Andrew Osmond thinks if you liked that, you might like this…
and Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
showcase the talent of Takeshi Koike, a rising star in the anime firmament. While the two titles are very different, they’re both brash and arresting, the obverse of any safe house ‘style’ – and let’s consider the question of style for a moment.
Does the “anime style” really exist? For some fans and critics, it’s a question down there with the length of a piece of string, a reduction of anime to its fashionable tropes and clichés. Others argue, though, that the anime style does
exist, a response to long-established working practices through the anime industry. Peter Chung, the creator of Aeon Flux,
laid out several such practices in a bulletin board post
on the Pelleas
The idea of anime style informs The Animatrix,
which brought Koike to wide attention. For anyone who doesn’t know, The Animatrix
is an animated anthology, spun off from The Matrix,
mostly made in Japan. The DVD includes an excellent documentary, “From Scrolls to Screen,” which suggests that anime practices of the kind Chung describes – for example, low frame counts compared to US animation, more emphasis on atmospherics than on getting characters to ‘act’ – led to “anime” which looks really cool to foreigners. We’re talking about stylised, sometimes frozen action poses; the pregnant pauses before someone’s body explodes; the slow pans over moody backgrounds; and so forth.
It’s the kind of unreal reality that The Matrix
went about recreating in live-action (plus lashings of CGI), along with its sequels and later Speed Racer,
all made by the Wachowski siblings. You could argue about if what they captured was really the 'anime style' but it was important in promoting anime to the world. Even to the Japanese. Interviewed on “From Scrolls to Screen,” Koike said, “Of course, when you are shown this sort of thing (The Matrix
), your desire to create images which can’t be topped gushes forth, so on that level The Matrix
was an influential work.”
Koike’s past credits were mostly in key animation and in-betweening, often for projects by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (he did key animation on Kawajiri’s Ninja Scroll
). Koike got more industry attention for his work on the five-minute opening sequence
of the live-action film Party 7,
introducing the main septet of characters; even then, he could turn heads. For Animatrix
, Koike directed a segment called “World Record,” in which a champion athlete races so fast he breaks free of his fake reality (which is, of course, the Matrix). Expect the film to be rediscovered and embraced by otaku in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics.
“I was very careful to show the movements of the (runner’s) muscles in a subtly deformed style,” said Koike. “I studied a lot of running in slow motion; I found that making the hands, rather than the legs, swing up with a very strong impact, makes the animation quite realistic… I make (my characters) somewhat deformed. But if the designs get too exaggerated, the animation itself breaks down. So I wanted my characters to still have a realistic feel.”
Michael Arias, Animatrix’
s American producer (he directed Tekkonkinkreet
) said, “I really get the feeling watching (World Record
) of a young director finding his voice, an artist blossoming… (World Record
) doesn’t look like any other Japanese animation.” Arias suggests Koike was influenced by his mentor Kawajiri (who said of Koike, “There is no-one who can draw cool art like him”) and by Peter Chung. One of Koike’s collaborators, Katsuhito Ishii (see below) compared Koike to Yoshinori Kanada, whose animation graces film epics from Galaxy Express 999
to Princess Mononoke.
Whatever the influences, Arias’s comment about Koike was bang on target. Both of the artist’s subsequent projects, Redline
and Fujiko Mine,
look different from most people’s image of Japanese animation; so much so that you could easily fool someone who was new to these titles that they weren’t from Japan at all. They take only the broadest ingredients of the ‘anime style’ interpreted by The Matrix –
the brashness, the flair, the gush of images, the physical deformations. If you haven’t seen Redline
before, look out below…
brash, manic comic-book visuals are extremely fresh, often feeling close to 2000 A.D.
or France’s Métal Hurlant
. The action is Speed Racer
crossed with The Phantom Menace,
as a speed demon hero with a massive ducktail hairdo burns rubber through alien hordes and giant monsters. Not only the humans but their super-stretch vehicles go through World Record
deformations, taffying over the frame. Especially for foreign fans, Redline
harked back to the appeal to the Akira-
gen ‘manga movies’ of the 1990s, articulated by critic Kim Newman. “Anime showed that the astonishing visuals of the best comics, impossible to duplicate in live-action film, could be duplicated in an animated movie.”
“We really want non-Japanese to see and appreciate this work,’ Koike confirmed
to Roland Kelts on Anime News Network
. “We were thinking of people who don't normally enjoy anime or know anything about it when we came up with the ideas.” Indeed, Redline
has proved far more popular outside Japan than in its home country, despite Japanese megastar Takuya Kimura voicing the hero.
For older anime fans in Britain and America, Redline
offered the adrenaline rush of Akira, Ninja Scroll
or the original Matrix.
that twenty-first century anime had become risk-averse: “Cute girls doing cute things, shonen heroes’ journeys aplenty, fanservice-laden romantic comedies… When's the last time you got excited about an anime title that felt new and challenging -- where the artistry on display made you feel like you were experiencing something special for the first time?”
Western fans might use Akira
as a yardstick, but Jonathan Clements traces Redline’
s heritage back much earlier,
to anime such as the 1976 racing show Machine Hayabusa
(you can see the titles here
), where cars come with rocket-launchers and wings. Machine Hayabusa
was acknowledged as a huge influence by Redline’
s lead designer and co-writer, Kasuhito Ishii. Ishii specified he wanted to capture the ‘energy’ of Machine Hayabuse,
much as the Wachowskis sought to bottle the energy of its ancestor, Speed Racer
. While the resulting films are very different, each delight in space-opera scale and psychedelic colours, comic-book art meeting high-sugar sweeties.
Koike moved on to the TV series Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine.
As with Redline,
there’s no substitute for seeing what it looks like…
homages the likes of Machine Hayabuse, Fujiko Mine
is a specific adaptation. It reboots the huge Lupin the Third
franchise, which has been already reinterpreted many times over decades – our in-depth history is here.
Even so, Fujiko Mine
is striking, the anime equivalent of a lavish one-shot, design-led graphic novel which reworks familiar characters, like the Batman
strip Arkham Asylum.
Only think of a Batman
reboot where Catwoman’s at the centre.
In Fujiko Mine,
thief Lupin is supplanted as the star by his luscious rival, the crime goddess Fujiko, whose body makes hetero men (and sapphic girls) go hubba hubba hubba
. Unlike Redline,
the series wasn’t directed by Koike, but by the woman Sayo Yamamoto, whose past credits include work on both Redline
and World Record.
But as one of the animation directors (on the first and last episodes) and the overall character designer, Koike had a big part in the show’s look; and the look, as in Redline,
is the real
star. This is a show which looks drawn,
shaded, flattened, sketched and stylised. It’s not the only graphics-led anime series; others include Gainax’s hysterical Kill la Kill
and Masaaki Yuasa’s droll Tatami Galaxy. Fujiko Mine,
though, has its own distinct identity; sensuously languid, relaxed in its bare skin, a mellowed franchise which has seen everything before, and done
everything before. The show has plenty of crazy Lupin-
style action, but modulated by erotic sophistication.
As with Redline, Fujiko Mine
feels surprisingly French. If the racing film recalled Métal Hurlant
magazine, then Fujiko Mine
could be a sexier, adults-only bande dessinee.
Anime-wise, it recalls a pioneering experiment, the remarkable erotic-horror-phantasmagoria The Tragedy of Belladonna,
made by Mushi Studio in 1973. Fujiko’
s colours are often muted, in complete contrast to Redline
; rather than Redline’
pumping adrenaline, Fujiko
is a curling waft of cigarette smoke.
What both anime
share is, as Koike would put it, an urge to create images that can’t be topped; anime which revel in style without cliché.
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is available on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.