New to the Site? Click Here for a Primer!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Violinist of Hameln: Slideshow, Slideshow #9, on the Imagawa Line...

Generally when a manga is made into an anime it's meant to be as accurate to the original source material as possible; on rare occasion it's a radical departure. On even rarer occasions, though, the anime is accurate yet a radical departure at the same time. The TV series adaptation of Violinist of Hameln is one of these super-rare cases, as it's nothing like the movie that came a few months before it. From a production standpoint 99.9% is different, from director to animation studio to even the entire voice cast, only Kouhei Tanaka returns for the music, but even from a storytelling perspective the TV series is radically altered from Michiaki Watanabe's original manga. Whereas the manga was a comical fantasy gag adventure, the TV series is a generally darker & dead serious tale, though it apparently is still accurate to the general plot of the manga; the anime adapts roughly the first 10 volumes. With something so radically altered yet still accurate does that mean it's bad or good? Well, when you have an iconic director making his debut as series composer with this show the end result should be worth watching regardless, right?

Fifteen years ago, Queen Horn of the Duchy of Sforzando was able to end the war between humans & demons by creating a magical barrier that turned all demons within it to stone, forcing them to retreat to the Northern Capital. Hell King Bass, one of the demon's Warlords, even beheaded himself when his body started petrifying, though he still lives by possessing a young boy. As a precaution, though, Horn had her baby daughter sent away so that she could live a normal life should anything go wrong. Unfortunately, Horn's barrier has finally weakened & Bass decides to go after her daughter, who has grown up to be the young girl Flute in the village of Staccato. To protect Flute, though, is her friend Hamel, who can use musical magic by way of his giant violin. The two decide to journey to Sforzando, Flute to reunite with her estranged mother & Hamel to learn more about his past, as he suffers from amnesia & has started growing a horn on his head.

One of the biggest changes from the movie that came before this is in the characters, which are all complete alterations from their original portrayals. The most jarring is easily Hamel, who has none of the jerkiness & self-indulging that he originally had. Here he's a mostly-quiet young man who simply is both wanting to learn about his true nature while also being both confused & hesitant about the "two paths" he eventually remembers his mother, Pandora, telling him will be put in front of him. When emotionally pulled, though, Hamel also shows an almost scary level of anger, which still feels so opposite of his gag-oriented origins. In turn, Flute has no need to react angrily to Hamel's rudeness nor is she the "butt monkey", with the end result being a heroine who recognizes her own weaknesses but still feels like she's simply following a fate that's been thrust upon her. Raiel the pianist is showcased in much more important fashion here than in the movie, being a link to Hamel's past; they were friends before the massacre of their hometown resulted in Hamel coming to Staccato. Raiel has his own dedication to finding out who killed his family & hometown, and through lessons learned by Pandora he too can use "magic music" like Hamel, making him just about as useful as his friend.

There are also new characters to talk about, as they weren't in the movie at all. Traveling with Hamel & the gang to Sforzando is Trom Bone, the young prince of "Sword Country" Dal Segno that acts as the protectorate of Sforzando. He's a headstrong but untrained boy who quickly has to learn to be a true successor to his parents. In Sforzando there are Queen Horn, the Net siblings Clari (High Priest of the land) & Corn, & (essentially) third-in-command Percuss, who don't exactly get major development (though Clari & Corn get something) but work just fine. With the demons we have the four Warlords: the commanding Hell King Bass, the "attack first, ask questions never" Dragon King Drum, the sly & clever Warrior King Guitar, & the fallen angel Hawk King (even though she's female) Sizer. Yes, Sizer (who is one of Hamel's allies in the movie) does in fact debut in the proper story as a villain, but it's quickly established that she isn't actually a demon & she is even quicker to act on her own if need be, even directly messing with Drum often to agitate him. What's great about the Warlords is that all of them work excellently in regards to their general character types, with Bass the seeming-omnipotent de facto leader, Drum being extremely powerful but easily agitated, Guitar always trying to think one step ahead & ready to retreat when it's best, & Sizer being a true loner. The main goal of the demons is to find the "Successor" of their grand lord, Demon King Chestra, and these four do give a great sense of dread, especially when it's quickly shown that Hamel & the others are mostly outmatched by them in battle.

In fact, the biggest change of all from the movie (& manga, in turn) is the absolute lack of comedy. This is an outright serious & dark tale, and it works extremely well. If the horn detail didn't exactly give it away, Hamel is half demon & it's that simple fact that drives the climax of the first half of the show, which is the journey to Sforzando & an epic battle with Drum. In a neat showcase of grey morality, Horn & her people come off nearly as ruthless as the demons by being extremely wary of Hamel simply because of his demon blood. This does result in an extremely dramatic & well done finale to Hamel's initial character arc, though, especially when it makes you wonder who the real "evil" is: The demon's who are unabashed in their goal of destroying humanity but are willing to accept Hamel as one of their own, or the people that Hamel brought Flute to in the first place yet are hesitant to trust our lead simply because of his origins. Tragedy is a big part of nearly everyone's backstory, and it's very potently delivered. There's even one scene where Flute suffers from a trauma attack after worrying about Raiel & Trom facing off against Drum & Sizer, and you really feel for Flute in that instance. There are two comedic scenes in the first half (in episodes 2 & 4), but they actually feel so out of place in comparison to how dark the show itself is, and afterwards comedy is removed entirely. Overall, this show is amazingly well done from a character & story perspective in the first half, complete with tight pacing, that it feels like a complete shown unto itself.

After episodes 13 & 14 act as a transition from the "First Movement" to the Second, the show shifts into a new story. One year has passed & circumstances have left Hamel, Flute, & Oboe on their own to search for Pandora's Box, which unleashed the demons from their divine sealing. Raiel gets involved after a few episodes, but what's most interesting about this "Second Movement" is the change in dynamics. First, Sizer is given a major role here, whereas she only had occasional appearance in the first half, and it's just great to see her get more screentime, as she commands it excellently. Second, a third group is introduced via the Republic of Slur, ruled by King Cittern, which was thought to have been destroyed completely 10 years prior by a young Sizer. In actuality, Slur spent their time creating a giant army of mech-esque golems & have decided to destroy demonkind themselves by any means necessary. Third, the story slows down very much, focusing more on mood & emotion than fantasy & adventure; even magic music isn't used nearly as often in this half. On the flip side, though, this half is all about character relationships & personal reasons, not to mention the dark & serious nature of the show is put into overdrive here. It never goes into outright depressing, but there's always a sense of distrust & personal anger permeating in this half. The last four episodes in particular are filled with all sorts of personal revelations & surprises.

But what of the magic music itself? In the movie the most we saw was Hamel's marionette versions, but in this series we see much more than that, and each of them differs based on the piece of classical music performed. Mozart's "Requiem" (complete with Dies Irae portion) puts the souls of the dead to rest, Tchaikovsky's "Nutcrakcer Suite" is a marionette version that lets those on death's door strengthen up one last time, while "Swan Lake" allows Hamel & Raiel to summon giant water swans. Rossini's "William Tell Overture" allows Hamel to manipulate swords, Sizer can use Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" to stop enemies dead in their tracks, and there are a good few others worth the surprise. The only real odd thing, though, is that everyone knows every one of these songs by name & original composer, which is likely just meant to be a bit of narrative convenience but is still kind of weird. Hell, even the eyecatch music, of which there about six, are all classical music arrangements originally done by the likes of Beethoven, Franck, & Sarasate. Still, everyone one of these arrangements for the show sound absolutely amazing, and it's honestly worth watching the show solely to see how each of these songs are used. Simply put, Kouhei Tanaka did an amazing job here, and his original songs for the show sound just as operatic & fitting, but he's not the only one to credit here. Violinist of Hameln TV actually marked the debut of Shiroh Hamaguchi (seriously, this is the last time I talk about this guy in a row), who Tanaka put in charge of doing some of the classical music arrangements. Much like his teacher, Hamaguchi's arrangements sound beautiful, showcasing the talent that would be unleashed on the anime world the following year with Next Senki Ehrgeiz & AWOL. The music is simply one of the biggest highlights of this show, and has to be heard to be believed.

And, of course, there are tons of music references to be found, and it really makes you want to look up some of them because of how obscure they are. For example, I didn't know that "slur" was an actual musical term, I knew what a sitar is but not a cittern (or cither, in some languages), and I had absolutely no familiarity with a dal segno. The show even uses parts of music-related terms or even puns, like the Net siblings, Percuss, & even Demon King Chestra (in Japanese his full name is Daimaou Chestra... get it?), which works well for names that might otherwise sound a little too silly. It really is cool when you learn new stuff from something as simple as the names of characters.

If the story, characters, & music are all so amazingly well done, then what's the catch? Well, it's the animation... Or lack thereof. This show has come to be nicknamed "The Slideshow of Hameln" by anime fans for good reason: This show's visuals are roughly 80%-90% still images. While some have guessed it was because of the wide use of classical music, which I think isn't true because they are all arrangements made specifically for the show, there is no denying that this show is probably the least-animated anime in history. Entire scenes can go by with the most motion seen being a simple pan across a still image, character movement can sometimes be only heard through sound effects, and there are tons of shots that involve talking yet the on-screen characters' mouths never move; instead, their mouths are simply drawn open. Gundoh Musashi has more animation than this show... Hell, Zaizen Jotaro has more animation, and that's another example of highly limited animation (their mouths at least [almost] always animate).

This is Kokyuu. He's an awesome character I forgot to talk about.

Now, to be fair, it doesn't mean that Violinist of Hameln looks bad by any means, because this show still looks really damn good. In fact, the reliance on stills likely made the animators decide to put more focus on detail & image quality, and the result is that the show never looks poor at any point as nearly every single image on screen looks extremely well drawn. Also, I would say about 60%-70% of these stills are done in the fashion of Osamu Dezaki & Akio Sugino's iconic "Postcard Memories", i.e. they look more like paintings than traditional animation. As much of a "slideshow" this anime is, I want to give it a new nickname from here on out: "Postcard Memories - The Series". Finally, the lack of overall animation budget also results in any actual animation looking very well done. A perfect example would be Clari's fight against Drum, which looks outstanding & helps make Clari all the more likable. All of that reliance on stills resulted in the budget up to that point being put towards making a fight that lasts about 1.5 episodes looking great. It may be an extreme case, but think of it as a trade-off.

The show was directed by Junji Nishimura (Ranma 1/2, Simoun), who handles the extremely limited visual budget with seeming flair, keeping everything looking great & utilizing exquisite use of shadowing & mood. The pacing is also handled interestingly, where it first feels like every episode is longer than it really is, but in the good way in that every episode feels chock full of content, but near the end the pacing changes to making you feel like time has passed by in a moment; you're so entranced that time just flies by. Hameln TV marks the debut of cult-favorite director Yasuhiro Imagawa (G Gundam, Giant Robo, Shin Mazinger) in the role of series composer & scriptwriter. I must admit, when I did The Imagawa Chronicles back in February I stated that Hatenkou Yugi was the first time Imagawa scripted every single episode himself, but I was wrong; that honor goes to Violinist of Hameln. Indeed, all 25 episodes were written by Imagawa alone & he really showcased his skills as a writer here perfectly. The story flows extremely fluidly, the characters are multifaceted like crazy, & there's always some sort of twist or surprise in the waiting; even if you can guess some of them easily, there are plenty that catch you off guard.

The character designs were done by Atsuko Nakajima (You're Under Arrest, Hakuoki), who stays true to Michiaki Watanabe's style but still gives them enough of a personal touch to fit the change in mood. The first opening theme, "Magical:Labyrinth//" by Skirt, is an upbeat & melodic song that's perfectly catchy & generally fitting for the early episodes of the show, yet still manages to still fit somewhat during the later episodes of the first half. The second opening theme, "Incomplete Concerto" by Ken Nishikori, is the complete opposite type of song, on the other hand. Perfectly fitting the darkner nature of the show, Nishikori delivers an operatic & majestic theme that fits the dramatic style of the story. The two ending themes, "Kizudarake no Tsubasa" by Ikebukuro & "Taiyou to Tsuki ni Se Ite" by Yuko Yamaguchi, are both similar in that they are more serious-sounding finales that befit the series as a whole; both are also pretty rocking songs on their own.

The voice cast, thankfully, is top-notch as well. Leading everyone is Yuji Ueda, who delivers a very different performance than Kazuki Yao's movie performance. Ueda gives this Hamel are real sense of sadness, confusion, & trepidation that fits this take on the violinist perfectly. Matching that is Mayumi Iizuka (Makoto in Kanon [2002 & 2006], Tron Bonne in Mega Man Legends), who delivers a much more subdued & unsure Flute, one filled with apprehension. Raiel is voiced by Kouji Tsujitani (Nagamasa Asai in Sengoku Basara, Miroku in InuYasha), who shows an excellent range with the character, delivering both perky joy & absolute anger and hatred with no trouble. Trom is performed by the essentially unknown Tomoko Kojima, who does a great job with the young prince; kind of sad that she's barely done any anime work. The legendary Shigeru Chiba voices Oboe, mostly sticking to his deep, serious voice but on some occasions he goes into his higher-pitched screams that most people know him for. Almost stealing the show, though, is Megumi Ogata's Sizer, which is absolute perfection when it comes to who is probably the most complex character in the show. Rounding out the excellent cast includes Kiyoyuki Yanada (Drum), Mitsuaki Madono (Clari), Takashi Matsuyama (Guitar), Sumi Shimamoto (Horn), the duo of Unshou Ishizuka & Haurnori/Kouki Miyata in a very Baron Ashura-esque Bass, & Katsuaki Arima/Yusei Oda (Cittern's oldest son, Kokyuu).

Not technically a DVD cover, but this art was used

Violinist of Hameln's TV anime adaptation is almost nothing like its source material, yet it still is its source material, and that really describes it in a nutshell: It's an amazing example of being two disparate elements at the same time. The good guys are heroic yet selfish, the villains evil to both sides, everyone is seemingly sure of their actions yet unsure of the reprecussions, the story is both hopeful yet fatalistic, and the ending (in true Yasuhiro Imagawa fashion) is both conclusive yet open-ended. In fact, the direct ending came off as downright chilling, which does fit the intensely dark nature of the entire show. In today's world this would be put into a late-night slot without question, but this show debuted right before such a thing was common; it's first half literally ran while Those Who Hunt Elves was introducing the very concept of modern-day late-night anime. Instead, this show aired in primetime, making it the sole non-late-night anime Imagawa was only the series composer & scriptwriter to; even though the very end indicated the show was going "on break", it never returned. This makes Violinist of Hameln essentially the black sheep of Imagawa's catalog, being both "mainstream" yet niche, but that just makes it all the more a must-see. Yes, the animation budget is mostly non-existent, but this is easily one of the best fantasy anime I have ever seen. Without a doubt, it is close to a crime that this series has never seen release here in North America, because there is very few that can top it.

Now, one day I'll have to check out the original manga & laugh my ass off, because I'll need that after the engrossing darkness Imagawa gave this show.

No comments:

Post a Comment