Sakuga Week in Review #11: Jan. 13, 2020 – Jan. 19, 2020

Pokemon: Twilight Wings
Key Animation: ?

Geth: With a mere six minutes per month to work with, one has to imagine efficient use of available time is at the forefront of director Shingo Yamashita’s mind when it comes to his approach to these shorts. Having said that, packing in too much information, whether it be visually, aurally, or both, can overwhelm the viewer and diminish any lasting effect you might hope to achieve. That is precisely why the very first cut of this episode stands out above the rest in my opinion, as it manages to effectively convey all the relevant information about the setting, while also showing off a lot of the technical ins-and-outs which we should familiarize ourselves with, such as the color palate, composite lighting, as well as CGI.

The next cuts feature animation which is far from extravagant but nonetheless very carefully constructed, between Tommy’s light footsteps, to the delicate way he places the chair next to the bedside of his friend. The economical nature of these cuts is present throughout the entire short, perhaps future episodes too. Nothing is particularly lavishly animated but instead exerts just the right amount of energy needed to sell the scene.

The third person perspective as we watch the Pokemon battle over the shoulders of our two characters is both immersive and fun. I was reminded of my own childhood experiences, watching Pokemon with my family and all the wonderful memories we share. Unsurprisingly, Leon and his Charizard are the victors of this bout, framed through the awe-struck eyes of the hospitalized boy, John.

There is also a lot to be said about the power that the Pokemon series posses as an escape mechanism, especially for those of us in stressful situations. RPG’s are inherently strong at this, being as immersion focused as they tend to be. But in the specific case of Pokemon over the last twenty years, the franchise has managed to strike an abiding balance between casual entry points for children, while also retaining the young-adult crowd on a level which no other media franchise has been able to achieve.

I’ll be anxiously awaiting future episodes to hopefully explore this idea more, as it’s not only one I can personally relate to, but also I think as a narrative it holds tremendous value for our main character.

Pokemon: Twilight Wings
Key Animation: ?

FAR The scene I chose is the climax of the first episode of Pokémon Twilight Wings in which the protagonist, the sick little John, decides to put his life at risk running to meet Chairman Rose, who represents the core of Pokémon battles in the Galar region and the hope that he can finally see a live match by Champion Leon, his life-long hero.

Unfortunately, the key animator has not yet been identified and among many pseudonyms and NCs, it will be difficult for them to come out in the near future. If nothing else, this is perhaps one of the most enchanting scenes directed by Shingo Yamashita. Some found the camera movements of the first two cuts too flashy and confusing but in my opinion they perfectly embody the weight and the difficulty, both physical and psychological, that the character must overcome to get going.

Another aspect that I really appreciated about the second cut is the amount of information presented in basically no time. His friend Tommy, with a stronger physique than the protagonist, runs more casually and gesticulates with a more open shilouette than John’s. The other children, who have already met Rose, laugh carelessly in the background but the Gothitelle notices the interaction between the two young patients. Gothitelle is said to be able to see the future events of those around her and her receiving pose suggests that she understood perfectly the importance of the event that is taking place.

By the way, a few cuts later the Pokémon Bewear also interacts with the boy stopping their manual labour to let him pass. Shingo Yamashita has perfectly understood one thing of the Pokémon universe: these creatures are not simply adventure companions and “athletes” but real life companions capable of perceiving our emotions, helping us directly but sometimes also by letting our battles be simply “ours” and nobody else’s.

As John approaches the terrace where President Rose is located, his movements become rough and rougher and the screen is pervaded by a dazzling light. it is the light of having almost reached the goal with all the effort of the world placed inside your body, it is being so close to your dreamed objective that you feel fainting. I found absolutely appropriate to end the sequence, before arriving at the terrace, with moving camera that becomes something similar to a semi-POV. After all, John in that moment is just like us: he is not a great Pokemon trainer, he is (probably) not a great hero destined to save the world and his dreams are as childish as the ones we had at his age. However, his act of courage, his effort to not get away from his dreams until the end, is something that this little jewel of animation can help us to replicate, even without Pokémon alongside us and even without the wonderful compositing sense of Director Yamashita.

Bofuri Episode #02
Key Animation: Koji Ito

Chair: Bofuri has certainly been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season! While the gimmick of maxing out your defense and becoming a walking fortress is amusing enough, that alone wouldn’t be enough to carry it. Bofuri’s greatest strength however, lies in its main duo of love-able dorks, whose chemistry aids in making the show an absolute delight to watch! That said, Bofuri had a few more tricks up its sleeve this week, which played a crucial role in making its 2nd episode a high point in a week filled with sakuga-heavy offerings. First of these is its special guest storyboarder: Naoto Hosoda, an incredibly prolific animator who rose to prominence during the 2000s thanks in part to their proficiency for explosive action, and charismatic character acting!

The second key player in elevating this weeks episode is Koji Ito, an industry veteran with a proficiency for mecha, and a style heavily inspired by the works of the legendary Yoshinori Kanada! Ito will be serving as a Main Animator for Bofuri, a role Ito is no stranger to, as he more recently served as the main animator on Kenja no Mago, and the Digimon Tri films! While Ito was responsible for multiple parts on Bofuri this week, the one id like to specifically talk about is the underwater fight near the end of the episode.

What’s truly remarkable about Ito’s output on this fight in particular… is it’s length. The fight goes on for essentially 2 minutes, and Ito was responsible for animating the entire fight outside of the occasional instance of CG! The fight is absolutely packed to the brim with Ito’s Kanada-school style, from start to finish, and makes it such a treat to watch! in addition to some lovely traditional Kanada-esc effects, the fight has no shortage of ito’s quirks. This includes his passionate love of orbs and spindly shapes, which he’ll include in his work every chance he gets! But easily my favorite quirk of Ito’s is his incredibly thick linework, which in combination with his strong, dynamic poses really makes his artwork pop! I also really appreciate how Ito’s fast timing and pose work helps to really give Sally’s movements a sense of athleticism. While having this fight take place almost entirely underwater could have made it hard to follow, Hosoda’s proficiency for action was certainly a boon for this fight, and made it easy to follow! I think my only real complaint is the heavy use of digital particle effects often muddied the composite, getting in the way of Ito’s gorgeous artwork!

Star Twinkle Precure Episode #48
Key Animation: Yuu Yoshiyama

Chair: Seeing as I’ve already talked about a veteran Kanada-school animator, it feels only fitting i shift focus to some new blood in Kanada’s dojo. That animator of course being Yuu Yoshiyama who has come to prominence over the course of Star Twinkle Precure as one of the show’s strongest aces! Yoshiyama’s ascension in itself carries on a long standing precure tradition of elevating incredible talent! This includes the likes of the venerated Hironori Tanaka, whom i would argue is more than deserving of the moniker of one of the greatest animators of all time, and Koudai Watanabe, one of Toei’s greatest stars, known for tackling mind melting layouts with ease, and delightful cartoony goodness!

Yoshiyama continue’s on this tradition, by bringing an unapologetic Kanada-school flair to Precure! Complete with some of the most beautiful Kanada inspired effects ive seen in a long time, bountiful amount of impact frames, and a distinctive block shading! With Star Twinkle Precure having reached its climatic final battle, it only felt natural that the show’s young ace animator would take center stage once more! It was really hard to pick just one of Yoshiyama’s part to talk about as both are more than deserving of it, but i ultimately settled on their 2nd part of the episode.

The sequence begins with Selene, Soleil and Cosmos barreling towards Ophiuchus! This is the perfect opening to a climactic battle, because nothing is more intimidating than 3 magical girls who look ready to absolute end you! following suite is Cosmos ensuring that outer space has ALL the necessary stars, and we get an impact frame worthy of being hung up in an art gallery! Soleil’s return heralds in some more gorgeous shading, and lovely effects as she throws a miniature sun at Ophiuchus for good measure! Lastly we have what is probably my favorite part of the sequence, Selene’s portion of the tri-attack where once again, Yoshiyama’s shading is on full display! The camera zooms into Selene’s eye, where we get a gorgeous transition into Selene firing her arrow! i have to say i’m very partial to Yoshiyama’s lovely blocky effects here! My only gripe with the fight as a whole is that the composite sadly butchered some of Yoshiyama’s work.

Yoshiyama’s growth into an impressive ace animator is such an exciting thing to behold! as their ascension represents a new thread being woven into the rich tapestry that is Kanada’s legacy. While Kanada’s influence is diminishing, Its reassuring to know that even though Kanada is gone, as long as there is new blood to follow in his footsteps, his spirit will endure…

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