Chief Animation Director
Aya Nakanishi, Shogo Matsumoto
Aika Kawasaki, Shuto Enomoto, Shino Kuzuhara, Takuya Yoshihara
Ayumu Ikeda, Yukimitsu Ina, Shou Ochiai, Yui Kinoshita, Kikuko Sadakata, Tomoko Sugimoto, Minoru Tanaka, Yuki Chika, Natsue Chibayama, Masahiro Tomaru, Aya Nakanishi, Tomoko Hamanaka, Yuko Hishinuma, Nana Fujiki, Seishiro Nagaya
Having felt regret for not getting the chance to cover the premiere in depth, Bakuten!! did us all a favor by following its first episode with one which managed to take every idea present there and, save for the mind-blowing synchronized performance, elevate them even higher?
Though this shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the staff. Seishiro Nagaya is the pseudo-co-director of the series, and as such, had as many resources as his ally and mentor, Toshimasa Kuroyanagi, did for the premiere. Perhaps even more so, considering Shogo Matsumoto‘s position as one of the stronger, movement-focused animation directors in the industry. He regularly goes beyond the duty of merely “fixing” the work placed in front of him, but rather aims to “transform”- such as he did for the first few scenes of the Osomatsu-san Movie for example, which happened to be so full of comedic life that it almost spoils the rest of the film, Matsumoto’s supervision was literally too good.
So with the key players in place, all that remained was to carry on with the exorbitant acting, professional layouts, and impressively authentic sports animation… which, truth be told is a lot harder than it sounds! On the layout front, I get the sense the CG team is putting in a lot of work, modeling the environments from the storyboards such that the eventual key animator has a significantly easier time realizing Bakuten!!‘s setting.
Creating reference material of the 3D-background variety is a lot more common around the industry than it may initially seem. As aside from being hidden in the final product, we also have to consider that as productions wear on, time becomes more of a precious commodity, and so this extra step becomes somewhat of a luxury. CGI is also relatively expensive, which many TV series might not be able to afford to begin with (on both fronts!). It should also be noted that I’m only assuming here, since it’s of course feasible to devise layouts like these without the aid of a pre-existing guide. However, the consistency and efficiency that the series has demonstrated through two episodes, among dozens of different animators, suggests a common factor between them.
The auxiliary support of the animation staff doesn’t stop there either.
Even outside of the grand performances, the action under Fumiaki Kouta‘s supervision is keen to take already phenomenal character animation and subtly work the camera in time with the arcs of motion. It’s again something we take for granted, but look no further than its absence in the many cuts where Shotaro struggles to backflip for a quality counter-example of how it elevates our perception of movement. When the situation does call for it, however, the action presents something far less subtle. To the point where the camera- soaring across the gymnasium floor– arguably becomes the main agent in presenting the sport, as opposed to the drawings themselves.
There are many, but if I had to point toward a specific technical highlight of the second episode, it would have to be these short but sweet cuts of vegetables being prepared, which no doubt involve a healthy amount of referencing.
The scene features attention down to the most minute detail, such as how the individual carrot pieces stick to the blade as its raised, before being ejected by the following slice. Smears also tend to be by far the most popular approach when it comes to portraying speed in animation, so it’s interesting to see the knife instead intentionally (and carefully), “ghosted“- that is, delaying frames such that they overlap. It is hard to imagine how much care went into a mere eight seconds of an otherwise insignificant scene, and yet, it’s those small things which quickly add up to create an experience the viewer can feel alongside the characters.
One would assume that now that both series directors have had their turns to lead an episode, the metaphorical foot would come off the gas a bit, instead saving the production muscle for bigger and more important moments down the line (Not to suggest bonding over ridiculously textured Takoyaki isn’t important). That is of course, if this were an ordinary production with ordinary directors. On the contrary, it feels very much like something that will continue headlong into the fray until it breaks. Which might sound concerning to hear considering the simple act of looking sideways at a TV series may cause it to break these days, BUT if it’s any consolation, the staff surrounding the ambition of Toshimasa Kuroyanagi this time is as strong and as experienced it has ever been.
There is also no amount of production woes that could tame the easy-going, fun-loving spirit of the cast, so rest assured, Bakuten!! is here to stay.