originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/684067...
Afternoon comrades, welcome to Year 3 of Animation Night!
We haven’t nearly run out of steam yet - and in the next few weeks I’ve got some fun things to hit you with, like recreating the original My Neighbour Totoro/Grave of the Fireflies double bill, or digging into the origins of the 80s-90s realists with overshadowed gems like Roujin Z and Junkers Come Here. More on that to come…
Tonight though we’ll be taking a different tack: let’s start the year explosively by turning back to our old pal Hiroyuki Imaishi, bearer of the Kanada School torch, last seen on Animation Nights 19, 30 and 54.
…by returning to one of his earliest works, not with Gainax or Trigger but actually Production I.G. hot on the heels of his first distinctive appearance in FLCL. That is Dead Leaves, a production that has a unique look even among Imaishi’s varied works - an entire work in the style of his Gurren Lagann title cards.
It’s definitely a statement of Imaishi’s tastes as an animator: relentlessly energetic, sharp edges and high contrast, eagerly crass humour - here’s a guy with a drill for a dick, here’s a baby born holding two machine guns, don’t take it too seriously. The story follows two amnesiacs who go on a brief crime spree, for which they are thrown into space prison; in the process of trying to break out they discover a bizarre conspiracy to have the prisoners reenact a fairytale about a kind of giant bug thing.
What could we possibly pair it with? Maybe some of Imaishi’s less serious works at Trigger, like Inferno Cop and Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt? Not that Imaishi is ever especially serious, of course. And sure, let’s definitely take this moment to watch Inferno Cop! That’s very much worth talking about.
But actually I have something else in mind: a thematic link, in this case. That is the oddball among 4°C’s works, a film that never really found its audience: the French-Japanese collaboration Mutafukaz…
…which makes tonight’s theme perhaps something like “films too edgy for their own good” - a territory which I personally find fascinating, though it may not be to everyone’s taste, I realise…
4°C we’ve covered many times in this series, in most detail on Animation Night 74, and I have a deep love for many of their films. Mutafukaz comes from a period in the 2010s during which 4°C were involved in a lot of international collaborations such as First Squad (with the Russian studio Molot Entertainment) which are by and large… kind of hit and miss.
As youtuber SteveM documents here (huge thanks to that guy for basically doing all my research), this case was driven by the interest of Ankama Animations, who loved the work of Shōjirō Nishimi and Shinji Kimura on the environments of Tekkonkinkreet and the opening to the animatrix-like package film Batman Gotham Knight.
Ankama are a French studio who in the 2000s began to make animation, games and comics; their best known work is surely the series Wakfu, a tie-in to their computer game and one of the early wave of anime-influenced Western productions which makes distinctive use of Flash-based vector animation. Their usual style puts a huge emphasis on exaggerated shapes and saturated colours, and it has that odd smoothness of computer inbetweening, but combined with the exaggerated poses and smears of the latter Kanada school…
Possibly I will write more about Wakfu another time! In any case, Mutafukaz, also known internationally as MTFZ, adapts another of Ankama’s comics by artist Guillaume “Run” Renard, about which very little information is available in English - but hey, it does have a TVTropes page, and you can read it on scan sites like readcomiconline.
Like many bandes desinées, the comics have absolutely lavish art; here is a sampling:
The earliest forms of the comic were apparently inspired by kids in halloween costumes, but evidently as it evolved the impulse behind it congealed ito a fascination with Hispanic gang iconography and the narrative of being poor in a big city but also ‘men in black’ conspiracy theories and alien invasion; its ‘Dark Meat City’ setting is a fantasy metropolis on the Mexican border built by survivors of an earthquake-destroyed LA. In fact, the first vision to exist was not the comic but a film: Renard directed a short CG film version of Mutafukaz in 2002, which played in various festivals, and you can see it here…
…but honestly, don’t lol. The film opens quite strongly with a cheesy monologue about Hitler’s V2 rockets and some pans over a series of dark cityscapes in distorted perspectives, but really struggles once the CG main characters are introduced; the voice acting in English is awkward (in script, delivery and recording), and the rigs aren’t really up to the kind of action they want to portray. It really strongly feels like something that would succeed on Newgrounds around this period, but with slightly more elaborate animation, especially lets say when the music kicks in lmao.
The full film is a different story altogether: Ankama were able to bring a high budget to the project and let it cook for five years, while 4C could bring back most of the same incredibly talented team that made Tekkonkinkreet so great. Which makes the final film a strange sort of cultural relay: the image of LA constructed by a white Frenchman, interpreted lavishly by an idiosyncratic team of largely Japanese animators. So we get to see this very B-movie premise given really unreasonably strong direction in all areas: colour and sound design, use of 3D, and general choreography.
As SteveM discusses well in his video, the weakness of the film is precisely that telephone game of cultural influences; despite the research the filmmakers did (including visiting LA to record sound), it broadly come across more as a ‘pastiche of American culture’ informed mostly by the picture of LA received on the news and in American films. Which is to say: though there’s an enormous amount of craft that elevates the original material, and it’s not really malicious in its intent, it’s still a caricature of a more complex reality. Here’s the video again in case you didn’t click on it last time:
So overall, I expect this one to be ‘challenging’, but interesting nonetheless, and I would like to see it. Will be interested to see what everyone makes of it.
Now, let’s come back around to Imaishi…
At the time of Dead Leaves, Imaishi had been for the last few years steadily building up his distinctive identity at Gainax, directing episodes and doing key animation for many of their post-Eva shows like FLCL and Diebuster. But it wasn’t all robots or Gainax; he also directed the ending for Osamu Kobayashi’s adaptation of the josei manga Paradise Kiss, and as you can see, it certainly looks like his style: the exaggerated shapes and poses, reduced framerate, distorted perspective, angular shapes and heavy blacks…
Imaishi and Kobayashi would collaborate again on both Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking.
As he came into his own as a director, we see the development of his heavily referential, otaku-literate style that leans heavily on the works of Yoshinori Kanada (AN 62), though I really must go back and expand this at some point) and Osamu Dezaki (Animation Night 95), as Matteo Watzky wrote in an article I keep coming back to.
As time went by, however, Imaishi has come to embody this kind of approach. The clearest example of it is probably one of his early works as episode director, episode 3 of Gainax’s Abenobashi Mahô Shotengai. The episode is Imaishi’s parody/homage to classical anime SF, from Space Battleship Yamato and Captain Harlock to Gundam and many, many other famous or lesser-known series. In terms of animation, it’s a constant display of Kanada-style animation, and sometimes an impressive one. But this episode also displays an incredibly crass and unrefined sense of humor, with tons of fanservice and scatological jokes. This, in itself, isn’t problematic, but what must be noted is that both registers are constantly at the same level in the episode, and that the animation style is the exact same. In other words, the omnipresent Kanada-style animation seems like it’s only there for comedy: the talent displayed by the animators doesn’t seem like it’s there as a show of skill, but only as a parody of itself.
I don’t know if I fully agree with this view of Imaishi’s works; at the very least since a lot more people know Imaishi than Kanada or Dezaki, his works have to work effectively on their own rights rather than being read purely as parody. All the same, I think it’s vital to understanding Imaishi’s career to have this context. Watzky’s article goes on to make a detailed analysis of Imaishi’s mixed animation techniques in KLK and Promare, do read it!
Anyway, in 2004, Imaishi finally got to direct a 45 minute OVA… not with Gainax, who were at this point working on Re: Cutie Honey (for which Imaishi directed one episode), but with Production I.G. You can read about the origins of I.G. in Matteo’s incredibly in-depth article on Patlabor 2; they were were at this point a very large studio: in 2004 they were also making four TV shows (GitS:SAC, Cromartie High School, Windy Tales and Otogi Zoshi) and Oshii’s GitS 2: Innocence (AN 39).
Alas, I have not been able to find any detailed writing on how this film came to be! Who at I.G. decided to take on a feature film by the rising star Imaishi, what was the inspiration for the story? I just don’t know. From the credits, we can see that Imaishi had a firm hand on the production, not just serving as overall director and storyboarder, but also the character designer and animation director, meaning he must have personally corrected most if not all of the cuts in the film.
One obvious question to me is, how does Takeshi Koike (AN 19) fit into this story? By this point in history, Koike had established his own identity with Trava: Fist Planet, World Record and the Afro Samurai pilot, not to mention his sequence on Katsuhito Ishii’s The Taste of Tea (Toku Tuesday 8). The stylistic similarities between Koike’s work and Dead Leaves feel very strong, particularly in the use of extreme perspective distortion and heavy black shadow shapes… and in fact, it turns out Koike animated an impressive sequence on Dead Leaves, so not only must Imaishi have seen his work, but also invited him to work on the film. In fact, it went both ways, with Imaishi doing key animation on Koike’s Redline a few years later: not surprisingly his cut opens with a visual allusion to Lupin III and is packed with Kanada-isms such as ‘liquid fire’ light flares. So far as I can tell, they largely parted ways since that point, or at least I can’t find an instance where they’re co-credited.
Another major key animator was of course Yoh Yoshinari, who would for years after be something like Imaishi’s right-hand man, animating some of the most striking sequences on Gurren Lagann and most of his work at Trigger. On Dead Leaves, Yoshinari created this incredible sequence.
Anyway, for the other part, let’s fast forward a good many years. As You Know, Imaishi directed his magnum opus Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann in 2007, then the more comedic Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt in 2010, at which point time came to leave Gainax behind and found Studio Trigger in 2011 (following in the footsteps of Anno, who had left Gainax to found Khara to create the Rebuild of Evangelion films in 2006). Why this mass exodus? I’m honestly not sure, exactly - perhaps a desire for a greater sense of control from these two determinedly individual directors, or perhaps some kind of internal conflict.
The work we’re interested in here is in the first few years of the studio, where they were heavily reliant on crowdfunding: the ‘motion comic’ Inferno Cop, this term meaning that it was heavily limited animation, mostly static images with pans and even stock clips of explosions, again leaning in to the Newgrounds-esque style which emphasises a frenetic pace, extreme poses and a chaotic sense of humour. Directed by Akira Amemiya with Imaishi’s supervision, it seems like an immediate successor to Panty and Stocking, with a similar sense of machine-gun “vulgar and indecent” humour, albeit more violence than sex jokes. All in all, it sounds a lot like Imaishi’s short on the Animator Expo, Sex and Violence with Machspeed.
So. I think that will suffice for the writeup. Tonight our theme is essentially ‘films that are kind of stupid and too edgy for their own good yet nevertheless have crazy good animation’. I think it’s gonna be fun!
We’ll be starting shortly, with the stream going live at about 8pm UK time (just over an hour from this post), and the movies beginning about 30 minutes after that, all at our usual https://twitch.tv/canmom. Hope to see you there!