It’s time for more After the Rain coverage, as studio WIT’s mellow yet often poignant character piece keeps being one of this season’s highlights. The production as a whole is worth examining, but it’s the vision of the directors and the sweet surprises in that field that we’ll focus on this time.
Key Animation: Erika Nishihara, Taichi Nakaguma, Teruki Nishijima, Asami Aida, Maki Hashimoto, Yuko Fujii, Azusa Nakano, Mai Fujiwara, Tomoyuki Oshita, Masumi Hattori, Mamiko Nakanishi, Mayumi Nakamura, Ayu Tanaka, Sachiko Matsumoto, Ryuji Tsuzuku, Yuko Sera
Yui Kinoshita, Tomomi Ikeda, Yasunori Matsuki, Aki Kumada, Masato Hagiwara, Kanako Baba, Shunsuke Nakashige, Kyosuke Matsui, Kanari Yamada, Yukino Nakamata, Reika Hoshino
─ A modest episode by this show’s standards, because of the less inspired direction and the introduction of a needless grating conflict, but with its fair share of noteworthy moments still. While the contrast between the weather on the two dates is as basic as After the Rain gets, it’s a simple trick that’s still effective. On a similar note, switching to 4:3 aspect ratio and faux dated film effects to depict someone’s memories won’t win any awards in originality, but it’s still a nice touch that gives the episode more character. The person behind these standard, adequate tricks is Ryo Ando: the storyboarder and episode director, as well as a personal friend of assistant series director Ayako Kouno. Both of them are acquaintances of Land of the Lustrous’ director Takahiko Kyougoku, so they’ve been working together a lot for about 4 years, ever since they collaborated on Love Live! Season 2. Having worked side by side on many projects like Pripara and GATE, it’s very likely that Kouno was the one who invited him to begin with. Relationships like this are the invisible net that sustains anime.
─ There’s an amusing incident regarding the directorial approach on this show that concerns them both: the usage of feet as an acting mechanism. As I previously mentioned, the anime quickly established this acting quirk as one of Akira’s personal gestures to release her excitement, and now we reached the point where the manga first used it; the first cut in particular is technically proficient animation on a level that’s rare in this series, and the scene as a whole is simply adorable. Since this is actually just one of the many usages of feet gestures and postures to convey people’s feelings, Kouno and Ando got in an amusing conversation where they swore that After the Rain isn’t deliberately an anime about feet, it only just happened to end up this way. Intentionally or not, it’s one of the most expressive venues of this show, and it’s smartly tied to Akira’s ankle injury as well!
─ Despite that excellent bit of acting, the animation as a whole is very restrained. If I had to highlight another sequence it would undoubtedly be the work of Sachiko Matsumoto in the bridge scene, which once again proves that adorning footage isn’t her only skill. The production has been introducing many new animators from this episode onward to give some rest to the usual crew, and when it comes to this one in particular, it’s all about studio Wanpack, who you might have heard about recently because of very tragic news. While technically being an in-house episode, all supervisors besides the chief are from Wanpack, and their key animators handled a large amount of work in the first half in particular. The episode loses a bit of its refined charm as consequence, but it’s not enough of a dip in quality to raise any alarms. For studio WIT standards, this is a very stable TV anime.
Key Animation: Takuro Sakurai, Shinji Ochi, Shiro Shibata, Hatsue Koizumi, Yuko Fujii, Taichi Nakaguma, Tomoko Kitagawa, Ayu Tanaka, Kumiko Ozawa, Hiroko Shigekuni, Yuki Nakajima, Manabu Yasumoto, Keiko Ota
Ryuji Tsuzuku, Atsuko Sugawara, Wataru Hasegawa, Taiki Eto, Yasuhira Kanno
─ If the talent in the previous episode could be attributed in a major way to assistant series director Ayako Kouno, this time around it’s an acquaintance of Ayumu Watanabe himself who takes the wheel as this episode’s storyboarder. Hiroaki Shimura reappears after lending him a hand on the second episode, doing a very respectable job with the material he was given. Right off the bat his Shin-Ei roots can be felt in the casually thorough depiction of daily life, as seen in the cooking scene but most obviously when Akira enters the manager’s house: a very meticulous sequence to begin with, made all the more attractive by the careful key animation. This is presumably the work of veteran Shinji Ochi, since the credits are in order of appearance. After the Rain may not be an exuberant production nor have the conceptual acting strength you only find in specialized crews, but believably bringing characters to life with the resources they have is still clearly a high priority.
─ When it comes to highlights though, I imagine the moment that struck the most viewers was Akira peeking into the manager’s room. Shimura’s storyboards managed to capture her longing with a tint of innocence, while at the same time elegantly framing her actions as a bit of a taboo – now this is the refined excellence we’ve come to expect from this series. I feel like the suffocating direction when she’s hidden in the closet deserves a mention too, as does episode director Yasuhiro Akamatsu. He’s a digital artist with Gainax roots, so it’s actually no surprise that he was able to nail that feeling of asphyxiating heat in big part through the composite. Even when it’s not operating on a mind-boggling level like on episode 3 or the very first scene of the show, After the Rain is still filled with quiet magical moments.
─ Although other episodes have more striking instances of it, the usage of make-up animation as a whole in this episode stands out since it takes its most literal meaning. The name under which this gets credited might have changed, but Manaka Naka and Ryoko Mita felt like actual cosmeticians applying make-up on Akira. Subtler than usual, but gorgeous work! Incidentally, the staff posted in the TVPaint forum to briefly list their usage of the software and this project’s approach to the special foundation (a name given by Ayumu Watanabe himself, as it turns out). Nothing surprising, as it’s everything we’ve been talking about in these posts, but public official confirmations are always appreciated.
Key Animation: Akiyo Okuda
Teruki Nishijima, Miki Takahashi, Masaaki Tanaka, Masato Hagiwara, Kana Miyai
─ After a few competent yet not spectacular episodes, here comes this one to remind us how high this show can peak. Beautiful, emotive, and with the confidence to pull off well over three minutes of excellence with no words spoken. After the Rain has always been fond of letting scenes linger, allowing the audience to soak in the atmosphere, but this definitely takes it to a whole new level; a masterful scene that connects treasured memories with the bittersweet present, casually switching from evocative layouts with a clear narrative intent to equally important mundanity. We tend to value directorial work that we can attach a precise meaning to, but storyboards aren’t necessarily a code to be cracked, and sometimes even greater efforts are put into portraying tangible daily life unconcerned with narrative goals. I believe that whether you fall in love with this long sequence or find yourself getting distracted and hoping that it ends is the best way to tell how you’ll feel about the series as a whole. It should be easy to tell where I personally stand.
─ That scene sets the tone for an episode with sparse dialogue but full of fascinating details – up to the last sequence, where the wind returns to highlight in an elegant way just how much Akira misses the track club. I appreciate that an episode like this, which quietly deals with painful loss and unbreakable bonds, isn’t above some levity. Akira’s daily life is always sprinkled with amusing moments, but even the touching flashback that introduced the wind motif has a low-key hilarious detail in the form of Haruka’s little brother. His voice can be heard once during the memories with Akira she treasures so much, and his head even peeks into the corner of the screen at some point, but it’s given no attention whatsoever as this was from her POV and the only chase that mattered was her trying to keep up with Akira. If you wonder why he grew up to be such a cheeky sibling, Haruka brought this on herself.
─ Who should we thank for this contemplative masterpiece then? Besides the core staff that set this tone to begin with, this time the star is storyboarder and episode director Hiro Kaburagi. Neither his presence here nor his competence should be a surprise, but he honestly blew my expectations away. This I.G Port-affiliated director made a name for himself leading adaptations of series primarily aimed at women like Kimi ni Todoke, My Little Monster, and the first season of Hozuki, handling not just romance but comedy in a satisfying way. He happens to be a pupil of one of the most theatrical shonen anime directors: Kazuhiro Furuhashi, under whom he learned in the original Hunter x Hunter, leading to later collaborations on anime like Kenshin and Le Chevalier D’Eon. His influence is still noticeable in his staging sense, but I have to admit that despite enjoying his storyboards I wasn’t aware he could pull off muted greatness like this. It’s always good to keep in mind that even skilled directors can struggle to find the perfect canvas for them. Recently we’ve had positive examples as Land of the Lustrous’ team rose higher than ever, but also more bittersweet cases like this. While Kaburagi pulled arguably his strongest episode ever, his good friend Norihiro Naganuma (who worked as a promising assistant series director under him on all the previously mentioned shows) is acting as series director on WIT’s other current show The Ancient Magus’ Bride… and the less said about that lifeless adaptation, the better. Maybe the material didn’t suit Naganuma and a project later down the line will highlight his actual skills, or perhaps he simply doesn’t have the vision required for this role. I always insist on separating a director’s aptitude from the projects they’re entrusted with because I feel like that’s important if you want to truly hear their voice, but there’s no denying that it’s very tricky. It can take years to understand an anime director, and sometimes we never do.
─ When it comes to the animation there’s a clear main figure as well: Akiyo Okuda, who supervised the episode and drew a big chunk of key animation while she was at it. She’s a young animator who matured at Ghibli during the late stages of the studio, and perhaps because of her friendship with brilliant digital artist Atsuko Nozaki, she’s ended up working with WIT. A project like this won’t allow her to showcase her tremendous animation skills, but she’s still doing a good job as a regular contributor to the show. This episode is so far the one she put the most work in, and despite the obvious limitations when it comes to the movement she still made it feel special. Softer and delightfully expressive without feeling at odds with the usual refined work, this might be as pretty as After the Rain‘s character art gets.
Storyboard: Hideki Futamura
Episode Direction: Yuta Maruyama, Ayako Kouno, Yasuhiro Akamatsu
Chief Animation Direction: Satoshi Kadowaki
Animation Direction: Satoshi Kadowaki, Erika Nishihara, Akiyo Okuda
Key Animation: Mariko Goto, Yushi Hori, Miyuki Mori, Mineko Yagihara, Makoto Tsuruta, Kenji Nishikawa, Yukari Saka, Asami Aida, 万怡, Natsuki Shimabukuro, Kana Ito, Makiko Shinohara, Tomoyuki Oshita, Saori Koike, Sachiko Matsumoto, Naoko Takahashi, Michihiko Ozawa, Mayumi Nakamura, Tomomi Ikeda, Yuka Koiso
─ I can afford to be brief at this point in a lengthy post, but let me clearly state that this episode is also exceptional and worth digging into. The visceral end to Akira’s tender showcase of affection, the focus on the disorderly house as the manager tries to downplay his own qualities, their intimate embrace, and of course the way the weather is woven into this sentimental tale – this excellent episode is perfectly in line with the show’s style as a whole, but it still has enough personality to stand out as its own entity. This mostly comes down to storyboarder Hideki Futamura, quite the high-profile guest. His animation work on iconic 90s titles allowed him to start directing projects like the first half of the original Jojo OVAs, and over time he became an important asset of Studio 4ºC who mostly focused on non-standard productions and western collaborations. It had been 6 years since his previous storyboard on TV, back on episode #8 of Sakamichi no Apollon, so this really is a special occasion. Ayako Kouno also returned to direct the second half of the episode and made sure to draw out Akira’s feminine charm, meaning that Futamura’s boards were executed with as much finesse as it was required.
─ I’ll dedicate the final note to the episode’s main supervisor Satoshi Kadowaki. His role at Studio WIT hasn’t given him many chances to show the delicacy he developed at Kyoto Animation, but the very first scene in this episode proves he hasn’t lost his touch yet. Don’t let his often bold lines fool you – he can be quite the graceful artist! I can confidently say that this adaptation is in the right hands.