Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Thursday, June 7, 2012

01:49:00 am , 1886 words, 4435 views     Categories: Animation, Anime R

Anime games

I don't play games anymore, but I'm interested in the dynamic between animation and games. Games owe a lot to animation. Yoichi Kotabe brought Mario alive. Animated openings to games remain common, and many narrative-style games incorporate cut-scene animation (Popolocrois IMO being the crowning example), but most interesting to me are games where the actual game play consists of hand-drawn animation. LD games were the first of this kind.

After the release of Don Bluth's groundbreaking Dragon's Lair laserdisc arcade game in 1983, there was a brief fad for this new format up until about 1985, when it fizzled out due presumably to the limitations of the gameplay. Between 1983 and 1985, several Japanese games were made in the same mold as Dragon's Lair using LD technology. Although obviously none of them were anything near the level of the amazing animation in Bluth's game, some of them had impressive animation.

Initially, in 1983, the releases were hacked together from previously extisting movies: Cliffhanger from bits of Cagliostro (and also Yuzo Aoki's car chase scene from Mamo) and Bega's Battle from Harmageddon (Yamato and Galaxy Express 999 also later got this treatment), but in 1984 they started putting out original titles. Some of these like Ninja Hayate and Badlands had bad animation and generally sloppy production of the kind you'd expect from a cheap knockoff made as a quick cash-in, but Cobra Command, Road Blaster and Time Gal had impressive animation.

Time Gal (1985, Taito/Junio, Arcade LD Game)
Director:今沢哲男Tetsuo Imazawa
Character Designer:我妻宏Hiroshi Wagatsuma
Animation Director:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
Animators:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
井上俊之Toshiyuki Inoue
うつのみやさとるSatoru Utsunomiya
...?...

Full Game Play: Past - Present - Future

Time Gal is my favorite of the Japanese LD games. It features a girl travelling around different eras of history, riding on the wings of Zero fighters, fighting pirates, dodging asteroids and aliens and dinosaurs and giant robots. Stylistically it's closest of the Japanese laserdisc games to the Don Bluth originals. It's a lighthearted romp starring a spunky heroine running around evading various colorful enemies, whereas the other games tend to be dry affairs without humor or personality, with you just driving or flying around shooting things. The creators admit to deliberately modeling Time Gal after Space Ace.

Time Gal also has some of the best animation of any of the Japanese LD games. The animation comes courtesy of none other than the selfsame Kazuaki Mouri I just talked about, who was the animation director. In addition, the animators include no less than Toshiyuki Inoue and Satoru Utsunomiya. The animation appears to have been produced by Studio Junio (The Fox of Chironup, Hermes, Wings of Love), although they are not credited, because the director and animation director are Junio people, and of course Toshiyuki Inoue was at Junio at the time. As it happens, so was Utsunomiya. He had apparently just joined Junio because he admired Inoue's animation on Gu-Gu Ganmo and wanted to work near Inoue. These two had an interesting rivalry going at the time. Inoue had similarly become aware of Utsunomiya at the same time. He had wondered who the amazing animator was behind the good genga he'd seen turned in on Around the World in 80 Days, whose chief animation director was Junio founder Takao Kosai, and later discovered it to be Utsunomiya.

The game has 16 stages, five each of which take place in the past, the present and the future. Satoru Utsunomiya's section is Stage 4 with the mammoth, while Toshiyuki Inoue animated Stage 7 with the god of death, as well as possibly Stage 13 with the giant robot in the tunnel and Stage 16 with the last boss.

I particularly like Inoue's stage with the giant zombie skeleton swinging a scythe. The forms are beautiful and the timing feels incredible, and the whole thing takes place in the middle of this slow animated panning effect, as if it wasn't challenging enough to just draw the action by itself and he wanted to pose himself the further challenge of maintaining proper proportion and perspective in motion. It's a great snapshot of just how amazing an animator Toshiyuki Inoue already was at this early stage in his career. (he had just debuted a year before)

Satoru Utsunomiya's brief but intense segment with the mammoth is quite an eye-opener and reveals a side of him that we're not used to seeing anymore. This was before he developed the distinctive solid style for which he's become known. At this stage he was still drawing very wild and free animation full of comically exaggerated effects and timing.

I suspect Kazuaki Mouri may have animated some of the other sections, but I don't know for sure. The very first stage with the dinosaurs, for example, has some very nice movement that was perhaps of Mouri's hand.

Cobra Command (1984, Data East/Toei, Arcade LD Game)
Director:高山秀樹Hideki Takayama
松浦錠平Johei Matsuura
Animation Director:亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
Assistant Animation Director:今隅眞一Shinichi Imakuma
Animators:亀垣一Hajime Kamegaki
白土武Takeshi Shirato
白浦烈Baik Nam Yeul
佐々木正光Masamitsu Sasaki
大島城次Joji Ohshima
八島義孝Yoshitaka Yajima
本橋秀之Hideyuki Motohashi
青鉢芳信Yoshinobu Aohachi
Road Blaster (1985, Data East/Toei, Arcade LD Game)
Director:高山秀樹Hideki Takayama
Chief Key Animator:稲野義信Yoshinobu Inano
Background Design:Yoshiyuki Yamamoto
Animators:白浦烈Baik Nam Yeul
今隅眞一Shinichi Imakuma
的場茂夫Shigeo Matoba
金大中Kim Dae Jung
Kaoru Shinbo

Full Game Play: Cobra Command - Road Blaster

These two titles were produced by Data East, who farmed the animation out to Toei. Toei had actually prior to this been put in charge of the animation of Ninja Hayate, but they had really botched that one. These two are in a different league. Both are challenging and fast-paced games packed with nonstop action. The animation also doesn't stop in either one. There isn't a still moment - every moment is animated, because the motion of the vehicles is all depicted by hand-drawn animation.

It would have been inconceivable to animate a conventional anime production the way these are. Storyboarding long shots that go on for upwards of a minute and consist entirely of nonstop animated backgrounds would have been a sure ticket to being fired. These games were in a unique position of being able to be lavished with an unprecedented density of animation for a Japanese production. There were occasional moments in TV productions where a wild animator like Masahito Yamashita would create a crazy sequence of background animation, but these games pushed background animation to a whole new level.

The person behind the quality of Cobra Command was Hajime Kamegaki, the Kanada-school animator who together with Hideyuki Motohashi (here also present as an animator) did so much good work on TV shows in the 1980s from their legendary Studio Z5.

The person behind the quality of Road Blaster was Yoshinobu Inano, one of the greatest animators nobody has ever heard of. He was one of the most talented animators at Toei in the late 1970s/early 1980. He pioneered a unique kind of quasi-realistic animation that went on to influence many later great animators including Mitsuo Iso. You can see his style most clearly in the opening of the game where the punks wreak havoc in the city, sending bystanders running.

Captain Power: Battle Training (1988, 3 VHS tapes, AIC)
Animation Directors:大平晋也Shinya Ohira
矢野淳Atsushi Yano
Key Animators:Vol. 1
西井正典Masanori Nishii
伊藤浩二Koji Ito
田野雅祥Masayoshi Tano
生亀信幸Nobuyuki Namakame
山中英治Eiji Yamanaka
Vol. 2 & 3
逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
糸島雅彦Masahiko Itojima
濱川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
貴志芙美子Fumiko Kishi
太田雅三Yuzo Ohta
伊良原正也Masaya Irahara
山中英治Eiji Yamanaka

By 1988 when the three VHS tapes of this game were released, LD anime games were dead. This game is basically just straight animation without any branching or death scenes. You were supposed to aim your toy gun at the screen and a sensor in the gun would detect when you had properly targeted the flashing missiles on the screen and eject the pilot from your toy if you had not.

Captain Power: Battle Training picks up where the latter two titles left off: it's one long, extended, nonstop torrent of background animation and explosions. I'd go so far as to say it's the crowning achievement in background/effects animation in anime. Where the previous two titles were actually pretty iffy in a lot of the background animation, almost all of the BG animation here is impressive, and much of it is downright stunning. I already wrote about this a long time ago, so I won't re-hash my gushing, but I really love this thing. It's my bible of anime FX animation.

Shinya Ohira is of course the big name behind the incredible beauty and power of the animation here, but the fact is that he was backed up by some of the best mecha and effects animators of the day. Most significantly, Anime R was behind the animation of parts 2 and 3. Hiroshi Osaka, Fumiko Kishi, Masahiko Itojima, Hiroyuki Okiura, Toru Yoshida, Kazuaki Mouri - all the best Anime R animators worked on parts two and three. That makes this another great introduction to the style of Anime R at their peak after U-GAIM (and SPT Layzner if you have a little more time to spare), although in this one it can be a little difficult to distinguish between the Anime R bits and the Ohira bits.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, the entirety of Captain Power: Battle Training can be viewed online.

Yarudora series (1998-2000, 6 volumes, Production I.G, PS & PS2)

Vol. 1: Double Cast (1998, PS)
Vol. 2: Kisetsu wo Dakishimete (1998, PS)
Vol. 3: Sampaguita (1998, PS)
Vol. 4: Yukiwari no Hana (1998, PS)
Vol. 5: Scandal (2000, PS2)
Vol. 6: Blood: The Last Vampire (2000, PS2)

Many years after the LD game boom, Production I.G. picked up the torch of animated games with their Yarudora series from 1998-2000, plugging animation into the popular formula of anime-styled but illustration-based sim games. Rather than a reflex-based adventure game where you were dodging foes like in the early days, this time you were guiding your character through a complicated story. You made choices at key junctures, which led to different possible outcomes: anime via Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. The stories were alternately psychological and violent. The last two volumes Scandal and Blood were action outings as opposed to the more psychological preceding quartet.

The highlight of the series is Yukiwari no Hana, which looked very different from all of the other volumes due to the beautiful Jin-Roh-esque pared-down realistic character designs and dark-hued visual concept of Masatsugu Arakawa. I'd still like to see more anime that look like this.

The last outing in the Yarudora series was a game tie-in with Hiroyuki Kitakubo's Blood: The Last Vampire movie. In a curious coincidence, it happened to be Shinya Ohira's comeback to animation after several years of absence. He animated the scene here and his style is unmistakable. The animation is reminiscent of Hamaji, which was the last thing he had done before leaving the industry a few years earlier. Anime games have marked two significant points in Ohira's career - the peak of his FX period and the start of his current character-as-FX period.

Bringing things full-circle, Ohira was even behind the next step in the evolution of animated gaming: He directed a playable animated stage of the recent Asura's Wrath game that is not only a monumental new piece of animation in its own right (a worthy companion piece to Wanwa), but that also pushes the neglected genre of traditional animated gaming forward into the new millennium, with its more involved gameplay and the fact that it is an online download. The short seems to hark back to the LD games of yore, since it involves an extended sequence of fast action requiring quick reflexes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

10:20:00 pm , 1140 words, 3723 views     Categories: Animation, Pilot, Anime R

Pony Metal U-GAIM

Pilots are among my favorite form in anime. From the Lupin pilot to Tomonaga's Nemo pilot, many pilots are amazing creations that have become classic shorts in their own right. They capture the full energy of the staff in the early stages of enthusiasm for a production before they hit the brick wall of deadline and production-floor reality that often makes the actual production pale in comparison.

Pilots for productions that eventually got made usually see the light of day, like Masaaki Yuasa's Nanchatte Vampiyan pilot, which is a classic instance of the pilot being better than the actual production turned out to be.

Pilots for productions that fizzled, though, often never do, or are taking eternally long to do so - as is the case for Mahiro Maeda's R20 Galactic Airport pilot and Umanosuke Iida's Spirit pilot. There's every possibility the reason they remain unreleased is because they're not impressive, but the inability to see them makes you curious. Many items that remained hidden for years turned out to be amazing when re-discovered.

I just discovered another pilot for a production that never got the green light that is a shining example of the pilot form: Pony Metal U-GAIM. Watch it here.

The 3-minute pilot was produced in 1986. It's not difficult to see why this pilot didn't get produced. It's actually difficult to believe that a show with this premise was seriously being pitched. It almost seems like they just did it as a parody for fun.

The story is apparently a crossover between Heavy Metal L-Gaim and Creamy Mami. The heroine of magical girl show Creamy Mami, Yuu Morisawa, was killed in a car accident, and like Tetsuwan Atom, she is brought back to life by her genius scientist father in the form of a super-powerful crime-fighting robot.

What makes this pilot great is that it's 100% Anime R, and was produced by Anime R at the height of its powers, so it's packed full of Anime R goodness. Anime R's work is mostly buried in Sunrise robot shows from the 80s that don't get much play from fans anymore, so they've never received their due respect over here (though the same could be said for many great subcontractors of yore). This pilot offers a dense summation of what made Anime R great, so it's the perfect introduction to this studio.

The actual animation only lasts for 1 1/2 minutes, but it's all very densely packed and lovingly produced. All of the big names at Anime R at the time were involved, including Kazuaki Mouri, Hiroyuki Okiura, Toru Yoshida and Hiroshi Osaka. Oddly enough, Hiroyuki Kitakubo even helped a bit with the animation. This was just a year before Kitakubo turned to Okiura and Anime R to do the heavy animation lifting on his Black Magic M-66. Mouri had previously helped on Kitakubo's Pop Chaser under a pseudonym.

Everything that made R great is packed in here: quasi-realistic and lovingly animated mecha, missiles and explosions, insanely detailed shrapnel, and crazy-ass idiosyncratic character animation, all of which is unified by its consummate craftsmanship.

The most obvious section is Hiroyuki Okiura's section. This was only his second year as a key animator, but it didn't take long for his animation to stand out. Right from the beginning in SPT Layzner in 1985 his animation stood out for its more realistic style and the incredible density of his drawings and animation. You can see that clearly in the scene here where the robot erupts up from the pavement, with the fluid movement, very detailed depiction of the cement cracking into little bits, and the more realistic style of the animation as opposed to the more playful and deformed style of other parts of the pilot. Compare it with the two shots Okiura animated for the opening of the Zillion TV series the next year in 1987. He drew those shots smack when he was super-busy working on Black Magic M-66. One of Okiura's identifying traits at this period was that he drew crazy-detailed fragments, and the fragments had this way of just disappearing in mid-air. He presumably learned this from Takashi Nakamura, one of his great influences at the time.

The episode is also filled with nice explosions and other effects work, presumably much of it of the hand of Toru Yoshida, although the effects work does not look like what I've seen of his very early work in Votoms. His effects work appears to have evolved very quickly over the ensuing years.

What I most like about this pilot, though, is that it provides the key to Kazuaki Mouri's style. He was the character designer, animation director and lead animator, so it's really Mouri's baby. Mouri's section is also extremely obvious, but you have to know what you're looking for. I suspect Mouri drew the opening scene with the bystanders, the shot of the father operating his crazy machine, and the shot of the two dudes running. If you look at the bystanders, they are drawn in a very distinctive way that is without any doubt of the same hand as the animator who drew the arcade brawl scene in episode 1 of Sukeban Deka that I wondered about in my post on this 1991 OVA, where Mouri was credited. The style of movement of the father operating the machine also reminds of the style of movement in the Sukeban Deka scene. I'd like to find at least another piece Mouri worked on where this style is evident to feel totally convinced it's him, but it seems fairly likely. The action here also has the speedy feeling of the action in Dragon Slayer, where Mouri was the combat supervisor.

Mouri is something of an opening specialist, having animated quite a few near-single-handedly, including SPT Layzner (1985, with Toru Yoshida), Mister Ajikko (1987, with Masahiro Kase), Samurai Troopers (1988, with Moriyasu Taniguchi) and Carimero (1992), as well as directing the opening of Taa-chan (1993). Mouri left Anime R and joined Group Tac in 1989, which is where he did the latter two items. He is another great Anime R animator deserving of more recognition.

Kazuaki Mouri select works
Ideon (1982)
Tetsujin 28 (1981)
Dougram (1981)
Game Center Arashi (1982)
Sasuga no Sarutobi (1982)
Votoms (1983)
Ranpo (1984)
Bismark (1985)
Pop Chaser OVA (1985)
Karuizawa Syndrome OVA (1985)
Genmu Senki Leda OVA (1985)
Dream Hunger Rem OVAs (1985-1992) CD
Dancougar (1985)
SPT Layzner (1985)
Gu-Gu Ganmo movie (1985)
Pastel Yumi (1986)
Windaria movie (1986)
Zillion (1987)
Black Magic M-66 OVA (1987)
Mister Ajikko (1987) Char des/sakkan chief
Watt Poe OVA (1988)
Cleopatra DC OVA (1988)
Five Star Stories movie (1989)
Moomin Adventure Diary (1991)
Dragon Slayer OVA (1991)
Yadamon (1992)
Moldiver (1992)
Nintama Rantaro (1993)
Biograpy of Gusko Budori movie (1993)
Fatal Fury movie (1994)
Irresponsible Captain Tylor (1994)
Tobe! Isami (1995) Character designer
Voogie's Angel OVA (1997)

Pony Metal U-GAIM (Pilot, 3 mins, 1986, Anime R)

Producer:大町光徳Mitsunori Ohmachi
Created by:Project-U
Char Design & Sakkan:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
Mechanic Design Assist:山下育人Ikuto Yamashita
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
明貴美加Mika Akitaka
今南二Nanji Kon
Art:横瀬直士Naoshi Yokose
Key Animation:毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
柳沢まさひでMasahide Yanagisawa
逢坂浩司Hiroshi Osaka
北久保弘之 (ゲスト)Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Guest)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

10:45:00 pm , 725 words, 3585 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #8

There goes my punctual schedule of blogging this series each week. But I'm not going to give up like I did on Denno Coil. I'm going to catch up. There's not much left to go anyway.

The story this time is about a fortune-teller who supposedly can predict the date of a person's death. There have been a few fortune-teller stories in the old shows, and the main character here is a little reminiscent of Pycal from episode 2 of the first show, the famous foe whose magic powers were the product of technological trickery. The nice thing about this episode is that it's a fairly intriguing story, and it manages to involve Lupin and Jigen in addition to Fujiko. I wouldn't say I exactly loved the episode - it was a little slow and the quality was typically low - but at least it was written in a way that forces you to pay close attention.

The thing I liked about this episode is that Lupin was Lupin-like, with his Monkey Delivery Service rescue of Jigen, disguise, comical cooking scene (his gnocci didn't look very appetizing), and the way he sees right through the fortune-teller's tricks and describes various ways of killing someone on a foretold date. Also, starting with this episode Lupin and Jigen seem to begin to warm to each other and develop into their familiar odd couple relationship.

The story was not bad, but I found the script a little confusing. Even after watching it a second time knowing what was about to happen, I was still lost. There were a lot of oblique references to plot points the audience has no way of knowing as of yet, obviously meant to prompt speculation. It feels like they went a little too far into the ellipsis. The scriptwriter is Junji Nishimura, who has been a director all his career. It seems he started writing scripts in the last few years. It's not a bad script, it's just really challenging to follow, partly because so much of what's mentioned you have no way of knowing.

Beginning with this episode, the show is finally bringing the back-story into focus. Only hints have been dropped here and there so far in the flashbacks about what exactly went on in Fujiko's past, but this episode finally reveals the name of the mysterious owl-man character who seems to have done something unwholesome to Fujiko when she was a little girl, and hints at a complicated web of control and manipulation involving the fortune-teller, Fujiko, Lupin and the owl-man. This Fujiko back-story seems to be the whole point of the show, so it feels weird to me that they only drop hints about it stammeringly for 3/4 of the series rather than diving right into it, and finally begin actual storytelling just a few episodes from the ending.

I like that Fujiko has been decisively given a refreshingly more complex personality. She's not an easy character to read. The problem is I find the directing of her personality a little erratic and inconsistent. I think they need to be prepared to follow things through with elaborate detailing of the intricacies of her thought process if they're going to bother to do a radical overhaul. It feels to me like they're skimping on the difficult character writing pretending that they're just being stylish and subtle about it. If Fujiko is to be perfectly OK with cold-bloodedly shooting the guards in the face when there probably wasn't any need for her to do so, which is obviously pretty shocking, then her personality has to have been elaborated in a way that her doing so makes sense. As it is, that scene just comes out of the blue, and passes without any comment by the directing. Even Jigen says he doesn't want to have to pull the trigger unless absolutely necessary. I got a similar feeling of confusion when Oscar, a police officer, casually menaces to kill one of the other officers in an early episode, and the directing treats this as if that were completely normal and acceptable.

The animation was as weak as usual. Sadly, it's clear that a low level of animation is the norm for this series. They must really have had no schedule for this show. At this rate, we'll be lucky if we get one more really well-animated episode.

Friday, June 1, 2012

12:51:00 am , 6777 words, 8143 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, TV, Anime R, Dove, Toshifumi Takizawa

Votoms

In the shadow of Gundam, one of the most successful and long-lived of Sunrise's real robot shows has been Armored Trooper Votoms. I finally had the opportunity to watch Votoms for the first time just recently, and find it still holds up very well after all these years, especially as a contrast with the overwrought style of Yoshiyuki Tomino. Where Yoshiyuki Tomino's Gundam is filled with flamboyant intergalatic drama and angst and robotic heroics, Ryosuke Takahashi's Votoms is earthy and dark and anti-heroic.

Watching Votoms made me realize what I found tiresome about Sunrise's shows: they're always full of kids, and the drama is hence full of puerile antics and melodrama. Votoms is refreshing because all of its characters are adults, and the drama is for the most part cool and restrained and intimate rather than grandiose and theatrical. It's one of the great classics of hard-boiled realistic sci-fi in anime.

The protagonist of Votoms is a cold-hearted soldier by trade, not a kid forced against his will into battle. Where the kid protagonists of the various Gundam outings are against war initially but eventually seem to succumb to the temptation of glory and become heroes, the protagonist of Votoms, Chirico Cuvie, is an anti-hero from the outset: a stone-faced soldier with blood on his hands who finds himself most alive in the heat of battle. Rather than the violence-glorifying heroic action of a Star Wars, the world of Votoms seems closer to the inglorious mud and blood of a Vietnam war film like Apocalypse Now. Flag is one of the best anime of recent memory, with its realistic style and believable geopolitical drama, and the roots of the war documentary style of Flag go back to Votoms.

What I like about the show is that it's one of the most original amid the huge crowd of 1980s robot shows. The characters are all adults, and are for the most part relatable without behaving in an unduly exaggerated way. The story is a refreshing change from the cliched Sunrise formula. Rather than being a grandiose space opera filled with philosophical banter, the essence of the show is a small-scale story about the dirty everyday life of soldiers. The eternally defiant protagonist embodies a kind of anarchic heroism out to destroy all hegemony. There is a lot of good animation throughout the show's various outings. It's a pleasure to finally be able to discover this gem of a saga.

The story of Votoms is simple in outline: The mercenary Chirico seeks the truth behind why he was betrayed by his comrades, and eventually this transforms into a quest to discover the truth of his own identity. Many people have written about Votoms in more insightful detail about the show's political overtones and story intricacies than I possibly could, so I'll skip over the details of the story focus on what really interests me, and that's the technique.

Initially broadcast as a one-off TV show from 1983 to 1984, Votoms spawned a nearly overwhelming number of sequels, prequels and offshoots of various lengths and styles, making it a daunting show to dig into, since unlike Gundam most of these actually take place on the same continuum and feature the same characters. I didn't know where to start initially, since a number of the followup OVAs take place before the TV series, but I found it best to go in production order to appreciate how the staff's technique and approach to the material evolved over the years.

The style changes dramatically over the years, since the show has been in production almost continually since 1983 right on down to last year with the most recent outing, Alone Again. Initially it was all hand-drawn, but starting with Pailsen Files in 2007 they switched to using CGI for the robots. This post will focus on everything that was done in the hand-drawn period:

- The TV series (1983-1984)
- The three ensuing one-shot OVAs:
      The Last Red Shoulder (1985)
      Big Battle (1986)
      The Roots of Ambition (1988)
- The 5-episode OVA series The Radiant Heresy (1994-1995)

The only thing I haven't watched from this period is Mellowlink, produced 1988-1989, as it's a side-story not involving Chirico. The CG outings starting with Pailsen Files appear to have been produced by the same team that did Flag.

The animation subcontractors behind Votoms

There are two basic stars of the animation of Votoms: Anime R and Studio Dove. Although other subcontractors worked on the show, these were the two studios whose animators provided the most impressive animation in the series.

In the TV series, Anime R is the real star. Studio Dove is present, but they don't start shining until the later OVAs. The Last Red Shoulder featured good animation from Anime R, Studio Dove, Bebow and Magic Bus. Big Battle and The Roots of Ambition were mostly animated by Studio Dove. Mellowlink was animated by Anime R and Studio Dove. The Radiant Heresy from several years later features a completely different animation staff, so its animation looks and feels distinct within the Votoms saga. The next outing came more than a decade later with Pailsen Files, which had CG mecha.

The escalating quality of the mecha animation in Votoms is a beautiful thing to behold. You can see with each passing year the animators becoming stronger at their craft. Anime R shines in the TV series, Studio Dove shines in the last two one-shot OVAs, and Mellowlink was evenly divided between Anime R and Studio Dove. I have yet to see Mellowlink, but I assume it is the culmination of these respective studios' work on the show.

I've written about Anime R many times in the past (Black Magic M-66, Dragon Slayer, Sukeban Deka), and their work on Votoms is one of their defining moments. It was their work on robot shows like Votoms and then Bismark and SPT Layzner that propelled Osaka-based Anime R to fame as one of the best mecha animation subcontractors in Japan, and THE best animation subcontractor outside of the Tokyo region.

Anime R was one of big supports of Ryosuke Takahashi's Sunrise robot shows. They were involved right from the start with his first 'real robot' show Dougram (1981-1983). They worked on his Votoms (1983-1984), Galient (1984-1985) and SPT Layzner (1985-1986). Incidentally, it was after having proven their mettle on all these Ryosuke Takahashi robot shows that Anime R was called in to work on Black Magic M-66 in 1987.

Founded near the end of the 1970s by Moriyasu Taniguchi 谷口守泰 and Harumi Muranaka 村中博美, the studio initially featured talented animators like Kazuaki Mouri 毛利和昭 and Fumiko Kishi 貴志夫美子 on shows like Ideon and Dougram. It was right around the time of Votoms that many of the names that went on to propel Anime R to fame joined the studio: Hiroyuki Okiura 沖浦啓之, Kazuchika Kise 黄瀬和哉, Hiroshi Osaka 逢坂浩司, Toru Yoshida 吉田徹 and Masahiko Itojima 糸島雅彦. Their work was so impressive that many of these animators left Osaka for Tokyo because they were in such demand. Although Anime R is in the distant past for them, without Anime R we might not have gotten some of our best animators.

The Votoms TV series (1983-1984)

The defining characteristic of the show is of course the unusual mecha. Rather than one-shots like a Gundam, the scope dog in Votoms is a mass-production model. So although some might be customized with different weapons, they're all essentially just mass-production bipedal armed military vehicles. Hence they don't have the heroic nuance of a Gundam. The unique scope design is also quite interesting and refreshing, as I always found robots with faces ludicrous.

This doesn't change the fundamental fact that this show was a commercial to sell robot toys, but at least the robots were a refreshing change from the typical humanoid robots. The various details of the mecha such as the pivoting action and camera lens-inspired eyepiece were clever and made the mecha feel like a military weapon where each part had a practical use, rather than a hero robot whose parts were just there to look cool. The scary-looking infrared goggles the pilots have to wear also added to the impression of utilitarian accuracy in the paraphernalia, not to mention creating a sort of emotional distance appropriate to the more emotionally stark atmosphere.

The irony is that the toys saved the show. Ratings were low, but strong toy sales saved the show from being canceled. I would have thought they wouldn't have sold because they're not the kind of cool toys I wanted as a kid - I loved transforming toys like the Autobots and Transformers.

The TV series is roughly divided into three arcs: episodes 1-13, 14-26, and 28-52. Each arc has a different tone and setting. The first is a Blade Runner-esque story set in a future overrun by motorcycle punks, the second is a Vietnam war movie-style story, and the third is in more of a conventional Sunrise space opera style reminiscent of Ideon.

My favorite by far is the second arc, the Vietnam arc, and that's where I feel the show shows its true potential and intent. I feel like this is what Ryosuke Takahashi really wanted to do with this material. I wish the entire series had been like this arc. The other arcs we've seen done to death in other shows, but there's nothing quite like the Vietnam arc of Votoms in any other anime. Rather than a space opera or post-apocalyptic action movie, it's a realistic and gritty war movie.

Episode 16 I think is the exemplary episode in the Vietnam arc. It tells a story similar to what we've seen in Vietnam war movies like Apocalypse Now, and focuses on the whole guerrilla war aspect in a way that none of the other episodes do sufficiently. The team is going upriver when they run across a small village and decide to investigate. The complexity and pathos of the situation comes through well in this episode, with the locals being brutally threatened with execution by the military outsiders because they're suspected of hiding guerrillas. Episode 21 touches on this again with an incident where they investigate a temple and find it to be an arms stockade. It's in the moments inspired by reality like this that the conflict at issue in this arc comes alive the best.

When I feel the show works its best is when the side-characters are absent and we're focused on Chirico and his army platoon. There are three side-characters who show up on and off throughout the show. I never got used to them and continued to find them immensely distracting and annoying. It's the moments in the show that they were absent, particularly during the Vietnam arc, that I liked the show the best. These characters felt like a mindless concession to the convention of comic relief, when this show didn't need any such thing.

The first arc is my least favorite because the post-apocalyptic situation is cliched and the side-characters are particularly annoying. The last arc building towards the climax starts out somewhat boring, but gets interesting eventually despite feeling like it cops out on being a hard-boiled military series in favor of becoming a grand space opera with supernatural overtones.

The sub-plot involving romantic interest Fiana didn't wreck the atmosphere as I thought it would. I thought their relationship worked rather well, especially in episode 29 where it's just Chirico and Fiana. They made an odd but interesting couple, drawn to one another for a reason that is never entirely made clear, and both equally emotionally distant.

The mecha star of Votoms TV: Toru Yoshida

Toru Yoshida was a mecha/fx animator in episodes 14, 22, 29, 33, 39, 46, and 52

With remarkable consistency, he was responsible for the most exciting mecha animation scenes in the show. Almost every episode that I had singled out as having particularly impressive animation I later discovered to have been of the hand of Toru Yoshida. The reason it wasn't immediately obvious to me was that he is not credited in many of the episodes he worked on.

Toru Yoshida had just begun as an inbetweener at Anime R in 1983 working under Kazuaki Mouri on the gag show Sasuga no Sarutobi. Anime R at the time was divided into two sections: one working on Sarutobi and another working on Votoms. Yoshida wound up being called over to work on the Votoms section because Yoshida had drawn some mecha in Sarutobi and Moriyasu Taniguchi suspected Yoshida might be of more use on Votoms.

Although he is credited as an inbetweener for a few episodes, and receives his first genga credit in episodes 33, 39, 46 and 52, Yoshida in fact drew key animation in several episodes prior to this. He drew uncredited key animation in episodes 14, 22 and 29. I had noted the effects animation in these episodes but couldn't for the life of me figure out who was responsible for it. Later on, I discovered that Yoshida confessed on his personal web site to having drawn key animation uncredited on these episodes, and it dawned on me that it was Yoshida who had drawn virtually all of the parts in the show that struck me as being particularly well animated.

Yoshida started out distinctly a Kanada-school animator in terms of his style of FX, presumably influenced by his mentor Kazuaki Mouri, but quickly developed his own very unique take on FX animation that would go on to influence the likes of Shinya Ohira. He is one of the great FX animators of anime history, one of the pioneers of a quasi-realistic approach to FX leavened by thrilling Kanada-style timing and forms.

Episode 14 features some of the earliest good mecha action work on the show, with an exciting scene in the forest at the end full of zippy movement and lively FX. This was Toru Yoshida's uncredited genga debut. Episode 22 features a great battle scene in the river at the climax. Episode 29 has some nicely drawn mecha in space at the end of the episode, though there isn't much action. The first half of episode 33 features the beautiful smoke FX that Yoshida was so good at. Episode 39 features a good battle in the second half with lots of angular effects and lush smoke. Episode 46 is the climax of the show's animation: it's the biggest bash of good animation in the show. If you only check out one episode for the animation, it's this one. It's packed head to toe with great mecha and fx shots.

Just about the only episode with good animation that I can't attribute to Toru Yoshida is episode 27, the climax of the Vietnam arc. It has a number of very cool shots of flowing smoke as well as nice mecha action. Although Bebow is not credited, this was clearly a Bebow episode going by the staff involved, none of whom was involved in any other episode.

In an interesting side-note, Toru Yoshida was apparently one of the inbetweeners of Daicon IV. Yoshida isn't part of the proto-Gainax group, so I didn't see how he could have gotten involved, but it makes a bit more sense knowing that Daicon IV was made as the opening film of the Japan Science Fiction Convention, which was held in Osaka that year.

The character animation star of Votoms TV: Moriyasu Taniguchi



Taniguchi's Chirico versus the standard Shioyama Chirico

Anime R founder Moriyasu Taniguchi acted as the sakkan on all of the Anime R episodes: 2, 9, 14, 22, 29, 33, 39, 46, and 52.

The remarkable thing is how much Taniguchi's drawings stand out. His episodes are one of the classic examples of how a good sakkan can elevate the quality of an episode. His drawings look very different from the original designs by series designer Norio Shioyama, but the funny thing is, they look better. Taniguchi actually upstaged the character designer. His drawings have a much more sharp and refined look in terms of the facial features, and he even invests his character animation with more subtelty and nuance than the other episodes. The characters look and behave in a more convincing way in Taniguchi's episodes than in any of the others. In many of the other episodes, the characters are quite badly drawn, and their acting and expressions don't match what is happening in the script. It's only under Taniguchi's hand that the characters come alive and become more expressive in a way appropriate to the given situation.

Episode 29 is one of the best episodes in the show, with some of the best Taniguchi drawings in the show. It's a superb episode all-over, probably my favorite in the show due to fantastically moody directing by Masashi Ikeda 池田成 that gives the episode real atmosphere and tension. I wish more of the episodes in the show had felt like this episode. I like that the episode features only the two protagonists. There are no other characters to ruin the atmosphere with hijinx or other distractions. On top of that, there are some Toru Yoshida mecha drawings at the end. Masashi Ikeda went on to become the director of the smash hit Samurai Troopers (again with character designer Norio Shioyama) as well as the latest entry in the Votoms saga from last year, Alone Again.

I sense the influence of Tomonori Kogawa in Taniguchi's drawings in such things as the way the eyes are drawn, and in the way he draws the face when looking up at an angle, something Tomonori Kogawa pioneered in Ideon. His drawings just feel better stylized than Norio Shioyama's. Evidence to how highly Ryosuke Takahashi thought of Taniguchi's work is the fact that Taniguchi sakkan'd the last episode, rather than the character designer, as is normal. The series closes with Taniguchi's radical interpretation of the characters, rather than the original character designer's own drawings. Ryosuke Takahashi wound up coming back to Taniguchi and appointing him character designer a few years later for one of his other triumphs, SPT Layzner, in which Anime R provided a tremendous amount of good animation (alongside Dove). Perhaps in honor of Norio Shioyama's generosity with Taniguchi's liberties on Votoms, Taniguchi apparently refused to act as chief animation director on the show to respect the individuality of the individual sakkans.

The directing star of Votoms TV: Toshifumi Takizawa

In addition to being the "chief episode director", Toshifumi Takizawa 滝沢敏文 drew the storyboard for no less than 13 episodes: 4, 6, 9, 13, 18, 27, 30, 33, 35, 38, 45, 51, and 52.

I wrote about Takizawa extensively before in my posts on Dirty Pair and Crusher Joe. I love his directing style, and Votoms is one of his biggest projects from his Sunrise period.

His work on the TV series comes between his early work on Ideon and his work on Dirty Pair. I'm not sure exactly what the nature of his work consisted in this show, but I presume it to have been something along the line of 'director of the episode directors'; maintaining a consistent tone to the episodes by guiding the episode directors. In the episodes he storyboarded you can clearly see his distinct approach to directing at work even though he did not do the actual processing of any of his episodes. The episodes are full of the focus on visual storytelling and forward momentum that made the last Ideon movie so powerful, not to mention the Dirty Pair and Crusher Joe OVAs.

Takizawa drew the storyboards for the climax of the three arcs of the TV series: 13, 27 and 51. Each of these is a great example of his directing style at its finest. He brings each arc to a conclusion in magnificent form with extended action sequences that unfold largely through visual storytelling without relying excessively on dialogue. Episodes 27 and 51 are particularly impressive in this regard.

Votoms OVA 1: The Last Red Shoulder (1985)

The first of the many OVAs to be released came out just a year after the TV series ended. Chronologically, it takes place between the end of the first arc (the Blade Runner-style Udo arc) and the beginning of the second arc (the Vietnam-style Kumen arc).

Story-wise, this is one of my favorite Votoms outings because it doesn't feature any of the annoying side-characters, and it's exclusively about Chirico and his soldier comrades on a mission. This is the episode where they introduce the character of Pailsen, who played a big role in Chirico's past. He just recently got an extensive prequel OVA series with 12 episodes in Pailsen Files, which chronologically is the earliest outing in the saga. It's all quite confusing to try to organize. Here in The Last Red Shoulder, Chirico and his former war buddies go after Pailsen to kill him for using and then discarding them when they were no longer needed.

This episode features some good action animation in the climax, which is presumably of the hand of Toru Yoshida, who here receives his sole Mecha Animation Director credit in the series. (if you don't count Mellowlink) The animation only credits Anime R as a studio without crediting any of the specific animators. Similarly, the credits list Studio Dove, Bebow and Magic Bus without listing who from these studios was involved. Studio Dove was involved in the TV series and went on to do the animation for the next two OVAs, and its star mecha animators were Hiroshi Koizumi 古泉浩司 and Hitoshi Waratani 藁谷均, so perhaps they were the ones involved here. Perhaps the Bebow animators were those in episode 27.

Unfortunately, the episode was not directed by Toshifumi Takizawa because he was busy directing Dirty Pair, but he would come back with the next OVA. It's not as exciting as the Takizawa-directed episodes, but still quite enjoyable.

The assistant technical director here was Takashi Imanishi 今西隆志, who started out as runner on Votoms. He switched career to directing with this episode, going on to become the technical director of Roots of Ambition, episode storyboarder/director of Mellowlink and finally full-fledged director of Radiant Heresy.

Votoms OVA 2: Big Battle (1986)

In the next OVA outing, Chirico and his sidekicks fight a maniac driving a gigantic tank. Chronologically, this episode depicts the events that transpired between the climax of the third arc of the TV series (the space opera-ish Quent arc) and the cold sleep depicted in the last episode as having taken place a year after the events of the TV series climax.

Takizawa comes back as the storyboarder and director of this episode, so this is probably the most thoroughly Takizawa outing in the whole Votoms saga. The directing is indeed fantastic. The scene where a minute goes by wordlessly as water floods in and the characters hold on for dear life is full of amazing tension, and I love the attention to little details such as where Chirico has to crawl backwards on his back with his shoulder when he's pinned to the floor, or Fiana's aghast reaction when her hand quickly jerks under the control of the machine. Takizawa also meticulously depicts how the time bomb is armed: twist two knobs, press them down, then press a button on the side. The climactic episode of the TV series was also a meticulously detailed depiction of Chirico going around pushing in rods to shut down a massive computer. I also like how when the bad guy gets shot in the head, his cyborg implant deflects the bullet and you can see the metal peeking through his skull.

The animation is really strong throughout, and this time it's not Anime R who's to thank, it's Studio Dove. This perhaps makes sense because Takizawa had since formed a close relationship with Studio Dove during the course of his work on Dirty Pair. Indeed, they provide excellent work here in no way inferior to Anime R. Norio Shioyama's drawings here are also far better than they ever were, and the characters look fantastic as a result, almost reminiscent of the style of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, with great feature definition and more nuanced character acting. It feels like we're finally seeing Norio Shioyama's characters brought alive in a way that does them justice, as opposed to being re-invented through the lens of Moriyasu Taniguchi.

The scene where the protagonists drive up to the big tank are particularly impressive for the amount of detail packed into the shots and the precision with which effects are layered on top of one another. The scene feels very dense visually, with every little element being controlled carefully. It makes for an exciting scene that vividly conveys the speed at which things are happening.

The only problem with this otherwise excellent and supremely entertaining OVA is that it doesn't really feel like what I want to see from Votoms. It's too fun for that. I expect dark, bleak soldier action from Votoms, not the madcap action we're regaled with in this episode. The episode essentially feels more like a Crusher Joe episode than anything. That's not a bad thing per se; it's just different. This is essentially an entertainment side-story rather than a beefy story contributing to chronicling Chirico's past like the previous and next OVAs.

Votoms OVA 3: Roots of Ambition (1988)

The third of the one-shot OVAs following the TV series is chronologically the earliest in the saga. This is the starting point of the whole story. Here we find out how Chirico came to have a vendetta for Pailsen.

This is by far my favorite single outing in the Votoms saga. This OVA pins you to your seat, as well as digging into the nitty gritty of Chirico's sordid past. None of the previous Votoms are quite this bleak and intense. It delivers exactly the kind of story I want to see from Votoms: a hard-boiled story about Chirico and other soldiers told through tight dramaturgy and fierce mecha battles, without silly antics. Hard-boiled indeed, this is by far the bloodiest Votoms outing. Blood and death are depicted here more bluntly than ever before.

The quality is also the best of any of the Votoms OVAs. The animation this time is entirely done by Studio Dove, and this OVA singlehandedly proves that they are one of the criminally underappreciated subcontracting studios of the 1980s. With a mere five animators, they manage to provide a level of quality that is nothing short of stunning. The mecha and effects animation is far more intricate and nuanced than anything before. This is clearly the culmination of Dove's work on Sunrise mecha shows. The mecha animation here would have been the work of Hiroshi Waratani and Koji Takahashi, while in the previous OVA it would have been the work of Hiroshi Waratani and Koizumi Hiroshi. The other Dove animators listed would have done the characters.

By 1988, mecha animation was becoming more and more realistic. It was only a year later in 1989 that Mitsuo Iso drew his groundbreaking realistic animation for the opening scene of War in the Pocket. The speed of the evolution of mecha animation in the 1980s was remarkable. Just a few years earlier this level of detail would have been inconceivable.

Helping to give this amazing animation its impact is the fact that the episode was storyboarded by Toshifumi Takizawa. His storyboard creates a perfect balance between the drama and the episode's thrillingly choreographed action sequences. Takizawa didn't direct the episode; that was done by Takashi Imanishi, whom I mentioned before. This was one of his first steps towards the director's chair. Together they make this episode into a magnificently crafted piece of entertainment.

Votoms OVA series: The Radiant Heresy (1994-1995)

After The Roots of Ambition, the last Votoms outing the Dove and R team worked on would be Mellowlink, but I haven't seen that, so I'll leave that for another time. Several years later, this new 5-episode OVA series came out. This time the staff was pretty much completely different except for the leads of director Ryosuke Takahashi and character designer Norio Shioyama, so this outing feels quite different from everything that came before. There is a lot more connection with the present in terms of the staff. People like Jiro Kanai, Norio Matsumoto, Yutaka Nakamura, Yasushi Muraki, Akitoshi Yokoyama, Masami Goto, Isamu Imakake, Toshihiro Kawamoto and Akihiko Yamashita are all still very active in this or that production today.

Toru Yoshida is another element of continuity. He is the mecha animation director again. A few other Anime R names are scattered throughout the credits, including Takahiro Komori and Fumiko Kishi, while one or two Dove names are also to be seen, but for the most part it's new faces.

As the preceding list indicates, the genga staff is pretty impressive, although the animation isn't the extravaganza this would seem to suggest. The animation is rather strong at some fundamental level even when the animation isn't particularly impressive. I think that's due to one of the most surprising names in the credits: Hisashi Nakayama. None other than Hisashi Mori. He was involved in each episode doing key animation and/or layout assistance. I suspect it's his hand in maintaining the quality of the layouts that gives much of the animation its vague feeling of fundamental strength.

I'm not able to identify his animation with complete certainty this early on, but the scenes with Loccina in episode 3, for example, jumped out at me the first time I saw them, and feel like they might be of his hand. They're my favorite scenes in this series. There's a strange dynamism and roughness to the animation that doesn't look like any other scene in this OVA series. It was great seeing this character brought back from the TV series, as he's one of my favorite characters, and interesting to see him come back in the form of a half-crazed monastic scholar of all things Chirico. The gritty drawings in the scene combine with the gravelly, possessed voice-acting of Banjo Ginga to great effect. Of course, this doesn't jibe with the fact that Mori started out as a mecha animator, so maybe he just handled the mecha scenes. Some of the effects in the first half of episode 2, for example, feel like Mori, as do the gorgeous explosion and flame effects near the end of episode 1.

The character drawings of Chirico and Fiana here are a little disappointing. It feels like after the peak of Big Battle Norio Shioyama never quite managed to draw the characters as impressively again. They feel somewhat bland and expressionless. Some of the side-characters like Loccina are a notable exception.

The battle at the beginning of episode 5 has a really nice timing to it, though I can't pinpoint who it might be. Masami Goto maybe? It's the same with the other episodes. There are nice bits here and there, though it's hard to say which animator in the above list did them as this is still pretty early in most of their careers.

The mecha animation overall doesn't feel like it tops what was achieved by Studio Dove in The Roots of Ambition, even though there are moments were the mecha animation clearly shows a new and more modern take on FX and movement compared to the animation in that 1988 OVA. The animation of the Dove animators and Toru Yoshida just felt good to watch in a way that most of the mecha animation here doesn't, and it was done by way fewer animators.

The story of the episode is fairly interesting. Taking place many years after the events of the TV series, it places Chirico in a world in which he has come to be viewed with something approaching religious fear. The story makes some smart commentary on the political use of religion, a subject Ryosuke Takahashi came back to in Flag, but the directing is somewhat lacking in dynamism and it makes me long for the days of Toshifumi Takizawa's directing. Takashi Imanishi's directing isn't bad per se, it's just a little plodding. Even in the action scenes there's never a feeling of real tension.

The episode does benefit from impressive attention to detail in the spirit of the Sunrise productions of this era, with highly detailed backgrounds and stills of the mecha being packed with far more detail than pre-1990 mecha were.

The story ends on a real downer, I must say, and I wish they hadn't done what they do at the end.

In memoriam Hiroshi Koizumi

I'd like to take a moment to remember Hiroshi Koizumi. He will not be familiar to anyone over here because he died suddenly in 1988 not long after working on Big Battle. He was killed in a freak car accident when a truck rear-ended him while he was stopped at a red light on his motorbike on his way home from work.

Hiroshi Koizumi was one of Studio Dove's great animators, and certainly one of the best mecha animators of the 1980s in Japan. However, due to the fact that he worked at a small subcontractor and died so early into a short career (he only debuted in 1983), even in Japan among animation aficionados he is not very well known, to say nothing of over here.

Koizumi was responsible for drawing no less than 10% of the animation of that classic of mecha space operas, Char's Counterattack. That is an astounding amount of animation by any standard, especially by the standards of such a high-quality film. Apparently much of the climax of the film in this video is his work, including the magnificent hand-to-hand mecha combat at the beginning. He drew many shots in the first half of Five Star Stories, another movie from this era with impressive mecha animation. As the best animator in the studio, he was the only Studio Dove animator working on these two prestigious feature films. His last job was as mecha animation director of episodes 2 and 4 of Mellowlink, although he is not credited as such and only Studio Dove is credited as the mecha animation director for some reason. He was scheduled to be the mecha animation director for each Dove episode.

Here are some links to a few genga drawings by Koizumi that never got used. They were uploaded by Nobuyoshi Nishimura of Studio Dove.
Anna from Layzner
Kei from the Dirty Pair TV series
Doodles on a genga for Ninja Senshi Tobikage

Hiroshi Koizumi works:
Dougram (1981-1983)
Votoms (1983-1984) 8, 12, 18, 20, 23, 28, 31, 35, 41, 45, 49, 51
Dorvack (1983) 31
Vifam (1983) 30
Bismark (1984) 4, 26, 33, 37, 43, 47
El Gaim (1984) 22
Galvion (1984) 14, 21
Galient (1984) 5, 10, 14, 18, 21, 24
Tobikage (1985) 2
Z Gundam (1985) 8, 13, 17
SPT Layzner (1985) 2, 5, 10, 13, 18, 22, 27, 31, 35
Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder (1985)
Dirty Pair TV (1985) 8, 9, 25, 26
ZZ Gundam (1986)
Galient OVA (1986)
Votoms: Big Battle (1986)
El Gaim OVA (1986)
Dead Heat (1986)
Dragnar (1987)
Dirty Pair movie (1987)
City Hunter (1987) 7, 8, 16, 12, 19, 22
Kimagure Orange Road (1987) 5
Mister Ajikko (1988) 33
Gundam: Char's Counterattack (1988)
Mellowlink (1988) Mecha Sakkan 2, 4
Five Star Stories (1988)

I hope this can help in small part to get him some recognition, even if it's a little late after all this time.


Armored Trooper Votoms 装甲騎兵ボトムズ (TV series, 52 eps, 1983-1984)

StoryboardDirectorSakkanKey Animators
1終戦 War's end清水恵蔵 Keizo Shimizu
川筋 豊 Yutaka Kawasuji
牟田清司 Seiji Muta
京 春香
Kyo Haruka
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
清水恵蔵、塩山紀生
Keizo Shimizu, Norio Shioyama
2ウド Udo上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
松野達也
Tatsuya Matsuno
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
3出会い Encounter森 安夫 Yasuo Mori
山中英治 Eiji Yamanaka
奥田万里 Mari Okuda
松野達也
Tatsuya Matsuno
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
4バトリング Battling布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
神宮 慧
Hajime Jingu
5罠 Trap加藤 茂 Shigeru Kato
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
木のプロダクション Kino Production
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
上村栄司
Eiji Kamimura
6素体 Protid中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
西城 明
Akira Saijo
7襲撃 Raid谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
新田敏夫 Toshio Arata
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
谷沢 豊、新田敏夫
Yutaka Tanisawa, Toshio Arata
8取引 Transaction青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
9救出 Rescue上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
10レッド・ショルダー Red Shoulder多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
金子紀男 Norio Kaneko
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
鈴木英二、塩山紀生
Eiji Suzuki, Norio Shioyama
11逆襲 Counterattack中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
吉田 浩
Hiroshi Yoshida
桐野克己
Katsumi Kirino
西城 明
Akira Saijo
12絆 Bonds布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
吉田 浩
Hiroshi Yoshida
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
神宮 慧
Hajime Jingu
13脱出 Escape青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
二宮常雄 Tsuneo Futamiya
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二、塩山紀生
Eiji Suzuki, Norio Shioyama
14アッセンブルEX-10 Assemble EX-10上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
松野達也
Tatsuya Matsuno
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
15疑惑 Doubt中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
吉田 浩
Hiroshi Yoshida
桐野克己
Katsumi Kirino
西城 明
Akira Saijo
16掃討 Search and destroy谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
新田敏夫 Toshio Arata
金子紀男 Norio Kaneko
笹木寿子 Masako Sasaki
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
17再会 Reunion多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
高橋資祐
Motosuke Takahashi
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
神宮 慧
Hajime Jingu
18急変 Turn of events八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
上村栄司、塩山紀生
Eiji Kamimura, Norio Shioyama
19思惑 Anticipation中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
康村正一
Seiichi Yasumura
西城 明
Akira Saijo
20フィアナ Fiana中村プロ Nakamura Pro
アニメ・アール Anime R
マジックバス Magic Bus
加藤 茂 Shigeru Kato
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
-高橋良輔
Ryosuke Takahashi
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
21遡行 Upstream青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
加藤 茂 Shigeru Kato
笹木寿子 Masako Sasaki
山崎享子 Ryoko Yamazaki
清島孝一郎 Koichiro Kiyoshima
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二、塩山紀生
Eiji Suzuki, Norio Shioyama
22触発 Contact上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
桐野克己
Katsumi Kirino
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
23錯綜 Complication八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
神宮 慧
Hajime Jingu
24横断 Crossing中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
富沢雄三
Tomizawa Yuzo
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
西城 明
Akira Saijo
25潜入 Infiltration谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
金子紀男 Norio Kaneko
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
上村栄司
Eiji Kamimura
26肉迫 Closing in八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
福井享子 Ryoko Fukui
清島孝一郎 Koichiro Kiyoshima
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
27暗転 Turn for the worse寺東克己 Katsumi Terahigashi
所 智一 Tomokazu Tokoro
矢木正之 Masayuki Yaki
遠藤栄一 Eiichi Endo
坂本英明 Hideaki Sakamoto
詫 祐二 Yuji Tsuge
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
28運命 Destiny青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
二宮常雄 Tsuneo Futamiya
マジックバス Magic Bus
アニメ・アール Anime R
中村プロ Nakamura Pro
-高橋良輔
Ryosuke Takahashi
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
29二人 Two上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
30幻影 Illusion中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
西城 明
Akira Saijo
31不可侵宙域 Forbidden zone布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
スタジオダブ Studio Dove
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
32イプシロン Ipsilon青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
清島孝一郎 Koichiro Kiyoshima
福井享子 Ryoko Fukui
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
上村栄司、塩山紀生
Eiji Kamimura, Norio Shioyama
33対決 Showdown上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
吉田 徹 Toru Yoshida
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
34惑星サンサ Planet Sansa中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
西城 明
Akira Saijo
35死線 Near death藁谷 均 Hitoshi Waratani
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
36恩讐 Love and hate神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
高橋資祐
Motosuke Takahashi
康村正一
Seiichi Yasumura
上村栄司、塩山紀生
Eiji Kamimura, Norio Shioyama
37虜 Captive多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
38暗闇 Darkness中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西城 明 Akira Saijo
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
西城 明
Akira Saijo
39パーフェクト・ソルジャー Perfect Soldier上井康宣 Yasunobu Inoue
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
河村佳江 Yoshie Kawamura
加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
吉田 徹 Toru Yoshida
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
40仲間 Friendアニメ・アール Anime R
中村プロ Nakamura Pro
オールプロダクション All Production
-高橋良輔
Ryosuke Takahashi
塩山紀生
Norio Shioyama
41クエント Quentスタジオダブ Studio Dove
藁谷 均 Hitoshi Waratani
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
八幡 正 Tadashi Yahata
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
八幡 正、塩山紀生
Tadashi Yahata, Norio Shioyama
42砂漠 Desert布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
福井享子 Ryoko Fukui
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
43遺産 Legacy青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
木下ゆうき Yuuki Kishita
清島孝一郎 Koichiro Kiyoshima
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
44禁断 Forbidden中村プロ Nakamura Pro
西沢 晋 Shin Nishizawa
奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
松下佳弘 Yoshihiro Matsushita
和泉絹子 Masako Izumi
時矢義則 Yoshinori Tokiya
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
西城 明
Akira Saijo
45遭遇 Encounterスタジオダブ Studio Dove
藁谷 均 Hitoshi Waratani
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
きのプロ Kino Pro
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
46予感 Intuition加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
吉田 徹 Toru Yoshida
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
糸島雅彦 Masahiko Itojima
池田 成
Masashi Ikeda
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi
47異変 Fortuity布 告文 Tsugefumi Nuno
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
加藤誠一 Seiichi Kato
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
津田義三
Yoshimitsu Tsuda
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
48後継者 Successor奥野浩行 Hiroyuki Okuno
柳沢哲也 Tetsuya Yanagisawa
石田 誠 Makoto Ishida
知吹愛弓
Tomobuki Ayumi
西城 明
Akira Saijo
49異能者 They of special powersスタジオダブ Studio Dove
藁谷 均 Hitoshi Waratani
古泉浩司 Hiroshi Koizumi
溝井裕二 Yuji Mizoi
多賀一弘 Kazuhiro Taga
康村正一
Seiichi Yasumura
八幡 正
Tadashi Yahata
50乱雲 Thunderhead波戸根良昭 Yoshiaki Hatone
松原徳弘 Norihiro Matsuhara
塚本 篤 Atsushi Tsukamoto
佐々木喜子 Yoshiko Sasaki
貴島優子 Yuko Takashima
河口俊夫 Toshio Kawaguchi
香川 浩 Hiroshi Kagawa
谷田部勝義
Katsuyoshi Yatabe
鈴木英二、塩山紀生
Eiji Suzuki, Norio Shioyama
51修羅 Battle青鉢芳信 Yoshinobu Aohachi
神宮 慧 Kei Jingu
上村栄司 Eiji Uemura
谷沢 豊 Yutaka Tanisawa
スタジオダブ Studio Dove
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
川端蓮司
Renji Kawabata
鈴木英二
Eiji Suzuki
52流星 Shooting star加瀬政広 Masahiro Kase
吉田 徹 Toru Yoshida
貴志夫美子 Fumiko Kishi
糸島雅彦 Masahiko Itojima
滝沢敏文
Toshifumi Takizawa
加瀬充子
Nobuko Kase
谷口守泰
Moriyasu Taniguchi

The Last Red Shoulder ザ・ラストレッドショルダー (OVA, 54 mins, 1985)

Created by & Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Character Design & Anim. Dir.:塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
Mechanical Animation Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Script:はままさのりMasanori Hama
Storyboard:加瀬充子
谷田部勝義
Nobuko Kase
Masayoshi Yatabe
Technical Director:加瀬充子Nobuko Kase
Assistant Technical Director:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Key Animation:アニメアールAnime R
スタジオダブStudio Dove
スタジオビーボオ―Studio Bebow
マジックバスMagic Bus
福井享子Ryoko Fukui
清島孝一郎Koichiro Kiyoshima

Big Battle ビッグバトル (OVA, 56 mins, 1986)

Created by & Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Character Design & Anim. Dir.:塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
Script:はままさのりMasanori Hama
Storyboard & Technical Director:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
Key Animation: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
古泉浩司Hiroshi Koizumi
 
服部真奈美Manami Hattori
福井享子 Ryoko Fukui
加藤義貴Yoshitaka Kato

Red Soldier Document: The Roots of Ambition レッドショルダードキュメント 野望のルーツ (OVA, 57 mins, 1988)

Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Character Design & Anim. Dir.:塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
Script:吉川惣司Soji Yoshikawa
Storyboard:滝沢敏文Toshifumi Takizawa
Technical Director:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Key Animation:スタジオダブStudio Dove
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
佐久間信一Shinichi Sakuma
高橋幸治Koji Takahashi
藁谷均Hitoshi Waratani
西村誠芳Nobuyoshi Nishimura

The Radiant Heresy 赫奕たる異端 (OVA, 5 eps, 25 mins each, 1994-1995)

Created by & Chief Director:高橋良輔Ryosuke Takahashi
Director & Storyboard:今西隆志Takashi Imanishi
Episode Directors:原田奈奈
中野頼道
大熊朝秀
Nana Harada
Yorimichi Nakano
Nobuhide Ookuma (Takashi Imanishi)
Character Design & Anim. Dir.:塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
Assistant A.D.:横山彰利
(+小林利充
Akitoshi Yokoyama
Toshimitsu Kobayashi in ep 2)
Script:吉川惣司Soji Yoshikawa
Mechanical Animation Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
Music:乾裕樹Hiroki Inui
 
Key animation:(Episode 1)
阿部邦博Kunihiro Abe
村木靖Yasushi Muraki
小森高博Takahiro Komori
舛館俊秀Toshihide Masudate
松本憲生Norio Matsumoto
松本文雄Fumio Matsumoto
加藤茂Shigeru Kato
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
中山久司Hisashi Nakayama
馬場俊子Toshiko Baba
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi
スタジオダブStudio Dove
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
 
A.D. help:小林利充 Toshimitsu Kobayashi
 
Layout Assistant: 中山久司 Hisashi Nakayama
 
(Episode 2)
アニメロマンAnime Roman
スタジオダブStudio Dove
安藤美行Miyuki Ando
金井次郎Jiro Kanai
尾形雄二Yuji Ogata
加藤茂Shigeru Kato
[Chinese names]
横山彰利Akitoshi Yokoyama
中山久司Hisashi Nakayama
 
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
 
Layout Assistant: 中山久司 Hisashi Nakayama
 
(Episode 3)
飯野泰造Taizo Iino
服部真奈美Manami Hattori
加藤茂Shigeru Kato
金井次郎Jiro Kanai
佐藤修Osamu Sato
永田正美Masami Nagata
[Chinese names]
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
小林利充Toshimitsu Kobayashi
中山久司Hisashi Nakayama
中村豊Yutaka Nakamura
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
京都アニ
メーション
Kyoto Animation
 
(Episode 4)
服部真奈美Manami Hattori
門上洋子Yoko Kadogami
馬場俊子Toshiko Baba
鵜飼美樹Miki Ukai
岡田和久Kazuhisa Okada
江原仁Jin Ehara
川元利浩Toshihiro Kawamoto
入江泰浩Yasuhiro Irie
中田雅夫Masao Nakata
加藤義貴Yoshitaka Kato
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
横山彰利Akitoshi Yokoyama
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
小林利充Toshimitsu Kobayashi
 
Layout Assistant: 中山久司 Hisashi Nakayama
 
(Episode 5)
門上洋子Yoko Kadogami
馬場俊子Toshiko Baba
中野美佐緒Misao Nakano
久行宏和Hirokazu Hisayuki
金田正彦Masahiko Kanada
服部真奈美Manami Hattori
加藤義貴Yoshitaka Kato
後藤雅己Masami Goto
山下明彦Akihiko Yamashita
牧野行洋Yukihiro Makino
小森高博Takahiro Komori
西村貴世Takase Nishimura
塩山紀生Norio Shioyama
横山彰利Akitoshi Yokoyama
吉田徹Toru Yoshida
中山久司Hisashi Nakayama
鈴木勉Tsutomu Suzuki
今掛勇Isamu Imakake
[Chinese names]
アニメアールAnime R
スタジオダブStudio Dove

Friday, May 18, 2012

11:49:00 pm , 880 words, 7730 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #7

Despite mediocre animation and barely functional directing, this was a good episode due to the clever script by Dai Sato. I'd even go so far as to say this is the best episode yet due to the script. I was wondering what had happened with the previous Dai Sato episode, which was a boring trifle, but the man shows that he is still a master with this episode.

Lupin III was a product of the cold war, with its James Bond-inspired sexy spy action and intrigue, and this episode tells an alternative version of one of the pivotal events of the cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, complete with Kennedy, Castro and Khruschev lookalikes in analogous roles.

The episode is true to the spirit of the old Lupin III while being smarter and packing much more of a sting. With the old shows I often felt like they were never quite reaching the full potential of the material. When not about bank heists, the stories were often inspired by the real-life geopolitics, but more often than not the satire was blunted in favor of coy and facile slapstick. The writing was never smart or edgy enough.

Dai Sato here writes exactly the kind of story I wished I could have seen in the old shows. I wonder if he might not have been inspired by the recent spate of revolutionary biographical films like The Motorcycle Diaries and Carlos. Without glorifying the revolutionary, he casts a somewhat cynical eye on all the parties. He has the Castro stand-in drop a reference to a Japanese revolutionary who was his inspiration, presumably in reference to the late 19th century revolutionary and leader of the Shinsengumi Toshizo Hijikata, so that Japan winds up retroactively laying claim to the revolution. Classic subversive Dai Sato. Don't forget that Japan had its own red revolutionaries in the 60s with the Asama Sanso Jiken. Too bad he was unable to work in some reference to that.

The story is a bit needlessly convoluted, with several confusing time shifts to explain how Fujiko and Goemon got involved, but the story is full of smart touches and keeps you on the edge of your seat with its recreation of the tension of the Cuban missile crisis.

The revolutionary figure at the head of the story at one point is greeted by a chanting crowd, prompting Fujiko to call him a "rock star", which feels like a commentary on how pop culture today has turned onetime revolutionaries like Che Guevara into nothing more than empty icons on t-shirts. Fujiko asks him what his real motivation is - world revolution or merely the thrill of causing chaos - and his ambiguous answer that he just wants to keep dancing is satisfying for having a human ring rather than sounding like pat propaganda.

Fujiko comments on the hidden motivations of geopolitics of the cold war and beyond in the more cynical and informed voice of a denizen of the post-2000 era when she remarks that the reason for all the interest in the revolution on a puny Caribbean country isn't ideology but rumored oil reserves. The comment clearly is meant to evoke Iraq and inspire a healthy skeptical view of history.

Fujiko plays a fascinating combination of roles here, a regular Cassandra representing in a single individual the conflicting hidden currents of the powers at work behind the scenes. Journalist covering the Cuban revolution on the surface, she was in fact hired to assassinate the pseudo Castro, as we know the US attempted to do, while underneath she has her own motivations that remain tantalizingly murky to the end. This may very well be one of Fujiko's best roles ever.

The only disappointment is that none of the other cast members except Goemon play a role, and Goemon's role is a bit thin and underdeveloped. He seems to have been cast only so that he could serve in the climax. The absence of Lupin and Jigen seems to confirm this - they weren't needed for this story. The climax is admittedly quite brilliant in true Sato Dai fashion. It's the craziest and most fitting thing imaginable for a samurai cutting the missiles in half to solve something as insane as the Cuban missile crisis.

The drawings were weak. There isn't much good to be said about the animation. At some points the drawings were downright bad. Castro's hand was bigger than his head in one of the early shots, and in several other places the animators were clearly having difficulty rendering the character designs. That would have been less of an issue had the sakkans had more schedule to correct the drawings. Koike may draw cool characters, but clearly drawing cool characters is different from good character design, if the object of character design is to facilitate drawing by the range of drawing skill levels likely to be encountered by a given production.

At the very end Fujiko yet again bares her inhumanly firm tits for seemingly no reason whatsoever, which seems symptomatic of why the nudity bothers me - not because I don't like nudity as much as the next guy, but because it just doesn't make any sense and seems thrown in for no reason but to meet some kind of tit quota per episode.

Friday, May 11, 2012

08:50:00 pm , 1808 words, 8400 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Hermes, Wings of Love

"Let's create a new history of the Gods."

So ends this re-imagineering of the myths of ancient Greece through the all-seeing eyes of Ryuho Okawa, the "founder and spiritual leader" of Happy Science, a "new global spiritual movement" with "over 12 million followers in 70 plus countries" (according to Happy Science Atlanta).

And so this lavish, two-hour animated feature does. Based on a book by the great leader, it remixes the ancient Greek gods into a wildly imaginative, largely incoherent, entirely anachronistic mish-mash of Christian, Muslim, Confucian and Buddhist spiritual teachings.

This is by far the most beautifully animated piece of religious propaganda I've seen. The good animation comes courtesy of Ajia-Do animator Yoshiaki Yanagida and his team of animators. The ancient trappings are re-created in surprisingly authentic detail. The film feels only a step down from Run Melos as a realistic animated re-creation of ancient Greece.

Unless you knew otherwise, the film actually doesn't come across as blatantly pushing a religious agenda. Watching the film without any knowledge of the subtext, it would probably just come across as a pleasing historical epic interrupted occasionally by some baffling spiritual interludes.

Even during these sequences when the film switches to outlining the belief system of the Happies, it's all so incoherent and outlandish that it's hard to make sense of it. I actually came away from the film wishing the belief system had been laid out more clearly. It probably can't be expressed convincingly because it's inherently loony.

The scenes of the spiritual world are beautifully rendered and pleasing to watch, with vivid coloring, atmospheric lighting, and highly worked animation. The scene where El Cantare appears in the clouds has some impressively animated clouds, and when Hermes visits heaven later in the film, he flies through canyons in laboriously animated background animation. The animators clearly reveled in the opportunity of this big-budget production to draw a more 'cinematic' style of animation than they are usually able.

It's fairly easy to watch the film with the aim of appreciating the nice animation while ignoring the religious subtext. It's basically set up as a piece of grand entertainment, with a hidden message, rather than flat-out preaching. The film suffers less from the lunacy of later films in the Happy Science saga. It has no demon Hitler or re-incarnation of Edison, and no anime Shoko Asahara raining terror on Tokyo. Just ancient Greeks, over which some fairly transparent Christian and Buddhist themes are overlaid.

That's the clever and insidious thing about the movie: it's eminently watchable. Like L. Ron Hubbard's pulpy Battlefield Earth books, this film brings people into a religious mythology through entertainment. The film was released in the theater like any normal film. Happy Science is known for using the big marketing company Dentsu, so these films are obviously the product of a highly sophisticated marketing strategy.

Repugnant but beautiful, Hermes entrances you with its high production quality and leaves you shaking your head at its lunacy. It's essentially two films mashed into one. One film is a nice animated swords and sandals epic, and the other is a ludicrous new age freak-out. One moment we're watching a fairly engaging story about a hero fighting against a mad tyrant in ancient Greece, and the next minute we're flying in the spiritual realm being regaled matter-of-factly with snippets of spiritual wisdom such as: Fish in heaven glow a golden color because they're happy to return to heaven. The color and shape of each flower is determined by its governing spirit fairy.

The story

The Hermes in this film is not the herald of the gods in ancient Greek mythology; he's a regular human. He's a Christ-like messianic figure who grows up to lead the people of the Aegean to freedom from under the tyrannical rule of Cretan King Minos and to pass on his divine revelations. Along the way, Minos's daughter Ariadne helps him defeat the Minotaur in the labyrinth using the legendary Ariadne's thread, so some aspects of the story are more faithful to the Greek myths.

Similarly, Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty, is re-imagined as a princess locked in a tower on the isolated island of Delos whom Hermes rescues and marries, as foretold by prophecy. With a little help from Okawa's Supreme Being El Cantare, who appears in a cloud to bestow a magic scepter, the godly King and Queen lead their people to prosperity.

The whole point of this story is that, in Okawa's world, Okawa and his wife are the re-incarnation of Hermes and Aphrodite. The tactic is as old as the Kojiki of ancient Japan: establish a heavenly mandate by crafting a godly lineage and disseminating it as dogma. It's astounding that it's still possible to use the same centuries-old tactics in the 21st century.

It's not clear to me exactly how much of the outlandish story in this film is meant to be taken at face value, but it's known that Ryuho Okawa professes that he is literally the re-incarnation of Buddha, and he has heard the voice of Kim Jong-Il and Jesus, among other feats, so presumably we are meant to believe that he and his wife are the re-incarnation of Hermes and Aphrodite.

According to this film, it's thanks to El Cantare's intervention that the people of the Aegean learned commerce. All the basic social and technological advances were god-given. Basically every aspect of human progress can be traced back to the good will of El Cantare, who wants us to be happy. It must require special effort to ignore several millenia of human scientific and social progress.

The film is presented as fiction ("It's time to create a new mythology"), but in the implicit understanding that you're supposed to believe it as factual truth. There is a deliberate ambiguity as to how much of this one is expected to accept as truth. Happy Science obviously thrives in this ambiguous zone between fantasy and reality.

The film has an extended sequence that depicts heaven, and much of it looks suspiciously like earth. The retort offered is: that's because earth is just a reflection of heaven. The irony is apparently lost on them that heaven is being represented by animated drawings, each of which was invented and drawn according to the whim of a human being.

The Happy Science saga

Okawa is aptly named. He is the Disney not of the East but of religious propaganda cartoons. Since releasing Hermes, Wings of Love in 1997, he has released a new lavish full-length adaptation of one of his many books every three years, and each one is as impressively produced as this film.

Hermes, Wings of Love ヘルメス 愛は風の如く (1997) (watch from part 1)
The Laws of the Sun 太陽の法 エル・カンターレへの道 (2000) (watch from part 1)
The Golden Laws 黄金の法 エル・カンターレの歴史観 (2003) (watch from part 1)
The Laws of Eternity 永遠の法 エル・カンターレの世界観 (2006) (watch from part 1)
The Rebirth of Buddha 仏陀再誕 (2009) (watch from part 1)

Hermes was produced by Studio Junio, while the rest of the films were produced by Group Tac. They were actually the last films the studio produced apart from A Stormy Night. From what little I've seen skimming through the films, they're each visually quite impressive, with beautiful compositions and coloring that makes sense coming from Group Tac, but the style doesn't have the sort of realistic-school feeling of Hermes, and the stories are far more crazy.

The animators

Like The Fox of Chironup, Hermes was produced by Studio Junio, directed by Tetsuo Imazawa, and features a sequence of sea animation from Toshiyuki Inoue (misspelled in the credits) that is worth looking at as a nice piece of Toshiyuki Inoue animation even if you don't watch the film. The overhead shot of the waves in particular is amazing. The acting on the ship in this scene stands out starkly from the animation in the rest of the show, clearly because it was so good as handed in that it didn't need correction and hence you can see Inoue's touch quite clearly in things like the acting and the folds of the clothing.

Yoshiaki Yanagida's characters are beefy and three-dimensional in a way that reminds of Okiura's characters in Run Melos, if slightly less expressive in terms of facial expression and stiffer in terms of physical dexterity. The layouts are realistic if stolid and somewhat monotone, and the animation often seems to be struggling with the realistic angles. It gives you a newfound appreciation for how much Satoshi Kon's meticulous layouts contributed to the realism of Run Melos. Yanagida is a lifelong Ajia-Do animator who has been behind some richly animated shows in the past including Spirit of Wonder (1992), Ruin Explorers (1995) and The House of Acorns (1997). More recently, he was behind the OVAs Kujibiki Unbalance (2004) and Genshiken (2006).

There are numerous other good animators besides Inoue, which accounts for the high quality: Yoshiyuki Hane, Shinya Takahashi, Masami Suda (all Toei), Shigeo Akabori (Studio Junio), Takayuki Goto (I.G. co-founder), Yumi Chiba (4C), Tetsuro Kaku (Shin-Ei), Michiyo Suzuki (Madhouse), Atsuo Tobe (Sunrise). Masami Suda was one of the great Toei animators of the 1980s, and he went on to be one of the main figures behind the animation of the rest of the Happy Science films. Yoshiyuki Hane is a great veteran animator who is still very active. He did a lot of work on the classic Takahata TV shows. He single-handedly animated the beautiful opening of Nils Holgerson.

I suspect that the animators chose to work on this film in an attempt to try their hand at the sort of realistic-school animation that had been created prior in films like Run Melos and Junkers Come Here. The style of the film seems to fall deliberately into that tradition. The later films in the series have nothing whatsoever of this character.

All of the subsequent films were directed by Takaaki Ishiyama and produced by Group Tac, with Yoshiyuki Hane and Masami Suda as character designers/sakkans. Isamu Imakake and Koichi Ohata also contribute designs in each film. Shoichi Masuo is even one of the animators.

The director at the very least is a professed Happy, involved in the films as a believer (just look how happy he looks in this interview), but I'm inclined to believe (hope) that most of the people worked on this film not as believers but because work is work, and there aren't many opportunities to revel in big-budget-style animation.

I assume that Group Tac took on these projects in desperation, in a doomed last effort to stave off insolvency. It's a sad thing when great studios are so starved for work that they are forced to turn to producing this kind of material - AND it still doesn't save them from going bankrupt.

Here is a good post on The Rebirth of Buddha that gives you more of a sense of the lunacy of the rest of the Happy Science saga after Hermes and the cultural context.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

09:57:00 pm , 837 words, 3931 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #6


Don't watch this episode with grandma.

Episode 5 was an anomaly in this show - a straightforward but cleverly written caper unfolding through dynamic action, in the spirit of the old Lupin III. That's not what this show is really about. Episode 6 is what this show is really about. To my eyes, this episode is the most dense expression yet of the show's purpose.

It's doing the show a disservice to simply view it as a prequel. It's something different from that. It seems to me a deeply revisionist outing that aims to undermine the male-centric sensibility of the old franchise.

The name of the show was the first provocation. For the 40th anniversary of Lupin III, they scored the sly coup of dethroning the protagonist right in his glory moment in the guise of a side-story about one of the sub-characters, in the process reversing the dynamics of the old show and making the erstwhile protagonists an afterthought, as Fujiko was often treated.

Fujiko, despite being depicted as a cunning foe in the old show, was basically the product of a male gaze in terms of her visual rendering and sexual meaning. The remarkable thing about the new show is that, despite Fujiko being naked much of the time, she isn't erotic. I'm almost reminded of the anti-eroticism of the nude scene in Godard's Contempt. The nudity doesn't come across as titillating. Fujiko seems to feel contempt for anyone who would lust after her. Despite the prevalence of mammaries, the show will be of little 'practical use' to fans of Seikon no Quaser. The nude drawings are pleasing for not being fan-servicey in the traditional sense, not the lust-filled products of male fantasy. The drawings (and spirit of the show) remind me of Kazuko Nakamura's curvy, feminime, de-eroticized Cleopatra.

They have chutzpah, and I have to hand it to them for that, at least. It almost seems to be missing the point to complain that the characters are too different, there isn't enough action, the animation isn't good enough, though I can't deny that those are the first things that spring to my mind while watching this show, since it's the early Lupin III that made me a fan of this show, and this is essentially a different beast altogether. It seems like a different audience.

As for this episode, it's basically Lupin III via Brother, Dear Brother, with its bizarre girls' school in which apparently every girl has a lesbian crush on their teacher - which in turn reminded me why I couldn't get past episode 1 of that show. Instead of a male fantasy, now it's a female fantasy, and I'm not sure it's much of an improvement. I just didn't find the episode particularly interesting or entertaining. All of the characters were ridiculous to me, especially Oscar (a nod to Rose of Versailles?).

The episode was written by Mari Okada and storyboarded/directed by Shoko Nakamura, so it's a thoroughly female gaze episode. You know it's girly when they call in Tadashi Hiramatsu, who presumably did the scene near the end that refreshingly had some sprightly drawings/movement for once.

We've been seeing flashbacks to Fujiko's childhood for a while now, usually drawn in a bizarro byzantine style, and there was a particularly bizarro one this time around, with Fujiko eating mice while owl men experiment on her, interspersed with borderline illegibly florid Gothic type-on-steroids doggerel and avant garde background noise. The flashbacks seem to be building towards a revelation of some new sexual, druggy, disturbing vision of Fujiko's childhood.

There was a curious moment where they reference the famous line near the end of Cagliostro where Zenigata says to Clarissa that Lupin has stolen the worst thing of all... your heart. The suggestion is treated as nothing so much as a joke. Aside from being a playful reference to one of the movies that established the franchise, it seems to poke fun at the naive romanticism of Miyazaki's Lupin to underline how much more rooted in frank sexuality and psychology this series is.

They gleefully revel in the prurient stuff in this episode, with Fujiko deep-tonguing schoolgirls and being doused with wine while strapped naked to a bench, which bothered me less than the pretentiousness and literary affectations of the script. Kemonozume had a much more sexually frank shower love scene that I found quite beautiful, so the sexual material is not what bothers me. If anything, what bothers me is that all of the characters seem sadistic for no good reason, and the script is weirdly eager to devise cruel turns of phrase, i.e. calling Fujiko a "spitpot". A spitpot? Huh? The writing is way overbaked. Belladonna is one of my favorite films, and Borowczyk one of my favorite directors. I wanted to see more adult material in Lupin III, so I find it ironic that I'm disappointed by what I'm seeing. I also found the episode needlessly confusing in terms of the directing. Confusing directing isn't artistic, it's just confusing.

At least the squirrels were funny.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

07:28:00 pm , 1985 words, 3409 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Anime R

Black Magic M-66

One of the classics of the golden age of OVAs is Black Magic M-66 from 1987. It was one of my favorites back when I was getting into anime, with its violent, exciting action and hard-boiled, no-nonsense story. It was a superb high-quality one-off - exactly what I wanted to see in an anime OVA - although in the end it felt a little slight and undeveloped.

I just re-watched it for the first time in many years, and the quality was far better than I'd remembered, probably because I didn't have the ability to appreciate good animation back then. The animation has impressive tension and energy.

As a film it's a bit problematic. It seems like it would make a strong film in theory, and it maintains interest at every moment due to the cinematic pacing and high-quality animation, but something about it feels off overall. But in the end it's a nice OVA with some uniquely detailed directing and animation, and is well worth re-visiting.

The film was co-directed by the author of the original manga, Shirow Masamune, and Hiroyuki Kitakubo. Shirow Masamune drew the storyboard himself, so this is probably the highest-grade Shirow Masamune anime. Later films like Ghost in the Shell bear the heavy imprint of their director.

I'm not sure exactly how the work was divided between the two directors apart from this, but perhaps Kitakubo was something of a line director on the project, Shirow Masamune providing the skeleton and details and Kitakubo putting them together, i.e. handling the technical matters of anime production about which the manga creator would have been ignorant. From Blood: The Last Vampire to Rojin Z, Kitakubo is unsurpassed at making highly dense short entertainment packages, and this film is no exception.

This was Shirow Masamune's first time ever drawing a storyboard, so he used the recently published storyboard for Miyazaki's Nausicaa as a reference on how to draw the storyboard. This certainly accounts for the film's unique feeling. His storyboard is extremely detailed, like his manga (see some examples here), so very little in the final product was left up to chance. No person acquainted with anime production would have storyboarded the film in the way he did; they would certainly have taken an easier way out, according to what they understood by experience could be achieved within the given deadline. The film apparently wound up many months over schedule, presumably due to the demands of the storyboard, resulting in its release being delayed by almost a year. The Gundress debacle is testament to how much of a generous concession this was on the part of the production company. But Masamune Shirow's direct input was simultaneously the film's liability and its greatest asset, because he brought an outsider's approach untainted by conventional anime thinking to the task of presenting the story.

But what was bad for the production company is good for us, as in the end it's because they were able to lavish such detail on the animation that the film still holds up after all these years. This unusually long production period resulted in a tight film in which each shot is highly worked, there is no wasted moment, and the action and effects animation is truly impressive. At around 45 minutes, it has the pacing and atmosphere of a film, but the length of a slightly longer-than-usual direct-to-video release. In that respect it's reminiscent of Hiroyuki Kitakubo's later Blood: The Last Vampire.

The narrative is satisfying because it's driven by visual storytelling rather than wordy explanations. They do an impressive job of visually conveying a future (yet familiar) world of believable cybernetic military sci-fi trappings. The storytelling is lean, the script is pleasingly serious and no-nonsense, consisting mostly of authentic-sounding terse and cryptic military exchanges. The action scenes are long and meaty, with each physical action depicted in convincing detail. The coloring palette of the film is toned down in a way that helps make it feel more realistic.

That's not to say it's dead serious. The films balances seriousness with fan-service. The film opens (predictably for an AIC production) with a nude scene that is saved from being in poor taste only by the fact that it's quite funny and isn't played up for lurid fetishism. The shot where Sibelle picks the sheet from the bottom of the pile and the pile topples over but she doesn't even notice because she's so intent gives the scene a pleasingly tongue-in-cheek tone. Kitakubo's only previous directing credit was Cream Lemon: Pop Chaser, which despite being the pioneering adult anime was more funny and exciting than titillating. Kitakubo also gives the film an edge of cleverness through directing tricks, for example when he cuts from a photo of the professor in the newspaper to the headlights of a vehicle where his eyes were. Rintaro did a similar gag in Download.

Despite the effort put into the details, the cumulative effect of the film is underwhelming for some reason. It feels sluggish and lacking in tension. But the serious-minded story, detail-oriented directing and powerful action scenes more than make up for this, and in the end, it may not be a Great Film, but it's closer to being one than most OVAs. At the very least, it's a damn sight better than the boring Appleseed OVA that came out one year later. It's a satisfying and entertaining little action film.

The animation

The quality of the film is strangely uneven. The animation is very high quality, but the backgrounds are not very good overall, and flat-out bad in some shots. Even the animation, which is quite strong, feels somehow rough. It feels in essence like highly polished TV animation, rather than the movie-caliber animation of Akira from the next year, for example. Despite striving for cinematic feeling, the film's layouts are fairly standard, without the careful simulation of camera lens focal length that is one of the subtle but important ways Akira and other films achieve a feeling of reality. To be fair, there aren't many OVAs that top this one in terms of animation quality. And most importantly, the animation is very satisfying. The action is good, and the drawings feel good at every moment.

Hiroyuki Okiua, Toru Yoshida and the other animators of Osaka subcontractor Anime R are to thank for the quality of the animation. Hiroyuki Okiura oversaw the characters and Toru Yoshida oversaw the mecha. This was Okiura's first job as sakkan. He had just debuted a few years before, mostly drawing impressive mecha animation on a few Sunrise shows like SPT Layzner (1985-1986), and very quickly made a name for himself at a very young age. Astoundingly, he turned 20 during production of Black Magic M-66. Toru Yoshida, meanwhile, had debuted not long before Okiura, first coming to prominence on Armor Trooper Votoms (1983-1984), on which Okiura worked as an inbetweener. Okiura drew what is one of his first genga in the last episode, uncredited, while Yoshida was still being credited as an inbetweener early on in the series despite the fact that he was drawing genga, so they debuted very close together.

The character animation is strong throughout thanks to Okiura's laborious work as sakkan. Despite having been pegged a mecha animator in his first few years, Okiura didn't view himself as such. He just wanted to draw detailed animation like one of his idols Takashi Nakamura, and in anime at the time the mecha animation was one of the places where there were fewer restrictions on the number of drawings you were allowed to use. That's the reason many 'mover' type animators like Okiura - and Shinya Ohira - started out as mecha animators. This was Okiura's first step towards becoming a character animator. Even at this early stage, you can sense Okiura's uncommon skills. The character animation feels unusually rich, even in throwaway shots like the shot at the beginning where Sibelle is writing something down, although this is no doubt also in part thanks to Shirow Masamune's detailed storyboard and Kitakubo's detail-oriented style of directing.

The key animation credits are divided between Anime R, Atelier Giga and AIC/freelance animators. I wrote about Atelier Giga before in my post on Cool Cool Bye and Relic Armor Legaciam. It was an informal gathering of ex-Bebow animators. Although Atelier Giga did not survive long past 1987, many of its animators stayed on at AIC for years to come. The impressive names in the AIC/freelance grouping are Shinya Ohira and Satoru Utsunomiya. I suspect Utsunomiya handled the scene in the restaurant, though I'm not positive.

Anime R receives a prominent spot in the credits, and its animators were responsible for many of the best parts in the film. This is in essence an Anime R film in terms of the actual drawings, although the production company was AIC/Animate. The big battle that is the highlight of the first half of the film was animated by Hiroyuki Okiura, Toru Yoshida and Kazuaki Mouri of Anime R. Okiura handled the beginning in the forest up until the impressive turning shot where the robot hurls the vehicle (pic 3 at top), and the rest was animated by Yoshida and Mouri. Mouri in particular did the impressive shots where the robot wields the metal pipe in beautiful acrobatic action (pic 4). Okiura also drew the climactic scene on the rooftop (pic 1). Shinya Ohira helped Okiura out with this section by animating a few shots where the building crumbles (pic 2). This is the same year that Ohira worked on the effects extravaganza that is the Captain Power home shooter game, and Toru Yoshida was the other big figure behind the animation of Captain Power, so Toru Yoshida may have been an influence on Ohira's development into an effects animator. This scene in Black Magic M-66 is also presumably what led to Ohira animating the smoke and building crumbling in Akira. Amusingly enough, right after Akira, Ohira animated another crumbling building in an episode of Peter Pan sakkan'd by Okiura. Ohira was an animator in Okiura's sakkan debut, and he is an animator in Okiura's latest film.

Black Magic M-66 came out a year before Akira, and in fact it feels reminiscent of Akira in various subtle ways. It almost feels like a dry run for Akira. The basic elements are similar - gruff general and crazy scientist after a rogue experimental subject with superhuman powers on a killing spree - and the military elements are depicted (visually and by the script) very realistically and methodically, and even the gestures sometimes feel similar. It's presumably seeing Okiura's work on Black Magic M-66 that prompted Katsuhiro Otomo to invite Hiroyuki Okiura to work on Akira. After working under Nakamura on Akira, Okiura went on to provide great animation under Nakamura again in Peter Pan and Catnapped, not to mention becoming one of the key figures behind the two Ghost in the Shell films alongside fellow (ex-)Anime R animator Kazuchika Kise, who is also present as an animator here (though he was technically at Anime R sister studio Mu).

Incidentally, the impressively nuanced animation in the elevator just before the climax was animated by two animators who aren't credited. It was animated by Yoshiyuki Ichikawa 市川吉幸 based on roughs by Yuji Moriyama 森山ゆうじ. Both were members of Studio MIN, formed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo himself in 1982. MIN was one of the many artist collectives euphemistically known as a studio that were formed in the 1980s. MIN disbanded in 1991, immediately after production of Kitakubo's Rojin Z.


Black Magic M-66 ブラックマジックM-66 (Animate Film/AIC, OVA, 1987, 47 mins)

Created by:士郎正宗Masamune Shirow
 
Director/Script/Storyboard:士郎正宗Masamune Shirow
Director/Structure/Character Design:北久保弘之Hiroyuki Kitakubo
 
Animation Director:沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
Mechanic Animation Director:吉田徹Toru Yoshida
 
Art Director:本田修Osamu Honda
Music:片柳譲陽Yoshiharu Katayanagi
 
Key Animation: アニメアール Anime R
 吉田徹Toru Yoshida黄瀬和哉Kazuchika Kise
浜川修二郎Shujiro Hamakawa谷口守泰Moriyasu Taniguchi
貴志夫美子Fumiko Kishi毛利和昭Kazuaki Mouri
柳沢まさひでMasahide Yanagisawa寺田浩之Hiroyuki Terada
逢坂浩司Hiroshi Ousaka沖浦啓之Hiroyuki Okiura
 アトリエ戯雅 Atelier Giga
 宇佐美皓一Koichi Usami
岩瀧智Satoshi Iwataki
ところともかずTomokazu Tokoro
小曽根正美Masami Kosone
さとうけいいちKeiichi Sato
仲盛文Morifumi Naka
林宏樹 Hiroki Hayashi
田中正弘 Masahiro Tanaka
宇都宮智 Satoru Utsunimiya
橋本浩一 Koichi Hashimoto
清水義治 Yoshiharu Shimizu
大平晋也 Shinya Ohira

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

11:33:00 pm , 1365 words, 3427 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #5

I've been meaning to post something other than about this show, but I've been a little too busy... At least this show forces me to write something once a week.

Now this is more like it! This episode had pretty much everything I've been wanting to see in this show the whole time: a story with adult themes and wit, packaged in stylish drawings and fun, engaging directing. None of the previous episodes were up to this level. Either the episode had a good story but weak animation or something else felt missing. This one hit every note just right. Extremely fun to watch from start to finish, with a witty script and adventure story pitting the main characters against one another, while still managing to do a lot of great visual storytelling. The good (and surprising) staffing of this episode makes me more optimistic about the future episodes.

Shin Itagaki was the storyboarder, director as well as one of the animation directors and even top spot in the key animation credits, so he's the big man behind this episode. He's done by far the work with the strongest personality on the show so far. He has done a lot of work on action style shows in a TV context over the last few years, so he has obviously gained a lot of experience in how to make an exciting episode on a short schedule/budget. This episode is a prime example proving the idea that even on a short budget with no schedule, it's possible to do good work; it's just about the staff. The old Lupin III animators were really good, but technically speaking I think the really good staff today are even better than those guys were back then in terms of raw power and in terms of knowing little techniques to make every shot they draw feel good, and Itagaki is a prime example of such an animator. (though he didn't draw this whole episode; there were 15 other key animators) He knows how to maintain interest through the directing, for example sliding the background slowly in still shots to maintain momentum (something he probably learned from Imaishi).

I liked how the episode had that good old Indiana Jones adventure story action, all of it done with satisfyingly exciting animation. Itagaki worked alongside Imaishi in the past, and you can sense the Kanada influence in his work here. He brought on other Kanada-influenced animators like Anime R animator Fumiaki Kouta and Futoshi Higashide. The part with the fire pictured above felt like Kouta with its heavily stylized Kanada-school effects. Higashide I first became aware of from his crazy work on Dead Leaves. He also drew a nice solo episode of Dokkoida. He's done a lot of work since then, but I haven't followed him closely. He's not a pure Kanada-school animator. He's something more unique. There were some really wacky and fun drawings around where the scorpions show up, so I wonder if he didn't do that part.

Either way, these two animators no doubt helped Itagaki bring alive the action scenes. There were lots of shots that felt really nice as animation around the part where Jigen and Lupin are facing off against one another and Jigen is running around evading the traps. This was the first episode that delivered the kind of action rush I expect of Lupin III. Appropriately enough, Itagaki started out at Telecom, which is perhaps why he snuck a cameo of Yasuo Otsuka riding a jeep into the episode. That was nice to see. He has often mentioned Otsuka from his days at Telecom in one of his columns. He worked at Telecom for almost 7 years before going freelance, so he's an honest to goodness Telecom animator. You can see a few drawings he drew of himself grinning happily while he's learning from Otsuka here.

Shin Itagaki also has a good sense of humor. It's the sort of visual humor you associate with Imaishi. He knows how to time and stage shots in a way that is playful and fun. The shot where Jigen can't quite get his zippo to spark up was a great gag lead-in to the fire booby trap, for example. I liked the live-action Jigen-Lupin face-off shot at midway. I wonder whose face that was. Itagaki also has a good sense for getting the important little details we associate with the show right, like the accurate drawings of the guns - you can see the writing on the bullets when Jigen loads his Magnum. There were also plenty of cool and stylish shots. I particularly liked the angled layouts and long shadows in the closing scene.

The Kanada school was in full swing with all sorts of followers by the time of the third Lupin III show in the mid-80s, so there were inevitably moments of Kanada-school animation in that show, though for the most part the show felt more A Pro than Kanada thanks to supervisor Yuzo Aoki. Many years later, Itagaki is an interesting hybrid - Telecom yet Kanada, he has exactly the sort of touch it would take to make Lupin III episodes as fun and free as the old episodes. He's not alone; there are plenty of other animators who could do work up to his level. Perhaps they should have focused on going in that direction. If they had managed to get the right animators, the shortage of staff wouldn't have been such an issue. That's one of the nice things about how so many animators today are freelance. I would assume it facilitates getting someone onboard if you're a producer looking for good staff and you want them on your show. I'd love to see a show where an animator like Itagaki is forced to draw a whole episode or half episode in a fairly short schedule, the way the animators of the old shows undoubtedly were. I like the idea of a talented animator forced to whip out the shots in a more quick and spontaneous style rather than laboring over the shots. Even rough-around-the-edges animation from a great animator is preferable to mediocre animation that's detailed but without spark.

Story-wise, we're in Egypt again. Lupin got possessed by the mask of Tutankhamun in red jacket episode 7 and visited Egypt again in Mamo, while he made excursions to nearby Algeria in red jacket episode 30 and then Iraq in Gold of Babylon. In a desert connection, there was good desert action in Bye Bye Liberty in Death Valley.

Finally, we're past the introductory episodes and we've got several of the main characters together. Only Zenigata and Goemon are missing. I have to admit it's nice not having Zenigata predictably showing up every episode shouting "Taiho da~~~!" I felt they adhered way too strictly to that convention in the old show and the stories would have benefited from a little variety.

There was nice tension between Lupin and Jigen as they tested one another while dodging the various death traps, with Fujiko the cunning trickster manipulating the both of them towards her own ends all the while. That dynamic was just right. All of the character had something of a harder and more serious edge than they did before. The clash of these three personalities is honestly more interesting than the bland camaraderie of much previous Lupin. Lupin, Jigen and Goemon are the same old characters we knew, but a little more hard-edged, while Zenigata has a new personality, and Fujiko is the same character, but far more layered and complex than before. And now she's a nudist.

There was one instance of staff continuity in this episode: Hideyuki Motohashi. He is one of the former Z5 animators I wrote about in my post on the pink jacket series. He first came to prominence in the late 1970s as an animator equally at home drawing mecha action and bikei characters on the TMS robot action show Tetsujin 28. It's nice to see this veteran still working on the front lines as an animator after all these years. It's fascinating that an old school animator like this can even adapt himself to drawing more modern cute characters with the recent Kamisama Dolls.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

11:45:00 pm , 1237 words, 6229 views     Categories: Animation, TV, Lupin III

Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #4

With this episode the quality has picked itself back up after the tumble of episode 3. The animation is obviously at the intended level, the directing is assured, and the story is well enough put together, with the twists and turns you expect of a Lupin III caper.

The story is a permutation of the phantom of the opera myth. While hardly novel, it's well enough put together, and the characters come alive well. The plot advances through the varying viewpoints of Fujiko, Lupin and Zenigata in a satisfying way, although the writing seems to deliberately keep Lupin in the shadows in an active attempt to downplay his spotlight-stealing character.

I was expecting the series to proceed to bring the team together by this point, but not yet. I didn't quite realize it while watching, but this episode was probably intended to to be the Zenigata episode to the preceding Jigen and Goemon episodes. Zenigata got only a token appearance in episode 1. Indeed, Zenigata has more screentime than Lupin in this episode.

This episode lays out Zenigata's character quite clearly: This is not the Zenigata of old. Jigen and Goemon seem essentially the same characters, but Zenigata is an altogether different character from any previous anime version. I'm not familiar enough with the manga to say whether he was like this in the manga. Here, he almost appears to be a corrupt cop driven by a twisted obsession with killing Lupin. He tries to - not arrest - but shoot Lupin.

But that's nothing compared to the opening scene, which is by far the most shocking scene in the series so far - and it shocks without even needing to show any nudity. Don't read the rest of this paragraph unless you've watched the ep or intend to. I couldn't believe what I'd seen, partly because they didn't actually show anything and only implied it verbally in the aftermath, but Fujiko appears to have had sex with Zenigata to buy her freedom from the slammer. It's a scene that appears specifically calculated to shock viewers accustomed to the old image of Zenigata, who before was a sexless, naive, even goofy borderline Inspector Clouseau caricature of the by-the-book, rules-following Good Cop. It makes it clear that they've thrown out the old Zenigata and rewritten him from scratch. I got a sense that this was the case from the snippets in episode 1, but this is even more of a change than I expected.

Whatever my personal reservations, the first episode did a good job of conveying the fact that Fujiko was a different character in this series, more 'liberated', and the series was not taking the coy approach to sexuality of the old Lupin III, which hinted and suggested more than ever doing anything sexual. This episode did the same for Zenigata. The show's more open sexuality brings it closer to Monkey Punch in a sense, but it seems to me a more real and pragmatic approach to sexuality than the jokey cartoonified way it was treated by Monkey Punch (at least from what little I've seen of his original manga). On the other hand, they use the whole Mars symbol/Venus symbol schtick that Monkey Punch always used in sex scenes, as they did in Mankatsu, and that's something we never saw before in the anime version of Lupin III.

The writing of the story was fairly intricate and the dialogue was full of witty, ironic barbs thanks to writer and series structure supervisor Mari Okada. Her style of humor seems a good match with Sayo Yamamoto's sensibility. My only complaint is that the big reveal at the end was a little predictable as well as lame and implausible.

The episode's structure is provided by storyboarder Atsushi Takahashi, who directed two of the more visually compelling episodes of Masaaki Yuasa's Kemonozume (episodes #3 & #12). He seems a candidate ideally suited to bringing to life the decadent, erotic, sumptuous visual atmosphere this series is aiming for, and indeed the episode is filled with shadowy, cavernous interiors, though unfortunately he doesn't go nearly as far with the creative presentation as he did in Kemonozume. The enigmatic flashback, pictured above, was drawn in a more stylized and extravagantly detailed, almost storybook, style. Along with the opening, this scene seems to capture the atmosphere of wanton eroticism that sets the show apart. Unfortunately, this vision seems watered down too much of the time and never comes through forcefully enough for my taste. The opening seems like it's trying to evoke Belladonna, but they never go nearly as far as that movie did.

The episode takes place in Paris, but aside from a few opening shots, this potentially interesting setting was not exploited at all, as the entire episode takes place in the bowels of an opera house. There were a few shots of the streets of Paris early on where I noticed they actually drew a Citroen accurately, which was nice to see, because on the car front the show has been a little lacking so far.

Incidentally, several French animators have been heavily involved in the show so far - Eddie Mehong, Cédric Hérole, and Christophe Ferreira - and all three worked as key animators in this episode. Christophe Ferreira was once working at Telecom on Buta. Eddie Mehong has put up a reel of his work on Japanese productions on his blog. Cédric Hérole made a beautiful short film entitled Mimi Carina: Emilie au pays des Morts in 2005.

The animation director was Hiroshi Shimizu, who was also involved in Kemonozume and of course was the character designer of Sayo Yamamoto's breakout series Michiko & Hatchin. Shimizu Hiroshi is an ex-Oh Pro animator - he worked on episode 49 of Part 3, which is the Oh Pro episode I recommended in my post on Part 3. He is a great animator/sakkan in his own right and his involvement no doubt goes a long way to accounting for the quality of the episode.

I can't help but find it ironic how the second Lupin III series managed to produce so many episodes packed with interesting movement using minuscule regular rotation teams of as few as one or two animators, whereas here they require almost 20 animators and virtually none of the movement is particularly interesting. I doubt they had any less schedule than the second series animators did. That's not an observation unique to this show particularly. Back then animators just seemed better about being able to draw volume as well as quality. It's not just the second Lupin III series that had tiny rotation teams of between 1 and 4 people. Most anime was made that way back then. Usually it's for the best that we have more people working on an average anime episode today, because those small teams usually did crappy work - not surprising considering the pressure they were under. But the good animators, under the same pressure to produce way more shots of animation, developed in a way that made them hone their shots down to the essence, all while having more fun with the work and drawing freer and more playful drawings. While the animation back then viewed today seems less detailed and cruder, in the hands of the good animators it was often more successful and pleasing as animation. Obviously, that's not to say that there aren't plenty of animators doing great work on TV schedules today, but sadly they haven't been able to get many of them for this show.

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