Twilight Wings: A Labor Of Love By The Pokemon Generation

Twilight Wings: A Labor Of Love By The Pokemon Generation

Let’s dig into Pokemon Twilight Wings: the simply stunning production, the beautiful exercise in storytelling efficiency, and the secret at the core of it all—a young team channeling their childhood memories. This is what a labor by the Pokemon generation looks like.

Right off the bat, Pokemon: Twilight Wings is an oddity. After all, very few franchises had been walled off the rest of the anime industry as efficiently as Pokemon was. This isn’t to say that everyone’s favorite creatures were animated by a secret cabal of in-house artists, as relying on freelance talent is the norm even for this franchise, but the very rigorous management and consistency when it comes to the production and format allowed it to exist on a space of its own. A special position that allows it to, for example, maintain the sturdiest production buffer in TV anime while at the same time mostly avoiding leaks that millions of fans would die for; mostly meaning that someone was definitely yelled at for allowing the design sheets for Sun & Moon’s fully evolved starter Pokemon to make their way out before an official reveal. But rare exceptions aside, we’re dealing with a tightly controlled franchise that operates in very specific ways.

As it turns out, though, even a massive monolithic IP must change somewhat when the internet goes and changes the consumption habits of entire generations. While the backbone of Pokemon anime still remains unchanged, the franchise has given a spin to different methodologies, formats, and tones over the last few years—and yet, all of these previous attempts look like timid experimentation when compared to Twilight Wings. We’re talking about a prestige production by an entirely new team away from OLM, the studio that has handled essentially everything up to this point, promoting the latest hit in the series with an approach to its animation incomparable to any previous Pokemon iteration. Even Generations, the neat 2016 web anthology that comes closest to Twilight Wings’ departure from the norm, had to content itself with less relevant material and a production managed by OLM despite much of the work being done at various IG Port studios. On paper, these were the perfect ingredients for the most refreshing take on the series. And in practice, they’ve been.

With a team at Studio Colorido led by none other than Shingo “Yama” Yamashita and a very manageable runtime—about 45 minutes total—it’s no wonder that Twilight Wings offers a consistent level of precision when it comes to the animation and compositing that not even theatrical Pokemon projects can compete with. The focus of Yama’s career for the last decade has precisely been demolishing the wall between those two steps of the production process; one with very traditional roots despite all the new tools you can use to animate these days, and another that represents the nearly infinite potential of digital animation… but also turns the source of much friction due to inefficient pipelines.

Thanks to his dedication to that goal, and of course his own diverse skillset, Yama has become the type of director all artists love to work with. Those on the animation side know that he’ll grasp exactly what they had envisioned for with any given shot and enhance its impact tenfold, while the supporting digital artists get to learn and innovate alongside someone who truly believes they’re integral to the process. This translates into animation that constantly feels like it’s presented in the most attractive way it possibly could, be it the quieter instances of character acting or the grandest clash possible.

And, when it comes to Twilight Wings, that beauty is very much purposeful. In Yama’s eyes, the universe of Pokemon had to be vast and diverse even in a series set tangibly in one specific place; with room for all sorts of situations and tones, meaning that relying on a uniform type of stunning visuals wouldn’t have done the trick either. And how do you make sure that your entire team nails the mood when every episode is aiming for a different style? As it turns out, one of Studio Colorido’s preferred practices can be a great way to address that. Their teams often go out their way to contact excellent concept artists to paint what’s called a color script: an additional step after the storyboard that doesn’t necessarily depict every event with the same thoroughness as your standard anime blueprints, but conversely showcases the precise mood in key moments.

With that in mind, the role of Mizutamari Higashi—whose illustrations you can see during the credit rolls—in establishing the diverse atmospheres that comprise the world of Twilight Wings can’t be understated, though it’s again Yama and his team who take it to the next level. Twilight Wings is an anthology where the character beats in very concise arcs are often tied to dazzling depictions of the setting, and without Yama’s unmatched understanding of light and warmth in 2D animation, you could never have a series that succeeds in doing that for such a wide emotional gamut. For one, Bea’s quest to notice the kindness that surrounds her being represented by her finally noticing the beauty of the cave she’s trapped in is the kind of moment that wouldn’t fly if they didn’t look genuinely stunning. Which is to say: you must be as talented as he is to make something this cheesy have an effect.

Given the focus of Twilight Wings as a whole, perhaps the most illustrative example of Yama’s compositing finesse directly reinforcing the character writing is the expert usage of reflections. At the core of this story, there are a couple of original characters: John and Tommy, two sickly kids stuck in a hospital with the seemingly impossible dream to stand in the same stage as the Galar Champion Leon. Their longing is constantly underlined by familiar imagery like extended hands trying to grasp forward, while it’s the aforementioned reflections that highlight the stark contrast between their positions and the Champion’s. Classic visual concepts that are actually a nightmare to execute perfectly… unless you happen to have a team with that ability to bathe scenes in lighting that somehow feels naturalistic and ethereal at the same time, as well as the animation technique to create a believable feeling of volume from any angle. Having as limited of a runtime as Twilight Wings does, every scene needs to leave a strong impression—and that they do.

Throughout Twilight Wings, Studio Colorido regulars and Yama’s own acquaintances take turns to highlight different aspects of the Galar region’s Pokemon experience. The episodes revolve around one main character from Pokemon Sword & Shield at a time, each with their inner turmoil, a befitting tone, and even their own model of storytelling. Some involve a short but well-realized arc of character growth, like the aforementioned quest of self-discovery for Bea in episode #02—produced by Colorido’s sort-of-sibling studio FILMONY that recently closed down—as well as Nessa coming to the realization that she doesn’t want to give up on either side of her professional career throughout episode #04. With Yama directly at the helm of that one, it’s no surprise that the drawings give such a clear look into Nessa’s headspace, and that the character animation does the heavy lifting that enables the efficient characterization.

In contrast to those, episodes like Yoh Watanabe’s #05 stand out from a pure storytelling perspective. There is no positive inner growth for Oleana throughout the years that this episode spans, but rather a change in her surroundings that allows her to feel more comfortable, even if she’d even say it out loud. Even the episode’s art style, with uniquely geometric drawings courtesy of Moaang and co-producing studio Makaria, isn’t afraid to do its own thing; and good thing it isn’t, because Moaang’s ability to imply volume with such stylized animation is second to none.

Despite this stylistic diversity, the show succeeds in making it all feel like part of the same whole thanks to the recurring motifs—most notably the Corviknight taxis that even the title alludes to—and the smart series composition. Look no further than the third episode: the storyboarding and direction debut for Masato Takeuchi, who went freelance after spending all his career thus far at TRIGGER (dragging into this project some SSSS.Gridman animators in the process, incidentally). Compared to the nuanced psyche of other central characters, Twilight Wing’s Hop can appear somewhat simplistic, but as Yama explained, that’s by design as well. Not only did he feel like the right character to represent the uncompromising, anime-like brightness that he thinks Pokemon also needs room for, but it allowed him to underline the seemingly insurmountable wall in front of John by making Hop watch the same Leon match with an entirely different atmosphere to the scene. Even the episode with an essentially different worldview plays a role in making the overarching narrative click.

And that brings us to another point worth noting: not content with fleshing out Sword & Shield’s cast and the very region of Galar more effectively than a much longer game ever did, Twilight Wings also manages to make the narrative surrounding its original characters compelling on its own right. Much like the series as a whole, the tale of John and Tommy is a multilayered one that you can engage with on different levels… so much so, that most viewers don’t seem to have caught onto the detail that recontextualizes the entire plot—without hurting the message in the process, I might add. Since Yama has chosen not to spell it out, I won’t do it either, but let’s just say that a rewatch after revisiting episode #06 might allow you to see the whole thing with different eyes.

Given how much justice Twilight Wings does not just to Pokemon as a franchise, but specifically to the world of Sword & Shield, one of the biggest surprises with this project was the reveal that the staff didn’t get to play the game beforehand; at least not before drafting every major point, which were all based on the notes about the cast and setting they’d been given. Their ability to frankly put to shame the characterization in the game itself despite the limited runtime and having had limited access to the source material, while at the same time adding a compelling multilayered narrative of their own, speaks highly of everyone involved. But is that it all? Isn’t there something else that simply makes it feel right as an adaptation?

For all the criticisms I may have about the flimsy writing in Pokemon Sword & Shield, that’s a game that spoke to my child self like no modern entry in the series has. And that’s because the addition of the so-called Wild Area—a massive interconnected field where Pokemon roam in the open—was a genuine game-changer. Its mere existence encourages adventure, but it’s the possibility to come across creatures way stronger than your team that had me glued to the screen for the first few hours. These moments brought to mind childhood memories of Pokemon encounters that felt truly monumental as a kid. Seeing monsters that I didn’t just perceive as cool on a conceptual level, but actually got a visceral reaction out of me. What at the time was the product of novelty and a child’s almighty imagination, Sword & Shield was able to spark again with a bit of smart game design. And as it turns out, that’s the same energy Twilight Wings was out to garner.

In an interview we’ve translated alongside this piece, series director Yamashita fondly reminisces about his childhood as someone who was very much part of the Pokemon generation; emphasizing not just how big the franchise was at the time, but talking about the—perhaps accidental—sensory experience that made some encounters in the game so memorable for him. And Yama wasn’t alone there. His assistant Watanabe also chipped in to talk about similar memories, as well as the social event that Pokemon was during its first boom. Sou Kinoshita, the rookie scriptwriter who penned the whole series, shared similar memories of growing up addicted to Pokemon’s first iterations, which felt like more than a videogame. Right about every key staff member who was asked had similar nostalgic sentiments, and I’m sure you’d find many more stories like that if you asked the entire team. Although this is obviously not the first time we’ve seen big fans of the franchise work on a Pokemon-related anime, looking at Twilight Wings as the product of the Pokemon generation channeling their nostalgia made it all click.

This is particularly obvious in the episodes storyboarded by Yama himself, which directly appeal to the sensory experience that defined his childhood memories of Pokemon. The majesty that some creatures exude, and the feeling of scale inherent to the Galar Pokemon experience. All the first person and over the shoulder sequences he made sure to include in his episodes, giving us an immersive taste of what riding on a Pokemon would be like. Even John’s frustrations, which are represented by an inability to touch his dream. But in the midst of the series’ climax, once he does fulfill it, wind dramatically blows back his hair—like Yama could swear he felt when facing Pidgeot as a kid.

Although none of this would have a fraction of its impact without the animation finesse and storytelling efficiency that this team has proved to have, those childhood memories buried at the core of Twilight Wings might be the reason why the series spoke so strongly to me. The reason why, despite being meant as a commercial for a fairly new product (and succeeding at that), it manages to feel curiously nostalgic. At their best, both Sword & Shield and Twilight Wings are a reminder of a time where Pokemon felt like more than collectible creatures in a game—the main difference being that Twilight Wings operates at its best for essentially its whole runtime. If you hold memories like that, even if you feel like you’ve fallen out of love with the series over the years, I encourage you to give this series a try. When it comes to Pokemon anime, there’s nothing quite like it.

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Episode 01

Concept Art, Color Script: Mizutamari Higashi
storyboard, Episode Direction: Shingo Yamashita
Animation Direction: Takaomi Shinoda, Tomohiro Takano
Assistant Animation Director: Masanao Murayama, Jun Uemura, Akihiro Nagae

Key Animation: Lay-duce
Soichiro Sako, Kazutoshi Inoue

Mai Fujiwara, Huang Chieh, Hsieh wan Chien, MYOUN, Yuki Ishii, Ayane Nakamura, Satomi Tanigaki, Paul Williams

2nd KA: Shiori Hosaka, Kentaro Kurisaki, Aimi Ishibashi, Yuki Onuma, Sayumi Kurumaya, Tomoko Tamaki, Hiroki Takenaka, Mitsuho Seta, Hideyoshi Furihata, Maiko Ochiai

Episode 02

Concept Art, Color Script: Mizutamari Higashi
storyboard, Episode Direction: Yojiro Arai
Animation Direction: Huang Chieh, Atsushi Tamura, Yojiro Arai
Assistant Animation Director: Takaomi Shinoda

Key Animation: Huang Chieh, Atsushi Tamura, Hanabushi (Koudai Watanabe), Ao Fujimori, Chinatsu Kanai, Tomoko Tamaki, Hiroki Takenaka, MYOUN, Yojiro Arai

Soichiro Sako

Chiaki Kanno, Yuka Yoshioka, Sanae Takahashi, Mai Asakawa, Masumi Amao

2nd KA: Aimi Ishibashi, Yuki Onuma, Sayumi Kurumaya, Yuki Ishii, Mitsuho Seta, Kanako Sakaguchi, Chinatsu Kanai, Satomi Tanigaki

Production Assistance: FILMONY

Episode 03

Concept Art, Color Script: Mizutamari Higashi
storyboard, Episode Direction, Production Management: Masato Takeuchi
Animation Direction: Norie Igawa

Key Animation: Norie Igawa, Hideki Nakagawa, Kenta Yokoya, Mitsuho Seta

2nd KA: Mai Tsutsumi, Yuki Ishi, Chinatsu Kanai

Episode 04

Concept Art, Color Script: Mizutamari Higashi
storyboard, Episode Direction: Shingo Yamashita
Animation Direction: Sunao Chikaoka

Key Animation: Lay-duce Animation Department
Kazutoshi Inoue

Hitomi Kariya, Yuta Kiso, Bahi JD, Yukie Nishimura, Satomi Tanigaki, Chinatsu Kanai

Twin Engine Digital Department
Yuki Ishii, Yoshimitsu Ohashi

2nd KA: Yukie Nishimura, Chinatsu Kanai, Yuka Masuda

Twin Engine Digital Department
Yuki Ishii

Episode 05

Concept Art, Color Script: Mizutamari Higashi
storyboard, Episode Direction: Yoh Watanabe
Animation Direction: Moaang

Key Animation: MYOUN, Moaang, Miyaso, Kerorira (Kiyoki Rikuta), Masaki Hayano, RAS, bk, Kazunori Minagawa, Keigo Sugiyama

2nd KA: Kentaro Kurisaki, Yuka Masuda, Daisui Udagawa

Lim Ji-hyun, Kim Hye-soo, Kim Kwan-woo

Yusuke Yamamoto

Production Assistance: Makaria

Episode 06

Concept Art, Color Script: Mizutamari Higashi

storyboard, Episode Direction: Erkin Kawabata
Animation Direction: Hitomi Kariya

Key Animation: Mitsuho Seta, Norie Igawa, Yukie Nishimura, Yuka Masuda, Eiji Tamari, Huang Chieh, Hitomi Kariya, Akira Matsui, futafusa, Shiori Mizutani

2nd KA: Daisui Udagawa, Chinatsu Kanai

studio daisy
Yuki Ishii

Ayumi Ito

Creators in Pack

Episode 07

Concept Art, Color Script: Mizutamari Higashi
storyboard, Episode Direction: Shingo Yamashita
Animation Direction: Sunao Chikaoka
Assistant Animation Director: Akihiro Nagae, Huang Chieh

Key Animation: Yuka Masuda, Yuta Kiso, Saki Yamada, Hsieh Wan Chien, Akihiro Nagae, Odashi, Seta Mitsuho, Mai Fujiwara, Yukie Nishimura, Hidek Nakagawa, Eri Irei, Yoshimitsu Ohashi, Takuya Miyahara, Yuki Ishii, Mametarou Ginnan, Golgo (Weilin Zhang), Takaomi Shinoda

2nd KA: Chinatsu Kanai, Ayumi Ito, Yuta Shimamoto, Satomi Tanigaki

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