We’ve covered a number of chapters in the story of shorts so far, from the first boom that put them on the map to begin with, to how that legacy was carried and expanded upon over the years. We’ve also seen multiple mentions throughout regarding Yama no Susume’s position as the most integral part of the story, yet never truly delved into why that’s the case. Worry not, though. I don’t want you to just take my word for it and leave it at that, as that would be doing the show a disservice. Yamasusu is special, and I want to make sure you know why.
Before we get into that though, a confession is in order. A little bit of fibbing has been going on throughout these posts, because as significant of a factor as it was by putting shorts on the map, the reality is that Yamasusu’s first season isn’t quite as amazing as you’ve been led to believe. Not to imply that it isn’t noteworthy, of course; it’s a visually solid production, just not an outstanding one. Even the episodes where Kazuaki Shimada brought along his friends from Dogakobo – namely Nobuyuki Mitani and Hirofumi Okita, two of the studio’s most notable workers – remained fairly standard. This isn’t something one can rightfully fault the show for, though, because the sustainability of shorts was still an unknown factor at the time. It would be understandable if both Matsuo Yuusuke and Shimada were more invested in testing the waters, as opposed to the bold experimentation Tatsuya Yoshihara opted for with Muromi-san. Assuming that was the case, then the production’s smooth sailing with a small team definitely proved that sustainability wasn’t an issue, especially when two of the seven solo key animation episodes overall – out of a total of twelve – were handled by that duo.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s shift back to detailing why Yamasusu is as remarkable as it is. That may sound off considering I just went on about how it’s “only” a solid production at best, but the key point there is that it was done specifically in regards to its first season. It only took a year after its original broadcast for Yamasusu’s second season to come along, and this is where the true spectacle begins. The most discernible change between seasons at a glance is the broadcast time, as S1 ran for three minutes per episode, while S2 ran for thirteen. A jump this significant feels like it supports the theory that S1’s main purpose was to test the sustainability of the shorts format, with results being positive enough that the team were confident they could handle a longer broadcast without any drawbacks. Another change, though not quite as noticeable, is in the character designs themselves. There was never anything inherently wrong with the original designs, but this served as an opportunity for Fugo – sorry, I just can’t bring myself to call him Matsuo – to depart from the characteristics of the manga and mold them more to his particular style, and can also be seen as a sign towards his intentions of turning the show into something much more than your standard adaptation.
Interesting as that information is though, it’s certainly not the most convincing argument in regards to venerating Yamasusu as one of the industry’s most prized productions. Understandably so, too. One can’t hope to sell a visual experience through trivia; context and a guiding hand as to what makes it special are a requirement, which is why I’m willing to take an approach I’m typically against through doing something of an episode by episode rundown. Approaches like this are generally monotonous at best I feel, but there’s no justice in condensing the show’s highlights into bitesize portions. They’re all worth dedicating significant attention to, so let’s not waste any more time and get to it.
OP and EDs are a tricky topic when it comes to discussing the visual aspects of a show, as the truly notable ones act as a disconnected experience from the overall product more often than not. This goes doubly so for someone like Masashi Ishihama, whose creative outings almost always outshine the shows they’re attached to – look no further than his work on Beelzebub’s 3rd ED and Magical Warfare’s ED, both of which put their respective shows to shame. Exceptions to the rule do exist though, and Yamasusu S2 is most definitely one of them. His work on its first OP is a declaration of intent; not that the show’s going to be a constant parade of colours and phenomenal style, but that visual variety will be one of the key pillars supporting the show. It’s a fantastic sequence that drives your expectations for what’s in store next as the imagery all relates to themes within the show, and a prime example of an OP that ties in perfectly with the show itself.
In terms of actual episodes, Kazuaki Shimada’s episode 4 feels like the most appropriate to start with considering it serves as the the first of the show’s many solo key animation eps. We’ve already detailed Shimada’s history and his position as a core staff member on Yamasusu previously, but never talked much about his actual work as an animator. The main reason for that is that, well, he’d never really seized the opportunity to put himself in the spotlight before, which ended up making this episode a delightful surprise. It’s a fun playground for snappy effects, exaggerated character motion and – of course – complimentary smears plastered throughout; he may have left Dogakobo to follow Fugo, but this episode proves that he kept the spirit of the company with him.
Keeping in line with the theme of solo KA episodes, it’s hard not to discuss Yamasusu S2 without bringing up Ryouma Ebata’s episode 17. Ebata likely needs no introduction at this point, as he’s spent the last few years establishing himself as one of the industry’s major powerhouses, popularising the ever so stylish Ebata Walk and consistently pumping out some of the best OP and EDs of the year. His skills arguably belong to a specific class of genius animators, but those alone aren’t what make this episode special; rather, the premise behind it necessitating them is what elevates it even further. Parks in anime are common, yet it’s rare for them to actually be used as such, instead being relegated to sombre moments where there’s no real opportunity to work with all the delightful equipment present in them. This episode, on the other hand, almost feels like it exists to counterbalance that. Swings, chutes, bouncy platforms, you name it; it goes out of its way to feature as much of them as possible, and Ebata’s work in conjunction with that turns it into a thrilling exhibit of character movement and momentum. His attention to detail on even the most minor of things makes it all the more captivating, a standout example coming right at the end of this scene. Few would have bat an eyelid had he left out that slight bounce as Hinata’s feet drop, yet his dedication to following through on momentum adds that extra layer of charisma to his work.
The extent of his skill isn’t contained solely within scenes in the park, though. His work on the Celestial Method ED before this episode aired already proved that his grasp on character acting was top class, so this served as his way of showing that wasn’t just a fluke. The industry’s greatest names in this area typically shine through with their inherently realistic movement, but Ebata’s approach is a bit different; instead, he opts for creating a sense of realism through exaggerated motions. It’s a tricky approach that doesn’t always work quite as intended, but an interesting one nonetheless, and one that few others can replicate.
Avoiding any discussion of episode 17 in relation to the show may be a difficult task, but there’s one where it’s outright impossible. Shows that feature an assortment of artistic prowess like Yamasusu S2 typically leave the viewer hard pressed to pick out what they’d consider the ‘best’ episode of the bunch, but that isn’t the case here, as the shining star in an already spectacular production comes in the form of episode 13. Directed and storyboarded by industry veteran Kazuyoshi Naginuma and featuring staff skilled in a multitude of areas and styles, it’s a visual adventure from start to finish, framed in the style of a fairy-tale. You’ll find quiet character moments existing in harmony with fantastic effects courtesy of Toshiyuki Sato, stylised cartoon-esque moments from Tatsurou Kawano, not to mention Akira Hamaguchi’s lovely and expressive character acting backed by detailed lighting. The moment that steals the show though is, without a doubt, Shingo Yamashita’s fireflies scene; not only is it the most beautiful scene in the show as a whole, but it’s downright one of the most breath-taking sequences in anime, period. Personally though, one of the aspects I adore most about this episode is seeing each animator’s take on the designs during their assigned parts. Diversity in designs within a show isn’t something we get to see often since it’s always such a controversial subject whenever it does occur – people even complained about this episode! – but in an ideal world it’s something people would get to play about with more often. Obviously it won’t work for every show, but it does have its place, even if others are convinced it doesn’t.
Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about this episode is its resemblance to Toei’s Rainbow Fireflies. Many people caught the resemblances while it aired, including the fact that it’s titled The Tale of the Peculiar Firefly, only to laugh when they saw Hisashi Mori’s name in the credits. What was initially thought to be a nice reference became a blatant tribute, as Mori served as both the character designer and animation director for Rainbow Fireflies and handled the picture book style scenes – ever so reminiscent of the movie – within the episode itself. Special details like this are why this episode is adored as much as it is these days; few shows display a visual vocabulary this wild during their entire run, yet Yamasusu pulls it off in a mere twelve minutes.
There’s still a number of episodes worth talking about, but it already feels like we’ve went a bit too in-depth despite only being three episodes in, so cutting things off here seems appropriate. The takeaway is that Yamasusu has more than earned its place as the ultimate climax in the story of shorts, not only because of the diversity in its visuals, but because it embodies everything we’ve covered up until now in this series; it’s a space where old veterans and youngsters have been able to come together to create something special, all thanks to a venue without the struggles and limitations of regular TV anime production. 3期はよ
And that’s it for this mini-series on shorts! Chances are it won’t be the last you hear of them on this blog, though, as their story is definitely continuing on strong. This season has two promising ones in Mahoii and Kiitarou Shounen, and Pokemon Generations is currently the best that Pokemon’s ever looked so far thanks to a wide pool of talent from all corners of the industry.
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