime example. Yuka speaks a line laden with meaning to Toshihiko, who remains oblivious to its true significance. She then playfully dips backwards over the ledge. It's a moment filled with tension. That tension is resolved in a wonderful stroke when Toshihiko gently extends his hand behind her back and brings her back up. The timing of the movement is perfect, and it simply feels "right". It's a perfect moment. It provides satisfying resolution to that moment of tension, all in a brief, elegant gesture that responds with its own metaphoric answer.
But the part of the episode that had the most impact on me was the last ten minutes. It's rare that I am able to become so engaged in a story that my heart begins to pound, but it happened with the fantastic scene at the funeral. I was immediately reminded of the scene in the Yakitori shop with the yakuza at the beginning of Mind Game. Here there was that same incredible, creeping, hair-raising buildup of tension. You sense that each of the characters has a serious stake in what is unfolding, so you feel for each of them, because you understand their motivation. All of those conflicting motivations combine in the scene to create a complex web of resonance. Oh, I almost forgot - my 'other' favorite part of the episode was the very first shot, which was just a great sucker punch of an opening shot, and also wordlessly conveyed that headlong feeling of 'falling' in love. That was another thing that struck me - again we see Yuasa's great skill at telling a story without needing words.
The animation was interesting. Nobutake Ito was again the animation director, but here it seemed clear that he didn't have time to put the tremendous amount of effort he obviously put into the first episode. There wasn't that croquis-like quality to the drawings, with those great gestures. It was still good, but the drawings felt cleaner and less alive. It felt like we could see the animators' touch more clearly, and the animators seemed to be getting used to the characters, with the faces looking more consistent. The acting was still well observed and the drawings spontaneous and free as before, but Yuasa the storyteller seemed to take the fore. Yuasa and Ito were also credited as animators. Yuasa probably did the action scene with the monster at the beginning. With news of a Mihara episode coming up and probably other interesting names, I'm very curious to see what other people are going to bring to the animation of the show.
It's kind of nice that Crayon Shin-chan is finally going to hit North America, although it seems like they're pushing the envelope a litte with the humor. I was curious which episodes they would pick - i.e. if they would pick at least one of the interesting ones - and, as if in answer to that question, the very first clip I see when I open the home page (shinchanshow.com) is by none other than... guess who?
After being impressed by the good sense of the folks who got Koji Nanke to animate the second opening of Kyoro-chan, I was curious to see the others, and I was equally impressed, though in a different way, by the first opening, which had some absolutely thrilling and incredible movement in it. Curious to know who did it, I looked at the credits only to see a name that seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on who it was: Shizuka Takakura. Beside her was listed one of the Crayon Shin-chan mainstays, Yoshihiko Takakura. This suggested that they must be married. I then thought about the only animator Shizuka I know, and finally put two and two together. Takakura is the married name of Shizuka Hayashi, easily my favorite currently active female animator. Bingo. Explained perfectly why the movement in the opening was so incredible.
It appears that Shizuka Hayashi reverts to her husband's name on the rare occasion that she is working on a project in which her husband is not involved. (although he did help a little on the op) For Kyoro-chan, she is also credited as the main character designer, and what little I've seen of the characters from the op looks very interesting. She also appears to have worked as an animator on the show, meaning that she moved her own characters. I'm used to seeing her moving Shin-chan & gang, so I would love to be able to see her finally moving characters of her own creation. The new characters gave her the freedom to try her hand at moving a different kind of character than what she was used to with Shin-chan, which she had been working on for 8 years by that time and no doubt started becoming a little tired of (Kyoro-chan dates from 2000). Judging by her work on the opening, it seems like she revelled in the opportunity, pushing her unique style of movement to new heights that weren't possible within the vehicle of Shin-chan, so I would indeed be very curious to see the show itself.
The show was directed by Mitsuru Hongo, director of the early Shin-chan films. There is an even more specific connection. First of all, Shizuka and Yoshihiko started out working at the subcontracting studio Jungle Gym, founded in 1976. Jungle Gym is currently home to Takatoshi Omori and Hideo Hariganeya, two of the main Shin-chan animators. Shizuka and her husband left Jungle Gym to go freelance, and joined the so-called "Studio" Megaten, founded in 1992. Like Studio Hercules, Studio Megaten is not an actual studio, but simply a casual nexus for the gathering of a handful of friends/like-minded creators. Mitsuru Hongo was one of the founding members of the collective, which also counts among its members animator Hiroyuki Nishimura, currently writer of IGPX. I know Nishimura more as an animator who provided a number of memorable action scenes for the Shin-chan films, including the fight in the early Unkokusai movie where adult Shin-chan battles the robot.
Hongo and Shizuka actually go back to the days before Shin-chan. Hongo had been impressed with Shizuka's animation of one of the episodes of the Fujiko F Fujio series Chinpui, and in the years immediately afterwards both set to work on the Shin-chan films and TV series, Hongo as director and Shizuka as one of the main rotating animators. Shizuka also provided animation for Casmin, the TV series Hongo directed the year after Kyoro-chan, on which another Shin-chan pillar from the early days, Masaaki Yuasa, could also be seen acting in the novel role of set designer. Yuasa himself has stated that he prefers Shizuka's Buriburizaemon to his own. Shizuka presumably must have animated the original Buriburizaemon episode, when he comes to life from one of Shin-chan's scribbles.
Shizuka not only worked on the Shin-chan films and TV episodes; she also animated several of the openings, namely the third and fourth. The first two were animated by the main character designer, Hiroshi Ogawa. The contrast is interesting. In the first two we have the staid look of the early episodes, with the movement somewhat sparse and lacking in character. In come the third and fourth openings, and we have an explosion of wild movement from Shizuka Hayashi coming up with her own approach to animating these characters, and in the process laying down the basic approach that would go on to define aspects of the animation in the show. For example, she is the one who came up with the idea for that undulating movement in 1s when Shin-chan does his butt dance.
Shizuka remained one of the pillars of both the films and TV series throughout the years, and unlike some of the other animators, she seemed to have a strong sense for her own personal style of movement right from the very beginning. If Masami Otsuka influenced Masaaki Yuasa, and Masaaki Yuasa in turn influenced Yuichiro Sueyoshi, then Shizuka was probably in there right from the beginning as a root inspiration and influence on this sequence of idiosyncratic animators who discovered their styles through working on Shin-chan. Speaking personally, I've always been partial to Shizuka's Ora wa Ninkimono. It's actually the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Shin-chan. Everything in it from the movement to the lyrics to Shin-chan's singing seems to capture the essence of the show.
Kyoro-chan feels like the show in which, after this long history of seeing Shizuka's impressive work as an animator, Hongo finally put her at the head of the team where she deserved to be. The second ending is interesting in this respect. Hongo directed and Shizuka animated the ending. Most interestingly, Hongo also wrote the lyrics. The song begins, "Nice weather today... I'm bored... Maybe I'll draw something..." We then go through the process of drawing a series of dissociated circles, bubbles and zig-zags, after having done which we flip the paper over to see all of these pencil lines come alive into the living character we've just created - Kyoro-chan. The ending closes with the line, "Drawing that made me feel a little happier." It's a moving way of expressing that mysterious attraction of drawing and animating - how just putting down some lines on paper can somehow make us feel better in a cold world. At the same time it seems to be Hongo's way of expressing his admiration for Shizuka's art, and saluting the animators who had provided the raw material behind his work as director for so many years.
In an aside, to complement my earlier post, you can also see stylistic evolution in Shin-chan in microcosm by looking at the sequence of openings, animated by the major animators of the show. We start with main character designer Hiroshi Ogawa for the first two openings, and see none of the manic movement or extreme drawings that we see in the later work. Apparently even Ogawa himself evolves into a more accentuated style over the years, as if to match the evolution going on around him. Then comes Shizuka's work in opening 3 and 4, still somewhat close to Ogawa's style of drawing than to her own later style full of extreme deformations, but already at this early stage showing her own highly developed personal style of movement. Then we get Yuasa, who himself also had his own personal approach right from the very beginning, but seemed to take in a bit from Shizuka and Otsuka from working on the show. Sueyoshi had a very subdued style in his early work, but after a few years he begins to show Yuasa's clear influence. In his later work he finally managed to go beyond this influence to come to his own valid personal style.
OP 1: Doubutusen wa Taihen Da (Hiroshi Ogawa)
OP 2: Yume no End (Hiroshi Ogawa)
OP 3: Ora wa Ninkimono (Shizuka Hayashi)
OP 4: Pakappa de Go (Shizuka Hayashi)
ED 3: Do-shite (Masaaki Yuasa & Masami Otsuka?)
ED 5: Parijona Daisakusen (Masaaki Yuasa)
OP 7: Damedame no Uta (Yuichiro Sueyoshi)
I talked about the indie animator Koji Nanke a little in an old post. I was happy to recently discover that about half of his videos for the NHK music video program Minna no Uta are available for viewing online. This provides a good chance to finally get to see the work for which Koji Nanke gained such a broad appreciation in Japan. Koji Nanke managed to reach the general public in a way few Japanese independents managed to in the 1980s. His videos were tender and lyrical, with adorably designed characters. He was very senstive with regards to the music and lyrics, always taking great care to fully absorb his source material in order to spin it out using the means of animation into a sumptuous visual form that perfectly complemented and even heightened the impact of the music. At the same time he created his own personal approach to the music video, helping to establish the soft, lulling style that has become synonymous with Minna no Uta.
Never content with his work, but always wanting to do something to push himself in new directions and strive for a new look in his animation (like his contemporary Tadanari Okamoto), Nanke did not limit himself to working in cel, but manipulated materials, sketched in pencil, and even combined these various media. He remained aloof from stylistic trends in commercial animation, instead adhering to his own personal vision and growing gradually closer and closer over the years in both style and spirit to foreign animators like Frederic Back. His videos occupied a special place on TV, softening the hearts of even people who would never otherwise have watched animation, and thus expanding the role and the possibilities for animation. He was one of the few animators in the decade of the 80s who was successful in carving out a niche for himself in this way, and in this way he was a beacon for a more artistic, personal approach in a decade when the growing monolith of commercial animation increasingly seemed to dwarf the indie animator.
Active throughout the 80s and 90s, Nanke produced more than 30 videos for the show over the span of two decades - and this in addition to the more than two dozen openings and endings he produced for Urusei Yatsura and then Maison Ikkoku and then Ranma 1/2. He is certainly unique in that almost all of his work, even outside of Minna no Uta, has been in the form of short music videos. He already displayed an unmistakable inborne genius for animation even in his early work, but this singleminded dedication to a single form has made him one of the masters of the form. He is arguably the most important and certainly the most technically adept Minna no Uta animator.
You can see an interesting evolution in Nanke's videos. The early videos were light-hearted and humorous, with more of a focus on simple but effective character animation. Nobody ever invested as much life as Nanke did into his characters. The lively dance of the old lady in his video from 1983 was filled with rich, bouncy, catchy movement of a kind unusual in anime. (Incidentally, this video was based on the animation for the opening and ending he did for the TV series Spoon Obasan or Mrs. Pepperpot, which is also the only series he ever designed) At the same time he played around with the elements of the screen, integrating the characters into a dynamic and everchanging flow of animation. Around the late 80s you can begin to see a change in his work. The tone becomes more serious, wistful, distant, and the focus shifts from the lively, vibrant character animation of his early work to abstraction and variety of technique. Nanke's animation was always skilful, but now his mastery reaches new heights. Not a frame or movement is out of place, and every sparing stroke and touch of color serves to advance the whole. Frederic Back unmistakably had a major impact on Koji Nanke, and his late work shows Back's strong influence both stylstistically, in the dynamic camera work of I am your tears and the freeflowing pastel/crayon transformations of Deja Vu and me, and in terms of the renewed focus on masterful technique at the service of a strong message. But even shorts with as urgent a message as Who owns the rivers? never come across as overbearing or preachy. Nanke's touch is always as light and gentle as a breeze, as it has always been.
From his early work to his latest, Nanke has made a string of perfect little pearls that you want to come back to again and again. He is a real gem of an animator, equally for his technical skill as a mover and designer as for his determination in continuously polishing his craft while sticking it out as an independent for three decades now.
Daruma-san fell over だるまさんがころんだ
The site for Iso Mitsuo's Denno Coil (www.tokuma.jp/coil) has been updated with a new visual and some info on the basic setup. The date is 202X. Sixth grader Yasako Okonogi(?) moves to the idyllic town of Daikoku with her parents and sister, but in the shadow of the venerable town's old temples and shrines, Daikoku is also home to a special administrative district equipped with cutting edge computer facilities... The project is finally confirmed to be a TV series, as I suspected. The picture is again labelled in a way that suggests it dates from April 30, 2000, which if true would underline that the project has been in the works for many years now. The novel version, written by Yuko Miyamura, is to be published this fall. They still mention that they are recruiting staff, but in fact they are now only recruiting seisaku shinko or animation runners. If only I were in Japan...
Related: Mitsuo Iso | Filmography | Interview | Iso Fun Pack | Denno Coil
We've come a long way. Not only have we been able to see a movie by Masaaki Yuasa, but now we are being given a TV series. And a TV series entirely of Yuasa's creation at that. It's good that there are still studios out there willing to give talented creators a chance to head interesting projects, rather than simply falling back on safe patterns.
As with Mind Game preceding it, as soon as I heard about Kemonozume I began to accumulate a baggage of expectations about it, as it was just too exciting a prospect to remain ambivalent about and not wonder how it might turn out. In the case of Mind Game, my expectations were upturned in an interesting way. The visuals were as inventive and the animation as satisfying as I had anticipated, but the tone and pacing were more grounded and human and less manic than what I had expected. After seeing that, I began to suspect that Yuasa might go further in that direction in the future and try to develop the drama side of his skills, since he had already honed the surreal and slapstick side in everything that had come before. Having now watched ep 1 of Kemonozume, it feels like that was roughly on the mark. Here we can see all of Yuasa's wonderful little touches working on a base of powerful human drama. I think Yuasa realized that creating a strong, believable characters was essential when he made Mind Game, and here he's clearly building on that. I'm looking forward to seeing how far he will be able to take it, with a good solid 13 episodes to work with. He's aided in the task by the writer of Paranoia Agent, so I have a feeling that he'll be able to create a convincing and entertaining situation with well developed characters. The dialogue was especially potent during the younger brother's tirade, which seemed to achieve the perfect combination of well-written script with emotive performance. The voice-actor was Hiroyuki Yoshino, who I loved as Sigma in Tweeny Witches.
It's hard to know where to begin, as there's so much to say about the ep, which was everything I was hoping it would be, but one of the obvious features was just how similar the visuals were to Mind Game. Again we can see the same combination of live-action footage processed and blended with animation and strong color contrasts used to powerful effect. The fish at the beginning and the waves at the end created an interesting effect on the screen. We also see the same rough touch of animation used to move characters designed with that surprising combination of realism and extreme stylization that makes Yuasa so unique. If anything, the animation here is even more rough-hewn than that in Mind Game, which is saying a lot. Yet in some counterintuitive, Zenlike stroke of genius, the rough approach to the drawings seems to work to keep the look unified throughout. It's a continuation of the stylistic preoccupations of Mind Game. As Yuasa emphasized in interviews about Mind Game, it actually takes some effort to devise a process that will retain the rough vigor of the original animator's line through to the final product. Here again they've managed to keep alive the visceral feeling of the animators' original drawings.
Now we come to the other star of the show: Nobutake Ito, character designer and animation director of the first episode. I don't know how much input Yuasa had into the characters, but it seems likely he must have had some. As in the case of Mind Game, here the characters seem a perfect combination of the unique style of the director and the animation director. (Yuichiro Sueyoshi in the case of Mind Game) Ito, of course, animated the escape sequence of Mind Game, and more recently a few wonderful eps of Samurai Champloo, showing that he had a very unique genius as a mover. His style actually seemed to announce itself as very close to Yuasa's, with its rough lines and realistic yet exciting movement. Watching his work in Champloo, I felt he was coming up with his own personal approach to the rough yet realistic approach that Ohira and Yuasa had pioneered in Hamaji's Resurrection more than a decade ago. The first episode of Kemonozume seemed to show him continuing to build on that. Here it felt like Yuasa was returning to his roots, finally getting the chance to do the sort of serious samurai drama he had tasted under Ohira in Hamaji, whereas Ito was finally getting the chance to do this kind of down and dirty realistic acting to his heart's content.
Ito's contribution was just as maniacal as what I have come to expect of Ito, and maybe even the most satisfying part of the ep to me in many ways. Yuasa has already proven himself, but it was nice to finally see Ito given the chance to create something that allowed him to live up to his real potential. Ito has always struck me as a workhorse, and here he clearly put a huge amount of effort into the drawings throughout the episode, filling the ep with the sort of nuanced yet dynamic and intuitive acting and posing that could be seen in his past work. Essentially he's playing the role Yuasa himself played under Shinya Ohira on Hamaji, although Yuasa's and Ohira's demands are very different. Having been a great animator himself, Yuasa knows how to pick the best animators out there and get the best out of them. If I were to try to pin down the difference between what Ito brings to Yuasa's style and what Sueyoshi brought to Yuasa's style, I'd have to say Sueyoshi brought his own Yuasa-derived approach to Mind Game, with wild imagination for broad forms and movements and elastic expressions, whereas Ito brings an approach slightly more interested in specific details, favoring croquis-like quickly rendered but penetrating observations of a pose, and attending closely to the nuances of body language. There was particular care given to the hands, which are notoriously difficult to animate properly. I found the bit of prestidigitation with the coin at the beginning to be astonishingly powerfully rendered. And the brother fidgeting with his cell phone. Tadashi Hiramatsu says realism in animation is achieved by capturing pieces of reality that impart an impression of realism. This shot seems a good example of that concept. And right afterwards we cut to the highly stylized character with an oval for a head. Ito balances these two extremes masterfully.
Incidentally, speaking of Ohira, Yuasa has gone out of his way to involve Ohira in most of his non-Shinei projects since Hamaji, and it seems likely that Ohira is in the op. I have to wonder if Ohira didn't also do those two great shots with the expanding circle. Yuasa's shot was easily identifiable. In the episode itself, I assume Yuasa must have been in there working on the layout and giving pointers or helping out on the animation, as in Mind Game.
As for the episode itself, it was just a blast. The criterion of a good episode in my book is if I have to look at my watch at any point in the episode, and it didn't happen once. By the time it was over, my response was, "Already?!" Yuasa was in full force, perfectly balancing the drama and the action and tempering it all with patented Yuasa surrealism. Every moment was interesting and packed with some significance. Yuasa is very low-key as a director. He doesn't like to emphasize things. Much of Yuasa's best humor passes by very quickly because Yuasa hates dwelling on a joke. After Toshihiko falls for Yuka, we see a quick shot of the monkey feeding Toshihiko's hawk in place of the preoccupied Toshihiko. Only on a second viewing did I notice a character make a subtle movement turning his head away in courtesy as Toshihiko slinked to the bathroom after the battle. We're thrown into the situation without being regaled with windy explanations, but come away unconsciously grasping the basic situation and character relations. Yuasa manages the feat of combining a gritty drama of sibling rivalry, exciting action with rampaging monsters, and an unprecdentedly steamy love scene, all in the course of the first episode. I can't recall ever having seen a more sensual kiss in anime. The catchphrase promised "violence & action & love story & comedy", and this first episode provides the obvious answer to the question that must have been on all of our minds: How on earth could he possibly combine those things? Entirely naturally, that's how.
The scene with the monkey seems exemplary of how Yuasa deftly manages to combine these disparate elements. The situation is serious, with the two brothers facing off to determine the fate of the dojo, with a lot of emotional implications, yet in drops the monkey, who just wants to get his peach back. Suddenly the scene seamlessly shifts in a completedly different direction, with the monkey unfolding some killer moves in a short but great action scene that is exciting, absolutely hilarious, and drives the plot forward in an unexpected direction. The monkey was very Yuasa, too, with its clean, simple, elegant design that contrasts nicely with the look of the rest of the show. I could sense echoes of Hamaji in the scene in the rain. Yuasa's directing was simply fantastic throughout. I particularly liked the way he kept the shot directly fixed on Yuka's face as she moved from the beach into the car to simulate Toshihiko's burning gaze.
The animation throughout was wonderful, of course, largely thanks to Ito's dedication, but the two big action scenes were clearly the work of some good animators. It's obvious that we'll be seeing some interesting people showing up in the coming episodes. The official blog just mentioned that Osamu Kobayashi of Beck fame is doing ep 7. Here the only two names I recognized were presumably also the ones responsible for the good action - Soichiro Matsuda, who I remember for his action in various places including Futakoi Alternative, Eureka 7 and Gaiking 13, and Hiroshi Shimizu, an old comrade of Yuasa's from Shinei, who also does prop design here.
Needless to say, I was happy and very impressed with the episode in every respect and look forward to the rest. I wonder whose tongue that was behind the episode title?
One of the reasons I like Tsutomu Mizushima is that he's a director who knows a good animator when he sees one, and he can be relied upon to make an effort to mold whatever work he is doing around the animators he has available in order to get the best possible work out of them. For example, he actually went back and added a few more shots to the storyboard of the transformation in the parlor in the xxxHolic movie after he learned that Shinji Hashimoto was going to be animating it, just so he could get a few more shots out of Hashimoto. For the ending of the xxxHolic TV series he managed to drag some nice animation out of Kise Kazuchika, who seems so reluctant to do animation these days. In Hare Nochi Guu he got the guys responsible for the tastiest animation at Shinei - Masami Otsuka and Yuichiro Sueyoshi - to do another fantastic ending. In the latest ep of xxxHolic, #18, we can see a lot of wonderful work from Yasunori Miyazawa, along with his old Shinei mainstay Futoshi Higashide. Here we see not the manic movement of the opening scene of the movie, but more Miyazawa's genius for creating amazing otherworldly forms, and his very unique approach to color. He uses only a few simple patches of color overlaid sparingly over a few organically pulsating shapes to create a mezmerizing, almost psychedelic texture on the screen. It almost reminds me of Faith Hubley. The effects and colors in the shot where the larva explodes at the end of Dead Leaves were similar in feeling to his work here. There is also a section with various monsters that reveals a side of his genius I haven't seen before. We pan across a fascinating procession of inventive and appealing monster designs emerging out of the beautiful tangle of Miyazawa's characteristic line splayed masterfully across the screen. Miyazawa isn't just a good mover; he clearly has a wild imagination just waiting to be tapped. I'm delighted that Miyazawa is getting the chance to lay down a lot of work in a TV series instead of having to hold out for the occasional scene in a movie. His style seems well suited to TV work, allowing him to experiment and evolve by trying out a lot of new and interesting ideas rather than spending a lot of time to hone a small bit of animation. He also did a short but very sharp shot in 12 that was more in the vein of what he was doing in the opening of the movie, pushing it to new heights even, as if to test the limits of the concept of character, to see how far it is possible to push an outline and still remain that character.
Related: Yasunori Miyazawa
|3x3 Eyes #4, 1991|
|FLCL #4, 2000|
|Tottemo! Lucky Man op, 1994|
|Yu Yu Hakusho movie, 1994|
I've been thinking about trademarks that can serve to identify animators. First and foremost, of course, is the movement. In many cases, as with more style-heavy animators like Shinya Ohira or Shinji Hashimoto, you can simply tell from the movement that it is a certain animator's work, even if the drawings have been corrected, as witness Ohira's section in Howl (Howl's airborne transformation) or Hashimoto's scene in Perfect Blue (Murano's murder). However, in other cases, particularly when an animator's drawings go uncorrected, as happens more often in TV work, and in rare shows like FLCL that are more tolerant of open displays of animator idiosyncrasy, you can even tell just from the drawings. Norio Matsumoto's animation is easily identifiable from the movement, but even during still scenes, his work can often be identified by a single drawing. For example, take the ears and hands: He tends to draw big round ears in one elegant arc, and has a knack for flawlessly drawing beautiful hands, something that is not very common among animators. Tokura Norimoto is also identifiable from his beautiful, bilbous hands. In shows as disparate in time and style as 3x3 Eyes and FLCL you can identify a trademark of Koichi Arai in a shot here and there - his way of drawing the mouth. Nobutake Ito can often be identified by his teeth, which are amongst the most meticulously rendered I'd ever seen. Other animators might tend to favor certain poses in their animation. A trademark of Yoshinori Kanada's is the pose seen at right, which you can see fairly often throughout his work.
Sometimes it's not as specific as a certain way of drawing hands or the mouth, but rather simply a certain style of line. Hisashi Mori tends to draw with a wobbly, spontaneous line, whereas Satoru Utsunomiya favors a cleaner line. Hisashi Mori liberally uses lots of effects and lines throughout the screen. Animators across the board from Norio Matsumoto to Toshiyuki Inoue use speed effects, ie, little jagged teeth extending from a line, to express speed, some less frequently than others, each in their own personal way. Then there are shapes. Hisashi Mori tends to favor blocky, geometric shapes, whereas Shinya Ohira's shapes seem more abstract and flowing. In the end, of course, the movement is the most important thing, but drawings are the building block of movement, so both the movement and the drawings can be used to identify an animator's style.
As if there weren't enough to look forward to in Masaaki Yuasa's Kemonozume, which begins airing on Wowow this Saturday, here's something else.
I've been a fan of Michio Mihara's work since he (almost) singlehandedly animated ep 4 of Paranoia Agent and contributed some nice work to ep 12. Besides just being a fan of folks who make the valiant effort to animate an entire episode singlehandedly in this day and age when the demands of quality have risen so much higher than they were decades ago when this sort of thing was more common, I just loved his style. Well, I'm delighted to learn that he's up to it again. And I'm even more happy to learn that it's on Yuasa's Kemonozume. According to his latest column on Anime Style, he's doing episode 12. What better present could there be than a cross between two of my favorite animators?
I've also been curious how long it takes someone to do this feat in this day and age, and he mentions that he has four months, and there are a total of 280 shots for the episode, so his calculation is that he has to manage 70 shots per month... I'll be rooting for him. Even Norio Matsumoto was only able to manage the feat on one or two occasions. The other times, like for ep 39 of You're Under Arrest, he only got about 3/4 of the way through, and the man was so stoic about his defeat that he refused to even be credited on the episode because he had failed in his goal. But Matsumoto is special that way.
Related: Michio Mihara
I learned through Koji Yamamura's blog that it's possible to see four of the extraordinary films of Igor Kovalyov right here. If you want to see them in the international order in which they were made over the span of the 90s, it would be Hen and his Wife (1989) and Andrei Svislotski (1991) in Russia and then Bird in the Window (1996) and Flying Nansen (2000) in the US after his emigration to Hollywood. There's a discernible difference in the style of the animation, which seems to have a little less of the wonderful improbable deformational Parnishness of the early stuff in Russia. But it's still great. I just had the pleasure myself. He's a guy who can tell incredible stories that mean a lot without saying a word or making any sense. He just finished Milch which is thankfully available on DVD. I'm going to hen hop for it.
Koji Yamamura's blog has in fact turned into a set of DVDs collecting the eponymous Unknown Animations that he's been hilighting there over the last year since the founding of the blog. The two volumes cover ten films including Christopher Hinton's Flux and Janno Poldma's On the Possibility of Love.
I'm glad to see that a DVD of Oskar Fischinger's films has finally been released. (via antville) Although I wish they would have put more than ten films on there. Maybe they don't qualify as visual music, but it would have been nice to be able to see his amazing marching cigarettes & other commercials in pristine quality. Basically, I want to see it ALL. Presumably there must be more. But I'm very happy indeed to see that the results of his revolutionary deli-slicer wax-ball animation technique have been included on the disk, as I was very curious to see those after reading about them in the late William Moritz's great biography Optical Poetry.
Since Mitsuo Iso began handling the digital processing of his animation around 2000 in Blood, one of the only people I've been able to find taking up Iso's challenge has been Ko Yoshinari 吉成鋼. Where some animators have gone the route of producing their own short features independently, Ko Yoshinari has taken the concept of the one-man production and adapted it to commercial animation by personally handling the animation, processing and photography of the shots he has been assigned in commercial productions, establishing his own personal paradigm in a way.
Yoshinari seems to have latched onto the idea of doing this around 2004, two years after RahXephon aired, taking a warm-up dive with the animation and compositing for the two shots where Ed jumps over the waterfall in the fourth opening of Full Metal Alchemist (:59 to 1:02). In October of 2004 he did a big chunk of animation in ep 1 of Lyrical Nanoha that stole the show for its detailed drawings and minute, realistic character movement. (:41 to 1:48) As happens often with the tight schedules of TV shows, the only reason we saw Yoshinari's section unmodified was that they did not have time to correct it, which for once was a good thing. Next Yoshinari handled a short section of Yutaka Nakamura's fight with the big monster in the Full Metal Alchemist movie (1:33 to :38). In a first, Yoshinari was credited not just with key animation, but also with inbetweening, finishing and photography. The latest piece of Yoshinari came in the second-to-last ep of Eureka 7, #49, where he handled about six or seven very dense shots. (:17 to :33) The zoom on the ship in particular was quite stunning, and we could see his fetish for studying explosions clearly in the superbly rendered explosion that caps his sequence. (the shots preceding his were by Yasushi Muraki, who animated similar laser/missile "air circuses" throughout the show)
Yoshinari's sections usually move in full ones, even when the section he is doing is for a limited TV program, and he clearly puts an inordinate amount of effort into making the entire screen work as a whole for his section. This is presumably the reason he found it necessary to go to the extreme length of handling the digital processing and photography of his animation in the first place - that he has an image in his head of what he wants to achieve. Already that sets him into a class of his own. In that sense he is very close to Iso, although in terms of the style of movement and other aspects they're very different animators. But it would be interesting to hear what prompted Yoshinari to go in this direction, and how he manages to make it a feasible way of putting bread on the table, considering how long it must take him to create a few seconds of animation with this method. The results are stunning, and it's an interesting new tack, one diametrically opposed to the approach of Toshiyuki Inoue.
Yoshinari was born in 1969, and debuted as a key animator around 1990. Since then he's been involved in the Hakkenden OVA series, the Ninku TV series and numerous other shows. Other samples of his work include a shot in Final Fantasy Unlimited (2001) (2:09 to 2:13) and a sequence in Hiroyuki Imaishi's ep 3 of Abenobashi Maho Shotengai (2002) (here). Since his work on the impressive Ghost in the Shell game op in 1997 (alongside Koichi Arai, Hisashi Ezura, Yasushi Muraki, Yo Yoshinari, Toshiyuki Inoue and Mitsuo Iso), he has also been heavily involved in work on games, both as a designer and op animator.