Animating Modern Nostalgia – Ranking of Kings / Ousama Ranking Production Notes

Animating Modern Nostalgia – Ranking of Kings / Ousama Ranking Production Notes

Many works nowadays try to manufacture skin-deep nostalgia, but by naturally evoking it, Ousama Ranking can afford to combine that authentic old-school flavor with many innovative modern techniques – as seen in its spectacular latest episode.

Much has occurred since we introduced Ousama Ranking and its production, yet nothing has fundamentally changed—consider that a testimony to its consistent quality and coherence, rather than a critique over a lack of fresh ideas. Studio WIT’s adaptation of this modern fairy tale, which serves as Yosuke Hatta’s directorial debut, has remained just as charming as it started thanks to a recipe that frankly needed no changes.

Its very subjective framing is still the perfect delivery mechanism for a series with the underlying moral of not judging others by their appearance and superficial traits, and smart tweaks in the series composition phase have reinforced the intrigue in the narrative. Some changes do come at the expense of the childlike ambiguity of the original work, but that’s what ultimately enables the TV show to have cool spectacle on the regular as well; and, with the likes of Arifumi Imai within your core staff, no one is going to fault that choice. Perhaps it’s not the unarguably definitive version of Ousama Ranking, but this anime adaptation is a nearly perfect execution of this new angle with which they’ve approached the story.

While the dazzling polish and tears you’re sure to shed during the first half of the show can mask any minor imperfections it may have had—who can tell if they’re there, it worked for me—the truth is that its downsides do become more apparent in its second cours, both as a story and as an adaptation. One of Ousama Ranking’s most fascinating aspects is its casually rich worldbuilding and the sheer abundance of unique settings; this is particularly effective in the anime, which treats viewers Yuji Kaneko’s stunning art direction in all sorts of distinct locations. During its early stages, the show casually breezed through different cultures, showcasing glimpses of a mythos that is much more intricate than the story needs to simply function. Its often nonchalant delivery—though never careless nor barebones—made its world’s customs all the more enchanting, especially the sinister ones that the series has no shortage of. As a viewer, it constantly left you wanting to know more about the setting, while also understanding that the magic would be lost if you had all the answers. Although the adaptation has emphasized the clarity of the story, it also understands the tremendous power of mystique.

That was, however, clearly not sustainable in the long run. With a story bound to get more stationary in the long run, the density of interesting new settings was going to decrease no matter what, and the series has even had some misses introducing new cultures. While the backgrounds illustrating those have remained just as beautiful, as Kaneko and his Aoshashin studio are some of the best in their business, the execution as a whole for this second batch of episodes has reduced both their polish and density of highs when compared to the first half; not dramatically so by any stretch, but enough that the casual viewer will still realize there haven’t been as many memorable sequences overall. A production that started with a sturdy staff rotation eventually became a classic case of studio WIT deploying essentially the entire team on a weekly basis to get things done, though admittedly it has never reached the sheer chaos of their Shingeki era. Now that their work is done, and despite things having got messier around the end, it’s easy to appreciate that the studio is still headed in the right direction, with somewhat more sensible management.

When all is said and done, Ousama Ranking is still an excellent work with painfully lovable characters, one that I would recommend to right about everyone. Even if its second cours hasn’t been as compelling as the perfect early stages, it has continued to stick to a formula that works while collecting plenty of emotional payouts, making for an overall very enjoyable experience; enviable results for what is supposed to be the series at its weakest. Many aspects of this adaptation will stick to me in the long run, but given the current state of commercial media, there is one that stands out among the rest: its effortless nostalgia, and how that allows them to combine its oldschool flavor with attractive modern techniques.

It’s no secret that we are in an era of farming for nostalgia. Remakes, reboots, and rehashes flood the markets with cynicism, good as some individual titles may be. In contrast to that, Ousama Ranking’s old-school flavor feels much more genuine. It’s a new title and a debut work at that, but it draws from decades past because the author’s unorthodox career didn’t bring him this opportunity until he was in his 40s. While it’s easy to see aesthetic similarities with the likes of Popolocrois Monogatari and earlier stylized works from the 90s, this simply happens to be the style that is synonymous with adventure for its creator, rather than a mechanism to manufacture nostalgia for a demographic that is now old enough to be profitable.

Even extending it to the anime adaptation, all creative choices in Ousama Ranking feel like coherent extensions of a singular vision, rather than goals in and of themselves; it’s a show that is never obsessed with looking a certain way, but rather does because it’s the natural outcome for its worldview. Even the more artificial aspects of its aesthetic feel perfectly justified, such as the digital grain. Although you can find instances where it’s slightly awkward, as it’s applied over character layers but only when they move—check how the grain freezes when he stops talking for a split second—it’s still a natural way to bring cohesion to the screen, matching the texture of the traditionally painted backgrounds.

By being so natural about the way it evokes that nostalgic feeling, the Ousama Ranking anime leaves itself plenty of room to pivot in the opposite direction, exploiting the potential of digital animation. There have been plenty of examples for this neat balance of old and new, though few as brilliant as the episodes led by the aforementioned Imai; especially #09, which happens to be the first time he fully directed and storyboarded an entire TV anime episode. As someone who made the transition from traditional to digital tools himself, and an expert at dynamic action at that, Imai created a field where modern three-dimensionality by artists like Itsuki Tsuchigami perfectly coexists with the traditional sense of impact evoked by Yoshimichi Kameda. All of that, while also being a prime example of the show’s overarching subjectivity in framing—he’s the assistant series director after all!

The most extreme example of mixing Ousama Ranking’s old-school foundations with modern techniques comes in the form of its second opening sequence, directed and storyboarded by the one and only Shingo Yamashita. While other early webgen stars like ryochimo have come to specialize in advancing the tech and contributing to the field on an almost ideological level, Yama’s invaluable work for Japan’s digital 2D animation is more pragmatic. His approach is all about elevating and refining the creative voices of those who surround him, to find specific applications of these new tools and create compelling works that will hopefully inspire others to do the same.

Just a couple years ago, Yama succeeded at that with his web series Pokemon Twilight Wings, where his gorgeous lighting perfectly synergized with the show’s understated focus on depicting an authentic world where these creatures and humans coexist; it’s one thing to write a scenario where Pokemon are an integral part of society, and another one to actually watch them both believably bathed by the same sunlight. Many storyboarders use reflections as an expression of longing, but few directors have come to grasp compositing that can turn the natural into ethereal with such grace. Even when these tools are already in the hands of many, it takes creators like Yama to show a potential that no tech demo can convey.

One of his fields of expertise for a long time has been the depiction of light in animation, and how to use that as a vehicle to convey intangibles like warmth. None of the techniques on display in his Ousama Ranking opening are all that new for him: dying lineart to emulate rim lighting, simulating other effects like refraction and light dust, it’s all part of his usual repertoire by now… and yet, it all comes together brighter than ever. In an often traitorous world, the most dazzling shots are those that focus on interpersonal warmth. While the show’s usual stylization may seem at odds with this intricate compositing on paper, the sheer beauty and fitting motifs allow Yama to get away with the digital spectacle. Even at its most extreme, Ousama Ranking has an incredible ability to mix old and new sensibilities.

When it comes to the show itself, though, no director has embodied that better than Shouta Goshozono—the individual in charge of the first meeting with Despa back in the seventh episode, and most recently the director, storyboarder, part animation supervisor, and key animator for episode #21. While he only has 3.5 episodes under his belt as a director, Gosso was known as a transformative presence even as a regular animator; someone who couldn’t just put together an impressive scene, but also do so in such a radically different way that you might as well have stepped into an entirely different title.

As many animation fans know, much of this is owed to his innovative usage of technology. In particular, it’s his mastery of 3D software like Blender and his willingness to craft his own assets that make his work so distinct; rough around the edges sometimes as experimentation tends to be, but with an undeniable ability to transport the viewer to a world of his own. Much like in Yama’s case, though, it’s as much on the toolset as it is in how to use it, and stepping up to directorial roles seems to have unlocked Gosso’s true potential. By giving him the ability to conceptualize entire episodes in those three-dimensional landscapes, the once purely bombastic shots now feel a lot more pointed, capable of illustrating mental states without losing any of that wow factor. Gosso has quickly figured out how to use that camerawork to dial up the tension at will, continuing to exploit the gravitas that the grand layouts grant him.

At the same time, his storyboarding is also improving its usage of imagery in a more traditional sense, which once again greatly benefits Ousama Ranking’s blend of animation eras. Be it twisting that three-dimensionality and subjective POV to foreshadow the arrival of a demon with an abstract spin to the animation, elegantly exposing a blood-stained past, putting you in the shoes of a loving brother, or simply highlighting the weaknesses that Bojji’s allies are rising up against, it’s clear that there’s more to Gosso‘s work than just using a new set of digital toys. It’s when those budding storyboarding sensibilities meet his grasp of a toolset that he’s been mastering for years that we begin to see what he’s really capable of as a director.

And, as anyone who has seen episode #21 can attest, his growth as a director isn’t coming at the cost of his knack for action spectacle. In between all the emotional payoffs, Gosso found time to put together a largely original setpiece that turned out to be the most thrilling piece of action in the entire show. A deluge of background animation that actually feels right at home with Ousama Ranking‘s old-school aesthetic, but with distinctly modern camerawork for an audience used to more dynamism. The focus on the scale is nothing new for the series, but no one had taken it to such extremes, let alone with such sturdy character art. You may argue that it’s excessive, completely over the top, and Gosso would simply nod and retort Isn’t the swordsmanship of a king cool, though? The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is yes. It’s cool, it’s nostalgic, it’s fresh—it’s Ousama Ranking in a nutshell.

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Episode 04

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Makoto Fuchigami
Chief Animation Director: Maki Kawake
Animation Direction: Wan Yi, Jiang Yong, Yoshihiro Maeda
Key Animation Supervision: Yosuke Yajima, Chisa Shibata

Episode 05

Storyboard: Tagashira Shinobu
Episode Direction: Masahiro Okamura
Assistant Episode Director: Yosuke Hatta, Arifumi Imai, Tomoko Hiramuki
Chief Animation Director: Atsuko Nozaki
Animation Direction: Hideyuki Arao, Natsuki Shimabukuro, Atsuko Nozaki, Shinya Kitamura, Tatsuo Kamiuto

Episode 06

Storyboard: Shintarou Nakazawa
Episode Direction: Hitomi Ezoe
Chief Animation Director: Maki Kawake
Animation Direction: Mai Ogawa, Mika Saito, Kaoru Maehara, Kumiko Nakata

Episode 07

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Shouta Goshozono
Chief Animation Director: Atsuko Nozaki
Animation Direction: Ayumi Abe, Shouta Goshozono, Atsuko Nozaki, Takuo Noda, Kumiko Nakata, Wan Yi, Natsuki Shimabukuro

Episode 08

Storyboard: Makoto Fuchigami
Episode Direction: Yumi Kamakura
Chief Animation Director: Maki Kawake
Animation Direction: Yukiko Watabe, Wu Yao, Tian Tang, Shunsuke Yamamura, Wakako Yoshida

Production Assistance: Production I.G

Episode 09

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Arifumi Imai
Chief Animation Director: Atsuko Nozaki
Animation Direction: Hideyuki Arao, Tomoyuki Kitamura, Rena Hiura, Atsuko Nozaki, Shin Ogasawara, Itsuki Tsuchigami, Kouki Fujimoto, Osamu Murata, Takeshi Maenami, spike, Hirofumi Masuda, Arifumi Imai, Shunsuke Aoki
Key Animation Supervision: Kumiko Nakatani, Chisa Shibata, Shinobu Ikakko

Episode 10

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Mai Teshima
Chief Animation Director: Maki Kawake
Animation Direction: Shunsuke Yamamura, Yuri Naminoue, Rena Hiura, Kaoru Maehara, Hisae Ikezu, Mika Saito
Key Animation Supervision: Mai Teshima, Ayaka Uwaseki, Ayaka Ofusa, Su-min Oh

Episode 11

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Ryota Aikei
Assistant Episode Director: Hitomi Ezoe
Chief Animation Director: Atsuko Nozaki
Animation Direction: Yuko Yamamoto, Tomoyuki Kitamura, Wan Yi, Guo Xinyuan, Kumiko Nakata, Rena Hiura, Yang Rui

Episode 12

Storyboard: Shinsaku Sasaki
Episode Direction: Makoto Fuchigami
Chief Animation Director: Maki Kawake
Animation Direction: Ayumi Abe, Natsuki Shimabukuro, Jung Eun Chae, Aya Nishimura, Shinya Kitamura,

Episode 13

Storyboard: Masayuki Miyaji
Episode Direction: Chihiro Kumano, Atsushi Nakagawa
Chief Animation Director: Atsuko Nozaki
Animation Direction: Masaru Oshiro, SNIPES, Hideyuki Arao, Yuji Kawauchi
Assistant Animation Director: Aya Nishimura, Tatsuo Kamiuto, Ayaka Uwaseki

Episode 14

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Yumi Kamakura
Chief Animation Director: Maki Kawake
Animation Direction: Wakako Yoshida, Hisako Shimozuma, Mariko Ishikawa, ChiaWei Weng, Yang Rui, Ai Watanabe, Tian Tang

Production Assistance: Production I.G

Episode 15

Storyboard: Shinsaku Sasaki
Episode Direction: Hitomi Ezoe
Chief Animation Director: Tomoyo Kamoi
Animation Direction: Mai Ogawa, Tomoyuki Kitamura, Tomoyo Kamoi, Kaoru Maehara, Ayaka Ofusa, Nao Takano

Episode 16

Storyboard: Yoshiki Kitai, Mai Teshima, Youko Kanamori
Episode Direction: Mai Teshima
Assistant Episode Director: Naoki Murata
Chief Animation Director: Maki Kawake, Atsuko Nozaki
Animation Direction: Wan Yi, Yuko Yamamoto, SNIPES, Jung Eun Chae, Ayaka Ofusa, Yuki Togashi, Hideyuki Arao, Su-min Oh, Why Is Ayaka Ofusa Credited Again
Key Animation Supervision: Natsuki Shimabukuro, Kumiko Nakata, Mika Saito, Kaoru Maehara

Episode 17

Storyboard: Hiroaki Shimura
Episode Direction: Tomoko Hiramuki, Mitsutoshi Sato, Atsushi Nakagawa
Assistant Episode Director: Hitomi Ezoe, Naoki Murata
Chief Animation Director: Atsuko Nozaki
Animation Direction: Masaru Oshiro, Ayumi Abe, Yuko Yamamoto, Aya Nishimura, Yuji Kawauchi, Kumiko Nakata
Key Animation Supervision: Mika Saito, Kaoru Maehara

Episode 18

Storyboard: Shintarou Nakazawa
Episode Direction: Makoto Fuchigami, Mitsutoshi Sato, Hitomi Ezoe
Chief Animation Director: Maki Kawake
Animation Direction: Ayaka Ofusa, Hideyuki Arao, Mai Ogawa, Tomoyo Kamoi, Jung Eun Chae, Yuki Togashi, Kumiko Nakata, Ayaka Uwaseki, Maki Kawake, SNIPES
Key Animation Supervision: Mika Saito, Yuri Naminoue

Episode 19

Storyboard: Atsushi Takahashi
Episode Direction: Arifumi Imai
Chief Animation Director: Atsuko Nozaki
Animation Direction: Wan Yi, Aya Nishimura, Natsuki Shimabukuro, Ayumi Abe, Yuko Yamamoto, Tomoyuki Kitamura, Masaru Oshiro, Shin Ogasawara
Key Animation Supervision: Youko Kuji, Yuri Naminoue

Episode 20

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Yumi Kamakura
Chief Animation Director: Maki Kawake
Animation Direction: Masaaki Sakurai, Satoshi Nagura, Wakako Yoshida, Mariko Ishikawa, Ai Watanabe

Production Assistance: Production I.G

Episode 21

Storyboard, Episode Direction, Animation Direction: Shouta Goshozono
Assistant Episode Director: Hiroyuki Tanaka
Chief Animation Director: Atsuko Nozaki
Animation Direction: Jung Eun Chae, Hideyuki Arao, Yuko Yamamoto, Tomoyo Kamoi, Takuo Noda, Natsuki Shimabukuro, Atsuko Nozaki, Su-min Oh, Yuji Kawauchi, Itsuki Tsuchigami, Hirofumi Masuda
Key Animation Supervision: Mika Saito, Youko Kuji

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8 months ago

Episode 21 was incredible, it was one of the best pieces of animation I have watched and in the same time the story takes a very interesting turn. Do you have any information about the sync between the manga and the anime ? The anime is ahead of the manga, does the mangaka gives the story to the studio ?

John Doe
John Doe
8 months ago
Reply to  mayday

The manga has barely been translated in English, but it’s still ahead of the anime. I searched yesterday and it seems the anime has covered 70% of the manga published currently. It’s available in Japanese and Korean, maybe Chinese idk. I assume they’ll finish the arc, and (hopefully?) make another season in a future.