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Just use "that".
In the early days of this upstart blog, I’ve already been thinking about blogging an ongoing anime series or two. But since I’m lazy and my consistency is suspect, I elected not to. Trying to retrieve substance from an episode and trying to enjoy the whole affair at the same time is too much for my brain to handle. In some ways I admire most of the anime bloggers who can do this, even though I may not necessarily agree with what they’re saying. This is also why I only stuck with movies and short OVAs. I guess I need something to hold my interest enough to do that stuff week after week.
And that’s where this baby comes in. I’ve been interested in this series since I watched the trailer for the first time last month (here I go with trailers again), and this time I’m glad that I’ve been treated to something enjoyable. The first episode I watched was simple, delicate and easy on the eyes. It had a bit of emotion, even. I’m looking forward to the rest of the set, though some more than others.
Young Animator Training Project – Ojisan no Lamp (Telecom Animation Film)
An initiative started by the JAniCA (Japan Animation Creators Association) and funded by the Japanese government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, the Young Animator Training Project is designed to train young animators in the industry by putting them to work on full 23-minute episodes of anime. There has been a concern that more and more of the production jobs in anime are being outsourced to other countries, and I guess this is the industry’s first step to answering that. It’s a respectable effort, since this taps into the young blood in the industry and gives them valuable work experience. Baby steps, is what this initiative basically is, but we all have to start somewhere. Of course, the young animators are supervised by industry veterans. The mix of the old and the new should be interesting to watch.
Telecom Animation Film is a studio I don’t know much about. From what I recall they started operations in the late 70s, when TV animation in Japan was booming. They’ve worked with some industry greats (Miyazaki and Takahata for example) and produced some of the Lupin movies back then. Alongside other Japanese studios, namely TMS, they’ve also cooperated on some Western animation back in the 90s like Batman: The Animated Series (with TMS and Sunrise). I recall they also got involved in the Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker film. Aside from that I don’t know much else. Their most recent gig I remember was assisting the production for the Moyashimon TV series back in 2007.
Anyway, Telecom’s contribution to the YATP is this delicate and simple outing called Ojisan no Lamp. I’m sparing you the finer details, but it is basically a surprising film. Surprising, in the sense that there is a layer of depth hidden beneath the serene exterior. Admittedly, I expected an anime that put a more extreme highlight to the actual animation, in an attempt to showcase the skills of the trainees, but what I got was a more balanced episode. It was a good product coming from the collaboration between the Telecom veterans (the director was character designer for Uninhabited Planet Survive/Tide-Line Blue) and the younger trainees. It struck a healthy balance between mature storytelling sensibilities with youthful vigor coming out of a subdued direction.
I liked the character designs in the anime. They’re simple and clean. Their forms are deliberately done; there are no visible stray lines, no unnecessary details. What they aimed for were people that are easiest to move, using only the bare minimum when it comes to pure “prettiness” of the drawings. Oftentimes, a TV anime falls into the practice of exchanging interesting animation with beautiful drawings, which actually works, but they’re just not as fun to watch. But that’s also the problem: they just work. There’s hardly any flair to the production, which takes away from the overall enjoyment of the thing. Ojisan no Lamp is different. The movements are tight, and there is a zip in the characters’ steps. But of course, this is a young Animator training project after all. An expectation of good quality is present here. If they had skipped out on anything in the animation for even one episode, then the entire initiative will have failed completely. More than anything, Ojisan no Lamp serves as a valid showcase of the existing talent base in Japanese anime as much as it serves the purpose of training them. It’s safe to expect for the same, if not better, quality of workmanship in the other three episodes of the set.
What really takes the cake for me in this episode is the story being told. Judging from the tone of the first few minutes, I expected something fun and lyrical, with the narrative only serving as the footing for the animation. In Ojisan no Lamp, though, I found that it was the narrative presentation that defined the film for me. The animation is nice of course–it’s crisp and deliberate–but it doesn’t contribute as much to the overall enjoyment of the film. It’s the story of the main character, the old man, which entertains the most. I don’t think that’s a flaw of the anime, since both the visuals and story work well together to make a little enjoyable film. It’s just surprising–for lack of a better term. It defied my assumptions.
It’s a rather simple story about a man’s struggle to keep up with the ever-changing tides of technology. From the nigh-perpetual dark nights, to the usage of lamps, then to the introduction of electricity, Ojisan no Lamp portrays a convincing, if not melodramatic picture of people adapting to the waves of modernization. In a short allotted time of 24 minutes, the anime manages to cover quite the extensive bit of ground, telling its story with a sizable scope. It doesn’t have broad strokes, but rather it has a focus on one person’s struggle. Well, struggle is too strong a word. Let’s call it adaptation. His story is the main drive of the film. Our main character welcomes new technologies with enthusiasm and vigor, then ironically resents the introduction of a much better alternative because of his affections for the lamp. It’s an entertaining full circle, capped off by a heartwarming climax. It doesn’t sell itself as being too precious or too nice, but it has a sting to it. Ojisan no Lamp has a more mature sensibility escaping out of the whimsical nature and feel of the animation.
Though, it does come off as being a bit too melodramatic at certain times. I think I’m just nitpicking here, since the entire episode is fairly enjoyable otherwise, but there are times when the anime overplays emotion. It must be the music. The music is delicate and quite romantic, but then again it peaks at the wrong time and at the wrong place. I would have preferred it if there was less music in Ojisan, as funny as that may sound. It would be better served had there been at least a better choice and timing of the music. In this humble blogger’s opinion, the climactic sequences would have had more effect had there been lighter music. Or no music at all. It only gave me the common feeling of the anime being too theatrical, too cinematic. A more natural handling of emotion would have had more pull and more tug at the heartstrings. While it’s hardly exaggerated, it’s still enough to cause a tiny bit of distraction. Nevertheless, the episode was strong enough that what I’m complaining about is hardly a serious flaw. It’s just a very tiny gripe. Ojisan no Lamp is still a very watchable film.
And, since people seem to care more about voice actors these days, I guess another reason to watch Ojisan no Lamp is the inclusion of the popular VA Hiroshi Kamiya. His voice is quite unmistakable here. He’s been everywhere these days, come to think of it, SHAFT gigs aside.
Ojisan no Lamp is a nice collaboration between the older, more experienced staff and the young animator trainees. It had its fair share of youthful vigor and mature heart. It’s a strong showcase of the existing pool of talent in Japan, though I don’t think the cries of the industry having no talent left would be dispelled anytime soon. An enjoyable and emotional flick, it should be a good basis for people to check out the three remaining projects. The rest are at least interesting. Personally, I am looking forward to the contributions of Mitsuru Hongo/Yuichiro Sueyoshi and Production IG/Kazuchika Kise.
Hopefully, I don’t become too lazy to comment on them.