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From Paper to Film

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).

 

And now, for all the people who, like me, have not watched Redline yet, here’s a little something to–hopefully–tide you over…

 

 

That right there is Takeshi Koike‘s opening animation for the live-action film Party 7, directed by Katsuhito Ishii, who also was his main co-conspirator in the production process of Redline (he was screenwriter) and in Koike’s other work Trava: Fist Planet. It seems they have a nice, solid working relationship going on, staying alive and kicking all these years. The opening animation for Party 7 was where Koike made his presence felt in the industry, creating a buzz with the lively, rich and stunningly wild animation he’d put on display there. The exaggerated actions, the strikingly bold and heavily stylized shading work plus the wiry, springy designs of the people were, I bet, a rarity in those days, and no one at the time must have had a personal style as pronounced as in that short OP sequence.

Redline is Koike’s break-out film, and hopefully this does to him what Mind Game did to Masaaki Yuasa–though, admittedly, producing a full anime based on the former’s visual style poses its own set of challenges to any producer out there.

Anime has always had a deep connection with manga, with the bulk of anime being lifted from the pages of the multitudes of manga out there season after season, ranging from mildly interesting ones to really interesting ones. Personally speaking, I like the original productions better, but there are also times when I get to thinking that I’d like for some manga to get ported off to animation too, just to see how it’d look like drawn by other people and to check whether or not it could retain or improve on the elements that I found interesting in the original format. To prevent this whole post from sliding over into the incoherent rambling, I’d like to share some of these fantasy adaptations I’ve been cooking up inside my head.

In no particular order, I have this:

Eden: It’s an Endless World (Hiroki Endo)

This sweeping, ambitious and futuristic manga is something close to a masterpiece, practically teetering on the brink of giants in the medium such as Akira. The work tackled a wide array of subjects, from racism to technology to religion, in relevant and at times sensitive ways that crept up under the intensely thrilling and quite compelling action thriller direction of the story. At times some elements may come off as feeling a bit gratuitous and unnecessary, like some sex scenes and deaths (yeah, I know) and the tone and direction of the manga itself shifts gears dramatically in the second half almost to the point of incomprehensibility which ultimately keeps it from becoming a fully realized masterpiece, but the ambition and drive with which it took the already promising material is highly respectable and deservedly commendable nonetheless.

Director: Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell SAC TV series/movie, Eden of the East TV series/movies)

While people may scoff at his work on the Eden of the East series, the director has shown his predilections for infusing and working with socially relevant issues and politically charged themes in his work. I liked the job he’s done on the SAC series, for which I think he was at his best and for which he’d sharpened his directorial skills for so many years, and I’d like to see him in action again on the roughly similar type of material offered by Eden: IatW. Eden of the East was a good and promising original anime, but it lacked consistency and a stable driving force which could have prevented it from going all over the place as much as it did. You could see the makings and stray bits of a good show lying scattered in that show, but the stunted format it ran in dashed their hopes of gelling together to realize their potential. I’m not sure why they had to choose a single-cour run to pack in a dense story like that. Which is why I’d rather have the guy go for another adaptation first, with the added bonus that it runs right along his alley. His cinematic touch of staging action scenes should also come in handy.

Script: Mamoru Oshii

I don’t need to explain why I chose him, now do I?

Format: OVA series

Ohikkoshi (Hiroaki Samura)

One of my personal favorites, this manga excellently shows the refreshingly comedic side of Samura, who’s more known to fans as the great artist behind the seminal samurai action manga Blade of the Immortal and as an illustrator with a taste for ero-guro. The man is an incredibly talented artist with a refined and extensive knowledge of human anatomy which he puts to good use when staging scenes as varied as every day living scenes to bloody fights. His knack for drawing humans not only in his own appealingly sketchy style but also in the correct way (according to angles and the like) make his manga stand out among the rest and give his work a fresh dose of character. But more than that, he also has quite the talent for crafting enthralling yet enjoyably quirky stories. That aspect of his work can be seen very clearly in Ohikkoshi, where he drives a simple story of young people living life forward with a relentless sense of youthful vigor and energy, and also fills it with well-placed humor that’s legitimately funny without resorting to the common tools of manga. It’s full of life and rich with a fresh atmosphere that doesn’t dissipate. The gags and the numerous set-ups are also damned hilarious. All this Samura manages to do in five chapters. The great thing about it is that the entire thing is also well-paced; it doesn’t feel rushed or hobbled at all. Definitely a must-read for fans of the artist, or of comedy manga in general.

Director: Osamu Kobayashi (BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, Paradise Kiss)

Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. This is the same exact guy who directed the infamous fourth episode of Gurren Lagann which received an awful lot of flak from fans that triggered controversy even in Japan (which I will not get into now), so you’re probably asking me, why the hell do you want a guy like that to handle an elaborately drawn manga, from Hiroaki Samura no less? Well, the reason is simply that I could not think of anyone else with a style and approach to directing work that would fit the material better than Osamu Kobayashi. He has a very hip, youthfully trendy vibe going on with his work that’s visible from series such as BECK and ParaKiss, plus he also exhibits a wonderfully quirky side to his work, adding in some seemingly out-of-place elements into a completely different background and making them work well (like in the avant of ParaKiss #1). That’s what he’s become known for in recent days–coming into a series and transforming the material into a product completely in his own personality, character designs or plot or whatever be damned. Samura‘s art may take some blows in the process of the adaptation, but that’s an exchange we can learn to accept. I don’t think people are going to have a field day transferring the guy’s original drawings to animation, anyway.

Format: single-cour TV series (11 – 13 eps)

Finally, we have…

Sexy Voice and Robo (Kuroda Iou)

It’s been a very long time since I’ve last read this manga, no doubt partly owing to the fact that it had been placed on indefinite hiatus by the artist for whatever reason, but its cast of oddball characters proved to be memorable enough to stick on my brain for all that time. And another thing is, it’s not only the characters who are odd and screwy, but the concept of the manga itself is odd and screwy: a precocious teenaged girl with a sexy voice goes around taking jobs from a shady gangster-type guy, tagging along a simple-minded young man she nicknames Robo (I forgot why exactly she names him that, though). It’s this fusion of equally screwball components that make the manga a really enjoyable read. The characters are also immediately likable, with not one of them striking me as annoying or overly strange, and their trips along the metropolis are all fun to read, even if I’ve forgotten some of them. The characters of the manga are its greatest strength, and their escapades are the main fuel that makes you read the thing from end to end. Niko Hayashi is perhaps one of my most-loved female protagonists ever.

Now, if only Kuroda somehow gets off his chair and works on it again…

Director: Yasuhiro Aoki (Kung – Fu Love, Tweeny Witches ep director)

The short film he’d contributed for Studio 4C’s omnibus collection Amazing Nuts bowled me over and made me a fan of the guy for his imaginative choice of material, for his expert use of lush and vibrant color schemes, and for his understated and quirky inclinations for his scenes be they humorous or action-y or mere everyday instances of character interaction. I can see him deftly applying those same directorial chops of his on the already pleasurably strange original material, and I can also imagine him adding his own little touches of inventive audiovisual elements to the work, stuff which can only be possible in animation. The striking, heavily outlined drawings in the manga also offer him a rich breeding ground where he can formulate a stylistic approach that’s perfect for the material. In a way, it would be a fulfillment of my personal ideal for a manga-to-anime adaptation: one in which the animated product keeps its faith with the source material, yet at the same time imbibes it with generous dashes of incredible, animated frenzy (or should I call it fury?). Best of all is that this would offer the man to strike out with a major work, something of his own hand that would be seen by more people. It’s criminal that a man as talented as Yasuhiro Aoki still doesn’t have a major production under his belt. It better change soon.

Format: single-cour TV series (11 – 13 eps)

And yeah, before I forget, here’s something as fanservice…

The Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (Satoshi Mizukami)

A fan favorite, this one doesn’t need any more additional work for it to be carted off to animation. Everything in it seems practically tailor-made for an animated version, from the story to the characters to the action to the ending…it just begs to be turned into an anime, and the only thing missing is a willing producer. I like the manga enough, as it’s endearingly interesting in the way it tells its story and the way it portrays action–it’s a curious mix of tried-and-tested action manga tools with a fresh sense of imagination which keeps it going steady from chapter 1 to the finale. Unfortunately, the story itself doesn’t do much for me despite its sounding very, very interesting, but the rest of the manga is good and enjoyable, plus it’s perhaps one manga that could very well turn into something else when transformed to animation. It feels similar to FLCL too (The Pillows references aside) as they both explored the same themes and they both went about exploring them in a wild and energetic manner.

Director: Kazuya Tsurumaki (FLCL, Diebuster)

I shouldn’t have to explain myself for this choice, but he’s the best man for the job in my mind. Primarily, I see him as a guy with a very loose style when it comes to presenting his story, opting instead to showcase the fun, reckless imaginative drive of the guys working with him rather than assert himself forcefully onto the proceedings. I could see that as the reason people who loved the original Gunbuster didn’t like, or even downright hated, Diebuster. Anno may have showed Tsurumaki the ropes at Gainax, but fundamentally they’re two different directors with stark differences in focus. Anno likes to be more poetic when he handles an anime, whereas Tsurumaki likes to let loose on his projects. Which is not to say that the latter can’t do drama. He’s proven himself capable of shifting into dramatic territory when necessary, so I don’t think there’s going to be a problem if he gets his hands on Biscuit Hammer.

Production studio: Gainax (Hell, we might as well go all-out here)

Format: OVA series (6 eps)

So in closing, I don’t think these fantasies of mine are going to break out of that realm anytime soon, but I have to admit that they are nice to think about from time to time, pondering what might have been if so-and-so did this or so-and-so did that. Keeps your imagination going, if anything else.

Oh, it also seems as if one of my favorite voice actresses/voices in general, Maaya Sakamoto got married recently. Congratulations to her.

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