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The anime writings of Ben Ettinger


Fight da!! Pyuta

Mon, 26 Oct 2015 01:28:00 +0000

Fight da!! Pyuta is an obscure black and white show from 1968. It was produced not by one of the major studios of the era but by a short-lived studio going by the generic name Hoso Doga Seisaku (Broadcast Animation Production). You'd be forgiven for assuming it to be one of the many throwaway shows produced at this time. But in fact it happens to be one of the best, featuring some of the most edgy comedy and vivid animation of any TV show of the era. From psychedeila to pop art, political satire to parody, Pyuta incorporates themes and techniques that made it ahead of its time in its day, probably contributing to its short two-season run. It's a shame that the show was produced in black and white or its appeal would be more immediately obvious, but it's a tribute to the artistry of the animators that it nonetheless remains tremendously entertaining and watchable after nearly 50 years. All you have to do is look at the opening theme to see just how out of this world this show is, with its profusion of subliminal inserts, pop sensibility, alternately rich and cartoony animation, and most of all the incredibly fast cutting. That is quite possibly some of the fastest cutting I've ever seen in an anime. This opening was a clear statement of intent from the staff that they were out to break the rules and do something special. Although not all of the episodes in the show itself live up to this promise, the remarkable thing is that even the less impressive parts are a cut above, and the best episodes are among the best TV episodes of the era. Pyuta picks up where Mushi Pro's gag comedy masterpiece Goku no Daiboken (1967) left off, and in some ways goes even further. Like Goku, Pyuta was clearly the product of industry animators fed up with being bottled up by the constraints of the industry coming together to put their foot down and make some crazy animation the way they wanted for once. Pyuta ditches running story altogether and uses only the most rudimentary setup as a coathanger to allow its animators the most possible freedom in storytelling. The world of Fight da!! Pyuta One of the major factors behind the show's freedom is that, despite the claim of being based on the manga by Tsunezo Murotani, the show is in fact almost completely original. The previous anime produced by the studio was based on a manga by Tsunezo Murotani. This time they basically took the idea of Dr. Tsururi from the Dr. Tsururi manga by Murotani, but completely changed his design and personality and added Pyuta as the actual protagonist, along with inventing all of the other characters. It's essentially an original show, not actually based on a manga. This certainly helped give the animators more freedom to do their thing. In coming up with the setup, the 1965 slapstick comedy movie The Great Race was an inspiration to the staff in terms of tone and gadgetry. Thus you get the amusing contraptions flown by Warusa & gang in the opening theme. This sets the basic tone for the show - slapstick and silly struggle between the protagonist and the bad guys piloting crazy contraptions, with the bad guys being kind of ridiculous and laughable. The show's hero is Konno Pyuta (inspired by the recently introduced word computer), who lives with his grandfather, the bald genius inventor Doctor Tsururi (tsururi is the onomatopoeia for smooth). The Doctor actually just sits around sleeping all day, but when he gets hit on the head with a hard object, he goes into hustle mode. Signaled by the Kentucky Derby fanfare, his true genius comes out, and he assembles a brilliant invention. It's a staple of the show that there's at least one hustle scene per episode. The show's heroine is Kakko-chan, who appears in a different guise in every episode - astronaut, painter, reporter, etc. Kakko-chan is in fact a completely different character in each episode, making Pyuta's acquaintance anew each time, which is a novel approach. Pyuta rides around in his barrel helicopter taking orders for repairs and inventions. Meanwhile, the evil Warusa the 7th sends his sidekick B[...]

Akado Suzunosuke

Sat, 26 Sep 2015 00:54:00 +0000

Hello world. I'm back again. Sorry for making a habit of disappearing. I thought I'd pick up where I left off by finishing a post I actually started about a year ago but never finished, about one of the classic Tokyo Movie/A Pro shows. Akado Suzunosuke (1972-1973) is a bit of an oddity in the Tokyo Movie canon - neither cartoony gag comedy nor a spokon drama, but rather straight-up jidaigeki. Though not perfect, it holds up fairly well to viewing after all these years. It's a fun, if somewhat repetitive, rollicking samurai action adventure. The production side benefits from work by luminaries like Yoshifumi Kondo, Osamu Dezaki and Hayao Miyazaki, albeit at an early stage in their development. The show is a product of the transitional years of the Mushi Pro/Toei Doga diaspora, when Tokyo Movie/A Pro captured many of these people briefly before they moved on to the gigs for which they're more well known. Things often come in fads in anime - the sci-fi anime fad of the early 1960s gave way to the gag anime fad of the mid-1960s, which in turn gave way to the spokon fad of the late-1960s/early 1970s. Tokyo Movie is interesting for having originated some of those fads by taking a chance and doing something that went against the dominant style of the day at various junctures. Akado Suzunosuke is such a show, and was in fact quite popular and re-broadcast in Japan over the years, despite not having engendered as many copycats. Based not on a popular manga of the day but rather an old manga from the 50s, everything about the show is a deliberate throwback, not just the samurai-era setting. The manga on which the anime is based was already old-fashioned when it was released in 1954. The manga was originally drawn by one Eiichi Fukui (and after his death Tsunayoshi Takeuchi) in a style that even in the day harked back to an earlier era of more simple storytelling, with six square panels a page, before Osamu Tezuka revolutionized things with his modernistic experimentation with narrative and paneling. So this anime is triply a throwback The show's nostalgia factor is apparent right from the start with the show's opening theme, which opens with the big-eyed Suzunosuke striding down a country road. The naive, simple lyrics cheer Suzunosuke on and tell of his dreams to become Japan's best swordsman. The song is actually a children's choir version of the theme song from a 1957 radio drama of the manga released in the wake of the manga's popularity, written in the classic march style that was so popular in early 20th-century Japan right down to the war. (listen to the radio drama's theme song to see its similarity to the famous military gunkan march that makes an appearance in Grave of the Fireflies) The radio drama adaptation of Akado Suzunosuke was such a huge hit that it was followed in short order by no less than 9 movies between 1957 and 1958, two TV series in 1957 alone, and possibly two other TV drama adaptations. Thus, although Tokyo Movie's version of 1973 was obviously aimed at children, it simultaneously must have played to the nostalgia of adults who would remember its story and theme song. The 1957 TV adaptations paved the way for the advent of TV anime in a way that might not be immediately apparent - character toys and goods. Akado Suzunosuke was one of the first shows to be accompanied by a massive toy marketing campaign. That may have something to do with its surprising popularity. Shows like Tetsuwan Atom (and most later anime) would tap into that to help boost their popularity by synergy. Tokyo Movie's Akado Suzunosuke wasn't the only nostalgia vehicle at the time. There appears to have been a kind of mini nostalgia boom in the early 1970s, with various old properties being brought back to life. It's possible that the idea to adapt the Akado Suzunosuke comic into animation was inspired by the 1972 revival anime adaption of the old hero show Gekko Kamen (1957) by the infamous Knack Studio. In addition to being a jidaigeki, the show also functions as a hero show like Gekko Kamen, wi[...]

Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone

Tue, 16 Dec 2014 01:39:00 +0000

The news came out a few months back that Tomonaga Kazuhide heads a new Lupin III TV series starting this spring. The show seems poised to be a return to the sensibility of Cagliostro-era Lupin, with its breathless car chases, lighthearted atmosphere, good-guy Lupin and caper-centric stories. Visually, too, as the Japanese like to word it, it's monkey-headed Lupin (Fuma Clan) rather than horse-head Lupin (Part III). Acting as a kind of bridge between the Takeshi Koike-designed Fujiko Mine TV show of a few years back and the upcoming reboot is a recent movie entitled Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone. In two 30-minute parts, it feels less like a movie and more like an OVA, or two gussied up TV episodes. The story feels lifted straight out of the second TV series in sensibility. It feels much closer to the Lupin of old than Fujiko Mine, feeling like a lead-in to the upcoming TV series, yet finally does justice to Takeshi Koike's unique interpretation of the characters thanks to some truly excellent animation quality, which the previous TV show was lacking due presumably to bad scheduling. Telecom handles the animation, so it can be assumed to be a preview of what's to come from the TV series, in terms of the animation if not the designs. It's an odd pairing: Takeshi Koike and Telecom. But it works great. We finally get to see Koike's designs animated properly. I'm not sure what happened between Fujiko Mine and this movie in terms of Takeshi Koike's involvement, but it feels like he wanted to make this movie so that he could vindicate himself and show how his Lupin should have looked. Because here he's involved full-bore, in classic Koike style, handling character design, storyboarding, directing and even sakkaning (with no assistance). The animation pops thanks to some very talented folks, both in-house and outside animators. Hisao Yokobori and Kazuhide Tomonaga head the animator list as the star in-house animators, while presumably Takeshi Koike brought in folks like Takefumi Hori, Kanako Maru, Satoru Utsunomiya, Hiroshi Shimizu, Kenichi Shimizu and Toshiaki Hontani. I was surprised to see such faces in a Telecom production, but I hope that the upcoming TV show will continue to use talented outsiders, because otherwise I don't see how they can fill the show with good animation just with in-house staff. The car action in episode 1 was spectacular, if slightly different in feeling from the classic car chases. Takeshi Koike's genius shines through in this spot, whereas otherwise the show felt pretty restrained for him - less him showboating than doing the material justice. The Telecom chases favored long shots regaling you with characters plowing through scenery, whereas here it's all fast cutting and dynamic camera angles. It would be pretty cool if Tomonaga Kazuhide animated a car chase storyboarded by Takeshi Koike. I couldn't identify who did what, except for Satoru Utsunomiya's scene, but the whole episode felt tight animation-wise, with Takeshi Koike's drawings filling in the more quiet scenes nicely. Incidentally, great to see Satoru Utsunomiya. He always seems on the verge of disappearing and then shows up in some random show. Hard to believe that in the 10 years since I started this blog he never had an opportunity to helm a big project. But that goes for a lot of talented people (e.g. Yasuhiro Aoki)... In sensibility the two episodes felt like they could have been taken straight out of the early Lupin (perhaps why the new jacket is a color that seems midway between blue and green), from the way Fujiko shows up and interacts with the Lupin gang to the combination of assassin bad guy and international intrigue and fanciful spy tech. The bad guy assembling the gun was animated in loving detail as befitting classic Lupin, and Lupin's car this time around was different from any before but also a charming but punchy mid-range classic car - the Alfa Romeo GTV? The only thing that felt a little uncomfortably weird and closer to Fujiko in spirit was the bizarro sexbot sc[...]

Yadamon and Studio Curtain

Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:15:00 +0000

Many years on from Manga Kodomo Bunko and Manga Ijin Monogatari, Group Tac produced an unusual magical girls show called Yadamon (1992-1993). The show was produced for NHK, and was hence a somewhat high-profile gig with more personality and verve than your usual template majokko anime. It injected a bit of style and cool into the genre, which gave it broader appeal. The show announces itself as different right from the opening (watch), with its appealing, somewhat international character designs and driving alt rock song by Lindberg. The show's name also drops the lengthy, cliche'd "Mahou no..." format for a more cool and succinct impact. Although different from the work produced by Group Tac in its early years, the show still had their patented cleverness and personality. Set in the near future, the show has an optimistic vision of the future in which man uses science to establish a harmonic balance with nature. A boy named Jean lives in a man-made ecological preserve called only the "Land" with his parents Maria and Eddie, scientists and veterinarians who run the preserve. There are mild sci-fi elements that are not too outlandish to be unbelievable. The structure of the show starts off with standalone 5-episode-long arcs, later moves to standalone episodes, and in the latter half gradually becomes serial leading towards the cataclysmic climax. This apocalyptic and openly interpretable climax is also somewhat novel, perhaps reflecting the greater freedom of creators not tied to source material. Yadamon is a great example of a show not based on source material. The concept for "a new kind of magical girl show" originated in 1991 with NHK production arm Sogovision producer Hiroshi Kubota and screenwriter Minami Oi. Kubota in particular devised the idea of inverting the standard setup of magical girls shows. Instead of a magical girl who lives among ordinary humans but has to keep her abilities secret, the mischievous Yadamon tells everyone she's a witch, but nobody believes her. In early October 1991 NHK began seeking production companies by competitive bidding. They did this by providing production concept documentation and asking for each company to visualize the characters and their environment in a few illustrations. Group Tac submitted illustrations by Suezen and won the bidding in mid-October. Group Tac producer Kenjiro Kawando is the one who chose Suezen, having worked with him on The Tale of Genji (1987) and then met him in various places since. I enjoyed the show back when it first aired for its nice style and western atmosphere. It was also one of the first anime I saw in the 10-minute format. (It was aired Monday through Friday in 10 minute chunks.) Revisiting it recently, I found that it's a pleasant show if far from perfect. The animation is a base tone of lackluster with occasional spikes of awesome. The characters and stories are endearing if simplistic and childish. Although on the surface the show follows the template of a magical girl from a magical land who visits the earth and engages in adventures there, the show's underlying theme is notable for being more based on child psychology. Rather than taking the child's perspective and projecting a fantasy life onto reality, Yadamon seems to take an adult's perspective by placing the crux of the drama on Yadamon's emotional growth from pure self-interest to empathy. Helping to maintain interest are Suezen's designs. Suezen is the pen name of Fumio Iida, who just prior had acted as animation director of Rojin Z (1991). He's a great animator, and he animated the opening. His designs go a long way to making the show watchable, if just because they're so refreshing. Unfortunately he didn't animate anything else in the show. Luckily there were spurts of good animation in the show, most of it from subcontractors. To be able to produce so much animation, Group Tac outsourced much of the production work to around 30 different subcontractors. Roughly 20 in-house and outsid[...]

Santa Company making

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 16:05:00 +0000

I haven't seen the actual show, and it doesn't look very interesting visually, but someone brought to my attention an interesting Kickstarter project that will be probably one of the most meticulous making-ofs ever:

Luckily it looks well on its way to being funded. I also noticed that Japanese indie animator Ryo Hirano is crowdfunding his latest film, except this one is on a Japanese site:

Am I reading this wrong though or is the Blu-Ray only available at the 50K Yen level? That's pretty absurd. Otherwise a talented indie creator worth supporting.

Urbance though is the most interesting currently-running crowdfund animation and I hope it gets funded:

Index of Crowdfunded Animation in the forum.

10 years of Anipages

Sun, 05 Oct 2014 22:31:00 +0000

This is a little late, but this past June 9 marked the blog's 10 year anniversary. I never thought I'd continue writing it for this long. I fully expected to stop after a few months when I started writing out of boredom in summer of 2004. The community support is what kept me going for this long. So I'll take this opportunity to thank all the commenters who have voiced in with always welcome insights. 10 years is a long time and many of you have come and gone, but I hope things are well wherever you are in life now. Thanks also to everyone in the forum for making it a good place for nitty-gritty animation discussion. Last but not least, thanks to all the readers for reading my meandering writings about random obscure/ancient subjects all these years. I hope it's been of some interest.

Looking over the first month's posts I'm reminded that initially this was really just a place for me to scribble down unorganized thoughts about anime and whatever else was on my mind. Over the years the post volume dropped considerably, with a few long silences, but I've moved towards focusing on properly written posts on a specific topic in the hope of improving the quality. I don't know how long I can keep it up, but I'll probably try to continue to write as long as I can.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Sat, 04 Oct 2014 03:58:00 +0000

I got to see Isao Takahata's latest film on the big screen a week or so ago and wanted to get down some impressions before I forget. On the surface, Kaguya Hime no Monogatari is a gorgeous film that carries on where My Neighbors The Yamadas left off, doing for ancient Japan what the previous movie did for modern Japan. But deep down, it's more of an enigma. I've been immersed in Group Tac's Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi for weeks now, so it was inevitable for me to compare the two. This story has in fact been told not only in MNMB but elsewhere in movies and shorts. But the idea to make the movie isn't new. Takahata came up with the original idea for the film way back in the Toei Doga days, and in retrospect it does look like the kind of film that would not have been out of place beside Anju and Zushiomaru and Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon. Kaguya Hime or The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter as it's alternately known is believed to be Japan's oldest story - it's even referenced in The Tale of Genji. It's known as "the ancestor of stories" in Japan. The story itself, like many folktales, is fantastical and obviously not realistic. Gisaburo Sugii's approach to the conundrums and non-sequiturs of Japan's folktales seemed to be to embrace them, not to try to bridge their logical gaps. The MNMB version of Kaguya Hime (watch), which is directed by Takao Kodama with animation by Masakazu Higuchi and art by Koji Abe, is a truly beautiful rendition of the story, but faithful to the bare-bones original and much more closely stylzed after scroll paintings. Isao Takahata is a very different filmmaker. His entire ethos towards filmmaking is based on logic. Every element of his films is meticulously conceived to achieve a particular end within the whole. So it was intriguing to wonder how such a filmmaker would not only tackle a story as enigmatic and illogical as Kaguya Hime but turn its brief length into a 2+ hour movie. Takahata's logical approach produces a curious beast - a folktale that attempts to make up for the inherent illogic of the original story by making its characters as believable as possible, and yet at every moment reminds of you that it is not real. The uncomfortably weird, if beautifully animated, early segment depicting Kaguya Hime having literal 'growth spurts' is the product of Takahata visualizing what was only a vague sentence in the original story. Myths and folktales are full of stock situations and characters not meant to be taken at face value. MNMB features dozens of stories about childless elderly couples who find a child, or a pot of gold, or a child who turns into a pot of gold, by supernatural agency. By their very nature these stories seem meant to be taken metaphorically, which is at odds with the way this film pedantically fleshes everything out. On the other hand, this tactic of blending unnatural moments seamlessly into the flow of things harkens back to Pompoko (1994) with its tanuki who switch forms between realistic raccoons, cartoon raccoons and humans, and even further back to Jarinko Chie (1981), with its cats that occasionally get up to walk on their hind legs like humans. If the secret to anime's success is in the blank faces of its static anime characters, which prompt viewers to read the appropriate emotion and hence experience the character's world vicariously, Takahata seems to deliberately push you out of the characters to force you to view them from an objective remove. In the broad strokes, the movie is surprisingly faithful to the original story. It doesn't cheat by being "based on" the story. It basically just pads it out with a tremendous amount of padding in the form of incredibly beautiful character animation and scenes of natural beauty. Certain elements of the original story didn't make sense, and the movie fills in the holes as best it can. The movie's key contribution is in explaining the reason why Kaguy[...]

Two forgotten Tac classics: Manga Ijin Monogatari and Manga Kodomo Bunko

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 04:22:00 +0000

Animated Tales of Great PeopleAnimated Classics of Children's Literature In the wake of the success of Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi (1975-1995), Group Tac produced two other omnibus-format TV series that were not as long-lived and essentially disappeared into the pit of anime history, but were equally creative and appealing. These shows are not mere educational throwaways; they're everything you would expect from the creative minds at Group Tac, capturing them at the height of their powers in the studio's stylistically more flexible early days. The first TV show produced by Tac after MNMB was an adaptation of Huckleberry Finn (1976) directed by Hiroyoshi Mitsunobu. This series was the product of Fuji TV wanting to expand its lineup of animated adaptations of western literature or 'meisaku' anime, but Nippon Animation being at full capacity already. Fuji TV asked film distributor Herald, and Herald in turn appointed Group Tac to the task on the merit of the Jack and the Beanstalk film they had produced for Herald shortly prior. The series did not have good ratings and was canceled early, and Tac was never asked to do another Fuji TV show. Mainichi Broadcasting, on the other hand, was happy with the ratings of Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi, which led to them getting Tac to produce two shows in a similar vein that carried on the 'manga' nomenclature: Manga Ijin Monogatari (1977-1978) and Manga Kodomo Bunko (1978-1979). Other studios caught on and promptly copied the educational 'manga' format with shows such as Manga Sekai Mukashibanashi (Dax, 1976-1979), Manga Nihon Emaki (World Television, 1977-1978), Manga Hajimete Monogatari (Dax, 1978-1984), Manga Isoppu Monogatari (Nippon Animation, 1983) and Manga Nihonshi (Tsuchida Production, 1983-1984). But where Tac's two shows carried on the artistic and creator-centric approach of MNMB, many of these copycats were merely opportunistic children's pap piggybacking on Tac's example, and have little artistic merit. 'Manga' in this context was of course used to signify 'animated' and not comic books. At this period they still referred to TV animation as 'terebi manga' and animated movies as 'manga eiga'. This usage must have died out around this time. Unfortunately neither of these shows are currently available in Japan, nor I assume anywhere else. It's a shame. Although definitely for children, they're still visually appealing after all these years and their more compact scale makes them more suited to a DVD release than the MNMB, and even the MNMB has gotten a partial DVD release. Manga Ijin Monogatari at least got a partial VHS release at one point, but that is long gone and the show's delicate visuals would benefit immensely from a pristine transfer. In the case of Huck Finn this may be impossible. It seems that the original stock of the TV show may have been lost in the process of editing together a movie version in the early 1990s. Normally nothing of this sort happened with Manga Ijin Monogatari or Manga Kodomo Bunko, so it would be great if these could see the light of day sometime. Manga Ijin Monogatari or Animated Tales of Great People (1977-1978) Clockwise from top left: Alfred Nobel, Nicolaus Copernicus, Gregor Mendel and Robert Koch MIM is self-explanatory: it tells the story of great historical figures, two 10-minute stories per episode, just like MNMB. Despite telling stories all inspired by reality, the style is never anything close to realistic. Whimsical and imaginative animation is the order of the day. The episodes are like picture books come to life, favoring free-wheeling and playful invention over real-world linear narratives. The stories are thus almost never straight-faced and textbook dry, but rather embellish the stories however necessary to make them entertaining. You can clearly see the hand of the artist interpreting the tales. Their interpretation is the who[...]