It can't be helped.

Just use "that".

Two in One

No post about [C] episode 5 this week, since I’ve been far too busy taking care of other stuff to even think about it, and I found the episode itself to be nothing special–a step down from the upward course the show was heading since three weeks ago. And doing a post about it now would be way too late. The story did keep on moving forward with its slow yet assured pace, so there’s some more speculation fodder to be had for people with such inclinations. There’s quite literally hundreds more places to go for those, so I leave it in their hands to talk about that stuff. I sense that the quality of ep 5 was just another bump in the road, though, and hopefully there’s more interesting stuff in the next episode.

That said, I’ve still been making room for cartoons despite that, and I’ve found myself catching up with Texhnolyze after a long break. Interestingly enough, my interest in it increased even after taking a break off it for several months, and despite the fact that I wasn’t too taken by it when I first started it. It’s a curious thing. Its director, Hiroshi Hamasaki, is now in charge of that new show Steins;Gate–which I kind of liked at first but not so anymore–and his style is unmistakable in both, in terms of the minimalist approach to sound and the uniformly flat-looking colors and art. Still, both shows are markedly different. Texhnolyze just feels more accomplished and more in tune with the story (courtesy of Chiaki J. Konaka), whereas Steins feels like it thrusts much of the load on one character too much of the time, and at times it clashes with the style of the show(some eps feel as if they’re 20 mins too long).  I don’t know if it’s because of the source material. But Steins is still a solid show, and I’m still watching both.

i'd watch bambi in the future

Koi Sento (Shuhei Morita, Sunrise)

Sunrise’s new (well, not exactly new–it was shown last year) one-off anime project Koi Sento reminded me of the job they’ve done with some parts of their movie King of Thorn, with how they animated the people moving around and just ‘doing’ things. What I saw in that film didn’t sit well with me, and I found those bits of digitally enhanced animation (I don’t know the exact term for it) one of the most glaring distractions of that movie. It was only now that I’m writing this that I realize how foolish I was for thinking back to that film, when in truth, I’ve already seen this method earlier than the film. True enough, I’ve witnessed something very similar to this style before in that short film Kakurenbo, where 3D and 2D were mixed together under a still-very-anime aesthetic. And it turns out that the people behind this latest effort were the same people behind Kakurenbo (Shuhei Morita handled much of everything in Kakurenbo and wrote and directed Koi Sento), which surprised me, for Koi Sento was a very different creature–not better, but different.

While I don’t particularly favor 3D animation, I found that Kakurenbo struck some kind of ideal balance between the two methods, which was helped undoubtedly by the dark setting and atmosphere. The weird and garish designs of the characters and the monsters probably contributed to the effective combination of the animation techniques and the mood of the story, which was a dark, action thriller. I can’t really put a finger on what it is I don’t like about 3D, but I always found them looking really lanky and sloppy at times, where some movement here would feel as if it was seconds too late and another movement there would feel as if it was done seconds too early, and that they’re fluid just for the sake of fluidity. That, if I remember correctly, I didn’t see too much of in Kakurenbo–they did a good job of fusing the two techniques and balancing them in such a way that neither one would stand out too much.

All of that I didn’t find here in Koi Sento. The opening sequences alone didn’t do a convincing job at trying to show people the sort of balance they aimed to achieve in the anime, and that instead I found the 3D movement to be too unwieldy and a bit too polished, without anything much in terms of pure interesting appeal. The people may be accurately moved, but without some kind of visual interest established behind it, there won’t be any heart to it–that same spark that would make it stand out. Though, of course, it’s too harsh to say that it was ugly or whatever–the animation worked well enough for their purposes, and I guess that’s what counted in the end. I suspect they drew the characters in outline using normal 2D means and filled them out (animation and all) using 3DCG–which I also suspect was the method they used in Kakurenbo and the Freedom project (though I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s by more or less the same people anyway). But in Kakurenbo the fusion of those techniques worked quite well with the mood and look of that film, but in Koi Sento it just came up a bit short. It was just too glaring a difference in the latter, I’d say.

Though I would say that some of the designs here are definitely one point of interest in Koi Sento, which is much of the same as in Kakurenbo. The designs of the twin henchmen were fantastically odd and colorful, and they appeared as if they fit way better in the kind of landscape the story was told in–which was really lush and vivid. I also liked the design of the old woman, as she gave off the air of a dominating and controlling mother figure (which she was). Although her design was overpowered by the flamboyance of the henchmen twins, their collective appeal as a trio was well and truly higher than that of our protagonist pair. Our protagonist is yet another one of those uninspired characters whose appearance seems to be lifted from a template, and the only distinct thing about him was his accent. While it’s true that they wanted him to be another plain old anime protagonist, but haven’t we already seen enough of those? It would have been better for me if they gave him a horn or a bald head or something. His sweet love interest is at least a cut above him, but she isn’t anything special, either–at least in her disguised form. Seeing her in her schoolgirl outfit showed me how glaring the combo of 3D and 2D was. Somehow her big, round eyes and the small nose and mouth didn’t fit with the 3D application, at least to my eyes. Anyway, she was a better view to me in her traditional maiden costume. Her clothes gave her more presence, and they were also really bright, lush and pleasant to the eyes.

Another point of interest for me in Koi Sento was the background art. The downtown scenes emanated a powerful vibe of radiance and brightness that was visible in every turn. Every shop is vivid and has a lot of various details put in, seemingly at every turn of the head. The towering futuristic buildings drawn all around it served as a nice backdrop to the colors, and served an important purpose in showing the setting. The best scenes that exposed the variety and the vividness of the backgrounds were in the festival scenes, where our two lovebirds were wandering around the assorted shops and taking in the sights. There should have been more of those, in this humble blogger’s opinion, but it would have also posed other problems, so it can’t be helped. They must have afforded the luxury to insert more detail than usual due to their use of 3DCG, and I guess that’s where one of its many advantages was put in stark display.

I don’t really want to talk about the story, since it’s quite simplistic and predictable, but if you want the mushy type of romance that plays with the forbidden-love idea, then Koi Sento is just the thing. The plot and everything else in it are quite negligible, and at times I felt like the story was just tacked on there to highlight their approach to art and animation. It’s just too bad for me that the animation didn’t really hold up well in the grand scheme of things. It seemed too lacking in interest and excitement, and it wasn’t unified enough. I think they returned to the normal way in some bits of the action too, but I can’t tell for sure. It seems those parts were too hairy for them to do in their integrated way. While I can understand that the story isn’t exactly the focus of the proceedings in Koi Sento, I also think that it isn’t a good enough excuse and that you can create an impressively engaging and truly entertaining self-contained story within 24 or so minutes, as was proven in Kakurenbo. I just found it to be too bad that Koi Sento didn’t have the same kind of narrative backup to help strengthen the animation.

Kakurenbo did all that stuff and did them well, and I guess so does this next Sunrise one-off offering.

dead leaves-lite? lol, no not really

Norageki! (Hiroaki Ando, Sunrise)

This latest one (shown last January) is hands-down the strongest product of the two. The story is more intriguing; the art is more consistent, and the animation is more fun to watch. It’s the anime which I think comes the closest between the two in achieving the right proportions and balance between 3DCG and 2D, where neither of the two dominated the action aside from some minor spots here and there. The anime is also helped by the strong and mystery-laden story. The plot was strong enough to stand on its own independent of animation technique, and thus served well as a backbone to the technical flexing seen in the anime. It’s got what Koi Sento so painfully lacked and needed.

The designs here were not as aggressively outlandish as the ones in Koi Sento, but I found them appealing in their own simple way. Some of them exuded more attitude and personality than the others, but only one of them was definitively cut out of the token mold (and even then the story gives a reason for this). And this time the designs weren’t rudely intruded upon by the integrated use of 3DCG. The movements were visibly 3D, but they didn’t really seem to be that off-putting or jarring, unlike Koi Sento, instead the digital motions fulfilled their jobs well, and that is to move the people and everything on the screen in a pleasing and consistent way. In Koi Sento  I went through many moments where I said to myself “Eww, 3D”, and those moments were markedly decreased in Norageki. Futuristic stories like Koi Sento and Norageki seem to be the obvious landscapes for something like this approach to animation to flourish, but based on what I’ve seen, it’s still far from being an exact science.

If in Koi Sento the story was negligible at best and boring at worst, the plot behind Norageki gave more room for me to enjoy the rest of the anime. Penned by Dai Sato (Eureka 7, Ergo Proxy), the narrative was the type which kept people on their toes every minute, until the final revelation at the end. It’s complicated enough for a self-contained 24 minute story, with all the requisite clues being uncovered one by one in a satisfying and logical process. Which is to say I was left scratching my head as the anime ended. Like I’ve said over and over in the past, I’m too dumb for any of this stuff, and here again the ending left me shaking my head in confusion. The general reasoning behind the twist was there, though, and it wasn’t like they just threw it in there just to be cool. And I suppose it’s nice, since it doesn’t explain anything concrete even until the end, and that the story leaves a lot of things to the imagination. While Dai Sato doesn’t strike me as very similar in style and preference to Konaka, the former is still capable of crafting those types of stories in his own right.

I’ve read the Samurai Champloo manga before (which was quite funny, by the way) and it surprises me to see that the characters in Norageki designed by the artist of that manga–Masaru Gotsubo. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the manga, but I can note the difference between the styles of the two. This is where Gotsubo’s truly original character designs came to play, and I have to say I was satisfied with what I saw. He was able to give some personality to some of the characters with the drawings alone, as is the case with the hacker girl with glasses. I wonder how they would look like if they were animated in the usual way–hell, I wonder the same with Koi Sento–and at times I thought how nice it would be if they were animated in the normal way…but that’s beside the point. I don’t think there’s anything really explosive in Norageki‘s designs in terms of creativity and innovation, but they worked well enough to be entertaining.  One thing about the designs, though: they make me ask myself how it must have felt like adapting Kazuto Nakazawa‘s original designs in SC to a different medium.

Both Koi Sento and Norageki still didn’t help me regain my faith in 3DCG animation, but they were solid enough pieces that anyone could enjoy them without any fatal hassle at all. They’re only one-off deals, anyway, which is even better. There aren’t a lot of those being made these days anymore. And in addition to that, there’s certainly none of them being made now with the same kind of intensity and adrenaline as in Dead Leaves, which Norageki vaguely reminded me of.




2 responses to “Two in One

  1. Scamp May 19, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Koisento used its CG for dancing in the ending sequence, so criticism of anything else about it is negligible.

    While I liked both of these a lot, I do have to agree that it still hasn’t sold me on CG. The painted on look of the characters still doesn’t quite look right. I get what they’re trying to do, but they haven’t yet cracked how to get the anime look onto CG characters. It’s only when CG goes into deliberately non-anime styled look does it seem to work.

    But hey, at least they’re trying

    • ananimas May 19, 2011 at 8:13 pm

      Well, Koi Sento was produced by the same people behind Kakurenbo, so I thought they’d do a good job here too, but I just didn’t get the same feeling I did in Kakurenbo, so too bad.

      But yeah, they are trying.

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