It appears I was right. The third episodes of the respective winter noitaminA anime have been strong, with one of the said shows kicking into high gear. I’m sure you already know which show I am talking about, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. All I’m going to say at this point is that it surely made the biggest splash this week, in terms of content and graphical presentation. Now, enough about that. Recently, I just caught a trailer of the newest noitaminA show set for spring, and I thought I would talk about it a little first.
[C] Control: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control (Tatsunoko Pro, Kenji Nakamura)
After two years, Kenji Nakamura is back with a new original anime project since Trapeze. Big news for Nakamura fans, the fans of his Toei shows (Mononoke, Trapeze), and just noitaminA fans in general. His shows have always been a pleasure to watch; his off-the-wall directing combined with well-placed CGI backgrounds provided a real spectacle, almost approaching the psychedelic. 2007’s Mononoke showed his technique at its best, expertly dividing limited quality of animation with occasional bursts of pure energy in animated form. On the other hand, 2009’s Trapeze was more experimental, fusing together live-action frames and actors with textured colorful backgrounds. Frankly Nakamura’s effort on that show was hit-or-miss, but I respect what he tried to accomplish stylistically. If anything, that show was a needed and highly refreshing change of pace. The show itself showed flashes of brilliance when it did hit the right notes.
Anyway, judging from the trailer for his new anime C (I still don’t know why they chose that terrible title), it looks like a departure from his past efforts. There doesn’t seem to be the layered backdrops with the trademark artsy texture common to his past shows, but it appears to have a more fluid and grounded look, with just enough Nakamura inflection. It looks to be more streamlined than his past shows. The show itself was said to have a lot of focus on action, which is itself another difference. I’m looking forward to how Kenji Nakamura juggles this seemingly new smooth approach, with his trademark loud and flashy presentation. His effective and informed approach to storytelling and directing plus this show’s socially sensitive topic should be a very interesting combination. Early on, I am hopeful for this show–it probably won’t be able to stop noitaminA’s recent ratings slump that’s been going on for some years now–but as a Nakamura fan, I’m happy (curiously enough, Mononoke was one of the highest-rated and best-selling noitaminA anime in the slot’s run).
Director: Kenji Nakamura (Ayakashi: Bakeneko arc, Mononoke, Trapeze)
Series Composition: Noboru Takagi (Baccano!, DRRR!!)
Original Character Design: mebae (Tailenders)
Animation Character Design: Takashi Hashimoto (Mononoke, Trapeze)
Chief Animation Director/s: Takashi Hashimoto, Akira Takada (Haibane Renmei, DRRR!!)
The show drops on Fuji TV’s noitaminA slot this April.
I hope that little something up top was a good enough appetizer for you. But seeing as the show is still a few months away, let’s focus on the present, shall we?
Wandering Son #3
I was watching this show looking for a certain degree of effective character drama, since the entire thing hinges on such a sensitive subject matter, and needless to say, I’m not disappointed thus far. It manages to tackle the problems of gender confusion in young kids in a tasteful, even sensitive manner. I’ve always thought that anime is still quite tentative when it comes to confronting certain social issues or whatever, and I’m glad that this certain show doesn’t skirt around the issue and even faces it head-on, albeit with high amounts of bloom and light-hearted fluff. That tentativeness and apprehension is apparently nonexistent in its blood-brother, manga, since the medium is about anything and everything (there’s even a manga about autism–With the Light). As a medium of social relevance, anime still has a long way to go, but this show is a good start.
The direction of all the episodes so far has been consistently smooth and fluid, bringing about tension and drama in a bit of a measured dosage, and confined within the framework of the subdued directing. What’s intriguing about the show so far is the approach it shows into the backdrop and in turn, the overall look. I don’t know much about the director, Ei Aoki, but he is reputedly skilled with digital photography, and I guess it shows. The high amounts of bloom and glow inserted into the backgrounds and the imagery in the show gives it an atmosphere curiously fitting for the characters and the plot. Wandering Son is a show with kids, first of all, and the light-hearted pace and atmospheric setting fits that to a T. Plus, it gives the subject matter a slight tinge of sensitivity. The animation itself is, as expected, quite limited with nice motion given to more signature shots. It’s an effective partition. Veteran animator Koichi Arai was in episode 1, which had an expressive shot in the middle part–that I suspect is his work. One way of spotting him is through the way he draws teeth, so that’s one thing to keep an eye on while re-watching.
Manga readers have had their gripes regarding this show, some of which are the usual growing pains common to manga-to-anime transitions, while the majority of which complain about the suddenness of the show’s beginning. I myself haven’t read the manga, but I’ve been told that the anime version starts suddenly in the middle of the story–about five volumes in–so it was quite jarring for the readers. In my case, I actually didn’t feel any sudden, jarring impact from episode 1. I mean, sure, there was a bit of difficulty juggling the substantial number of characters, but I got used to it soon enough. The director introduced the assorted bunch of characters in a manner that’s not haphazard, but in an ordered and clear manner. The differing personalities of the characters were made clear very early on, so it wasn’t hard keeping up as I was watching.
Episode 3 piles on the developments established in the first two episodes, and it introduces a new dynamic among the characters, most notably the main ones–Takatsuki and Nitori–with Chiba pitching in to make things interesting. It appears that the three of them have their past misunderstandings, and I’m looking forward to how the show resolves it. Subtle developments occur in this episode–Takatsuki‘s problem with lingerie topping them; Sarashina laughing at her not helping things (she must be one of my favorite characters thus far). Interweaving all these developments as a unified whole by the end of the show is its greatest challenge, but I’m not too worried about it.
This isn’t that important, but Rie Fu is back in anime with Hourou Musuko’s ED. I’ve always liked her voice, and her good mastery of English in her songs, and her return to anime is a welcome surprise.
Fortunately, all this chatter and gibberish surrounding Yamakan’s repeated publicity stunts–that began with his careless remark that he’d quit the industry if his latest production ever fails–hasn’t dampened my enjoyment of Fractale thus far. It seems as if the guy is the new fodder for controversy, and I’ve got to say that he’s not helping his show even a tiny bit. I am of the persuasion that he should just put his money where his mouth is, and let his show do the talking for him. If it fails; it fails–it can’t be helped. But all those stunts and bids for attention aside, Fractale has been an enjoyable show so far, and as I mentioned way up top, it just recently kicked into high gear in episode 3. The biggest splash this week didn’t come from the chief director’s mouth, but from his show itself.
*I hope both shows keep up; I don’t exactly want noitaminA to go the way of NOiSE.
Fractale’s first two episodes don’t have that much in the way of stellar and purposeful directing, rather focusing on slow world-building and immersion. The characters were more of vehicles for the plot to build up the creative setting of the Fractale world–overshadowed by the Fractale system. It was perhaps the right move, as the relatively relaxed motions of the first two episodes provided a good context and exciting build-up to the major development that occurs in episode 3. For a single-cour anime, I think the overall pacing is just right. Anyway, the slow revelations about the world and the Fractale system provides a lot of questions without bogging the show down needlessly. It hasn’t fallen into the trap of droning exposition, with the few characters giving enough zip and energy to keep things interesting. Fans have noted the similarities to Hayao Miyazaki‘s movies, especially Howl’s and Laputa, in terms of atmosphere and overall setting, and I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Miyazaki is one of those undisputed masters in Japanese anime when it comes to pure artistry and creativity, and his work is a healthy mine of interesting world ideas. As long as it’s done tastefully and in a manner that doesn’t come off as cheap, and at the same time exudes an air of originality, borrowing things from Miyazaki isn’t all that bad. That is to say, Fractale shares a similar hook and feel of a Miyazaki film without coming off as a rip-off or cheap. And if you’re aiming to reach out beyond the typical anime viewer base, who’s a better role model than one of the many pillars of Studio Ghibli?
Ordet/A-1 Pictures has done a pretty admirable job in terms of the show’s present production values. The backgrounds and the art design have been fresh and beautiful to watch. It’s more of a photo-realistic approach to background work, as opposed to the heavily stylized and personal jobs done in Madoka Magica and Yumekui Merry. The job done in Fractale fits with the themes and the approach the staff has been going for–it’s stylized just enough to give it a more fairy tale-ish vibe without going over the line. The design work is creative; the airships and the various technological implements in the Fractale universe particularly hark to Miyazaki with just enough style to distinguish themselves. The designs of the “doppels” are odd and wacky without going off the deep end into the comedic direction. They look weird, but they don’t look comedic. The show would be harmed if they were.
On the other hand, the character designs are a step lower than the original designs. The original character designs seem more mystical, more in tune with the fantastical aesthetic the show seems to be going for. What’s instead seen in the anime are more watered-down and simplistic people, vastly different from the frankly, more fitting originals. A- 1 seems to have this problem when it comes to translating original designs into animation. Mel Kishida’s characters in Sora no Woto were changed dramatically when it came to the final animated product. I myself haven’t watched that show, but I have heard that the animation character designer for that show didn’t want to use the originals, and thus he changed them. Not having watched the show, I don’t have much of a strong opinion about it, but it must suck for the original character designer seeing his original work being altered like that. There’s a difference between changing the design to fit the animation and just changing them all haphazardly. To be fair, the animation designs in Fractale seem to fit the former–the simpler people don’t place that much of a burden when it comes to moving them.
Fractale‘s characters haven’t been that memorable at this early stage, showing viewers only one facet of their personality one episode at a time. The character with the most substantial exploration and development is the main character Clain (voiced by Yuu Kobayashi), but that’s just because he is the protagonist. We see the intricacies and the complications of the Fractale system through him. The rest are interesting enough, but they don’t seem to have anything new to bring to the table. I’d like them to be explored more and developed more, in order to round out the intriguing setting posed by the anime. Having weak characters in an otherwise strong show would create a terrible imbalance. But with the developments in episode 3, it looks as if my worries would be addressed soon enough. Nessa (voiced by Kana Hanazawa) is cute, though, no mistake about it. Character animation in the first two episodes have that smooth feeling common to an A-1 show–of course not at the same level as Birdy. This anime has much more in common with Yamakan’s past A-1 show, Kannagi, in terms of movement. Although Fractale’s animation may be fluent enough, it didn’t strike me as something particularly unique. It didn’t feel that fun to watch. Maybe it’s just me, but some actions seemed like they were put there just for the sake of action, with some other movement coming off as superfluous. I think I just got used to limited animation (Ryotaro Makihara, the guy who did great work in two of Yuasa’s TV anime Kaiba/Tatami Galaxy, was in Fractale #1, but I can’t put a finger on his style yet). There are a number of nice shots in episode 3–the dance, in particular–and I was wondering about those. I just discovered that Yasuomi Umetsu was in the episode, so maybe he did the dancing.
Now, episode 3. When the first two episodes had a focus on world-building, this one now puts forth the apparent main conflict in the story. Episodes 1 and 2 built up the potential conflict through Enri and her gang, but it was still shrouded in mystery then. The latest episode reveals their overall agenda, and their motives for chasing Phryne in #1, and stalking Clain and Nessa in #2. I don’t want to say the details here (what’s the point of watching it if I just tell you about it anyway?), but let’s just say that the arising conflict in #3 is something that is vaguely reminiscent of the problem posed by Miyazaki in his 1997 movie Princess Mononoke. The only difference between that film and this TV anime is the subject of the problem. There’s just a little wrinkle I have with the direction the series is going. I didn’t enjoy Princess Mononoke that much because it didn’t strike a compromise, instead opting to stick to being a preachy message film. The film set convincing arguments for both sides, and it would have been better for it to stay in the middle–not overtly choose a side. I don’t want the same thing to happen to Fractale. The show presents valid arguments about the pros and cons of the Fractale system, and choosing a definite side would just make it come off as tacky and preachy. It’s the people behind the infrastructure that are the problem, not the infrastructure itself, and I hope the show addresses that issue well.
For that matter, that’s why I always consider the manga for Nausicaa as the superior environmentalist work.
I mentioned that Fractale made the biggest splash this week, and that’s because of the indiscriminate nature of the thing. I won’t spoil anything for those who do visit my blog and haven’t watched the episode yet. Episode 3 gives off the feeling that nothing is sacred in this series, and I’m intrigued if they would continue making sudden heavy developments on the same effect as this one.
Again, not important, but the OP of Fractale must be the best in the season. The combination of a good song with a unique fractal opening grabs attention at the get-go. I appreciate the effort they put in here. What they did with the ED was nice as well–not in terms of the animation–but more of the song choice. I never would have expected them to use a poem by Yeats as the ED song.
It’s still heavily Engrish-y, but oh well. It can’t be helped.