Archive for September, 2009

Princess Lover


Some words about series I completed recently:

Princess Lover

Princess Lover
If there was any surprise this summer season, then it’s certainly Princess Lover. It’s the debut project of studio GoHands as main animation producer, and despite being a generic H-Game adaption it has its share of strong points. GoHands originated from the former Osaka branch of Studio Satelight (which was involved in projects like Arjuna, Noein, Aquarion and many episodes of Shugo Chara) and thus has some very talented people under contract, from veteran Torapezoid animator Hiroshi Okubo to former gif animator Kouichi Kikuta. I was especially impressed by the work of those two animators, in particular the first and the last episode feature lots of interesting layout work and excellent animation thanks to both of them. But also most other episodes showcase unexpected good work, particularly the nice compositions and use of background animation here and there make it visually more appealing than the usual standard fare of this genre, not forgetting the loose animation direction which gives the animators more freedom in expressing and creating interesting movement and drawings.


Noteworthy (besides #1 and #12) are especially episode 4 and 9, former is a solo (key animation) work by Makoto Furuta and latter was done by three extraordinary animators, namely Tomoyuki Niho, Norio Matsumoto and Kenichi Kutsuna. Niho in particular has a similar approach as Hiroshi Okubo (especially concerning framing/camera work) as they are in some kind of master-student relationship. Here he finds also the possibilty to create more individual and interesting animation, though not to the same extent as in the case of his notorious work on Birdy the Mighty Decode:02 #7. The other two animators of Princess Lover #9 worked also on that Birdy episode, though this doesn’t mean that the animation is equally good. As usual still pictures can’t show the actual animation quality, but at least they give some information about the different drawing styles (I would provide a video if the good parts were one chunk, but they are spread all over the episode):


Princess Lover 9
Princess Lover 9
Princess Lover 9
Princess Lover 9
Princess Lover 9


The first episode was also done by only three key animators (Hiroshi Okubo, Shingo Suzuki and Koichi Kikuta), former two with Satelight background and latter of Xebec origins. It’s pretty easy to identify the individual work in this episode, Okubo relies as usal heavily on much camera motion and interesting layout work, Shingo Suzuki‘s parts have strong Shugo Chara vibes as he did lots of work on that series, the influence is also very obvious in the character designs. And Koichi Kikuta‘s drawings are pretty rough and not very refined during movements (rather typical for a former gif animator), but the movement itself is very sharp and interesting.
I uploaded the impressive chase scene by Hiroshi Okubo from episode 1 as it’s undoubtedly worth watching:


Next the nicely animated magical girl parody from the beginning of episode 6, key animation by Okubo and Takayuki Uchida:


The last episode features Okubo‘s great dance sequence from the opening in its full version and glory, the superbness of the camera work and animation speaks for itself:


Okubo had a special place in the credits for the last episode (alone on the top), which pretty much describes his work as there are cuts by him all over the place, though alone the above dance scene would justifiy that position in my opinion.


And concluding some words about the overall direction, script and content of Princess Lover: The rather good production quality certainly can’t cover the flaws and triteness of the plot as it’s basically nothing more than a generic H-Game storyline with the usual character stereotypes and ridiculous scenes, but fortunately the director didn’t make the mistake to strive for a serious undertone. His approach is more self-ironic and parody-esque, especially in the episodes he directed himself like the very exaggerated but actually funny #6. I think that Princess Lover takes the right path and doesn’t fall into the same trap as so many similar anime, and despite not having any noteworthy character or plot development it was enjoyable in its own way.

Aoi Hana

Aoi Hana
I haven’t come across any good or watchable ‘yuri’ anime before, but Aoi Hana certainly falls in that category thanks to Kenichi Kasai‘s directing and some decent writing. I won’t deny that it has its share of rather ridiculous scenes, however, overall the show is pretty much plausible and establishes some convincingly acting characters, which isn’t a given these days. It’s the composed pacing as well as the laid-back storytelling that give the whole series a very natural feel which is quite different from most similar anime. Visually it’s also convincing thanks to the nice art direction by Shichiro Kobayashi and decent animation in the crucial parts, Hiroki Tanaka did some work on nearly every episode so there are some bits with good acting here and there.
For everyone who wants to check out a more mature and slice of life-ish approach to love between girls, Aoi Hana is a good point to start.

Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water

Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water
Haven’t (re)watched it since its airing on German TV in 2001, so I decided to check it out once more… and it still holds up its quality and charm even to this day. Hideaki Anno managed to create a fantastic series with lots of memorable characters, good animation quality (for the most part) and a rich story based on an outline by Miyazaki dating back to the ’70s, which was inspired by Jules Verne‘s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. Anno‘s hand is clearly visible in the overly detailed mechanical designs and an emphasis on science (fiction) as well as the believable characterization and nice balance of dramatic and funny sequences. Lots of things that make Evangelion so outstanding are basically also present in Nadia, at least in the parts of the show directed by Anno. The notorious “Island Arc” (23-34) which was directed by Shinji Higuchi is clearly worse than everything before, as Higuchi had a very different approach and conception which destroyed many things (especially regarding the characterization) that had been achieved to this point. The animation in that episodes is likewise not as good as in the rest of the show, but here and there you can find some nice bits by skilled animators like Masayuki‘s parts in episode 30. Nadia features lots of work by many talented people like Mahiro Maeda, Takeshi Honda, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Tadashi Hiramatsu, etc., that and Anno‘s great sense for strong visuals make it truly interesting on the animation side of things. He’s really good at depicting huge scales on the screen, in particular the gigantic explosions are presented in a very powerful and seemingly realistic way, which isn’t surprising since he has the same kind of approach as animator.


All in all, Nadia is one of the great classics of anime and undoubtedly worth a (re)watch, it’s the kind of anime that I’m missing in today’s line-up.

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To return to this topic, let’s proceed with an opening which also features some amazing work by Kou Yoshinari, the animator/illustrator I highlighted in my first entry:


Sakura Wars 3 Opening (2001)
‘Amazing’ is the best word to describe this intro, the direction and animation are top-notch and considering the year of production the hand-drawn 2D animation and 3D CG work are successfully merged. It contains lots of things I would like to see more often in Japanese animation, in particular interesting camera work which makes use of the possibilities of the medium. Eye-catching is also the very fluid animation as it consists of 4000 drawings, which is about the average number of a typical 25 minutes TV episode. The high quality of the opening makes it difficult to pick out favorite parts, but not surprisingly Kou Yoshinari‘s cuts even stand out among so much outstanding work, he obviously did the dancing scene with the stunning camera work, which feels incredibly realistic through the polished, nuanced and fluid animation. Other remarkable parts are the nice explosions and many of the scenes with fantastic camera motion, most sequences wouldn’t be possible in usual TV works due to the budget and time restrictions. The production was directed by Atsushi Takeuchi, who worked on many of Mamoru Oshii‘s movies as animator and in the case of Ghost in the Shell 1 & 2 and The Sky Crawlers he did the mechanical designs; Takeuchi created also one short of the Ani*Kuri15 collection.
Apparently some of the key animators are credited with a pen name (“Takapon” is obvious, but some other names like Takada Hiroshi have no trackable record of other works), but that is pretty common for games and especially for everything with erotic content (though Sakura Wars is no H-Game of course).
The opening of the forth Sakura Wars game was also produced at Production I.G, but is nothing that spectacular yet still worth mentioning.


Storyboard / Director: Atsushi Takeuchi
Animation Supervisor: Kanta Kamei
Key Animation: Kazuchika Kise, Katsumi Ikeda, Kouichi Hashimoto, Masatsugu Arakawa, Sumiaki Tsubata, Ako Kagiyama, Sekiguchi Masahiro, Takada Hiroshi, Hideki Sadai, Yuuji Ogata, Takepon, Yasuhiro Saiki, Yae Ootsuka, Osamu Kurosawa, Kenji Yokokawa, Keiji Gotou, Hiroyuki Horiuchi, Kou Yoshinari


Wild Arms 2 Opening (1999)
This opening was directed by Tensai Okamura (Darker than Black, Wolf’s Rain, etc.) who created the storyboard together with Masahiro Ando (both did also key animation themselves), they also worked together on Andou’s TV show Canaan recently. There are some very nice bits of action animation in this opening, but have a look yourself:


Supervision: Tensai Okamura
Storyboard: Tensai Okamura, Masahiro Andou
Key Animation: Takahiro Kishida, Masahiro Koyama, Seiichi Nakatani, Masahiro Ando, Asako Nishida, Yoshiyuki Ito, Tomoaki Kado, Toru Yoshida, Kenji Irie, Hiroyuki Nishimura, Itsuko Takeda, Takayuki Hamana, Takuya Saito, Tensai Okamura


Wild Arms 3 Opening (2001)
The opening animation of Wild Arms 3 doesn’t need to hide from the intro of the second game, it’s a bit different in style but still a brillant piece of animation. A look at the staff reveals some truly interesting people from Kazuya Tsurumaki (FLCL, Rebuild of Evangelion, etc.) as director to Fumitomo Kizaki (dir. Basilisk) as animation director to animators like Toshiyuki Inoue, Hiroyuki Imaishi and Sushio. There are five different versions of this opening, so be aware that the staff list below are the overall credits. I picked my favorite version which includes animation by Hiroyuki Imaishi, his parts stand out for the “Kanada style” as he is a follower of late animator Yoshinori Kanada, meaning the distinct posing, exaggerated movements and glare effects (he did the Dead Leaves-like duel scene around 1:06 among some other things).


Storyboard / Director: Kazuya Tsurumaki
Animation Director: Fumitomo Kizaki
Key Animation: Toshiyuki Inoue, Hiroyuki Imaishi, Tatsuya Oka, Kikuko Sadakata, Hideki Kakita, Fumitomo Kizaki, Masahiro Satou, Sushio, Katsuichi Nakayama, Tetsuya Nishio, Fumihiro Suzuki, Gaku Fukazawa, Yuusuke Yoshigaki, Yasunori Miyazawa, Masayuki Yoshihara, Toshiya Washida


BlazBlue – Calamity Trigger Opening (2009)
I have to admit that it’s not quite on par with above openings, but it’s outstanding for being pretty much a solo work by Hiroki Tanaka, a young and very active animator these days and notorious for doing the key animation of whole episodes himself (School Days #6, Akane-Iro ni Somaru Saka #3, Saki #20). I have come to like his animation style, it’s very rich, fast and detailed due to the use of inventive shapes and contorted lines, which make his animation very interesting to look at. Also, he moves the characters wildly over the screen when there’s some kind of action going on, a good way to make these sequences much more exciting.


Chief Animator / Animation Character Design / Storyboard / Director / Animation Supervisor / Key Animation: Hiroki Tanaka


To be continued…

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Kara no Kyoukai key animation


Recently I bought the key animation book of the first Kara no Kyouaki movie to cast a glance at the raw drawings and get some additional information on which animator did which scene, though the book doesn’t provide much (new) information in the latter case. I like to look at the original and unaltered drawings as it gives a good feel for the different approaches and styles of animators. The “taste” and the personality of the individual drawings are usually lost in the process to the finished animation since everything has to look uniform in most cases, that’s why the system with the animation supervisor or “sakuga kantoku” (who corrects the drawings to match the models) was introduced. There are some cases like the notorious action scenes of “Tetsuwan Birdy: Decode 2” where the directors decided to leave the frames as they are and give the animators a free hand in animating, which lead to an interesting – but not well-received – result. I think sometimes that most anime fans seem to favor well-drawn still drawings more than sophisticated movements, though that’s not really surprising as much Japanese TV animation is very limited and basically nothing more than moving manga.


Hereinafter several scanned in excerpts of some interesting parts from an animation viewpoint (sorry, quality isn’t that good):


Let’s start with a very nice shot of Shiki trying to eat Häagen-Dazs one-handed, this scene works pretty well considering that there’s no dialogue and the movie has to communicate solely through the visuals. Such silent parts are important as they give the audience and the movie itself a chance to catch a breath, but it’s hard to achieve the desired result if they aren’t directed and animated in the right way. This scene with well thought-out key animation by Katsuya Kikuchi stands out in its own way without being overly fancy or something.


Kara no Kyoukai key animation
Kara no Kyoukai key animation


Here’s a scene which I really like, especially the nice way the action is shown, stricly speaking with a moving camera which follows Shiki as she is running and slashing the ghosts in her way, key animation by Atsushi Itagaki:


Kara no Kyoukai key animation


Next an impressive series of shots of Shiki sliding in the water after her roof to roof jump, the way the water is depicted is well done with nice digital work to add transparency and light effects. The basic hand-drawn key animation is interesting as it shows how the animator makes water move on the screen. It’s pretty difficult to animate water in a satisfying way, many animators developed their own approach with varying results. Norio Matsumoto is an animator who perfected his own technique of depicting water, especially his work on Naruto #133 is a good demonstration as the two main characters fight on the surface of a lake.


Kara no Kyoukai
Kara no Kyoukai key animation


Kara no Kyoukai key animation
Kara no Kyoukai key animation


Here’s an image that shows the composition of above shot:

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya 2009 #24


The final episode of “The Sigh” – respectively the last new episode of the 2009 rerun of “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” – happens to be the best one of that “new season” of sorts, finely crafted and well directed with lots of nice animation work and a good script by Tatsuya Ishihara (director of Clannad, Air, Kanon and Haruhi) himself. I have to admit that I wasn’t fully satisfied with most new episodes, not only due to the “Endless Eight” arc, but I rarely had the feeling that they gave everything they got like in the original Haruhi or their other major works. Not that “season 2” was much worse in terms of quality and animation, but especially during “Endless Eight” I felt some kind of inappetency in their work in comparison with their other anime which clearly show that they had fun in making them as you can see the carefulness and attention to details everywhere. The episodes after “Endless Eight” were better, especially #23 and #24 are on par with most of the first season.


Episode #24 has the quirkiness and imaginativeness that I love about most of their works, the writing is well thought out with Kyon’s usual funny commentary and the animation does well in making the characters and their traits believable. Take for example the last conversation in that episode between Kyon and Haruhi where he sort of “plays” with Haruhi by telling her that Itsuki is an esper, Mikuru a time-traveler and Yuki an alien. You can tell by Haruhi’s body language and facial expressions how her anger is building up to the point where see flies into rage and leaves the table.


This episode is directed by Taichi Ishidate [石立太一], a truly talented Kyoani staff member. Like most other directors he started out as animator and did key animation for many projects, beginning with Kiddy Grade, Inuyasha and Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu. He is a skilled effect animator so he did a lot of work on such scenes, especially his combat scene in FMP: The Second Raid #12 is worth a watch. He uses digital/computer effects quite extensively in many of his scenes to intensify the hand-drawn (effect) animation, his animation and episodes of the original TMoHS are also a good example for his style. Ishidate directed and created the storyboard for episodes #7 and #10 plus he animated some parts in both single-handedly, to be exact the fight against the giant bug in #10 and following outstanding scene with great effect work in #7:


More recent work includes his episodes of K-ON! (#4 and #9) and he animated the wonderful pre-opening part of the first episode which is very lovely in the way the animation expresses Yui’s character, I uploaded it on youtube by way of illustration:


His approach on framing is not only visible in the episodes he directs, but also in the way he creates the layouts for his key animation. He tends to move the characters a lot over the screen and does well in conveying the depth of space by altering the distance to the “camera”.


But to come back to Haruhi 2009 #24: his background as skilled effect animator shows also in the way he directs his episodes as they are skillfully processed and full of interesting animation, which make for a visually rich experience. He’s very successful in establishing different moods in a single episode and likes to use inventive compositions, here some screenshots of Haruhi #24 for visualization:



Now and then he does key animation for the episodes he directs, though this time he left that to other animators like Nao Naitou (even credited on second position in the key animation credits) who is one of Kyoani’s most talented up-and-coming animators and frequently working on episodes directed by Ishidate or Touko Takao. There are also some other Kyoani talents like Shouko Ikeda (character designer of Haruhi) and some relatively new key animators in the credits, here’s the full staff list of this episode:


Screenplay: Tatsuya Ishihara
Episode Director/Storyboard: Taichi Ishidate
Animation Director: Saiichi Akitake
Assistant Animation Director: Futoshi Nishiya
Key Animation: Fumie Okano, Nao Naitou, Emiko Nakano, Masatoshi Tsuji, Nobuaki Maruki, Rika Oota, Shouko Ikeda, Yoshiaki Urata, Natsumi Tada, Yukako Nakagawa, Taichi Ogawa

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