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Archive for the ‘Impressions’ Category

 

♦ Occult Academy

To my delight, this turned out every bit as good as expected. There wasn’t this conventional and predictable feeling to it that almost all other anime of this season have, both episode 1 & 2 simply stood out in terms of directing and mood. I felt a whiff of old-school here and there, most likely it’s Hiroyuki Kitakubo‘s influence, just like the slapstick comedy and hyperactivity in some scenes. They also go a little more cartoonishly than in your average anime at times, might be also Kitakubo‘s doing. I’m wondering how much he’s been involved in this anime, so if he just planned out the scenario with Ito and Minakami or if he’s still something like Ito‘s consultant in the background. There are rumors (or should I say speculation?) that Kitakubo was actually supposed to be the director of ‘Occult Academy’ at first, but then replaced by Ito due to various reasons. I guess that ‘Planning Assistant’ would be an appropriate title for a director who was kicked out at an early stage, so it might as well be true. In this sense it wouldn’t be surprising if Osamu Kobayashi‘s harsh criticism of the first episode was based on frustration of being fired from the project (together with Kitakubo). Let’s hope that Kitakubo has more luck with his ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ movie adaptation, though I haven’t heard anything new about it for quite a while, a bad sign?

Either way, Ito‘s tight directing made the first episode consistently entertaining through enjoyable pacing and a high density of fun and interesting cuts. And I thought it was quite convincing how he connected the comedy parts with the more serious scenes (such as Maya’s talk with her father, the dramatic climax of the first episode) with perfect comic timing, an underlying sense of self-irony and a good feeling for accumulating momentum. Takahiro Chiba did a good job with the animation throughout the first episode with some nice bits of acting here and there, although I never really felt that it was on the level of ‘Kamichu!’ #1.

There were a good number of Madhouse animators involved in the first episode and OP/ED, most notably Tatsuzou Nishida (action animation director of ‘Summer Wars’, he did the cut in the OP where the cloud above ‘Occult Academy’ rips open) and Mieko Hosoi (character designer of the ‘Hashire Melos’ part of ‘Aoi Bungaku’). Even Mamoru Hosoda helped out (credited with his usual pseudonym ‘Katsuyo Hashimoto‘), he made the photographs that are used in the ED. The staff list of the upcoming episodes shows that some more Madhouse people are going to participate, I’m particularly thrilled that they even brought Ryosuke Nakamura (‘Mouryou no Hako) on board.

XEBEC was in charge of episode 2 which I liked almost more than the one before. The character dynamics were just perfect here, it was a real treat to watch Maya and Fumiaki interacting. Fortunately, the absurd plot was presented with enough self-irony to make it an enjoyable watch, too much seriousness would definitely hurt the unique atmosphere.

All in all, ‘Occult Academy’ could become the strongest offering of the ‘Anime no Chikara’ project so far, at least if they manage to sustain the quality of the first two episodes to some extent and make good use of the interesting scenario.

Episode Staff:

Ep

Script
Episode Director
Storyboard
Animation Director
#3
Hiroshi Ohnogi
Kei Tsunematsu
Kei Tsunematsu
Tomotaka Shibayama
#4
Hiroshi Ohnogi
Kentarou Nakamura
Kazuya Fujimori
Yuuko Sera
#5
Yuniko Ayana
Takahiro Harada
Tomohiko Ito
Masayuki Katou
#6
Yuniko Ayana
Ryosuke Nakamura
Ryosuke Nakamura
Mieko Hosoi
 
 

♦ Seitokai Yakuindomo

Hardly the most original anime this season, but overall a through and through well-produced and fun comedy series nevertheless (the dirty humor may not be to everyone’s taste, though). The first episode was nothing out of this world yet directed with enough technical proficiency to make it watchable. What really stood out was the very good animation quality (for this kind of anime), you can literally feel the animators’ eagerness to make the animation interesting in the way the shots are framed and the characters and camera move. Studio GoHands is an assemblage of lots of great animators, so it’s a pity that they produce anime which don’t make use of their real prowess (but there’s Mardock Scramble, of course). Opening and ending were the actual highlights for me, it’s where you feel the animators’ power strongest. The opening features animation by Hiroshi Ookubo (he did the long camera motion at the end), Kouichi Kikuta (fight scene), Tatsuya Yoshiara (not too sure what he did, but probably the beginning) and Shingo Suzuki. Kouichi Kikuta directed, storyboarded, supervised the animation and created the color concept of the ending, plus he even did some key animation. Incidentally, Kikuta was the animation/layout director for episode 2 and he drew all the layouts himself (the same was the case with ‘Princess Lover!’ #2), so the volume of work he’s already done on this series is quite amazing.

Episode Staff:

Ep
Script
Episode Director
Storyboard
Animation Director
#3
Tomoko Koyama,
Makoto Nakamura
Yuuichi Sugio
Hiromitsu Kanazawa
Yuki Terano
#4
Tomoko Koyama
Hiromitsu Kanazawa
Masaru Yasukawa,
Hiromitsu Kanazawa
Haruo Ogawara
#5
Tomoko Koyama
unknown
unknown
Hiroharu Nagasaka
#6
Tomoko Koyama,
Makoto Nakamura
Yuuichi Sugio
Hiromitsu Kanazawa
Makoto Furuta
 
 

♦ Shiki

A notch better than I expected, both on a visual level and script-wise. The dense atmosphere, setting and use of sound reminds me of ‘Ghost Hound’, but without really matching that show’s quality in terms of directing and execution. I like how the writing doesn’t give too much away and has a good sense of mystery to it, so ‘Shiki’ could well be the first horror/mystery anime in a long time that works how it’s supposed to work. The first episode was handled by Yasuro Tsuchiya (director), a name I’m not familiar with, Yasunori Ide (storyboard) and Yasushi Shingou (animation director). The animation was solid with a few scenes of better quality sprinkled throughout (particularly Seiya Numata‘s parts had some nice linework), but overall nothing to be excited about. I was pleased with the designs, though, and the director was competent enough to leave an impression on me (the screen’s texture looked surprisingly good here and there). Seiya Numata directed and storyboarded the rather low-key ending, his close companion Kyuuta Sakai animated it. I hope for another treat similar to their maniacal Needless #13. The ending animation of ‘Needless’ was also a joint effort of those two after all, hence I can well imagine that Numata and Sakai might pop up on the actual show as (animation) directors sooner or later.

‘Shiki’ is certainly not the best thing out there right now, but the first episode was enchanting enough to make me want to check out some more, hopefully the decline in quality in the coming episodes won’t be too significant.

Episode Staff:

Ep

Script
Episode Director
Storyboard
Animation Director
#2
Kenji Sugihara
Takashi Kobayashi
Kazuhiro Ozawa
Ken’ichiro Yamamoto,
Naoyuki Owada,
Yumiko Kinoshita
#3
Asami Ishikawa
Kiyoshi Fukumoto
Takashi Yamazaki
Natsuki Watanabe
#4
Hirabayashi Sawako
Masahiro Okamura
Yasunori Ide
Akatsuki Koshiishi
#5
Shintaku Jun’ichi
Shinsuke Terasawa
Kazuhiro Ozawa
Mariko Ishikawa,
Shinsuke Terasawa
 
 

♦ Ōkami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi

Basically, J.C. ‘copy & paste’ standard stuff, so you should already be familiar with the characters and most situations if you’ve watched a few other anime of their lineup. However, there was actually something new and I even liked the idea, namely breaking the fourth wall. Compared to the lackluster dialogue between the characters, some of the narrator’s comments were actually witty, e.g. the scene in the bathroom where she apologizes for the ‘bad’ fanservice. The scene direction and animation weren’t as polished as in Tatsuyuki Nagai‘s anime (Toradora, Railgun), yet good enough to keep me watching. I was surprised to see Gainax animator Megumi Kouno on the first episode, even though I knew that she had been involved with J.C. before (‘Nodame Cantabile’). She did the only real stand-out scene – both in terms of style and animation – in the first episode (the whole pumpkin-bicycle-carriage chase scene). As far as episode 2 is concerned, the directing was still nothing to speak of, yet the animation throughout made a better impression than in the episode before. It was a solo (1st) key animation work by Hiroshi Tomioka, who is famous for his extravagant depiction of hair, though his trademark isn’t that striking here, maybe there wasn’t enough time for extra polish. Tomioka has probably been influenced by Hironori Tanaka‘s way of animating hair, who incidentally happens to be the storyboarder and animation director of episode 3. Up to now, Tanaka‘s only storyboard work on TV anime have been his solo key animation efforts (Saki #20, School Days #6, Akasaka #3), so I can well imagine that he also did the key animation for episode 3 all alone. By the way, Noriaki Akitaya (co-director of the upcoming ‘Bakuman’ anime) is directing, I wouldn’t be surprised if episode 3 outclassed #1 and #2 by far.

Episode Staff:

Ep

Script
Episode Director
Storyboard
Animation Director
#3
Michiko Itou
Noriaki Akitaya
Hironori Tanaka
Hironori Tanaka
#4
Hideki Shirane
Tomoyuki Kawamura
Yuuichi Nihei
Masahiro Fujii
#5
Michiko Itou
Ken’ichi Matsuzawa
Masato Suma
Shigenori Taniguchi,
Emiko Kobayashi
#6
Michiko Itou
Yutaka Hirata
Youhei Suzuki
Noriko Tsutsumiya,
Daisuke Endou
 
 

♦ Highschool of the Dead

The first episode was basically what I expected: gory action, lots of zombies, excessive fanservice and nothing much inbetween. Usually not a series I’d watch, but one can’t deny that the quality is fairly high. Arakaki‘s direction really shines in the action scenes, particularly the framing and camera work left an impression. Araki is quite good at this (or Madhouse in general), I mean making up for the insufficient presence of talented animators by strong compositions and such. Not that the animation is bad or something, there are doubtlessly some moments of superbness here and there. The directing and storyboarding are reminiscent of Takayuki Hirao‘s style, even more so than in Araki‘s previous works. Not really surprising since Araki and Hirao have had a largely similar career up to now, which goes as far as even starting out on the same show and in the same capacity. While Araki has been exclusively working for Madhouse since the very beginning, Hirao changed over to ufotable after some years, though. Hirao directed episodes for Araki’s previous works, maybe he’ll show up on this one, too.
On the plot side of things, there’s not much to say, I guess. However, judging by a recent interview, Araki seems to be well aware that most people don’t care much about the story, but come for the breasts instead. Admittedly, it wasn’t really the blunt fanservice that bothered me, but rather the attempt to include some more serious drama scenes. Didn’t really work for me.

Overall, HotD is a mixed bag for me, on the one hand its technical quality surpasses most similar anime, on the other hand there aren’t many other aspects worth appreciating. I’ll keep watching for now, if only to find out whether there’s more to it than slaughter and fanservice.

Episode Staff:

Ep

Script
Episode Director
Storyboard
Animation Director
#3
Yousuke Kuroda
Yasushi Muroya
Shigeyuki Miya
Hideki Inoue
#4
Tatsuya Takahashi
Tetsuo Ichimura
Tetsuro Araki
Kyoko Kotani
#5
Yousuke Kuroda
Yuuji Kumazawa
Yuuji Kumazawa
Junko Watanabe
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All four episodes of ‘K-ON!!’ that have aired so far were truly impressive in terms of production quality and very enjoyable as well. Somehow I feel that Kyoto Animation has changed a bit since their last series (Haruhi 2009), maybe it’s the experience of working on a theatrical movie. There has always been this absence of technical limitations in their approach – like how they don’t shy away from animating really complex shots that (nearly) nobody else would dare to attempt in TV anime – which is somewhat more noticeable in ‘K-ON!!’. I guess it’s indeed the spirit of their first movie project that carries over. Judging by the staff’s comments, KyoAni put even more effort than usual into ‘The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya’, so considering that they worked on it directly before ‘K-ON!!’ I’m not really surprised that their directors and animators still seem to stick to a more detail-oriented and movie-like approach.

 

As great as the first three episodes were, I still found episode 4 to be the most satisfying up to now. Katsuhiko Muramoto‘s script moved along in a nice pace and added some nice touches to the characters (particularly to Mio). The staging was really great as well since no one less than Ichirou Miyoshi aka Yoshiji Kigami was in charge of episode direction and storyboarding. As expected of such a great veteran animator with 30 years of experience, Kigami visualized the script with his usual care for details and fine sense for framing. There’s always something going on on the screen plus dense and nuanced movement everywhere, so quite in the tradition of Shin-Ei Douga (Shin-chan, Doraemon, etc.) where Kigami began his career. It’s not just one character that moves at one time (like in most other anime series), but several characters move at the same time which makes for this warm and lively mood. What I’ve always appreciated about KyoAni‘s work is that they keep the typical anime/manga exaggerations at a bearable minimum and concentrate instead on more or less realistic low-key acting. Investing so much effort into the acting makes even ‘K-ON!’s unrealistic characters seem more believable and adds a lot to their personality as well.

 

 

Anyway, Kigami and animation director Futoshi Nishiya filled this episode with wonderful animation that is quite effective in expressing the characters’ comical interplay. Really loved how Mio laughed and such, I felt that they paid extra attention to her drawings in this episode. The countless nuances both in the acting and staging probably originate in Kigami‘s detailed storyboarding. Just have a look at the maniacal preciseness of his storyboard of ‘Kanon 2006’ #17, these drawings have almost the quality and exactness of key frames.

 

 

The key animator list was quite short this time with only seven people credited. Chise Kamoi was there, I’m pretty sure that she animated the scene in the girls’ room near the end when they go to bed and Ritsu scares Mio with the flashlight. Those wobbly lines and red cheeks leave little doubt (the picture at the top of this post was drawn by her, btw). Kigami drew some key animation himself, though I’m not sure which parts he did since the whole episode feels pretty much like him. If I had to bet, I would say that he animated the pillow fight. For some more information on Kigami, check out this post.

 

 

Besides its impressive animation quality, it’s also the background art of episode 4 that caught my attention. They sure drew some beautiful artwork based on Kyoto locations. The backgrounds were created both in-house (Naoki Hosokawa) and external (Anime Workshop Basara). I assume that Hosokawa was in charge of the more recognizable Kyoto locations (like the temples) as they really stood out. And it shouldn’t be too difficult for Kyoto Animation‘s in-house staff to go location hunting in Kyoto…

 

Script: Katsuhiko Muramoto
Episode Director / Storyboard: Ichirou Miyoshi aka Yoshiji Kigami
Animation Director: Futoshi Nishiya
Key Animation: Yoshiaki Urata, Teruyoshi Shidou, Fumie Okano, Kunihiro Hane, Chise Kamoi, Ichirou Miyoshi, Futoshi Nishiya

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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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