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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Monday, March 13, 2006

09:48:58 pm , 747 words, 3383 views     Categories: Animation

Ayakashi 9

The last arc of Toei's omnibus of classic Japanese gothic horror stories is actually an original story, unlike the previous two. I was rather disappointed with the middle arc involving Yasuhiro Nakura (to say nothing of the first, which I was expecting), but I had high hopes that Takashi Hashimoto wouldn't let me down with the last, and after watching the first episode today I'm glad to say that they were definitely keeping the best for last.

The first episode in the arc, #9 of the series, was quite simply stunning. It was one of the most original and refreshing anime episodes I've seen anywhere in a long time. All of the elements combined perfectly, and every moment was precisely honed down to the millisecond. Takashi Hashimoto had never been known for his character animation, and had never done a character design as far as I know, so I had no idea what to expect, and was ready to be underwhelmed. But he upended those expectations in a big way, with inspired and original designs far, far removed from the typical. Each character is wonderfully unique, the expressions rich, the forms comical yet realisic and the lines expressive and free. He himself was the AD of the first ep, so it was truly a delight to see.

The animation itself was rich and nuanced, but what made it truly satisfying is that it works as a whole with everything else - art, sound and directing. The whole world looks like a moving ukiyo-e by Hokusai or Hiroshige, and the characters are overlaid with patterns that make them blend into these surroundings. Mahiro Maeda's attempt at something similar in The Count of Monte Cristo seemed a little forced, but here it works effortlessly. The sound is fascinatingly surrealistic, adding a lot to the elliptical directing. The director, Kenji Nakamura, had previously done the CGI action spectacular Karas, which had impressed me even though I don't usually enjoy CGI. I could tell this guy knew what he was doing. I believe before that he worked as assistant director under Mamoru Hosoda, which perhaps helps to explain his similarly tight, meticulous, detail-oriented directing style. He's got a virtuosic knack for jumping around with shots to create a convincing feeling of space.

It really does come together brilliantly. Every moment is a delight, and he knows how to carry it over the length of the episode so that no moment feels unnecessary. A sense of tension builds through oddly placed shot after oddly placed shot of the eerie (and vaguely familiar) paintings that seem to decorate every nook and cranny of the mazelike building interior, and this tension is eventually released in a fantastic burst of energy that attains the feeling of power it does because it's done with Hashimoto's masterly, controlled animation.

Incidentally, perhaps not surprisingly, Hashimoto is here joined by Hideki Kakita, that other master of explosions and miscellanous effects. How odd to see them together without a massive catastrophe in sight. We could see the two working together on Eureka Seven recently. A few years before we could see them in a slightly more surprising context - Dokkoida, one of UFO Table's earlier shows. Kakita did some nice explosions in 6, while Hashimoto did some in 7. Kakita also did explosions in various other spots. His patently realistic style and meticulous layout make his shots stand out in stark contrast in the show, but it's ceratinly an interesting studio in that they always do their best to make the animation as interesting as possible. They even brought in Naoyuki Onda for one of the episodes, which is almost shocking. It's like they're doing it with a wink to all the animation freaks out there. It's unfortunate that a sense of balance and control in all of the other elements seems to get lost in the process in everything they do. Similarly they also seem to try to have at least a solo animator episode or two in each show, as well as a few duos. Here there's a solo by Futoshi Higashide in 5 that is truly unhinged in the best possible sense of the word. It's probably what brought him to Hiroyuki Imaishi's attention for Dead Leaves. It's a classic example of an animator bursting with energy and talent given the spotlight to ham it up over the length of a whole episode in a manic burst of bravado animated showboating, like Tetsuya Takeuchi did more recently in Honey and Clover.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

03:23:21 pm , 1070 words, 1505 views     Categories: Animation

Sundry rambling

I discovered another Norimitsu Suzuki ending - the third season of Galaxy Angel A, from 2002. When I started watching the ending, I thought movements were suspiciously good, so I had a feeling it had to be someone I was familiar with. This is the oldest of his endings I've seen. The reason I checked the show out was to see some more work by Shigehito Takayanagi, the director of the third season, because I rather liked what he did with ep 4 of 1998's Popolo Crois. He's directing a new show called Himesama Goyojin that starts next month.

I watched the first episode of Tomomi Mochizuki's Shinigami no Ballad, and I actually preferred it in its simplicity to his previous show. I guess I'm just a softie for stories like that.

Norio Matsumoto was in Noein 21. While watching the episode I got the feeling the drawings were somehow different. It felt like the staff had all been consciously influenced by Matsumoto or something. As it turns out it was because Akira Takada was the AD. He was one of the main staff behind Haibane Renmei and has worked together with Matsumoto on a number of occasions, so that probably explains the similarity. I really like his drawings. And right from the first shot I thought there was something different about the directing. It was much tighter, showed a clearly better sense for drama, so I was wondering who did it. On seeing the credit at the very end I finally remembered I'd been told beforehand that it would be a Hiroyuki Morita storyboard. It showed. And Matsumoto was well used here again, providing the pivotal scene revealing Atori's true motivation with just the sort of nuanced expression and acting required to give the scene the proper impact. Which leads me to wonder aloud to myself something I've long wondered: Who assigns shots? The storyboarder, the ep director, the director? Surely not the animation director? I'd suppose the storyboarder, but I've never seen shot assignments in storyboards. Either it's just written somewhere else, or the person who processes the storyboard (ep director) must do it.

I enjoyed Ergo Proxy, though it's nothing nearly as new as I would have hoped. The moody directing and laid back Blade Runner-esque storytelling of Dai Sato (how many shows is he juggling?!) are obviously the attraction of the show and not the animation, but I thought the animation was quite nice in its own way and entirely sufficient. Anything more would probably be a distraction. The first episode seemed to veer between two or three completely different styles, which is explained by the fact that Naoyuki Onda (Z Gundam New Translation) was one of the three ADs. I'm usually not a fan of animators who are only good at drawing drawings, but I still rather like his drawings, even though they strike me as being somewhat lifeless. The scene in the mall in episode 2 seemed to provide the best example of what it was they were aiming for with the show in terms of mood and directing, with the music and slo-mo action combining to riveting effect. I look forward to a nice dystopian vision of a consumerist society run amok, just the sort of thing I'd expect from Dai. At the same time I wish they'd had the guts to set it in the real world, which is infinitely more strange than any science fiction I've ever seen. But I guess anything more direct in that direction would be like biting the hand that feeds them.

Are there any properly drawn cats in anime? It seems like whenever I see a cat it's so hideously drawn I have to avert my eyes. Cats, dogs, animals in general. I get the craving to see a properly drawn animal every once in a while, and it's a desire that's rarely consummated. There seems a definite deficiency in life-drawing skills among the rank and file over there. And I don't think it's something that can be blamed on fashion or preference. I've seen some shows where the cats were definitely supposed to be drawn realistically, and the results made it quite clear why severe stylization is opted for in almost all cases. People can't draw cats. I don't mean to sound harsh, I guess it's just that I like cats and want to see them properly drawn. Today I was re-watching The Heroic Legend of Arslan, which I haven't seen in more than a decade - quite a nostalgia rush! - and I was quite impressed to see that the horses were properly drawn. Explanation: AD Kazuchika Kise. (not Kazuya, though I don't blame them for misspelling it, as I did the same thing at first) So right now I'm looking forward to the last arc of Ayakashi to see if there are going to be some properly drawn cats in there. Even if there aren't it sounds promising. Supposedly Takashi Hashimoto will actually be involved in the actual work on the episodes, rather than just a distant "original design concept". Nakura's episodes (or at least the one I could stand to check) were a disaster, no surprise, because he wasn't even involved.

Ryutaro Nakamura's getting super meta on us again with a new show about a girl trying to break into the seiyuu biz played by a girl trying to break into the seiyuu biz. Also seems to be his way of wrangling the moe phenom into his own more realistic terms, and it's kind of fun.

I'd long wanted to see a bit of Space Pirate Mito and got to see the first two eps. It was just the sort of fun, well made children's series I'd thought it was, with the old-fashioned spirit of Animal Treasure Island. A shot in the opening actually had a whole bunch of pirates swarming over a ship as if in homage to the old inspiration. Susumu Yamaguchi was an animator in the op (and ep 3), so I suspect he must have done that section. I know almost none of the names in the show, but Takamitsu Kondo's characters are great - cute and catchy, but with few lines and easy to move, so that even without any great animators the drawings and movement are always nice to look at. The only names I recognize come in ep 12, where Nobutake Ito and Takashi Tomioka co-AD'd the episode, which sounds incredible.

Friday, March 3, 2006

09:14:11 pm , 1166 words, 2576 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie, TV

Recent viewing

Today I had the pleasure of watching Piotr Dumala's Crime and Punishment, completed in 2000. Watching it I was able to spend one of those rare and wonderful moments in life when art manages to bridge over the void and make it all seem worth it. That feeling will go away soon. I can't really describe the film any more lucidly than that, and in a way don't want to spoil the mystery of the experience by probing too much into how it was made, though I probably will do so once the effect has worn off, as the effect achieved was too stunning and masterly to remain uncurious. Every image spoke of inordinate effort and conviction, and it didn't feel like technical showing off as another similar film I've seen did. It's been years since I read the book, so I was a little perplexed at moments, but without a single word he manages to convey the story and the atmosphere of the book vividly and lucidly. Adapting a story as well-known as this one could surely have turned into something far more pedestrian, but everything here fell right into place. What I found most incredible about the film was the textures. The simulacrum of life. The texture of a wall. The way a drop rolls down, or the way steam rises from a bowl of soup as it's being poured. Small moments like these were perfectly observed and executed and arranged to create a flawless rhythm. All the more incredible, then, that the mimesis comes to us via plaster. Animation is alive in people like this. It's unfortunate that the only way one could see the film would be via a copy off of Polish television, as it definitely deserves to be seen by more people. If he's been active for more than two decades, as I hear he has, this immediately makes me want to see his earlier work, and I'm sure other people would feel the same way if they could see this.

I'm hardly a Clamp fan, but I'm surprised how much I enjoyed IG's Clamp double-feature. Both were solid films. Different, but both well produced. It was less of a surprise that Tsutomu Mizushima's film was good, but I was surprised how much effort the young staff working on the other, shorter film managed to put into the film. I may have even been more impressed with that one because you really felt these young animators putting in their all into the film. To name the scenes that impressed me: Shinichi Yokota's scene at the beginning in the forest with the young boy was full of lively movement; Sachiko Okumura's scene in the bath was nice; Toru Okubo's scene with the bird men near the middle had some good action; what I assume would have to be Chikashi Kubota's one-shot chase in the air - probably the shot they said they had to halve from 600 drawings - was typically thrilling, even almost out of control; and finally Naoyoshi Shiotani's final battle in the air was the capstone. His last shot of the bird imploding was perhaps the most spectactular shot after Ohira's few shots. You can tell he put a lot of thought into how to make it as effective a shot as needed for that climactic moment.

Tsutomu Mizushima's film was quite interesting. His directing perfectly balanced mysterious horror with his patented absurd humor, so it was great to see that he'd pulled it off. The art and photography was spectacular. The music was great. A few bits reminded me of Isang Yun and Walter Hus's first string quartet, which was odd. It was interesting to see how Kazuchika Kise's unreasonably long characters were made to move. I can imagine it must have been even harder moving them on a widescreen. A scene where a character is trapped in a sort of vent and his limbs fill up the screen in a tangle plays well on this. He really put some loving into drawing those looong hands. Animation-wise Ohira's and Hashimoto's scenes were of course great, as was Okiura's, but the real hilight for me was Miyazawa's at the beginning. It's overpowering, to think how many drawings he must have drawn for that sequence. Reminded me very much of his work on Dead Leaves in terms of the constant limited motion over the span of several minutes, but the deformations and the crazy ideas in there were amazing. At one point the character has several arms. He doesn't have several arms because his arms are moving fast or anything, it just looks like he has several arms for a while just for the heck of it. And you kind of accept it while watching. Bewildering. Miyazawa's scene was definitely a shock. Other than that it was great to see that not only did they not correct Ohira's section, they actually retained the unique way in which he drew his key animation using shades rather than pure lines in the final product, and had the inbetweens done in such a way that they would match the keys. Thank goodness there's a studio that lets Ohira do his thing like this. I still can't get over the story about how they had to hold an emergency meeting among the staff to try to figure out what was going on in his keys in the shorter film. Ohira is no longer human. His spirit soars somewhere in the stratosphere, far above mortal heads. I'd actually be more interested in seeing the keys for that tidal wave than for the bunny in Mizushima's film, interesting though it is. You get the feeling he's letting them off easy with that bunny.

Recent TV episodes. Seiichi Hashimoto was in Eureka 7 43 along with other interesting people. Presumably he drew the dancing and the swirl where the face looks a uniquely personal interpretation of Yoshida. Otherwise Seiichi is often pretty hard to pick out. He does good work without sticking out. Muraki et al would have done the battle with which the dance alternated. A good section. Each episode has had some interesting work for the most part, like Noein, which had Hiroshi Okubo again in 20, so it's almost pointless to point each instance out. A lot of Bones animators worked on ep 13 of Gaiking alongside lots of good Toei people apparently as a favor to Takaaki Yamashita protege Tatsuzo Nishita on the occasion of his first job as AD: Yutaka Nakamura, Takashi Hashimoto, Soichiro Matsuda, etc. etc. etc. Imaishi storyboarded ep 18 of Black Cat.

I had the funniest dream last night. I dreamt I was assigned some seriously hard shots on a new movie alongside animators like Hiroshi Okubo and Yutaka Nakamura. Having never drawn a second of animation in my life, I was naturally sweating bullets and wondering how I was going to do it. I can't imagine how I could have gotten into such a situation. The things we come up with in our dreams.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

07:45:23 pm , 1266 words, 5519 views     Categories: Animation, Studio


Re-watching The Biography of Gusko Budori today I got to wondering why they don't make more films like this anymore. Down-to-earth, simply made films that have a universal appeal and actually make an attempt to create honest, moving drama. I'd particularly like to see director Ryutaro Nakamura doing something more in this vein. What is immediately apparent when watching the film is that the motivation behind it is what sets it apart from the majority of productions. The motivation is that of Gauche - a small subcontracting studio gathers its forces in one spurt in order to make what they consider a quality film that they want children to watch, and to represent what the studio stands for in terms of content and quality. What Gauche was to Oh Production, The Biography of Gusko Budori was to Animaru-ya, a small subcontracting studio founded in 1982 by 7 ex-members of Shinei Doga including Toshiyuki Honda and Hiroshi Fukutomi.

Both Honda and Fukutomi joined A Production in the early years, working as inbetweeners on Kyojin no Hoshi and Lupin III, and were two of the figures behind all of the classic A Production shows that followed. After working for several years as an inbetweener, Fukutomi soon became more interested in directing, drawing his first storyboard on Yasuo Otsuka's Samurai Giants and going on to direct episodes of many classics of the 70s including Ganso Tensai Bakabon, Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi and some particularly well-regarded episodes of Hajime Ningen Gyators. Honda, on the other hand, was bumped up to key animation in his first year while working on Kyojin no Hoshi, and stayed focused on animation throughout his career, working together with Honda throughout the period on the same shows - doing some excellent work on 1975's Gamba's Adventure that makes me want to see the rest - right up until the formation of Shinei in 1978. Both Honda and Fukutomi were deeply involved in the early TV and movie Doraemon, including the classic first film, which had Fukutomi as director and Honda as animation director. After then seeing through Shinei's next two Fujio F Fujiko productions, Kaibutsu-kun and Pro Golfer Saru, the two left Shinei to form their own studio, Animaru-ya, moving into the old Shinei studio.

At Animaru-ya, Fukutomi was very active directing a variety of productions for other studios while Honda focused on layout for the Doraemon films. By 1990 the staff had grown to the point that they were able to handle all major aspects of production on their own. In 1993 the studio produced The Biography of Budori Gusko to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the poet's death. Honda was involved as an animator alongside Shinei mainstays like Hiroshi Kugimiya and Yuichiro Sueyoshi. (Even Manabu Ohashi was there with a fantastic cloud shot.) In 1996, on the occasion of Kenji's centenary, the two finally came back together to work on one of the three episodes of the three-part Kenji Miyazawa omnibus Kenji's Trunk, Fukutomi directing and Honda providing the designs. The other two shorts were directed by Setsuko Shibuichi and Ryutaro Nakamura, the latter of whom had directed the 1993 film. The experience of working together again on the short, entitled The Cat's Studio, is presumably what led to the drive to do more productions of their own, outside of the commercial system, in a way that allowed them complete freedom over content and distribution. This in turn is what resulted in the studio's first 100% in-house production, the Daruma-chan series for young children.

As Oh Production had done before with Gauche the Cellist more than two decades earlier, the studio adopted a completely open production style for the series, begun in 2001, which consists of 6 15-minute episodes. The work was done completely on the side of commissioned productions, with no schedule and no sponsors. Since there was no schedule to speak of, they could afford the unheard-of luxury of putting exactly as much effort as they felt necessary to produce the film that satisfied their goals. Once the films were completed, the problem remaining was: Where to show them? Since the films had been produced outside of the circuit of commission and distribution, naturally the studio would have to cover the costs of showing the films if they wanted them to be seen by anybody. Following in the footsteps of Tanaka Yoshitsugu, director of Perrault the Chimney Sweep, since 2001 Animaru-ya has organized free screenings of the films at elementary schools and community centers throughout the nation. Why would they do all of this for free? In the end their motivation for leaving Shinei was to produce the films they wanted, and after twenty years of work that's finally what they're doing. The films represent their entire reason for working in animation.

Building on this experience, Honda took it to the next level with the next in-house production, deciding on a mid-length feature that would have a broader audience appeal. When Honda was growing up, he and his friends would each buy a comic and circulate them among the circle of friends to save on money. One of those friends being a girl, he got to read some girl's comics too, all of which left little impression on him. Except for one - a comic written by Toshiko Ueda entitled Fuichin-san. Born in Tokyo in 1917, Ueda spent her formative years in Manchuria, repatriating after the end of the war. In 1957, at age 40, she began drawing her comic based on her experiences in Manchuria. The comic told colorful stories about the ever-cheerful protagonist, who must have been a beacon of light to children who had grown up surrounded by poverty and privation. The designs were unusual for the day, with a modern, stylish look that stood apart from everything else. Looked at today the designs haven't aged at all and still look wonderfully alive and contemporary, which can't be said for much of the manga of that era.

Tired of the ordinary look of most current projects, and nostalgic when he rediscovered the comic when it was reprinted, Honda decided that this would make a perfect next project. The project had in fact been in planning since 1998, well before the Daruma-chan series. The current director, Yoshitaka Koyama, came onboard in 2001. Together they started hammering out the script in January 2002, and the hour-long film finally hit theaters in 2004. Already a small, in-house production to begin with, the film was completely buried beneath the deluge of big films that year and eked out a few showings at small theaters like the Tollywood short film theater, which holds a screening of Canadian animated shorts every spring and fall. Nonetheless, Animaru-ya continued to hold their own free screenings of the film, and recently put out their own videos of the Daruma-chan series and Fuichin-san, which can be ordered online from within Japan.

Animaru-ya isn't just anime. In addition to putting together screenings of their films, they also put on shows with various kinds of performances to entertain kids. Honda has been known to say that what he most wishes that kids will get from his films is the urge to stop watching TV and go outside and play. The studio is unique in that everything they do seems to be governed by a uniquely holistic vision about the nature of what they do and the effect they have on their audience. Animaru-ya's productions breathe the air of another era, with a fresh simplicity and clarity that has disappeared of late. They're among the few small studios nowadays with the devotion to put so much effort into producing and distributing their own projects like this, so they're a precious commodity.

Friday, February 17, 2006

07:30:08 pm , 630 words, 1627 views     Categories: Animation, Misc

Sunset Blvd.

Weird how just seeing a sunset can be revitalizing when you're starting to feel like a pile of sludge on the inside. It helps you get outside of yourself for a moment. Is there anything more hackneyed than a photo of a sunset? Yet why is there this urge to want to capture a beautiful sunset in a photo? To stop time, perhaps.

I don't know how long I've been waiting for Iso's new project to be announced, so I have to say that I'm excited about this. I haven't looked forward to anything this much in a while. It's good to have that feeling back. I guess I'm addicted.

I wonder how long Iso has been warming this project. A number on the drawing would seem to suggest it was drawn six years ago. I know he's been working on it for several years, but I didn't think it went back that far. If so, it seems like he might have gotten involved in RahXephon to get a sense of what it was like directing, as a warm-up for what was to come. In that sense it will be interesting to look back on Childhood's End when the project is complete, to see how much was hinted by the episode and how he evolved.

Up until now Iso has been an animator, and a truly great one, so I have to confess that part of me is concerned to see him going to directing. I have confidence it will be worth the wait, but the animation fan in me finds it hard to give up Iso animation. It will definitely help if the animation turns out to be everything I would expect it to be for the directing debut of Mitsuo Iso. Considering how many people he influenced, and the long span of production, I'd hope that there should be no problem getting the obvious big names onboard.

Only six episodes left in Noein. Have to admit I'm going to miss the show. They really put the effort into making the animation as interesting as possible within the difficult confines of TV anime, something few shows have bothered to try to do lately, so it's going to be a shame to see it go. In each episode you could expect at least one bit of interesting animation - 18 had Hiroshi Okubo; 17 had more Matsumoto; 15 had Utsunomiya - and all that in addition to the occasional explosion like 12 bringing them all together, which honestly would have been entirely sufficient. (Even 16, a recap, advanced the story in an interesting way while providing some good new animation by Kishida, Ryochimo et al.) That was a wonderful thing for the "congregation", but I'm sure it'll have just the effect they're hoping it does, imbedding itself as a memory of something different and interesting in the young people watching it now, unaccustomed to that sort of thing, perhaps awakening a few to the path of animation.

It seems I was right all along in suspecting that Kishida has been in there laboring over the layouts throughout the show, uncredited. It was particularly clear in episode 1, with all its wonderfully handled extreme perspective shots. There's a certain sense of unity in the compositions that can only come from having a single layout man there to keep things straight, like in Heidi or Gamba, and I can't think of any other show in recent decades where that's been attempted. Kishida has surely come as close as humanly possible as it is in this day and age to accomplishing that feat. In every single episode I could feel Kishida's hand, either in the layout or animation. It's a level of devotion you rarely see in a TV show these days, and clearly it attracted a good staff.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

09:36:47 pm , 186 words, 1490 views     Categories: Animation, Denno Coil

Denno Coil 電脳コイル


Mitsuo Iso, one of the most talented and influential Japanese animators of the 1990s, is going to be a director. The first piece of information to be made public about the top-secret project that has kept him occupied for the last three or four years has just been posted on the newly-created official site. More will follow with time on the site and in Animage. The novel on which the anime is to be based will be published shortly by Tokuma Shoten, which hosts the site. Iso is credited as creator, writer and director, and it's to be produced at Madhouse. The illustration by Iso gives the first glimpse into what we can expect of the project visually. Unusually, the page makes a public call for applications from experienced animators and directors to join the production staff. I've never seen such a thing for a big studio project before. Presumaly the project is to be a TV series, since they're calling for enshutsu, which usually means episode directors. The title translates literally to "Electric Brain Coil", denno or 'electric brain' being the antiquated term for computer.

Monday, February 13, 2006

09:45:12 am , 398 words, 2485 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Indie

Misc shorts

I just noticed that Reiko Yokosuka completed a new film last summer - GAKI: Biwa Houshi. It'd be a delight to be able to see a new film from Yokosuka every year. I hope she continues. The film feels a nice solid length, the movement is as exciting as ever, and I love the way the droll sense of humor mixes with the traditional motifs.

Another film from the Best of Ottawa I rather liked was Walkampf, a music video directed by Andreas Hykade, who previous did the interesting-looking Ring of Fire short. I couldn't understand the lyrics, so I'm probably missing a bit of meaning from the sync, but it's enjoyable as an explosion of color, symmetries and adorable designs well matched to a driving song.

I've been on a Phil Mulloy kick lately. I've never seen animated films that manage to be so simultaneously vicious and hilarious. His absurd cocktails of sex and violence seem to speak some deep truths about the problems that plague this world. It's bold, unflinching filmmaking of the kind you rarely see in animation.

I was surprised to find that Yuichiro Sueyoshi was deeply involved in the latest Shin-chan film, animating a number of sequences and providing monster designs, which were reproduced over the end credits. The story was a thin coathanger for monster fights totally lacking in the weight and consideration of Keiichi Hara's films, but they had the sense to get as much out of Sueyoshi as they could, and he makes it hold up to a certain extent. This was his big bash after Mind Game, returning as an animator, and you can feel him oozing energy. Shizuka Hayashi's manic wordless opening sequence was wonderful and showcased what I best like about the Shin-chan films: the effort to come up with extended sequences like this allowing an animator to do what s/he does best, making the animation drive the story forward.

The Shin-chan team has been largely the same for a while now, though, and it's interesting to see Shinei doing something a bit surprising, even shocking, in their latest Doraemon film, getting Ken'ichi Konishi as AD to lure in outside animators and make the film into an animation extravaganza, something I never associated the series with (though I'd heard good work about Ayumu Watanabe's work on the movies). Hisashi Mori seems to have done a lot.

Friday, February 10, 2006

11:24:23 pm , 355 words, 1635 views     Categories: Animation

Best of Ottawa

In what to me is one of the biggest pieces of news in quite a long time, Mitsuo Iso has come out of hiding. He posted a note on his home page saying that he will soon be announcing details about the project he has been working on over the last several years.

Yasuhiro Aoki seems to have done some uncredited animation near the ending of Kamichu, but I haven't been able to figure out in what episode. It's not in 11 or 12. The entire staff was so stunned by the work that he turned in that it went in completely unmodified, so supposedly it practically looks like a different show. I guess he must have handled the processing too. I'm curious how he got involved. It's the first time I see him doing anything outside of 4°C in years. Having rewatched all of his work in Arusu too many times already, I'm yearning to see some more drama from this new master.

Yesterday I saw the Best of Ottawa selection, and it was excellent, much better than I remembered last year's being. The balance was perfect and each film was totally satisfying, with perhaps only one exception, which is saying a lot. Robert Seidel's _grau was my favorite film and also the one that moved me the most, which speaks to the power that pure abstract animation can have when handled as brilliantly as it was here. He creates a world made up of complex and constantly morphing shapes that all seem somehow vaguely familar, and seem to behave according to some mysterious hidden internal logic that you can never quite put your finger on. The effect creates an irresistible fascination as your mind struggles to assign meaning to what you're seeing. You're really following every move of those shapes on the screen with fascination, which is a hell of an acheivement. Beautiful, brilliant work. Just the kind of innovative use of digital technology to create new forms of animation that I like to see. Apart from that, curiously, all of my favorite films in the selection this year were either German or British.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

10:38:52 pm , 782 words, 2158 views     Categories: Animation, Studio

Studio Torapezoid

As I was taking out the trash today I saw a spiral of birds in the distance, like the cranes in Night on the Galactic Railroad, soaring on a warm updraft. It was a rather bathetic moment.

In continuing with the theme of small 'studios' of the last post, this time I thought I'd mention a small studio that has done interesting work in the recent past: Studio Torapezoid. Some people may remember the impressive animation that opens episode 1 of Noein. Well, it was animated by Hiroshi Okubo, who is one of the five members of the collective, which was formed in 1998. The other members are: Takuya Saito, Susumu Yamaguchi, Manabu Ono and designer Junya Ishigaki.

Ishigaki has been very active as a designer over the last decade on many Sunrise and other shows. He's the one who designed the wonderful floating fortress in Noein. You can see more of his designs on his home page. Okubo and Ono have been associates since the beginning of both of their careers around 1990, working side by side as animators on a number of projects in the years immediately leading to the formation of the studio in 1998, including Kinnikuman 5 & 19 in 1991, Iron Leaguer 19 & 27 in 1993, Yu Yu Hakusho 67 and Hakkenden 12 in 1994, Evangelion 10 in 1995 and Cyber Formula Saga in 1997. Susumu Yamaguchi does not seem to have been involved on the same projects as the others until the formation of the studio.

The first project we see them all working together on is the show that can be seen as the studio's summum opus: 1998's Outlaw Star, directed by Mitsuru Hongo, who also gave the studio its name. I came to the show to see Okubo's work on it, but as I began watching I was surprised to find idiosyncratic and quite good work in a number of other styles obviously differing from Okubo's. It took a while to sort out who was doing what, but eventually it became clear. Okubo's animation was easily identifiable, with its sense of form and timing reminiscent of Mitsuo Iso and Yutaka Nakamura. He was obviously handling the mecha. It took a while to realize that it must be Ono who was handling the other sections of mecha that were also brilliantly animated but had a completely different, much simpler touch. What was left was a style of animation that had obvious debts to Satoru Utsunomiya and Tetsuya Nishio, and eventually I figured out that it had to be Susumu Yamaguchi. Discovering the work of these three animators was a real treat for me. The second and really the last project on which all of the members were involved together would be Angel Links from the following year. After this Torapezoid seems to have gone the way of Hercules, with each member working on his own project.

Outlaw Star offers the perfect introduction to all three of the animators' styles. The highlight of the series is undoubtedly the fast-paced mecha fights in space. The mecha, designed by Ishigaki, were brilliantly animated by Okubo and Ono, and have a rather unique flavor of their own different from the more realistic work of a Masami Goto, who played an analagous role in Bebop. The role of Nakamura in the latter - "main animator" - was played here by Yamaguchi, whose very loose line and dynamic approach to timing is obviously descended from Utsunomiya via Nishio, even though the closest related project he seems to have been involved in would be the Yu Yu Hakusho movie. For a quick intro to their work at its best, episode 20 offers a wonderful bit of acrobatics in the first half by Yamaguchi and solid chunk of work by Ono and Okubo in the second. Okubo's work in the last episode is also not to be missed. The resemblance is so strong that I would be surprised indeed if he denied having been heavily influenced by Mitsuo Iso. The next year in Angel Links you can see them continuing to develop their styles, with Okubo mostly working on beefing up his smoke and Yamaguchi's work now looking downright Utsunomiyan, viz episode 8.

After this the team starts to work on different projects. We can see Ono and Okubo working together for the last time on Risky Safety in 1999, Ono and Yamaguchi on Space Pirate Mito in 1999 and Gear Fighter Dendo in 2001, but unfortunately the animators don't seem to appear much together afterwards, which is a real shame. The teamwork they had going on in that handful of eps was really something. Ono himself actually drifted away from animation afterwards and is now focusing on directing. After this, starting with Arjuna, Okubo becomes more and more involved in Satelight productions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

06:20:33 pm , 105 words, 3147 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Hiroshi Okubo filmography


1992 - Kinnikuman 5, 9, 19, 24
1993 - Iron Leaguer 19, 27
1994 - Yu Yu Hakusho 67
1994 - Ryu Night 26 (Ryu Palladin transformation scene)
1994 - Hakkenden 12
1995 - Tenchi Muyo 10
1995 - Giant Robo 6
1996 - Evangelion 10
1997 - Evangelion Death
1998 - Outlaw Star OP, 1, 8, 14, 20, 23, 25, 26
1998 - Popolo Crois 13, 17
1998 - Lain 12
1998 - DT Eightron
1998 - Twilight of the Dark Master
1999 - Angel Links 1, 4, 8 (AD), 13
1999 - Risky Safety 3
2001 - Sakura Wars movie (assistant AD)
2001 - Samurai Girl Real Bout High School 13
2001 - Arjuna 3 (AD), etc.
2001 - Final Fantasy Unlimited 1 (AD)
2001 - Sakura Wars (AD)
2001 - Shiawase Sou no Okojo-san 8A, 13A, 18B
2002 - Heat Guy J
2004 - Macross Zero 2 (AD)
2004 - Koikaze OP
2005 - Aquarion OP, 7
2005 - Noein OP, 1, 12

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