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Game Over

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.



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First Impressions

So I’ve been gone for about three weeks, and now I find myself catching up with the latest anime season (fall), which has finally gotten itself underway this past week, providing yet again a considerable smattering of new TV anime and such to pass the time and entertain me. But anyway, since I’ve been getting absent for more often now, I think I won’t be able to keep blogging cartoons with the same frequency as before. Still, if there’s something interesting that catches my eye, I’ll try my best to write my thoughts about it here–mental exercise, and all that. As such, this blog is still very much alive, though not kicking as hard.


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Lucky Number Nine

I’ve been in a sort of funk in the past week, so I’d been more than a little out of it in terms of the goings-on around the world of anime, and it’s also why I hadn’t been paying all that much attention to blogging anything. It happens every once in a while. I don’t go after anime news on my own anyway.

Well, I’ve just readjusted the wiring and returned to the swing of things recently, and I’ve almost caught up to the anime I was keeping up with for the past months (I almost wish I didn’t pick up all the anime that I did; catching up is so troublesome). Notably, I finally had the chance to sample the first episode of Bones‘ film series Towa no Quon, the posthumous work dedicated to director Umanosuke Iida (Tide-Line Blue) who passed away a year ago. It was supposed to be his latest original work, and it was continued by the studio after his unfortunate death. After watching the first film (out of 6), I’m sorry to say that I was markedly underwhelmed. The 47-minute film felt more like your ordinary 24-minute episode of an ordinary TV anime stretched to twice its length instead of a strong and effective, stand-alone film. Rather tedious fare, the film was. I’d expected something even a tad bit more engaging, not just a bland film acted out by flat characters amidst a typical sci-fi story. Granted it was the first movie out of 6, it’s not that bad of a job, but when asked to stand on its own as a singular film, it doesn’t really hold up well.

What did save the film for me, though, were the exciting action sequences, as expected of Bones (and the film staff). Since I didn’t know any better, I had expected the battle in the first few minutes of the film to establish the tone and direction of the rest of the anime, but unfortunately, whatever flashes of greatness those few minutes had gradually dissipated in the course of the piece. There were some nice action bits at the tail-end of the film, for sure, but they just weren’t able to measure up to the excellence of the opening battle. For that we have to thank, first of all, the master action animator Yutaka Nakamura, and the guys who’d helped him out in between, Masahiro Sato and Hironori Tanaka. Nakamura’s patented style of organically furious action animation was in full-force in his section, which is easily identifiable (he was the very first animator I became aware of when I began getting further into anime), and it was satisfying, as expected, as it was filled with wonderful choreography, kinetic speed, and beautiful drawings. In between his work came, supposedly, Masahiro Sato, who I guess animated the parts with the long-haired woman zipping across the background toward the boy, with all the zooming lines and fast action. Tanaka did the initial scene where the mutant boy was running away from the guys chasing him. The flattened backgrounds and brisk, exciting movement give him away. The three of them combined to create very thrilling action in the span of a few minutes.

It’s quite surprising for me not to have heard of Tanaka appearing in a lot of TV anime lately. He did some work on the second OP of Sacred Seven and the fourth Bleach film, but other than that I’ve seen nothing else. It could be that I’m just not watching enough anime, but it still seems weird to me, especially since just some months ago the guy had appeared in upwards of four TV anime in the same season…I wonder what’s going on.


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The Unexpected

one of the more interesting end cards so far, for obvious reasons

A little word of warning before I proceed: this  post is actually NOT about Mawaru Penguindrum, talking about either its latest episode or some other related subject worthy of lengthy discussion. I just chose this image after watching the seventh episode because it was just, well, interesting. Out of all the shojo manga artists whose drawings I’ve seen (that is to say, I haven’t seen all that many), Lily Hoshino’s art, in my view, has a little  unique something in it that separates it from the others, though basically her drawings aren’t that distanced from standard shoujo manga fare. And I’ve also liked seeing the end title illustrations she’d provided for every episode of Penguindrum, where they are rendered spontaneously and are nicely done, at that. As for the series itself, I’m still very much interested in how it is going, especially after seeing where the plot took its story in the latest stint. It’s also nice to see those musical sequences make a return here; they’d given the ep some fresh touches of levity here and there that kept the whole affair lively and rich throughout despite the strange developments. That said, I’ll probably resume blogging the series by episode 9 at the earliest (because of some tasty rumors I’ve heard about it), but much of that still remains to be seen. We’ll see how the next few weeks go.


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Third Time’s the Charm

more than 20 years later, commander goto is still the coolest bastard in anime

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.


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Past the Checkered Flag 2

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.


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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).


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Break, Break

delicious maaya sakamoto is delicious

Usagi Drop

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).


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Peach-colored Washing Machine 4

let's destiny is a neat catchphrase

Mawaru Penguindrum #4

One of the most interesting things in TV anime is seeing how outside people can handle any material headed by the series’ head honcho (the series director, in other words), and witnessing how they manifest their own styles in presenting the said material in a manner attuned with the original goals and direction the head guy may pursue. In the past I always assumed that a series director was the one in charge of all the episodes in a given series, but over time I realized that the task isn’t only hard but downright impossible, and that there are other directors who help cover the slack with some of them even providing personal masterpieces within the show. In most cases, this situation presents itself readily in series with stylistically daring creators, say Masaaki Yuasa or Hiroyuki Imaishi (examples of which are Akitoshi Yokoyama‘s brilliant episodes of Kemonozume/Kaiba/Tatami Galaxy for the former and Osamu Kobayashi‘s frequent appearances in the latter’s shows: Gurren Lagann #4, Panty & Stocking #5 part B as the most obvious examples). On that note, here we see another instance of such a director, this time one already experienced working under Ikuhara, way back in the Utena days. And, as planned, it was great watching. In hindsight, this episode was long forthcoming.


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Back Again

One of the manga artists I really like is Tetsuya Toyoda. To my knowledge, he isn’t that prolific (since I’ve only read two of his works), but based on what I’ve seen, his work just has that special touch of tone and dramatic flow that floats my boat. His art itself isn’t spectacularly detailed or amazingly rendered, nor do I think he’s got incredible technical skill, yet the way he draws people is appealing and very personal. Toyoda’s art has this specific look that’s distinctly his, in the sense that you could tell at a glance it was he who drew the picture, no matter how random it may be. And he’s also got a nicely sensitive approach to character emotion and dramatic flow, something that I’ve noticed in some of the excellent dramatic anime I’ve seen. Not too overblown or over-acted, but seamlessly woven in and convincing. He leavens it with some quick yet subtle specks of fun humor as well, which makes for a surprisingly well-rounded and natural reading. Essentially he could be writing an emotional story, but he generously adds in light stuff throughout that makes the flow and content feel utterly natural and even realistic.


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