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Just use "that".
When I’d started this little blog two years ago, I had aimed to write about the interesting things in the world of anime and manga regularly–which I think I’ve managed to do successfully, though I turned sporadic near the end–but I’d never expected that I would actually stop. But life happened, as it always did, which made me quit even watching anime altogether (I wasn’t even able to finish Apollon). Reviving this blog never entered my mind until fairly recently, thanks to some anime I watched again, and others I managed to sneak some peeks of.
For one, I re-watched Mind Game, which really never gets old: truly, Masaaki Yuasa is one of the industry’s most talented creators, and I look forward to getting a chance to watch his new production, Kick-Heart (Mamoru Oshii is involved as creative consultant, too, which is a rather puzzling situation). It is also interesting to note that the project was crowd-funded–via the Kickstarter website–almost making me wonder whether the team had really been so strapped for resources that they had to resort to such a maneuver. Still, a new Yuasa project is a new Yuasa project, and based on what I’ve seen from the previews, it looks to be a return to his patented Mind Game aesthetic, which is a more-than-welcome sight.
A couple months ago, I’ve also had the occasion to watch three shows from past seasons: namely, Koji Masunari’s Magi (A-1 Pictures), Masashi Ishihama’s Shin Sekai Yori (A-1 Pictures), and Masahiro Ando’s Zetsuen no Tempest (Bones). I was able to watch two eps of Masunari’s series, which were lighthearted and entertaining affairs peppered with snatches of great animation here and there–especially episode 2, I recall–while the leader episode of Ishihama’s TV directorial debut was a visually interesting outing going by the flattened color palette blended with his penchant for cool and stylish angles, with the directing successfully evoking the tension from the typically slight and vague sci-fi story. I had no problems with Ando’s show, but since I had expected a more manic action-based show from the skilled action animator, I was a bit let down when the frankly uninteresting and frustratingly flimsy narrative replaced the exciting action on episode 3. But I would like to continue the three series and see what they’d done with them. (Magi is set to have a second season later this year.)
Trying to blog about anime again after a couple of months of not actually watching anything (aside from the occasional rewatch or two) is hard work. It’s tough to get the old gears running in proper working order again, trying to get myself back in the groove, something to that effect–it makes for a difficult time when you think you’ve kind of forgotten how you used to blog about anime to begin with. But anyway, enough about that, I’m back and ready to restart. And what a better time to restart, too. Spring 2012 has been a season I’ve been looking forward to since I first glimpsed the lineup a few months back. So much so, in fact, that I’ve dropped everything I’ve been watching then and hunkered down in preparation for this season, which has been pretty damn promising.
There were a lot of new entries to be sampled, but no time to actually talk about them all, so let me just pick out a couple of ’em. First up, that new Lupin III TV anime (TMS Entertainment) produced in celebration of the franchise’s 40th anniversary. A cursory glance at the trailers seemed to imply that this latest incarnation of the series was a departure from the past series, something people haven’t seen from the anime, perhaps ever, it could have even triggered some flak for the new direction it’s taken. The series has even brought aboard some new blood into the franchise: most notably Sayo Yamamoto (Michiko e Hatchin) as director and Takeshi Koike (Redline) as character designer. And, well, judging from the first episode, I’d say it’s all that and then some. Episode 1’s got to be the most brash, most garish, most over-the-top episode of anything I’ve seen this year. Here, style is the name of the game, even more so than past outings (which have been admittedly more sterile). The art is finely textured, the mood is gritty, the rhythm is brisk and no-nonsense. Perhaps the episode functioned more as a canvas for the director to manipulate things at will, impart her unmistakable mark, and basically run wild with the thing, which on further inspection, could have almost gone overboard.
This series is different from most, if not all of the previous Lupin outings ever released. Here the tone is less comedic, less wacky, and it’s not as easygoing as the rest, instead it’s a lot more gritty, a bit darker, and a lot more sexual. Granted the main character this time is Fujiko, but the sheer sexuality in episode 1 alone is a lot more potent and intense than all of the ecchi anime produced this year combined. Unmistakably, they were going for a more adult and a far more raunchier, more risque approach to the series this time around. I would think that this issue was going to be a major point of contention that influences fans whether to embrace this new series or slam it outright. No mistake, I liked the episode, flesh and nudity every other frame aside, but I imagine it’s not going to be easy for people to get into it, especially when they’ve gotten used to the lighter antics from the past products. Still, I think the unabashed sense of style and highly expressive sensibility infused with a ton of pure artistic personality would be enough to glaze over the fact that it’s almost a shameless display of excess, kind of like a test of how far they could possibly go within the context of a modern TV anime. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pair of nipples in a TV anime in recent times.) As for me, I liked it, and will watch more of it. A bit of a shame that it’s only 13 episodes long.
There were quite a few anime that stood out to me last year, which gave me much enjoyment and entertainment, plus impressive production values, but I’m too lazy to go look them all up again and compile them into some kind of a retrospective Top 10 of 2011 list kind of thing. So I’ll let those other bloggers and such do all that troublesome work and I’ll just satisfy myself with looking at their results and seeing whether I agree with their choices or not. Or maybe I won’t even do that at all. It’s too much of a hassle–I’d rather watch more cartoons.
Anyway, if I were to be asked to name a particularly strong entry, off the top of my head, I’d have to pick out Production IG’s Yondemasuyo Azazel-san (either the OVA series or the TV one, both are equally enjoyable), directed by Tsutomu Mizushima, as a top contender. It’s actually a patently hilarious show, filled with crass toilet humor as it was. What’s even better, and more important, was it stayed consistently off-the-wall funny, and never did show a sign of flagging with its powerful drive and energy. Its rather short episode running time–each episode ran for 13 minutes–probably helped the series maintain that unrelenting momentum it had, all throughout its run (13 eps for the TV, 3 for the OVA). The same thing worked to the benefit of other comedy anime with similar running times, such as AIC’s Sunred and Studio 4C’s Detroit Metal City. Comedy anime seems to work more effectively as comparably shorter series, it ensures the comedic energy doesn’t fade as the thing progresses, and the sharper bursts make the material more potent. And even its admittedly crude content didn’t put me off at all–hell, it was the main driving force behind the series’ hilarity. Visually, the series was hyper-kinetic, always active, always zipping and zinging, always loud and rude, and it enhanced the strength of the material, rendering the anime on the whole as rather unforgettable. There’s almost always something to laugh at on screen, or barring that, things worthy of at least a little snort. Damn funny show, it was.
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.
Rurouni Kenshin #60
Studio Pierrot may be stuck animating whatever popular manga is running in Shonen Jump for the foreseeable future, but it seems they are not averse to producing non-franchise anime every once in a while, as was seen in their recent film, Onigamiden. I admit looking out for it after watching a trailer, since it boasted a barrage of thrilling animation, and the movie itself was crewed by some of the heavyweights in the industry. What I got in the end was, more or less, true to how I had envisioned the film to play out–a severely crippled piece of animation that hinges majorly, if not solely, on the power of its visuals to propel itself, rather than a truly effective fusion of both the technical and storytelling aspects. I appreciate the delectable animation put on display in this film, so I will not say outright that it was a bad film and that you shouldn’t watch it, but I almost detested the uninspired story it brought to life. The story could just as well have been lifted straight from the pages of a woefully simplistic, tedious shonen manga (well, apparently it was adapted from a light novel), from the setting to the characters to father issues to just about everything else. Now, I can enjoy works in this vein, but even I have to draw the line somewhere. There is a difference from being enjoyably conventional to being annoyingly cliched, as subtle as it is.
The IdolM@ster #18
I was wondering whether or not Makoto Kobayashi was involved in the newest Last Exile anime out of Gonzo, because I didn’t catch his name in the credits for episode 1, so I looked more closely as I watched the next episodes, and sure enough, there he was: credited under “production design” (or at least, I think that was him). And then, after I’d given the matter some more thought, I realized that I shouldn’t have been wondering about the matter in the first place, and I was made aware once more of my stupidity. The general aesthetic and design sensibilities of the new Last Exile anime is pretty much a straight extension of the style seen in the first series, back in 2003. Imaginative and creative world design is a big part of the mixture that makes for an effective fantasy story, and this is the highlight of both Last Exile series. I imagine the role of a production designer was to provide the basic framework and imagery of the world and the elements inhabiting that world–from clothes to buildings to environments to ships–and once more, Kobayashi exhibits his skill at crafting a beautiful landscape in which the characters move about. It’s just too bad for me that the overall quality of the work (as far as LE: Fam is concerned) doesn’t quite match up to its design brilliance. Without an equally imaginative and talented director holding things together at the top, the resulting anime remains rather insubstantial and lacking.
Last Exile -Fam, the Silver Wing- #1
Thanks to Animax Asia (here’s your clue to finding out where I am) seemingly being Gonzo’s number one fans, and thus reviving their same-day fully subbed simulcast of a selected TV anime in Japan–they started last year with FMA: Brotherhood but fizzled out after Maid-sama–I was able to watch the first episode of Gonzo’s effort at resurrection, the continuation of one of their most beloved original anime, Last Exile. The eight years that had passed between the first anime and this one saw many changes to the studio, ultimately ending up to their one-year or so sabbatical. Studios such as David Production and Studio Gokumi have since then split up from them and have gone on to produce their own TV anime, with varying success. And now, this new foray into an old series is the studio finally proclaiming, announcing to the world that they’re now back. But are they, really?
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.
So, here we are again: round 2 of my rundown of the first episodes of the newly aired TV anime this fall season. I haven’t watched all of them, but the few that I did were a mixed bag of pleasant viewing and prettified boredom. Anyway, I just watched ep 1 of Naoto Hosoda’s latest TV series Mirai Nikki (produced by asread), an adaptation of a manga of the same name, and I found it to be surprisingly engaging despite my reservations concerning the material and everything else. I have no idea who or what kind of director/animator Naoto Hosoda is (though I did watch the first Koe de Oshigoto OVA, which was reasonably fun enough), but I saw in Mirai Nikki ep 1 that he was a capable director who knew how to evoke mood and control the pacing of whatever it is he’s working on to make the piece quite interesting and entertaining. The episode was brisk and crisp, getting straight into the nitty-gritty, seemingly without any wasted scenes, and the art/animation worked well enough to bring about some definite sense of suspense and dread during the particularly darker parts of the ep. I was also delighted to see that the character designs weren’t cheaply realized, but were rather pretty and elaborate enough to really seem like a step-up from their manga counterparts and to function effectively in animation–both in stills and in motion. I didn’t like how they resorted to rendering the Deus ex Machina character and his world in CGI, though, but since this is a TV anime and animating them normally would have been too much of a pain for the studio, I guess I can’t complain too much. Director Naoto Hosoda was in charge of storyboards/direction for episode 1.
Two, maybe three weeks ago I finally managed to rewatch one of the earliest highlight episodes of the Kenshin TV anime, situated in the first few eps of the famed Kyoto arc (around the time when Saito is first introduced)–the episode in question being the one in which Kenshin decides to leave his home to do battle with his nemesis, Shishio, after the set of events put in motion by the introduction of a new character. Of course, the prior episode was good as well (Saito vs. Kenshin), with some deliciously intense action, bits of which contributed by no less than Norio Matsumoto himself (series chara designer Hideki Hamasu was there as animator as well), but it’s in the next one where the quality is upped to a higher level. Surprisingly, it’s not even an action-packed episode; rather it was the direct opposite, as instead it was an ep focused entirely on drama and character emotion.
Kenshin’s farewell, to my mind, was indeed one of the best episodes of the series because it successfully combined powerfully acted emotion and drama with the subtle, foreboding sense of dread and trouble of the slowly unfolding events of the plot in the span of only 24 minutes–ordinary TV episode length. It’s markedly different from the rest of the eps prior to it. The surrounding chain of events leading to our hero’s departure were masterfully spaced and greatly condensed with the clear sense of trouble and disaster looming on the horizon, steadily building up to the emotionally charged farewell scene between Kenshin and Kaoru, which served as a great, cinematic climax for the episode. The ep had more tension and impact than usual. Even the drawings themselves are of a higher quality than usual (aside from Yasuhiro Aoki’s eps as AD). It’s a testament to the effective work by the main team of the ep–Kazuhiro Furuhashi/Norio Matsumoto for storyboards, Kazuhiro Furuhashi direction, Masahide Yanagisawa animation direction (Yanagisawa also came to provide the designs for the subsequent Trust & Betrayal OVAs, whose designs I believe are the best in the series). I bet it was Matsumoto himself who’d composed the storyboards for his own section, the actual farewell scene at the end, which was a showcase of his skill as a great animator, not only in terms of action, but also in his handling of believable human acting. He had complete control over the entirety of the scene, which shows in the end result. Delicate drawings coupled with sensitive animation made the scene as rich as it was. It is another proof that anime is, in fact, capable of transmitting genuine human emotion to the viewer despite its different look; it only depends on the men behind the scenes.