originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/629429...
It’s Wednesday, which is not Thursday, but hey, racing ahead is on-theme, right?
So far on animation night we’ve focused on specific directors and franchises. A couple who absolutely deserve a look-in are Takeshi Koike and Hiroyuki Imaishi. We’ve seen both directors’ short film work already on animation night, but when it comes to pulling out feature films, I face the problem that both mostly worked on franchise films - Lupin III for Koike, and Gurren Lagann for Imaishi. Tricky things to jump in to without context.
So here’s the plan: I’m gonna grab two of their standalone films into an animation night, on the basis that they have a similarly frenetic, over the top energy, and scatter in some short films which touch on the same style…
With that in mind, the plan tomorrow is to watch Redline and Promare, two of the most ridiculously stylish anime films in the last couple of decades!
So let’s talk a bit about the work we’re gonna see. Takeshi Koike is now known for having one of the most distinctive visual styles in anime, but it took a many years for his talents to be noticed - for a long time, he was just making inbetweens for Madhouse. He got his break when he directed an outstanding title sequence for the live action film Party 7, and that made enough of an impact that he started getting more projects: an OVA called Trava: Fist Planet (a prequel to Redline) and, most famously, the short World Record in the Animatrix, which we watched a few months ago.
Koike’s style features heavy black shading, exaggerated limbs and hands, and big gestures and motions. It’s immediately recognisable and incredibly striking. As an animator turned director, he would animate a lot of shots himself, with a lot of very technical extreme perspective and smooth full frame animation. And he makes this incredibly difficult stuff look completely natural - this guy is really unusually skilled.
Now, Madhouse were suitably impressed with Koike after the success of shorts like World Record and contributions to other work like the Samurai Champloo opening that they finally let him set out on his passion project, a sci-fi racing film called Redline. The production sprawled out, ending up taking seven years and going massively over time, but the result is something to behold. It’s packed with striking images and incredible shots - the one at the top of this post, where the car stretches and warps around the camera,is probably the most memorable for me.
Redline is not remotely a subtle film. It’s completely full-on: each of the racers is an extreme character in their own right, the cars transform and shoot missiles and do all sorts of shit; the track is, as you’d expect, packed with hazards; the story is mostly just a vehicle for wildly staged scenes; the soundtrack really goes. It’s just a stupid amount of fun and I can’t wait to watch it again.
But, given its troubled production, it would be hard for Redline to turn a profit. Although it’s become a cult classic, Imaishi didn’t get to continue to push his style, and Redline remains a unique one-off. Instead, Koike has since generally directed films based on his co-animator Sayo Yamamoto’s update of Lupin III. I can’t tell you how well these films work, but Yamamoto is absolutely a talented director in her own right (best known for Yuri! on Ice), so I hope to show some of those films on some future Lupin-themed animation night.
Still, that means we have to look elsewhere. And if anyone could match the sheer amount of bombast and energy contained in Redline, it would be Hiroyuki Imaishi, the co-founder of Studio Trigger.
Studio Trigger is one of the two major inheritors of Gainax, but particularly late Gainax - not so much the Gainax of Wings of Honnêamise and Neon Genesis Evangelion as the Gainax of Diebuster, FLCL and, especially, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. We had a look at early Gainax last week, focusing on the career of Hideaki Anno, but Gainax trained many other incredible animators and directors, and Imaishi is probably the best known after Anno.
Imaishi’s had a ton of hits, but his best known may still be Gurren Lagann. In the wake of NGE’s psychological depression bomb, Gainax switched tracks to make something a tad more energetic, an incredibly over the top super robot story about giant drills, believing in each other, and shouting while flying (eventually) galaxy sized mechs… which I regret to say I have still never seen! I know, I know, I’m a fake weeb girl. So apologies if my description is a bit off.
What I can say is that Gurren Lagann is a massively stylistically influential anime; you can see its influence not just in the works of Trigger but also in other recent action anime such as Deca-Dence. And a lot of that has to do with Imaishi’s development of his predecessor’s style - that of the renowned Yoshinori Kanada.
Kanada, one of the first big ‘charisma animators’ to get a reputation just for the quality of his animation work, established a lot of what we now think of as ‘anime style’: flashy effects, shiny speculars, big held poses, blocky cel shading. Perhaps at some point down the line I can find a way to feature his work on animation night. He’s influenced an absolute ton of people.
Imaishi’s work, as this panel discusses, pushes Kanada’s style further: simplifying the shading, exaggerating the blocky shapes, and developing the use of colour. One thing that stands out throughout all of Trigger’s anime is absolutely incredible use of colour, most noticeably with the frequent strong, saturated reds standing out amidst otherwise desaturated palettes. That’s less on Imaishi than art directors like Tamotaka Kubo, but in any case, I love it.
Prior to being ‘the Studio Trigger guy’, Imaishi worked on one other major project besides Gurren Lagann, a kind of silly sex comedy(?) called Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, about a group of angels named after underwear(?). I honestly can’t tell you very much about this, beyond that it has a much more simplified cartoony style. It certainly wasn’t to be the last of Imaishi’s works to deal with more or less explicit sexuality…
Imaishi’s first major project at Trigger was Kill la Kill, funded off proceeds from their Kickstarted short film Little Witch Academia. KlK pretty much set the tone for much of Trigger’s work: breakneck pace, unbelievable composition, impeccable editing.
It’s somewhere in the vicinity of magical girl, though it owes most of the style to Gurren Lagann; it’s a world where Japanese high schools stage wars of conquest, the world is being invaded by sapient clothing resisted by an organisation called ‘Nudist Beach’, and to fight one must wear a transforming, blood-drinking uniform. Despite the absurdly over the top framing, packed with puns and regional jokes, it also I think has a pretty strong story about self-definition and kind of lesbian resistance to the prurient designs of abusive adults - though admittedly not everyone is going to share that reading, and it has been more than a little controversial.
Kill la Kill’s main limitation was its tiny budget, but it’s a limitation Trigger turned into an advantage, really pushing the cheaper scenes in extreme directions full of dramatic compositions and lens flares, and then dropping hardcore sakuga when it counted. They went on to make more and more incredibly striking shows, benefiting from the international popularity of projects like the Little Witch Academia series. Imaishi directed one series, called Space Patrol Luluco, but I can’t tell you a lot about it.
That brings us to Promare, which dropped only last year. Imaishi’s prior work (excepting the Gurren Lagann film) was mostly in TV animation, so with a film budget and the experience of a decade at Trigger, he could really go all out. There’s basically nothing that looks like Promare. It takes Trigger’s extreme stylishness and use of colour and pushes it even further, full of beautiful, hyper-angular flames rendered in pastel pinks and greens. The animation is some of the smoothest Trigger has ever done,
Much like KlK, it goes ludicrously hard. The plot starts out at 11 and never stops escalating. Roughly, it’s a story about a world in which certain humans once suddenly became ‘Burnish’, people who constantly produce fire; our main characters are a buff firefighter/mech pilot Galo and a Burnish anarchist (I guess?) twink called Lio. So is it a story about these two battling it out? Nah that’s just like the first ten minutes. Before long, Galo falls in with the Burnish, realises they’re not as bad as he thought, and ends up allying with them against the big genocidal dictator guy who wants to use the Burnish to power a spaceship. Or something. There’s an evil cop with an enormous jaw. And aliens.
People have interpreted Promare in various ways, e.g. the Burnish as a gay metaphor, and certainly the main pair seem pretty into each other even if it’s kept implicit throughout. Burning passion and firey personalities are like… pretty much the norm for Trigger and this doesn’t take it much further in literalising the metaphor. But mostly it’s sooo shiny! The effects animation and use of colour in this film is just unreasonable: this is what happens when Studio Trigger are really at home with their digital tools.
Like Redline’s prequel Trava: Fist Planet, Promare has two prequel films, introducing its two main characters, called Lio-Hen and Galo-Hen. So our playlist tomorrow is going to look like…
- Trava: Fist Planet [may cut this once I’ve added up the runtime]
- Sonic CD intro
- Wacky Races
Animated music videos courtesy of scattermoon
Animation Night 19 is going to run tomorrow, Thursday 17 Sep, at 7pm UK time, on twitch.tv/canmom. Hope to see you there and get our temporal lobes exploded together!