If you’ve been to my blog before, you’ve probably heard me mention the name Yoshinori Kanada. I’m not going to write another biography on the guy, but I will say he died in 2009 as a legend to the anime industry and its fans. His charismatic approach to his work as animator broke down many barriers and showed that animators could stand-out and express their own styles in their work.
You can read a good overview of this guy here (I do recommend it). But I’m going to focus on just one of his many achievements: his immortal fire dragon from the move Harmaggedon (anime adaptation of the manga Genma Taisen). Perhaps not the most iconic product of his career, it is probably his most remarkable from an animation point of view, and certainly a milestone in the history of anime.
The fire dragon carried on the spirit of his stand-out sequence from Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (1981), which depicted a ghost formed from liquid and smoke. That ghost already impressed audiences and animators, but the style of effects animation would be pushed to a new level just a couple of years later in Harmaggedon (1983).
The fire dragon, the climax of the film, perfected a thrilling new form of effects animation, which combined a sense of stylism and abstraction with an organic approach to motion. The dragon moves as a visual cacophony of wildly undulating lines and swirling, churning, leaping geometries which depicts a body of fire in a very natural and enthralling way. It’s an achievement in animation, the magic of which probably won’t be captured again elsewhere.
The abstraction is to do with the use of a few colors, and a lack of shading which simplistically but beautifully captures an image in a 2-dimensional space. Kanada’s Adieu Galaxy Express ghost and Harmaggedon fire dragon featured in Takashi Murakami’s Superflat, where he compared it to the style seen in traditional Japanese wood paintings by Katsushika Hokusai. I’m far from being an expert on art, but what I like about it is how it elegantly represents reality as forms of overlapping color.
While I don’t think the glory of this dragon can be replicated, it is a tribute to its persevering influence among animators that it is often paid homage to in their works. This video contains a collection of homages and similar effects dragons (and also the original!).
I thought it might be worth having a look at a few of these (and I would love if someone else can help me identify the ones I don’t know).
Appropriately, the very first homage is undoubtedly the work or idea of Imaishi Hiroyuki. I say appropriately because, as you probably all know, Imaishi is a devout follower of Kanada’s style and someone with a great deal of respect for him. He has adopted, and exaggerated further, Kanada’s extreme perspectives, crazy character poses, and heavy usage of effects animation. Gurren Lagann is a massive throwback, with love, to the super robot genre that Kanada was such a pivotal influence upon. But before Gurren Lagann, Imaishi got his Kanada on when he was episode director/storyboarder/animation director for the crazy GAINAX comedy Abenobashi, which is where this clip comes from.
It was a riotous episode, and Imaishi got some great animators on board to play with his brand of Kanada (Keisuke Watabe, You Yoshinari (and Kou Yoshinari), Sushio, Tokoyuki Matsutake). The episode felt like the precursor to Gurren Lagann.
Actually, Imaishi worked on a more subtle reference to the fire dragon in episode 7 of the just-finished Black Rock Shooter. I sadly haven’t seen the episode yet, but a friend of mine pointed it out to me.
Imaishi Hiroyuki storyboarded and directed the other-world scenes in most episodes of BRS. In episode 7 it was alongside one of his main animators on Gurren Lagann, and probably someone who he has influenced/mentored a lot himself: Akira Amemiya. One of them had the cheek to sneak it in there!
But going back to the video. The dragon that bursts from the cooking pot at 00.48 is the animation work of Seiya Numata (working on 2×2=Shinobuden), another big Kanada fan.
Although his style isn’t so directly reminiscent of Kanada’s as Imaishi’s, Kanada’s rebellious and experimental spirit has definitely been picked up by him. he has a big impact on an anime when he’s involved, and always leaves a footprint. Check out this article on Ani no Miyako for more on this guy.
But funnily enough, he too appears to have worked in a fire dragon reference into his new season of Milky Holmes. Being character designer, he is heavily involved in that show, and often in a more behind-the-scenes capacity. He was animation director on episode 7, which means he was especially involved in this episode. Whether he animated it uncredited or not, there’s a good chance it was his idea!
I haven’t actually seen the other anime in this video, so if anyone wants to enlighten us as to their origins, that would be great! A friend identified the clip with multiple dragons in space at ~3.10 as being from X (and an earlier clip with a pure-red dragon attacking a guy in a ball). It would be cool to know the story behind these ones.
Actually, I could keep this post linked in the sidebar and updated whenever we see another fire dragon pop up in anime or can unearth one of these older ones! Please contribute or just share your thoughts!
A friend of mine found this amazing Saki MAD. It was too good not to share, especially if you’re a mahjong fan like me. It combines the mahjong play of Saki with the addictive beats of the tap-dancing finale song of Zatoichi to fun and compelling effect!
How do I stop watching?
So, as promised, here’s my first new post. Be warned, this one might be a little over-informative. I’ve also changed the layout because something in the other layout changed and made it more difficult to read.
So one of the few shows I have been watching and enjoying this season is Black Rock Shooter. I have to admit, I’m one of the many out there who was swept up in the hype frenzy of BRS around the time the first OVA came out. But I also have to admit I’m not one of the many who were subsequently disappointed when the OVA didn’t meet their monumental expectations. It wasn’t all it could have been, but I enjoyed it. This series might have me in the same position.
While I haven’t exactly been running polls on this or anything, it seems to me that this new Black Rock Shooter also has had a divided response among fans. It expands upon the high-school drama side of things from the OVA that some people seem to detest, but gives it a more melodramatic and dark flavour. Me? I’m lapping it up! I don’t know why people can’t seem to get behind the high-school part of Black Rock Shooter. Some fans just wanted a monotonous, grim and dialogue-free action fest I guess. Although I feel that it’s much too fast paced in this series (a symptom of only having 8 episodes to work with), I’m still a sucker for melodrama. Especially when it’s so well presented.
Not everyone agrees with me on this, but I’m enjoying the animation work on BRS. Raito-kun at Ani no Miyako clearly isn’t liking the anime from a technical (or any other) perspective. He also discusses the state of Ordet, which is an interesting read. Let’s put the 3DCG work aside for the moment. Certainly, purely in terms of the 2D animation, it hasn’t offered anything particularly great. To my memory there hasn’t really been any charismatic character animation, or anything technically impressive. But, personally, I’m fond of the storyboard and layout work on most of the episodes. Subtlety isn’t one of its flavours, but the way this series is framed keeps the visuals feeling fresh and engaging at every turn and serves to give the emotional moments a real kick. Episode 4 stood out for me in this department.
But, and I didn’t think I would ever say this, the highlights are the CG battle sequences. The reason I can say that about BRS is because of the work of Hiroyuki Imaishi.
You should know Imaishi as the director of Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking. After being an impressive animator at Gainax since Evangelion, he recently left and started his own new studio (or rather joined Masahiko Otsuka and Kazuya Masumoto in starting it): Studio Trigger. Check out the very cool-looking official website. It’s interesting that his departure coincides with the commercial failure of Panty & Stocking. I definitely get the feeling that, even despite his role as a premier director, Imaishi’s creative instincts were somewhat curtailed at Gainax (and money probably had a part to play too). He also took Yoshinori Yoh with him, definitely one of GAINAX’s most valuable assets as an animator.
Masahiko Otsuka, co-founder and the director, describes the motivations for starting it in this translated interview, and also confirms that they are already working on an original animation project (I can’t wait to see it previewed!). There’s an implication that they could do more Panty & Stocking if they liked (just like Khara did with Evangelion). But it’s clear that Studio Trigger was formed to create original and ambitious works, as well as in response to what the founders see as a shift in the industry’s approach to creating animation. I’m not too sure what they are getting at with that last part, but it should become clear in their future works.
So far, the studio has done an episode of Idol M@ster (17), sub-contracted from A-1 Pictures (yet more GAINAX – or Ex-GAINAX influence on that anime!). Sushio, who was also a member of Gainax until relatively recently (he’s now freelance) was animation director on that episode too. And now Imaishi has also cooperated with Ordet, who are actually an affiliated company now, on Black Rock Shooter in an unexpected capacity: as CG Battle Director.
Unlike in the original OVA, the other-world battles are done entirely in CG (except for 2D effect animation), even the characters themselves. You might notice Imaishi is also co-credited with storyboard and direction in episodes. What this clearly means is that he explicitly directed and storyboarded the CG battle sequences – he had control of them. The staff of BRS seem to be pretty discretely split between the real-world and imaginary world content.
What’s the result of this unusual involvement from Imaishi? Well, I find myself enjoying those action scenes a lot, when I’m normally totally opposed to CG for animating anything other than mecha (and even then give me 2D any day please). If you look at Strike Witches and the new Last Exile, the use of CG for the characters is really awkward – it sticks out immediately, looks ugly and doesn’t move the same way as the rest of the animation. When I heard this I was curious to see what Imaishi could bring to the table when his background is clearly in 2D-animation, and a very “anime” kind of animation at that.
Imaishi has over-come all of this. Not only are the action scenes great because his storyboards are as awesome as ever, with plenty of cool angles and interesting action shots, but he has bought a 2D limited animation approach to the CG sequences. Limited animation refers to animating at lower that full-framerate and is the style that classically defines the anime medium since TV-anime came about. Anime uses it to good effect by making the framerate dynamic – fast at key moments that need an impact and more choppy in others. Imaishi is known for using limited animation in the Yoshinori Kanada vein – with a focus on cool poses and drawings and varying the framerate a lot.
This is reflected in the CG battle scenes here, which, at some points, have a very purposefully dynamic framerate to create the same interesting kind of moment that you would see in a Gurren Lagann action scene, for example. Limiting the framerate of CG in anime definitely isn’t new. Of course, there’s no limit to the framerate you can animate CG as, but when it’s left at full-framerate it not only looks more unnatural, it does not fit alongside traditional 2D animation, with its limited frames. Ghost in the Shell:Stand Alone Complex very effectively animated the Tachikomas at a limited framerate so that they would blend in with the 2D ‘cels’. But it’s taken a step further here and done very well.
It’d be nice if I could upload a clip to illustrate this, but I can’t think of a good place to put videos these days.
Perhaps the biggest thing is he adds to these sequences is a lot of well-blended 2D effects. With smoke, fragments of dust, lighting effects and other grit flying across the scene, the CG doesn’t feel too clean and the shots are much more exciting to watch. I’m really impressed by these sequences.
Imaishi handled them for episodes 1-4, and I guess he bought on the other person who would handle the next couple (at least): GAINAX animator Amemiya Akira.
Funnily enough, Akira is one of the main animators at GAINAX that people are keenly watching in the void that Imaishi left behind. He is best known for his mecha work, and he was one of the top animators who worked on Gurren Lagann ( and recently Gundam Age). He was also called in on both Idol M@ster (which was overrun with Gainax and Ex-Gainax staff at some points!) and Boku ha Tomodachi ga Sukunai to handle their mecha parody segments.
Like Imaishi his animation is very much in the Kanada School class, with the style of his effects and frivilous cool ‘poses’ that are awesome to watch. That should be pretty clear in this MAD of some of his work.
He has done a lot of work both as a key animator and as an animation director, and I think it won’t be long until we see him take on more of a director’s role. In many ways, his involvement in BRS is a step towards that. His credits so far are:
Storyboard/Assistant Director: 5,6
Key Animation: 6 (CG-Part)
So he storyboarded and directed the CG battle scenes in 5 and 6 (and it looks like Imaishi got him to draw some layouts for him in episode 1 too). His work carries on what Imaishi started without dropping the ball at all. His storyboards/layouts create really exciting action sequences here, and the CG is handled in the same way, by approaching it more as a style of 2D animation.
Black Rock Shooter is an interesting step in a new way of looking at CG, which lends BRS’s fight sequences a kind of gravitas that I would not have expected from CG in a TV-anime. Of course, CG can never replace 2D animation. The kinds of interesting distortions, movements and linework that can come from a charismatic animator with a pencil in hand can’t be replicated. But perhaps there is a place for it.
But, all this aside, I also think it’s enjoyable in its own right, even if it’s a bit quick to turn its characters into psychopaths. Luckily, believably isn’t one of my make-or-break criteria for anime (or I wouldn’t be watching much!).
You might remember me as the author of this blog. I thought I would drop in again to announce the revival of this blog! I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve posted here, especially because I had such a good routine down with the daily posts before. But life got busier and more interesting and I somehow lost the time to be able to blog regularly. It’s been a good interval; I went to Japan, had a great time, and came back with a long-distance girlfriend who’s as awesome as she is far away.
It’s a real shame because the daily entries were also an excuse for me to stay on the cutting edge of anime news. I’m still near the edge, but perhaps not the cutting edge. But my interest in anime hasn’t diminished! Of course, I’m still watching anime, talking about anime with friends, and doing all the usual otaku crap. Lately my tastes have swung back into the in-depth realm of sakuga. By that I mean studying and appreciating charismatic animators and animation.
The anime industry is a fascinating beast, populated with some very odd, talented and ambitious individuals. I know this now more than ever, after hours (hours and hours and hours) of obsessive reading on the masterful website ‘Anipages‘. Go read the whole damn thing, I dare you! The author, Ben is a living knowledge-dispenser when it comes to anime, and his professional command of the English language makes it an addictive read. I’ve even been inspired enough to run a panel at my local convention about animation and the industry.
Ah, right, I said something about a revival, didn’t I? Like Gandalf, I will rise from the ashes [of a smoldering Balrog corpse] and take a new form! Rather than the jittery news-based approach I was doing before, the blog will feature sporadic, but more detailed and interesting posts. And by sporadic, I mean once every 3 or 4 weeks. So, please, sit back with a nice glass of Cognac and a good book and let’s enjoy the slow-lane together!
Actually, while I was writing this notice, I almost finished what will be the first post: Studio Trigger and Hiroyuki Imaishi in Black Rock Shooter. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting.
But before that, let's get to know each other again. Let me share some thoughts on the current season. The first thought that springs to mind is that it's kind of average. Maybe it's just average when compared with my own personal preferences but the only shows that have engaged me are Black Rock Shooter, Rinne no Lagrange, Daily Lives of Highschool Boys, and Nisemonogatari.
I'm sure there are other anime out there I can tolerate, but that's not really enough for me these days. Papa no iu koto wo Kikinasai, which I expected to be a fun loli-fapservice kind of anime, instead turned out to be a charming and strangely awkward story of fatherly love. Bummer. I don't think I dropped anything else this season, but that's only because you have to pick things up before you drop them. Ano Natsu seemed good, but wasn't my cup of tea.
Highschool Boys has served me well as the comedy of the season, with guaranteed laughs every episode (except maybe episode 2). Nisemonogatari is probably my favourite – it's cleverly envisioned, engrossing and also very playful with its gags and fanservice. I might do a post on that soon too. You'll find out my thoughts on Black Rock Shooter very soon. Rinne no Lagrange has been consistently entertaining, if forgettable.
How are you guys enjoying things so far?
⚫ Anime Announcement: Kingdom (キングダム), a history manga published in Weekly Young Jump is getting a TV-anime, set to air next year. It will air on NHK and the studio is Pierrot. (source)
⚫ Anime Announcement: Date A Live (デート・ア・ライブ), a light novel series has an anime project in the works (the wording was that planning is in progress rather than a proper announcement). This is quite a quick adaptation, I think the LN only has 2 volumes released! (source)
⚫ This week’s sales charts reveal the first volume of the new Working season, has sold 11,233 Blu-ray copies and 6,456 DVDs! It sounds like a lot, but it’s not as strong as the sales of season 1′s first volume, and keep in mind that, as with the first season, this release only comes with one episode and is at the special price of around 3,000 yen (amazon) (source)
⚫ A delay in sending out the special original-content episode that was promised as a special disc for buyers of the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Perfect BD Boxset has been announced (source). More poor scheduling management from SHAFT *sigh*.
I’ve been on a bit of a buying spree lately, and of course that means I’ve been stocking up on my favourite kind of otaku collectible: GSC nendoroid petites! I’ve got a large enough collection of these cute little things now that I only really bother to aim for limited/exclusive ones. Newest additions to the club: Nadia, Ranka, Nessa and Fuka (from Disgea 4).
I’ve been kind of obsessed with studying Japanese grammar lately, which partially explains why I haven’t been blogging (the other element being that I’ve just been busy in general). If you’re interested in learning Japanese grammar (and I recommend you tackle that before even bothering with all but a handful of Kanji or even vocab), then check out Tae Kim’s guide to Japanese grammar. Although I was familiar with a lot already, his explanations really clarify a lot of things, and he definitely tells it in a way that makes it easy to remember and put into practice. I’ve been talking with some Japanese people lately, and decided what was really needed was concentrated reference sheet for all the grammar structures, so I could double-check syntax and grammar quickly and easily. I’ve started making a PDF. Check out what I’ve got so far here if you’re interested.
Obviously, I’ve missed covering a lot of big news, the two that come to mind are:
- Madoka movies being announced. 3 movies in total, with 2 as recap (are we that forgetful, really?).
- More KoreZom anime coming.
How do you feel about the Madoka movies? I’m not sure I’m ready to trust SHAFT to put something together of cinematic quality (but I guess given the new wave of anime movies, the idea of a cinematic standard has definitely started to vanish). I hope they’re willing to pull in a lot of people for this project.
⚫ Persona 4 has a theater production announced!? (source). It starts march next year at Sunshine theater. The tickets are rather expensive at 10,000 yen for premium tickets and 7,000 yen for reserved seats.
⚫ Big news came out of the Tiger & Bunny event yesterday: a movie-version was announced! It will be released next year. (source). I’m not a fan of that show, but I’m happy for all you fans out there!
⚫ There’s serious concern about Japan signing up to the TTP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) for the sphere of doujinshi. The problem being that it grants the police the ability to prosecute for copyright infringement, (without it being approved or initiated by the actual rightsholder themselves). As you may know, events like comiket, and the broader doujinshi industry as a whole, relies on the fact that there’s an unstated agreement between manga/anime companies and the fans that they have the freedom to draw derivative, parody works. It’s a system that’s helped the industry vastly, promoting the works of published authors, and fostering the talent itself. Because Japan doesn’t have allowances for fair use in its copyright law, this change to the law would mean there’s no guarantee you couldn’t be prosecuted for drawing a parody work.
⚫ Yutaka Uemura, who directed Dantalian no Shoka announced on twitter that they have gone freelance. The circumstances around them leaving aren’t known (whether it was them wanting to leave following the current GAINAX exodus trend, or if they were fired), but it’s bad news for Gainax either way. Dantalian no Shoka, like Panty & Stocking, sold very poorly (well below the manabi line of 3000 copies per volume). (source)
⚫ Recorder to Randoseru will be airing on TV Saitama, KBS and online via niconico, but the air-time announcements reveal that it’s just a 5-minute episode affair!! Damn, this looked funny. (source)
Mio Chan Beats
Insane in a catchy sort of way.
⚫ Anime Announcement: New Minami-ke anime has been announced in the just-released 9th character-song CD. While there’s no further confirmation about studios or what format it will take (TV or OVA), a particular line in the announcement was “It’d be good if it was a TV-anime” suggests that it could well be a season 4. ANN has the translated exchange that announces it here.
⚫ You can see the character designs for the new season of Saki (by studio Gokumi) here. Unfortunately, they’re not coloured yet.
⚫ The new issue of Young Gangan magazine reveals that there’s another Working!! project in the works beyond the currently airing second season! The form of this new work isn’t specified which has led to people wondering if they might be considering a live-action version! (source)
⚫ PSP Game for ‘Papa no Iu koto wo Kikinasai’ has been announced (source)
⚫ I think I heard about this earlier, but forgot about it until now. Megami has a new magazine: Megami Lily! (メガミマガジン リリィ) (Amazon link). The magazine is definitely relevant to my interest – it focuses on yuri! A really cute spread of Homura and Madoka together has got a lot of attention around the place. More pics here. There was also a feature on Yuruyuri, as you would expect.