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Archive for December, 2009

 

Now that I have finished watching this rather generic series, I want to point out the only episode that is a real achievement in my eyes: GoHands’ #10.
Overall, Seiken no Blacksmith suffers from the typical problems of most light novel adaptions as it neglects proper storytelling in favor of ridiculous otaku-centric plot devices, it’s simply hard to take anime with little girls in major roles seriously. The story and the behaviour of most female characters are consequently coined by otaku taste, but it admittedly had some fun bits here and there and I didn’t expect much story-wise anyway – yet I’m still disappointed to see a series of that kind from manglobe. With Michiko to Hatchin they introduced so many great characters – also one of the most mature little girls I’ve seen in anime – but that was from a different director and writer and above all – an original project.

 

 

Anyway, Episode 10 has noticeably more dynamic animation and interesting posing as well as solid layouts and some nice bits of background animation, all in all comparable to Princess Lover #1. Unsurprisingly, the three key animators of PL #1 – Shingo Suzuki, Hiroshi Okubo and Kouichi Kikuta – were also involved in Blacksmith #10 (among some other GoHands animators). Okubo and Kikuta handled most of the exciting action sequence of the second half which convinces through the power and impressiveness of Okubo‘s parts (great camera motion and background animation) and Kikuta‘s fancy drawings and framing. Latter has a very obvious style which reflects his past as gif animator – his drawings may be rather rough (reminscent of other gif animators like Shingo Yamashita) but his morphing of the designs into interesting shapes and offbeat proportions make the actual movement turn out very satifying. Kikuta‘s approach to timing and layouting is similarly interesting, he tends to move the characters quite a lot within the given frame and often moves the backgrounds/camera to achieve a more dynamic effect (even if there’s sometimes a bit too loose connection of animation and the BG art), apparently Kikuta attracted some attention with his interesting layout style since he was entrusted with creating the layouts for Princess Lover! #2 and #8. In 2007, he created a short for the online contents site GyaO! [youtube] which provides some information about his style (and also regarding his liking of yuri…). Below some cuts which were animated by him (from Princess Lover! and Seiken no Blacksmith):

 

 

Staff list of Seiken no Blacksmith #10:

 

Screenplay: Masashi Suzuki
Storyboard: Masamitsu Hidaka
Episode Director: Yuuichi Sugio
Animation Director: Jun Nakai
Key Animation: Shingo Suzuki, Hiroshi Okubo, Kazuaki Imoto, Makoto Furuta, Kouichi Kikuta, Hidemi Kanazama, Yuki Terano, Takayuki Uchida, Yuuichi Sugio, Ai Ishimori

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Compared to the last few winter seasons the number of new anime has noticeably gone back and, sadly, more than half of them seem to be the usual cheap cookie-cutter stuff that dominates modern anime, though there are still a few promising series in the lineup.

 
High Expectations
 

Durarara!!

It’s basically the same constellation of people who created the outstanding Baccano!, strictly speaking it’s based on a light novel series written by Narita Ryougo with the well-attuned team of Noboru Takagi (series composition) and Takahiro Omori (director) handling its adaption into animation. The animation is once more produced by studio Brains Base, but Omori‘s projects attract all kind of artists so I’m sure we’ll see some talents doing great work like in Baccano!. Takahiro Kishida, who is also a regular on Omori‘s works, created the wonderful character designs, haven’t seen anything better for a while. I’m pretty sure that Durarara!! will be the highlight of the upcoming season (which isn’t that difficult to speak the truth), can’t wait to see what Omori intends to do with this one, his imaginative and intense directing style that reaches out into every aspect of the production promises some enjoyable time.

 
 
Medium Expectations
 

So-Ra-No-Wo-To

This is the first anime of the so-called “Anime no Chikara” project which is a collaboration of TV Tokyo and Aniplex to create original anime with talented creators. Mamoru Kanbe is directing it so I expect a half-way decent result, and besides it’s rare these days that a scenario sounds as interesting as this one (even if there’s a bunch of assumedly stereotypical bishoujo’s involved). It’s an A-1 Pictures production which commonly means averaging quality if there aren’t the right people involved, but Toshifumi Akai‘s participation as chief animation director (who aquired some renown through his work on Kannagi, or more specifically his animation supervision of #10 and key animation on several episodes) makes me hope that the animation could turn out pretty good. The eye-catching resemblance of Akai‘s character designs to K-ON! respectively Yukiko Horiguchi‘s style is of course no coincidence as he obviously likes K-ON! (like he wrote on his blog) and Horiguchi‘s work. The PV reveals some convincing animation which even comes close to Horiguchi‘s lively and rich animation at times, though I suspect that they can’t keep it up… anyways, I’m curious if Ordet will be participating too since the designs are of their lineage in some way.

 

Hanamaru Kindergarten

Gainax and Seiji Mizushima do indeed sound great, but despite the reputable director I doubt that Hanamaru Kindergarten is a high-priority project for them. That said, I’m glad to see a new comedy series by Gainax and the trailer certainly caught my interest through the usual overdone Gainax humour. If anyone can make something really worthwile out of this source material, then it’s without doubt Gainax.

 

Katanagatari

After Shaft x Shinbou‘s Bakemonogatari, Katanagatari is the second anime adaptation of NisiOisin‘s work, this time by White Fox and Keitaro Motonaga (School Days, Akasaka, etc.). It’s interesting that the anime will air over a period of a whole year with one 60 minutes episode per month (so one for each novel volume), this should allow for some additional polishing of their animation work. I really liked the style shown in the PVs and the animation wasn’t that bad either, but hardly surprising as there are some talented people attached to White Fox (like Naoto Hosoda, I’m sure he’ll do some work on Katanagatari). Since it’s based on novels by NisiOisin, it’s probably not on the low standard of most other light novel adaptations, but let’s wait and see what the director (whose former works weren’t particularly creative) does with the material.

 
 
Low Expectations
 

Ōkamikakushi

I’ve wanted to see a Ryukishi07 work adapted into anime by another studio than Deen for quite a while as his stuff is actually interesting and entertaining and deserves something better than such an awful mixture of still-images and trite directing, but this combination (Nobuhiro Takamoto and AIC) isn’t too promising either. I fear that it won’t be anything more than standard fare with some decently interesting storyline, though quality-wise probably a notch better than the extremely bad Deen stuff. If the first two episodes manage to catch my interest, then I’ll watch some more of it for the sake of Ryukishi07‘s original scenario. The setting is certainly reminiscent of Higurashi, and Ōkamikakushi seems to be the same twisting and blending of various genres and concepts that make the “When they cry” franchise so remarkable.

 

Dance in the Vampire Bund

This season’s new Shaft x Shinbou anime, apparently presented in a more violent and darker fashion reminiscent of Petite Cossette and Soul Taker. It’s Shinbou so I expect a halfway decent result even with this generic sounding source material.

 

Seikon no Qwaser

While the content seems to be nothing more than an extremely fanservice-y version of the usual fantasy/school stuff, it could surprise on the technical side of things since some interesting staff is involved. Director Hiraku Kaneko is a good choice for this kind of anime as his (nice) work as animator is equally coined by fanservice, the same goes for Hiroya Iijima (chief animation director) who did a lot of work on adult animation, though he concentrated more on TV anime in the last few years. Remarkable are also the two relatively new companies Taki Corporation and Hoods Entertainment that handle the (animation) production, latter is another offspring of Gonzo, to be exact mostly of the section which worked on Linebarrels of Iron. The promo shows some decent animation quality, though if the scenario is as ridiculous as I heard from various sources, then I won’t bother with it.

 

Baka to Test to Shōkanjū

So Shinbou‘s protégé (Shin Oonuma) is directing a series at Silver Link? They recently worked on some Shaft shows so it’s far from being a surprise, but it won’t be anything too outstanding even with Oonuma directing, it just doesn’t strike me as interesting at all, much less as something meaningful like ef ~ a tale of memories.

 
 

I left out all the unbearable and insignificant cookie-cutter stuff as well as the sequels like Nodame Cantabile Finale, Hidamari Sketch and Gag Manga Biyori+, even if some those follow-up series probably rank among the better anime this season.

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To aru Kagaku no Railgun #9
I wasn’t particularly impressed by “To aru Kagaku no Railgun” so far (apart from episode 1), even if Tatsuyuki Nagai‘s supervision makes it more bearable than most of the other currently airing “bishoujo” series. He tends to work with many freelance artists so now and then you come across suprises if you follow his works closely, Railgun #9 is such a case. This episode was directed and storyboarded by Shigeyasu Yamauchi (director of Casshern Sins and many Toei shows) who created a very rich and atmospheric episode out of the weak and sometimes ridiculous scenario, though overall it wasn’t anything too outstanding, but rather solidly crafted. There are some nice moments throughout the episode and also an exciting action scene, and Yamauchi obviously paid much attention to details. The conception of the environment is more pronounced than in the other episodes as the storyboard feels actually thought-out and does really well in giving the anime’s world a concrete feel, something pretty rare in this kind of anime. The various drama parts and the corresponding inner monologues feel not so much out of place and boring like the ones in the previous episodes because Yamauchi knows how to stage them in an interesting way, pay attention to the nice compositions and metaphorical imagery like the light/shadow contrast:

 

 

The animation is admittedly not significantly better than in the other episodes, yet a more dynamic and expressive style is noticeable and some faces are somewhat reminiscent of Casshern Sins.

 



 
 

Kiddy Girl-and #5
The animation production of this episode was handled by White Fox (Tears to Tiara), so it’s no surprise that Naoto Hosoda is involved as well since he changed his register from AIC to aforementioned studio some time ago. Hosoda directed, storyboarded, supervised the animators and did the key animation for many cuts himself, that’s why his personal style is visible all over the episode. He’s one of the few “moe” exclusive directors/animators who have come up with their own style, and his approach totally reflects his skills as animator. The episodes he directs are full of unexpected movement and playful ideas as well as animation which feels flowing and completely rounded. He moves the characters a lot and gives them lively mimic and gestures which make their acting so much more convincing, Kiddy Girl-and #5 is no exception from this.

 

 

The final action scene is definitely the highlight due to Hosoda‘s great animation and storyboard work, it’s really amazing how he manages to surprise the viewer through unforeseeable motion, shot progression and use of perspective. I like how he makes use of the whole screen and creates a feeling of depth by moving the characters closer to the camera or distancing them from it. The storyboarding makes the whole scene much more intense as the characters move simultaneously over the screen so that you can literally feel the hecticness of the situation. It’s certainly one of the better episodes I’ve seen lately thanks to the fun moments and exciting action, and in contrast to Railgun I find the scenario and overall tone more appealing due to the lacking seriousness (at least that’s my impression based on #1 and #5). I don’t know if it’s a coincidence but the concept of episode 5 reminded me of Tears to Tiara #14 (also Hosoda‘s work) which was also about the exploration of an abandoned place, including an equally stunning final action scene. Maybe I’ll check out some more episodes of Kiddy Girl-and, the staff lists of #6 and #7 look also somewhat promising. Anyway, here’s the nice action scene of episode 5:

 

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Kinpachi-sensei Intro (2004)
This nice sequence serves as the intro for the 2004 PS2 game with the extra-long title “San nen B-gumi Kinpachi-sensei densetsu no kyoudan ni tate!”, which was produced by Chunsoft who got recently some attention for their visual novel “428: Fūsa Sareta Shibuya de” and its anime spin-off “Canaan”. I especially like the calm mood of this opening sequence which was realized with a good sense for depicting everyday (school) life in a believable way, something I would like to see more often in anime. It abandons the typical anime depiction of school life by choosing a more realistic and mature approach that makes it feel similar to Ghibli works, it even has some funny scenes which establish some kind of light-hearted mood. The “Ghibli feel” is of course not a coincidence as many of the artists responsible for the Kinpachi-sensei OP worked on Ghibli works and also on “World Masterpiece Theater” series, ranging from the character designer and layout designer Satoko Morikawa (who did the same work on “The Cat Returns”) to Ei Inoue and Kazutaka Ozaki (who were animation directors of said Ghibli movie) to other talented artists like Telecom animator Hiroyuki Aoyama (animation director of Tokikake and Summer Wars). The opening is consequently full of refined character animation and different from most other game openings, they even animated it at 30 frames per second instead of the usual 24 frames what leads to a distinctive and even more realistic feel.

 

Character Design / Layout: Satoko Morikawa
Chief Animation Director / Character Key Animation: Ei Inoue
Animation Director / Key Animation: Kazutaka Ozaki
Director: Koujirou Tsuruoka
Storyboard / Key Animation: Hiroyuki Aoyama, Naoki Arakawa, Masahiro Kurio, Jun Uemura, Akiko Yamaguchi
Animation Check / Key Animation: Yasuko Miyazaki
Key Animation: Atsushi Sekiguchi, Takayo Nishimura, Miwa Sasaki, Katsu Oushiro, Yumi Chiba

 
 
 

Magical Girl Pretty Sammy Music Clip (1998)
This one is an animated bonus music clip from the Sega Saturn game “Magical Girl Pretty Sammy”, directed by no one less than Kou Yoshinari. As usual, his focus on unique aesthetics, nuanced movements and coherent drawings make the characters feel much more tangible than in your average anime. Besides himself, there were also some other famous animators working on this (like his brother You Yoshinari and Hiroshi Okubo), and accordingly, the clip is 110 seconds of great animation and a real joy to watch for any animation fan.

 

Storyboard / Director / Animation Director / Key Animation: Kou Yoshinari
Key Animation: Hiroshi Okubo, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, You Yoshinari, Hiroyuki Uchida

 
 
 

On this occasion, I want to highlight a great opening with Kou and You Yoshinari‘s participation (though it isn’t a game intro), namely the opening of the OVA “Super Mobile Legend Dinagiga“, which is pretty similar to above clip as Kou Yoshinari created the storyboard for this one too and it was produced in the same year (1998). Unsurprisingly, the animation is no less spectacular since the line-up of animators is just as impressive with work by Norio Matsumoto, Hirofumi Suzuki, Hiroshi Okubo and others. Here are some comparison pictures:

 

 

Director: Noburo Shirohata
Storyboard: Kou Yoshinari
Animation Director: Hiroko Kazui
Key Animation: Hironori Yamamoto, Yasuhiro Okuda, Makoto Yamada, Shinya Ojiri, Shigeki Sunada, Norio Matsumoto, Hirofumi Suzuki, Nobutake Itou, You Yoshinari, Hiroshi Okubo, Manabu Ono

 
 
 

Sentimental Graffiti Opening (1998)
NEC Interchannel’s game “Sentimental Graffiti” is a popular dating simulation game and the opening video is correspondingly full of high school girls, but that doesn’t mean that it’s cookie-cutter stuff like most other visual novel openings out there. This one has actually good character animation and is presented in a more interesting way with the girls floating across the screen and doing cute movements, all in all much more entertaining to watch than the usual still character images, apart from that it’s hard to find properly rendered “bishoujo” designs. Kou Matsuo (director of Kure-nai, Rozen Maiden, Red Garden, etc.) directed this opening with Hiroyuki Horiuchi supervising the animators, so it comes as no real surprise that the result is decent.

 

Director: Kou Matsuo
Animation Director: Hiroyuki Horiuchi
Key Animation: Kazunobu Hoshi, Shinji Satou, Fanatic Gotou, Masakazu Saitou, Masayuki Kobayashi, Hiroyuki Horiuchi

 
 
 

Dancing Blade II Opening (1999)
Like its prequel, Dancing Blade II is an interactive animation game by Konami and animated by Kyoto Animation. The gameplay itself is pretty much the same as in most other visual novels, meaning that the “player” can influence the story’s progress at multiple-choice decision points. The main difference to usual visual novel games is that Dancing Blade isn’t just still pictures but actually animated. There’s some very good animation here and there, most notably Yoshiji Kigami‘s (Kyoani’s “ace” animator”) parts stand out. Kyoani’s staff hasn’t changed much since then, Tatsuya Ishihara (Kanon 2006, Clannad, Air, etc.) supervised the project and Kazumi Ikeda, Yasuhiro Takemoto and Atsuko Ishida designed the characters. The animation and (art) direction is remiscent of Kyoani’s respectively Ishihara‘s latter works, the fuller animation, clear visuals and layouts feel very Kyoani-ish.

 

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