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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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

06:32:11 pm , 125 words, 2827 views     Categories: Misc

Irrelevaniae

I was sitting by Pitt River today broiling reading Shimao when I decided on my next translation: 月暈. I still haven't figured out how to translate this strange but wonderful title. The story is no less head-scratching. How am I going to translate something I can't even visualize? It'll be a good challenge.

After sitting by the river for an hour I was driven by the heat to seek the shade in Minnekhada Park, where voracious biting flies drove me crazy and home. Could hear blasting in the distance where urban sprawl is elaborating its ineluctable course. Girls everywhere are wearing hotpants, and it's hard not to stare. I'm still hobbling from my torture session on the mountain two days ago.

Japanese word of the day: 挫折

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

01:23:50 pm , 86 words, 696 views     Categories: Misc

Life is unpredictable

I bought strawberries two weeks ago and they were delicious. I bought strawberries today and they were mediocre.

Found myself rewatching Akarui Kazoku Keikaku today. I find this oddly nondescript story of three people walking around Tokyo looking for ways to commit suicide somehow strangely uplifting.

There was a very finely and delicately animated bit around the middle of Peter Pan #6 where Tiger Lily and John are boarding the pirate ship. I wonder who did it.

On this sunny, beautiful day, this is how I'm feeling:

Monday, June 28, 2004

09:00:33 pm , 293 words, 974 views     Categories: Animation

The Longest Day + Peter Pan

Today felt like the longest day ever. I walked a total of 20 kilometers with a cumulative elevation change of 2000 meters. I tried to make it to Alouette Peak over in Golden Ears Park, but I conked out just a bit before the end. I was cramping up. That's what I get for diving in the deep end. It's been months since I did any major hiking.

I'm lucky enough to have found a means of seeing the old Nippon Animation World Masterpiece Theater series Peter Pan, and I'm really looking forward to it. I was surprised to find out a short time ago just how many great animators were involved in it. Presumably they were attracted to the show because of who was in charge of the character design, 1980s Karisuma Animator No. 1, Takashi Nakamura. He animated the op too. Here's a sampling of who did what in this series:

  • Mitsuo Iso: 20 (uncredited) - the part where a character dons a cap
  • Osamu Tanabe: 21
  • Shinya Ohira: 23, 40 (the major pull for me)
  • Norio Matsumoto: 19, 22, 26, 29, 32, 35, 41 (amazing - this guy is everywhere)
  • Hiroyuki Okiura: 8, 16, 20, 22, 37, 41

Hiroyuki Okiura was also animation director on episodes 12, 20 and 28.

I have a poster on Coosun's BBS to thank for this list.

I've already seen episode 22, the climax of the first half of the series, which is a must-see for Nakamura fans. I've honestly never seen such a well animated meisaku episode. I've heard that there was an episode where the animators got into trouble for drawing more than 10,000 cels, and were forced to trim it down. I'm guessing this is the episode. Truly what I'd expect of Nakamura, who made his name drawing animation far above the norm in terms of both quality and quantity in his episodes of Gold Lightan and Urashiman.

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Saturday, June 26, 2004

01:30:50 pm , 338 words, 1087 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Dead Leaves DVD

Hiroyuki Imaishi's Dead Leaves DVD goes on sale July 24. Here's a rare film in anime: one long action scene - and what action! Imaishi threw in everything he's got. It's 60 minutes of pure Imaishi - an animator's film to the core, like they used to make in the good old days. And it's the wildest stuff to be seen in an anime film in many a year. I don't know how well the film was received in Japan, but I'm guessing over here it's going to tank. Unless you specifically watch animation for the animation, you won't get this film. Most anime fans don't give a shit about animation. It cuts away all the unnecessary padding and gets right to what's really important: action! action! and more action! You won't find this sort of thing anywhere else right now. Even Yoshinori Kanada, his great sempai, reportedly now draws stuff that's tame in comparison - they say his characters in the film had downright normal proportions compared to the rest. Anyway, this film was one of the year's big events, not to be missed by fans of real, full-blooded ANIMATION.

40 people in Japan have one more chance to see Mind Game before the rest of the world. Another screening is being held on the 30th, this Wednesday, in Roppongi, sponsored by Anime Style. Anime Style is also holding a Masaaki Yuasa special event tomorrow, Sunday, where they will be showing video clips of his animation as well as the Slime Adventure short he directed, plus excerpts from Mind Game. Guests include Masaaki Yuasa, Robin Nishi, Tatsuo Sato, Koji Morimoto, and Mitsuru Hongo (director of Shin-chan).

Anime Style has pretty much become the company handling most Mind Game-related side-releases. They're publishing the comic, they're going to publish the "mook" (movie book), they're holding these events, and they've been putting up lots of interviews and stuff with Yuasa on their page. The latest is an interview on Yuasa's "Best 20" (animation, naturally). The mook will also have a new interview with Yuasa.

Friday, June 25, 2004

05:03:53 pm , 93 words, 1770 views     Categories: Animation

Supermarket spookiness

Had a peculiar experience today at the grocery store. The customers in front of me at the checkout were two twentiesomethings, one of them leaning casually against the bar at a steep angle wearing an Eminem baseball cap and a basketball jersey. The only thing on their area of the roller was Soldier of Fortune magazine. They were talking about military stuff. Classify under: Creepy.

Spotted Takeshi Koike in Champloo #5 - the big guy jumping out of the barrel? Unusually funny episode overall. The director/storyboarder was an unknown to me: Sayo Yamamoto.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

05:29:54 pm , 259 words, 3870 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Steam Game + Mind Boy

Been working on the Stories From the Floating World page over the last few days, which is why I haven't written anything here.

With the release of Mind Game imminent (although no date has yet been set), I look forward to the time when I can look back in nostalgia on the old days, before Masaaki Yuasa went big, when nobody had ever heard of him, and I could still claim him all for myself. And yet, I'm thrilled beyond description by the prospect that this will be the dawn of the age of Yuasa, and that we'll actually be able to see more films from Yuasa in the future, something I never imagined in my wildest dreams. To think that there are people out there with enough vision to be able to see Yuasa's massive potential, and to give him a chance to make a film... it's downright moving. There really is justice in the world! God Bless You, Tanaka Eiko!

Read my first review of Steam Boy from someone who saw the test screening. The verdict? No surprise - the steam is incredible. 9 years for steam? Hmm. Still, I'm looking forward to the film for that steam, if not for much else.

I sent an email to Yuasa c/o Anime Style's 応援団, and got mentioned in the next column. 88| That was a surprise. Even more of a surprise, I was the only respondant. Hopefully that will change soon. I told Yuasa he had a fan overseas. In response, I was told he was surprised and pleased. B)

Saturday, June 19, 2004

06:56:59 pm , 546 words, 5642 views     Categories: Animation

Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi

Yesterday I paid a visit to this Japanese site put up by some anonymous samaritan offering a whole bunch of episodes of the old TV series まんが世界昔ばなし (Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi, Classic Tales from Around the World, 1976-79) for download, and discovered that the site has been much filled out since I last visited a year ago. The files now have sound, and there are about 50 episodes available in total. A great find. This is a very rare series. Nobody has heard of it, but here we have a long series with episode after episode done by famous figures like Osamu Dezaki, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Masami Hata, and Manabu Ohashi. Many of the names are Mushi Pro figures, so it seems likely that Madhouse was the animation studio actually behind the production of the episodes, although the umbrella company Dax International is the only name that usually gets mentioned in the credits. This series was obviously patterned on Group Tac's まんが日本昔ばなし (Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, Classic Tales from Old Japan), the more famous of the two and the one that originated the idea for an animated omnibus of literary classics & folktales with a rotating crew every episode. The latter's unique production style left behind innumerable absolutely wonderful little gems, including a number of episodes animated by Gisaburo Sugii.

The capstone in the Madhouse version is the Shipwreck episode created by Madhouse's ambassadors, the unbeatable triumvirate of Osamu Dezaki, Akio Sugino and Shichiro Kobayashi. Despite its brevity - actually, because of its brevity - this is probably my favorite film by the team. Forced by this brevity to do away with any extraneous detail, every shot and every image feels dramatically convincing and essential, without any of the interminable melodramatic languors that usually so turn me off from Dezaki, resulting in what is for me the most succinct and convincing embodiment of their time-tested approach. The episode can be downloaded from this page. (it's the first one at the top; the Red Shoes episode, sixth from the top, also by the same team, is also very much worth a look)

Among the episodes added since my last visit was one by Masami Hata, for which the webmaster has my eternal gratitude! Specifically, it was animated and directed by Masami Hata. Takeshi Shudo wrote it and Shichiro Kobayashi did the art. It's a Norwegian fairy tale about a poor boy who extorts a bunch of magical objects from the north wind for having spilled his wheat. It's a great episode - serene, warm, unostentatious, perfectly honed, with nothing unnecessary, peppered with the sort of refined, understated, irresistible humor that makes Hata the one and only true Zen master of gags in the wide world of anime. Hata's animation is very simple, and the designs are round and fluffy, yet for some reason it feels like nothing else out there. There's real magic in there, in the timing, something honest and heartfelt and without anime fakery or posing or showing off, which makes it a pure joy to watch. It's a mystery to me where this disctinctive approach comes from - it's something fundamentally alien to anime. It's Masami Hata's unique contribution to anime. And it's a real treasure. The episode can be downloaded from this page. (it's the second from the top)

Friday, June 18, 2004

04:29:48 pm , 126 words, 1067 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Mind Game miscellanea

Mind Game Official SiteMasaaki Yuasa and Koji Morimoto will be presenting a talk at the Digital Art Festival Tokyo 2004, which is being held from July 23-27. I don't know any further details.

One person I haven't heard mentioned at all yet in relation to Mind Game is the animation director, Yuichiro Sueyoshi. One of the reviewers of the preview screening directly compared the latter half of the film to the climactic scene in the Crayon Shin-chan film Otona Teikoku no Gyakushu, which was animated by Sueyoshi, confirming my suspicions that Mind Game will be a step further in the direction Sueyoshi showed himself to be going in said scene (and also in the scene he did for Hale Nochi Guu) - although this was obvious enough from the trailer.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

06:54:59 pm , 621 words, 6409 views     Categories: Animation

Fighting anime

I'd never watched much fighting anime before seeing the Atsushi Wakabayashi/Norio Matsumoto episodes of Naruto, but I was impressed enough by those to be compelled to see if I might be able to scrounge up any other interesting team-ups in recent fighting anime. And with very little effort, this is what I found.

Ninku #41

- 吉原正行 Masayuki Yoshihara (storyboard/animation director/key animation)
- 新房昭之 Akiyuki Shinbo (director)
- 西尾鉄也 Tetsuya Nishio (key animation - he did the most impressive part in the episode, the marionette)

My first encounter actually occurred way back in 1997, when I rented a VHS tape of recent anime from a Japanese corner store in Houston. On the tape, among other random anime, was a recently aired episode of Ninku. I don't remember what the other stuff was, but I distinctly remember being totally shocked and blown away by the quality of the Ninku episode, and not being able to forget it for a long time afterwards. I didn't watch much anime back then either, so the fact that the first random anime episode I happened to pick up was that good got me to wondering - half in despair - whether all anime had become that good in the short span I'd been away; but in the event, no, I later discovered that I had stumbled across the most famous episode in the series, one far above the norm both then and now, hence sparing me much time in front of the TV.

Besides having a great opening animated by Tetsuya Nishio (who also did KA in episodes 13 & 48 and AD/KA in 15 & 50), Ninku apparently featured a number of other high-quality episodes such as episodes 14, 22, 29 & 45. Episode 29 is the earliest sally in the genre I know of by Atsushi Wakabayashi (animation director/key animation), who has now established himself as the reigning master in his Naruto episodes.

Norio Matsumoto's brief appearance in the series (#2) signals his first involvement in the genre, to be picked up shortly.

Yu Yu Hakusho #30, 35, 41, 47, 52, 58, 66, 74

- 新房昭之 Akiyuki Shinbo (director/storyboard)
- 若林厚史 Atsushi Wakabayashi (key animation)

1992's Yu Yu Hakusho, one of the biggest hits of the 90s and the spark of the fighting anime boom, was the baby steps in the genre for most of the same handful of people who have been responsible for pretty much everything good in the genre since then.

The late episodes by the Shinbo/Wakabayashi team are the high point of the series. Apart from his episodes with Shinbo, Wakabayashi was also AD on episodes 6, 12, 15, 23 (+KA) & 48.

Tetsuya Nishio also did a lot animation in this series: episodes 2, 9, 14, 19, 26, 33, 43, 49, 56, 62, 70, 86 & 92. This was the period when he was influenced by Satoru Utsunomiya, who worked alongside him as a key animator in episodes 19 & 26.

Shinbo has been active in other areas since then. Among other things, he went on to do Metal Fighter Miku (#4 & 13) and Ginga Ojosama Densetsu Yuna (#1), and more recently the OVA コゼットの肖像 (Le Portrait de Petite Cosette), a high quality gothic horror type thing, all of which he directed with the same exacting and peculiar touch that made his fighting anime so noteworthy and interesting.

Rekka no Honoo #6, 22

- 松本憲生 Norio Matsumoto (key animation)

Before recently doing the FX animation in the aforementioned episodes of Naruto (he also animated two cuts in the latest opening), the prolific Norio Matsumoto left behind one of the most impressive animated sequences of his illustrious career in episode 22 of this fighting anime.

Rurouni Kenshin #30, 31, 60, 66, 85

Around the same time, Matsumoto did animation in a number of episodes of Rurouni Kenshi before going on to do...

Hunter x Hunter #11, 17, 22, 28

...the movie-quality action in episode 28 of which is his strongest work in this series, and leads directly to Naruto shortly afterwards, thus closing the loop.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

03:45:30 pm , 269 words, 1428 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Fixed Mind Game trailer / Ghibli x Yomiuri

Mind Game Official SiteFirst off, here is a working version of the Mind Game trailer. The one on the official web site is all crappy.

Nishi: Am I dead?

God: YEEEEEAAAAASSSSS!!

Browsing Google, it looks like the trailer is finally getting people's attention. All right! Mind Game is without a doubt going to be an epoch-making film for anime, probably the defining moment for the next generation of anime films. The problem is, especially here in the west, that casual viewers may be turned off at first by the strange imagery, and might miss a great film that they'd otherwise love just for something so petty. Yes, it will be an artistic, bizarre, thought-provoking and disturbing film - but also a spectacularly entertaining feel-good summer blockbuster that everyone, anime fan or no, will enjoy if we can just convince them to watch it! So let's us fans try to spread the word to get as many people to see this important film as possible to make it the success it deserves to be!

I'm a little late, but I noticed Ghibli had a Yomiuri Shimbun advertisement airing in April. Just a guess, but it sure as heck looks a helluvalot like Osamu Tanabe animated the thing! Lovin it! My favorite animators are taking over Ghibli! There is some justice in the world.

If it is Tanabe, then this commercial comes as a followup to the Umacha commercial he did in 2001, shortly after the release of My Neighbors the Yamadas. (For the uninitiated, Osamu Tanabe is the wonderful animator who directed and storyboarded the second half of Yamadas; for more info, see filmography.)

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