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Colorful (Ryutaro Nakamura, Triangle Staff)

If not for anime databases listing this production as a TV series, I would have finished watching this anime thinking that it had been a movie or an extra-long OVA or whatever: with the fact that I watched a stitched-together version of the sixteen TV episodes definitely helping. It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind that it was divided into sixteen parts, much less think of it as something that was aired on TV. But that’s just what happened–so seamless were the transitions from one ep to the next that the whole thing itself may just as well have been made as a movie. Part of the reason may be attributed to the guys who pasted all 16 eps together (in the version I watched), but I think much of that reason lies in the episodes themselves. There’s a really visible sense of fun and playfulness abound in all of them, stretching from the visual gags of the eps themselves straight to the slapdash, yet vibrant stuff in between. It’s clear that the guys behind this Colorful project enjoyed doing what they did, playing everything with a twisted eye for fun, but also with a careful touch to prevent it from sliding into over-indulgence.

As this was apparently produced in 1999, I would assume that this was the project Ryutaro Nakamura (Lain, Ghost Hound) busied himself in right after his work on the TV series Lain. And the turn-around is quite drastic. Lain was an atmospheric type of series pervaded with a glum mood and downplayed visuals, and Colorful was the more experimental, more adventurous, and simply more fun-to-watch. This Colorful, though, was adapted from a seinen manga of the same name, so that could also have been a reason for the switch. But watching this TV series/movie/whatever (I’m really not sure what to think of it) for me negates the need to read the source material–the anime is already funny and engaging in and of itself, thanks to the commendable job by Nakamura and co. What manga fails to achieve due to the inherent limits of its medium is thereby compensated by the strengths of animation–anime, that is–thus giving people a widely unique experience entirely. I would say the staff didn’t just set out to lift a manga straight off its pages and transplant it onto the TV screen, but they also had the sense and ability to add little flourishes of their own and to play off the flurry of ideas which I guess are only possible in animation.

The anime itself is a comedy, an ecchi comedy to be exact–a genre I’m not particularly fond of–and it shows the various misadventures of men, young and old alike, trying to claim a rare peek at those thin fabrics holding back women’ s promised lands…oh hell, screw it, the anime is about perverted men trying to peek at women’s underwear via any means necessary, anytime, anywhere. It’s that kind of show. But what’s different about this Colorful is that it is actually funny. It’s not just because of the very anime-styled reactions and distorted faces(which I admit brought some smiles to my face), but it’s also because of the interesting way the whole scenes themselves are manipulated and played out, not only in terms of the visuals but also in terms of sound. The anime was a surprisingly audio-visual experience. At times you get the sudden glitchy repetitions of a frame (as an example) and then various distorted sound effects coming from the background. Then there’s also the abrupt insertions of an external visual gag–like the dress-up game–which serves both the purpose of comedy and scene transition. The visual gags alone are too many to mention. The whole anime is saturated with those that it’s quite incredible that it doesn’t feel too muddled and overloaded. Even with all the SFX added everywhere. It’s clear that Nakamura and co. had quite a bit of fun making this series/film and thus you have no choice but to go along with the ride.

One thing I noticed when I watched Ghost Hound about three years ago was the way the sound/music was manipulated, or controlled. From the random guitar riffs to the various scratching, eerie noises emitted from the backdrop, the sound direction in that show helped give the series its own atmosphere and tone. Forget the convoluted psychological mumbo-jumbo born from the combination of Masamune Shirow and Chiaki J. Konaka, it’s the other, much less observed things that made that show watchable as it was. At first I wouldn’t have attributed that kind of sound control to the director, but after watching Colorful, I think I may have to change my mind. In Colorful, there’s that same kind of slapdash yet careful contortion of sound and music, albeit in a much more lighthearted and fun-filled manner. Watching it made me think of the director as a DJ of some sort, gleefully scratching away at his turntable, mixing and matching various sounds and noises and music to layer and to give more weight to the already jam-packed comedic visuals. Of all the anime directors I know (and they’re not really much) I haven’t seen anyone give this much careful attention to both sounds and pictures and combine them in a very dense and entertaining whole. It’s not just putting in a nicely composed piece of music by a great composer into a scene to give it impact, it’s the adept cramming of SFX and music that heightens the comedy of a scene to its fullest. Colorful wouldn’t be as good as it was if the audio was missing, or if it wasn’t done the way it was. It does a great job of engaging both the eyes and ears.

Despite that, however, I still had some reservations about the actual content. I mean, there’s just so much the premise can do, and just so far it can go. Some of the gags felt a little too cheap and grossly exaggerated, which even the densely packed audiovisual gags couldn’t cover up–although the rest of the episodes were inspired and quite well-done. I guess that’s just where the limitations of the source material come into play. I found the latter batch of episodes to be much funnier than the first half. The scene in the cinema, for one, was to me hilarious–from the build-up all the way to the heavy punchline. Hit or miss as the actual meat of the anime was, it remains highly entertaining when taken in as a whole. And oh yeah, that episode with the giant high school girl was one of the best episodes in the whole series, if not the best outright. It was a hilarious way of threading together the cast of characters without them actually crossing paths.

In between the episodes were random floods of images, ranging from stuff like the dress-up game to purely abstracted series of images all set to aimless noises and sound effects. Which was perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the show. They didn’t only insert the wildly creative, imaginative images onto the episodes themselves, rather they also made it a point to splatter them in between, with some of them even spilling over to an episode or two, or three. In a way, it’s Nakamura and co. having their merry way with the series, willfully controlling and distorting every scene and picture they can, not only because they were skilled enough to do it, but also because they can. The end of the 90s saw anime slowly switching from the analog era to digital, as seen in such offerings as Gainax/IG’s FLCL and Production IG’s Blood, and I think they also did some experimentation of the new technology here in Colorful, in regards to the ep transitions–though I’m not exactly sure about that. Some of the scenes look and feel as if they were digitally assisted. Those quick floods of images in between episodes also served the purpose of keeping the viewer’s attention up and about, which establishes further the forward energy propelling the complete series. It’s things like that which made me feel that Colorful would have been better if it was just made as a single continuous unit, rather than a sixteen-part series.

Even with all the skilled animators present (Takahiro Kishida, Hirofumi Suzuki, Toshiyuki Tsuru, among others–with Kishida credited as animation character designer), Colorful itself isn’t to be watched because of the animation, that is, if you were looking for the kind of frenetic animation people would normally put in Youtube MADs. In a sense, Colorful is one example of anime at its simplest, relying mostly on the presentation and arrangement of the images to entertain rather than intricately choreographed actions.  The series is Nakamura’s baby, as his fingerprints are smacked all over the anime, from start to finish. The illustrations themselves are quite simple and washed out–the backgrounds sometimes can consist only of a swath of blue sky and green bushes and blurred buildings, and the characters aren’t drawn with that much detail.  Though the simplicity of the characters made them more attractive in my view. I got to hand it to the way Kishida drew the women. Somehow they look hotter without noses than some anime girls with them.

While I don’t necessarily view Colorful  as a genuine masterpiece, I do think it’s one of the necessary anime to be watched if people want to see Nakamura‘s audiovisual style in its fullest density. Plus, it’s just funny and entertaining to watch, anyway, so what’s the harm?

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