By Jonathan Clements.
Now available as a free PDF from the University of Niigata, the second volume of Minori Ishida and Kim Joon Yang’s Archiving Movements continues to assemble interesting articles about the world of Japanese animation – the editors are keen to stress that their journal is open to discussions of many forms of visual media, but are plainly enjoying the opportunity to dedicate much of their page-space, again, to anime, for as long as they can get away with it.
This issue features a long piece by journeyman TV director Hideo Watanabe, veteran of Fist of the North Star (pictured) and Voltron, about the centrality of storyboarding to animation. He interviews Wolf Boy Ken director Tomoharu Katsumata, who at first appears to contradict him, telling him that there is “no difference” between an animation director and a live-action director. One soon gets the sense that the two directors are talking at cross-purposes, partly because they have slightly different ideas about the point they are trying to make – Katsumata, perhaps punching up in a decades-old conflict with snooty detractors, is keen to stress that anime is just as valid as live-action film; Watanabe wants to assign it a special and unique status.
Watanabe has plenty of materials to back up his argument, including quotes from the early 20th-century director Shozo Makino, about the virtues of expressionless puppets. Essentially, Makino ends up suggesting that the lack of potential expression in certain media allows the film-maker to impart a single-mindedness to their emotions. He ends up suggesting that the absence of nuance can be an advantage in shows with what we might call single-issue characterisations. It’s an interesting position, and one articulated in the All the Anime podcast by Justin Sevakis when discussing the distractingly “noisy” micro-gestures caused by using motion capture in The Case of Hana and Alice. Then again, Watanabe’s viewpoint is born from his daily concerns in the world of TV; I can imagine almost every anime director in the features world lining up to protest that they spend their overtime hours trying to make their characters more expressive.
Watanabe’s heyday was some years ago, and it would have been nice to have heard some consideration of whether digitalisation has changed some of his golden rules. He argues, for example, that animation directors lack the physical benefit of being able to put actual actors in a room, change their positions, faff with the lighting and move props before filming, but surely this is exactly what you can do when you are working in 3D computer animation? Then again (again!), I can remember Katsuhiro Otomo kvetching about the unexpected expenses on Steamboy, in which virtual assets ended up being as costly as real ones, and a producer insisted that once he’d paid to build a set inside a computer, he’d better bloody use it – perhaps understanding Watanabe’s storyboard policy would have saved him a lot of money.
But Watanabe is not just some guy reminiscing about the good old days and explaining filming techniques, he is the donor of the Watanabe Collection at Niigata – a new archival acquisition of storyboards, scripts and cels from his long career. As with the previous issue’s discussion of Wings of Honneamise materials, Kim Joon Yang and Tetsu Mitsumata poke around their latest acquisition to introduce readers to its merits, and end up discussing the history and use of the animation cel. This gets wonderfully nerdy, as Mitsumata is a materials chemist, and presents an illuminating discussion of the physical composition of cels – we tend to think of them as uniform sheets through the decades, but their actual chemical composition, and hence texture and usability, has varied widely over the years.
Dario Lolli also puts the Watanabe Collection to use, zeroing in on the materials it contains from two “American” TV shows, GI Joe and Rambo: The Force of Freedom (pictured), which Watanabe calls co-productions, although most of the Japanese contingent went uncredited. There’s some marvellous stuff here about the problems of communicating between the USA and Japan, cultural differences and misunderstandings, as Watanabe and his crew struggle to follow directives from producers who are fated to pretend they don’t exist. Thirty years on, Watanabe calls himself Rambo’s director on his own CV, but there is not a single Japanese name mentioned on its Wikipedia page.
Not all ephemera, of course, are immediately trashed. Ida Kierkegaard writes a ground-breaking essay about the history of the cel bank – that on-site mini-archive of images from previous episodes, hopefully filed in such a way that the animators can just pull a pre-existing picture of, say, Astro Boy in flight, rather than drawing a new one. I mean, who’s going to notice?
Kierkegaard has devoted her upcoming PhD thesis to examining the use of banked cels in a production that famously ran out of images almost entirely by its last two episodes: Neon Genesis Evangelion. In doing so, she has picked a fiendishly complex work to unpick, since Evangelion, of course, was not even complete when it was completed. Instead, the animators sneaked back to fix stuff for the video release, shoved some bits in later that they had lifted from the later movies, and then, when the movies were released on video, re-made the bits they had lifted so that the steals were less obvious. Kierkegaard’s essay is not merely an exciting trawl through the Gainax studio’s constant kiting of budgets and resources, but a great introduction for other researchers on how they can make use of materials like published storyboards to work out who did what, when, and why.
Similarly isolating one of anime’s component parts, Minori Ishida writes in this issue about the afureco (“after-recording”), one of four kinds of recording in the anime world, in which voices and sound effects are added to a complete, or almost-complete film. The afureco has been the subject of much confusion in the world of anime studies, often caused by the industry itself, which insists on holding press calls at them, and presenting the public with imagery that is often artificially staged. Ishida points out that many post-synching events are not “after” the production at all, but use what she calls a “rehearsal”, and what I call animatics – a work-print scattered with completed bits of footage and sections of storyboard, running in time with the way the images are expected to look. I will quibble with her when she says that this is a feature of “anime productions of the 2010s” – far from it, I would say it has been a common situation since the early-1980s advent of the video-based “line tester”, also known as the Quick Action Recorder. Possibly, she means that they are even more commonplace now than they once were. Here, again, anime’s publicity wonks are to blame for misinformation, particularly the Making Of documentary for Akira (1988), which showed off a QAR machine as if it were some cutting edge piece of tech, and not something that had been in use for five years or more, and wittered relentlessly about how recording the dialogue “before the animation was completed” was unprecedented.
But that’s precisely the kind of historical error that Ishida is here to address, and it’s heartening to see her writing so lucidly, particularly about the use to the researcher of the afureco script. These perfect-bound, printed documents, which I have often assumed are given a bit of extra pizzazz so they can be presented to journalists and competition winners as souvenirs, are also usually provided to professional translators working on anime, and as I noted in my review of the journal’s first volume, often a critical source for understanding which lines have been added at the last moment. Again, like cels, they have transformed over the timeline of modern anime. Ishida shows a 1976 afureco, printed in the days before the word processor, so it would have had to be typeset professionally. Compare that with the scrappy pile of hand-written photocopies I had to work from when I translated KO Century Beast Warriors (1993), and clearly there is a hierarchy of materials to be investigated.
I wish I could take a picture for you, but most of the materials from my translation days are long gone. Maybe they are somewhere in a garage, but probably not. I only have one afureco script now, kept on my bookshelves in case I ever need to show someone what they look like. As Kim and Ishida repeatedly observe, so many media materials are disposable, like cels that are often treated like industrial waste, or scripts that are left in piles on the studio floor once the actors have given them voice. I remember once, after a two-day audio recording session on the computer game Halcyon Sun, which I wrote with Simon Jowett, there were enough scripts on the floor to fill a black plastic sack.
“I’ll just clear away some of this crap,” said the audio director, shoving them into a bin. And I remember a brief moment of anguish, and a voice in my head protesting that they were not crap, that they were a story that we had laboured over for months. But I could see, even then, that they were now superfluous to requirements, jettisoned like a first-stage rocket as the work went on its journey to completion.
Archiving Movements 2: Short Essays on Materials of Anime and Visual Media is released as a free PDF by Niigata University. Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History.