Gold Lightan Is Bananas

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard of the 1981 anime Golden Warrior Gold Lightan. I think it might have been one of those English-language anime magazines, like Animerica or Newtype USA, where a writer imagined the bizarre board meeting that would allow a sentient Zippo lighter to be the star of a children’s TV show like some tobacco ad gone horribly wrong. But it was during my study abroad in Japan that I had the opportunity to check out the series firsthand, thanks to my college’s extensive anime DVD library. Unwilling to devote my entire time in another country to just watching Gold Lightan of all things, I watched a smattering of episodes just to get an idea of the series a whole: the first few episodes, some from the middle point, and the very end.

Gold Lightan turned out to be far wilder than I had imagined, as it could easily swing from boring “monster of the week” fare to intense melodrama at the drop of a hat. Its backstory alone is ridiculous but played straight: the narrator explains how villains from the “mecha dimension” aim to conquer our third dimension, as if they go in order from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, to “mecha” in the most natural way. The titular robot transforms itself from palm-sized lighter to metallic titan by shouting “RAINBOW ROOOOAAAD!” and emerging from a massive wormhole after being sent through a prism. Despite being just a chunky yellow block with arms and legs, Gold Lightan animates surprisingly well in combat. Intense fight scenes end with a brutal finisher that would make Kano from Mortal Kombat proud—the “Gold Finger Crash” involves thrusting a hand into the enemy robot’s chest to pull its mechanical heart out. The anime concludes with a finale that looks closer to the trauma of a Tomino-directed Gundam.

Against all odds, Gold Lightan is currently licensed and streaming legally in the US thanks to HiDive under the name Golden Lightan. It’s already been almost a year since the announcement, and in this time, I’ve taken to re-visiting the series every so often with the hopes of doing what I hadn’t in Japan: watching the entire series. Now, fifteen years after I first laid eyes on this bizarre anime, I’ve come to the conclusion that Gold Lightan just has an absurd amount of effort put into it by everyone involved. It’s as if the studio behind the series, Tatsunoko Pro, saw the inherently weak premise as an opportunity to just flex on everyone with their animation chops.

But that’s what Tatsunoko has always been known for: a high level of detail when it comes to animating action. Its animators pioneered elaborate explosion effects and particle animations, and the studio as a whole as a history of sleek and stylized works ranging from Speed Racer to Gatchaman to KARAS and on. What’s bizarre to me is how moments of intensely beautiful animation can show up in Gold Lightan at seemingly innocuous moments. In one episode, one of the kid characters powers up his little go-kart for a ride, and just watching the engine roar to life and the exhaust pipes bellow and shift tells me that someone had to have dedicated themselves fully to getting this throwaway go-kart scene juuuust right. 

I think the modern equivalent of Gold Lightan’s attention to quality is when an anime about some free-to-play, wallet-draining mobile game turns out to be one of the big hits of the season. The difference is simply that times have changed, trends have shifted, and these mobile game anime are a mere 13 episodes instead of a whopping 52. I’d recommend Golden Warrior Gold Lightan to those who want to check out the more obscure side of giant robot anime, to those who want a show where effort overcomes a paper-thin concept, and (I’m not kidding) to sakuga fans who just revel in seeing things lovingly animated with skill and grace. It’s a ridiculous and wonderful time.

The Infinite Potential of Japanese Pudding in Anime

f you’ve watched even a small amount of anime, Japanese pudding is incredibly hard to miss, specifically in the form of a caramel custard flan generally known locally as purin. If I had to say why purin is so popular in anime, my guess would be that there are two reasons. First, its ubiquity in Japan means the food is familiar and comes in many forms, which allows it to traverse class and social status, allowing it to fit into a variety of narratives. Second, its jiggly consistency and unique appearance are ideal for both elaborately detailed animation as well as simpler and more limited animation.

Purin Across Strata

According to the website for Kakeien, a Japanese purin maker, the dessert came to Japan in the late Edo to early Meiji period. Since then, it’s become a staple of Japanese sweets, and depending on how it’s made, it can be a humble treat to decadent, high-class dessert, or somewhere in between. This also means that purin can show up in multiple situations and be a source of conflict, whether it be in the context of drama or (especially) humor.

Pre-packaged versions can be found in the thousands of convenience stores all across Japan, making it a quick and easy snack. This is the purin seen above in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which becomes a prime target for time travel shenanigans so that its heroine, Makoto, can savor it over and over.

Purin can also be made at home for cheap, and this can lead to either mishaps or mildly absurd developments. Minori in Toradora! takes this to an extreme by making a gigantic and self-explanatory “bucket purin,” scaling the small and simple snack into an example of hilarious excess.

High-quality versions of purin can also exist, with expensive patisseries making them in limited quantities. In anime, this “premium” quality can create tension between characters, either by highlighting a class difference or by positioning the purin is an exceedingly rare treat. In Magia Record, Rena buys expensive purin as a reconciliation gift, but all the girls get stomach aches because Rena took too long to make up with her friend before giving it to her. Different “levels” of purin can signify a lot about characters and their places in their worlds.

Purin as the Animation Ideal

In addition to the cultural aspect, the very physical qualities of purin lend themselves to animators and visual artists. It usually has a very distinct contrast in color between the custard and the caramel topping. It wriggles to and fro under the slightest bit of force, and when you scoop a little up, the spoon slices through its pale yellow body, leaving its mark. There’s a three-dimensionality to purin that makes its distinct features all the more appealing.

The recent series Princess Connect: Re-Dive demonstrates the strength of purin as an object in animation. It has an entire episode dedicated to purin, entitled “Flowers in Eternal Darkness ~Cursed Pudding~.” Numerous renditions of purin show up this episode to comedic effect, and are mostly portrayed in very simple 2D animation where the two-tone contrast is a clear identifier of the snack. However, at the end of the episode, one of the characters makes a large deluxe pudding, its gelatinous makeup conveyed through the use of 3DCG. Whether you’re dedicated to the craft of animation or merely need it as a visual device, purin has a role to play.

In Short

This is mostly my conjecture, but to me, purin is everywhere in anime because it is everywhere in Japan—both literally and metaphorically. It can be found in stores of all kinds, and it can play the role of the humble snack or the rare treasure. Its physical appearance means that it can be rendered simply and easily, while its wiggly nature means the potential to creatively portray its qualities through motion is tremendous. In other words, writers and artists of all kinds can utilize purin to their own advantage, and they’ll know the viewers will instantly recognize the delicious treat.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Great Minds Think Differently: Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

Whenever there’s a work of fiction about creative types, I think back to an old art professor of mine. He would lament that the artistic process was rarely, if ever represented accurately in media. But if he had the chance to watch the anime Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, I think he would be pleasantly surprised. 

Adapted from a manga by Oowara Sumito, directed by Yuasa Masaaki and animated by his current studio, Science Saru, Eizouken! is very clearly made by people who believe just as strongly in the art of animation as the characters themselves do.

Eizouken! follows three characters–director Asakusa Midori (the main protagonist), animator Mizusaki Tsubame, and producer Kanamori Sayaka–as they form their own school club in order to make anime. Asakusa has a life-long passion for external exploring as a way to fuel her imagination, and her sketchbooks are filled to the brim with ideas and flashes of inspiration–from small doodles to elaborate world-building designs. Mizusaki is a model, but her true passion is in animation, and nothing gets her more excited as a sakuga fan than the hard work that goes into the art of portraying movement. Kanamori isn’t really artistic, but she has a knack for looking at the pragmatic side of things: costs, advertising and exposure, and deadlines. The difference between Asakusa and Mizusaki as similar yet distinct creative types, as well as the contrast between their energy and Kanamori’s, fuel the conflict and the camaraderie at the heart of Eizouken!

The series looks fantastic, has memorable characters, and is such a genuine love letter to anime and animation–even putting in nods to beloved classics like Future Boy Conan and Akira. However, what impresses me most is that Eizouken! makes a lot of difficult and daring decisions. It would have been all too easy to make Mizusaki the heroine because of how people tend to focus on characters in anime in the first place, and her specialty aligns closest to that. But not only is Mizusaki someone whose love of animation goes beyond simply making characters look impressive, but it’s the more conceptually oriented Asakusa who’s the main character. There’s something a little more intangible about Asakusa’s mindset, and the willingness to have her be the primary focus is something I appreciate.

But if having someone like Asakusa as main is uncommon, then featuring a character like Kanamori at all is like finding a four-leaf clover. While a similar series like Shirobako might have characters on the production side, it’s exceedingly rare to have a character who so clearly shows the “producer” mindset. It reminds me of something I heard once when it came to Studio Ghibli: while directors Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao were considered the geniuses for their successful animated feature films, some consider producer Suzuki Toshio the real secret to Ghibli’s success because of his skills in promotion and turning a profit. Kanamori embodies this spirit, and I think that it also provides a window into how those who aren’t on the artistic side can still be big contributors to creative endeavors in a world where schedules matter.

Something that encapsulates the joy and detail put into Eizouken! is the opening video, shown above. There’s a part in the OP where it shows multiple quadrilaterals spiraling towards the center of the screen, one set for each character. Asakusa’s are chaotic, Mizusaki’s stylishly overlap, and Kanamori’s are rectangular and precise. They’re perfect summations of the girls’ respective mindsets.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is a series for anyone who’s interested in seeing an involved yet mildly fantastical portrayal of the creative process in action, as well as for anyone who enjoys seeing girls being passionate about what they do. There’s a lot of love that’s gone into Eizouken!, and I can’t help but expect a generation of creators to come out of watching this series eager to take the anime industry by storm. 

Sakuga is to Anime as Workrate is to Pro Wrestling

Listen to anime fans discuss the quality of a given title, and there’s a chance the term “sakuga” will pop up. Used to roughly describe the quality and difficulty of artistically creating the illusion of motion in animation, sakuga has gradually gained prominence among hardcore anime fans around the world, in no small part due to resources like Sakugabooru and just increasingly convenient access to anime. It can also be a contentious subject among anime fans, namely because its idolization can come sometimes across as either excessively niche or obnoxiously elitist. As many elements of art tend to be, sakuga is prone to passionate discussions about a very subjective thing.

I find it useful to frame surrounding fan discourses by comparing them to other areas of art and entertainment. With sakuga, the question of its “true” value is actually quite reminiscent of an ongoing debate in another area of entertainment: pro wrestling. There, the buzzword is “workrate”–defined roughly as “the quality and difficulty of creating the illusion of a wrestling match.” Sound familiar?

While there are many styles and schools of wrestling, the origin of the workrate debate stems from the difference in style between the larger and historically more widely viewed promotions, most notably WWE, and the smaller indie promotions. Because many of the indies are filled younger wrestlers inspired by veterans touted for their often spectacle-heavy styles, indie wrestling has a reputation for being filled with athletes who want to showcase their skill as many difficult-to-execute or dangerous/dangerous-looking actions as possible, e.g. a Shooting Star Press off of a ladder, to entertain a hardcore wrestling audience. In contrast, the more traditional wrestling organizations tend to value storytelling over technical execution, in part due to the desire to avoid or mitigate injuries, but also because simpler moves surrounded by a narrative can be understood by a wider audience.

Whether in anime or in pro wrestling, an attack can have more significance when it carries meaning through context. The anime Digimon Tamers features a scene where a demonic Digimon named Beelzemon performs a move called “Fist of the Beast King.” On its own, it just looks like a cool but generic technique. However, it’s also a move used by a Digimon named Leomon Beelzemon had previously cruelly slain, and Beelzemon’s own usage of it is a product of his remorse over the pain he created in Leomon’s partner.

Similarly, when wrestler Kenny Omega performed a Golden Star Powerbomb, a Bloody Sunday, a Styles Clash, and a One-Winged Angel on his opponent to win the G-1 Climax tournament, he’s recalling his history as a wrestler the history of the Bullet Club faction he led at the time. Both it and the Beelzemon scene are examples of visual storytelling. However, when the topic becomes “what’s more important, the technical performance or the story being told,” and one ends up choosing a side, the tension between the two becomes more evident.

The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion is somewhat infamous for using severe animation shortcuts in certain scenes, notably long elevator sequences that involve a single frame of animation left onscreen with some ambient noise. In a way, it almost can’t be called animation, but it’s surprisingly effective for conveying a sense of interpersonal tension or awkwardness among the characters involved. For storytelling purposes it works, but to a sakuga fan, this is simply what they’re not looking for. They take pleasure in the difficulty involved in visual storytelling. They’ll often watch an anime they weren’t invested in, simply because of the quality of the animation.

In wrestling, Hulk Hogan is one of the biggest names in history. For most of his career, he’s utilized a very simple style consisting of basic striking moves and holds, but his ability to capture the audience through those simple gestures is arguably second to none. To workrate fans, however, they’d choose a technical masterpiece with little buildup or context over a Hogan match, because wrestling to them is about seeing what is possible.

There’s a certain purity to wanting to see art or performance for the sake of it, without needing an underlying narrative, and often involves a much deeper dive into a subject—the domain of the dedicated fan. There’s also a sort of “insider” appeal derived from using industry terms like sakuga and workrate. The ability to appreciate these technical and creative aspects of their respective fields is something to be valued. And yet, the fact that this appreciation is ultimately about valuing the human skill involved is precisely what makes prioritizing such things over storytelling a potential issue. The people working meticulously animating and doing the craziest wrestling moves are often doing so at the risk of their health, and finding an ideal balance between the two is better for longevity. That balance is not necessarily the fault of the people involved, as workplace conditions and salary go a long way, but the question of whether it’s better to be a sprinter or marathon runner in life arises nevertheless.

Getting Along: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for February 2016

With Go Princess! Precure finally over, I feel like this is when the winter anime season truly begins. I hope that you’ll enjoy coming along the ride with me.

I’d like to thank the following Patreon supporters this month.


Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom


Diogo Prado

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:


Yajima Mirei fans:


In particular, I’d like to welcome back Johnny Trovato. He was the source for many past topics through Patreon, including posts on the Tokyo Olympics and CensorshipTouhou vs. Kantai Collection, and the rise and fall of Saimoe. If you’d like me to write about a specific topic on Ogiue Maniax, it’s a perk you can get for the highest reward tier on Patreon.

This past month has brought a lot of interesting changes for me. Outside of Ogiue Maniax, I recently started contributing articles to a site called Apartment 507. They were looking for someone who communicate with the hardcore Japanese pop culture fans that comprise their audience, and I’ve been happy to oblige. The main reason I got this gig was because of my efforts on Ogiue Maniax, so I am grateful to my readers here for reminding me of the value of writing and that, simply put, anime and manga are awesome.

I decided not to include those posts on the Patreon page itself because they’re not technically being supported by my patrons, but I have been linking to them on the blog itself. Just look for the [Apartment 507] tag in the title if you’re wonder which posts are which.

As for the blog proper, I think I’ve written some of my best work this past month. I wrote a response to another blogger where I talk about some of the problems that come with evangelizing sakuga, a review of the powerful new film The Anthem of the Heart, and of course the latest Genshiken chapter review. If you haven’t been keeping up with Genshiken, or even if you have, this chapter is a big deal, so I recommend you check it out! By the way, I’ve noticed that my Genshiken reviews are some of my most popular posts. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise but I’m actually really happy that I’ve established myself as a source for interesting insight into Genshiken.

January also marked the return of the Fujoshi Files with a historic Fujoshi #150. I have to confess that these might get more sporadic as I don’t have as much time to research fujoshi-themed anime and manga as much as I used to, but I do strongly believe that we’ll hit #200.

In addition, I decided to do something a little different and interview a Super Smash Bros. for Wii U competitive player. Earth, the world’s best Pit, is actually also a mahjong and The iDOLM@STER fan, so I had to ask him a few questions.

The last thing I want to say is that I’ll be traveling to Japan in May! I’ll be releasing posts the whole way through, and when I get back I’ll have plenty more to talk about. And yes, I will be getting all of the dagashi (have you been watching Dagashi Kashi? I highly recommend it).

Sakuga Fans Need More Carl Sagans

In a recent blog article on the site Wave Motion Cannon, blogger tamerlane laments two aspects of how we talk about anime. First, he discusses lack of appreciation (one might even say disdain) that many American fans and experts of animation have towards anime. Second, he argues that sakuga fans (essentially fans of especially expressive, dynamic, and powerful Japanese animation) aren’t doing enough to help spread appreciation of the animation in anime. On these general points, I completely agree. Whether it’s anime or manga, the technical skills of Japanese creators are often unfairly get derided, labeled as being full of shortcuts and cop-outs. Anime defies the rule books of animation that people take as gospel, so critics prefer to point a finger at anime rather than the rules themselves. Similarly, I also find that sakuga fans can often sabotage themselves, but one thing that tamerlane might not realize is that in his very post are those risky elements, that which makes sakuga fans, perhaps unfairly, seen as an insular group.

To start off, I want to highlight a couple of  lines from the article:

That is, strip away all those aspects of animation that have superior alternatives elsewhere – story, music, draftsmanship – and look at what’s left. That is animation.

Animation shouldn’t exist for its own sake, certainly, and there’s no shortage of animated films that are as vacuous as they are pretty, but without any way of meaningfully differentiating itself from other forms of art it might as well not exist at all.

In other words, animation should do what is uniquely suited to it, otherwise there’s no point. It’s simple… or not.

The problem with such a sentiment is that, while it might seem like the proper way to view animation, there are serious limitations to pinning a medium down to what is unique to it. Granted, it’s not a bad way of viewing things. An artist might want to push the boundaries of the medium, and in doing so create something great. However, it leads to what philosopher and scholar Noël Carroll refers to as an over-reliance on “medium essentialism,” where in trying to emphasize the qualities of animation that cannot be replicated elsewhere one ends up ignoring the “common” aspects that can also empower a form of artistic expression. Comics scholar Thierry Groenstein describes comics in general similarly, that it is because comics are a mixture of elements found elsewhere that it can create interesting outcomes. Try telling someone who plays visual novels that they should either read a book or play a real game. Try telling someone that they shouldn’t enjoy Inferno Cop because of its intentionally terrible animation (though I have to acknowledge the possibility that one only begins to appreciate Inferno Cop if they are a fan of the act of animating itself).


I don’t believe tamerlane means to come across as so completely essentialist, and at the very least he points out that the two schools of thought discussed in his article about animation (anime vs. Disney-esque animation) are equally valid. However, I think it’s still important to focus on the idea that to be a fan of animation (or anime) is to be a fan of the construction of animation, that it is of the highest priority for anyone who calls themselves a fan of animation. In response to this, I would argue that, while it might be impossible to just ignore the act of animating outright, one’s interest in animation can rightfully be defined by elements outside of appreciate of technical or expressive skill.

I’m going to use myself as an example. I am not the average anime fan, and I have what I would call a fairly passable understanding of sakuga and animation. I can’t necessarily recognize an animator’s work just by seeing a cut in isolation, but I appreciate Kanada, Umakoshi, Itano, and so on. However, appreciation of animation is but one facet of my interest in anime, which I would more generally describe as a fascination with the interaction of ideas and emotions across Japanese animated cartoons and their narratives, and given limited time I do not prioritize it above all else. I leave that up to the experts, whether certified or self-proclaimed, because even if they’re the latter their passion leads them further.

In fact, the reason I started looking into animators is because of Ben Ettinger, the guy behind the blog Anipages. Based on his writings, he is very clearly a fan of animation in the same sense that tamerlane and other sakuga fans are. He knows the names of the animators. He can recognize their work. He looks into the most obscure and even uninteresting shows to find strong animation. However, most crucially, I don’t sense hostility from his writing, or the idea that his way of viewing things is the right way or the only way.


The problem comes when sakuga fans, as ambassadors of quality animation, deride the uninitiated for not “getting it,” or not understand the values of others. This can only serve to push their potential audience and potential comrades further away. If there is not an actual inability to relate to non-sakuga fans, it can appear to be the case.

It’s not my first time reading what tamerlane has to say about anime or animation. A couple of years ago, he commented on some Kill la Kill posts of mine, and expressed that one of the issues was that the characters weren’t fun to watch, tying this into his passion for the act of animation, while also stating that those who enjoyed the series only had weak reasons to do so. I disagreed on the simple basis that, while I could recognize some of the weaknesses he mentioned, they weren’t a deal breaker for me, and what I valued in Kill la Kill was still very present and very strong. However, this also gave an image of tamerlane as someone with a very specific and at times contentious point of view, so much so that I almost chose not to read his post.

I want to emphasize two things based on what I just said. The first is that, if I had ignored his article based on past interactions, I would have been the stupid one. It would have been an example of me judging someone purely through some brief internet talk where communication was marred by a number of factors that weren’t just on his side. I think it’s more than possible to see both sides, or to disagree about one thing while agreeing on another, but most importantly I believe it’s possible to respect the other side.

The second point is that not everybody can ignore their initial impressions, and how one communicate to others as fellow human beings can be just as important as what you have to say. I know, because I struggle with this to. I understand what it’s like to be frustrated that others don’t share my point of view, or to not be able to express myself well. However, at the end of the day, positioning one’s own reasons for liking a show as just inherently better will always rub people the wrong way.

Even if accusations against sakuga fans are unfounded, the impression one gives when communicating can plant that idea in the reader or listener’s head, and whether you’re talking to hostile skeptics or people eager to know more about animation, driving them away by telling them to get on your level is only going to convince a few. Sakuga fans have to speak to other fans on their own terms and empathize with them. And if not, they have to at least let their passion come across in a way that is not confrontational. Sakuga fans need more Carl Sagans, and if not him, then at least some Neil deGrasse Tysons, who can be both snarky and personable.

I’m going to leave off with some screencaps from Episode 3 of Aoi Honoo, a J-drama about the school where many future luminaries of the anime industry came from. Though obviously different from real life interactions and conversations, I think it’s worth nothing how Anno Hideaki (or rather the actor who plays him) is shown to express his love for animation, in spite (or perhaps because) of his lack of social skills.







Sakuga and “Action”

When it comes to the animation itself in anime, I believe myself to be a person who can appreciate not only the well-executed but also the bold and daring, but compared to all of the sakuga fans out there who can name names and pride themselves on spotting particular animators I am but a rank amateur. Especially because ending credits of anime are in Japanese (and Japanese names can be a pain to read), it’s traditionally been difficult to find out these things, but thanks to YouTube videos, presentations, and websites such as Anipages, it’s become easier and easier to find this information out.

So now we have an accessible history of Japanese animators, with names ranging from the ultra-famous (Tezuka, Miyazaki) to ones well-regarded but not so much in the public eye (Kanada, Itano). When it comes to the way that “great animators” and “great animation” are discussed, however, there appears to be a bias—perhaps an unintentional one—towards action scenes. By action, I don’t mean just “movement,” but  displays of violence, explosions, mecha, and so on. Itano is known for his “Itano Circus,” that detailed missile barrage most associated with the Macross franchise, but if Gundam Sousei is any indication, Itano’s talents also extended to something as simple as the way a key falls. And yet, much of what I hear and read about sakuga emphasizes “action.”

The appeal of a good fight scene, be it between two humans or two robots or even two planes, is fairly obvious, I would think. It catches the eye immediately, and there’s a lot of movement to work with. What I’m wondering, though, is to what extent this focus on action has shaped the discourse of “great animation in anime,” and whether or not that may have changed over the past decade or so.

Anime looks different now than it did two or three decades ago, and in that time the amount of mecha in anime has also risen and fallen, while the detailed animation of cute girls has increased. Though I say this without any real evidence to back me up (so please prove me wrong if you can), I get the feeling that the fans who grew up to be animators in the anime industry took to heart that which they saw on TV, so a generation of animators who fell in love with Yamato and Gundam wound up in the anime of the 80s and 90s, pushing “mecha” and “action” forward. But at some point, the new generation became the old, and the one that has started to take its place has its interests elsewhere, be that cute girls or something else entirely.

I can only assume that there have always been animators in love with the girls they animate (so to speak), so this isn’t strictly a new vs. old, but perhaps that the ratio has changed to the extent that values about animating have changed as well. That, and maybe changes to the toy industry connected to all of this may play a role as well.

This is not my condemnation of animators who work for the sake of giving motion to cute girls (or boys), as when you think about it that’s no better or worse than animating for the sake of mecha violence, and as I stated, this is not my expertise. If this is merely a mistaken hunch, then I’ll be glad to learn more.

Manga Criticism Translation: “At First, I Wanted to be a Manga-ka”: Analyzing the Nausicaa Manga by Kumi Kaoru, pt 2

Blogger/Translator’s Note: This is the long-past-due followup to the translation posted by kransom over at his blog, welcome datacomp.

As stated by kransom, the translation is based on a lecture by freelance writer Kaoru Kumi and included in a book he has written about Miyazaki. More information can be found in the introduction of part 1. For the sake of consistency and other things, all names in the essay are first name first, unlike my usual style.

Incidentally, just as we have translated his writings from Japanese into English, Kumi has translated an English book into Japanese, “Astro Boy and Anime Come to the Americas” by Fredd Ladd and Harvey Deneroff. More information about the Japanese translation can be found here, and you can purchase the original version from Amazon.

So without further ado, Part 2.


Actually, the Nausicaa manga also frequently uses these techniques to create a sense of smoothness between panels, the difference with Yotsuba&! being that the sequence from Nausicaa relies on speech, while the one in Yotsuba&! relies on sound in order to keep the flow continuous. In short, this sequence utilizes a spoken word to smooth the sensory incongruity between the two panels.

Volume 7 p.83

This is the impressive scene where Master Yupa steps in to stop the conflict between the citizens of Dorok and the remnants of the Tolmekian Army at the cost of his own life. Panel 1 and 2 show the boy witnessing the death of Yupa while being carried on monk’s back, while Panel 3 shows him rushing over to Yupa. Here, the cut between Panel 2 and Panel 3 is B’. With a B’ cut however, there should fundamentally be a continuation of the overall action, as is the case with the prior example of Shirley, which is covered by the action where the young maid quickly makes a cup of tea for her master. However, in this example, with panel 2 you have the boy sitting on the man’s shoulders without moving, and then with panel 3 he’s running. Technically, his overall action has been interrupted between these two panels.

However, you can see a line of dialogue in panel 2 where the boy says, “Put me down. I can walk.” Thanks to this line, the overall action is continued. Let’s try covering up the line, if you like (Here, the lecturer puts is hand over the projector to cover the words “Put me down. I can walk.”). Even with this, there’s nothing hindering the transition between Panels 2 and 3, but now don’t you sense something amiss? It’s like a baby stroller being pushed along and then suddenly hitting a bump in the road. But when you add in the line, “Put me down. I can walk,” (moves hand away) now it becomes smooth. The overall action of “rushing over to Yupa” continues in panels 2 and 3. In other words, B’ is established here. I think it subtly proves that Miyazaki cares a lot about having his readers enjoy Nausicaa and has a good sense of what will improve that enjoyment.

Nausicaa also has a clever use of Pattern B”. Let’s see the beginning of the old edition of New Treasure Island once more. If you compare the two, you will find that the two use the same Pattern B”. Here, Nausicaa and Chikuku are returning to a Dorok airship via air. In New Treasure Island the vehicle runs along hastily, while in this scene from Nausicaa, Nausicaa, Chikuku, and the monk are in a rush. That’s right, they both fall into Pattern B”.

Volume 5 p.62

“You’ve come back, too!?” “Chikuku won’t run away!” “A map! I’ve traced the movement of the mold.” “This way!” [CL1] These three panels look perfectly continuous since their dialogue goes on, in spite of the discontinuity in physical action in these panels. It’s the same technique as the one in the three-legged race I referred to earlier.[1]

Speaking of Pattern B”, I know there is another example in Nausicaa.

Volume 5 p. 87

The world of humans is on the verge of destruction, and with Teto in tow Nausicaa goes on a solitary flight. She lands on high ground and decides to wait for the army of Ohmu, who know the key to the situation at hand. The action in these six panels is not continuous, and so one might determine these panels to be an A” sequence[2]. And yet, you can follow these panels smoothly, as if you were watching a movie, in spite of the lack of speech or sound to give you a sense of continuity. Actually, while these panels do not follow Nausicaa’s actions continuously, including how she lands on the ground and how she shoulders her kite, you can still follow those actions smoothly because the overall action of ‘her swooping down from the sky and landing near some high ground and then walking towards it’ remains continuous, or is uninterrupted. And so you sense that they are still continuous. This is Pattern B”.

Let’s look at another example of B”.

Emma Volume 5 (Mori Kaoru/Enterbrain) p.76-77

This is Emma. I’m impressed with this author, who takes a total of four pages just to draw Emma changing into her maid uniform. However, when you look at it, the omissions in the actions that happen from panel to panel are assuredly there. If the sequence were to be drawn in its entirety, a mere four pages would not have sufficed. When you read it, however, it looks perfectly continuous. The overall action of “changing from plain clothes into maid clothes” is done consistently, and the small actions which are not drawn instead take place in your head and complement the action. This is a typical example of Pattern B”[3].

By the way, recall that earlier I explained how the Pattern B you see in movies theoretically cannot be replicated in manga, and that in order to do so you would need some way of falsely approximating the process. Actually, it is not impossible. Here, the monk points his gun at the sky and fires. Then, the subordinates up in the sky make their presence known.

Volume 4 p.124

The sequence from Panel 2 to Panel 3 is key here. If you were to put this into a movie, in panel 2 the bullet would appear to be flying OUT of the screen, and then a cut would happen. Then, in panel 3 you would suddenly see the bullet flying, or, to put it differently, you would see the bullet flying IN when the officers in the sky riding the flying turtle are startled by it. That’s the exemplary editing it would need if it were put into cinema. Simply put, this is a Pattern B sequence. Pattern B may be theoretically not replicable in manga, but take a good look at Panel 3. The trajectory of the bullet is shown by the smoke trail. “Wha… What kind of bullet was that?!” [CL2] exclaims the astonished monk. Indeed, it’s a little more like a rocket. Thanks to this however, you can now tell with just one look that Panel 3 is an IN shot. Wow, this is definitely like a B sequence from a movie!

Incidentally, this kind of smoke is associated with the “action lines” which you might remember from Zipang, where it is used in aerial battles. Contrasting with the physically impossible and fanciful assemblage of lines, the smoke in Nausicaa has a physical existence. It does not feel insubstantial, but rather actually quite real and natural. If we analyze the transitions in those five panels, they are A’ B’ D’ A’; in other words, they are all single-dash (‘) sequences and not double-dash (”) ones.

Miyazaki’s composition of these panels is so awfully sophisticated that I’m terrified, but the examples I’ve drawn upon so far have been from when Miyazaki’s manga had been serialized for a while and he was establishing his own form of manga syntax, and not at the point when he first began serialization, back when his refinement was still lacking. Take a look here at the first page from Volume 1.

Volume 1 p. 9

I touched on it just before, but the second image here is unusual for Nausicaa in that the rectangular panel does not have a border. Actually, when it was published in Animage originally, the title logo for Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was inserted here. When it was being collected together for the tankobon, Nausicaa flying with the glider was drawn in, and so the edit from panel 1 to panel 2[4] is not B” so much as it is B”-. It’s the same as the beginning of the revised edition of “New Treasure Island.”

Now what’s a good way to explain the transition from Panel 2 to the giant skull in Panel 3? In a movie it would be a B. You’d think then that it would be a B’ sequence, but when you compare it to the way the bullet was handled in the panel I mentioned earlier, I must say it looks less sophisticated than a typical B’ scene.

And then, doesn’t the edit from Panel 3 to Panel 4 feel abrupt? First, some of her actions seem omitted. 1) The glider lands -> 2) Nausicaa pulls the gun from the glider -> 3) Nausicaa carries it on her shoulder -> 4) Nausicaa faces the Sea of Corruption and walks (Here, the lecturer demonstrates the way in which Nausicaa walks). That is how Nausicaa is supposed to act in this sequence, but three out of four of her actions have been removed. Moreover, while in Panel 3 she was gliding very close to the skull, in Panel 4 the scene is set at ground level, and so they cannot be A, B, or D. So, is it supposed to be C? No, because Pattern C is a scene change, which usually does not have the continuous presence of the same subject.

So then, what exactly is the sequence in these panels? If I had to explain it, I might venture to say that it’s like the old version of “New Treasure Island.” That is to say, it can be categorized as B”. However, there we have the consistent action of a moving vehicle. In this page of Nausicaa, the glider vehicle’s action is interrupted. Perhaps, if Panel 4 illustrated the glider flying towards the Sea of Corruption, it would be a smoother sequence, although Nausicaa would crash right into the tree trunks! (laughter) …even if it would be a smoother sequence.

Here’s the same scene from the movie version. Here, it is incredibly smooth.


2, 2’, 2’’

3, 3’




Nausicaa sweeps over the giant skull (1) -> Nausicaa prepares to land very close to the Sea of Corruption (2)~(2)” -> Nausicaa makes a soft landing below onto the sandy surface (3)~(3)’ -> Nausicaa pulls the gun from the glider (4) -> Nausicaa hangs it over her shoulder (5) -> Nausicaa walks towards the Sea of Corruption (6). They are edited in quite a normal fashion. But when you see this and then look at the same scene from the manga, you find that the sequence from the manga has less elegance to it in comparison. It suggests that Miyazaki was unsure of how to transfer and convert movie syntax onto paper when he began drawing the first chapter[6]. Also, the first chapter was 18 pages. With only so many pages, the complicated sequences where Nausicaa appears, wanders through the Sea of Corruption, reunites with Yupa, and then flies to the Valley of the Wind—a sequence which in the movie takes 15 minutes—has to be drawn, then the panel sequences would inevitably feel crammed and rushed.

If you were to again look over this first serialized chapter, you’d wonder why, despite the fact that the drawings are made to be dense, does the comic look so stark-white? Really, why? After thinking about it, I realized the answer: there are no screen tones being used. Do you understand? I brought some with me today. Can those sitting in the back see this? It’s a somewhat thin, net-like sheet. There are dozens of varieties of these, and they’re used by nearly every manga artist, cutting and pasting them onto their manga in order to create effects such as shadows and clothing patterns[7]. But in the first chapter of Nausicaa, all shadows are hand-drawn.

Volume 1, p.19 (with close-up)

With that, it’s pretty white. But actually, in the comic a bit of screen tone does get used.

Volume 1 p.26 (with close-up)

This is a close-up of Yupa’s face. Notice the shaded area. On top of the thin lines drawn here, a layer of screen tone is pasted onto it. This is the last page in the serialized chapter 1.

There are other instances of Miyazaki’s process of trial and error showing up in his drawings.

Volume 1 p.23

Nausicaa here is running with a big smile on her face. This same scene is also in the movie, but in the manga the scene has more of a slow-motion feel to it, and gives the impression of being a slowed-down moment. This is the weakness of B”-. Here, Nausicaa is sticking out of the panel, and is quite possibly Miyazaki’s deliberate attempt to reduce the slow feeling here. This technique, called “off the panel,” is incredibly common in Japanese manga, but this is the only instance[8] of its use in Nausicaa. “How should I draw a manga?” Miyazaki probably asked himself as he was holding a variety of manga magazines in his hand, and tried his hand at making something “off the panel.” Miyazaki had most likely not yet developed his own methodology as of chapter one.

Such is also the case with this panel, where if you look at it after you’ve come to know Nausicaa it seems unpolished.

Volume 1, p.24

First, the use of the “hyuu” sound effect and the streamline seem rather forced. Second, the scene composition gives the impression of unsophistication. For a genius layout man like Miyazaki, the scene is too loose and incomplete. Why is that the case? Well, it’s because too many words, or should I say “speech balloons,” have been crammed into the scene. Later on, Miyazaki would use a multitude of panels to handle such a scene, but I think here Miyazaki decided to depict their conversation only for one panel because Nausicaa and Yupa are holding still. There are many speech bubbles in the panel, so the scene feels relaxed.

And so on and so forth. In chapter 1, examples of Miyazaki’s trial and error are everywhere. “There’s a lot I want to talk about, a lot I want to convey, but I am not trained enough to put what I really want to tell into manga. This is so frustrating!” thought Miyazaki, I suppose. However, the second chapter is much more stable. And listen, ladies and gentlemen, he finished the second chapter not in pen, but in pencil! When the first manuscript for Nausicaa was handed over, the Sherlock Holmes (aka Sherlock Hound) project was given the go-ahead, and so Miyazaki no longer had any time to draw manga. However, Animage persuaded him to continue the series, with Miyazaki finally agreeing to do so, on the condition that he could draw the Nausicaa manga in pencil because it enabled him to finish it more quickly. Nausicaa, as a result, became the first commercial manga ever drawn in pencil.

Volume 1, p.35 (with close-up)

One of the unique characteristics of the manga version of Nausicaa is how the shadows are rendered by drawing a series of thin lines. This is influenced by the French comic artist Moebius[9]. Look at the right image. You can see that these shadow lines are chipped subtly. That’s because it’s drawn in pencil (laughter). For your information, Miyazaki seems to have used a variety of pencil types, including a B and an H.

But then around the second half of the second volume, the comic goes back to being in pen. Now I might have this wrong, but I get the feeling that even after that it occasionally goes back to being in pencil. Here, for example.

Volume 3, p.41 (left) Volume 3, p.42 (right)

For the sake of the Nausicaa movie, the manga’s serialization was put on hiatus. The image on the left is a panel from the final page before Nausicaa was put on hiatus, and the image on the right is from the page right after serialization resumed. In the collected volume (tankobon), they’re printed on the same piece of paper, one on the front and the other on the back, but in reality there was a 13-month gap. Now if we were to magnify the dangling ends of the gas mask…

Do you see? The lines in the image on the right are more chipped. This means it’s a pencil drawing. You might know that in animation key frames are drawn in pencil, and so while making the Nausicaa movie, Miyazaki became more attuned to using pencil. I guess after the manga resumed, he was unable to draw with a pen the way he wanted to, and so after the manga started up again, the first new chapter was done in pencil. But then in the next chapter, the comic goes back to being in pen. Incidentally, when he resumed the Nausicaa manga after having completed the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service, the lines look a little chipped. I think that it was also drawn in pencil. Then, it returned to pen.

Now we’re going back to analyzing what it means to be “cinematic.” Having the background be out of focus is a technique frequently used in live action film, or should I say, photography. Suppose there were many little flowers blossoming and you attempted to use your camera to shoot one of them very closely. However hard you tried, the shot would get crowded by the other flowers. For that reason, you have the camera focus on just the one flower and leave all of the other flowers out of focus (Lecturer projects it on the screen). This is a terrible example though, granted (laughter).

The “out of focus” method is also in Nausicaa.

Volume 2, p.116

This scene is the duel between Yupa and Asbel. It’s an action scene, and yet it’s more akin to stopped motion. In my opinion though, I wouldn’t call it stopped motion so much as the removal of sound.

Look at this scene from the Nausicaa movie (DVD playback). A giant transport vehicle crashes into the Valley of the Wind. By the window is a girl who looks the same age as Nausicaa. The sound disappears in this cut. Movement in this scene hasn’t stopped, and yet doesn’t it seem like time has stopped for an instant? The panel in question, the one with Yupa and Asbel, achieves the same result on paper, although this scene was drawn before Nausicaa was ever turned into a movie. It is said that Takahata, who joined the production of Nausicaa the movie as a studio manager, worked as the sound supervisor as well and removed all the sound in this cut. His sound removal method must have impressed Miyazaki, as Miyazaki applied it to the Nausicaa manga in a more refined way later.

Volume 3, p.139

Here, Nausicaa is fleeing from a Dorok cavalry. Of the guards who are desperately covering Nausicaa with their bodies, one of them gets hit and falls over. It’s quite exciting. At the same time, the lack of a rendered background emphasizes her psychological shock and as a result gives off a sense of stillness, a sense of stopped motion [10].

The overlap technique seen in films is also used. It’s not used that often, but if you take a look here:

Volume 5 p.75

For some reason, the monk has a worried look on his face, and Nausicaa appears behind him flying. Drawing an image like this on paper is a little too bold, but in actuality the image does not feel out of place. In other words, it reminds us just how heavily we have adapted ourselves to the scene dissolves that occur in movies and television.

Speaking of which, this is a manga which faithfully uses rectangular panels. There are, however, exceptions, like here.

Volume 3 p.13

This image brings back some memories from when I was in elementary school, especially the illustrated encyclopedias that would be available in the school library. Boys who are into science or technology like illustrated encyclopedias, and a young Miyazaki would be included among them. (laughter). Now have a look.

Volume 7 p.105

Oh! Here we have Nausicaa relaxing with a silly look on her face (laughter). She’s forgotten her usual self-denial and self-restraint, feeling quite relaxed and refreshed, with the image of the garden bleeding past the edges of the page as if to reflect the calm in her mind[11]. The author wanted Nausicaa to relax for a short while. After this, she would be sacrificed to a journey filled with despair…

…Which is my own humble analysis of Nausicaa. Seeing this manga, I’m impressed that almost all of the panels are rectangular, something quite unusual for modern manga, while each of those panels is packed with the passion and energy of such an extraordinarily talented creator. This gives off the impression that Miyazaki was holding back. As he was most likely extremely conscious of how the movie’s sequences and transitions would be edited, the activity in the actions from panel to panel, in other words A”, are united with the context of words and dialogue. In short, Nausicaa is the manga which blends cinematic methods exquisitely into classical manga syntax.

Miyazaki learned Disney-style full animation at Toei Animation, and then left the studio where he and his comrades ended up falling in labor union activities. He and Takahata joined the TV cartoon industry, trying to achieve maximum “cinematic” efforts using lower budgets and fewer animated drawings. In his autobiography, veteran animator enthusiastically writes about how Miyazaki had been living his vision.

This is Miyazaki’s storyboard from the 1971 Lupin III[12]. Otsuka compares Miyazaki’s storyboard with one done by a different animator. If we look at this other storyboard done by someone we’ll call “Mr. X…”

The Animator Clawing His Way (Sakuga Ase-Mamire),
Revised and Expanded Edition by Yasuo Otsuka,
published by Tokuma Shoten Publishing, p.149

…there’s an A cut. However, with Pattern A, the action must be continuous, which makes drawing the images for it labor-intensive. Miyazaki’s storyboard on the other hand is entirely D edits. If the action isn’t continuous, then the drawings become easier to do, all the while Miyazaki remains perfectly faithful to the principles of film editing.

Looking at the Nausicaa manga more closely, not only can you see that the D’ sequences are well-done, but that there are a lot of A’ sequences (with actual A sequences being impossible). When A sequences appear in TV anime, a character’s actions must be singular, and it must be a simple action—like an arm extending—to shorten the amount of labor put into the drawing. Manga, however, is by nature a series of still images, so with Pattern A’ or even Pattern A”, the readers will conceive the movements in their heads. Showcasing clever uses of this mental mechanism is the air battle scene I showed you earlier. In Panel 8, the gunship is depicted flipping like a springboard diver jumping backwards into water. If you were to actually try to animate it, the process would have been laborious and would have required many frames of animation to be drawn. However, because it is manga, the complementary actions are envisioned mentally by the reader, where less labor is needed than in drawing animation frames, and so it becomes an easier task.

Thus, what you have here are the patient efforts of Japanese animators over dozens of years to make TV cartoon shows as fully cinematic as possible in spite of difficult circumstances in production, as well as the brilliant efforts of Japanese manga artists over dozens of years to achieve cinematic style on-paper in spite of the fact that manga is just composed of still images. One of the most brilliant fruits of their labor is the subtle and bold fusion of the two sides that is Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. That is my conclusion. (Applause) What? Why are you all clapping here? (Big laughter, huge applause) I’m grateful! Oh, don’t you think NHK will have to invite me as a guest commentator whenever they have their “Manga Night Talks” show about Tezuka’s New Treasure Island? (laughter).” Not that Tezuka Productions would ever give the OK on it, even though this is the 80th anniversary of Osamu Tezuka’s birth[13] (laughter).

Next week, we’ll continue to discuss Nausicaa. This time we discussed technique in depth, but next time we’ll be analyzing and getting at the core of its story and themes. I hope to see you all in this classroom next week. Class dismissed.


[1] It goes without saying that the three-legged race I mentioned earlier is A”. However, the two girls’ swing of conversation fills cinematic gaps among the three panels.

[2] Notice how in panels 1~5 there are no speech balloons, sounds, or entire figures. On the other hand, you have Footnote 9, or “Osaka splitting her chopsticks apart,” where sound and figures make it easier to follow the panels smoothly, as if it were cinematic.

[3] In an interview, Mori mentions liking this sort of panel sequence.

[4] For the sake of convenience I called this “panel 2,” despite it having no actual borders.

[5] Actually there’s another solution here. If one were to insert a panel of Nausicaa preparing to land in between panels 3 and 4, it would become B”.

[6] I also referenced Yukihiro Abeno, who said, “Miyazaki is the ultimate and most fortunate amateur manga author.” (Seidosha Publishing, Eureka Special “World of Hayao Miyazaki” Issue)

[7] The first time this was used in a manga was by Miyomaru Nagata. Around 1955 or so.

[8] An omission.

[9] Moebius, born on May 8th, 1938. He is famous for having influenced the styles of Katsuhiro Otomo and Hayao Miyazaki, and apparently Moebius style had an influence on Tezuka’s Hidamari no Ki, the samurai drama featuring Tezuka’s ancestors. As an aside, Moebius named his own daughter “Nausicaa.

[10] In Nausicaa, when an action scene occurs the closing line in the panel becomes diagonal.

[11] I believe this technique of piling fragment-like panels on a larger, non-bordered image was first used in Japan by Shotaro Ishinomori (January 25, 1938 – January 28, 1998).

[12] At first Satoshi Dezaki drew the storyboard for the sequence, but Miyazaki rejected it and drew this afterwards. Though keep in mind that Dezaki was not “Mr. X.” In fact, the second storyboard on this page was drawn by a younger animator whom Otsuka got to draw it years after the production of the first Lupin.

[13] The old New Treasure Island was finally re-released on February, 2009.