Thursday, 19 April 2012

茄子 スーツケースの渡り鳥 / Nasu: Suutsukeesu no Watari-dori/ Eggplant: Migratory Bird with Suitcase

As predicted in my impressions of the first Nasu film, this one is despite being along the same lines as its predecessor rather more conventional and less ‘artsy’. Those impressions were dominated by my long list of director Kousaka Kitarou’s previous work, as I was impressed by just how many of anime’s big names he had worked with – not many can boast having worked on Akira, Spirited Away, Metropolis and Grave of the Fireflies. This time, he brought in another interesting name from Ghibli – Yoshida Ken’ichi, key animator for many Ghibli films, including Mononoke-Hime and Mimi-o Sumaseba, but also working (very briefly) in that capacity for several favourite series of mine, including Evangelion, Scrapped Princess, Wolf’sRain and Dennou Coil, and providing the strong character designs for Eureka Seven and its successor Xam’d.

These two remarkable men, however, followed up a remarkable OVA with something rather bland. Suitcase is a direct follow-up to Summer in Andalusia, but without its intensity, demonstrable depth of knowledge or exotic setting – for a Japanese anime, at least. Again, it covers a bicycle race, but this time focusing on the team aspect of such races and with the Belgian team (which is seemingly full of Spaniards) taking part in the Japan Cup.

This means that Pepe and co get a cute Japanese assistant as well as the support of a funny little Japanese kid. Interestingly enough, given that with Yoshida on board you might expect them to look like something out of Eureka Seven, these two look about as much like Ghibli designs as it’s possible to get. The race is a difficult one – a torrential downpour starts, a formidable old vet has decided to race and a key member of the PaoPao team is under psychological stress because of the death of someone close to him. Various factors come into play, and apart from what happens with seemingly the slightly unhinged veteran, mostly the film is predictable but satisfying. The trouble is, the first film made me expect rather more.

Though the animation is smoother and more ambitious, Madhouse having come a long way between 2003 and 2007, it is also much less inventive. It’s remarkably effective how well the animations for cycling have been done here, the motions after all not being very typical ones for animators to encounter, but I really missed the stylish, exaggerated, desperate movements we see in the first film. There’s obvious exhaustion here, but it’s not an unfamiliar page in the lexicon of anime expressions. There’s also a somewhat clumsy use of cel-shaded CG, particularly for cyclists going around bends – it’s just not quite integrated well enough and looks awkward. Finally, the humour is strained – the last fart joke could possibly be passed off as just trying to be realistic, but the first, during the race, is just unneeded, and the little parts about Pepe’s clothes being damaged so that his bottom is visible and the Japanese girl getting all flustered definitely come over as childish.

There is much of merit here – the animation is superb, the voice acting is strong, the setting is still refreshingly different. But it just comes nowhere close to how impressive, different and clever the first film was. Perhaps it’s almost wholly down to the difference between adapting an ambitious manga and anime-makers devising their own story.

On the other hand, I vaguely appreciated the way an attempt was made to have ‘Nasu’ as the title make a degree of sense. Though the part about the suitcase…less so. 

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