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why was this only an ONA?

Kyosogiga (Rie Matsumoto, Toei Animation)

All right, before anything else, I’d like to wish anybody and everybody a happy New Year. It’s only about a week late, so it’s a little pointless, but I feel that I can’t move forward with anything without getting that out of the way. Well, the end of last year meant the end of the fall anime season, and boy was it a disappointing finish (I ended up dropping almost half of the shows I was watching). The most interesting shows–in my view–were those hold-overs from the past seasons, such as Mawaru Penguindrum (whose finale was on Christmas week) which ended in a rather satisfying conclusion, even if the show was lost one me at times, especially during the middle sections. As far as the most disappointing series of the fall goes, though, I think I’d hand the title to Bones’ UN-GO. I thought it was presented in a consistently sloppy and uninspired way, especially given that it was supposed to be a mystery show, and even the studio’s calling card–steady cool animation–was lacking. The whole show itself slowly fell apart for me until it inevitably became a complete mess when it ended. Awesome ED, though. Probably the best of that season.

Little did I expect that it would be Production IG’s Guilty Crown that would provide generous levels of entertainment week after week, considering that it didn’t leave much to the imagination as regards to what type of anime it is. The first half of the series reached its peak with Ryotaro Makihara’s superb episode 4, and even if its quality did drop (as expected) following that ep, it still maintained the same sort of fast-paced action which also packed mean punches at times during the succeeding episodes. I think it’s the way the show balanced its simplistically   anime-styled formula with an amply serious tone through the episodes that did me in. It knows what type of show it is, but I didn’t feel that it was rubbing that fact into my face every second in a way that’s irritatingly anime, rather the series uses this as a stable backdrop for what seriousness it wants to bring in. Episode 11, which ended the first half of the series, was again another well-directed and well-produced gig handled by Ryotaro Makihara, who continues to impress. It wasn’t as polished and cleverly planned-out as episode 4, but for what it was, episode 11 was still strongly executed and constructed well enough to contain enough excitement and thrill for 24 minutes. I have good hopes for the second half.

Now, then, to the point.

I just watched Toei Animation’s recent offering (by recent I mean it was released a month ago), Kyosogiga, a collaboration effort between that studio and the Japanese toy company Banpresto. Why a toy company decided to team up with an animation studio to produce an anime that doesn’t look like a ploy to sell toys, I have no idea, but what I do know is that they have jointly released a pleasantly illogical, incessantly rocking anime in the form of Kyosogiga. From the initial trailers, you knew what type of anime it was going to be, and you got what your money’s worth once you watched it (it was streamed on the internet, though). And if anything else, the short ONA left a lot of possibilities in its wake.

The ONA is short, about the length of a normal episode of a TV anime, but it contains more fun, juice and energy in those few minutes than most TV anime out there. There are massive splashes of color everywhere on the screen, combined with flashes of neat animation in places, and a stylishly composed direction and flow, that it puts other anime its length to shame. Admittedly, the story is completely nonsensical, absurdly difficult to follow, and doesn’t leave much for comprehension, but this trait is worked well enough not to be a fatal flaw, instead turned into an advantage. I think it was more interesting that way. This elliptical style, to me, provides more than ample room for the staff to strut their stuff and play around with the thing, thus resulting in a vibrant, relentlessly energetic piece of animation. I was a bit let down that the final product didn’t retain much of the things shown in the first trailer released months before release, but overall, it worked brilliantly for its purposes.

Blanks left by the animation were filled up rather nicely by the creativity and liveliness injected into the visual compositions in this show. The show never tones down the level of color that appears in every frame for every second, and instead revels in the rainbows of bright and lush colors and shapes littering all the scenes. This affinity for a strong visual, artistic presentation at times reminded me of Kenji Nakamura’s work, who also liked to mix and match his images on screen to create a uniquely stylish look and feel to his productions. And then again, there are a lot of visually oriented directors who share this penchant for striking scenery and imagery, so a strong stylistic thread is indeed running underneath there. I think it’s also impressive that a relatively new director (or at least someone I was unfamiliar with until now) was able to adopt this unmistakably personal and undeniably brilliant approach to form in what was only her second directorial work–the first anime which I believe Rie Matsumoto has directed being the Heartcatch Precure movie. Matsumoto is apparently one of the fresh in-house talents over there at Toei steadily making their presences felt.

She plays around with the progression of scenes quite heavily, too, in such a way that’s not too overblown or overdone that it hampers the work instead of enhancing it. There’s a specific flourish as to the way the director changes around the look of a scene second by second, in a seemingly slapdash manner, but at the same time feels strangely assured and careful. One scene I remember sticking to mind was when the main character, Koto, leafs through a newspaper, reads the headlines, and is surprised when it switches quickly, like the turning of a slot machine. I thought it was a pretty creative trick, doing that. Again, it’s impressive that the director stitched all this jumble of activity in her show and constructed it in such a way that effectively complemented the deliberate nonsense of the story, without letting the whole thing tumble into needless overreaching on the director’s part.

Let me just say that I did not understand any single thing about the story. A lot of anime are mysterious and obtuse due to an effort to strive for effect, but there are also anime which are mysterious and obtuse simply for the hell of it. Clearly, Kyosogiga falls into this latter category. It only tells you things that are required to keep the story zooming forward, but not the things you need to understand what’s going on as the story progresses. But I actually liked it. The jangled story kept the proceedings fresh, exciting and fast, plus with a speedy pulsing rhythm that never even gives the impression of letting up. Sometimes you just need to watch stuff like that every once in a while.

Yuki Hayashi drew up the character designs and acted as animation director, and his designs are also part of what made Kyosogiga a fun watch. They’re cute and appealing in the standard anime way, but they also are uniquely appealing in a way that reaches beyond typical anime designs. Kenji Nakamura’s associate for his TV anime, Takashi Hashimoto, was also present as an animator here, and some of the FX work betray his hand. Then we have Shinichi Kurita, a guy who’s done some impressive work in the past, notably in Bleach (he was present in the series’ recent animation bonanza, ep 341), and even Naoki Tate, who people may know as one of the animator heavyweights in Toei’s One Piece.

Really, my main issue with Kyosogiga  is that it wasn’t a movie or a particularly long OVA. Hell, I’d be fine if it had been an hour-long TV special–as long as it had more running time. I feel that there is a lot of potential lying beneath this piece, and that it would only be right if  this thing was expanded into a more substantial affair. Not just in terms of the story, because it will take care of itself, but more importantly, in terms of its visual aspect, which could be a sign of a new director stretching her muscles and announcing herself to the world. This is a more than respectable effort. And  it should only stand to reason that respectable efforts deserve to be followed up.

Man, it’s tough blogging again after being gone for a month.

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