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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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

12:50:00 am , 1536 words, 4210 views     Categories: TV, Space Dandy

Space Dandy #1

This is a little late, but I finally checked out Bones' new show Space Dandy. The show did not surprise or overwhelm; it delivered about what I was expecting. Thrilling in some respects, underwhelming in others. In spirit it's a throwback to an earlier time of action adventure when heroes roamed the galaxy with ray guns battling colorful aliens, but re-imagined with an attitude of ironic, affected cool that is the trademark of director Shinichiro Watanabe. With its Boobies Breastaurant, kooky aliens and jokey vibe, the show reminds of the Space Quest games, in which a bumbling protagonist went about inadvertently saving the universe.

The first episode plays it a little more safe than I would have preferred. Rather than pulling you in, the episode just tugs a bit, teasing you with a quick intro to the characters and world and its panoply of imaginatively designed aliens. It's certainly entertaining enough, but it's not quite irresistible, and not quite as clever as it thinks it is. The pacing is slow and the directing measured, and there's little in terms of plot or character introduction. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it's certainly a refreshing change compared to the exhaustingly over-the-top, in-your-face directing and convoluted conceptual schemes of other shows. The first episode ends in a peculiar way - with all of the main actors dead - as if they started telling this story from the end, which is obviously meant to spur fan theorizing, and probably has.

The fun of the show so far is in its oddball ideas: Space alien cat who likes to sneak crotch shots of waitresses with his smartphone and wears crocs. S&M Statue of Liberty headed spaceship. Arch-enemy space pimp ape. Transporter button that looks like a Wii controller.

One of the show's pulls overall is the many alien designs. Apparently hundreds of designs have been made by the various staff, including special guests like Katsushiro Otomo and Katsuya Terada. The fun of each new episode will be in seeing the crazy new aliens the protagonist has to battle against. A number of the actual design drawings feature in the opening, in their original sketchy rendering, to highlight this feature. It's nice to have a show like this where many peoples' creativity is pooled to provide a show's backbone. It reminds of the old days of Toei Doga movies, when they used to solicit designs from the whole crew, and any worthy designs would be used, no matter your rank.

Although the chief director of the show is Shinichiro Watanabe, the director of the show is Shingo Natsume, who began as an animator around 2003. I first came to notice him as a talented animator in 2006 in Welcome to the NHK. He appears to have made the transition to directing around the time he directed Tatami Galaxy ep 6, a truly fine episode featuring a bevy of interesting animators. The animator-centric approach remained for his next big job, the FMA Milos film, in which he was line director of this film that went to great pains to serve as a raw and unmediated showcase of the work of talented action animators. Kenichi Konishi was the animation director of FMA Milos, and he had previously pioneered this approach to giving a hand-drawn feeling by reproducing the animator's line in the 2006 Doraemon movie. The same approach seems to have been taken in the first episode of Space Dandy: When a good animator animates a section, it's not corrected. You're seeing every line they drew, the way they drew it. Natsume started out as an idiosyncratic animator, and he makes it a priority as a director to provide such animators working under him with the same opportunities to express themselves.

The first episode has a strange balance, restrained in its pacing for the most part before exploding into action in the last inning. While the majority of the episode is watchable, it's when the action hits the screen that the episode is most memorable. The real stars of the episode are the animators of the climactic action scene, which has real impact in part because what came before was so still, and also probably in large part because, with Natsume at the helm, they were able to really pour themselves into the work, and you're seeing their work in close to the raw state.

Bahi JD steals the show in this episode with his short but intense scene. It's a long-awaited return to the sort of Shithead Action that he started out creating in animated gifs. In just 50 seconds and 13 shots, he managed to pin my head back with some of the most exciting action I've seen in quite a while. His bit begins from the shot where the protagonist is whacked into the air by the advancing alien and continues until the water monster gets hit by bolts of electricity. If the sequence seems to move a lot, that's because it does: Bahi drew 1893 drawings for that 50-second sequence over the span of two months. Only 20 or so of all of those drawings were corrected by the sakkan Yoshiyuki Ito, so you are seeing a nearly 100% Bahi scene. On top of that, the tracer (inbetweener) reportedly did a very good job of reproducing Bahi's line, which is not always a given, so it's a great showcase of Bahi's talent.

Another thing is the density of his animation, which he achieved by using a lot of layers. Shinya Ohira was famous for using an absurd number of layers of cels in his animation in the 1980s. Some shots he animated for Gal Force, for example, used something like 15 layers and were rejected by the photographer as unshootable due to the limitations of the hardware. Beyond a certain point, the image would presumably become blurry because it was cels. In digital, you don't have that limitation, and Bahi took advantage of this in particular in the last shot, where he piled on the layers (beyond what his timesheet could handle) to create a dense cacophony of movement as the monsters battle it out.

Due to the unique way he evolved as an animator, I find that his animation moves in a way that stands out in the context, in a good way. Most Japanese animation, even the good stuff, tends to have the same rhythm deep down, but Bahi's rhythms are unique to him. His work breaks the monotony of texture of the animation. Bravo on a job well done. He went beyond the call of duty on that scene.

Yutaka Nakamura picks up right after Bahi, creating one of his best sequences to date, not that Yutaka Nakamura ever disappoints. Nakamura reportedly improvised the portion where the protagonist and cat slide down towards the enormous battling aliens, as well as the thumbs up gesture as the alien melts away, which appears to be an homage to the thumbs up at the end of T2. It's not quite clear why the characters turn dayglo as they're sliding down, but it's quite pretty. The sequence has incredible speed and momentum to it, along with lots of lovely Yutapon blocks and geometrical effects. It's also one of Yutapon's most fun scenes, with a Buster Keaton-esque part where a giant wall of rock falls on the protagonists but they're OK because there happens to be a window in the rock where it fell on them.

Other notable sequences: The section immediately after Yutaka Nakamura's, beginning from the point where the monster teleports into the spaceship, is apparently the work of a very new animator named Norifumi Kugai, who has a great instinct for full-limited style animation. Kono Megumi may have done part of the portion in the cockpit immediately before they warp out. The cat being shot at by Dandy in the restaurant was by Gosei Oda, while the section immediately preceding with the cat taking snaps was by Shintaro Doge. Both provided good work on the Milos movie under Natsume. Shintaro Doge is an exception to what I mentioned earlier, in that his work appears to have been corrected extensively, whereas Gosei Oda's appears more uncorrected, like Bahi's section. Similarly, Tomohisa Shimoyama, an animator here, was a sakkan on Milos. Milos "animation director" Kiyotaka Oshiyama was here an alien designer alongside Shintaro Doge. There's a lot of overlap with that movie.

There were quite a few alien designers credited. Episode storyboarder/director and series director Shingo Natsume is credited with "guest alien design" while
"the usual alien design" was provided by Takuhito Kusanagi, Michio Mihara, Kiyotaka Oshiyama, Shintaro Doge, Yuka Koiso and a person named Niθ. Mihara will reportedly be providing an episode later on. Natsume designed the big aliens at the end.

The show has many notable names involved besides this: Directors Atsushi Takahashi, Hiroshi Hamasaki, Goro Taniguchi and Toshio Hirata, animators Hiroyuki Aoyama, Atsuko Tanaka, Hiroshi Shimizu and Hisashi Mori, and writers Ichiro Okochi and Dai Sato, to name but a few, will be appearing in upcoming episodes. Masaaki Yuasa is reportedly doing his own episode, as is Michio Mihara. Sayo Yamamoto did the ending, and hopefully will be in for an episode at least. Much to look forward to. The show appears poised to be filled with great variety.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

06:46:00 pm , 7553 words, 32204 views     Categories: Studio, TV, A Pro, TMS, Oh Pro

Tensai Bakabon

The early years of TV anime were occupied mostly by sci-fi and hero-style shows inspired by Tetsuwan Atom such as TCJ's Tetsujin 28-go and Toei Doga's Space Patrol Hopper. By 1965, audiences were getting bored with the formula, so a new type of show was attempted: the comedic home drama. Tokyo Movie had stumbled with their first production Big X in 1964, so in 1965 Yutaka Fujioka set out in a new direction with a new animation team and produced Obake no Q-taro, a Casper-like gag show about the misadventures of a friendly ghost who lives with an ordinary family. This was the first show featuring the recently-formed A Production animation team, who worked alongside Studio Zero, the anime/manga production studio where the Fujiko Fujio creator duo resided at the time.

In the wake of the show's explosive success, copycat gag shows mushroomed in the ensuing years. Notable gag shows of the late 1960s include Mushi Pro's Goku's Big Adventure (1967), Toei Doga's Pyun Pyun Maru (1967), Tatsunoko's Ora Guzura Da (1967) and Hoso Doga Seisaku's Fight da!! Pyuta (1968). Goku and Pyuta in particular featured fast-paced, anarchic storytelling with a healthy streak of black humor that pushed the boundaries of acceptability in the TV format (stations refused to air some episodes) and gives the shows a timeless quality that endures today in spite of the technical limitations of the animation.

Fast-forward a bit to 1971 and we come to a turning point in Tokyo Movie's history. Studio Zero finally disbanded because their staff had by that time scattered to the four winds, so Tokyo Movie had to rely more on their affiliated A Production team. But other small subcontractors had popped up over the previous few years, mostly from ex staff of Toei Doga and Mushi Pro, so Tokyo Movie had many more options now, and were not limited to producing just one show at a time. Hence in 1971, they built on the success of their popular Kyojin no Hoshi and had no less than 3 shows airing concurrently: Lupin III, Tensai Bakabon and Shin Obake no Q-taro. Shin Obake no Q-taro was a safe updating of their first hit while Lupin III was a daring experiment with more mature material. Tensai Bakabon meanwhile was an attempt at a new property with a more hardcore nonsense gag sensibility. (watch an ep)

Tokyo Movie had taken a break from gag shows after their Umeboshi Denka (1969) flopped because, again, audiences has grown tired of the new fad for gag anime that had overtaken the industry. They tried different material like Kyojin no Hoshi and Moomin for a while. Yasuo Otsuka joined A Pro in December 1968 and worked on first the Lupin III pilot and then Moomin. He was then set to work on a pilot for Tensai Bakabon, clearly indicating that Tokyo Movie had not given up on the format, and perhaps trusted Otsuka to create something that would bring it back into favor. That pilot was used as one episode in the show itself, while Otsuka himself worked on the concurrently-airing Lupin III, which was his pet project.

The pilot is an interesting beast. It is quite entertaining, but in animation style and rhythm it has a sensibility closer to Moomin than to Tensai Bakabon, with its strong layouts, languid pace, subtle humor and nuanced character animation. It's almost classy in its restraint and refinement, which is nice, but a little different from what you expect from this material. It doesn't have anything like the anarchy that Ganso would bring to the material.

The pilot begins much like the Lupin pilot, introducing the characters from the manga in black and white and then shifting into a story about how Bakabon and his dad go skiing, but wind up stealing a guy's skis and causing the guy to have a miserable time, entirely unbeknownst to both parties. The humor of the actual show went in a direction a little less subtle and more straight-up silly, but Otsuka's template showed the way to adapt this material: By moving away from the extreme simplicity of the manga drawings, bringing the characters down to earth and animating them three-dimensionally. Gyators several years later would go in the opposite direction and use the simple manga drawings as the template to create animated visuals very close to the sensibility of a gag manga.

The pilot wound up being used in the actual show as episode 16B, with a few cuts for time and with the voice acting track re-recorded (the main difference being they chose a new voice actor for Bakabon). There are no credits for the pilot, but the TV show gives Soji Yoshikawa the storyboarding credit for this episode, which is presumably what led to him directing the show. This is plausible because Otsuka obviously knew of Yoshikawa from Moomin, on which Yoshikawa storyboarded 5 episodes. Yoshikawa afterwards storyboarded the first and last episodes of Lupin III. Yoshikawa's association with Otsuka continued for a bit, as several years later he wrote many episodes of Future Boy Conan and then directed Mamo. Incidentally, Mamo was written single-handedly by Yoshikawa, even though Atsushi Yamatoya is co-credited.

Yasuo Otsuka cameo in episode 5A

After working on the early shows and then Moomin under Otsuka, A Pro's lead animators Tsutomu Shibayama, Osamu Kobayashi and Yoshio Kabashima had by that time matured to the point where they could be put at the head of their own projects, so Kabashima headed the animation of Shin Obake no Q-taro while Shibayama was made character designer and animation director of Tensai Bakabon and Otsuka headed Lupin III. Osamu Kobayashi would work as an animator on those two shows until he became animation head of the studio's next show Dokonjo Gaeru, which started the year after in 1972.

Fujio Akatsuka and Fujio Fujiko were the two creators behind some of the classic gag shows of the early period. The Fujio Fujiko duo was behind the softer, more drama-based comedy shows like Obake no Q-taro and Paa-man while Fujio Akatsuka was behind the more hard-edge straight gag shows Osomatsu-kun (Studio Zero/Children's Corner, 1966) and Moretsu Ataro (Toei Doga, 1969). Tokyo Movie had adapted Fujio Fujiko before with Obake no Q-taro, and would continue to do so extensively, but Tensai Bakabon was Tokyo Movie's first foray into a Fujio Akatsuka show.

The original manga Tensai Bakabon is essentially a home drama about a Japanese family, but told with far less of an emphasis on the everyday life aspect. Rather than telling stories about everyday life injected with humor, entire stories are built around crazy concepts. Dialogue is full of bizarre and unexplainable non-sequiturs, puns and gags that break the third wall. The whole point is to make the audience laugh with a non-stop stream of silly gags of a dark and nonsensical bent, in a tradition that harkens back to the likes of Shigeru Sugiura, albeit without the avant-garde, psychedelic aspect.

The name Tensai Bakabon or Genius Idiot Boy is mysterious nonsensical name that is difficult to rationalize, as it has an ineffable mad Zen balance that just works, but perhaps can be broken down to describe the family members: Tensai is for the boy genius infant Hajime; Baka is for the father, an idiot savant who seems to know what he's doing but in fact operates on a completely different plane of reality; and Bon is for the elder brother, a young specimen of utter mediocrity who despite his chubby frame, snub nose, and slow wits, is endearing for being an otherwise normal, happy-go-lucky, well-adjusted young boy. Year round he can be seen in a kimono with a swirl-pattern that matches the swirl on his cheeks. The other member is the mother, who is the only completely normal character in the set. She grounds the family by scolding the father and de-escalating the craziness when it seems on the verge of spiraling out of control. It's a fascinating family that works as a perfect complement of opposites. It's baffling why a normal woman would marry an idiot savant, and the boy genius Hajime speaks perfect Japanese a few days after being born - the antithesis of the pure idiocy of the father.

The father is something of a parody of a working class father, with his permanent Tora-san haramaki and hachimaki. He caps episode previews with "Watch or you get the death penalty." Recurring characters include Rerere no Ojisan, the ubiquitous guy who is always sweeping the street whenever Bakabon's dad leaves the house. At some point in every episode, he has to ask his trademark line, "Heading out?" only to receive a joke response from the father than makes him go "Rerere?" He has an anachronistic old-fashioned design that seems directly inspired by Shigeru Sugiura - he even makes the same hand gesture as Sarutobi Sasuke. Then there is the local policeman, who has a hair trigger temper and fires his gun madly at the slightest provocation. His design is a great example of Akatsuka's bizarre design sense: his eyes are drawn connected and he has a single square nostril. This was apparently deemed too much because in this first anime adaptation they separate his eyes and give him a regular nose. The second series went back to the manga design. The main characters are each distinguished by their teeth: The son has one top tooth, father as two top teeth like a hippo, and the policeman two bottom teeth.

In the manga this all plays out in a flat, empty world of white space with virtually no physical settings or sense of passing time. To translate this kind of story into animation required considerable adaptation, which Tokyo Movie did in the manner they knew best: They grounded the characters in real Japanese settings and fleshed out their lives in the manner of real Japanese people. Hence, this version feels more like a home drama in the spirit of the Fujiko Fujio anime. Even so, Tensai Bakabon experienced tribulations indicating that nonsense humor, even toned down as it was here, was still not acceptable to audiences at the time. The nature of the show actually changed at about the midway point along with the director.

Originally, the show was essentially grounded in reality, but told silly, action-centric stories packed with gags in the spirit of the manga. It wasn't a completely faithful adaptation of the original in the early episodes, but still retained a lot of its spirit. However, in the second half, that spirit is altogether gone. The gags suddenly get edged out completely in favor of a straight home drama telling harmless, mundane stories, usually about Bakabon the boy and his schoolmates. This sort of change of course happened often in these early days to gag shows, indicating a surprisingly tenacious reluctance on the part of general audiences to embrace straight gag anime - Goku no Daiboken became a dour monster show in the second half, and even as late as 1975 Gamba no Boken was changed from an unpredictable, zig-zagging light-hearted action comedy to a humorless, linear adventure due to station demands.

To give an example of the cynical, nonsensical humor of the early episodes that apparently displeased either the sponsors or the viewers, or both, before Hajime is born, father and son takes a doll out for a walk to practice carrying a baby. They drop the baby onto the street and a cab runs over it. The cab screeches to a halt, and the father screams that the baby has been run over and its brains are all over the street, sending the cab driver into shock. A nurse rushes into the emergency room announcing that a child was in a terrible accident. A huge team of surgeons gather as the doll is rushed into the operating room.

In another instance, after the baby is born, the father is out taking a walk with the newborn Hajime. Housewives gather around to comment on how cute he is, but wonder if the sun might not be too hot for a little baby. Suddenly concerned, the father hits upon a great idea to keep the baby cool: A coffin. After he parades down the street with Hajime in a coffin, weeping neighbors gather at their home in mourning clothes to offer their condolences. He deposits Hajime's coffin in front of the shocked mother, declaring, "Hajime is resting in peace in this coffin." She opens the coffin to reveal Hajime lying on a bed of flowers, resting in peace but perfectly alive. The father doesn't understand why everyone is angry, explaining that it's nice and cool in the coffin.

The second half of the show appears the same on the surface, but is completely absent dark humor of this kind. The father's mad behavior doesn't exist for its own sake, but rather is explained and rationalized away as the well-meaning antics of an eccentric but otherwise good-hearted father. Before he existed in a sort of existential void, like an enlightened ascetic, exempt from fatherly duties and social norms alike, but now all of a sudden he has a 9-to-5 job as a gardener, which grounds him as an ordinary human rather than an expressive symbol who exists merely to upturn social conventions and common sense.

The first half is quite enjoyable in its balance of nonsense humor and everyday drama. It's neither too over-the-top nor too restrained. The stories of the second half, however, neuter the show and render it bland and unremarkable, though not unwatchable by any stretch. A few years later Tokyo Movie would remake the show into Ganso Tensai Bakabon in a way that was much more true to the spirit of the original manga. Ganso is an uninterrupted blast of comedic nonsense and outrageously exaggerated animation to match, in sharp contrast to the tasteful and restrained atmosphere of the first version. But both versions have their virtues.

The animation

Tensai Bakabon is the show where you can see the A Pro style on the cusp of maturity, which was reached in the next show, Dokonjo Gaeru. In comparison, the animation of Tensai Bakabon is generally restrained and somewhat hesitating, if always pleasing to watch thanks to the good layout sensibility of Shibayama. By the time of the second Tensai Bakabon show a few years later, the drawings are much more refined and assured. Despite the two shows being separated only by a few years, the animators developed incredibly over those years and the difference in quality is stark. Tsutomu Shibayama's designs in Tensai Bakabon are nice and stylized but somewhat basic and lacking the refinement they would acquire in Ganso Tensai Bakabon.

That said, there is still much to appreciate in the first show. At a basic level, the show itself is still very entertaining even after all these years. Doraemon is the modern equivalent of a show like this, but unlike a show like Doraemon, Tensai Bakabon actually has a cynical, satirical edge lacking in the completely kiddified Doraemon. It's truly a crossover show that appeals to both kids and adults. The humor is witty and clever without being inane and pandering.

The animation drawings are quite basic compared to today's highly detailed anime, as the show comes at something of a crossroads between the early drawings of the 60s and the more mature style of the mid-70s when the TV-bred animator generation was beginning to mature. The good aspect of this is that the simplicity of the drawings allows the animators to focus on moving the characters around freely, and there is a lot of freedom to play around and deform the characters in novel ways. The characters here have a very caricatural style that makes them fun to look at. That is something Shibayama brought to the table, as his characters are much more tightly stylized than the manga.

For example, comparing the last episode of Toei Doga's Moretsu Ataro reveals what A Pro brought to the table. (watch) This episode was aired Christmas day 1970, 9 months before the start of Tensai Bakabon (and incidentally was directed by Isao Takahata, in his very last job at Toei Doga). The narrative style is more unadorned and close to the manga, seeming to consist of a series of gag panels rather than a story that has narrative buildup and tension. The character drawings are quite different from A Pro's drawings. There is far less creative deformation, and the animation is spare and perfunctory. There is none of the creative timing, artistic license with design, and complicated movements of A Pro's work.

A Pro's animators were great at drawing characters in a loose way that is neither too sloppy and casual like Moretsu Ataro, nor over-stylized. The characters are stylized in a way appropriate to animation, and the layouts are stronger, situating the characters in a more realistic three-dimensional space. Moretsu Ataro feels closer in style to the flat world of the manga, and it is appealing for that reason, but there is something bland about watching that in animation, without something to spice it up. The manga didn't have the sort of narrative tension or pacing you expect of animation. A monotone sequence of gags gets old after a while. Tensai Bakabon seems to successfully translate the world of Fujio Akatsuka into animation in a way that retains your attention by creating engaging stories and fleshing the personalities (and animation) of the characters out. It's something akin to how Isao Takahata brought alive the rudimentary manga drawings of Hisaichi Ichii in My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Aside from stronger layouts and richer and more three-dimensional and vivid animation, Tensai Bakabon also seems to feature more playful and wilful animation that allows animator personality to come through. Thus you can actually identify the different animators at work in the various episodes through their distinguishing features. The pink jacket Lupin III was one of the few shows in the 80s that retained this spirit, with its wild variation in drawing style from one episode to the next due to the different styles of the animators who worked on the show, and the reason is obvious. It's because Yuzo Aoki was a holdover of the 1970s A Pro generation, and he carried on that spirit by laying down a basic template conducive to creativity, and allowing animators to do their thing. The most prominent latter-day animator to carry on this spirit is Hiroyuki Imaishi, and looking back at these old A Pro shows you can see quite clearly where Imaishi got a lot of his inspiration. Kanada is bandied about as his main influence, but to my eyes he is about 50% Kanada and 50% A Pro. Tensai Bakabon is, then, not just a fun show that is still a blast to watch after more than 40 years; it's also one of the earliest incarnations of this school of animation that went on to influence so many later animators.

The subcontractors behind the animation

Self references: Jaggard on the menu (Jaggard) / Newscaster Shioyama (Oh Pro)

On the staff side of things, Tensai Bakabon features many of the subcontractors I talked about in my post on Koya no Shonen Isamu (1973), with a few differences.

A Pro:Osamu KobayashiTanaka TsutomuRyo Yasuoka
Oh Pro:Norio ShioyamaKoshin Yonekawa
Neo Media:Yoshiyuki MomoseMasayuki Uchiyama
Mates:Teruo HandaMasafumi Kubota
Jaggard:Saito HiroshiMasakazu Ikeda(then Masami Abe, Shunichi Sakai, Michiyo Sakurai)
Za In:Seiji OkudaKazuo Iimura

Again, none of the subcontracting studios that worked on the show are credited, but with a little research, I was able to figure out which studios were involved. Each of the show's 40 episodes is broken down into two stories. Each half-episode story is animated by (usually) two animators from a single studio.

Other studios involved in a smaller fashion are Ad 5, Office Uni and Junio. I'm not 100% positive about Ad 5 and Office Uni, as they were transient studios about which it is difficult to find much information.

With the exception of Jaggard (which disbanded in 1972) and the addition of Madhouse (which formed in 1972), this is the same grouping that would go on to work on Dokonjo Gaeru starting the next year, in the same format of two animators from one studio handling half an episode. While Tensai Bakabon was airing, the same subcontractors concurrently had their other animators working on Lupin III and Panda Kopanda: Oh Pro Koichi Murata and Joji Manabe; Neo Media Keiichiro Kimura and Yasuhiro Yamaguchi; Mates Kenzo Koizumi and Takashi Asakura; A Pro Yoshifumi Kondo, Yuzo Aoki and Hideo Kawauchi; and Junio Tetsuo Imazawa. By the time of Ganso Tensai Bakabon a few years later the team was fairly different.

The most interesting thing about Tensai Bakabon is perhaps that there are is a lot of unexpected staff continuity with the earlier classic gag shows I mentioned before: Goku no Daiboken and Fight da!! Pyuta. This is surprising because these shows were produced by different studios that came together under completely different circumstances. It's as if they were naturally drawn together on Tensai Bakabon to work on this material due to their natural proclivities, though for the most part it probably had more to do with the closure of certain studios and the opening of others, and where the work was to be had.

The biggest of these is (first half) series director, Soji Yoshikawa. He was an animator in both Goku and Pyuta. This made him an obvious choice to direct this material. This multi-talented individual is of course best remembered as the director of Lupin III: Mystery of Mamo.(1978), but he was also a prolific script writer who wrote most of Votoms. Yoshikawa had started out at Mushi Pro in the early days, and was part of the group of brash young hotshot animators pulled out by Gisaburo Sugii to run Art Fresh, the studio that animated Goku no Daiboken and then disbanded. Others in this group included Seiji Okuda, who is one of the main animators of Tensai Bakabon. Okuda was also an animator in Pyuta.

Episode 2A director Tameo Kohanawa had meanwhile directed several episodes of Pyuta in addition to being the character designer. Takeuchi Daizo, who worked as an animator in two episodes of Tensai Bakabon, directed several episodes of Pyuta. Both of them started out at Toei Doga in 1963-1964 and left in 1967 to join Pyuta production company Hoso Doga Seisaku. Hoso Doga Seisaku was short-lived studio staffed by a motley assortment of misfits who didn't want to make your typical anime. Sound familiar? There is a spiritual undercurrent connecting Goku and Pyuta despite their surface dissimilarity. Pyuta was the only show they produced entirely on their own, and they disbanded immediately afterwards. One of the studios formed in the aftermath was Office Uni, and I speculate that it's from here that Takeuchi Daizo (and Shingo Matsuo) worked on Tensai Bakabon, but I'm not positive about this.

Takeuchi Daizo in episode 12A

Takeuchi Daizo animated episode 12A of Tensai Bakabon, about a magician picked on by Bakabon's father. It features lots of exaggerated and deformed drawings of the magician and shows off Takeuchi Daizo's unique animation sensibility. His animation is not backed up by solid drawing skills, but rather by the self-assurance that he can come up with lots of fun and clever poses and actions. This is a somewhat different approach to the A Pro school, which is more solid and grounded in fundamentals. You can see more animation in the loose and free style of Takeuchi Daizo in Pyuta.

Both Tameo Kohanawa and Takeuchi Daizo went on to work extensively on Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi and Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi. This episode about an ignorant lion is a particularly nicely animated episode by Takeuchi Daizo, who had a very loose and deformed animation style that is very fun to watch. He seems to draw everything using ink brush lines rather than pencil. Daizo eventually went on to focus on more indie work, whereas Tameo Kohanawa remains active as a director in the industry. These two are exemplary of the unique style of the figures who worked on Pyuta, many of whom had a more indie attitude towards animation that led to them going down different avenues in comparison with the typical Toei Doga/Mushi Pro expat.

Jaggard is a studio that nobody seems to talk about anymore, but they were one of the many studios that mushroomed in the 1960s to meet the growing demand for animators created by the burgeoning TV anime industry. Founded in 1966 by Hiroshi Saito together with Shingo Araki, the studio would only continue until 1972, when both animators went their separate ways. Hiroshi Saito was born in 1936, only one year after Takahata, so he is part of the generation that experienced the appearance of TV anime on the front lines. He started out at Otogi Pro in 1960 and then switched to Mushi Pro in 1963, and left in 1966 to found his own studio. From there, he subcontracted for Tokyo Movie's Kyojin no Hoshi, where Shingo Araki did some of his first work as an animator and Hiroshi Saito debuted as a director. Mushi Pro's Ashita no Joe is one of the lats places that you can see all of the Jaggard animators working together, and Tensai Bakabon was the very last job of Jaggard before Hiroshi Saito moved to Zuiyo. He wound up staying at the studio even after it switched to Nippon Animation, and was one of the studio's main directors for the next two decades.

It's in Hiroshi Saito's hands that Tensai Bakabon switched course to a more family-friendly bent, and he would continue to direct more wholesome, light-hearted, breezy material in that spirit for the rest of his career at Nippon Animation. Perhaps in line with this, the Jaggard episodes of Tensai Bakabon are among the least distinctive. It's difficult to find distinguishing characteristics or quirks in the animation. It's as if they are striving to remain as on-model and ruly as possible. So I will leave them out of this next section.

The different styles of each subcontractor

It can be difficult at times to distinguish the styles of the studios in this show, as for the most part the drawings are not very idiosyncratic. Another factor is Shibayama's corrections. His corrections could be present a lot of the time, which makes identifying animator's styles difficult. Then there is the fact that the drawing style of the characters seems to evolve over the course of the show.

Despite that, there are many moments throughout the show where a more individual style peeks through. Sometimes it's a particular way of drawing a character in certain poses, or a certain touch of line, while other times it isn't the drawings at all but rather the movement itself which is identifiable. For example, Osamu Kobayashi's characters have an easily identified round and bulbous style that moves sparely, while Yoshiyuki Momose's animation has a more restrained look but uses a lot of drawings to create rapid, fluid motions that are easily identifiable in terms of the movement. Also, my impression is that the personality of a given episode's animators seems come through more in the guest characters, because Shibayama's corrections tend to be focused on the main characters.

A Pro

Recommended A Pro episode: 32A (Bakabon goes on a trip by himself)

I might as well start with the work of A Pro, since they were the main subcontractor behind the animation. But surprisingly, apart from Shibayama's corrections, which keep the main characters in line throughout the show, A Pro's style doesn't dominate the show. There are only a scattered few episodes actually animated by A Pro, and the other episodes have a very different style. It is said that although the A Pro shows were sakkan'd by Shibayama and Kobayashi, they actually didn't do much sakkaning, and Yoshifumi Kondo did corrections for the in-house episodes. Kobayashi and Shibayama were mostly occupied with designing the characters, and in their own episodes they laid the template for how the characters should move.

Osamu Kobayashi is the most identifiable animator in the A Pro episodes. All of the images above are his. If you only saw the shots above, you might think you were looking at Dokonjo Gaeru. Even within the A Pro episodes, it's pretty obvious that Osamu Kobayashi's scenes were not even corrected by Shibayama, because the two have a completely different style. You can see the round & bulbous style I mentioned above quite clearly in the images above. Kobayashi doesn't draw wild deformations or funny faces of the kind you'll find in the other studios' episodes. He keeps the characters pretty firm. The mother is super cute, and even Bakabon's dad looks cute in Kobayashi's hands.

Kobayashi keeps the movement very restrained and still most of the time, efficiently bursting into quickly timed full motion only occasionally to keep the drawing count down, which works to very good effect. It never feels like it isn't moving very much, even though he reportedly used a dramatically smaller number of drawings than someone like Momose. In Dokonjo Momose relates that he would be using 3000 drawings per half episode where Kobayashi would only be using a bit over 1000, and yet Kobayashi's animation never felt like it was restrained. It's clear that working with Yasuo Otsuka during the preceding year or so rubbed off on him and he learned how to effectively switch between stillness and motion at the right moment to make it feel natural.

Another key thing that sets the Kobayashi shots above and A Pro's work in general apart is the stronger layouts. The characters are properly anchored to a setting, rather than simply being drawn flat in the middle of the screen without much thought to their relation to the background. If you do a cursory comparison of the basic positioning of the characters by the other animators pictured below you'll notice the difference. Kobayashi's characters seem to actually inhabit a space. They're drawn recessed a little, with proper if rudimentary perspective, whereas the other animators tend to just draw the characters smack in the middle of the screen, full bore, filling up the image. It's not necessarily realism per se, but it gives the characters more of a feeling of reality. Combined with the masterfully balanced drawings, this goes a long way to accounting for what made A Pro such a special studio that stood out from the pack in the 1970s. Kobayashi's work only truly comes alive starting the next year in Dokonjo Gaeru, but this gives a good feeling for how Kobayashi evolved into his mature style between the time he worked on Moomin under Otsuka and the time he worked on Dokonjo Gaeru.

Incidentally, the credits of this show often seem to reverse the A and B parts. For example, the pilot was included as episode 16B in the TV show. But the Oh Pro animators are credited for part A in episode 16, when they should be credited for part B. This happens countless times and makes the credits somewhat unreliable. Sometimes the order is right, sometimes it isn't. You have to have a sense of the animators' styles to be able to tell. Other episodes that seems switched include episodes 12, 16, 19 and 23. The pilot doesn't include any credits, so the TV episode is the only place we have to turn for credits. I know Otsuka worked on the pilot, but he isn't even credited. And the credits that are there are the same as every other A Pro episode, which is suspicious.

Oh Pro

Recommended Oh Pro episode: 39B (Bakabon's father joins a circus)

One of the other great subcontractors of the 1970s is Oh Pro, founded in 1970 by Koshin Yonekawa, Koichi Murata, Kazuo Komatsubara and Norio Shioyama. I've written about Oh Pro numerous times in the past (Oh Pro's Devilman, Little Twins, Koichi Murata, Lupin III series 2, Lupin III series 3, Kazuo Komatsubara) as along with A Pro they are perhaps my favorite animation studio ever. During the first few years of their existence, they split their small force in half to work concurrently on Toei and Tokyo Movie shows.

Thus in the first year Kazuo Komatsubara headed work on Toei's Tiger Mask while Koichi Murata headed work on Tokyo Movie's Attack No. 1. In the next year, 1971, Komatsubara worked on Toei's Genshi Shonen Ryu (watch ep 1) while Koshin Yonekawa and Norio Shioyama worked on Tokyo Movie's Tensai Bakabon and Koichi Murata worked on Tokyo Movie's Lupin III. After a few years Oh Pro's A Pro team switched to working on Zuiyo/Nippon Animation productions.

I already wrote about Koichi Murata's wonderful work on Koya no Shonen Isamu in 1973. Here in Tensai Bakabon in 1971 you can revel in the almost equally wonderful work of Koshin Yonekawa. Norio Shioyama worked alongside Yonekawa, but I believe the characterful drawings in the Oh Pro episodes, of which a sampling is pictured above, are of the hand of Yonekawa. Shioyama wound up leaving Oh Pro immediately after Bakabon to work at Tatsunoko, whereas Yonekawa would go on to be Oh Pro's main rotation animator (alongside Joji Manabe) on Dokonjo Gaeru starting the next year in 1972.

Yonekawa's drawings are very cartoonish in a classical western sense, with wild deformation and fun character drawings. He doesn't use many drawings or create vivid movement per se, but rather uses a small number of drawings effectively to create raucous and lively character animation. His characters twist and turn, stretch and squash, and squeezes out a new playfully exaggerated expression at every moment. His animation is tremendously fun to watch. There's a new kind of looseness and freedom to the drawings, while on the other hand the movement is lacking in the vivid movement of the A Pro school. Even when they're extremely deformed, the character drawings retain a certain tasteful stylization, whereas in the hands of other animators the deformation can sometimes be ugly and lacking in refinement.

Mates

Recommended Mates episode: 1B (Bakabon practices with a doll in preparation for the birth of his little brother)

This is one of the studios I'm not so sure about. I know very little about Studio Mates to begin with other than that it was presumably founded by Kenzo Koizumi, who later worked as one of the rotation animators on Koya no Shonen Isamu. I believe that the episodes featuring Teruo Handa and Masafumi Kubota are Mates episodes, though I am not positive. The previous year these two animators worked extensively on Tiger Mask, so perhaps Mates had also split their forces between Toei and Tokyo Movie shows in the early years.

The Mates episodes stand out in their own way from the other episodes. I actually like the work here, unlike the Mates episodes in Isamu. The drawings are not necessarily good per se, but they are characterful and have energy. Occasionally there will be extreme deformation of characters that is quite fun to watch, if not particularly clean, well stylized or pleasingly drawn. The mouth tends to be drawn in a distinctive way as this wide, craggy, uneven opening. The movement is not particularly well timed, but there are some vivid movements that use a lot of drawings. It's not nearly as static as the A Pro episodes. The Mates episodes have a kind of rough energy to them.

Episode 7A begins with a gangster movie playing in a theater. It's drawn in the hyper-expressive realist style of Tiger Mask, with rough lines and hardcore mean looking manly faces. This was probably a joke inserted by these animators who had just come from working on such material the previous year.

In episode 1B, Bakabon wants to practice on a baby, but has a difficult time finding a good substitute. This is one of the best of the early episodes for its dark sense of humor and extreme drawings. First Bakabon says he wants to practice on a cat, but the cat is too hairy, so Bakabon's father pulls out a razor and offers to fix the problem. Then they go out looking for an idea in the streets when they encounter a mother scolding her child. She says "I'm going to throw you away if you don't stop crying" and Bakabon's father promptly says "I'll take him if you don't want him". The Tiger Mask influence comes through here when the mother busts out some pro wrestling moves and annihilates both Bakabon's father and the policeman who came to arrest her for assault. Afterwards, they make a doll and walk around with it, eventually dropping it on the street in the gag I mentioned earlier.

Neo Media

Recommended Neo Media episode: 18A (Bakabon's teacher comes over and gets drunk)

The Neo Media episodes contain work from a young 18-year-old named Yoshiyuki Momose, who had just joined the studio the same year in 1971. This is essentially his debut as a key animator. Since he was such a green animator, the work doesn't have the strong character of the other animators in the show, most of whom already had years of experience in the industry. And yet it stands out for its fundamental strength of movement. Rather than standing out for the drawings, it stands out for the quality of the animation. The characters actually come alive in his hands.

It's this ability to bring characters alive in movement that set Neo Media founder Keiichiro Kimura apart in the late 1960s. Stylistically, Momose is not influenced by Kimura at all. Momose has none of the strange timing and rough drawing that characterize Kimura. Though working from Neo Media, he developed entirely under the influence of Tsutomu Shibayama and Osamu Kobayashi. It was their work that stimulated his imagination and taught him the basics of animation. One of the most important things he learned from them was the importance of layouts. Most of the industry presumably did not have great layout skills, but the A Pro animators always positioned their characters very carefully on the screen, and that is one of the things that set their work apart. You can see clearly that the characters run around their environment in a more dynamic and calculated way in his work compared with anyone else on the show. A little bit later on, it was A Pro animator Yoshifumi Kondo who inspired a spirit of friendly rivalry prompting him to strive to pack as much interesting movement as he could into his shots.

It's quite remarkable that in his debut he is able to create animation that already has so much life. He is just one of those animators who has it in his blood, who has the instinct for it, and he was good right off the bat. Long shots feature characters engaging in minute actions that play out over the entire screen. In one of the best episodes of the show, 18A, Bakabon's teacher comes over to talk about Bakabon with his father, but winds up being tempted by some sake and gets completely wasted. He runs around the house banging his head against the things and running up the walls in one of the show's most lively and entertaining sequences, brought alive vividly by Momose's animation. Momose would definitely be even better by the time of Dokonjo Gaeru the next year, but his work here is still quite entertaining.

Za In

Recommended Za In episodes: 19A (Bakabon's father destroys an airline company), 26B (Bakabon's father enters a singing competition)

The Za In episodes are among the most interesting in the show. They have some of the most fun and entertaining character drawings of all, along with zippy movement. I believe the main animator responsible for the best parts of these episodes would be Seiji Okuda. He started out in animation prior to the TV era, and when Mushi Pro released Testuwan Atom he joined the industry on Tetsujin 28. He worked as an animator for a few years before added storyboarding to his repertoire around 1971. Since then, he went on to focus on storyboarding, and is now reportedly the single most prolific storyboarder in history in Japan, even surpassing the legendarily prolific Yoshiyuki Tomino (who storyboarded episodes of Tensai Bakabon under the pen name Asa Minami). He has worked on no less than 200 individual productions throughout his career. He also directed a few shows like Dancougar and Dream Hunter Rem, though storyboarding is his main thing.

When I saw Okuda's episodes, I felt a sense of deja vu. It took me a while to figure out why that was. I've been a big fan of Goku no Daiboken for many years, and it turns out Okuda was an animator in Goku, and his drawings in Bakabon unconsciously reminded me of his work in Goku, even though I didn't even know he was involved in the show. I don't have my Goku DVD box with me to check the credits right now, so I'm not positive which episodes he did, but I know he was one of the animators brought by Gisaburo Sugii to animate the show at Art Fresh. He also worked as an animator on Pyuta the year after Goku, so I've included shots of what I suspect are his work from these two shows above to give a sense of his style and how it connects with his later work on Tensai Bakabon.

Okuda also worked on Moomin and went on to work as one of the main rotation animators of Dokonjo Gaeru, so he was an animator in many of the best gag shows of the first decade of TV anime.

Okuda doesn't receive almost any recognition for it anymore since he went on to become mainly a storyboarder, but he was one of the best animators active in the early TV era across a number of the era's best shows. His style is immediately identifiable and stands head and shoulders above most of his peers. Pyuta is especially instructive in the quality of his work as most of the show has fairly crummy animation. The half-episode he animated (episode 5A) is full of his distinctively drawn characters, which look nothing whatsoever like the rest of the show. His earlier work on Goku was a little more static, consisting mostly of single drawings with a few extra drawings for movement, but by the time of Tensai Bakabon there is a lot more movement and zip, and yet there is still that great instinctive sense for how to draw funny expressions and poses.

I'm not positive that Seiji Okuda was at Za In (ザ・イン) during Bakabon, but the animator who helped Okuda on his episodes, Kazuo Iimura, along with the inbetweeners who worked on his episodes, Mitsuo Kusakabe & Masayoshi Okazaki, later became part of the actual studio called Sign (ザイン) founded in 1984. They even have their own web site.

I've done something novel this time and broken down the key animation credits by studio to the best of my knowledge.


Tensai Bakabon 天才バカボン
(Tokyo Movie, Yomiuri TV, 40 eps, 9/1971 - 6/1972)

Director:吉川惣司Soji Yoshikawa (1-22)
斉藤博、岡部英二Hiroshi Saito & Eiji Okabe (23-40)
Anim Director:柴山努Tsutomu Shibayama
Art Director:影山仁Hitoshi Kageyama
Music:渡辺岳夫Takeo Watanabe
Asst Directors:向坪利次、田中実Toshitsugu Mukaitsubo & Minoru Tanaka
Asst Anim Dir:竹内留吉Tomekichi Takeuchi
Storyboards:高倉健一Kenichi Takakura (1a, 1b)
小華和ためおTameo Kohanawa (2a)
奥田誠治Seiji Okuda (2b)
岡崎稔Minoru Okazaki (3a, 6b, 7a, 12a, 23b, 27b)
佐々木正広Masahiro Sasaki (3b, 6a, 8b, 11a, 15b, 23a, 25b, 27a, 29a, 31b)
小泉謙三Kenzo Koizumi (4a)
風間幸雄Yukio Kazama (4b, 5b, 7b, 10a, 13a)
出崎哲Tetsuo Dezaki (5a, 10b, 12b)
羽根章悦Yoshiyuki Hane (8a)
新田義方Yoshikata Arata (9a)
北川一夫Kazuo Kitagawa (9b)
高円寺太郎Taro Koenji (11b, 32b, 37b, 39b)
壺中天Ten Tsubonaka (13b, 15a, 17a, 31a, 34b, 35b, 36a)
平田敏夫Toshio Hirata (14a)
山崎修二Shuji Yamazaki (14b, 19a, 22b, 30a, 33b, 34a, 36b, 37a, 39a, 40)
斉藤博Hiroshi Saito (16a, 21b, 28a, 30b, 32a, 35a, 38a, 38b)
吉川惣持Soji Yoshikawa (16b)
南阿佐/阿佐みなみAsa Minami/Minami Asa (17b, 19b/22a, 24a, 26b)
石黒昇Noboru Ishiguro (18a, 20a, 25a, 29b)
遠藤政治Seiji Endo (18b, 20b)
高橋春男Haruo Takahashi (21a, 24b, 28b, 33a)
ひこねのりおNorio Hikone (26a)

Key Animators:

OH PROMATES
1塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
JAGGARDNEO MEDIA
2斉藤 博
Hiroshi Saito
池田正和
Masakazu Ikeda
百瀬義幸
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
ZA INOH PRO
3奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
MATESAD 5?
4半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
羽根章悦
Yoshiyuki Hane
岡田敏靖
Toshiyasu Okada
OH PROJAGGARD
5塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
斉藤 博
Hiroshi Saito
池田正和
Masakazu Ikeda
NEO MEDIAJUNIO?
6百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
須田 勝
Masaru Suda
渡辺邦夫
Kunio Watanabe
MATESJAGGARD
7半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
安部正己
Masami Abe
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
ZA INNEO MEDIAOH PRO
8奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
A PROMATESJAGGARD
9田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
安部正己
Masami Abe
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
ZA INJAGGARD
10奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
安部正己
Masami Abe
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
NEO MEDIAOH PRO
11百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
ZA INOFFICE UNI?
12奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
竹内大三
Daizo Takeuchi
松尾信吾
Shingo Matsuo
MATESJAGGARD
13半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
安部正己
Masami Abe
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
NEO MEDIAOH PRO
14百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
A PROMATES
15小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
半田輝夫
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
A PROOFFICE UNI?
16小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
竹内大三
Daizo Takeuchi
松尾信吾
Shingo Matsuo
JUNIO?OH PRO
17端名貴男
Takao Hashina
須田 勝
Masaru Suda
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAJAGGARD
18百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
MATESZA IN
19半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
ZA INOH PRO
20奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
MATESJAGGARD
21半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
NEO MEDIAOH PRO
22百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAZA IN
23百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
A PROMATES
24小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
半田輝夫
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
JAGGARDOH PRO
25坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAZA IN
26百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
JAGGARDOH PRO
27坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
A PROMATES
28小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
NEO MEDIAZA IN
29百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
JAGGARDOH PRO
30坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
JAGGARDMATES
31坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
A PROOH PRO
32小林おさむ
Osamu Kobayashi
田中 勉
Tsutomu Tanaka
安岡 亨
Ryo Yasuoka
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAZA IN
33百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
JAGGARDMATES
34坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
MATESZA IN
35半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
MATESJAGGARD
36半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
NEO MEDIAOH PRO
37百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
JAGGARDZA IN
38坂井俊一
Shunichi Sakai
桜井美智代
Michiyo Sakurai
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura
MATESOH PRO
39半田輝雄
Teruo Handa
窪田正史
Masafumi Kubota
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
米川功真
Koshin Yonekawa
NEO MEDIAZA IN
40百瀬義行
Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸
Masayuki Uchiyama
奥田誠治
Seiji Okuda
飯村一夫
Kazuo Iimura

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

11:39:00 pm , 3156 words, 10325 views     Categories: Movie

Penguin's Memory

Under the Mirabeau Bridge runs the Seine
And our love
I must bring to mind once again
That joy always came after pain
 —Guillaume Apollinaire, 1912

A penetrating examination of the impact of the Vietnam war on American soldiers who returned home and were forced to face the demons of their wartime experience alone, to the anguish of their loved ones, who were reunited with their sons physically only to watch them slip away in spirit. Would you believe this synopsis describes a film about cartoon penguins? For such are the mysteries of Japanese animation, which in 1985 gave birth to the conundrum that is Penguin's Memory. (watch)

This film is one of the mysteries of anime. On the surface, it depicts cute anthropomorphic penguins going through some kind of drama in some kind of generic country town. Think Maple Town. If you watched the film without understanding the dialogue, you could be forgiven for believing it to be a film for children. And you would not be entirely mistaken. But beneath the cutesy penguins and the occasional random song and dance number lies a story that seems flagrantly inappropriate for a children's film.

Penguin's Memory is essentially The Deer Hunter via Sanrio. The Deer Hunter is the film's obvious influence in many ways, not least the basic story about three buddies from small-town America who ship off to Vietnam, only one of whom returns with scars more emotional than physical. (The Delta War in this movie is clearly a stand-in for the Vietnam War.) The protagonist is named Mike. He watches his buddy fall to his death after the two of them grabbed hold of the skids of a helicopter in the midst of battle. He returns home only to shy away from the unwelcome attention of his family. Many other parts of the script have obviously been created for the film, but The Deer Hunter clearly provided the skeleton and the spirit for the journey of this film's protagonist.

At first it is quite confusing to watch the cartoon penguins and slowly realize that the story is in fact deadly serious in intent. It's a feeling remotely akin to that watching a film like When the Wind Blow, in which cartoonish visuals belie a deadly serious message. A more appropriate analogy might be Night on the Galactic Railroad, in which cartoon cats were used to tell a story with complex spiritual and philosophical undertones. They look like children's films, but are far more than that. I think this is the case with Penguin's Memory. The main problem is that in the case of Penguin's Memory the artistry is frankly not up to the level of the material. The cartoon penguins initially seem a baffling visual choice to tell such a story, and that feeling never goes away. There is no sync between the artistry and the narrative. The penguins are nothing more than symbols for humans, no doubt partially to sidestep the challenges inherent in portraying (and animating) humans acting out such a challenging script. The penguin designs are completely arbitrary. The film is essentially a live-action film with cartoon penguins overlaid over the humans.

How did such a film come about? The basic details are clear, although they do little to belay the radiant bizarreness of the final product. It all started with a series of 30-second animated TV ads for Suntory beer, depicting a cute cartoon penguin who each time invariably sheds a tear after reminiscing of lost love watching a girl penguin with a flower bow (watch), or being brought a beer by the girl penguin with the flower bow after losing a boxing match (watch), or some variation thereof. One of these ads featured the boy penguin watching the girl penguin with the flower bow singing a song in a dimly lit jazz bar. (watch) This particular ad may have provided the seed for the movie.

The Japanese love using cute cartoon characters to sell anything and everything, apparently including alcoholic beverages. The ads were such a success for Suntory that they decided to make a movie out of the series. Seems like a great idea, right? A beer company wants a cartoon movie about penguins, so obviously it has to be for adults, but kids still need to be able to watch it. What could possibly go wrong? I don't know the particulars of how the movie was conceived, but presumably what happened is that they decided to flesh out the short set in the bar by giving the boy and girl penguin a back story. The scene with the girl singing in the bar makes an appearance at the halfway point in the movie (watch).

So essentially a movie was constructed around this short ad, by coming up with a story to explain how the boy and girl got into that particular situation. The boy was turned into a Vietnam vet who returned home, but left his hometown for a small town to get away from everyone he knew and live life in peace. He went to work at a library and met a girl named Jill who turns out to be an aspiring singer. She wants to move to the big city with Mike to pursue a career as a singer, but Mike wants nothing of it and tries to leave Jill. The second half of the film deals with the conflict of their romance, which involves a jealous fiance who is a skilled surgeon and a greedy promoter who has a lot of money invested in Jill. Jill's story was obviously concocted to play into the popularity of the song in the CM by the then-rising idol singer Seiko Matsuda.

Thus, rather than a cohesive concept, the film is a Frankenstein's monster of various disparate forces: cartoon penguins shoehorned into a rudimentary Deer Hunter story with a tacked on idol singer plot, coerced at gunpoint into an animated film by a beer company. Meanwhile, the film is crippled by its attempt to reconcile its dual impulse as a child-friendly story for adults, unable to fully invest itself in either. The film entirely lacks the Russian roulette metaphor and other elements that made The Deer Hunter work as a film, borrowing casually without much thought to thematic integrity. This flattened visual and moral world assumes an audience that will not be thrown out of the narrative zone by penguin dance sequences, habituated as they are to seeing animated penguins selling beer. For the rest of us, it's just an improbable mish-mash.

Then there is the title. What devious mind named the film? The film's full title is: Penguin's Memory: A Story of Happiness. This is obviously dark irony. This Story of Happiness is one of the most deeply unhappy animated films ever made, pre-dating Todd Solondz's Happiness by 13 years. Audiences lured by this deceptive subtitle must have assumed they were to see a light-hearted romp in the spirit of the harmless, adorable ads, but were greeted instead by a dark, nuanced meditation about one veteran's struggle to re-gain happiness. This is not a happy film; it's a film about happiness. This film takes place during the dark night of the soul before happiness is, perhaps, eventually found. It is in this spirit that the film at one point quotes the Apollinaire poem "Mirabeau Bridge".

There are three people credited with the script, one director, and one "animation kantoku" or animation director (not to be confused with "sakuga kantoku", which the film also has). Clearly it must have been one of these people who made the decision to borrow heavily from The Deer Hunter and otherwise go in this daring direction with the film. While obviously derivative and watered down, it is nonetheless pleasant to see such hard-hitting material in anime, and I would like to see more like it. But the idea to do such material came from people who don't work in the industry. I suspect the main brains behind the film were the same people behind the ads.

The director of the film is one Shunji Kimura, director of the penguin Suntory beer ad campaign, about whom it is difficult to find much information, despite the fact that he has directed no less than 800 television ads over the course of a 30-some-year career. I assume the writers worked in advertising as well, as it is impossible to find almost any information about them. Funny how easy it is to find info about anime staff, yet how impossible it is to find any info about advertising staff. Yet again, it's a case of outsiders bringing fresh storytelling ideas into commercial animation. A number of films were directed or written by outsiders like this around the period of the late 1970s/early 1980s.

The "animation kantoku" meanwhile is Studio Junio's Akinori Nagaoka (Anpanman, Diary of Anne Frank, Tetsuko no Tabi). Junio head Takao Kosai is also present, but I'm not sure if the production was spearheaded by Junio or was more of a collaborative effort, as the only studio credited is Animation Staff Room, and the film gathers animators and staff from diverse studios, with notable names including Yoshiyuki Momose, Yoshinori Kanemori, Megumi Kagawa, Toyoaki Emura, Yusaku Yamamoto, Masami Suda, Sachiko Kamimura and Yoichi Kotabe. Yasunori Miyazawa can be seen as an inbetweener.

I'm fascinated by films like this in which there is overweening ambition that fails to coalesce. There are elements of genius, but the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. The story is one that is genuinely moving and compelling, and is actually surprisingly sensitively told by the script and the directing, but the necessary nuance feels blunted by the childish drawings rather than assisted, as it were, by the distancing patina of animation, as is the case in analogues like Night on the Galactic Railroad.

Anthropomorphic anime were nothing unusual at the time, and I myself never bothered to look into this obscure film until Bahi pointed it out to me just recently, because I fully expected to find nothing more than another Hello Kitty or Maple Town story about cuddly animals engaged in adorable antics. But the opener of Penguin's Memory dispels that notion immediately: You are plunged headlong into a Vietnam battle straight out of Platoon.

At first I took the scene for some kind of a parody, expecting the scene to shift at any moment back to the lighthearted real world of the anthropomorphic penguins, whatever that might be. But that shift never occurs. After the battle sequence, the same story grinds on, chronicling in depressing, painstaking detail the soldier's homecoming and attendant feelings of estrangement from the peaceful world that greets him on his return. A brief synopsis will indicate the level of attention to detail that makes the scene somewhat remarkable for its careful directing.

A lone harmonica sings plaintively over the opening credits, creating a deceptively peaceful mood. The screen fades slowly in from black, revealing the outlines of several Iroquois helicopters flying through the pitch black night. The peaceful mood is shattered as they launch their rockets onto the dark landscape, and unscathed enemy forces on the ground immediately respond with a spray of tracer bullets. On the ground, meanwhile, behind the cover of trees in the jungle, three soldier penguins fire towards an unseen enemy. Al is the burly penguin firing an M60 (favorite of Rambo and Heisenberg), Tom is the scrawny penguin with glasses, and Mike is the hero of the story. First one of the helicopters is hit by a rocket, and next Mike gets thrown in the river by the explosion of a rocket. Mike runs to his aid as Al covers him. The battle ends in stalemate as the helis retreat, and the three soldiers make camp to take care of Tom's wounds.

That night, Mike tends to Tom's bandages around a campfire when Al returns from a reconnaissance mission. As they sit talking around the campfire, we learn that the three are buddies who hail from the same small town, and they hope to start up a business when they get back home. Al jokes that he's got a busty blonde waiting for him when he gets back, but she just doesn't know he exists yet. Mike always carries with him a book of poems by his favorite poet, Randall James, and Al ribs him for it: "How can you read a book at a time like this, with bullets flying everywhere?" "That's exactly why I need it." "I don't get it. Are you going to hide behind that book when a bullet comes flying at your head?" Mike is too busy reading to respond.

The next morning, the three trudge their way warily through the jungle when they encounter a train of refugees, including women and children. Allied helis show up and, to Mike's horror, begin firing on the refugees, presumably assuming them to be Vietcong. Mike runs out and is injured, and Tom runs out to save Mike only to be fatally shot. Mike attempts to revive Tom while Al covers the two. As the enemy encroaches, the heli comes in to pick them up, and Al forces Mike onto the heli's skids, although not before Mike is able to grab Tom's harmonica. Almost on their way to freedom, a rocket hits one of the helis, and the blast causes Al to lose his grip and fall to his death. Mike can do nothing but watch.

The opening scene is exemplary of the film's assiduous 'realism-apart-from-the-penguins' approach. Every little detail of the Vietnam-era paraphernalia is meticulously accurate, from the Iroquois helis to the M1 helmets to the M1910 water bottles to the M60 machine gun to the M16 rifle. Even the flak jacket identifies the characters as Marines. This is a scene that, except for the penguins, could have played out in Platoon. Perhaps the true nature of the war came to light in the intervening years, as instead of NVA killing civilians as in The Deer Hunter, it's the Americans killing civilians that trips Mike's outrage.

One of my favorite parts in the film is the 5-minute wordless montage sequence of Mike wandering the countryside after leaving his home in the dead of the night. (watch) It's a beautiful visual storytelling scene by any measure, showcasing the film's tasteful and subdued sense of realistic filmmaking. The countryside is believably American and rural, with its wheat fields, barns, dirt roads, beat-up Ford trucks, lonely gas stations, and picturesque lines of mailboxes. After some wandering, eventually, to the strains of a jazzy harmonica, he wanders into a mid-century town whose neon signs, gruff industrial sector and steel girder underpasses believably convey a small American working class town. A street boxing den meanwhile reminds of the parts of Ashita no Joe where the downtrodden Joe lets himself be beaten, but also of the gambling den of The Deer Hunter.

The meeting between Mike and Jill symbolically occurs in the library where Mike has taken refuge. As during the war, when the book of poems by his favorite poet offered him refuge, so now the monastery silence of the library offers him refuge. She comes seeking a book of poetry by Apollinaire, a French poet who fought in World War I. She begins reciting Mirabeau Bridge, only to have Mike finish it for her. The book Mike reads is by one Randall James, but the title of his book "Ma Boheme" indicates that this is really Rimbaud, an earlier French poet. For some reason they changed the name to a more American sounding name, perhaps because it doesn't make sense for a lower class American boy with no education to be reading Rimbaud.

After Mike meets Jill, the story settles into romantic mode for a while as Mike and Jill go on dates and get to know each other. Mike saves an injured bird, and light begins to trickle into his closed heart. We discover that Jill is in fact engaged to a skilled surgeon at her father's hospital, but the surgeon is having affair with a nurse. In one scene, the jealous but two-timing surgeon phones Jill from his bedroom with his mistress in his bed behind him. The film can be quite adult in its understanding of affairs of the heart. He seems like a scumbag at first, but the film satisfyingly avoids pinning the crux of the drama on a simplistic arch-rival setup when the surgeon eventually admits that he has the mistress and 'gives' Jill to Mike.

The story then boils down to the question of what Jill and Mike truly want: Does Mike really want Jill? Still emotionally blunted, he reject her offer of redemption for the comfort of solitude. What about Jill? Jill is forced to sacrifice her ambitions for Mike, and this may be the key to saving Mike. When the promoter learns that Jill wants to abandon her career, he brings his thugs to convince Mike to make her change her mind. In the ensuing scuffle, they kill his bird, causing a dam to finally bursts in Mike. He erupts in violence, almost killing the promoter in a fit of blind rage. Mike is sentenced to 3 years probation for the crime, which signals both his low point and his emotional breakthrough.

The story is surprisingly delicate and genuinely moving in the second half with this setup and climax, and makes me wish that all of this were not marred by the visuals, which will prevent most people from appreciating a good, approachable story. Mike parts ways with Jill in a moving letter that reads in part: "My dear Jill, I'm sorry it came to this. I can never repay you for all you've done for me. You opened my heart and made me realize all the things that I've held inside. Maybe I've taken life too much for granted. I'm probably just a weak guy who lost his fight with a monster called war. But I wonder if there's really anybody who wins in a war."

For all that's odd and wrong about the film, it got a lot of things right, and represents a rare kind of humane, real-life based storytelling that I wish we could see more in anime.


Penguin's Memory: A Story of Happiness ペンギンズメモリー 幸福物語
(movie, 1985, 101 mins, Animation Staff Room)

Animation Producer:香西隆男Takao Kosai
Director ("Kantoku"):木村俊士Shunji Kimura
"Animation Kantoku":永丘昭典Akinori Nagaoka
Storyboard:永丘昭典
福富博
今沢哲男
森脇真琴
ひこねのりお
Akinori Nagaoka
Hiroshi Fukutomi
Tetsuo Imazawa
Makoto Moriwaki
Norio Hikone
Art Director:高野正道Masamichi Takano
Supervisor & Original Character Design:ひこねのりおNorio Hikone
Character Design & Sakkan:鈴木欽一郎
兼森義則
Kinichiro Suzuki
Yoshinori Kanemori
Asst Sakkan:平田かほる
賀川愛
Kaoru Hirata
Megumi Kagawa
Key animation:小田部洋一Yoichi Kotabe
山本福雄Fukuo Yamamoto
伊東誠Makoto Ito
星野絵美Emi Hoshino
北島信幸Nobuyuki Kitajima
富沢和雄Kazuo Tomizawa
須田正己Masami Suda
青嶋克己Katsumi Aoshima
百瀬義行Yoshiyuki Momose
坂本雄作Yusaku Sakamoto
木下ゆうきYuuki Kinoshita
松田?之_yuki Matsuda
槌田幸一Koichi Tsuchida
鳥居愛緒Ao Torii
椙目八男Hachio Suginome
河村信道Nobumichi Kawamura
兵頭敬Kei Hyodo
平田かほるKaoru Hirata
古川達也Tatsuya Furukawa
賀川愛Megumi Kagawa
小山善考Yoshitaka Koyama
西山里枝Rie Nishiyama
高橋明信Akinobu Takahashi
神村幸子Sachiko Kamimura
川越洋Hiroshi Kawagoe
江村豊秋Toyoaki Emura
荒牧園美Sonomi Aramaki
辻村武Takeshi Tsujimura
梅津美幸Miyuki Umetsu
なかじまちゅうじChuji Nakajima
小堤一明Kazuaki Kozutsumi
向中野義雄Yoshio Mukainakano
高木美和子Miwako Takagi

Friday, October 25, 2013

06:55:00 pm , 4350 words, 17894 views     Categories: OVA, Shinya Ohira, Short

Yumemakura Baku's Twilight Theatre

As I've noted in the past, the OVA format has long been the format of choice for experimentation with material and styles not suitable for the broad reach of theater or television. A few OVAs like Take the X Train experimented with unconventional design styles, but for the most part even OVAs remained within the confines of conventional anime design thinking. Twilight Theatre of 1991 is one of the most daring OVAs ever in this sense. An omnibus of four shorts by different directors, it features more adult storytelling, albeit within the context of traditional ghost/horror literature, and some truly daring design concepts reminiscent of indie animation without parallel in commercial anime. I wrote about Shinya Ohira's contribution The Antique Shop before. But I just had a chance to see the whole thing, and it was quite a nice package overall. The quality is uneven, and the content is lurid and sensational, but its bold experiments make Twilight Theatre a shining example of the OVA format. (Watch here)

Ranging in length between 10 and 17 minutes, the episodes are each based on a single short story by Yumemakura Baku. The films thus tend to be dialogue-heavy, with voice-overs or extended sequences of exposition. Ideally the films should rely more on the visuals, but for the most part this didn't bother me, partly because the stories were simply interesting, and also partly because of the variety of styles on display. Dialogue-heavy anime usually turns me off, but the writing was interesting because it has a talented writer behind it, and because it's concise and to the point, building to its climax efficiently within a short span. The episodes have a literary intelligence while yet being entertaining as horror/supernatural stories.

I've always been partial to omnibus animation like this, and still think it would be a good thing to have a long-running show like this offering different animators the chance to try more daring styles than your typical long-running show. The length of these episodes is just about right. Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi (1975-1995) was one of the pioneers of this kind of animation, and it produced some fantastically creative work. This was followed up by its even more creative if shorter-lived Madhouse imitator Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi (1976-1979), which as mentioned before featured some great episodes by Osamu Dezaki. Shin-Ei joined the fray in 1979 with The Red Bird, perhaps being the first omnibus anime based on literature, adapting different classics of children's literature. Nippon Animation made a literary omnibus in 1986 with Animated Classics of Japanese Literature.

The advent of the OVA market saw an explosion of low-quality children's lit omnibuses, but two of the better ones were Toei Animation's 6-episode Tokuma Anime Video Ehon Hanaichi Monme OVA series (1990), featuring directing by Junichi Sato and animation from Koichi Arai, among others, and Nippon Animation's Anime Art Video Collection (1993), featuring work by old masters such as Yasuji Mori and Shichiro Kobayashi. (The Jack and the Beanstalk short by Koji Morimoto and Atsuko Fukushima mentioned in the last post is part of this series.) It seems like most of the major studios of decades past have taken a stab at the animated omnibus. More recently, Studio 4C did so with Kimagure Robot (2004), based on the short shorts of Shinichi Hoshi.

Twilight Theatre is also an omnibus based on the work of one writer, and is notable perhaps for being one of the first literary omnibuses for adults. Two of the episodes include love scenes of a kind one would see in any typical Hollywood movie. Ero OVAs like Urotsuki Doji (1987-1996) quickly flourished in the new market, but the love scenes in Twilight Theatre are more matter-of-fact than explicit. Sex is treated in a mature, tactful way rather than with the giggly man-child fetishism of most other professedly mature anime. It's rare to see a truly mature treatment of sex in anime. The few anime with a truly realistic aesthetic like Jin-Roh or Omohide Poroporo aim for a general audience that precludes such frank depictions of sex. That's perhaps the most refreshing thing about this show. Beyond the sex, it's the sensibility that clearly sets the show apart. The storytelling is mature, the tone is restrained and without childish antics, and the material is sometimes downright unglamorous, as in the story of The Antique Shop, about a salaryman disappointed with his life.

The series was produced by Studio Pierrot, but two of the shorts were actually produced by Ichiro Itano's D.A.S.T. (Defence Animation Special Team). This studio was founded by Itano in December 1986 and went on to produce a number of high-quality and high-violence OVAs including Battle Royale High School (1987), Violence Jack (1988), Kujaku-oh 2 (1989) and Angel Cop (1989-1994). It's D.A.S.T.'s two episodes that make this OVA release truly noteworthy. Ichiro Itano had the generosity and vision as producer to give two young but talented realistic animators who had worked on these OVAs in the preceding years the chance to mount their directing debuts with these shorts - not to mention seemingly giving them carte blance, judging by the highly unconventional and challenging nature of their respective films.

Ephemeral Dream 夢蜉蝣

Character Design
Animation Director
Key Animation
梅津泰臣Yasuomi Umetsu
Line Director:青木佐恵子Saeko Aoki
Art Director:西川増水Masumizu Nishikawa
Key Animation:林千博Chihiro Hayashi
細山正樹Masaki Hosoyama
Animation Production:スタジオぴえろStudio Pierrot

The opening short tells the story of a college student named Mibu who one day while taking a test in class notices a strange aura around a girl named Ayabe. He tries to find out more, but is warned off by another student named Himuro. Mibu discovers several ancient poems that speak about the ephemerality of love using the phrase Yumekagero, which is also the name of a mononoke whose aura can only be seen by a special few. Himuro also has his eyes on the girl. It turns out Ayabe may have killed Himuro's brother 10 years ago, and now Himuro wants to be next...

Essentially a horror story about a mayfly-like mononoke that serves as a metaphor for the ephemerality of love, the title as well as the story of this short are built upon a double meaning that is complicated to translate but that makes for satisfyingly layered viewing when watching. The name Yumekagero comes from Kusakagero, a damselfly-like insect that lives for only a day. The aura that surrounds Ayabe is called Udumbara, which is both the name of the flower of the Indian Fig Tree, which grows secretively inside the fruit, and the name of the larva of the Kusakagero. Ayabe was impregnated by the Yumekagero, which hatches every 10 years when the Udumbara blooms, and must quickly devour the vitality of a male victim to lay its next brood. Ayabe and Mibu are about to consummate the ritual when Himuro barges in and jumps out the window to his death with Ayabe. It's too late for Mibu, though, who withers into an old man.

The story thus has a pleasingly literary density of allusion that elevates it slightly above typical examples of the genre in anime. Such material wouldn't seem suited to animated adaptation, but it works fairly well in the short running time without being too confusing.

A mid-period piece from Yasuomi Umetsu after his debut on Robot Carnival (1987) but before his breakthrough with A Kite (1998), I enjoyed this despite it being somewhat light in the animation department, both compared with Umetsu's other work and with the other pieces in the set. There's no blistering action, or any action whatsoever for that matter, only everyday acting scenes, but I actually like that its focus is on everyday acting. It allows you to appreciate the skills of this great animator without being distracted by either overactive animation or the typical Umetsu tackiness that I find tends to mar his own films.

Umetsu is a very technical animator, and he likes to grandstand. There is less of that here, but his seemingly effortless precision draughtsmanship comes through loud and clear. He poses characters in a variety of ways, changes their expressions dynamically, and can draw their bodies in motion three-dimensionally from any complicated angle and maintain their shapes as if they were rendered by a computer.

Umetsu also has a peculiar design sensibility that I usually find off-putting, but the characters here were more restrained in their designs, so I rather enjoyed them. I thought they were light in touch and subtly stylized in a pleasing and appealing way, for example the huge angular jaw of the protagonist's bespectacled friend, or the elegant oval of Ayabe's head. His character drawings are somewhat similar to Satoru Utsunomiya in the sense that their bodies feel stiff and rigid, and are drawn with sharp lines and angular forms, but where Utsunomiya's characters tend to be minimalistic and doll-like, Umetsu riddles his characters with peculiar distinguishing features, for example the three symmetrical hairs on the end of the protagonist's eyebrows in this short.

I find this piece shows how school drama should be done. The people in this short are actually believable as college students in the way they talk and behave. The body language and interpersonal dynamics are just realistic and understated enough to be believable. The acting is also nuanced without being lushly animated per se - it's more about skilfully timing the right expression or pose with a mere few drawings. And Umetsu has his own way of making the characters act that makes sense and isn't merely following a playbook of cliched stock expressions and poses, as is the case in most anime nowadays. Some animators nowadays seem to think that making characters flail about randomly is good acting, but Umetsu shows a good example here of how to make characters act in a way that makes sense in the context and is believable, without flamboyantly using a lot of drawings.

The short is actually not directed by Umetsu but by one Saeko Aoki of Pierrot. She is only credited with line directing, but she must also have drawn the storyboard. This is also the case in the Shinichi Suzuki short. The Yasuomi Umetsu and Shinichi Suzuki shorts were produced by Pierrot, and the Shinya Ohira and Shinji Hashimoto shorts were produced by Ichiro Itano's D.A.S.T. The Pierrot episodes also feature a very small number of animators compared with the long credit rolls of the two D.A.S.T. episodes, and the nature of the films reflects this; the two D.A.S.T. films are very much about the animation, whereas the animation seems almost perfunctory in the Pierrot films, whose focus is more on the narrative. Now largely associated with shonen fighting anime, Pierrot was at this time largely associated with magical girl fare, but occasionally produced the random highly artistic OVAs like Magical Emi: Semishigure and Gosenzosama Banbanzai and then this.

Tatami Voyage 四畳半漂流記

Director
Script
Storyboard
Character Design
Animation Director
橋本晋治Shinji Hashimoto
Supervisor:板野一郎Ichiro Itano
Art Director:石垣努Tsutomu Ishigaki
Key Animation:橋本浩一Koichi Hashimoto
柿田英樹Hideki Kakita
清水勝祐Katsuhiro Shimizu
二村秀樹Hideki Futamura
青木真理子Mariko Aoki
友田政晴Masaharu Tomoda
阿部美佐緒Misao Abe
馬場俊子Toshiko Baba
桜実勝志Masashi Oumi
橋本晋治Shinji Hashimoto
Animation Production:D.A.S.T

A guy named Shimada is on his way to meet his crush, Saori, when he has a run-in with a thug and gets beaten up. A mysterious passer-by rescues Shimada and asks for a favor in return. Saori happens by the scene, and together the two go back to Shimada's apartment to hear the stranger's request. The stranger informs them that he's looking for a certain something called "Pemu". Shimada hesitatingly accepts, and the stranger tells them their journey has already begun. Confused, they look out the window, and realize they got more than they bargained for, and the stranger is no mere mortal...

The directing debut of animator Shinji Hashimoto, this is by far the most striking of the four shorts. It's not often at my jaded age that I'm caught off guard by animation, but this thing shocked even me. This short is nothing less than a well-deserved bullet to the head of conventional anime character design. My jaw was literally dropped throughout much of the runtime. It has a style like nothing else that has ever been made in anime. The drawings at first sight appear to be deliberately ugly, but I find them quite appealing, in an extremely offbeat kind of way. Hashimoto attests to having been inspired by a 1990 manga called Bunpuku Chagama Daimaoh, the debut of Tokyo Tribe mangaka Santa Inoue, The drawings of this manga are by no means identical to the designs of this short, but you can see how they might have inspired Hashimoto to go in the direction he did.

What he got from the designs was the idea of freely, loosely drawn forms drawn with quick, firm, assured strokes. In anime, you usually have to draw a character exactly on model and get all the shapes and details just right. Otherwise it's off-model. The designs here represent an overturning of this fundamental rule of animation drawing, at least in anime. Rather than drawing outlines first, then filling in the details, and getting everything just so, these designs can still be properly drawn even if the details are not all the same in each shot. The forms are drawn as a series of bulges whose shapes can vary in relation to one another and still feel like the design is maintained. The characters have something of the character of blobs. This is somewhat reminiscent of the cartoon aesthetic of the west, with its stretch and squash, but it's not quite the same. There's no stretch and squash here. Hashimoto invented his own unique approach that was basically more suited to his own temperament and personality, and made the process of animating fun for himself, rather than the tedious chore it can become if you have to spend a lot of time on getting the details of a design just right. I'm not an animator because I'm too impatient. I think I would enjoy drawing Hashimoto's characters because they wouldn't be a pain in the butt.

The designs have almost a naif feeling, as if they were drawn by a child or an outsider artist. But clearly that is not the case, as the animation is at times extremely rich and nuanced, and of course Shinji Hashimoto is an ex-Telecom animator. Santa Inoue is related to Taiyo Matsumoto, as is his style, and the style here seems indebted to the whole indie manga aesthetic. This episode is a prime example of how the pair of Shinya Ohira and Shinji Hashimoto injected an indie and punk feeling into anime, subverting the industry from the inside out. I wish animators in the anime industry would come up with their own approaches like this. There is the whole heta-uma movement started by Shiriagari Kotobuki, with its anime analogues in a few shows like Manga Biyori, but Hashimoto's film is totally different from that; it's quite sincere rather than sarcastic.

The animation is very strong in certain spots, and at all times nothing short of mesmerizing due to the design choices. Every drawing fascinates, because you can see the animators actually having to think, to come up with an answer to the question of how to draw these characters. The animation where the guy transforms in front of the monster near the end is particularly impressive, and may have been the work of an uncredited Satoru Utsunomiya. For some reason many animators in this and Shinya Ohira's short went uncredited.

The animation at times has the feeling of Takashi Nakamura, particularly with the way the monster's face is drawn with these big, deeply sculpted nose and lips. Apparently this short was made by essentially the same team of animators as The Antique Shop, but The Antique Shop was done first, and by the time of this short, they were all really pooped and didn't have much energy left. It still looks pretty impressive, considering the very short schedule in which they made it. Just goes to show that it's not budget and schedule that make for compelling animation, it's the overwhelming desire to make something incredible, consequences be damned.

The remarkable thing is that this is nothing even remotely like the style with which Shinji Hashimoto is typically associated. It's a complete one-off. There must be so many other talented animators out there who, if given the chance like Hashimoto was here, would be able to produce novel visual schemes of a kind we would never have expected, but they just haven't been given the chance. OVAs like this were a precious opportunity to try new things. Hashimoto hasn't directed anything since, except for one opening. OVAs haven't gotten any more daring.

A Mountain Ghost Story 深山幻想譚

Character Design
Animation Director
Key Animation
鈴木信一Shinichi Suzuki
Line Director:青木佐恵子Saeko Aoki
Art Director:伊藤主計Kazue Ito
Key Animation:竹山稔Minoru Takeyama
Animation Production:スタジオぴえろStudio Pierrot

A mountaineer sits alone with his thoughts, warming himself to the fire and sipping coffee while reminiscing about what drove him to seek the mountain he enjoyed hiking as a youth, now, in his advanced age: The failure of his small business, and the avalanche of responsibility that followed... His wife, screaming in anger... The life insurance that would take care of his debts and his wife if something were to happen to him.... Yes, he has come to the mountain to die. His dark thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of an unexpected visitor, who begins talking about strange things like mountain spirits.

Featuring drawings by Shinichi Suzuki of The Life of Gusko Budori, this is the most static and minimalistic short in the set, but also the longest, clocking in at 17 minutes. (By contrast, Shinji Hashimoto's vividly animated episode is understandably the shortest, at 10 minutes.) Most of the episode consists of two people sitting around a fire talking. In terms of both directing and animation, it's very restrained. The directing and animation serve mainly to narrate the story about this man's past and the mysterious stranger. You could criticize this short, as well as Umetsu's, for being a little too reliant on the source material and not creating an emphatic visual analogue to the script, but honestly the story is interesting enough that I didn't mind this at all. It makes for a good balance in tone to have one more static short like this in the set, so the film should more rightfully be judged within its original context.

Despite having very little to it, the story kept me interested throughout. You can feel the pain of the protagonist, who has gone through hard times and has retreated to the solitude of the mountains to gather his thoughts and potentially even end his own life. I can certainly relate to this feeling of wanting to give up, one we've probably all felt at some time or another. I felt the long shots focused on the protagonist did a good job of establishing the atmosphere of this section. [SPOILER] Perhaps I'm just naive not to have seen it coming, but I was genuinely surprised by the ending, and it provided the poignant final touch to an already poignant setup. After the stillness of the entire episode, suddenly the interloper walks forward and stands into the fire, to the shock of the protagonist, and then violently grabs the protagonist's face and shoves him into the bottle. Dramatically and visually it makes for quite a sucker punch after all that calm and stillness. He was a ghost all along, having long since died on the mountain.

Although not up to the level of an animator like Yasuomi Umetsu, Shinichi Suzuki nevertheless does a decent job here as the near-solo animator of the whole episode. He's less technically accomplished than Umetsu, but has a cartoonish and exaggerated way of animating the characters using very few drawings that is appealing in its own way. I particularly like the detail lavished on depicting how he opens up the package of coffee. Little details like this conveys the reality of the situation well. The interloper appears to be designed in a way reminiscent of Buddha, with his long-lobed ears and paunch, which is an interesting choice. His animation is rather lively and fun. Once you've seen the episode, everything takes on a different meaning on a second watching, as you understand the subtext of the protagonist's words and body language.

I don't know much else about Suzuki other than that he was one of the founding members of Animaru-ya in 1982, having done sakkan work on Sasuga no Sarutobi that same year, and is still very much active, having founded his own subcontracting studio Anime Kobo Basara アニメ工房婆娑羅 in 1997. Incidentally, this Shinichi Suzuki is written 鈴木信一 and is unrelated to the Shinichi Suzuki who was an animator at Otogi Pro in the 1950s, whose name is written 鈴木伸一. His studio is one of the few subcontractors who do work for Kyoto Animation productions, presumably due to the fact that Kyoto Animation's Kigami Yoshiji is a fellow Animaru-ya expat.

The Antique Shop 骨董屋

Director
Script
Storyboard
Character Design
Animation Director
大平晋也Shinya Ohira
Supervisor:板野一郎Ichiro Itano
Art Director:長尾仁Jin Nagao
Key Animation:佐々木守Mamoru Sasaki
田中達之Tatsuyuki Tanaka
黒沢守Mamoru Kurosawa
二村秀樹Hideki Futamura
本猪木浩明Hiroaki Motoigi
工藤正明Masaaki Kudo
高橋信也Shinya Takahashi
吉田英俊Hidetoshi Yoshida
橋本晋治Shinji Hashimoto
青木真理子Mariko Aoki
Animation Production:D.A.S.T.

The lost protagonist of The Antique Shop is going through a bit of an early mid-life crisis. Once an aspiring painter with a beautiful girlfriend, he had a falling out with his girlfriend and now lives a boring life as a salaryman. A night out drinking with his old buddies turns sour as they regale him with stories of their success. He slips away into the night, pondering the point of his life, when his eyes fall on a strange antique shop. He slips in on a whim, and takes a metaphysical journey down memory lane, in the process discovering the suppressed memory of a tragic mistake that led to his downfall.

Shinya Ohira's directing debut is still beautiful to look at after all these years, and probably the best film in the set. It's the only of the four shorts that actually feels cinematic. Ohira tells this universal story of frustration, disappointment and dashed hopes through the lens of a harsh but loving realism that was unprecedented in its time. Even later realistic works don't quite adopt a tone as gritty and drably honest as this. And he did so in his directing debut, under extremely adverse production conditions that rendered the film technically somewhat of a mess, replete with photography mistakes and rushed animation.

There's an attention to detail here that's on a different level from the other shorts. Every shot is thoroughly creatively designed and conceived to create a dynamic flow as well as translate the psychology of the protagonist at each juncture. Early on, in the streets, the urban electrical wiring seems to entangle the man like a spiderweb as he falls to the ground and vomits on the sidewalk. Laughter echoes from somewhere, as if the city and life were laughing at his misery.

In the curio shop, as the protagonist walks through the doors, he passes by a mirrored dresser, and you can see his shadow passing in two directions at once as the image of his face briefly slides through the mirror, creating a disorienting effect mirroring the chaos of the interior of the shop and his mental state. The next shot is another disorienting shot in which we peer at the protagonist from above through the ticking and whirring guts of some kind of antique cuckoo clock. This cuts to a shot facing the protagonist as he looks around the interior, which in turn cuts to a POV shot of his eyes scanning the interior, which is depicted in intricate detail that makes you appreciate his wonder.

The objects in the shop actual feel very used and personal, which is essential to convey to the audience, as this sets up the reveal that they are in fact relics of his own childhood. He also uses a variety of directing techniques to achieve his ends, for example a panning shot with different parts of the shop moving at different speeds across the screen on different 'book' layers, followed by an animated 'mawarikomi' or rotating shot of the protagonist.

I like the story of this film for one because I can relate to the protagonist, but also because the supernatural element is there as the agency to help narrate a man's story, rather than being the main narrative thrust, as it usually is in this genre of story, and as it is in all of the other stories in the set.

I would love to see a full-length TV show done in this pared down realistic style, although I know it will never happen. There have been full-length features made in a completely realistic vein, but those are different. I want to see something that is more like 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother in the sense that entire episodes are just devoted to depicting everyday life in its minutiae, minus the dramatic pretenses. I don't even mind the roughness of The Antique Shop, as you can see past that to the realistic core of the episode, so considering how short a schedule such a realistic film was produced on, I don't think it's unreasonable to think it would be possible to produce a TV show in this style.

Many of the shots have a lovely simplicity and subtlety to them thanks either to Ohira, who corrected some of the shots (like the late close-ups in the shop), as well as the talented group of animators he managed to scrounge up. For some reason, several of the best animators went uncredited. Confirmed uncredited animators are Akihiro Yuki, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma and Mitsuo Iso. Akihiro Yuki of Oh Pro animated the first few shots of the reminiscence where Keiko is working at the cash register, drinking tea, and where the protagonist is painting with Keiko looking on. I'm quite fond of his work. He again worked with Ohira on the Junkers pilot and then the film itself. Iso meanwhile animated the two shots of the protagonist smoking, while Yaginuma animated the scene immediately following where Keiko rushes to the sink to throw up. I wonder if maybe Masatsugu Arakawa also didn't draw a few uncredited shots. Some early shots in the film look like his style.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

09:56:00 am , 2843 words, 14328 views     Categories: OVA, Movie, Animator, Director, Short

The Twin Stars and early Ryutaro Nakamura

Ryutaro Nakamura, one of the great directors of the last 20 years, passed away earlier this year. I was a big fan, so it was a shock. He was a director of breadth and deep talent, but I don't have the energy or knowledge to do a full retrospective, so for now I thought I would start by highlighting one of his obscure early films. Serial Experiments Lain (1998) had a huge impact on me when it came out, and since then I always looked forward to his new productions, which never failed to surprise. But he produced several great films before Lain that people over here aren't familiar with.

Ryutaro Nakamura directed The Twin Stars (双子の星) in 1995 at Triangle Staff. It was part of an omnibus of Kenji Miyazawa stories called Kenji's Trunk marking the centenary of Kenji's birth, and featured two other 30-minute shorts. It's a quiet, unassuming, lovely little film. (Watch here)

The Twin Stars reveals a side of Ryutaro Nakamura that might not be familiar to most people who are used to the more hard-boiled and philosophically dense Nakamura of Lain and Kino: the creator of a lush, colorful children's fantasy. The first few films directed by Nakamura were in this mold, and most of them merit re-discovery, as they are very well made films with a big heart and excellent technique.

The Twin Stars tells the story of a pair of stars whose role is to play a silver flute to the tune of the Song of the Turning Stars / 星めぐりの歌 throughout the night to help guide the stars on their journey across the sky. One morning, the twins awaken and descend from their crystal towers to go to the river to play. There they encounter the rival stars Scorpius and the Crow, who get into a fight. The Twin Stars revive the Crow but are forced to hurriedly carry the injured Scorpius back to his home before the night returns, for they all run the risk of being banished to the sea floor as starfish if they fail to return to their appointed place in time. Scorpius and the Crow regret their thoughtless intolerance and vow to abandon violence and be more like the selfless twins. Just before time runs out, a whirlwind is sent to spirit the trio back to their appointed place at the bidding of the King, who has been watching all along and is moved by their change of heart and the generosity of the twins that brought it about.

The story is one of Kenji Miyazawa's key stories, combining as it does into a poetic and mythical package his intimate knowledge of astronomy, his pantheistic view of the world, and his sense of moral obligation to help others.

The film is eminently graphical and visual, with bright, colorful pastels and simply stylized shapes. Its pace is leisurely and measured, with long shots that let you absorb the visuals on the screen. The first three minutes are a gorgeous entryway to the story that seems perfectly conceived for this gentle, ethereal story. We are guided into this world of light and sound, where whirlwinds and stars are living beings, to the tune of the actual Song of the Turning Stars, written by Kenji himself, in a beautiful flute concerto-like arrangement by composer Yoshihiro Kanno. (Listen to the original song)

Nakamura grounds the film in our world by showing a father and son strolling by the ocean under the vast expanse of the Milky Way. We then slowly transition across hazy vistas of constellations and pastel clouds into the land of the stars where the Twins reign over the night sky from their towers as they play on their silver flutes. Stars arc across the sky until the sun peeks over the horizon and the birds begin chirping, announcing the end of the starry procession.

The film has the quality of the old Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi with its simple characters, mythical story and emphasis on creative design work. The Twin Stars even has the same solo approach, with the animation and art each respectively done entirely by one person. Takahiro Kishida animates the whole film, and Shinji Kimura does the art. Kishida does a masterful job handling the different kinds of animation, from the realistic humans, which move more fluidly, to the more limited movement and stylized designs of the Twin Stars and the Crow, to the ghostly effects of the whirlwind. Kimura, meanwhile, creates a lush fantasy land that is beautiful sight to behold, although different from his recent work painting cacophonous city backdrops. Here he creates the airy pastel firmament of the sky, lending the film the watercolor texture of a picture book. The film is thus a great showcase of the skill of a group of artists - director, animator, background painter - acting in unison like a great string trio, in the spirit of the classic Madhouse productions.

If this feels like a Madhouse film, the reason is obvious. Triangle Staff was founded by an ex-member of Madhouse, and Madhouse is where Ryutaro Nakamura got his start. His experience at Madhouse obviously laid his foundation as an artist, accounting for the Madhouse vibe of this short. In particular, The Twin Stars feels close in spirit to the one-shot Osamu Dezaki episodes of the 1970s like Fire G-Men or his episodes of Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi, which also tended to feature daring, wild backgrounds by the likes of Shichiro Kobayashi and cute but highly stylized and playful character animation by animators like Manabu Ohashi and Akio Sugino. The reason for this similarity is simple: Ryutaro Nakamura learned the ropes under Dezaki, and developed a directing style heavily influenced by the master, yet all his own. Ryutaro Nakamura was one of the best of Dezaki's students.

Ryutaro Nakamura's start in animation was almost accidental. In 1977, he went to get an autograph from Moribi Murano, the manga-ka and sometimes animator behind Unico in the Magic Island and the assassination scene in Wandering Clouds. Nakamura wound up helping Murano make a deadline on a manga he was working on, and Murano immediately spotted Nakamura's potential as an animator, advising him to give Madhouse a visit. Nakamura did so, and after only a cursory period as an inbetweener wound up setting to work as a key animator on Dezaki's "3D animation" Sans Famille. That was his start in animation. Dezaki raved about his new animator, calling him the "new Akio Sugino". But this pressure proved to be too much for Nakamura, who after working under Dezaki for a few more years eventually wound up switching to directing around 1983 after working on Dezaki's Space Cobra TV show alongside the likes of Koji Morimoto and Atsuko Fukushima. Nakamura had been drawing a manga for an in-house Madhouse fanzine, so he clearly had the inclinations of a director from the beginning.

Incidentally, Koji Morimoto and Atsuko Fukushima themselves two years earlier produced a short, Jack and the Beanstalk (1993), that, like The Twin Stars, has a tactile picture book quality that seems clearly to hearken back to the colorful and stylized 1970s shorts of Dezaki.

It's probably not that well known that Nakamura started out as an animator, but that's clearly a fact that laid the foundation for his style as a director. As a person who could draw, and who could visually conceptualize and express his intentions in the storyboard, he brought a strong visual sensibility to his productions. This shows up clearly in The Twin Stars, which is an eminently visual film despite being based on a work of literature (and a particularly ephemeral and difficult to visualize one at that). He was also influenced by Dezaki in the way he took liberties with the material to achieve his own expressive means, and brought an artistic, poetic sensibility to the craft of directing, experimenting with new ways of presentation in each production rather than falling into an certain expressive rut out of habit. It's hard to find many directors in anime with such expressive breadth. In terms of specific technique, one of Dezaki's trademarks was using tokako 透過光, or backlighting through a mask, to create a bright hazy effect on the screen, and you can see a lot of bright lighting of this kind in The Twin Stars.

It was sometime around 1985 that he went freelance and began working as a roving storyboarder/episode director on various projects, accumulating skill as a director. Not long after this, in 1987, Yoshimi Asari left Madhouse to form Triangle Staff. Nakamura was obviously invited there soon after, because he set to work on his debut directing feature in 1988, just a year after the studio's founding. That project was Tomcat's Big Adventure (ちびねこトムの大冒険).

The project was initially conceived as an educational OVA to teach children English, but after Nakamura drew the first storyboard in 1988, the project evolved into a feature length film that was finally completed in 1992.

Tomcat's Big Adventure was a massive undertaking featuring a bewildering array of talent including character designer/animation director Manabu Ohashi, music composer Kenji Kawai, art director Hiromasa Ogura and animators such as Toshiyuki Inoue, Hiroyuki Okiura, Koichi Arai and Makiko Futaki. Even Koji Morimoto was tangentially involved early on. With a remarkable 60,000 animation drawings in 82 minutes, it's a modern-day manga eiga in the spirit of the great Toei action-adventure flick Animal Treasure Island.

The tragedy is that, for some reason, it was shelved without even being released theatrically. Five years of intense work by some of the most talented faces in the industry essentially just disappeared without being seen by anyone. It's a tragedy that hopefully will get redressed soon with a DVD release. Once it finally gets a long-overdue DVD release, it will no doubt be revealed to be one of his greatest works and a bona-fide buried treasure. You can see the first five minutes here. This was a big blockbuster of a children's film clearly meant to launch Nakamura's career as a director. Who knows, had it gotten a proper release, and the world recognized his special talent for this type of material, Nakamura's career might have evolved differently.

Like Nakamura, Hiromasa Ogura in fact also got his start on Dezaki's Sans Famille, but working under art director Shichiro Kobayashi, the art director who was a staple of Dezaki's work in the 1970s, which is perhaps why Nakamura wound up coming back to Ogura for this film. The two both have deep roots in the Madhouse-Dezaki school. Another touchstone is The Golden Bird, that earlier Madhouse masterpiece that presaged Tomcat's Big Adventure not only stylistically (Ohashi was the character designer) but also in how it, too, was unjustly buried for many years before being released on home video.

Nakamura, Ohashi et al. actually very much wanted to do a continuation of Tomcat, but that never materialized. It's obvious that this is a style that is deeply ingrained in Nakamura's fibre from the fact that his last job, Adventure on Pirate Island (海賊島DE!大冒険) (hp), a children's CGI animation scheduled for release later this year, is stylistically a clear throwback to Tomcat. The film unfortunately does not look good due to the poor CG animation, but when you peruse Nakamura's storyboard you sense that this could have been a nice little film in the spirit of Tomcat if they had a good traditional animation team to bring alive the characters.

It's after this that Nakamura set to work on Kenji Miyazawa's The Life of Budori Gusko. The film was produced by Animaru-ya and released in 1994. The simple, blocky character designs of Shinichi Suzuki are in line with the feeling of Tomcat and The Twin Stars. The animation is much more spare than Tomcat, and Nakamura uses the opportunity of the story's complex themes to experiment with more expressive directing. While being aimed at children, the film has an underlying feeling of darkness and heaviness appropriate to the subject matter, and this Passion of the Budori has a romantic intensity that is irresistible, particularly combined with the emotionally intense orchestral score of Yoshihiro Kanno, who returned the year after for an encore with The Twin Stars. Other than these two productions, Kanno's only involvement in the anime industry was Angel's Egg, which boasts one of the all-time greatest anime soundtracks.

Around this time, Nakamura directed an OVA of Junkers Come Here in 1994 that preceded the film adaptation by Junichi Sato and Kazuo Komatsubara. (Watch here) Junio's Minoru Maeda is the character designer, so the style is completely different, much more lightweight and goofy, lacking the intricate acting and cinematic compositions of the film version. The story is rather ridiculous and played purely for laughs, undermining the dramatic intent. Here it's about four sisters whose mother disappeared and father died afterwards. Junkers appears one day, and they all know he can talk. The mother turns up in France, and it turns out she lost her memory and now has a new family in France. It's not one of Nakamura's best works, but it certainly shows his stylistic flexibility and innate sense for effortlessly combining comedy and drama.

The Twin Stars came after this, giving Nakamura the opportunity to explore Kenji Miyazawa's world in a very different, more playful and imaginative way.

Nakamura then veered in a very different direction for the first time with the masterful Legend of Crystania (1995), first as a movie and then as a 3-episode OVA. This is one of the great fantasy anime, using incredibly rich and creative animation to weave an epic fantasy yarn that actually feels epic. The character animation is exciting, and the effects animation is downright phenomenal. Nakamura had the great idea to give Yasunori Miyazawa free rein to design and animate the effects, and this helped define the film's visual scheme.

A constant of his early works during this period - and less so during his later works - is a 'star animator' system in which the style of one talented animator plays a primary role in defining a film's look. Manabu Ohashi defines Tomcat, Takahiro Kishida animates all of The Twin Stars in his own inimitable style, Shinichi Suzuki's characters in Gusko Budori are very distinctive and unforgettable with their graphic, hand-drawn touch. Crystania also feels more tactile and distinctively animated than most fantasy anime.

Such is the case for Nakamura's final project before his breakthrough with Lain - the cut scene animation of the game Popolo Crois (1996). (Watch here) This time Nakamura had the king of idiosyncratic animators, Satoru Utsunomiya, head the animation, assisted by other talented animators including Yasunori Miyazawa and Mitsuo Iso - each highly idiosyncratic animators who created their own completely unique styles of animation. It's clear that these choices were no coincidence, and as an animator himself, Nakamura chose the best of the best for this project. Yasunori Miyazawa of course was brought back after his stint in Crystania. Takahiro Kishida would similarly return to work with Nakamura again in Colorful. Similarly, much of the Popolo Crois team was in fact carried on from Crystania, including Utsunomiya and Miyazawa, but also Yoshio Mizumura and Katsumi Matsuda. Some of these were even holdovers from Tomcat.

The Popolo Crois animation team produced what is still one of my favorite anime ever, even though it's only short excerpts of a story adding up to just 10 minutes of animation, rather than a continuous story. Even those little shards of narrative create more of a feeling of an expansive and fully developed fantasy world than most fantasy anime, thanks in large part to the overwhelming power of Utsunomiya et al.'s nuanced full animation. The screen has a feeling of tremendous depth in each section - the flight section where the boat skips across the water by Utsumoniya, the space section where the whale files through vast expanses of space chased by the giant monster by Iso, and the final battle between the baddie and the dragon, whose vast size is well conveyed by Miyazawa's strangely timed animation. The character designs of Popolocrois have the same round simplicity as the designs of Gusko Budori and Tomcat, and Popolocrois seems to be a dense summation of the exciting children's fantasy side of Nakamura's work, perhaps having been made in part to vent his pent up ideas for more animation in the spirit of Tomcat.

The first few years of his career as a director were a period of intense creativity in which he explored many different and exciting visual styles very different from his later work. His early work is less challenging, but has a wider appeal and is visually more sumptuous. I personally wish Nakamura could have continued in this direction of intensely animated children's fantasy epics, but he seems to have wanted to force himself to try different material and styles from this point in his career, beginning with his emergence as an artist of dark commentary on net culture with Lain, and continuing with the twisted adult comedy of Colorful. But that spirit of self-challenge is just as much a defining trait of Ryutaro Nakamura. Like all great directors, he left us with much great work, but also wishing for more.

Friday, October 18, 2013

07:39:00 pm , 2099 words, 11355 views     Categories: OVA, Anime R, Dove, Toshifumi Takizawa

New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine

In this day and age when every other anime is fantasy anime, it's hard to conceive of a time when there was no fantasy anime. But such was the case around the time of Aura Battler Dunbine in 1983.

Created and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino at Sunrise in 1983, Dunbine was one of the pioneer fantasy anime. Tomino pumped out one classic show after another during these years when he came unto his own as a creator and director. Just the year before in 1982, he directed the classic Xabungle TV series and Ideon: Be Invoked movie. His work prior to Dunbine was basically sci-fi robot anime, but with Dunbine he went in a new direction.

Largely influenced by Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa manga (the movie wasn't released until the year after), Dunbine was one of the groundbreaking fantasy anime, made at a time when audiences weren't used to fantasy anime, and the show paid the price for it. With its daring insectoid mecha designs, kids hated the toys. This placed pressures on the show's toy sponsor, Clover, that appear to have led to Clover shortly going out of business. The show was forced to switch the setting from the fantasy world of Byson Well to modern-day Tokyo in the second half.

Despite this shaky start, Dunbine continued to live on in various media, most notably the novel format. The 1980s were the auteur boom in anime, and Tomino attempted to blossom into an auteur. He penned novels to flesh out the world of Byston Well, two of which eventually got adapted into anime: Garzey's Wing (3 eps, 1996) and The Wings of Rean (6 eps, 2005-2006).

But the very first anime continuation actually came just a few years after the TV show: the 3-episode New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine. Tomino had a habit of releasing compilations of every TV show he directed, and Dunbine was no exception. A novel approach explored with the Dunbine collection was to include a new 30-minute OVA with each compilation.

New Story takes place 700 years after the events of the TV series, and tells the story of a young boy and girl who fight a group of so-called "Black Knights" seeking to recover a legendary Aura Battler to conquer the land of Byston Well. The characters are mostly new, but apparently the boy and girl are a resurrection of the protagonists of the TV series, and the evil mummy who seeks to re-open the door connecting Byston Well to our world is a character who was doomed to eternal life at the end of the TV show. It's actually all rather confusing because you are just plunged right into the action without any explanation. A basic knowledge of the premise of the Aura Battler mecha is obviously assumed, since these OVAs appended compilations of the TV show.

The story progresses quite quickly and without any undue exposition, not wasting a minute of its meager three episode allotment. The fantasy world is richly expressed, with many colorful creatures and settings. The whole story evolves over one quick arc of action, with the tables turning several times leading up to the cataclysmic denouement that you expect of a Tomino production. The influence of Nausicaa is quite palpable in the overall world view, style, and monster designs. A millipede-like underground monster immediately reminds of the flying millipede monster that attacked Nausicaa underground. For good or ill, however, the story avoids the thematic complexity of Nausicaa, opting instead for stock heroism and nonstop battle.

Directed by erstwhile Tomino associate Toshifumi Takizawa, New Story is a visually unique and intense fantasy that for all its cacophany of constant action comes across as underwhelming somehow. What New Story has going for it is that it's a tautly directed sprint across the land of Byston Well, with far more of a focus on the hardcore fantasy elements than the original TV series. Cramming in so much story into three episodes is a risky endeavor that I can't say pays off completely, but it's an intense ride that grips you from start to finish. Tomino regretted not having started the TV show out with more of a bang, and felt the show never recovered from starting on the wrong foot, so perhaps this is what led to the peremptory dash of New Story.

By 1988 Takizawa was a great talent in his own right, but he never had pretensions of auteur-dom like Tomino, so he didn't have the sort of identifiable traits that help make such directors popular, but rather remained a pliable craftsman, adapting himself to whatever he worked on to invest it with his own brand of taut cinematic storytelling. In New Story, Takizawa does a good job of emulating a Tomino-esque style of directing. The show has all of the breakneck pacing and manic cutting that are staples of Tomino's work - the cinematic framing with characters engaging in actions while talking rather than straight shots of talking heads, the sequences of pans and zooms to maintain a feeling of forward narrative momentum. The presentation is so determinedly oblique and frenetic, in fact, that it renders the story somewhat hard to follow at times, true to the Tomino aesthetic.

What sets the series apart and makes it notable is its production style: The mecha are mostly drawn with background drawings rather than animation drawings. Typically in anime you have the animation drawings, drawn on cels with flat colors, overlaid over the backgrounds drawn by the art department. Sometimes if you need a bush or something "in front of" a character, you will have something called a "book" - basically a piece of background art drawn by the art department, but with its outline cut out so that it can be placed on top of the animation drawing. This makes it seem like the background surrounds the characters.

What seems to be happening in New Story is that they've drawn all the mecha as books. Either this, or they invented some new technique to allow them to paint on cels the way Tadanari Okamodo did in The Soba Flower of Mt. Oni (which I obviously doubt). So you basically have the mecha drawn as background art in the midst of a shot in which all of the rest of the character and effect animation is drawn on cels, which have a completely different color scheme that makes the difference quite stark. It actually contributes well to giving the OVA a more fantastical atmosphere befitting the material. We're accustomed to seeing mecha in the simplified forms and flat colors of cel animation, so it feels sumptuous to see the mecha rendered this way. Rather than a toy advertisement, it actually feels like a fantasy world. The monolithic, plodding movement that results from having to use a single drawing also contributes to imparting a feeling of the vast size of the mecha.

Above you can see some examples of the art mecha drawings interacting with the cel drawings. It makes for a slightly unsettling experience, as it upturns how we've been trained through experience to parse the animation screen. Normally the cel drawings can affect the backgrounds, but not vice-versa. Here, the background drawings are affecting the background drawings. For example, in the left drawing, the art mecha crashes into the art wall, producing cel bricks and dust.

This is an unusual choice for a mecha show, since the whole point of using animated drawings is so that you can simplify the drawings to complete the animation in a shorter time. It's not unprecedented, though. Nausicaa was the show's big influence in many ways, so it's possible that the Ohmu were the inspiration behind this technique. It also brings to mind the way the castle in Howl was animated with patches of background art to give it that special look. Coincidentally or not, the photography director of most of the great Sunrise OVAs of this period, including New Story, was Atsushi Okui, the guy who went on to come up with that special way of animating the castle in Howl.

This technique must have been adopted in order to bring alive the unique mecha art drawn by Yutaka Izubuchi. The original mecha designer of the TV show was Miyatake Kazutaka, and he is the one who pioneered the more daring, organic, non-linear designs that make Dunbine unique, but Izubuchi gradually wound up taking over as designer on the TV show. A book of his artwork called Aura Fhantasm pushed this design aesthetic even further, featuring far more organic and daring drawings than the original TV show, really bringing out the insectoid nature of the designs.

Above is an example showing the contrast. The only way to bring these drawings alive would be to draw them as background art, and I assume that is what led to this approach being adopted for this OVA series. This would have been impossible in a TV show, but perhaps the OVA format allowed them more liberties. I'm curious whether this would have had the effect of lengthening or shortening the production process, since it cuts down on the number of drawings but conversely requires more complicated drawings.

There are actually some shots where the mecha are drawn as usual on cels, which is confusing. I'm guessing that rather than this being a time constraint thing, there were simply occasional shots that required actual movement to convey the action, which wouldn't be possible with a single art drawing panning across the screen. Apparently the stylistic mismatch didn't bother them - it's actually confusing when suddenly, from one shot to the next, the mecha look completely different, with the flat colors of cel shading. This highlights the fact that, although visually sumptuous, the downside of this technique of using bg art for the mecha is that it is somewhat static and lacking in dynamism. No sprightly mecha fights when the mecha are art drawings - only looming pans.

The staff side of things is fairly different from the TV series, which contributes to making the OVA feel distinct. The character designer is Takehiko Ito (under the pen name Hiroyuki Hataike) rather than Bebow's Tomonori Kogawa, and the mecha designer is Yutaka Izubuchi rather than Miyatake Kazutaka. The music is by Reijiro Koroku rather than Tsubonou Katsuhiro. (Koroku was a student of Koichi Sugiyama, who did the music for Ideon) And of course, the storyboarder/director is Tomonori Kogawa rather than Tomino. I'm rather fond of the music, which has a stridently modernist sound that reminds of a contemporary composer like Wolfgang Rihm.

The animation is the product of the same studios I talked about last time: Anime R and Dove. Not surprising given how constant a presence they are in (non-Tomino) Sunrise productions of this era. Anime R basically sakkans Dove's animation. Moriyasu Taniguchi is the sakkan and Toru Yoshida is the mecha sakkan, while the animators are the main Dove animators in Mellowlink: Hiroshi Koizumi, Nobuyoshi Nishimura, Misao Nakano and Shinichi Sakuma. Mellowlink was produced by this same team immediately after New Story. Of course, due to the nature of the production, that doesn't leave Toru Yoshida much to do, but perhaps the mecha animation wasn't entirely handled by the background department, but rather done like a Dezaki 'harmony' shot, in which they key animator draws a drawing, and this is painted over by the art department. Perhaps Yutaka Izubuchi himself even helped with the mecha drawings. The credits are unhelpful in this regard.

The annoying thing is that something went wrong with the animation and the character drawings are not up to the level that they should be in view of this staffing. There is some decent animation, but much of it is marred by sub-par drawings in which the proportions seems to be wavering dangerously close to falling apart. The drawings are wobbly and weak in a way that reminds me of Good Morning Althea, which leads me to suspect that the inbetweens are the problem. But the inbetweens are by Dove, so I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, this is not nearly as good a showcase of Anime R and Dove as their next project Mellowlink.


New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine (OVA, 3 eps, 1988, Sunrise)

Creator & Supervisor:富野由悠季Yoshiyuki Tomino
Director & Storyboard:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
Line Director:篠幸裕Yukihiro Shino
Script:五武冬史Fuyunori Gobu
Character Design:幡池裕行Hiroyuki Hataike
Mechanical Design & Special Advisor:出渕裕Yutaka Izubuchi
Animation Director:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Mecha Animation Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Music:小六禮次郎Reijiro Koroku
Key Animation:(ep 1)スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
(ep 2)スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
(ep 3)スタジオ・ダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
 佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
 アニメ・アールAnime R
 吉田徹Toru Yoshida
 糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

05:48:00 pm , 3236 words, 10965 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Anime R, Dove, Toshifumi Takizawa

Armor Hunter Mellowlink

I've already written about the canonical analog outings of Armored Trooper Votoms: the TV show, the three early one-shot OVAs, and Radiant Heretic. The only show from the early period I didn't cover in that post was Armor Hunter Mellowlink, which is a side-story not involving the main characters in the rest of the Votoms productions. I just had the chance to watch it, and it was every bit as good as I was expecting. As much as I love the Votoms saga, it's a huge endeavor to get into it. Mellowlink is a dense, high-quality, 12-episode summation of what makes Votoms best in a one-shot series format that doesn't require piecing together a long, complicated story. It might be the best place to start for newcomers.

Mellowlink is a more unmitigatedly serious story than it might seem at first sight from the bland, boyish character design of its protagonist, who looks like a young Shirotzugh. It makes for nice viewing because it focuses largely on pushing forward with its uncomplicated linear narrative arc without wasting too much breath on side-stories or world building or other genre conventions. It's mostly a straight-up hardcore military revenge flick. Despite being borne of a robot show, it's largely devoid of robots. It's more realistic, if not completely realistic per se, with a more down-to-earth, unglamorous style of storytelling. I've always wanted to see this kind of show done in an unmitigatedly realistic style for once, without the token hijinx and predictable storytelling elements, and this show comes closer than most shows, though it still inevitably falls victim to many genre conventions. It's not purely hard-boiled and has some moments of predictably jarring comic relief. However, for a Sunrise production, it's largely devoid of mecha robo tomfoolery, and its tone is for the most part quite serious-minded and unadorned in a pleasing way.

Mellowlink is essentially a story of revenge. Mellowlink Arity was a member of a platoon that was sent to certain death to cover the theft of a military arsenal by a band of corrupt military commanders. The skilled platoon fights valiantly but is eventually overcome, and all but Mellow are killed. Mellow's unexpected survival throws a wrench in the plans, so Mellow is made the scapegoat in a show trial to deflect blame for the scandal. However, he escapes and vows to hunt down the men responsible for the death of his comrades. The series is essentially broken down into two halves. Each of the first six episodes are stand-alone episodes in which Mellow hunts down a military commander involved in the scandal, while the second half is a continuous story that gradually ties all the threads together and reveals the sordid machinations of the military.

Mellowlink is set in the same universe as the rest of Votoms, but features a completely different cast, and presumably takes place on the sidelines of the main show. Whereas Votoms features sci-fi trappings like spaceships and teleportation in addition to more realistic Vietnam-style stories, Mellowlink omits the sci-fi and hones things down to the (IMO more appealing and characteristic) realistic war-story facet of the saga embodied by the 2nd arc of the original TV show, the Kumen Arc. Indeed, the Kumen jungle features in episode 3 of Mellowlink, while episode 2 of Mellowlink harkens back to the first arc of the TV show, the Udo arc, with its dystopian future city and AT battling arena.

Directed by Takeyuki Kanda rather than Ryosuke Takahashi, Mellowlink does for Votoms what The 08th MS Platoon later did for Gundam: explore the down and dirty world of the grunts of their respective universes in a high-quality OVA side-story. Kanda had helped Ryosuke Takahashi direct his first robot show Dougram from 1981 to 1983 and later worked with Takahashi on the two sub OVAs Silent Service and Deep Blue Fleet. He died midway through production of The 08th MS Team. He is perhaps best known for Round Vernan Vifam, a classic 1980s Sunrise robot show.

Despite being set in the far future, Mellowlink feels cut from the cloth of a WWII film in design and atmosphere. Mellowlink rides around in a motorcycle-sidecar combination, and the outfits and architecture seem to be a mix of Victorian and mid-20th century. If Votoms attempts to eliminate the yuusha/heroic element from the robo anime genre by making the robots nothing but mechanized weapons in the form of mass-produced bipedal tanks, Mellowlink seems to go one step further by creating a robot anime in which the hero doesn't even pilot a robot. The hero specializes in killing ATs with nothing more than his wits and an anti-AT rifle, the robo anime equivalent of an anti-tank rifle.

Mellow studiously avoids killing anyone except his intended victims, namely the ranking commanders who ordered his platoon's death. He never kills any underlings, only targeting the higher-ups who use foot soldiers such as himself as throwaway pawns. In true kataki-uchi samurai movie fashion, before killing his victim, he hands them the dog tag of one of his fallen comrades to drive home the justice of his revenge. He is a stoic combination of commando and MacGyver. Overwhelmingly outgunned, he he uses his wits, his surroundings, and his foot soldier training to outwit his opponents. At the final moment, he smears his face with blood, oil or whatever liquid is available and makes it a point to kill his victim not with a bullet but with the bayonet-like Pile Bunker on the end of his anti-AT rifle. This is critical to his revenge. His platoon was stripped of its ATs and sent to certain death armed with nothing but these archaic weapons, so Mellow makes it a point of pride to kill his enemies in the overwhelmingly outgunned state in which they left him.

Mellow is a simple character both in design and script. His expression is one of permanent glowering, he never smiles, and on the rare occasion that he speaks, it only in relation to his cause. His personality is not very complex, and we don't learn much about him beyond his single-minded quest. He is a no-nonsense revenge machine deliberately pared down to steely sinew and purpose. The show fills the void of personality with the mysterious side characters whose significance is revealed apace. Mellow is there as a vehicle to tell a story about military corruption and to provide for a charismatic hero in the spirit of Chirico Cuvie, his obvious model. Mellow is a more likeable character because he is not a superhuman like Chirico. His wits and military training are what keep him alive, not some supernatural agency. A tragic sense of purpose lies behind Mellow's strong, silent personality, but deep down he's a sensitive kid who can get flustered by a beautiful girl.

The series feels tight and well structured. Its pacing feels just right for the story it tells. It's entertaining, with nice action sequences, and the plot about military cover-ups that gradually unfolds is satisfyingly believable, perhaps having vaguely been inspired by the recent Iran-Contra affair. It's not a space opera with battling heroes, but a grimy story about the dirty underbelly of political machinations within military organizations, which see soldiers as nothing more than cannon fodder. Mellowlink is the kind of anti-hero who we want to root for: simple and oblivious to political intrigue, he is only out to do what is right by his sense of basic human justice, and single-handedly faces down the powers that be with the ingenuity and determination of a lone wolf.

The recurring character Kiek is interesting, as he develops into an important plot element later on, but to the end the female sidekick/romantic interest Lulucy felt as superfluous and distracting as the side-characters in Votoms. The story of a girl of royal lineage who ran away to become a roving card dealer seems thrown in and poorly developed, and it never feels believable for a girl like her to be tagging along with Mellow as he sprints around killing ATs with a giant rifle. That aspect feels like one of the show's weakest points.

The episodic nature of the show makes each episode a surprise by providing Mellowlink with new terrain in which to work his battle tactics. The pithy one-word English episode naming seems appropriate to the terse atmosphere, and also serves to indicate the new battlefield of each episode. It's very entertaining watching how a lone individual can outgun an AT using the most basic of technologies (an AT rifle and mines) through clever tactics. In episode 1 he infiltrates a military base and lures out its commander, engaging in a one-on-one in desert-like terrain. In episode 2 he fights in the jungle. In episode 3 he battles it out in the arena.

Episode 4 is perhaps my favorite in the series. Storyboarded and directed by Shinji Takamatsu, it's a masterful example of visual storytelling. Most of the episode transpires without dialogue. The hunter becomes the hunted as Mellow is lured by one of his targets into the interior of a wrecked battleship with its nose rammed into the earth. The ship is tilted at an angle, so all of the action in the episode takes place at an angle, creating a disorienting effect that makes the action all the more tense and unpredictable, as the characters are struggling at every moment to maintain their balance in their surroundings. The best part is that no mecha whatsoever are present in the episode (except as physical obstacles). This seems like the ultimate expression of the whole Votoms universe to me. First you turn the heroic mecha robo into nothing but war machines, then you have the hero not even pilot a robo, then you strip away the robos altogether, and you get to what, deep down, the show was about all along: a tense, realistic, detail-oriented action-heavy hard-sci-fi thriller, devoid of the MacGuffins.

Episode 5 is a flashback episode that fills us in on the background. Written by Ryosuke Takahashi himself to get the details of this important setup episode right, it avoids being a straight "flashback" episode by having Mellowlink wandering through the desert and supposedly hallucinate a dream in which he re-lives the events that led to his platoon getting massacred. The death of Mellowlink's platoon doesn't have much emotional impact because we had never seen the characters until a minute before they're killed, but I don't mind this. It was obviously done this way due to length constraints, but I prefer this to being regaled with episode after episode of meaningless character development that is obviously merely there to manipulate me into feeling for characters whose fate is to die. The flashback ends just as Mellowlink escapes from the courtroom, cleverly avoiding the task of fleshing out precisely how he achieved such an improbable feat, surrounded as he was by armed soldiers.

Set in a prison, episode 6 is one of the weaker episodes, although there's nothing technically wrong with it. I just don't like its ill-conceived mix of brutality and cutesiness. It has some powerful torture scenes that set a heavy tone for the episode, only to be followed up immediately by scenes of cute anime girls dancing on a stage. It's like going from Violence Jack to Creamy Mami in the same episode. Obviously it wasn't possible for Takahashi to excise all of the conventions and create something of a truly uniform tone until later with Pailsen Files, although Takahashi is an entertainer first and foremost, and has himself said that he doesn't want to make dark stories, so I'm sure he signed off on the lighter elements in Votoms as well as here. I obviously have expectations of Votoms not on par with those of the creator.

The episodes from 7 onward continue with a continuing story that comes to a head with the gradual revelation of the truth behind the scandal.

The animation

Mellowlink is the summum opus of the two studios behind the best of Votoms: Anime R and Dove. This is the ultimate expression of their work on the show, as the two never worked on the show again in such a solo fashion, although Toru Yoshida did act as mecha sakkan on Radiant Heretic along with a few scattered R/Dove animators. The combination of good storytelling and animation by R and Dove make Mellowlink a supreme pleasure to watch, one of the best OVAs of the period that nobody has seen.

The mecha action scenes that are the calling card of the show are thrilling and dense. There's a style of hand-drawn mecha action here that was a product of the age and can no longer be seen anywhere. Even within a few years on a show like Gundam 0083 the style of the mecha action is already very different - heavier, more laborious, less dynamic and pliable. The years around 1988-1989 are among my favorite years for mecha animation.

Moriyasu Taniguchi's characters meanwhile are appealingly designed without being quite as idiosyncratic as SPT Layzner. Character animation was never the forte of Dove or R, per se, but the characters are for the most part satisfyingly animated due to Taniguchi's stylish corrections, even if sometimes you wish the expressions and body language were a little more dynamic. R seems to invest the characters with a little more spontaneity and verve that is the product of the studio's culture that was more forgiving of personality and play than Dove. That comes through in the animation. Dove's animation remains solid and professional, while R's is more willful and nuanced.

R and Dove essentially alternate handling an episode, although there is a lot of overlap, some of which is due to the extenuating circumstance of the death of Hiroshi Koizumi midway through production. This is the last Votoms outing featuring the two studios that defined the show up until that point. The next outing, Radiant Heretic, switches up the staff.

The main differences between Mellowlink and the rest of Votoms is: the characters here are designed by Moriyasu Taniguchi of Anime R, rather than Norio Shioyama, and the director is not Takahashi Ryosuke but Takeyuki Kanda (who also storyboards episodes 2, 5, 8 and 11 under the pen name Yuichiro Yokoyama). Also, Soji Yoshikawa is not involved as a writer. Otherwise, Ryosuke Takahashi handles the series structure and writes two episodes, episode 5 and 11. Hiroki Inui provides another lovely noodling avant-jazz score, and Kunio Okawara designs the mecha, as in the rest of Votoms.

Toru Yoshida of Anime R is the mecha sakkan for the Anime R episodes, and his mecha and effects are beautiful. At this period of time Anime R still had most of its best animators, and they put their all into their episodes here. Hiroyuki Okiura even shows up for a bit in the last episode. Dove, meanwhile, was at the height of its powers, and Hiroshi Koizumi did the last work of his tragically brief life in episode 6. It seems the show was originally supposed to be produced entirely by these two studios, but this changed with the death of Hiroshi Koizumi, and they had to start calling in other studios from episode 6 onwards to finish the episodes on time. Studio Dove is credited as mecha sakkan in episodes 2 and 4, but this actually means Hiroshi Koizumi.

Apparently the reason for this is that the president of Dove, Tadashi Yahata, had this thing against any single individual gaining attention at Dove; he wanted the studio as a whole to receive credit. Yahata had no need for star animators or individuality, and he placed arduous demands on his animators and was the first to open the door for them to leave if they complained. This is just one aspect of the unforgiving, hard-nosed atmosphere at Dove that drove many animators away from the studio. It's also why you could get talented animators like Hiroshi Koizumi toiling away there and yet not receiving much recognition for their work in their time. It's a philosophy that's the antithesis of a more easygoing and artist-centric studio like Anime R, where play was not just permitted but understood to be the driving force of creativity. And yet the two studios produced magnificent animation that blends perfectly together on a string of Ryosuke Takahashi shows in the late 1980s. It's a strange and beautiful mystery.

The Dove mecha sakkan credit in episode 6 stands for Nobuyoshi Nishimura, who stepped in as pinch hitter to fill in the void left by Hiroshi Koizumi. Toru Yoshida acted as the mecha sakkan on all of the remaining episodes, in which Dove was mostly involved in piecemeal fashion alongside other subcontractors, obviously under considerable systemic stress due to the loss of their lead animator.

On the directing side of things, Takizawa Toshifumi storyboards episode 1, but Takashi Imanishi, Shinji Takamatsu and Shinichiro Watanabe/Takeyuki Kanda take over from there on out, and for the most part do a very fine job indeed. I'm particularly impressed by the Watanabe/Kanda episodes for a reason I find hard to pin down. They have a feeling of more deliberate cinematic presentation. This was only Watanabe's second job as episode director after the Dirty Pair OVAs the previous year. He drew his first storyboard immediately after Mellowlink in 1990.


Armor Hunter Mellowlink 機甲猟兵メロウリンク
(OVA, 12 eps, 1988-1989, Sunrise)

Director:神田武幸Takeyuki Kanda
Created by/Series Structure:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Character Design/Sakkan:谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
Mechanic Design:大河原邦男Kunio Okawara
Music:乾裕樹Hiroki Inui
Art:平川英治Eiji Hirakawa


Episode 1: Wilderness

Storyboard:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
Director:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
 
アニメアールAnime R
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
浜川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa
小森高博Takahiro Komori
小川瑞恵Mizue Ogawa
福江光恵Mitsue Fukue
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
能地清Kiyoshi Noji


Episode 2: Colosseum

Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
 
Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


Episode 3: Jungle

Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:アニメ・アールAnime R
井上哲Tetsu Inoue
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
小森高博Takahiro Komori
福江光恵Mitsue Fukue
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
 
スタジオ・ムーStudio Mu
黄瀬和哉Kazuchika Kise
山本佐和子Sawako Yamamoto
大島康弘Yasuhiro Oshima


Episode 4: Leaning Tower

Storyboard:高松信司Shinji Takamatsu
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


Episode 5: Battlefield

Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:アニメ・アールAnime R
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
小森高博Takahiro Komori
井上哲Tetsu Inoue
吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
 
スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


Episode 6: Prison

Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
 
堀沢聡志Satoshi Horisawa
武藤照美Terumi Muto
筱雅律Masanori Shino
河村佳江Yoshie Kawamura


Episode 7: Railway

Storyboard:高松信司Shinji Takamatsu
Director:
 
Asst Sakkan:八幡正Tadashi Yahata
Mecha Sakkan:スタジオダブStudio Dove
Key Animators:西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi


Episode 8: Ghost Town

Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
井上哲Tetsu Inoue
小森高博Takahiro Komori
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
福江光恵Mitsue Fukue
吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
光岡玲子Reiko Mitsuoka


Episode 9: Forest

Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Director:
 
Asst Sakkan:山田きさらかKisaraka Yamada
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:スタジオマークStudio Mark
中西賢治Kenji Nakanishi
林伸昌Nobumasa Hayashi
森脇賢治Kenji Moriwaki
高梨光Hikaru Takanashi
 
グループゼンGroup Zen
野田康行Yasuyuki Noda
福原惠次Keiji Fukuhara
藤田正幸Masayuki Fujita
 
武藤照美Terumi Muto
筱雅律Masanori Shino
中沢登Noboru Nakazawa


Episode 10: Castle

Storyboard:高松信司Shinji Takamatsu
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
 
タイガープロダクションTiger Production
宮崎龍四郎Tatsushiro Miyazaki
本間正Tadashi Honma
大戸幸子Yukiko Oe
鈴木佐智子Sachiko Suzuki


Episode 11: Base

Storyboard:横山裕一朗Yuichiro Yokoyama
Director:渡辺信一郎Shinichiro Watanabe
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:スタジオダブStudio Dove
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura
藁谷均Hitoshi Waratani
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
津幡佳明Yoshiaki Tsubata


Episode 12: Last Stage

Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Director:
 
Mecha Sakkan:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Key Animators:アニメ・アールAnime R
沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
河村佳江Yoshie Kawamura
木村貴宏Takahiro Kimura
小森高博Takahiro Komori
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
吉本拓二Takuji Yoshimoto
 
スタジオダブStudio Dove
木口寿恵子Sueko Kiguchi
 
福井享子Ryoko Fukui
1 commentPermalink

Thursday, September 19, 2013

03:20:00 pm , 2022 words, 18937 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, post-Akira

Ys

There seems to have been something of a boom in fantasy anime OVAs between the years 1988-1992. Just to name some of the better produced entries, there was Xanadu: Dragon Slayer Densetsu (1988), The Hakkenden (1990-1991), Record of Lodoss War (1990-1991), 3x3 Eyes (1991), and Dragon Slayer (1992).

One that slipped through the cracks in my case is Ys (pronounced like "east" without the "t"). It's a more pure D&D-style fantasy outings in the vein of Dragon Slayer, as it's closely based on a video game. I only caught a glimpse of one scene back in the day, and it left a vivid impression on me. I finally had the chance to watch it in full recently, and I was happy to discover that it's a pretty good show - at least in part. When it's bad, it's dreck, but when it's good, it's awesome.

Two series were released: Ys was released in 7 episodes between 1989 and 1991, and its continuation Ys: The Heavenly Shrine ~Adol Christin's Adventure~ was released in 4 episodes between 1992 and 1993.

The contrast between the two series is stark, both in terms of directing and visuals. Ys I is essentially a by-the-books video game adaptation. It feels stiff and uninspired, with nary a feeling of tension or peril even at climactic moments. The drawings are slack and clean and lacking dynamism. Even the script is weak, creating cyphers who go lifelessly through the motions of a video game and utter dialogue that is embarrassingly facile and lacking in personality.

To be fair, I actually enjoyed even the first series. I'm just judging it objectively. It hits just the right spot when you're in the mood for some mindless but serious (i.e. not postmodern or gag-filled) fantasy anime that pushes all the buttons you want pushed in that kind of material. One of the few animation highlights comes in the second half of episode 2, which was animated by the late Noriaki Tetsura.

Ys II is a continuation that picks up exactly where the first series left off, but suddenly it's like a completely different show. The characters look and move differently, and the directing is much more compelling. The drawings are sharp and stylized, with lots of dynamic compositions that work great as illustrations. The characters are written in a more believable way, not just uttering expository dialogue. They're hot-blooded and tempestuous, with distinct personalities. They're also animated more dynamically, with vivid expressions, and they move through the screen in a three-dimensional way during the action scenes. The effects work is very impressive. The directing creates an epic and tense atmosphere, with quick cutting in the action scenes and exciting choreography that relies heavily on the animation. Even the music feels appropriately hardcore.

Rather than merely reading a script, the characters act out an inner world of thought and emotion, doing things that don't necessarily advance plot but rather make them seem human. For example, when one of the characters' girlfriend is trapped and about to be sacrificed, after first trying to slash through the barrier imprisoning her, he finally gives up, only to start madly punching the barrier in frustration.

All in all, the second series is an impressively powerful and entertaining OVA. Blistering, brutal and angry, its animation feels slightly unhinged and explodes off the screen with raw energy. Even its occasionally sloppiness is endearing. It's everything I love about anime and immediately ranks as one of my favorite OVAs of the post-Akira period alongside all the other post-Akira OVAs I've talked about in the past. It's a kindred spirit to madcap, wildly animated OVAs like Dragon Slayer (1992) and Crimson Wolf (1993).

Ys II feels very similar to Dragon Slayer in its tense atmosphere and speedy directing, although the animation of Ys II doesn't contain nearly as much stretch and squash of the kind used profusely in Dragon Slayer. The characters are loosely drawn but for the most part solid. With only a few exceptions, the movement here is conveyed by arcs of movement, not deformation. That's something that unifies most of the work in the 'post-Akira' school - that it's decidedly not Kanada-school, without much ghosting or stretch and squash and more follow-through.

Adol by Hiroyuki Nishimura

The sudden shift in style between the two series is really bizarre, and it makes you wonder what happened: why the drastic change? Perhaps they rightly felt the first series was on the wrong path and called in some new people to shake things up. That seems to be what happened, because the staff is very different between the two shows. First Jun Kamiya was replaced as director midway through the first series by Takashi Watanabe. He went on to direct the second series. Then the character design changed from Tetsuya Ishikawa to Hiroyuki Nishimura. Finally, the writer changed from Tadashi Hayakawa to Katsuhiko Chiba. Then the animation staff is completely different. All of this adds up to a completely different show.

The most important change was bringing in the talented and versatile Asia-do animator Hiroyuki Nishimura, who redesigned the characters in a more appealing and interesting way. I don't know how the animators were found for the project, but obviously this is a much more talented team than the first show, as every moment of the second series for the most part is a pleasure to watch in terms of the drawings. Even the quieter scenes have careful character animation. The action scenes, meanwhile, are plentiful and thrilling.

The biggest name after Hiroyuki Nishimura is Kazuto Nakazawa, who animated and co-sakkan'd episodes 2 and 3. This was still early in his career, but his immense skill as a mover comes through loud and clear and I suspect plays a big role in making the show so enjoyable. Episodes 2 and 3 have a looser drawing style than episodes 1 and 4. It seems clear to me that Nakazawa was heavily influenced by Satoru Utsunomiya and maybe even other stuff like the work of Shinya Ohira and Shinji Hashimoto in Hakkenden episode 1 from 1990. After all, he has admitted to watching the later Hamaji's Resurrection episode literally 30 times a week after it came out, so he must have been following the previous outings from this school of animators. Nakazawa's characters have bulky forms and enormous hands, and swing their limbs around the screen violently in a way that seems clearly indebted to Hakkenden, particularly the scenes animated by Shinji Hashimoto and Tatsuyuki Tanaka. The Utsunomiya-influenced style of the character animation and the unusual amount of work put into the magic effects reminds me of Legend of Crystania (1995) from a few years after.

Whether it's Nishimura or Nakazawa or a combination of other team members who were responsible for pushing things in this direction, it seems clear that the overall production must have been influenced by the recent post-Akira OVAs in some form or another. Animators in Japan all know one another, far more than we realize, and are being influenced by one another all the time, so it doesn't take long for a certain style or approach to virally spread throughout the industry.

As it happens, Hiroyuki Nishimura actually was an animator on Shinya Ohira's epoch-making Hamaji's Resurrection episode of the second Hakkenden series released just a year after Ys II. There are lots of obvious connections behind this. Hiroyuki Nishimura was, at the time, together with Yoshihiko Takakura, part of Mitsuru Hongo's Megaten "studio", which was basically a workspace for the three animators. Hiroyuki Nishimura and Mitsuru Hongo both started out at Asia-do, as did Masaaki Yuasa, animation director of Hamaji's Resurrection, and had by that point been working together on the Shin-chan films under Hongo.

Hiroyuki Nishimura continued to have a close working relationship with Mitsuru Hongo, culminating with Deltora Quest (2007-2008). Hiroyuki Nishimura is a mutli-talented guy who has, at various points in his career, done just about everything - animating, storyboarding, directing a series, character design, animation director, even scriptwriting. Like ex-Asia-do compatriot Toshihisa Kaiya, he even did work for IG on IGPX, which with its CG robots reminds of his more recent effort Danboru Senki. I still remember him best for his excellent combat animation sequences in the Shin-chan movies. He and Yuasa have frequently helped each other out: Yuasa did layout under Nishimura for Ruin Explorers and Nishimura was an animator in Yuasa's Nanchatte Vampiyan pilot and Slime Adventures pilot, as well as animating the climactic part of Mind Game where Nishi et al. row out of the whale.

Another factor that might play a role is the fact that Haruki Kadokawa is involved as producer. This was apparently one of the very last things he produced before being sent to jail for 4 years for smuggling cocaine and embezzling. Whatever the faults of his productions, Kadokawa anime were a staple of my anime diet back in the day and represented a certain kind of quality. They were always lavishly produced, epic in scope and memorable, if in the end they were largely flawed as films. The first Arslan Wars movie from 1991 is one of my favorite anime from this period. Kadokawa followed this up with another fantasy epic: Weathering Continent (1992). Perhaps Kadokawa's involvement was a factor pushing the quality of the production in the right way.

Director Takashi Watanabe was at the start of his career when he took over Ys in 1990. I didn't know anything about him before watching this, and upon looking into his career, I can't say I'm a fan. He has been very prolific as a series director since then, directing TV shows such Slayers, Shakugan no Shana, Boogiepop Phantom, and Mito no Daiboken, among many other shows, his most recent being Senran Kagura and Freezing Vibration. He seems to specialize in shows featuring fighting bishojo. I enjoyed Mito, but that's about it apart from Ys. He was also the director of Lost Universe, episode 4 of which is the greatest anime TV episode of all time: Yashigani Hofuru. Following that debacle, he apparently felt bad, because he put up a web site explaining the challenges facing a director in the anime industry, presumably to explain the circumstances that led to the production of the infamous episode.

One mystery to me is why there are drawings in episode 1 of Ys II that seem like they came straight out of Nadia of the Blue Water. There is some slight staff overlap, but not enough to explain the overt stylistic similarity.


Other 'post-Akira' OVAs:

Explorer Woman Ray (1989)
The Hakkenden (1990-1991)
Sukeban Deka (1991)
3x3 Eyes (1991)
The Antique Shop (1991)
Dragon Slayer (1992)
Green Legend Ran (1992-1993)
Crimson Wolf (1993)


イース Ys (OVA, 7 eps, 1989-1991)

Script:早川正Tadashi Hayakawa
Director:神谷純Jun Kamiya (1-4)
渡部高志Takashi Watanabe (5-7)
Character Design:石川哲也Tetsuya Ishikawa
Episode 1
Animation Director:石川哲也Tetsuya Ishikawa
Key Animation:菊地晃Akira Kikuchi
松本勝次Katsuji Matsumoto
岡本稔Minoru Okamoto
藤田佳三Keizo Fujita
井上鋭Ei Inoue
唐沢紀江Norie Karasawa
藤井裕子Hiroko Fujii
石川哲也Tetsuya Ishikawa
Episode 2
Animation Director:石川哲也Tetsuya Ishikawa
Key Animation:氏家章雄Ujie Akio
鉄羅紀明Noriaki Tetsura
きのプロダクションKino Production
Episode 3
Animation Director:菅原浩喜Hiroki Sugawara
Key Animation:久保川美明Mia Kubokawa
矢木正之Masayuki Yaki
小丸敏之Toshiyuki Komaru
佐々木守Mamoru Sasaki
清水保之Yasuyuki Shimizu
山本正文Masafumi Yamamoto
井尻博之Hiroyuki Ijiri
山内真紀子Makiko Yamauchi
榊原文Fumi Sakakibara
Episode 4
Animation Director:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Key Animation:篠田章Akira Shinoda
松山光治Koji Matsuyama
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
Episode 5
Animation Director:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Assistant A.D.:松山光治Koji Matsuyama
Key Animation:篠田章Akira Shinoda
松山光治Koji Matsuyama
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
川崎浩充Hiromitsu Kawasaki
吉田仁Hitoshi Yoshida
佐藤英二Eiji Sato
松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Episode 6
Animation Director:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Key Animation:じゃんぐるじむJungle Gym
久保博志Hiroshi Kubo
原勝徳Katsunori Hara
こばやしたかしTakashi Kobayashi
佐々木敏子Toshiko Sasaki
佐藤英一Eiichi Sato
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
吉田仁Hitoshi Yoshida
小山りょうRyo Koyama
永野由美Yumi Nagano
栗井重紀Shigenori Kurii
Episode 7
Animation Director:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Key Animation:じゃんぐるじむJungle Gym
こばやしたかしTakashi Kobayashi
佐々木敏子Toshiko Sasaki
佐藤英一Eiichi Sato
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
吉田仁Hitoshi Yoshida
小山りょうRyo Koyama
中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa

イース 天空の神殿 〜アドル・クリスティンの冒険〜
Ys: The Heavenly Shrine ~Adol Christin's Adventure~
(OVA, 4 eps, 1992-1993)

Script:千葉克彦Katsuhiko Chiba
Director:渡部高志Takashi Watanabe
Character Design:西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
Episode 1
Animation Director:西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
Key Animation:箕輪悟Satoru Minowa
久保博志Hiroshi Kubo
中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa
水畑健二Kenji Mizuhata
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
森可渡士Watashi Morika
栗井重紀Shigenori Kurii
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
Episode 2
Animation Director:中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa
水畑健二Kenji Mizuhata
西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
Monster A.D.:箕輪悟Satoru Minowa
Key Animation:松岡秀明Hideaki Matsuoka
久保博志Tadashi Kubo
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
箕輪悟Satoru Minowa
鈴木仁史Hitoshi Suzuki
水畑健二Kenji Mizuhata
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
森可渡士Watashi Morika
中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa
Episode 3
Animation Director:中沢一登Kazuto Nakazawa
Assistant A.D.:秋山充治Mitsuharu Akiyama
水畑健二Kenji Mizuhata
Key Animation:熊澤英樹Hideki Kumazawa
岡野幸男Yukio Okano
小林多加志Takashi Kobayashi
井上みゆきMiyuki Inoue
佐々木敏子Toshiko Sasaki
久保博志Hiroshi Kubo
森可渡士Watashi Morika
鈴木仁史Hitoshi Suzuki
宮田奈保美Naomi Miyata
佐藤英一Eiichi Sato
春日井浩之Hiroyuki Kasugai
百瀬恵美子Emiko Momose
祝浩司Hiroshi Iwai
Episode 4
Animation Director:西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
Effect Animation:佐藤英一Eiichi Sato
Key Animation:西村博之Hiroyuki Nishimura
斉藤卓也Takuya Saito
岡本圭一郎Keiichiro Okamoto
武内宣之Noriyuki Takeuchi
祝浩司Hiroshi Iwai
加藤興治Koji Kato
熊沢英樹Hideki Kumazawa
久保博志Hiroshi Kubo
細山正樹Masaki Hosoyama
木場田実Minoru Kibata

Monday, September 16, 2013

04:55:00 pm , 5181 words, 11070 views     Categories: Animation, Studio, TV, A Pro, TMS, Yuzo Aoki, Oh Pro

Wild West Boy Isamu

While just about every movie genre has its sub-genre in anime, there is a distinct lack of westerns in anime. The reason is obvious enough. The western is a quintessentially American genre and doesn't lend itself well to transplanation to Japan (recent exceptions like Sukiyaki Django Western notwithstanding). One of the few movies or TV shows obviously modeled on the western and adhering to most of the genre's conventions is Toei's Puss 'n Boots II from 1972. However, this film was hardly a hardcore western, but rather a spirited, playful children's film populated by anthropomorphic animals as well as humans.

There is only one real, full-fledged western in anime, and that is Koya no Shonen Isamu 荒野の少年イサム, a 52-episode TV series produced by Tokyo Movie aired April 1973 to March 1974, presumably inspired by Toei's recent foray into the western.

Adapted from a manga by Noboru Kawasaki based on a 1952 novel by prolific pulp fiction writer Soji Yamakawa, Isamu tells the story of a samurai named Katsunoshin who in late 1800s crosses the ocean to study western ways in America. He falls in love with a native American girl who gives birth to his child, Isamu. When Isamu is 4, the mother is killed and Katsunoshin becomes separated from his son. Katsunoshin spends the next ten years of his life searching for his son. Isamu, meanwhile, is raised by a community of gold miners until one day he is kidnapped by a gang of outlaws named the Wingates. They teach him the ways of the west and train him into a skilled gunman in the hope of using him to commit their crimes. However, the naturally just-minded Isamu resists and eventually escapes from them and begins a journey to find his father. Along the way, he puts his unparalleled gunmanship to the task of helping innocent settlers fight against outlaws and bring law and order to the wild west.

The golden age of westerns was in fact not that long past when this show came out. The spaghetti westerns of the 1960s like Serge Leone's Fistfull of Dollars (1964) establish the pattern that comes to rule the series in the second half after Isamu parts ways with the Wingates. Isamu will wander into a new town, only to find it secretly ruled by a gang of ruthless thugs who brutally repress the townspeople. After a bit of investigative work, he discovers the big boss running the town. The boss plays a dastardly and underhanded trick in an attempt to kill Isamu, but Isamu's unparalleled skills with the six shooter and unflagging sense of justice finally win the day.

The series also manages to weave in just about every western convention you can think of. There are stories about migrants making their way to the west in covered wagon trains, Mexican outlaws, high-speed stagecoach robberies, an undercover US Marshall investigating a weapons smuggling ring, cattle rustlers, villainous landowners trying to drive innocent farmers off their land, and life on the ranch. The show briefly touches on the topic of slavery with a story of shotgun-blast delicacy reminiscent of Django Unchained: a child slave became an outlaw named Big Stone after witnessing his mother gunned down by the Wingates, and killing his master in retaliation for doing nothing to help her and then adding insult to injury by insulting her corpse. Big Stone spends the first half of the series hunting the Wingates, leading to a big dramatic showdown with Isamu. The series stays away from the delicate issue of native Americans for the most part, save for one episode in which a native seeks to expose an arms dealer who secretly assaults stagecoaches in the guise of natives in order to incite the local townspeople to rise up in war against the natives.

I had seen the first episode many years ago, but I just had the opportunity to watch this series in its entirety for the first time. As a show from the heart of Tokyo Movie's golden age, I enjoyed watching it, but I must say that objectively speaking it's a mixed bag and it's hard to recommend that people flock to see it. There is some good drama and some good animation, and the characters are interesting enough, if not particularly deeply written. The hardcore nature of the show makes it more enjoyable to watch than a pansy kiddy adaptation neutering the brutality of the wild west. It has its virtues, but overall it was a slog to get through, due primarily to the unevenness of the animation work and the cliche'd and repetitive writing.

Despite being set in the real world, Isamu almost never takes a breath to say something down to earth and believable, and that is the main thing that makes it tiring to watch from a modern perspective. Episode after episode, it's the same thing: Isamu discovers a new gang of brutal bandits terrorizing a town that he drives off before riding off into the sunset. It's a spaghetti western drawn out to Lone Ranger serial length. Isao Takahata had yet to pioneer the idea of neorealism in anime, which he did immediately after at Zuiyo with Heidi. There is no attempt to portray psychological subtlety of character, or to create bad guys who have complex motivations and are anything more than paper thin pure evil, or to enact the kind of detail-oriented realistic directing required to make the events depicted feel believable. It feels this show comes at the historical juncture when the time for more realism was ripe.

As it happens, Isao Takahata storyboarded two episodes of Isamu, and these stand out from the series for their more competent filmmaking language, even if due to the constraints of the material they depict the same world of brute animals in the clothes of cowboys shooting it out as if that's the only way they know how to communicate. This could well be the last thing Takahata did before departing for Zuiyo to direct Heidi.

The show is certainly pleasant for being unflinching on the brutality front, something that was fairly novel and no doubt exciting for the period in which it was aired. Although Isamu attempts as best he can to avoid killing, in the end he does seem to wind up killing a dozen people or so per episode, even though the victims are always depicted as evil, bloodthirsty scoundrels who deserve the fate. The show is not afraid to show people getting shot, including women and children. Even the show's black and white moral vision of the world, which seems to divide the west clean in half into good, peaceful citizens and evil, murderous outlaws, is actually somewhat satisfying, in that it's what you expect of a western. They set about making a pulp serial western in which Isamu encounters and overcomes a new gang of baddies in each episode, and they succeeded eminently in that regard.

Original book with drawings by Soji Yamakawa / Page from manga by Noboru Kawasaki

Noboru Kawasaki was responsible for the manga Kyojin no Hoshi that was adapted into a hit series by Tokyo Movie over the years of 1968-1971. Tokyo Movie was in some financial trouble at the time Kyojin no Hoshi started, and the success of this show along with their concurrently running shoujo version of the 'spokon' genre Attack No. 1 (1969-1971) provided the studio with a windfall. This prompted them to continue to pump out similar shows for the next few years in the hope of continuing to milk this newfound popularity for 'spokon' anime. A Production studio head Daikichiro Kusube is credited as the animation supervisor in all of these shows, up until Karate Baka Ichidai (1973-1974) and then Judo Sanka (1974). Most of Tokyo Movie's spokon shows apart from Kyojin no Hoshi are based on the work of Ikki Kajiwara, who himself was reportedly inspired by an earlier boxing novel by Soji Yamakawa when he wrote the original manga for Ashita no Joe, another one of the big hits of the spokon boom around 1968-1970.

It was presumably due to the success of Kyojin no Hoshi, combined with the recent Toei Doga movie, that Fujioka Yutaka decided to give Noboru Kawasaki's "Japanese Western" Koya no Shonen Isamu a go as a TV show.

The Animation

Playful self-references inserted by Junio's Takao Kosai and Oh Pro's Koichi Murata

The animation was produced essentially by six studios: Oh Pro, Studio Junio, Studio Z, Studio Mates, Studio Neo Media and A Pro. None of these subcontractors are credited, but the breakdown is clear if you know a bit about the animators in the credits.

A Pro founder Daikichiro Kusube acted as the animation supervisor to oversee the very different styles of these studios, although in the end my impression is that he didn't really do much to unify the style, as each studio's style comes through seemingly unmediated by correction. Roughly same group of six subcontractors was also behind the animation of the more 'realistic' shows produced by Tokyo Movie in the surrounding years (as opposed to the more deformed gag shows like Dokonjo Gaeru, which featured a different team), including Lupin III (1971), Akado Suzunosuke (1972) and Judo Sanka (1974).

There are a few mixed episodes in which two different studios worked on part A and part B, but for the most part one studio handled the animation of a single episode, with two of the studio's animators handling respectively part A and part B. One of these animators is credited as sakkan, presumably because he was in charge of maintaining consistency over the episode delivered to Tokyo Movie, but again, it's doubtful how much correcting they actually did. Below is a breakdown of the animators for each studio. Names in bold are the studio's sakkans.

Oh Pro:Koichi Murata, Toshitsugu Saida
Studio Junio:Takao Kosai, Tetsuo Imazawa, Minoru Maeda
Studio Mates:Koizumi Kenzo, Akiko Hoshino, Teruo Handa, Akio Yoshihara, Masayuki Ohseki
Studio Neo Media:Keiichiro Kimura, Yasuhiro Yamaguchi, Yoshiyuki Momose, Masayuki Uchiyama
A Pro:Hideo Kawauchi, Eiichi Nakamura, Yuzo Aoki
Studio Z:Shingo Araki, Tsugefumi Nuno

The interesting thing about this show is that it's a great example of how shows of yore used to vary considerably in drawing style from episode to episode. Below is an overview of the four main studios' drawing styles to give a sense of this. (I won't include A Pro and Neo Media because they play a smaller part)

Oh Pro: 1, 4, 7 12, 16, 22, 26, 27, 30, 34, 38, 42, 46, 51

(click to enlarge)

Oh Pro is the standout studio in this show, and studio head Koichi Murata is the star. Koichi Murata animated 11 episodes half-half with Toshitsugu Saida. I believe Murata animated the first half and Saida animated the second half in each episode. This series thus provides a good place to become acquainted with Koichi Murata's style. He's a name I was familiar with for a long time as the head of Oh Pro and a major contributor to classics like Lupin III, 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, Future Boy Conan and Anne of Green Gables, but not until watching Isamu did I know how to identify his work.

Murata's animation is by far the most lively and entertaining in the show. The rest of the animation frankly looks sloppy and amateurish in comparison. Not only are his drawings technically better, he actually makes his characters act out their emotions. None of the other animators in the show are up to the task of character acting. They're struggling just to draw the characters. Murata effortlessly renders the characters in a few simple shapes and modulates their expressions and posing freely in a way reminiscent of Yasuo Otsuka or Osamu Kobayashi. It's possible he was influenced by Yasuo Otsuka working on the original Lupin III show under Otsuka two years before.

If you look at the second row above, you'll see just how pliable his character acting is. In one shot you can follow the flow of the character's thought patterns purely through the drawings. He had passed out trying to save a girl and just came to his senses. At first he's disoriented, then he finally remembers what happened to him and is relieved to know he's fine. Then he remembers something: he was trying to catch a bag of gold dust. He becomes alarmed and asks what happened to it. The other party tells him to look at his own hand, because he's been holding it the whole time, and his expression changes to one of surprise. Disorientation, relief, sudden recollection, anxious questioning, disbelief.

Only in Murata's hands do the characters feel alive like this. And that's actually one of the problems with the series. The rest of the series would be fine if only the character acting was up to the level of Murata's animation. The reason the show feels stale and cheesy is less because of the unimaginative script than because poor character acting renders the filmmaking flat and lifeless. It's patently obvious why Murata became a staple of Takahata and Miyazaki's work in the 1970s - because he was one of the few animators of the day with the skill to create nuanced and believable character animation with only a few quickly executed perfunctory drawings, as was necessary in the TV format. His animation also happens to be tremendously fun in terms of the movement, with lots of lively and unexpected little gestures and expressions.

One of Murata's little tricks he invented is to draw the eyes as two little black blobs when they're closed, for example when a character laughs as in the image above. I'd seen this in various shows from the 1970s but never realized until now that this was the mark of Murata. Episodes 26 and 38 are particularly good Koichi Murata episodes.

He participated in most of the World Masterpiece Theater series as an animator, and never got distracted by directing or character designing like many animators eventually do. He remained a pure animator to the end. In addition to being a prolific animator while running Oh Pro, one of the industry's most trusted subcontracting studios, he was also active behind the scenes working to improve the conditions of animators in the industry, acting as Vice Chairman of the Animation Business Association since 1990, which had other notable animation figures on its board from other major studios in the industry including Noboru Ishiguro (Artland) and Tsutomu Shibayama (Ajia-do).

Studio Junio: 1, 4, 8, 13, 19, 24, 29, 33, 37, 41, 45, 50

(click to enlarge)

The Studio Junio episodes feature studio head Takao Kosai as sakkan and part A animator and Tetsuo Imazawa as storyboarder and part B animator. Kosai's style is a great contrast with that of Koichi Murata. His figures are lean and elongated, roughly drawn and mean looking. The faces look very bony and gaunt and frankly unattractive. The noses are usually big and pointy. His hands are easily identified - long and lean, very different from the plump and round drawings of Studio Z's Shingo Araki or the curled, almost deformed hands of the characters drawn by Studio Mates' Kenzo Koizumi. Takao Kosai's movement can be rather dynamic in the action scenes, but it's never very realistic or believably timed, and his acting is pretty much limited to either sinister sneering or looking worried.

Takao Kosai began his career at Toei Doga in 1960 and spent 4 years there before leaving in 1964 with several other animators including Kenzo Koizumi and Azuma Hiroshi to form a studio called Hatena Pro. Hatena Pro is not a very well known studio, but it's actually one of the more important 'seed' studios of the period, in that what it produced is less important than the studios that sprung up in its wake. When the studio finally closed 5 years later in 1969, Takao Kosai and Tetsuo Imazawa formed Studio Junio while Kenzo Koizumi and Hiroshi Azuma formed Studio Mates. Kazuo Komatsubara, who joined in 1969, the year the studio closed, formed Oh Pro together with Koshin Yonekawa and Koichi Murata in 1970. Hiroshi Azuma defected from Mates to Junio in 1972, while Minoru Maeda, who would become one of the studio's most important animators, joined in 1972. (Way later when Junio closed around 2000, Azuma, Okazaki and Maeda left when things started getting bad in 1998 to form Synergy SP.)

Tetsuo Imazawa would go on to be Studio Junio's lead director, doing much work TMS including directing The White Whale of Mu (1980), Iron Man 28 (1980) and God Mars (1981). He went on to direct some notable films including The Fox of Chironup (1987), Coo from the Distant Ocean (1993) and Hermes, Wings of Love (1997) for Junio before the studio went out of business around 2000.

Other animators turned out by the studio include Toshiyuki Inoue, Hisashi Eguchi, Fumitoshi Oizaki, Tetsuya Kumagai, Mamoru Kanbe and Masaki Kajishima.

Studio Mates: 3, 5, 9, 14, 20, 21, 25, 28, 32, 36, 40, 44, 49, 52

(click to enlarge)

The Studio Mates episodes feature studio head Kenzo Koizumi as sakkan and part animator. These are my least favorite drawings in the show. Koizumi's characters are amateurishly drawn, with extremely static and unchanging posing and expression. The poses are constricted and unnatural. No character ever seems to evince the appropriate emotion in any given scene, rather adopting an awkward template expression no matter the circumstances. He spends most of his energy drawing evil expressions on the baddies. The deformed-looking hands in particular are very characteristic and easily give away Koizumi's presence.

The drawing above of the baddie holding a rifle is exemplary of the problem with his drawings. What on earth is his left hand doing? The fingers are splayed in odd directions and seem to be floating daintily above the barrel rather than gripping it, and the angle at which the gun is inclined seems very unnatural. The action scenes are embarrassing to watch, as the character don't so much move as hurl themselves around unnaturally and float improbably against the background due to the poor layouts.

Kenzo Koizumi also started out at Toei Doga in 1962 before joining Hatena Pro in 1964. I can only assume that he improved with time, because he continued to get work as an animator down to the year of his death in 2008.

Animators who began their careers at Studio Mates include Watanabe Ayumu and Hiroshi Harada. If for nothing else, Mates can be said to have played a positive role in anime history for guiding Watanabe Ayumu to Shin-Ei and prompting Hiroshi Harada leave the industry to make Midori.

Studio Z: 2, 6, 18, 21, 25, 27, 31, 35, 39, 43, 48, 52

(click to enlarge)

The Studio Z episodes feature Shingo Araki as sakkan and part A animator with Tsugefumi Nuno as part B animator. Araki's drawings are perhaps the most skillful in the series in terms of the actual drawings, with well stylized expressions and a very distinctive rounded drawing style. This is presumably due to the fact that he started out as a manga-ka, and was hence used to drawing stylized characters in exaggerated poses. This wound up providing the foundation for his style, because as an animator, he is inferior to Koichi Murata, who is more pliable and dynamic with the drawings. Araki's characters are cartoonish and mannered rather than expressive and nuanced. The hands are again an easy place to identify this animator - rounded and puffy fingers drawn in a very symmetrical way.

Shingo Araki started out as a manga-ka before switching to animation because he wasn't earning a living. He joined Mushi Pro in 1964 and then switched to a little-known studio called Jaggard in 1966. It was here working alongside Hiroshi Saito that Araki really learned about animation. Jaggard was involved in several earlier Tokyo Movie productions including Tensai Bakabon before they disbanded in 1972, immediately before Isamu. Araki meanwhile had quit a little earlier in 1971 to found his own small artist workspace called Studio Z. It was here that Yoshinori Kanada, after being first rejected by Oh Pro (where he went because he liked Koichi Murata's drawings), began to learn animation as an inbetweener under Shingo Araki. You can see Kanada's name in the inbetween credits for each Studio Z episode, alongside Kazuo Tomizawa and Shinya Sadamitsu, who would continue to be associated with Kanada for years.

Araki of course is known for his work on Toei shows of the 1970s and then primarily Saint Saiya. It was the same year as Isamu that Araki got his taste designing characters for the first time for Cutie Honey, and it was right after working on Isamu that he founded his own actual legitimate studio, Araki Pro, to focus on this work. Kanada, meanwhile, started out at Toei between 1970-1972 on Maho no Mako-chan, Sarutobi Ecchan, Gegege no Kitaro and Mahotsukai Chappy before switching to Araki's Studio Z, where he worked between 1972-1973 on Gekko Kamen, Akado Suzunosuke and Isamu. Kanada did not follow Araki to Araki Pro, but rather went to work under Takuo Noda in 1974 at Studio No. 1. It was the next year in 1975 that Yoshinori Kanada himself founded his own artist collective/studio called Studio Z, totally unrelated to the previous Studio Z, where he worked until 1980, when he founded yet another studio called Studio No. 1. Studio Z went through several other incarnations at the hands of other animators before the founding of Studio Z5 around 1980 by Hideyuki Motohashi.

Other studios and notable names

A Pro doesn't play as big a role in this show because their most important animators like Osamu Kobayashi and Tsutomu Shibayama were busy working on the concurrently running Dokonjo Gaeru, which was still in the midst of its long run, and anyway were not typically put to work on the gekiga-styled Tokyo Movie shows like Isamu but rather the cartoony gag shows. Still, Yuzo Aoki and Eiichi Nakamura do show up for a few episodes in the first half drawing half episodes under sakkan Hideo Furusawa. However, their work doesn't shine on this material. Aoki's distinctive style has not yet emerged at this period. That said, the A Pro team does provide the animation for the first of the two episodes storyboarded by Isao Takahata (15 and 19), and their animation almost certainly helps to make Takahata's episode memorable thanks to its precisely timed and exciting action. The reason for the pairing is obvious: Takahata was at A Pro at the time.

Takahata's episode 15 is entirely devoted to the showdown between Isamu and his frenemy Big Stone. Big Stone is actually out to kill the Wingates for murdering his mother, but Isamu is still caught in their web and winds up having to duel Big Stone. The showdown in the ghost town occupies the entire episode as they run around in the dark of the night in a long, drawn out battle that lasts until dawn. It's a fantastic episode that has great tension and does what you want a western anime to do. Takahata's skill as a director comes through loud and clear even though he only storyboarded the episode and didn't direct it, as was the case with Jacky the Bearcub episode 5. Each shot features very precise character actions, and sequences of action play out in a very logical and believable way. Tension builds through long stretches of prowling around the dark streets until it explodes in fast action sequences featuring precisely timed movements by the characters courtesy of Aoki and quick cutting between shots. It goes without saying that if the other episodes were directed in such a masterly fashion, the show would be a classic. We have plenty of realistic slice-of-life shows from Takahata, but it would be nice to have a whole action show like this from Takahata. He shows with this episode that he can do even action better than anyone else.

Ex-Mushi Pro animator Masami Hata at this period was presumably employed at the recently-formed Madhouse, which provided its animators to Tokyo Movie over the course of the 1970s in thanks to Yutaka Fujioka for having provided Dezaki et al. with the seed money needed to found their studio. He was a great storyboarder and produced some of the finest episodes of this period through his storyboards, including the first episode of this show, which no doubt benefits from his instinct for dramatic storytelling. The first episode is definitely the best place to start with this show thanks to its combinatinon of Hata's storyboard and the powerful animation. Part A was done by Studio Junio and part B by Oh Pro, but really their styles don't come through particularly clearly in this episode. The style if well smoothed out over the course of the episode. The characters faces are deeply etched and well drawn, and the gunplay animation is smooth and thrilling. It's a great example of gekiga anime.

The last studio in the rotation is Neo Media, the studio founded in 1969 by Keiichiro Kimura. Kimura had worked under Kusube at Toei, which seems to clearly show the reason Neo Media became a mainstay in Tokyo Movie shows. (That, and there were presumably not that many studios for Tokyo Movie to turn to at that juncture, so they gathered all the forces they could by turning to the ex-Toei buddies known to Kusube.) The drawings and movement in these episodes aren't quite as crazy and rough as you would expect.

Neo Media did two half-episodes and two full episodes in the first half before disappearing and coming back to do an episode near the end and the last episode. Studio head Kimura himself acted as sakkan early on while Yasuhiro Yamaguchi replaced him in the last two Neo Media episodes. Yoshiyuki Momose and his animation partner Masayuki Uchiyama join the team at this point. Momose's style is for the most part not as obvious as it was on Dokonjo Gaeru at the same period, but the very ending of the last episode does have the kind of hustle you would expect to see from Momose. Momose was in the middle of working on Dokonjo Gaeru from Neo Media, so he wasn't used to the style. He relates that he had a hard time re-adjusting to the drawing style of Dokonjo Gaeru after his brief experience on Isamu, which admittedly has the diametric opposite style. Momose did a good job adapting himself to his mentor's drawing style, though, and the Neo Media episodes have that rough and dirty line drawing that you would expect from the man behind Tiger Mask, even moreso than the early episodes by Kimura himself. Incidentally, the name Yoshiyuki Momoyama in the last episode is obviously an amalgam of Yoshiyuki Momose and Masayuki Uchiyama.

One of the main rotation directors is Soji Yoshikawa, who started out as a director at Mushi Pro and then moved to Art Fresh with Gisaburo Sugii & Osamu Dezaki when they founded this studio around 1967. Soji Yoshikawa is perhaps best remembered as the writer/director of the first Lupin III movie about the clones, which to many more hardcore Lupin III fans is the best of the animated statements on Lupin III. Episode 38 is a particularly good example of Soji Yoshikawa's directing in this show, as it features animation by Oh Pro that fills out the nuances in Yoshikawa's storyboard. Yoshikawa soon switched to focusing on writing, and the only other movie he directed was the anime adaptation of White Fang (1982) with designs by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu. One of his more recent big project was Hoshi no Kirby (2001), which was an early integrator of CGI.

Series director Shigetsugu Yoshida began in animation at Toei Doga, where he worked between the years of 1959-1969 before joining A Pro. After working at A Pro in the 1970s presumably most only Tokyo Movie shows, he finally just moved to TMS. He retired from animation sometime after drawing one storyboard for Nippon Animation's Peter Pan in 1989.

Finally, one amusing thing I noticed was that the episode preview at the end of episode 44 includes animation from a completely unrelated episode. In other words, episode 45 is drawn entirely by Studio Junio, but the preview for that episode is mostly animation by Shingo Araki from a completely unrelated episode. I assume this was done by the episode director because the animation for episode 45 wasn't done at the time and he needed to put something together. This certainly gives you a good feeling for how tight the schedule was on these old shows.

Choice episodes

To sum up, here are some choice episodes if you want to sample the show without having to deal with the drudgery of the mediocre-quality episodes.

#1: Great intro to the show with powerful storyboard by Masami Hata and strong gekiga drawings
#15: Exciting showdown action courtesy of Isao Takahata storyboard and Yuzo Aoki animation
#38: Good storyboard by Soji Yoshikawa and animation by Oh Pro


Koya no Shonen Isamu 荒野の少年イサム full episode listing
52 episodes, Tokyo Movie, April 4, 1973 - March 27, 1974

StoryboardDirectorSakkanKey Animators
1波多正美
Masami Hata
御厨恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
香西隆男、村田耕一
Takao Kosai, Koichi Murata
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
2御厨恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
河内日出夫、荒木伸吾
Hideo Kawauchi, Shingo Araki
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
3岡部英二
Eiji Okabe
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
小泉謙三、木村圭市郎
Kenzo Koizumi, Keiichiro Kimura
半田輝夫 Teruo Handa
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
4黒田昌郎
Masao Kuroda
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
村田耕一、香西隆男
Koichi Murata, Takao Kosai
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
5吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
小泉謙三、河内日出夫
Kenzo Koizumi, Hideo Kawauchi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
吉原章雄 Akio Yoshihara
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
6波多正美
Masami Hata
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
木村圭市郎、河内日出夫、荒木伸吾
Keiichiro Kimura, Hideo Kawauchi, Shingo Araki
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
7御厨恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
8今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
9黒田昌郎
Masao Kuroda
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
半田輝夫 Teruo Handa
10吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
河内日出夫
Hideo Kawauchi
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
11みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
木村圭市郎
Keiichiro Kimura
木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
12新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
13今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
14みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
15高畠勲
Isao Takahata
井上 一
Hajime Inoue
河内日出夫
Hideo Kawauchi
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
16新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
17吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
木村圭市郎
Keiichiro Kimura
木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
18高畠勲
Isao Takahata
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
河内日出夫、荒木伸吾
Hideo Kawauchi, Shingo Araki
中村英一 Eiichi Nakamura
青木雄三 Yuzo Aoki
19今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
20吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
21新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
小泉謙三、荒木伸吾
Kenzo Koizumi, Shingo Araki
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
22みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
23吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
木村圭市郎
Keiichiro Kimura
木村圭市郎 Keiichiro Kimura
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
24今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
25新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
小泉謙三、荒木伸吾
Kenzo Koizumi, Shingo Araki
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
26吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
27みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
村田耕一、荒木伸吾
Koichi Murata, Shingo Araki
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
28小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
29今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
30みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
31新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
荒木伸吾
Araki Shingo
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
32吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
33今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
今沢哲男 Tetsuo Imazawa
34新田義方
Yoshikata Arata
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
35みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
36小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
37今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
前田 実 Minoru Maeda
38吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
39中村真
Makoto Nakamura
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
40みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
大関政幸 Masayuki Ohseki
41今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
前田 実 Minoru Maeda
42吉川惣司
Soji Yoshikawa
石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
43みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
44中村真
Makoto Nakamura
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
星野赫子 Akiko Hoshino
大関政幸 Masayuki Ohseki
45今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
香西隆男
Takao Kosai
香西隆男 Takao Kosai
前田 実 Minoru Maeda
46上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
麻岡上夫
Kamio Maoka
村田耕一
Koichi Murata
村田耕一 Koichi Murata
才田俊次 Toshitsugu Saida
47石黒昇石川輝夫
Teruo Ishikawa
山口泰弘
Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
山口泰弘 Yasuhiro Yamaguchi
百瀬義行 Yoshiyuki Momose
内山正幸 Masayuki Uchiyama
48中村 真
Makoto Nakamura
上窪健之
Takeyuki Kamikubo
荒木伸吾
Shingo Araki
荒木伸吾 Shingo Araki
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
49みくりや恭輔
Kyosuke Mikuriya
小泉謙三
Kenzo Koizumi
小泉謙三 Kenzo Koizumi
大関政幸 Masayuki Ohseki
50今沢哲男
Tetsuo Imazawa
上窪健之
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Saturday, September 14, 2013

09:05:00 pm , 1286 words, 10470 views     Categories: OVA, Indie, Movie, Live-action, Short

C (299,792 km/s)

Anime-inspired live-action retro sci-fi space-opera, C (299,792 km/s) is many things. This gorgeous new short film from first-time director Derek Van Gorder seems tailor made for those, like me, who grew up loving a seemingly antithetical blend of elements from hard science to sci-fi adventure to arthouse cinema to Japanese cartoons.

Primarily influenced by the aesthetic of 1980s OVAs and the space operas of Yoshiyuki Tomino, C successfully blends wide-ranging influences from The Man With the Movie Camera to Yo Soy Cuba to Stanley Kubrick into a convincing package that is visually beautiful and thematically satisfying.

Essentially two films in one, C adopts a novel retro-futuristic dual scheme: A Cosmos-inspired science reel that could have come straight from the vaults of your 1970s high school science class provides the underlying thematic motivation for a visually sleek tale about mutiny onboard a military spaceship.

Played with cool aplomb by Caroline Winterson, mysterious mutineer Maleck makes a compelling anti-hero: at first glance a cold, calculating, ruthless ideologue, she in fact is out to save humanity. Her motivation is hinted at briefly at the opening in snippets of overheard news about dire interstellar strife. Rather than an aggressive Hans Gruber out for ideological glory, we instead have a grandmother who seems driven by love and motherly instinct. An Anno-esque historical montage explains how science has been perverted for military means since time immemorial; Maleck seeks to reverse that dynamic by co-opting a tool of destruction to achieve a peaceful end.

The mutiny unfolds in tense and fast-paced intercutting between the various parties that has all the virtues of the hair-raising boarding climax of The Ideon: Be Invoked, Yoshiyuki Tomino's masterpiece, but rendered in glorious glowing neons through a detached, formalistic composition style reminding of Kubrick. Meanwhile, the first shot of the science film by the narrator Newman (Newtype?) seems to evoke the live-action ending of that cataclysmic movie, in which the stardust to which the protagonists were reduced now plant the seed of life in an alien planet's ocean.

The film has a reverential love for the great virtue of science taught by the likes of Carl Sagan: the thirst for ultimate knowledge. This is embodied perhaps by the Kepler probe, referenced in the film, which has so far discovered roughly 100 million habitable planets in our galaxy. Using the fruits of Kepler, Maleck seeks to restore science to its place in the service of ensuring humanity's long-term survival.

What is remarkable is that, somewhat ironically, C's accomplished visuals are entirely analog - no digital effects were used. The spaceship is a model shot in stop motion, and every element from the lighting to the touch panels was produced in-camera, and with very little budget at that. Even the laser flash was produced by a simple trick effectively used in anime since time immemorial: inserting a few frames of a flashlight against a black background.

C has a succinctness that works well by excising all personal elements from the narrative and focusing exclusively on the visuals and tense atmosphere, but it also comes across as a trailer for a larger concept. I hope Derek will have the chance to expand this seed into something bigger.

I had the opportunity to ask Derek by email to tell me more about his influences, and he kindly sent me the following response:


I've got a lot of varied and possibly eccentric influences, from Stanley Kubrick, to Ed Wood, to early Soviet cinema and post-revolutionary Cuban films. But my favorite sci-fi filmmakers are Japanese anime directors Mamoru Oshii, Hideaki Anno, and Yoshiyuki Tomino. 1980s anime in general I find completely fascinating for its imagination and attention to detail.

Tomino's a really interesting director. At first glance it's easy to dismiss his films as routine TV genre pieces, and certainly his storytelling is occasionally muddled and a little strange. But he's a master of ensemble casts and wide-stroke world building, and has a completely unique style that stands out from his contemporaries. There is a matter-of-factness to his work, he rarely lingers on anything unnecessarily, holding your attention with rapid-fire plotting, quick cuts, and (when the budget allows) highly clean & effective shot composition. The Ideon: Be Invoked completely blew me away in this regard. The final Buff Clan boarding attack on the Solo Ship is a beautiful example of cutting between simultaneous action in a multitude of locations, while maintaining a very clear sense of physical space and the sequence of events. I'm sure he achieves this by storyboarding the film himself, and he has the depth of imagination to make even props and costumes relevant to the story and contribute to emotional impact and action scenes. I've never seen so much action packed with so much tragedy and pathos in a film. With a quick cutaway he can make you feel for the fate of a side character that had previously been little more than a background extra.

Mobile Suit Gundam created an entire genre, and with Ideon he foresaw the future of what that genre would become. It's really astounding how influential he was. Unfortunately I think these films might always remain inaccessible to Western audiences, because they happen to be tie-ins with large, complex franchises; that demands a lot of commitment from a foreign viewer. Oshii's Patlabor 2: The Movie is another example of this. I personally think it is one of the most beautifully "shot" films of all time, and possibly the most philosophical political thriller ever. But unfortunately, it's also a sequel... to a movie... based on a miniseries... that's a parody of a subgenre of science-fiction (yikes!). So it will always have a very limited audience. Since C is space opera it has more in common with Tomino's work, but Oshii is really my favorite director of all time. He's totally fearless, he makes philosophical experimental films disguised as narrative movies, and imbues all of his shots with meaning.

In general the Japanese use of cinematic techniques in their animation inspired what I want to try with live-action. Unlike many Western animations, there's often an extreme attention to movement and composition that simply translates into good filmmaking instead of just good cartoon-drawing. In this way it helped me understand films as 2D art. Many audiences and filmmakers confuse a movie screen as being a little window into real life, into 3-dimensional space, and this encourages visual sloppiness. In reality movies are highly constructed, artificial, 2D moving photographs arranged in a sequence. So I want to try and arrange movement that draws the audience's attention to the visual art instead of deflecting it all to the story and characters.

The movie I ended up making has a lot in common with 1980s one-off OVAs; it's a brief snapshot of a story and a world, hastily wrapped up. Part of this is because almost half the movie was cut out, since I wasn't satisfied with how it turned out, but this had the benefit of streamlining the plot in a very Tomino-esque way. For better or for worse it's like a compilation movie of a series that was never filmed. I learned a lot of hard lessons making it; in terms of budget and production it was really still a student film. But I hope people saw what I was trying to do and can appreciate it for what it is.


If you haven't already, go see the short right away and let Derek know if you like what you see. The official web site can be found at http://www.c-themovie.com/ and I highly recommend reading Derek's Director's Statement to hear the director himself eloquently describe his goals, as well as this interview that goes into detail about the technical aspects of the film.

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