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Archive for the ‘Fall Season’ Category

 

The new anime fall season is nearly upon us so I guess it’s time for my preview. As usual, it’s not about just mentioning each and every upcoming series, but about those I’ve some expectations for. Therefore, I’ll ignore most of those unwatchable cookie-cutter anime that make up a significant part of each season’s line-up. Sequels are excluded as well.
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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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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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Kuchu Buranko

 

♦ Kuchu Buranko
Kuchu Buranko #1
The first episode undoubtedly meets my expectations of an innovative and refreshing visual experience with interesting script and concept, so it comes as no surprise that Kuchu Buranko is the most convincing anime of the fall season in my book. It’s interesting to see anime which push the medium into new directions, and this one belongs to that category for sure. I especially like the combination of different animation techniques and also live-action segments to a lovely pool of visual variety and richness, which stands out from the generic and reused imagery of most other anime these days. Kenji Nakamura manages to compensate for the middling animation quality through inventive directing to establish a strong bond with the audience, and I feel that he’s even more accomplished in that technique than other directors with the same kind of approach (like Akiyuki Shinbou). But not only the presentation displays imaginative ideas as the narratives are also pretty unusual. The story is still a mystery at this point but makes me curious how it will eventually unfold, and judging by Nakamura‘s former projects it won’t disappoint in any case. Episode #1 is directed by Kouhei Hatano with Kimitoshi Chioka as assistant, who realized an interesting vision best described as a mixture of bizarre humour and psychological gimmickry fitting to the premise of the series, and I really like the way the hilarity is presented here with this strange balance of absurdity and seriousness.

 

♦ Kobato
Kobato #1
The first few episodes left me with a good impression alike the former Clamp/Madhouse works. It has its share of funny moments and fun character interactions, even if some of the characters are a bit reminiscent of other Clamp characters. The main character Kobato is a somewhat naive girl and most of the jokes are based on her ineptness or misunderstandings derived from it, but I have to admit that it works very well and doesn’t feel overly forced or something. I also enjoyed the visuals despite the sugary presentation with lots of chibi/SD sequences, because these devices are used in a way that isn’t repelling but brings some visual diversion and supports the gags. It certainly has the typical dreamy mood of the previous Clamp anime and looks very close (esp. regarding color design, backgrounds and overall design) to the “Clamp in Wonderland 2” music video, but not surprisingly, since Kobato’s director Mitsuyuki Masuhara and character designer Hiromi Kato worked also on that one. The animation is decent with some nice parts like Kobato’s song performance in the second half of episode 1, though one shouldn’t expect too much in that regard.

 

♦ Fairy Tail
Fairy Tail #1
I didn’t expect an outstanding opening episode à la Soul Eater in the first place, but nevertheless something better than this rather uninspiring outcome. Speaking of Soul Eater, I could sense some influence from it, which probably originates from director Shinji Ishihira‘s work on it. But that doesn’t mean that they are really comparable concerning quality, meaning that Soul Eater is much more convincing animation-wise due to the looser approach, while Fairy Tail has stiff and hardly appealing animation reminiscent of long-running shounen series. The directing is also surprisingly spiritless and lacks any uniqueness, what leads to the uninteresting presentation of the rather decent source material. All in all I don’t have any hope that the quality will turn for the better.

 

♦ Winter Sonata
Winter Sonata
Nothing too outstanding despite the unusual scenario. The animation work by G&G Entertainment and JM Animation is hardly worth mentioning, but what really puts me off is the awful directing (besides the corny script). I can clearly see that they try to abandon typical anime exaggerations and behaviour to create a balance closer to a live-action drama, but it doesn’t work that easily. Of course the stiff to non-existent character animation/acting doesn’t help with that and the unfitting editing as well as the frequent pans over the static backgrounds slow down the flow too much, it might work in live-action that way, but as animation it gets easily boring and isn’t engaging at all.

 

♦ Cheburashka Arere
Cheburashka Arere
The original Russian animated film series by Roman Kachanov and famous studio Soyuzmultfilm is rather unknown among anime fans, but has been very popular in Japan since the Cheburashka movies were shown in some cinemas, it was even inducted into the Ghibli Museum Library. As a result, a Japanese version was announced some years ago, which currently airs during TV Tokyo’s “Nori-Suta 100%” show. The new version is produced by Go Hands, a relatively new studio known for their recent anime “Princess Lover!“, with Makoto Nakamura supervising the project and Susumu Kudo as director. The designs, animation and content are pretty simple as expected of children’s program, but sometimes less is more.

 

Altogether a very disappointing fall season with very few highlights and lots of cookie-cutter anime, so I’m hoping for betterment next year. The winter season has some interesting titles like Gainax‘ “Hanamaru Youchien”, A-1‘s “So-ra-no-wo-to” and assumedly Brainbase‘s “Dhurarara!!” in the line-up, at least some promising anime to look forward to.

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To Aru Kagaku no Railgun

 

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun
To Aru Kagaku no Railgun #1
It comes as no surprise that the first episode features some excellent work both on the directing and animation side of things, certainly one of the most impressive first episodes this season. There’s a whole army of animation directors on this episode (9), which says a lot about the good animation quality since more movement means more drawings to correct, so they apparently needed more ADs to complete it in time. Tatsuyuki Nagai‘s directing is interesting as usual, and especially the layout sense throughout the first episode is great with many carefully thought out compositions emphasizing the happenings on the screen and providing an appropriate stage for the characters. The great layout work was supervised by nobody less than Katsushi Sakurabi, known as the director of “Tsukihime” and “Gunparade March”, who did also some good work on Nagai’s former J.C. project “Toradora!”, in particular his job as episode director of #16 and #24.
The final action scene is the stunning climax of this episode, besides the great animation it’s especially the nice storyboarding which gives the scene its tension and Mikoto her stylish and intruding appearance. Since it’s a first episode the key animation credits feature some rather famous names like Shinichi Iimura, Satoshi Iwataki, Nozomu Abe and (of course?) Hiroki Tanaka (the opening displays also some work by him).
So as far as the production is concerned, it’s certainly a very satisfying debut as one would expect of Nagai, but I have to admit that the scenario is a weak point due to the generic nature, at least that is my impression based on the very first episode. Nagai has already established strong character images and the cunning character interactions which made “Toradora!” so good are also there, so I hope he keeps that up in the succeeding episodes and manages to pull everything together in a worthwile way to cover for its weaknesses.

 

Seiken no Blacksmith
The Sacred Blacksmith #1
As expected nothing more than a typical light novel/fantasy anime with rather good manglobe quality. The animation is decent enough with some nice cuts now and then, though the directing isn’t that good for the most part but rather bland like the source material. The first episode is dominated by pretty typical anime behaviour and interactions and correspondingly the characters aren’t particularly interesting or likable at this point, however, I’ll check out some more episodes to see where it’s heading.

 

Kampfer
Kampfer #1
Despite knowing that Kampfer is another one of those mass-produced anime for bishoujo/moe fans I watched the first episode and naturally wasn’t too impressed. It’s the kind of anime popular among otaku these days, with the usual stereotypical cast of characters and unimaginative storyline/setting as well as absolutely trite character designs and poor directing. At least the animation is a bit better than in the typical Deen/Xebec/Arms/ZEXCS etc. production, but I’m sure that will change in the succeeding episodes.

 

Seitokai no Ichizon
Seitokai no Ichizon #1
Another “masterpiece” by Studio Deen, this time presented in a more self-ironic fashion with loads of references, but it lines up in the studio’s record of cheaply produced series anyway.

 

Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra
Tatakau Shisho - The Book of Bantorra #1
The first episode is neither particularly good nor really bad, but it certainly shows the origins of david production as the execution is strongly reminiscent of past Gonzo works both in a positive and negative way. Miserable CG work is nothing rare in Japanese animation, but in this case the whole integration as well as the realization are simply uneffective and unaesthetic. The hand-drawn animation is decent for the most part, though I’ve never been a fan of these typical “Gonzo style” drawings because they often look too stiff in motion and aren’t particularly expressive, but compared with some former Gonzo and the Beetrain series this problem isn’t that dominant here (at this point) and at the very least I appreaciate the nice variety of character designs and their rather mature look.
I can’t say much about the story yet, but my initial impression is by and large positive, even if the characters and setting feel somewhat familiar. The directing is admittedly not as interesting as I hoped with a pretty typical approach on the visuals.

 

Kimi ni Todoke
Kimi ni Todoke #1
In terms of direction and animation it certainly fulfils my expectations and it’s another good example of how a good production can make up for a generic scenario. The excellent animation enriches the characters’ personalities and makes their behaviour more believable, especially in the scenes with nuanced acting like the part before the ending of episode 1. This scene feels very natural with richness and harmony in the animation and was probably done by Kenichi Yoshida, who did all in all 30 cuts for this episode according to a statement on his BBS. The directing is very interesting too, Hiro Kaburaki certainly knows how to establish a distinctive mood with clear and appealing visuals, even though the typical anime overacting in some scenes is a bit too much for my taste.
Overall one of the better anime of this year’s fall season and certainly worth checking out.

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Fall line-up 2009

 

My season ‘preview’ of sorts is not so much about simply copying the synopsis and other trivial data, but about my expectations on the upcoming titles, I’ll leave out all series which are mass-produced low-quality anime in my eyes. And sadly that applies to many titles of the fall line-up, though there are also some promising anime by the usual suspects like Bones and Production I.G. around. But overall it seems to be one of the weakest fall seasons for years, a lot of cheap sequels and a lack of original projects show the uncertain condition of the current Japanese animation industry.

 
High Expectations
 

Kuchu Buranko
Kuchu Buranko
It’s the ‘noitaminA’ series of the season and further by the same team who were responsible for Mononoke, namely director Kenji Nakamura and character designer/animation director Takashi Hashimoto working with studio Toei. If you’ll find anywhere creativity this season then it’s certainly in Kuchu Buranko, I expect refreshing and inventive visuals in the same vein as Mononoke. But not only the presentation will be great as the synopsis reads very interesting, too. The original material is Hideo Okuda’s Naoki award-winning-novel, it’s great to see acclaimed and more serious literature turned into anime besides the usual superficial light-novel stuff.

 

Darker than Black: Twins of the Shooting Star
Darker than Black 2
One of the few original projects of the upcoming season and sequel to the first DtB by talented director Tensai Okamura. It’s very rare these days that the original creator and the director of a TV series are one person, but that can lead to very interesting results as there are lower restrictions to the creative process. The animation is produced by Bones (respectively the team of season 1), so I’ve no doubts that the quality will exceed most other series.

 
 
Medium Expectations
 

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun
To Aru Kagaku no Railgun
I didn’t watch “To Aru Majutsu no Index” as it’s a typical light-novel adaption in every aspect and far from being anything special with the usual poor directing and trite script, but there’s one thing that makes me confindent that this spin-off will be more than a typical unimaginative bishoujo series. To be exact, it’s the participation of Tatsuyuki Nagai (Toradora!, Idolm@ster Xenoglossia, Honey & Clover 2) who happens to be one of my favorite directors for this kind of material. His sharp approach on directing and his emphasis on character animation to make the characters lively through multifaceted animation makes the comedy so much funnier and the drama much more engaging than in the usual bishoujo/moe stuff, especially the episodes he directs himself have a wonderful sense for gags and interesting character acting. I only hope that the material proves to be worthy of this skilled director…

 

Seiken no Blacksmith
Seiken no Blacksmith
Don’t know why manglobe chose to do an adaption of a generic light-novel instead of doing another interesting original project, but that has probably economic reasons as it’s easier to get a project with successful source material funded. Studio manglobe projects are always highly interesting since staff from all over the industry comes together. The PV shows decent animation quality, though as usual ups and downs are to be expected, depending on where the episode is produced and who is the episode/animation director. Director Masamitsu Hidaka has a decent record of works to some extent, but the generic source material sorf of limits the potential.

 

Kobato.
Kobato.
Another Madhouse Clamp manga adaption supervised by Mori Asaka (Card Captor Sakura, Chobits, NANA, etc.) and directed by Mitsuyuki Masuhara. Latter has still to prove his skills, but the rest of the project staff is certainly promising with character designer Hiromi Kato of “Clamp in Wonderland 2” fame and the experienced scriptwriters Nanase Ohkawa (Clamp member) and Michiko Yokote. The animation quality will probably be not too high as manga adaptions are usually of secondary importance to them, but middling Madhouse quality is still better than most of the other stuff out there.

 

Kimi ni Todoke
Kimi ni Todoke
Manga adaption by Production I.G. It’s the first job as series director for Hiro Kaburaki who did some decent work on “Welcome to the NHK” and “Le Chevalier d’Eon”, but nothing too outstanding. Apparently it’s not a high priority anime for I.G. in the vein of their original projects, though the quality of their works never disappoints anyway.

 

Anyamal Tantei Kirumins
Anyamal Tantei Kirumins
Despite having a weird premise, this one could be a surprise. It’s an original project by Shoji Kawamori (Macross, Basquash!, etc.) and directed by talented director Soichi Masuo (Scrapped Princess), produced by Satelight, Hal Fim Maker and JM Animation. They seem to go with the current trend of ‘uber moe’ little girls in cute costumes, but the execution could be pretty good due to the promising project staff. Director Soichi Masuo is someone who did a lot of interesting work in the past, and Hideaki Anno even invited him to do storyboarding for “Evangelion 2.0”.

 

Fairy Tail
Fairy Tail
Fairy Tail has certainly a lot of potential, not only due to the nice source material, but because of Shinji Ishihara who really knows how to direct action stuff. Recently he did a lot of outstanding work on “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”, particularly on the fight scenes which have a great sense of perspective and staging. Recently both Satelight and A-1 Pictures delivered pretty mediocre works (especially animation-wise), so I hope they make good for that with Fairy Tail.

 

Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra
Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra
The trailer is pretty promising with lots of nice animation / backgounds and clearly shows Toshiya Shinohara‘s (Kuroshitsuji, Gunparade Orchestra) directing style. The studio david productions is pretty young and consists mainly of ex-Gonzo people. Quality-wise I don’t expect that the quality of the trailer will be uphold over the entire series as their former works are rather weak in terms of animation, although the synopsis sounds more interesting than in most other upcoming anime and I have faith in Shinohara’s skills as director.

 

Jungle Taitei: Yuuki ga Mirai wo Kaeru
Jungle Taitei: Yuuki ga Mirai wo Kaeru
Adaption of Osamu Tezuka’s classic “Kimba the White lion” with some very interesting staff members like Goro Taniguchi (Code Geass, Planetes) and screenwriter Osamu Suzuki.

 
 
Low Expectations
 

White Album 2
White Album 2
I haven’t come around to finish season 1 yet, but the episodes I’ve seen were decent and much better than any other anime by Seven Arcs. The presence of Kou Yoshinari (character designer) and his animation is one of the reasons for this, so I hope we’ll see more of his work in season 2.

 

Natsu no Arashi! Akinaichuu
Natsu no Arashi! Akinaichuu
Another unnecessary sequel, I wouldn’t mention it here if it weren’t for Shinbou‘s directing.

 

Winter Sonata
Winter Sonata
A joint production of Japanese and Korean companies so I don’t expect too much quality-wise, though it could be a welcome change at least regarding story and content.

 
 

The rest of the upcoming series are of little interest to me since they are either cheaply produced and/or the 100th incarnation of the same garbage.

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