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Archive for February, 2012

 

After watching 7 episodes of ‘Ano Natsu de Matteru’ I’m bound to say that this is a damn fine show considering its genre and the studio. I can’t say that I’m an avid fan of romantic comedies or that I like J.C. STAFF‘s usual output. Actually, the last J.C. STAFF series I’ve watched in its fullness was ‘Toaru Kagaku no Railgun’, which happens to be one of the previous works of Tatsuyuki Nagai, the director of ‘Ano Natsu’. He is one of the few directors who do decent work at J.C. STAFF these days. J.C. STAFF‘s glorious days where Kunihiko Ikuhara, Fumihiko Takayama and Akiyuki Shinbo were active there are long gone, nowadays it’s just the embodiment of the copy-and-paste approach and stagnation in the industry. While ‘Ano Natsu’ doesn’t deviate from the usual J.C. STAFF formula, it’s a surprisingly well-executed and fun show for the most part. Director Tatsuyuki Nagai and character designer Masayoshi Tanaka have already proved several times that they are a good team that knows how to make enjoyable anime, and ‘Ano Natsu’ is no exception. Once again Masayoshi Tanaka‘s excellent animation backs up Nagai‘s skillful directing, and fortunately their work isn’t dragged down by Mari Okada‘s writing this time.

 

What I particularly enjoy about Nagai‘s directing is his clever visual language. He’s good at getting something across to the viewers with inconspicuous means and at telling the story on a visual level. Sometimes he conveys a lot with just one cut/image or the way he connects different cuts. He pays a lot of attention to the character acting as well by laying the foundation for the characters’ liveliness and the amusing character interplay in his detailed storyboards. One thing I’ve repeatedly found quite conspicuous is Nagai sharing some characteristics regarding his visual language with Mamoru Hosoda or the ‘Ikuhara school‘ as a whole. I think there has definitely been influence on Nagai coming from this direction, with some of his work featuring (visual) traits I usually associate with the ‘Ikuhara school’. By way of illustration, some examples:
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I guess it’s time for a new post on Studio Ordet since their first TV anime ‘Black Rock Shooter’ is currently airing. Let me say right from the start that I think the TV version of BRS is worse than the OVA in almost every respect, which has mostly to do with some unfortunate changes regarding the main staff. However, since my last write-up on Studio Ordet in 2009, there have been some serious changes within the studio, and unfortunately for the worse. I liked Studio Ordet in its early days for bringing KyoAni‘s vivid animation to non-KyoAni shows and for Yutaka Yamamoto‘s fun directing, too. Just have a look at early Studio Ordet episodes such as Kemeko Deluxe! #2 or Sketchbook ~full color’S~ #11 which you could essentially call subcontract work by Kyoto Animation due ot the high ratio of Ex-KyoAni staff involved. Back then, Studio Ordet‘s usual line-up of animators was fantastic with Shinobu Yoshioka, Satoshi Kadowaki, Yuusuke Matsuo and Gorou Sessha (among some other former KyoAni animators credited with pseudonyms) collaborating.

 

It’s difficult to figure out who is behind each and every pseudonym used in early Ordet work, but due to the fact that most Ordet-associated people were also close to Yamakan in their KyoAni period, it’s not an impossible undertaking. It isn’t too hard to keep track of the people who leave KyoAni either, or at least of those who did some kind of meaningful work at KyoAni (key animators, background artists, production runners, etc.). For instance, I’m pretty sure that the character designer of ‘Kannagi’ – credited with the pseudonym Mima Kakeru – is Satoshi Kadowaki. Yamakan once said that ‘Mima Kakeru‘ was a joint-pen name for several spirited artists, so it probably depends on the work. In the case of ‘Kannagi’, I’m sure that Satoshi Kadowaki is at least one of the persons behind the pseudonym. And that not only due to the nature of the designs, but for the simple reason that one of Kadowaki‘s art books was even promoted with ‘by the character designer of Kannagi’, so this one is actually a no-brainer. As far as the animation director of Sketchbook #11 is concerned (similarly credited with Mima Kakeru), I’m pretty sure that this one stands for Kadowaki, too. The way the faces are drawn in that episode (with a slightly three-dimensional feel to it) leaves little doubt for me.

 

The other interesting person who uses an obvious pen name and who frequently participated in Ordet‘s early work is Gorou Sessha. In the past few years he has gotten quite some attention for his nice work on Naruto. I’ve always suspected that Seiji Watanabe might be behind this pen name, who kind of disappeared after leaving KyoAni. He was credited on Kannagi and even on Yutaka Yamamoto‘s live action movie, though. Interesting enough, according to an event report from Yamakan‘s lecture at Kyoto University festival last November, Yamakan apparently mentioned that Gorou Sessha was his junior back in his Kyoto Animation period. In the case of Seiji Watanabe, this would make perfect sense since Watanabe often worked on Yamakan‘s episodes and even helped out as assistant director on episodes like Haruhi #00 and #12. For me, Seiji Watanabe was always one of the most recognizable KyoAni animators due to his vaguely Kanada-like style (extreme poses and exaggerated movement). The best example for this is the ‘anime within anime’ that he animated for AIR #5. He drew 130 sheets of key animation and no inbetweens were used as he mentioned in a comment. And it’s rumored that he not only helped Yamakan processing the concert scene in Haruhi #12, but also animated the most difficult cuts on his own.

 

Anyway, before I stray too far from the topic indicated by the heading of this post, let’s return to the current state of Studio Ordet. As I said above, Ordet has very much changed during the past two years. It has never been an ordinary anime studio in the first place (at least until now), but more of a free union of artists. Yamakan said so himself in the recent discussion with SANZIGENs Hiroaki Matsuura and Trigger‘s Masahiko Otsuka featured in Newtype 03/2012 (supposing that the transcripts on 2ch are correct). According to what Yamakan said, Ordet is now in middle of the transformation from a free artist group to a full-fledged anime studio. Unfortunately, this goes hand in hand with some serious changes within the studio. Meanwhile, most of the people who made Ordet‘s early work shine have left the studio. Satoshi Kadowaki seems to have moved on to Production I.G. with working on Guilty Crown and the Sengoku Basara Movie. The likes of Gorou Sessha and Yuusuke Matsuo have always had quite a loose connection to Ordet to begin with. Even BRS director Shinobu Yoshioka is apparently not a Ordet member (anymore?), or at least he distanced himself from Ordet when somebody asked him on Twitter last year whether Touko Takao was a member of Studio Ordet. From the early Ordet regulars, only Emi Kesamaru, Ryouichi Nakano and former KyoAni production runner Ryouko Tomii seem to remain for now. To compensate for the persons leaving and probably to set a foundation for further growth as well, Ordet has hired some freelancers in the recent past. Judging by recent Ordet work ([C] #6, Idolmaster #11 and Working!! #7), current regulars are as follows:

 

♦ Yosuke Yamamoto [山本陽介] – Production Runner
♦ Kazuya Sako [佐古一哉] – Key Animator
♦ Ryouichi Nakano [中野良一] – Key Animator
♦ Maimu Matsushima [松嶌舞夢] – Key Animator, Inbetweener
♦ Sachika Choumei [長命幸佳] – Inbetweener, Inbetween Check
♦ Mamiko Sekiya [関谷麻美子] – Inbetweener, Inbetween Check
♦ Ritsuko Shiina [椎名律子] – Inbetweener
♦ Arina Inaba [稲葉麻莉奈] – Inbetweener
♦ Masayo Tamaki [玉置雅代] – Inbetweener

 

Their current core staff is nothing to speak of if you ask me. And I’m still wondering why Ordet is credited for Black Rock Shooter’s ‘(2D) animation production’ instead of Trigger. If you have a look at the credits of BRS TV, you might notice that Trigger was credited in the first three episodes with ‘production cooperation’ and that many key animators are (former) Gainax regulars (so probably now with Trigger). The other studio credited for cooperation is ‘Raiden Film‘, which apparently was also brought up in afore-mentioned Newtype feature as a new studio joining ‘Ultra Super Pictures‘. Ryouichi Nakano and Kazuya Sako are the only key animators in the first three episodes that I would associate with Ordet. So why didn’t they credit ‘Ultra Super Pictures‘ to begin with? Sure, not all ‘members’ of USP are involved in BRS, but still…

 

Post-‘Fractale’ Ordet work:
♦ [C] – The Money and Soul of Possibility [TV]: Production Cooperation #6
♦ Doraemon (2011) [TV]: Inbetween Animation #429
♦ Dantalian no Shoka [TV]: Inbetween Animation #9 #10 #11
♦ THE IDOLM@STER [TV]: Production Cooperation #11
♦ Working!! [TV]: Production Cooperation #7
♦ Black Rock Shooter [TV]: Animation Production

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Before Kyoto Animation started producing their own anime (with Munto OVA in 2003) resp. started serving as a prime contractor, the studio had mainly been known for the high-quality subcontract work with major studios like Pierrot, Sunrise and Tatsunoko entrusting them with crucial episodes. It’s interesting that they often worked on early shows of directors who are big shots today, such as Seiji Mizushima (UN-GO, Gundam 00), Tsutomu Mizushima (Blood-C, Ika-Musume), Takahiro Omori (Durarara!!, Baccano!), Hiroshi Nishikori (Index, Azumanga Daioh) and so on. I want to highlight some of the most interesting instances of KyoAni‘s subcontract work here, starting with episode 3 of ‘The Soul Taker’:

 

♦ The Soul Taker #3

Storyboard/Episode Director: Yasuhiro Takemoto
Animation Director: Mitsuyoshi Yoneda
Mecha Animation Director: Noriyuki Kitanohara
Key Animation: Noriyuki Kitanohara, Hiroyuki Takahashi, Tatsuo Kamiuto, Yoshiaki Urata, Masashi Tsuji, Tomoe Aratani, Mitsuyoshi Yoneda, Shouko Ikeda, Yasuhiro Takemoto, Mariko Ueno, Shinobu Yoshioka

Two episodes of ‘The Soul Taker’ were subcontracted to Kyoto Animation (#3 and #6), and ‘subcontracted’ means in this case that KyoAni was in charge of storyboard, episode direction, key animation, inbetweens, finishing/coloring, backgrounds and photographing, i.e. they did almost everything. It’s KyoAni‘s first and only collaboration with Akiyuki Shinbo, and as such it sure is different in style compared with their other work. I have the feeling that particularly the episode director, Yasuhiro Takemoto, has been influenced by working on this Shinbo show. Takemoto usually stands out in KyoAni shows for his tricky directing as can be seen especially well in his AIR and Nichijou episodes. And Takemoto was also the one who storyboarded a certain scene with Kyon near the end of KyoAni‘s ‘The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya’ movie that stood out for the unusual approach (at least for KyoAni).

 

I’m not sure to what extent Takemoto‘s storyboard was corrected as this episode is marked by Shinbo‘s characteristic directing, but there are certainly some scenes where Takemoto‘s good sense for depth and layout organization shimmers through. In any case, the directing is quite impressive, particularly the daring Kanada-inspired colour coordination makes for a very unique look. Shinbo‘s bold direction is certainly the main reason why ‘The Soul Taker’ doesn’t feel dated at all for a show that originally aired more than 10 years ago.
KyoAni‘s involvement in episode 3 is especially apparent in the nice character animation, even though the storyboarding doesn’t leave that much room for extensive character acting. The key animation list of this episode includes many of KyoAni‘s most important staff members at that time (and even today). Most of them went on to become directors or animation directors, with two of them (Noriyuki Kitanohara and Hiroyuki Takahashi) even playing a pivotal role in shaping the newcomers at the studio by serving as lecturers at KyoAni‘s animation school. What’s interesting is how KyoAni handled the action scenes – they are known for their detailed depiction of everyday life and not for action stuff after all. While the action is definitely worth watching, I have to say that it’s rather thanks to the good directing than anything else (there are some nice bits of action animation, though). ‘The Soul Taker’ #3 is also one of the few instances where KyoAni had to animate mechas, which were probably handled – for the most part – by Noriyuki Kitanohara (who was the mecha animation director). In this sense, it was somewhat a warm-up for Full Metal Panic.

 

♦ Tenshi ni Narumon #20

Storyboard: Katsuyo Hashimoto (Mamoru Hosoda)
Episode Director: Yoshiko Shima
Assistant Ep. Director: Yutaka Yamamoto
Animation Director: Kazumi Ikeda
Key Animation: Tatsuo Kamiuto, Noriyuki Kitanohara, Masaharu Sasai, Hiroyuki Takahashi, Yasuhiro Takemoto, Shouko Ikeda, Mariko Ueno, Masatsugu Morimoto, Yoshiaki Urata, Masaya Makita, Shinobu Yoshioka, Tomoka Morisuna, Tomoe Aratani

This one is quite an interesting combination with Mamoru Hosoda storyboarding and Kyoto Animation in charge of processing/animating. ‘Tenshi ni Narumon’ (1999) was kind of a reunion of ‘Utena’ staff, so it’s not surprising that Mamoru Hosoda is involved in this Studio Pierrot show. Yoshiko Shima – who had directed many of KyoAni‘s subcontract episodes during this period but resigned later – was the episode director, and she was assisted by no one less than Yutaka Yamamoto aka Yamakan. Besides Yoshiji Kigami, Shima was probably the biggest influence on Yamakan early on in his career. Heck, she definitely had also quite a lot of influence on the other directors at KyoAni, seeing how some typical stylistic traits of KyoAni emerged around this time in her episodes (e.g. ‘Fancy Lala’ #23 B Part: the way conversations are staged, close-ups of mouthes and legs and so on).

 

There’s a strong Utena feel to Hosoda‘s storyboarding in this episode due to the frequent use of same-perspective shots and characteristic horizontal compositions. The layouts are reused to a degree that is almost bothersome, though. Hosoda usually uses same-perspective shots very effectively as can be seen in ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’ where he fused the narrative structure with the visuals really well by using that technique to establish a connection between key scenes. There’s also a sequence in ‘Tenshi ni Narumon’ #20 that could be straight out of an episode directed/storyboarded by Shigeyasu Yamauchi. As for the animation, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, but quite okay for that time. About half of the key animators credited have already left KyoAni, such as ‘Black Rock Shooter’ director Shinobu Yoshioka or Tomoe Aratani. That said, KyoAni‘s style sure had been different back then before the change to the soft movement of today that came with the rise of Yukiko Horiguchi.

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