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Recently, I was compelled to watch the Kiddy Grade opening, followed by the opening to its sequel, Kiddy Girl-and. For those of you who have never seen either show, I can best sum up the series as being a “girls with guns, maybe” show in a futuristic science fictional setting, and probably one of the shows that sticks out in people’s minds when you say “Studio Gonzo.”
Actually, the shows can probably best be summed up by watching the openings, which I invite you to do. Don’t worry about it, I’ll wait.
The original was fairly popular back in 2002, and seven years later out came its sequel, which I heard was not that well-received even by the typical diehard Japanese anime fan. Regardless of success or lack thereof however, when I watch those openings back to back, I can feel the flow of seven years of anime history, more than I can with other comparable methods. I can watch all of the Cutie Honey and Gegege no Kitarou openings and perceive the changes that have occurred over decades, but I can’t feel quite as much as with Kiddy Grade. I think the reason this difference exists in me is because this past decade was the time when I as an anime fan (and many others) could watch new shows within days or week of Japan, a dream at best for most people prior to the advent of the internet. I was there, man. It was intense (no it wasn’t).
But I don’t think it’s just the fact that I lived in this period that gives me the sensation of time flowing. It’s a definite factor, no doubt about it, but I think there’s also something different about the qualities of each opening, not just the fact that they feature different characters with different personalities, but also the way they introduce their content. Thus, though I’ve seen both shows either in part or in whole, I’m going to be thinking about them purely from what their openings have to stay about them (though I will be using their names for convenience’s sake).
The Kiddy Grade opening aims to give a sense of intrigue while introducing its main characters as two mysterious and attractive ladies. Eclair, the brown-haired one, is leggy and busty and is portrayed as the “muscle.” The “brains,” Lumiere, is decidedly younger in appearance, and seems to be taken from the same quiet, blue-haired mold as Evangelion‘s Ayanami Rei and Nadesico‘s Hoshino Ruri, though with significantly more smiling. Every scene has them contrasted with each other in some ways, whether it’s Eclair shooting a gun vs. Lumiere throwing a wine bottle, Eclair standing on one side with her lipstick whip with Lumiere and her “data trails” on the other, or the “kiss” scene, again, to create intrigue, sexual or otherwise.
The Kiddy Girl-and opening on the other hand is anything but mysterious in its presentation. It seems to want to convey an everyday sense of fun, and the two main girls are decidedly sillier in the intro compared to Eclair and Lumiere. They also are less different from one another compared to their Kiddy Grade counterparts, with Ascoeur (the pink-haired one) and Q-Feuille (the purple-haired one) having closer body types, though it’s clear that the former is bubblier than the latter. Rather than being presented as enigmas, Ascoeur and Q-Feuille are up-close. Personal, even.
Of course I can’t ignore the music itself either. Music isn’t my specialty, but I can tell you that Kiddy Girl-and‘s song is clearly sung by the voice actors of the heroines, whereas Kiddy Grade‘s with its mellow tones is not, and both songs lend themselves to the descriptions I gave. While having the seiyuu sing the opening was nothing new in anime even before 2002 (Slayers, Sakura Wars, to name a couple), I’d say that they’re supposed to be singing as the characters in the Kiddy Girl-and opening.
So then what are the big changes that this transition between openings represents? Well I don’t know if I’d call them “big” per se, but I feel that the Kiddy Grade opening exemplifies what was typical of its time, and the same goes for the Kiddy Girl-and opening. The much more “futuristic” vibe of the Kiddy Grade opening leads to the future-as-typical feel of its sequel’s intro, in a sense representing an increase in slice-of-life/”the everyday,” as well as a move away showing narrative-type elements as a prominent reason to watch. I wouldn’t go as far to say that this is an example of Azuma Hiroki-esque breakdown of the anime “Grand Narrative” though, as that’s a lot more complicated than just “less plot in anime.” Of course, there’s also the feeling that “moe” has changed as well, as I think that all four girls are supposed to be “moe” to certain extents, and seeing how their “moe” is conveyed in those openings is probably more indicative of that seven-year gap than anything else.
Neither of the shows are particularly amazing or special, and are probably best described as “the median” or “mediocre” anime, depending on how kind you want to be. However, that’s exactly why I think their contrast shows the path anime has taken so well, because while it’s great to see how the really pioneering, experimental, and enormously popular works operate, looking at the middle of the road gives a good idea of how anime as a whole moves.
Recently, after years away from the Naruto anime, I decided to check out a few recent episodes of the second series, Naruto Shippuuden. Watching the opening, I saw the Konoha ninjas fighting off an invasion of their home village, with each character getting their own time in the sun, as if the intro wanted to tell you that each and every character is Important. Given the immense cast of Naruto and the 90 second limit of the opening, this means that each character gets no more than a few moments. In fact, Uzumaki Naruto himself, our titular protagonist, hardly has more screen time than others. All in all, the opening is quite hectic.
Afterwards, I decided to go back and watch the very first Naruto opening, and right from when the orange ninja beckoned me to “C’mon,” I was getting an entirely different feel from the Shippuuden intro. Instead of the scores of figures that currently populate the series, the first opening features only four characters. Rookie ninjas Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, as well as their teacher and leader Kakashi are each focused upon extensively, and it makes the newest opening feel almost claustrophobic by comparison.
Part of this has to do with the open-endedness of the first opening. With no specific plot developments to hint at, it’s as if the characters and the intro itself are given room to breathe. You get a real sense that these characters are important, Naruto in particular. In a way, it’s quite relaxing.
I compared Bleach openings, too. Once again, the simple, yet heavy emphasis the first opening puts on Ichigo and Rukia differs a good deal from the almost overwhelming number of characters featured in the current opening. Taking a step back, the sheer contrast between then and now seems to speak towards the character bloat that the most popular shounen fighting series almost inevitably experience. If you go and watch every opening back to back, be it Bleach or Naruto, you can really experience the cast creep.
Having an enormous cast of characters in a shounen title is not anything new. Kinnikuman for example sports so many wrestlers that it can be difficult to keep track of everyone. However, the anime’s openings do not try to partition roughly the same amount of time for every character. They do not try to say that everyone else is almost as important as Kinnikuman himself. And while there are a number of differing factors between Kinnikuman and Naruto, not least of which is the fact that Naruto simply has more openings, I think it also highlights the increased focus on a “pick your favorite” method of presenting characters in anime and manga.
Essentially, I believe the reason that later Naruto and Bleach openings feature so many characters with roughly equal screen time is that they know each character has their own fanbase, and they want those fans to feel that their favorites are getting treated right. While I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with this, it still makes me miss those simpler times, when it was mainly just Ichigo and Rukia.
If you want to check out the openings I’ve referred to in this post, Crunchyroll has the latest episodes of Naruto and Bleach. As for the older ones, I’ve provided links below. Keep in mind that due to copyright policies and such, most of these videos are modified somewhat, usually by making them widescreen when they originally weren’t.
A while ago, I found a series of videos on Nico Nico Douga wherein manga characters from the first volume of their respective titles are compared to their later incarnations in the same series. In most instances, this is done to show some kind of great contrast, either by a marked improvement in drawing ability or an unusually large shift in style. I think it’d be to everyone’s benefit to take a look, and because I understand that not everyone has a Nico account or wants to fumble with the Japanese language registration, I’ve taken the liberty of uploading all three videos to Youtube. You can find them at the bottom of this post.
Regardless of how exactly the change comes about, the shift or transformation in art style seems to most often come from increasing familiarity. Speaking somewhat from personal experience, when you first start to draw a character, even if you’ve planned them out extensively, there’s still a period of struggle where the character’s design and by extension their personality and physical language are not yet ingrained in your psyche. The more you draw the characters, the more natural they feel to you, possibly eventually reaching a point where you’re so comfortable with them that your aesthetic sense and personality start to shine through the characters, almost subconsciously. It’s like your body and mind start to prioritize what’s really important to you, and I think you will definitely see this happening for at least a good number of your favorite artists.
So take a look, be amazed, and lay down your own thoughts and feelings about art in manga. If you’d all prefer, I can even compile a list of all of the artists and titles mentioned here.
At Otakon 2010, voice acting veteran Mitsuya Yuuji (or Yuji Mitsuya) was a goldmine of valuable information about the industry and the art of voice acting, using his own experience as a complete seiyuu rookie on Choudenji Robo Combattler V as an example During the panel, he mentioned that an interesting exercise is to compare a voice actor’s performance in the first episode to their performance in the final episode.
Taking that suggestion to heart and expanding on it a little further, I’ve compiled a clip of Mitsuya’s voice acting progression from the beginning to end of Combattler V‘s 54 episodes. Not every episode is shown here, but it still gives a good indication of how much effort he put into improving.
Early on, you can hear that he’s clearly an amateur and not entirely sure what to do with the role. He also sounds much deeper, having not yet hit upon the right voice for the main hero Hyouma. You can also hear him experimenting with all sorts of ways to say Combattler V’s name, stretching this syllable, shortening that one and so on. Towards the middle around when the story starts to really ramp up, he puts a lot more intensity into his performance. Then, in the second half you’ll notice that he’s starting to find a “standard” of sorts on how to shout, “Combattler….V!” until it pretty much solidifies, for better or worse.
Remember that this was Mitsuya’s debut role, and here you can really see his growth as a voice actor. It’s no wonder he’d go on to form his own voice acting school.
At his panel, Mitsuya placed great emphasis on the fact that a lot of male voice actors these days try too hard to maintain the “coolness” of their characters and don’t put their all into their performances, citing that this probably has to do with the fact that not nearly as many voice actors these days come from a theatre background (if any at all). It’s interesting then to think about how Mitsuya’s own theatrical experience still had to be molded to fit voice acting.
As a bonus, take a look at his performance in 2000’s Super Robot Wars Alpha, where he has to perform the same line as in the above video roughly 25 years later. Skip to 0:46 to hear it (or watch the whole video, it’s cool). Amazingly, his voice appears to have gone up with age.
I don’t remember when exactly it happened, but at some point in the 2000s, New York City got a couple of new Chinese radio stations. Currently on AM 1480 (Cantonese) and AM 1380 (Mandarin), these stations provide much-needed entertainment and news to people who are not as comfortable listening to English language radio stations. But they also provide something else, something I can only describe as “mind-boggling song selections that appear half-born out of geekery.”
What do I mean? Well, back when the radio stations were first starting out, I noticed an oddly familiar song amidst the usual selection of Chinese-language pop music. It stood out for a number of reasons, not least of which was that it was purely instrumental. As the ominous tune played on, it suddenly hit me: It was Kefka’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI.
“What? Really?” What was this doing on Chinese radio? What absolute nerd was in charge of music programming?
But aside from the occasional Utada Hikaru song, there wasn’t much else. Not much else that is, until the station started playing the theme song from The A-Team.
And no, it was not that one song from Full Metal Panic!
Once again, I had to question just who was in charge of selecting the songs for the Chinese residents of New York City. I have no idea how popular The A-Team was or is with Chinese people, but I don’t even think that’s a factor.
Then yesterday, I heard the most unusual song of all. This time the song was entirely in Cantonese, but it sounded odd, or at least odd for a tune on the radio, resembling more the theme of a TV drama or 80s anime than anything else. Like Kefka’s Theme years earlier, it started to sound more and more familiar. Then the chorus hit and I realized that it was a Cantonese version of Sentimental Over the Shoulder from Megazone 23 (Part 1).
So here I am, trying to find this mysterious Chinese rendition of Eve’s famous song, and I simply cannot do it. I definitely did not imagine it, but I honestly have no idea what I should even be searching for. Does anyone out there listen to WZRC AM 1480? And are you a huge anime nerd? Because if so, maybe you can help me identify just where exactly this song came from and who exactly sings it.
When I think of western anime fanart, the first thing that pops into my mind is something I call the “Deviantart style.” Characters are usually drawn fairly realistically, their bodies becoming canvases for a psuedo-airbrushed look, every shadow and every highlight blended so softly that characters can probably be best described as “glowing.”
Now I am fully aware that Deviantart is home to an incredible variety of artists, and that even among the anime-style artists this is not anywhere close to the sole artistic style present. Nor am I even saying that this style is bad. However, as far as I can tell, this glowing style tends to be the most popular and ubiquitous, especially at anime conventions.
So my questions are: Why is this style so popular, and how did people learn it?
When I look at the most popular manga artists, none of them actually color their images in this manner, not Kishimoto (Naruto) nor Kubo (Bleach), and especially not Oda (One Piece). Branching out, I can only think of a handful of artists who get anywhere close to that Deviantart style, and most of them cut their teeth in the world of adult doujinshi, such as Satou (High School of the Dead), so their styles end up being closer to visual novel CG than anything else.
One major difference is that the aforementioned Shounen Jump artists all color using real tools, and when I think about it, the Deviantart style seems born out of an almost purely digital environment, where textures can be finely tuned to almost microscopic levels, and stroke lines can be edited down with the utmost precision. It is, perhaps, a style resulting from the ability to hit ctrl-z in Photoshop and Illustrator. Of course, I’m not saying that it’s an impossible thing to overcome, but that perhaps artists who have experience with traditional media may be better at transcending limitations and making that style their own.
When it comes to anime artwork among western fans, I feel like there is an obsession with “realism.” In OEL manga for instance, a great amount of attention is put on screentones for smooth shading and for perspective in building backgrounds. With fan artists, perhaps this manifests itself into a hyper-realism where vibrant gradients rule the land. Not to pick on him again or anything, but it feels like the “five-tone shading” concept taken to the extreme, where the number of tones approaches infinity and the whole thing turns into a calculus metaphor. In a way, it reminds me of superhero comics, where musculature is emphasized greatly because they similarly harken to reality through exaggeration.
The closest artist I can think of which combines all of these elements is probably Terasawa (Space Adventure Cobra), but I get the impression that not very many artists on Deviantart take their inspiration from Terasawa.
But this is all speculation on my part. What do you think of the Deviantart style? Like it? Hate it? Do you use it? If so, what are you influences?
I just want to figure out how it came to be.
Whenever I listen to the full version of the opening to Brave of the Sun Fighbird, a particular lyric gets my attention. Not present in the TV version, the line says, “Kanashimi o kudake, taiyou no tsubasa,” or “Crush sadness, oh wings of the sun.” The way the singer Yasuko Kamoshita emphasizes each syllable of “kanashimi o kudake” sends a jolt of excitement through me.
I think the reason why I notice it so much is because it’s a super robot theme sung by a woman. However, it’s not just because it’s a female vocalist, but because I feel like given the exact same song with the exact same fiery lyrics, male singers and female singers for super robot anime produce different results. Music’s not my strong suit, but if I had to describe the difference, it’s that the male singers tend to sound more passionate while the female singers tend to sound more heartfelt. When Kamoshita tells Fighbird to “crush sadness,” you can hear a twinge of sadness in her voice too.
You might be thinking, “But wait a second, it might just be because this is a 90s anime and at that point anime songs were changing!” And you’d be right on both points, but I think that this feeling extends back towards previous decades as well. Let’s not forget that female singers for super robot anime have been around for quite a while. I get the same impression from Horie Mitsuko’s work on Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V and Space Demon Daikengo, as well as MIO/MIQ’s Aura Battler Dunbine and Heavy Metal L-Gaim openings, though those two are real robot shows so that genre shift factors in as well.
“Men and women sound different!” seems like such an obvious thing, but it really makes me aware of how the same song or piece of art can take on varying emotions once you change certain pieces.
For a fun comparison, let’s look at various openings throughout the decades featuring duets between Horie Mitsuko and anime song legend Mizuki Ichirou.
Marvel vs Capcom 3 successfully captures the look a fighting game about Ryu fighting Captain America targeted towards American audiences wants to have. It’s a grittier style when compared to the one used in Tatsunoko vs Capcom, which makes perfect sense. MvC3‘s aesthetic step in the right direction however reminded me of a similar attempt not so long ago, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe.
Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe was an aesthetic failure. Just like MvC3, the game looked to bring together two sets of characters by uniting them under a more realistic visual style, but the end product was just a series of awkwardly stiff 3-d models and jerky animations.
What is going on with that torso?
Worse yet were the Fatalities, that classic trademark of the Mortal Kombat franchise, the violent killing blows which defined the series in the eyes of so many gamers. In MKvsDC, the Fatalities were not only toned down in brutality but also terribly uncreative regardless of the level of violence, especially when compared to the stylish Instant Kills of games like Blazblue.
My goal isn’t to just trash MKvsDC though, and of course I can’t really compare the gameplay to a game that isn’t actually out yet. I just wanted to point out that it’s amazing just how much two different projects came aim for the same basic goal and produce such different results. Marvel vs Capcom 3 is exactly what Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe wanted to be.
In high school I used to hang out in the computer lab after class, where my friends and fellow anime fans would use the school’s T1 connection to download videos of anime openings. After a while we started mixing and matching opening animations. with opening themes in a relatively crude fashion by having two video windows open and playing the video from one with the audio from the other. It was really fun and while I understand that the human mind will just associate any two things together like that, I still enjoy doing it.
For a while I was using Youtube Doubler to approximate the effect, but now I find out there’s something called “Tubedubber” which does exactly what I was hoping for, allowing you to stream the video from one Youtube clip with the sound from another, and it even has enough settings so that you can time it properly.
I particularly enjoyed combining Gundam X with Gaogaigar back in high school. The only flaw is that the audio ends before the video, so your only choice is to pause the video as the song ends. Currently, I’ve gone with something decidedly more patriotic.
Try it out! It’s also a fairly low-level way to make some super basic AMVs.