Written by Sarcataclysmal
So here we are again, this time looking at Legend of the Galactic Heroes (LotGH) production later years, and its other films. I forgot to mention this last time, but we are focusing on the DVD version of the series –that is found on HiDive– and not the LaserDisc version (which has substantially different animation sometimes). It’s also worth mentioning that the source for all of this is the ending credits to the series itself unless otherwise stated. With that said, onto the second film.
Between seasons 2 and 3, the folks over at Magic Bus were given the opportunity to animate two films– one, a prequel, and two, a remake/extended version of the first few episodes of the OVA series. Admittedly, I’ve only seen the first film, so I can’t say anything regarding the third film other than listing the staff, for the most part.
The Second Movie (1992)
The first film, Golden Wings, is substantially different from everything else in the series. My friend refers to it as boring, and it seems to be a running gag among the LotGH community that it’s just not a good entry in the franchise. And… Well, I won’t talk much about my own opinion, but let’s talk about why it’s different.
Pretty much the whole staff is different, to put it bluntly. Tomoki Hasegawa composed the film’s score, and he wasn’t involved with the OVA series or the prior film; the screenplay was written by Kazumi Koide, who didn’t work on the series either; and then you have the main staff: Yuuji Ikeda served as character designer and animation director (he worked on the series but on season 3, not prior to this film), and Keizou Shimizu (remember that guy who was chief animation director for a few episodes?) was the director, without any involvement from Noboru Ishiguro.
Now, let’s look at Ikeda first. First of all, Yuuji Ikeda is two people– here I’m talking about the character designer, but in the industry, there exists an art director by the same name who was, coincidentally, an art director on an episode of LotGH. Ikeda would be a reoccurring factor in Magic Bus’ adaptations, and he ended up being the character designer for the third film, as well as the final season of Gaiden. His style is a lot more shoujo-esq than that of his predecessors (Hisatoshi Motoki and Kazunari Kume). Prior to this film, his only character design work had been as a sub-character designer on an OVA produced by Magic Bus called Boyfriend, itself a shoujo manga. So, already, the characters look way different from any prior parts of the series, even Tomonori Kogawa’s episode (episode 7). And, well, not a lot of people are fans of the character designs here, I’ll say that. Ikeda’s work as animation director is, at the very least, consistent; while his designs might not be anything like Motoki’s or Kume’s, the film format allowed him to correct most things, and it’s overall a good looking film once you look past animation style preference. Up to this point, the film actually does have some of the best animation in the series, too.
Keizou Shimizu, on the other hand, is someone who had only been a series/film director (referring to the 監督 credit) once before, that being on Magic Bus’ Tobira wo Akete in 1986. He has more experience as an animator, animation director, mechanical designer, and storyboard artist, and he’s done a little bit more episode/unit directing, but this was his first BIG project. Shimizu is directly influenced by none other than Osamu Dezaki (the brother of Satoshi Dezaki, founder of Magic Bus), whose legacy remains eternal through his direct descendants like Yoshio Takeuchi (Space Fantasia 2001 Nights) and Junji Nishimura (Vlad Love, Ranma ½), as well as his influences to contemporary directors like Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Penguindrum) and Akiyuki Shinbo (The SoulTaker, supervisor of SHAFT’s works). Thereby, his style feels a lot more like Osamu Dezaki than it does Noboru Ishiguro, which isn’t a bad thing, nor is it necessarily a good thing. Unfortunately, despite its one-hour runtime, Shimizu and Koide aren’t really able to make the most of this prequel setting, and it feels a bit like wasted potential, in my opinion at least.
The Third Movie (1993)
I’m going to be very brief on this one for the aforementioned reason that I haven’t seen it. This movie, titled Overture to a New War, has a lot of the same staff as the prior film, like Shimizu directing and Ikeda as character designer and animation director. However, it seems as though Shimao Kawanaka came back from the series to write the script, and it even had Kenichi Maejima as unit director (he worked a lot on season 2) and Ishiguro himself as assistant unit director. And, as far as I’m aware, it’s much more positively received than Golden Wings. That’s pretty much all I have to say for it.
LotGH Season 3 – Crumbling Production (Episodes 55-86)
So this is where things at LotGH started to get a bit wacky. Kitty Film Mitaka Studio returned, as expected, to produce the series, and they outsourced every episode to some degree again, fantastic. But since 1992, the first film, a number of issues were now hindering Kitty Films, and they were becoming worse as time went on. The following is information taken from the Japanese Wikipedia, as well as generally tracking people’s work histories (through anime credits, of course).
In April of 1992, producer Shigekazu Ochiai quit Kitty Films and transferred to Pao House (then called Argo Project). Ochiai was heavily involved in anime production, and he was responsible for doing a lot of planning on series owned by Kitty Films like Urusei Yatsura, Ranma ½, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes. I’m not sure if it’s correct, but it seems that he was to be replaced in his position by Youko Takahashi, a producer involved in other Kitty Films works like Maison Ikkoku, but she seems to have left that same year and gone to Nihon Ad Systems (NAS; a subsidiary of Asatsu, now Asatsu-DK). The same year –and what is likely the catalyst for Ochiai and Takahashi leaving the company– Hidenori Taga, the company’s founder, retired from all management responsibilities in the group due to alleged misconduct. Misconduct of what? I’m not sure, but he quit management of anime productions afterwards and wasn’t credited again in an anime until 1999, and has recently been credited as a planning assistant on the LotGH remake. That’s the behind-the-scenes at Kitty Films, for now.
Things get a bit more hectic, but I’ll save that for season 4. To cope with all of the inside issues, and production issues with the production companies, a few things changed once again. For one, Magic Bus would no longer take up most of the LotGH production work. Instead, they would do two episodes, and then hand a third off to Artland, and do that on repeat, with the only exception being the second episode, which was given to Artland. Next, Masatoshi Tahara wasn’t involved with this season as a director. Thirdly, Keizou Shimizu himself acted as character designer, chief animation director, and assumed a series directorial role on the series. Although the latter credit he’s given (アニメーションディレクター) directly translates to “animation director”, there’s an interview with Shimizu on the series’ official website (ginei.jp) where he states that the job is more like a bridge between Ishiguro and the animation team, and that he had a role in checking storyboards, layouts, and other things a series director usually does. Ishiguro stayed as chief director, and Kawanaka stayed as the sole scriptwriter.
Moderate spoiler warning for the next paragraph.
Season 3 isn’t awfully produced, but it certainly doesn’t look good all the time. Whether it’s Magic Bus or Artland, it tends to sometimes be downright bad. Let’s take an episode… 82, for example. Or, let me put it this way: let’s take the episode in which Yang Wen-Li is ambushed by the Earth cult while on his way to meet Reinhard. This whole episode is written masterfully, its storyboarding is rather decent, and it’s directed well. It is an excellent episode, and a testament to the craft of the series– I love this episode. The final shot is one of the most notable shots in the entire series. But, the rest of it doesn’t look that good. The fight sequences, and even the normal sequences, suffer from occasionally bad layouts, stiff animation, and even as a fan of Osamu Dezaki and other minimalists in animation, the limited animation here looks pretty bad and doesn’t work. It moves janky, the characters are inconsistently drawn, and so forth. As a side note, the ending to this episode itself may actually be directly inspired by the ending to Tomorrow’s Joe, a series directed by the aforementioned Osamu Dezaki.
It’s a good episode. It’s not bad, and bad visuals aren’t enough to detract from the series when it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen or so jarringly distracting that it becomes the only part worth mentioning, it’s just more of a shame that it wasn’t able to look as good as it was written, in my opinion, of course. And that kind of defines all of LotGH season 3: a fantastic season, with muddled production values a majority of the time, despite a few ambitious ideas now and then. An unfortunate circumstance, but that’s history.
As a bonus to those who know me, it’s time to talk about where my expertise lies: every few episodes from episode 64 to 85 involved studio SHAFT of Monogatari, Madoka Magica, and Nisekoi fame. Depending on the episode, they were responsible for doing some in-between animation, key animation, or coloring/painting work for both of the main studios. Why is this relevant? We’ll get to that in season 4.
To be continued…
Follow Sarcataclysmal on Twitter
Special thanks to Slad.
Read Part 3.
Visit Legend of the Galactic Heroes official website.
You can watch both the LoTGH OVA anime series on HiDive.
©Yoshiki Tanaka, Tokuma Shoten, Tokuma Japan Communications, Wright Staff, Suntory