Character design stuff

We all know the ‘default’ anime design; the template that’s often used to build upon and create a new design. Perhaps it’s sometimes not as simple as “change the hair and clothes and call it a day” but the basic concept is clearly there. Often instead of simply creating a new body type and face from the ground up, built to its core around the essence of the character being thought up, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto simply takes his usual template and makes alterations to it.


I believe that, beyond the usual focus on prettified idealism that anime tends to exemplify, this is also an attempt to keep a protagonist neutral and thus easier for viewer projection. While some artists specifically give their characters imperfections for the specific purpose of making them more human and relatable, a very common occurrence is anime is the opposite; not defining a character too much, keeping his design devoid of much unique anatomical or facial definition.

Of course, there are exceptions; a lot of Japapnese works don’t solely restrict these types of defining character features to its less-important characters.

A strange example that seems to try and mix both philosophies:

Look at that fat guy. In-universe, he’s not meant to be attractive at all; the entire point is that he’s a short, overweight character. And yet his design is as simplified and stylized towards a ‘cute’ ideal as much as possible. This is the moe-est way possible of drawing a fat teenager; it’s what you’d expect a Pixiv shotacon fangirl to portray Cartman from South Park like, if she doesn’t go all the way and make him look like a sexy super-thin bad-boy nazi bishie. It’s a design that’s trying to have its cake and eat it.

Another interesting aspect is the way that the stock design for a “neutral” male in anime is also the one used for “hot girl” characters, because it’s so simple and thus offers more room for cuteness, and less room for wrinkles and imperfections (which are more associated with older or more masculine characters). It’s why they could take the male protagonist from Hayate the Combat Butler, put him in a dress and make him pose sexily, and suddenly he was just as ready to appease male otaku as the rest of the female cast. They can swap him back and forth between viewer insertion and fanservice, both versions clearly directed towards the exact same viewers.

I will admit that there is a strange sort of appeal to this sort of ‘neutral’ design, which is why it’s still popular to this day; even I feel the need to draw such characters from time to time. It’s particularly fun in a show like FLCL, where they’re taking very standard anime designs, pretty much character design blank slates, and doing all kinds of crazy things with them. While the model sheets were quite standard, the characters never stuck to a single model; Teysuya Nishio’s Naota and Haruko looked nothing like Imaishi’s Naota and Haruko, let alone Shinya Ohira’s. It’s almost akin to internet artists’ tendency to all draw their own visions of a video game sprite.

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Secret Mountain Fort Awesome

Initially I just wanted this to be a blog for Eastern stuff, mostly covering either obscure or unfairly hated Japanese animation. But then I absolutely had to branch out, because the recent Cartoon Network show “Secret Mountain Fort Awesome” fits the “unfairly hated” description to a T despite being a Cartoon Network original.

"This is the disgusting garbage that children these days are being fed by the money-hungry cartoon industry. Not Rugrats, not Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles... THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

This show is the ultimate victim of bitter nerd rage. It doesn’t have anything remotely approaching an online fanbase – there are less people that like this show online than there are Problem Solverz fans. Every Youtube video of it is mass-downvoted and spammed with intensely negative comments about how far Cartoon Network has fallen, and how this is all part of a conspiracy to make the next generation retarded, just like Justin Bieber and Twilight. The same people who probably loved Cow & Chicken and Aah! Real Monsters when they were kids and reminisce fondly upon them today hail SMFA as the best possible example of the cancerous lump of sheer failure that has grown on top of the once-glorious animation industry, citing its intentionally ugly character design and immature humor as the main sources of its awfulness.

In reality, Secret Mountain Fort Awesome is a really fun cartoon with great visuals and pubertal yet occasionally quite fun humor. It’s rather easily comparable to Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt in its goofiness, crudeness and the amount of freedom the creators are given to make episodes about whatever the hell they want. It’s definitely not something you should watch if fart and poop jokes are like Kryptonite to you, but the common criticism that the writing is merely a series of fart jokes is completely untrue. Yes, there is a character made entirely out of butts and yes, fart sounds are often heard when he is on-screen… but the show doesn’t really try to pass off farts or butts as jokes. They’re just there to enforce the ridiculous, childish nature of the show. Most of the best jokes centered around the butt guy are more about his strange personality than the fact that he is a being made of butts.

attention student bros, by order of us cops school's out FOREVER!

It’s basically about a group of grotesque monster friends doing… stuff. I don’t know how to describe this – it’s something you have to watch, something that’s simply not worth explaining away in a blog post. I recommend starting with “Secret Mountain Fort Love”, which is the most conceptually insane and creative episode that I’ve seen so far, then moving on to “Monster Cops”. The episode storyboarded and written by Ian Jones-Quartey (that’s it, the guy who used to do RPG World!) has some pretty funny lines in it, but it also focuses on the aforementioned butt character that made so many people hate this show.
I also have to mention the background art – it’s very stylish and unique in its own intentionally garish way.

So yeah, go watch it if you want a willfully dumb, fun cartoon show.

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From sheer fun to sheer disappointment – K.O. Century Beast Warriors

Released throughout 1992 to 1993, K.O. Century Beast Warriors is a little-known comedic adventure OVA series featuring animal people, Team Rocket-like villains and surprisingly charming and enjoyable comedy… throughout most of its run, at least. It’s an underrated and under-watched, generally well made show that nonetheless has a crippling flaw that might leave you with a bad taste in your mouth in the end. But despite that, I’d say it’s still worth a watch because there’s far more good than bad to experience here

The story involves a war between humans and beast-men, magic, ancient technology, the spirit of the Earth and a bunch of other things that make little sense, but that’s hardly a problem until the very end because throughout 80% of the series, the main plot takes a backseat to charming, well-animated and generally enjoyable slapstick comedy and character interaction mixed with the occasional cool yet silly action scene. K.O. Beast is a cartoon that isn’t ashamed of being a cartoon – it’s littered with gags, goofy violence and the characters go off-model for the sake of comedic expressiveness more often than not. The protagonists, despite having pretty one-track minds, always manage to be fun to watch as opposed to annoying and the aforementioned villains are total douchebags of the surprisingly likable variety.

There is also a mecha element to the show. This sometimes leads to very brief yet enjoyable action scenes where the characters pilot the main mech in a suitably ridiculous manner. It’s actually very fitting for a carelessly fun show like this – when the wacky humor gets a little old, they make up for that by having the characters use giant robots to go and tear shit up.

But sadly, all this well-executed, mindless fun has to end. Prematurely no less. The aforementioned crippling flaw of this OVA series lies in its frankly godawful finale. For some odd reason that I can’t comprehend for the life of me, the staff decided to turn this lighthearted comedy into a dead serious, pointlessly melodramatic and outright painful to watch technology-vs-nature story at the very end. It’s out-of-place, it’s stupid, it’s badly animated and leaves you wondering what the hell happened to the show you were just watching a minute ago and why it was replaced with something that is not remotely fun in any way. As I mentioned earlier, even the animation quality takes a hit; even the climactic mecha battle at the very end is painfully mediocre. They tried to go for a hyper-detailed, heavily shaded, Masami Obari-esque look during this sequence, but they forgot to hire animators that are actually able to make hyper-detailed robots move well. What you’re left with is mostly a choppy, floaty slideshow of an action scene. There are two, maybe three very brief moments that are technically competent, but overall this is one of the blandest final battles I’ve ever seen. There are some more cheaply animated moments scattered throughout, but none are as grating as the final episode where the main characters lose all traces of the free-flowing dynamism they’ve shown in the past, especially in episodes 1 and 4 which have the best animation work by far.

In the end though, the good far outweighs the bad and K.O. Beast still gets to keep its title of “flawed yet worthwhile underrated gem” as opposed to the far lamer “total waste of potential”. Also worth noting is the freaking awesome opening which mixes a great song with some very cool animation from key animator Shin Matsuo and is one of those rare cases where a good opening is, in fact, perfectly indicative of what the show is actually like.

So all in all, give this show a watch – just don’t expect a well executed ending.

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Animal Treasure Island/Doubutsu Takarajima

Animal Treasure Island is a criminally underrated Toei anime film from 1971. If the “1971” part instantly made you think “no, there’s no way I’m watching this”, you might need a little backstory. For one, this is from an era where Toei put a TON of money, work and talent into their movies – a lot of their 60s and 70s input aged wonderfully from a visual standpoint. And some of it aged just as well in other ways, this movie being one of them.

A lot of the people who later went on to form Studio Ghibli were heavily involved with this, including a young Hayao Miyazaki who animated a very lengthy action sequence for it and was credited as the “idea man”. This was back when the Oscar-winning anime director had yet to become the intensely jaded, cynical man he is today and could bring himself to help come up with stories that existed not to attempt to teach us any kind of lesson, but simply to entertain the hell out of us. And for better or for worse, they were also given a massive budget to work with. This was a movie they had a lot of faith in… so it’s a damn shame that it didn’t do very well back in the early 70s (it lost to an Ultraman movie, something Miyazaki wasn’t very happy about). As a result, Toei’s higher ups decided to not fund movies of this caliber anymore, so Miyazaki and the lot scurried off to Nippon Animation for their next projects while Toei were busy making (among many other things) sedated alternatives to bloody and hyper-sexual Go Nagai and Ken Ishikawa manga.

And you can tell why they had hope for this movie: it’s technically just a series of gags and action scenes, but it feels like they really tried to make it the most exciting series of gags and action scenes out there. There is a certain, perhaps often-ignored art to delivering shallow fun in a way that is as involving as possible to the audience, and I’m convinced that director Hiroshi Ikeda understood this quite well. Everything from the fun direction, wonderful animation and musical accompaniment to the stylish background art reeks of talent and enthusiasm. The characters are lively, cartoony and expressive, moreso than… pretty much 99% of all anime ever. The action is smooth and fluid, the scene composition is great and Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe’s scenes even show some really impressive water animation.

For a movie containing on-screen deaths and a villain that attempts to murder the child protagonists more than once, Animal Treasure Island is a pretty joyful and light-hearted ride. It’s the kind of movie where even when something really tense is going on, you know everything will turn out okay anyway and the good guys will prevail, either through their own wits or through ridiculous coincidences… but that’s honestly okay in this type of movie, and to fault it for this would mean criticizing it for what it wasn’t trying to be. It’s all about careless fun, and the characters mirror this pretty well; despite being a little on the dense side the male lead is very fun to watch, and despite being a total scumbag, the pirate captain becomes oddly very likable too. Kathy, the female lead, was either Miyazaki’s own idea, or simply an idea that he quickly grew to like – she’s a tough, surprisingly badass character that always manages to one-up the bad guys in some way… even at the point where it seems like she finally became a stereotypical damsel in distress.

In short, this is a worthwhile movie as long as you don’t expect to take much away from it beyond childish fun. Hell, if this fantastic video of Miyazaki’s scene from the movie doesn’t make you want to give it a shot, nothing will.

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Hiroyuki Imaishi Panty & Stocking manga preview

A while ago it was revealed that Hiroyuki Imaishi would be doing a new manga for Anime Style magazine.  Well, there’s now a preview up and the artwork is honestly looking very impressive and uniquely Imaishi-esque.

If you look at the art, you’ll notice that the character designs are pretty different – the girls look significantly taller, rounder, a tad less cute and closer to Imaishi’s own style than the much more heavily Craig McCracken/Genndy Tartakovsky-inspired look of the show itself. The facial expressions also reflect this.

In short, I can’t wait to read this.

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