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WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (HEADGEAR, Madhouse)
There are a lot of examples in anime, I’m positive, of directors leaving in the middle of continuing a series–be they TV series, movies, franchise projects–and as a consequence changing the style and challenging the identity already established in prior outings. Of course many of the substitute directors would try to follow the original spirit and to transfer the hallmarks of what made the preceding endeavors what they were, but the resulting product, in most cases, won’t be as charming or as interesting. Especially if the ex-director follows a flavorful style all his own. The biggest example of this I know would probably be Hideaki Anno and Kare Kano, where following a reported dispute with the original manga artist regarding the show’s creative direction, the director left production and wound up sending the rest of the series down the stinker (but not before giving Hiroyuki Imaishi his first chance to shine–his episode 19, to me, still is one of the greatest episodes of TV anime I have ever seen). I find that this is the case for the final installment of the Patlabor movie series–possibly the whole franchise itself–which in turn prompted me to type out my thoughts after an otherwise humdrum session of anime viewing.
Some of the shows in the upcoming seasons look interesting on paper, but soon taper off after a third of the episodes begin airing. Things that appear neat and entertaining soon devolve into boring and tedious fare, which leaves a bad taste in the mouth–which is why I don’t really try my hand at investigating whatever comes next in the world of anime and just take whatever they put out and see if I like them after actually trying them. But still there are shows which I can’t help but keep an eye out for, because there’s something in it that catches my attention or something like that. Which is the case, I would say, for that new Production IG show Guilty Crown, slated to air in the fall of this year.
Why I happen to be cautiously expectant for that show boils down to one thing, really: it’s the director, Tetsuro Araki. After doing some jobs directing TV anime (Death Note, 4 eps of Blue Literature [No Longer Human], Highschool of the Dead) over at Madhouse, he’d apparently gone freelance together with some other talented TV directors (Ryosuke Nakamura, Hiroshi Hamasaki) at the studio, last I heard. Hamasaki has since then worked on Steins;Gate, while Nakamura is supposedly doing work on a new project, studio as of yet unknown. Anyway, Araki’s presence on the aforementioned show gives me reason to expect good things because I like how he handles the material handed to him. He’s got this keen eye for theatrics, as he gives generous doses of intensely exaggerated orchestrations to certain scenes almost to the point of comedy, but still he manages to avoid getting too obnoxious in doing so. The scenes are inherently serious, but he adds another personalized dimension to them, thus making them stick and stand out. There are many scenes that benefited from that approach: from the potato-chip eating scene to Light’s death scene in DN to the bullet-dodging breasts in HSotD. Understandably, he toned it down in the arc of Blue Lit he was in charge of, but even then he showed his ability of manipulating the mood and tone of a scene through the capable use of color and layout. Araki strikes me as being somewhat similar in style to Nakamura, though the latter is more rhythmical, even melodic, in how he plays his scenes out. It’s also nice to know that Araki is aided by quite like-minded people in this new original show (a noitaminA show at that), so it would be quite a treat finding out what kind of shenanigans he’s going to pull next.
In the past few weeks I’ve slowly inched my way through one of Production IG‘s most popular franchises, Mobile Police Patlabor, and I’m now geared to finish the movie trilogy with 2001/2’s WXIII. I’m not one of those fans who were lucky enough to catch this or some of the other old, well-regarded series either on tape or on the tube back in the day, so only relatively recently did I get to explore the franchise (though the requisite anime series I did follow when I was a little brat). But that’s not a good excuse so I will stop there. Anyway, I was pretty damned awestruck when watching the first two offerings of the movie trilogy, which were both directed by Mamoru Oshii, for the masterfully assured way they changed gears from the comparatively happy-go-lucky feeling of the first OVA series (produced at Studio DEEN) into the gritty, hard-broiled political dramas they turned out to be–a feeling I’ve felt more strongly after watching the second film.
In a way, I believe that deciding to recruit a guy like Oshii was the best decision HEADGEAR had made. The collective, formed by a few people working in both manga and anime, formed together to create works for anime, and lacking a director, came to Oshii’s doorstep. He put together all the ideas of the rest of the group and combined them with the distinctly realistic style he was carefully refining to create compelling stories that separated themselves from the other more popular mecha series at the time (i.e. Gundam) through their no-nonsense yet poetic approach to military/political drama acted out by immensely likable characters, each with his/her own fun personality. Which is not to say that the contributions of the other members weren’t notable. Each member had his own specialty to bring to the table–Masami Yuki (Birdy the Mighty) was their manga artist/character designer, Akemi Takada their other character designer, Kazunori Ito their screenwriter, Yutaka Izubuchi (Rahxephon) their mecha designer, and finally Oshii the director. Without the rest of the members chipping in, the Patlabor project wouldn’t have been as good, and as flexible as it was. In the end, this flexibility enabled the anime to switch approaches easily and without hassle–it went from entertaining comedy one minute and the very next it had gone to hard-nosed and edgy political thriller the next. So it’s kind of a shame that the group had apparently scattered to the four winds after 2001’s WXIII (about which I haven’t heard much favorable press).
Blogging Penguindrum these days feels so superfluous, as there’s so many other people talking about it, inspecting every nook and cranny of it, poring through every possible bits and pieces of meaning lurking under every other image, dissecting the characters from their motivations to their personalities so thoroughly that at times I think they could do a bang-up job of writing for the show themselves. It feels like hauling a bucketful of water to an overflowing well. But regardless of all that, the show does seem like it’s just going to get better and better as it goes, if ep 5 was any indication. It was so cool, high-strung and was filled with tense and light moments that don’t miss a beat right until the thrilling climax. Ikuhara did storyboard for #5, while some guy with a strange name directed it. Yoshihiko Umakoshi returns to lead the animators and is joined by an als0-returning Sushio (who I bet did the part where Ringo dashes to steal the hat away from Himari).