Even though I have kept up with it semi-religiously for only a little more than one year (I started back in 2009, when Trapeze aired), I think I can say that FujiTV’s noitaminA time-slot has been the highlight of every passing anime season for me. It was only confirmed for me a year ago when Tatami Galaxy and House of Five Leaves (which was also the last manglobe show I ever bothered to watch) were shown, in what was, personally, the best season for the time-slot in recent times, a true example of what I believe the slot was originally all about–a chance to show more artistically tuned series combined with items and ideas normally not present in other, more..well, plain anime airing at the same time. And perhaps a little less importantly, it was the season in which Masaaki Yuasa had produced a TV anime for a wider audience (an audience, which I should say, is his type of audience) than his last 2 TV efforts–after all, there’s no beating the exposure of a movie.
Anyway, with that said, now we finally come to the main event, the main attraction, the feature presentation. The noitaminA slot this year has been going considerably strong, but not as strong as I’d hoped. Overall, it’s been a hit-or-miss kind of affair, ranging from the horribly received winter season to last season’s fairly respectable showing. Not the type of results people would have expected. Still, noitaminA the time-slot commands some kind of respect and expectation, at least to me personally, since they have made consistent strides to put out quality entertainment every season they possibly can. At least in my experience, I have not been failed spectacularly by the shows aired in that slot, as of yet. And some of the TV anime I liked a lot have aired there as well. Of course, they can do wrong, but they don’t do it often. And that’s what’s important.
Which brings me to the first noitaminA show I’ve sampled, Bones’ new series UN-GO, inspired (I don’t know whether it’s an adaptation of a novel of his or what) in some distant way by Japanese writer Ango Sakaguchi, and directed by Seiji Mizushima (FMA 2003, Gundam 00). The show has the conventional trappings of an ordinary detective story, complete with showy crimes and elaborate resolutions. At first glance, it looks like quite the stylish and cool, if somewhat edgy approach to the detective format that’s been run to the ground many times before, with somewhat striking character designs and colorful, modern styling as clear in the OP/ED, which I was hoping to be the case once the meat of the episode kicked in. Yun Kouga’s designs aren’t exactly my thing, but I actually found her work here to be a little interesting, which boosted my hopes up a bit. Combined with the oddity of Ango Sakaguchi, the anime would have had a lot of bankable selling points, reaching beyond the sphere of teenage girls. But of course, expectations are there to be let down, and that was what I felt after watching UN-GO #1.
Actually, the episode itself was well-produced, as Bones anime almost always are. If there’s one thing that the studio is amazingly reliable at, it’s giving their productions high production values that stay consistent from week to week. Plus there’s always one or two or three shots of great animation peppered in multiple episodes. That’s the Sunrise legacy at work there–quality production no matter the material. Such is the case with UN-GO. Still, my problem with it was that the ep itself retained virtually nothing of the cool spunk of the OP (to say nothing of the ED, which was great) or my early impressions. In comparison, the actual anime was rather plain, ordinary, conventional. There’s nothing outwardly interesting here, just anime characters walking around, talking to each other in their typical anime way. Which was a let-down. I’ve expected something a little more interesting, at least in terms of the visuals. But then again, the director is not exactly known for that kind of thing, so it’s my fault for hoping otherwise. Well, at least the anime is shaping up to be a hit with the young girls (if there are teenage girls in Japan who’d bother staying up at midnight to watch anime, that is).
With the anime being a detective story as it is, there’s that same old predictable formula that’s followed by-the-book throughout the episode. A little exposition here to set-up the setting, the usual introduction of the characters, the actual crime itself, then sprinkle an additional pinch of mystery and suspense, and afterward we go to the detective solving the case perfectly and pointing to the culprit, which in most cases is done with a considerable helping of flair and flash. Knowing that, it was rather boring watching the episode, as you feel that it’s only going through the required motions to get from point A to point B, stopping at designated checkpoints to highlight some important aspects of the setting or the characters involved. I’m a bit of a nut for mysteries, though, which helped me muster up some interest in the story the anime was telling me. Not that it was much, however.
I guess the main problem for me regarding UN-GO #1 was how crammed it felt. The pace was a ways off, going a little too fast for me to totally immerse myself in the unraveling plot, as if the episode was on a permanent high-gear zipping by, pouring on detail after detail without bothering to generate sufficient reason as to why I should even care about any of it. As such, the episode also seemed heavily muddled and at times almost incomprehensible, even. At the very least, the speed with which the story told itself did more harm than good. I’m left scratching my head and wondering, in disbelief, what the anime just did. It was a bad way of going about an introductory episode–an episode which you expect to do a good job of hooking viewers in, aside from the pretty anime character designs you’ve got going on. Structurally, it was just flimsy, in addition to being uninteresting, much less entertaining. There wasn’t much of a smooth rhythm in the ep that could have guided audiences (or me, at least) along a flowing, enjoyable ride for 22 minutes. It was standard on the whole, without much in the way of individualistic stylization. A rather inadvisable approach to a first episode, if you ask me. Blame Seiji Mizushima for that, since he was the one in charge of storyboards for episode 1.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I think the anime is still watchable, if only for Bones’ aesthetic reliability, and well, the OP and the ED, which are rather pleasing to the eyes. I was looking for the anime to cash in on the appeal of the OP, which it sadly failed to do. One reason I liked the OP was the nice shot of the character Inga flipping around and twirling near the end. Then we go to the ED, which boasted terrifically styled drawings and another nice cut of FX morphing into the adult Inga character (the busty female version) then transforming into his teenaged boy version. For some reason or other, the ED was uncredited, but based on the style, it’s widely assumed to be the work of Norimitsu Suzuki. Which makes sense, since he’d solo-animated EDs of many a TV anime before (the one I remember him most for being the second ED of Akagi).
No one may care about this one way or the other, but Narasaki is doing the music for UN-GO. I quite like his band, coaltar of the deepers, so I felt his presence on the show should be mentioned. He’s actually done music for Osamu Kobayashi’s Paradise Kiss, so it’s not his first time composing music for anime, either.
Production IG also released their new TV anime this fall season on the noitaminA time-slot, Guilty Crown, directed by Tetsuro Araki. If I remember right, the director was part of the group of directors who’d left Madhouse a year ago, together with Hiroshi Hamasaki and Ryosuke Nakamura (Hamasaki, of course, having just directed Steins;Gate at White Fox a couple seasons ago, while Nakamura is apparently busy with production for his movie). Like I said a few posts down, I was actually looking forward to this show in particular, since I quite liked the director’s approach with his material, looking at it with a twisted eye for theatrics and hilarity. He knows how to make material work, this type of material most of all, which makes him a neat fit for the series.
What’s to say about episode 1, then? Actually, I don’t have anything to say about it. I was impressed by the episode in terms of production quality and effort they had put into crafting it, but aside from that there’s virtually nothing. The plot is, as expected, nothing outrageously special, in fact coming off as horrifically simplistic, bland and ordinary, but that doesn’t mean anything for this anime. I went into it with complete and total knowledge as to what it was going to be, and it was cool to see they stayed true to the label and never tried to shoot for anything higher than what was possible. It’s for this same awareness that I enjoyed Sacred Seven (though admittedly, the smattering of exciting animation definitely helped), flat and common as it was. The difference, probably, between that show and Guilty Crown is that I think the director has more of an eye for twisting and bending this sort of material to his own penchants and predilections as a director, which I believe should work to its advantage in the long run. As far as the first episode goes, though, there was nothing incredibly amazing to forcibly grab hold of the attention here, but I think it should change in the long run. Tetsuro Araki composed the storyboards and directed his own episode. He was playing it straight throughout, crisp and brisk as the episode was. On another note, Hiroyuki Yoshino (the writer, not the VA) wrote the script.
My problem with the character designs was that they were too polished and pretty. You heard me: I had a problem with characters looking too beautiful. Yes, of course, that guy redjuice draws really well, but his work only really shines on paper, drawn in static poses with their elaborately detailed clothes and cute faces, not on the television screen, where they’re moved around and about by other people with their own takes on how those characters should be drawn in motion. I would have been fine with simpler original designs, since they give more room for the animators to strut their stuff, to give the characters enough animated life without being constrained by the quality of the originals. It’s much freer that way, in my view. Like Nobutake Ito’s take on Yusuke Nakamura’s original designs for Tatami Galaxy, or even Ito’s own original designs for Kaiba–they are pretty, first of all, but more importantly, they are more pliable and much more adaptable to animation. Redjuice’s original drawings are incredibly refined visually, but they inevitably lose much of that luster when ported off into animation.
That said, there are some delectable bits of animation spliced here and there in the episode, though contrary to expectations, they weren’t present in stunning displays of animator glory, defying expectations of some parts of the audiences (me, included). Some parts of the meeting between the main character and the female lead inside the abandoned shack were nice, such as the guy tripping over himself after being attacked by the girl’s pet robot, and the kid falling down after being threatened by the bald soldier guy. The movements there weren’t necessarily flashy, but they were nicely done, with a definite sense of realistic action in terms of weight and motion. They conveyed a feeling of weight. Other shots of cool animation was with the action sequence near the latter part of the episode, involving the long-haired guy fighting a group of thugs. I’d have expected the bulk of the incredible animation to be splattered in the mecha scene in the climax of the ep, but there you have it (though it looked flashy enough for its ends). I didn’t recognize anyone in the ED credits except Toru Okubo, one of IG’s regulars (probably of the same group as Naoyoshi Shiotani, though I have no idea).
On a less important note, that guy Hiroyuki Sawano is in charge of the music for Guilty Crown. It seems he’s been finding a steady stream of jobs after his work on Sengoku Basara and Gundam Unicorn. Not that I’m complaining, though. I like his music, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy watching the anime he’s involved in.
Despite stumbling straight off the blocks, I think noitaminA fall edition started off respectably. It should improve over the next few weeks, hopefully, if they know what they’re doing. And I don’t want to have to say that only as a fan of the time-slot.