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Young Animator Training Project #2

I think I’m not alone here when I say that there won’t be another TV mecha anime to be released any time soon with as high a quality of sheer workmanship as the finale of Bones’ Star Driver. That episode felt like a movie trapped inside a TV episode, with the staff list filled with its own fair share of feature-level animators. It was a purely exhilarating affair from start to finish, totally bombarding the viewers with its sheer power and energy for 24 full minutes. The whole series was a mixed bag for me, but overall it was a very fun watch much in the same way as most Enokido anime are.

But, since this isn’t a Star Driver post, let’s end it there.

 

even while kicking ass, kizuna is still cute as hell

 

Young Animator Training Project – Kizuna Ichigeki (Mitsuru Hongo, Ascension)

If Ojisan no Lamp was a more delicate and balanced episode, this one is the direct opposite. This, I guess, is where the young animators involved in this initiative really strutted their stuff under the supervision of a fun director, a respected art director, and a very loose and flexible character designer. It’s a very enjoyable show that I feel really reflects the background of the supervisory staff, and shows how well the old and the new collaborated to form a good product. Not coincidentally, this was one of the parts of the series that I’ve looked forward to the most, and I’ve got to say I wasn’t disappointed at all.

 

Kizuna Ichigeki was how I expected this animation initiative to play out. While Ojisan no Lamp was a neat and delicate little surprise, it ran contrary to my predictions for the show in a good way. It served to expose the other side of the anime spectrum–careful, layered storytelling combined with equally careful and deliberate character acting–not the visual bonanza I was looking for the producers to focus on. That side of the fence is realized here in Kizuna, where there is a sense of fun and enjoyment all around, ranging from the round and simplistic character designs, to the art design, and to the actual presentation itself. It really speaks of the director and his character designer’s background in anime, and the whole episode gives off the feeling that the animators involved in it had a lot of fun working on the anime as well.

Everything that made me enjoy this show starts with the character designs. They’re fun, quirky, and childlike without being too simplistic. There’s a variation in all the faces and bodies, yet they still maintain that signature unique flavor of the character designer. There’s also those little stray lines here and there that give the characters a sort of rough, unhinged appeal. What’s most important, I feel, is that these designs all have more than enough room to give the animators for actually moving them whichever way they want to. From the biggest man to the tiniest kid, each character in this here episode moves really well, following choreography that puts some action movies to shame. For that we have to give credit to one particular Yuichiro Sueyoshi. His anime background can be inferred when you watch this film. I’ve mentioned these in passing here in the past, but here’s some information about him. Sueyoshi has worked with Shin – Ei Animation in the past, not only for their Shin-chan projects, but also for their other anime, like Hare + Guu and Keiichi Hara’s 2007 film Summer Days with Coo. Outside the studio, he has also partnered with one Masaaki Yuasa for Mind Game as character designer/animation director. Not a bad history there. True enough, his partnership with Yuasa over the years influenced the way he designed characters, as he gives them this rough, almost unpolished characteristic, but there’s also a certain quality to his drawings that makes them his own. I’m no expert, but I feel that it’s the more defined and technical way he draws people’s faces and bodies. Anyway, Sueyoshi’s work on this initiative is impressive as always, and is also the reason I looked forward to Kizuna so much.

Mitsuru Hongo, the director, I only really saw a glimpse of on his work on AIC’s Spirit of Wonder OVAs. The episode of his that I watched was quite entertaining, in its tight presentation and quirky humor. He made that episode fun and even a little romantic. It wasn’t anything spectacular in the end, but the simple and fun approach it took is what I remember that OVA by the most. Looking him up reveals his vast anime background, for he directed not a few of Shin – Ei’s Shin-chan films, becoming a pillar of sorts for that franchise until Keiichi Hara took over. I guess that explains the light touch and fun-minded style of this particular YATP episode. He injected fun characters and ideas into the whole short–ranging from the first few minutes of the show to the final twist–all held together by his precise presentation and tight flow. You come out of watching Kizuna with a smile on your face partly because of his directing work. He has a lot of veteran savvy, and you can tell that he does know what he’s doing.

This animation project is aimed to give younger animators valuable work experience and exposure, and the people involved in this episode really had fun with it. The animation work done in Kizuna Ichigeki is lush, full and well-conceived. The choreography in the action sections particularly shine through. Action animation is something anime fans want to see more often, and this episode shows why. Each action is consistent, nicely timed and is just fun to watch. Sueyoshi’s designs give the animators much more breathing room to insert their own plans for the action choreography, and they’re evident from the first fight to the climactic one. In terms of the choreography and the flow of action, the sections in Ichigeki kind of remind me of the action sequences Masahiro Ando once did for the Shin-chan films he’s worked on, and some parts of the final fight in the Bebop film (which I’m not sure if Ando had a hand in). Anyway, not only is the action animation in Kizuna exciting and fun, but most of all, they’re convincing. The animators did a great job making the characters move in a typical action anime kind of way, but convincing enough so that they grab attention right from the get-go.

I guess it’s not only in the fighting that Kizuna stands out. There’s also those little snippets of different visual hooks present in the grandpa’s different joke stories–like the girl band idea (I like to think it was a dig at K – On) to the mecha battle in space one. Each of them are funny, and blend in really well with the rest of the episode. One touch I also liked was the finger-fighting scenes with the grandpa and the dad. They’re funny insertions, but they also give life to the atmosphere of the episode. If that’s not enough, Kizuna also had its share of heartwarming moments. What’s fun is that they don’t hobble the episode by being too mushy. It’s just right. The episode as a whole was a fun, tight, well-rounded gig that’s held together well by Hongo’s capable directing.

The background art in the episode was also commendable. They’re bright, colorful, and childlike, but they’re not too overpowering. They have their own spirit and they fulfill their purpose as a neat backdrop for the characters to move about. It gave the style of the whole episode another dimension, and another edge. I feel it’s one of the aspects that give the episode part of its sense of unity. I was surprised to learn that the much-respected Takashi Nakamura (Fantastic Children, Tree of Palme) was involved in the episode as art director.  I had thought he only wrote his name in hiragana, but I guess I was wrong. It turns out that he also had the same role in Coo. Shows just how little I know. Anyway, his work here completes the impressive all-around work done by the veterans in this episode, alongside the actual animators themselves.

The YATP has been strong so far, having shown different approaches to anime while maintaining a consistent quality of workmanship throughout. But, as it turns out, I enjoyed Kizuna Ichigeki the most so far. It achieved a good sense of synergy between the veteran staffers and the young animators, thereby producing an episode laden with an infectious sense of fun and looseness, not to mention energy and childlike appeal. The director and the rest of the supervisory people laid out their influence clearly and let the animators work themselves into it. That said, I’m hoping the rest of this little initiative is as strong, or even stronger than these preceding two shorts.

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