July 31, 2012

Working Hard and Watching Kaiba

Hi everybody, I have no major news but just some updates on my life-- I taught a two-week summer workshop on Flash at Max the Mutt Animation School. I've also just finished my first big freelance job (still not sure if I'm allowed to talk about it... I'll wait until the company posts it online themselves). I've also started work on "Bakerman and the Bunnymen," an independent short written and directed by Scout Raskin, for which I'm doing the character designs, animation and backgrounds. On top of all this, I'm in the home stretch of production on my third Fester Fish short, "Fester Makes Friends" and I'm working on designs and concepts for another personal project. At some point I still need to finish off the audio for my third-year school short and post it online, although it's not terribly exciting.

The main thing I wanted to say in this post is that I've finally started watching Kaiba, the 12-episode anime series from 2008 created by Masaaki Yuasa (director of Mind Game, my favourite anime film). Oh my goodness, this series is amazing. It reminds me a bit of Galaxy Express 999, which I also love, only Kaiba is much cartoonier and less melodramatic (most of the time). It's not meant to be a comedy though, so at times the cartoony designs feel a bit misleading.

It's jam-packed with glorious full animation of beautifully simple but crazy designs, done by some of the best artists in the industry. The backgrounds are magnificently stylized and imaginative. The story is full of interesting ideas and it's the first time in years that I've seen something that feels so new and fresh. Even more so than Mind Game, because this takes place in a universe of pure fantasy. I think I still prefer Mind Game more though, just for its comedy and unbelievable energy, but this is definitely another winner from Yuasa (has he ever been involved in anything that wasn't utterly brilliant?)

The stellar direction and pacing make you feel like you're watching a long, particularly good indie short rather than an episode of an ongoing series. Not because it's inconsistent or meandering-- it's just constantly changing, and never really settles into a formula. Every episode I'm surprised at where they take the story.


The semi-abstract environments are reminiscent of Dr. Suess, or Yuasa's own earlier Nanchatte Vampiyan pilot which I posted about a while ago. I love the look of this show. It feels so complete and singular in its vision.

As I watched the first episode, I was blown away by the scope and imagination of the show's universe. I'm almost finished the series now, and the sense of wonder still hasn't really worn off. Go check out Kaiba, now. NOW YOU FOOL. SCHNELL, SCHNELL!!

July 30, 2012

Pink Jacket Lupin 8

Here we go with Episode 49 and 50, the end of the series.

Episode 49 is another high point of the show, so if you're only watching the best episodes, this is definitely one of them. It's jam-packed with lots of full, dynamic Oh Pro animation. My favourite sequences are Lupin's jet-pack disaster and the Lupin/Zenigata chase around the fat lady's mansion during the middle of the episode, but really it's great all the way through.

 We get plenty more of that sweet, sweet flailing-limbs animation that has become a trademark of the Oh Pro episodes. I wish I knew who this animator is (and it is definitely the same guy doing it each time).

 There's a lot of impressive explosion/smoke animation in this one as well.

 This scramble on all fours is one of the funniest run cycles I've ever seen animated. I wish it was onscreen longer, it goes by way too fast.

 Actually there's a lot of Lupin and Zenigata scrambling around on all fours throughout the episode. The whole thing is crammed full of beautifully wacky movement. There are a lot of great scenes that aren't represented here because... Well, I'd be here all day if I took a screenshot of EVERY funny frame.

 The trippy backgrounds in Zenigata's dream sequence are really cool.

The fat lady throws a bomb at Zenigata earlier in the episode, and then during the climax she begins throwing hundreds of bombs at everyone, until she blows up her entire mansion.

And finally we come to Episode 50. The series sure goes out with a bang, animation-wise. This one is just insane all the way through. Tatsuo Ryuno animated pretty much the whole first half of the episode by himself, and the second half is just as good, since it also features the unmistakable presence of overall series director Yuzo Aoki (who disappointingly didn't do all that much animation himself in the series).

Ryuno's scribbled-out crowd shots like this one are always full of weird-looking characters.

 I love rubbery cartoon doors. I also like how one of the guys breaking in (below) seems to be crawling on the floor.

Like Yuzo Aoki, Ryuno's drawings have a lot of energy and vitality even when it's just a static shot like these old garbage bins. Ryuno knows just how to distort a shape or put it on a weird angle to maximize the visual interest.

 Fujiko's weird updated design is still in effect here. In the goofy wide shots it works alright, but in the more "on-model" close-ups, her eyes are tiny and far apart. It's a very strange choice. And oddly, Ryuno may be the one to blame-- he directed the animation in Episode 47, where this design first appeared, and he drew all the offending shots in this episode. When handled by the other animators later in the episode, she looks the same as she usually does.
I'm not sure why, but the CIA is depicted as a bunch of young punks who crash the villain's party with boomboxes and firecrackers. If this is some kind of social commentary it's going over my head, but it seems like a funny idea.

Everything in this panning shot below is animated, so I couldn't really reconstruct it properly, but you can still see what's going on.
As if Ryuno's animation wasn't already crazy enough, this dance sequence allows him to draw even more absurd poses without having to worry about them actually making sense. Any kind of ridiculous movement can be a dance, and he exploits that to the fullest.

More weird Fujiko. Off-model, or just a bizarre model?
 At one point in the episode Fujiko hums the show's theme song. I always like when they do that in cartoons.

 Zenigata takes his shirt and pants off when he's windsurfing, but leaves his trenchcoat on... Makes sense, right?
Fujiko looks much better in the second half of the episode. The flat hair is gone too.

 In the above shot, the CIA agents don't have arms.

The final frame of the series. Then a message comes on in place of a Next Episode Preview: "We thank everyone for supporting Lupin the Third Part III all this time. The program ends today. We will meet again. Goodbye." Even for a series that's this episodic, it's a pretty abrupt way to announce the ending: 'By the way that was the last episode, kthanxbye!'
 Finally, here are the cool backgrounds from the end credits. This seems like an appropriate time to post them.

Whew! So that's the whole series done. It was a pretty fun watch. All the variety in the designs, animation and tone made it consistently interesting, albeit uneven. Some episodes were a bit of a slog, but they were worth it to get to the gems. And speaking of which, I know some people have said they've been reading these posts to find out which episodes are worth watching, so here are my picks for must-watch episodes:

#11 has some really funny stuff in it.

#13 is just so weird it has to be seen to be believed. Plus maybe if you watch it, you can tell me what it's supposed to mean.

#22 has a lot of great animation.

#25 is definitely one of the best ones, with a great chase.

#34 has that hilarious sequence where everyone in the city is trying to shoot Lupin and Jigen. It also has the immortal "there is curry over there?" subtitle.

#36 isn't great, but it's interesting because Tatsuo Ryuno gets so sloppy at times that it raises the question "just how far off-model can you go before it starts to look like a completely different character?"

#37 actually has an interesting story where Zenigata becomes super-competent. While that idea had been done before in Lupin, it still stands out.

#40 is possibly my favourite from the whole series. It's got that great scene where Lupin is trying to sneak through a deadly security system, and then somehow gets into a subway tunnel with Zenigata. Almost the entire thing is drawn by Tatsuo Ryuno.

#44 has a funny story where lots of kids come up to Lupin claiming that he's their father, and he has no idea whether it's true or not. Then the end of the episode has an awesome chase sequence.

#49 has a story that's simple and goofy, allowing for lots of fantastic animation set pieces.

#50 has a ton of hilarious drawings, and next to #40 is probably the craziest-looking in the whole series.

The main thing to remember with the series is that the writing and direction are rarely all that great, so as long as you keep your expectations about the story quality low, you can have a lot of fun watching the animation. And sometimes the stories are actually pretty good. But boy oh boy those subtitles were a nightmare.