Man vs. Budget

May 31, 2013

I’m going to start with this one, because it is the one that stands out to me the most after doing a rewatch of the entire series.  Follow along on this tale of two men and their approach to budget problems . . .

Mecha shows are pretty widely acknowledged to be the most difficult and expensive to animate.  All fast-paced action shows are difficult, but mecha shows seem to be particularly troublesome.  I’m not an animation expert, but I would imagine the problems include: the level of detail in most mecha designs, which are more elaborate than typical character designs.  The fact that scenes involving mecha must frequently cut between the actual mech and the pilot in the cockpit.  The fact that anime mechs are so specific to the genre, needing a very special skillset to draw, unlike regular humans.  The fact that mecha shows traditionally have a much larger cast than many other shows.  These are just off the top of my head.

There’s also the fact that Total Eclipse is an adaptation of another medium.  Mecha is pretty much an anime genre, and seeing mecha in other media (ex. light novels or manga) is very rare.  Sponsors generally don’t pony up money for anime adaptations of mecha – because it’s so expensive to animate, sponsors like to have real input into the show, so they know they’re getting their money’s worth.  There’s not much input to make into an existing story.  Try to name some mecha shows that were based on an existing story – it’s slim pickings.  Now, of those, try to name some that didn’t have a shit budget.

So, considering all that, when the Total Eclipse anime was announced, I naturally assumed that it would be made on a shoestring budget.  In the months before the anime aired, I would sometimes imagine what would need to be done to cut corners.  I’ll give one specific example: in an early chapter in the novels, Yuuya is forced to pilot a Fubuki.  Why?  Oh, there’s a perfectly good story reason for it, but I think another major reason is to utilize and promote the Fubuki figures being put out at the time.  I mean, they had them lying around, so why not use one, especially since they could tie it into the conflict between Yuuya and Yui?

But the anime is different.  To use the Fubuki, they would have to build one completely from scratch in CG.  The way CG works is, you put in a lot of effort up-front to build the CG model, and then afterwards it becomes much easier and cheaper to actually use it in the animation.  But all of that effort is wasted if you build a fully functional CG model and then only use it in a single episode.  You’ve put in all the effort up-front, but you don’t get the long-term savings going forward.  That’s why one of the first changes I had imagined the anime would make would be to remove the Fubuki from the show entirely, and have Yuuya pilot the Shiranui Second that episode.  You lose a bit of the nuance, but the overall story is still the same.

(Actually, to be honest, after seeing the numerous promotional pieces using the Shiranui Second Demonstration Colors, I had thought they might even cut the Phase 1 entirely and just start the show with the Phase 2, thus eliminating another major piece of CG modeling.)

So it was a surprise to me to start episode 4 and see Yuuya still piloting the Fubuki.  At the time, I took this as a good sign – surely, if they have the money to build a Fubuki model that they’ll only use for one episode, they must be far better funded than I had originally thought!  Well, I think we all know now that that’s not true.  So what gives?

After rewatching the entire anime series, I’m convinced that the answer is that director Takayuki Inagaki is simply TOO big a fan of Total Eclipse.  If the novels had Yuuya piloting a Fubuki in this scene, then by God he’ll be piloting a Fubuki in this scene in the anime.  I’m convinced that many of the major animation problems with the series can be traced back to this devotion to the novels.

Think about this: knowing now how little budget the show had, who would dare kick the series off with a completely original 2-part episode, set in a completely different time and place than the main series, requiring that virtually every aspect of these two episodes be created totally from scratch with no guidance from the original novels, and with almost none of these elements transferrable to the rest of the series?  (Reports are that the production staff spent an entire year planning and executing these two episodes.)  Only somebody who really loved the Muv-Luv universe, and wanted to do right by it whatever the cost.  One of Inagaki’s goals in creating these episodes was to reward fans of the series who had waited so patiently for an anime adaptation, by presenting something new and exciting that they would all enjoy – and it’s safe to say that fans did indeed love these two episodes.

In a certain sense, I can understand, and even respect, the desire to bring a favorite property to life exactly as envisioned, no matter what.  But obviously such an approach isn’t going to end well.  Clearly the first two episodes wiped out the production staff.  They managed to stay afloat, more or less, until episode 9, which is such a disaster that they fired him from the director’s seat.  A new director, Masaomi Andou, was brought on to complete the Type-99 firing sequence and then finish out the series – on budget.

Let’s take a look at the Blue Flag arc.  This arc is a nightmare for an anime staff on a tight budget.  There are many TSFs that only drop by for a quick fight and then disappear from the series forever.  The anime condenses things down to four fights:

Jian-Ji 10 (Baofeng) vs. Phantom
Terminator (Idar) vs. Fighting Falcon
Shiranui Second/Active Eagle (Argos) vs. Jian-Ji 10 (Baofeng)
Jian-Ji 10 (Baofeng) vs. Raptor (Infinities)

In the original novels, Baofeng’s first fight was against Duma Flight’s Mirage 2000s, while Idar’s first fight was against Azrael Flight’s Super Tomcats.  The anime changes them to TSFs whose CG models could be recycled – the Phantom models were taken from the Gekishins in episodes 1-2, while the Fighting Falcon models would be used extensively in the upcoming terrorist arc.  The remaining TSFs are all piloted by our major characters.  This has removed the need to create throwaway CG models like the Fubuki.

Of course it’s sad that we lost out on seeing a wide variety of TSFs in this arc.  But those are the kinds of decisions that have to made when you’re watching the bottom line.  These changes saved money on a tight budget without hurting the story.  This likely led to the final terrorist arc being able to afford to animate so many fight scenes without having the production collapse.

(The game wound up following the anime’s lead in changing the Mirage 2000s to Phantoms, so it’s safe to say the original creators at Age didn’t find this change to be any big deal either.)

I was very happy with the job the anime staff did.  It’s not their fault that the show never had the budget it deserved.  I loved the first two episodes, which were made with so much love for the franchise.  But I also appreciated that the second half of the series was more consistent in its animation, and brought the production to a close without imploding on itself.  Which approach is better?  Do you want a director who loves the franchise and who will be true to the original source material, and damn the consequences?  Or do you want a director who will keep the production on track, even if it means making changes to the original?



May 30, 2013

So, I assume most people now know there is no special footage included with the last video release.  I find this to be pretty astonishing, as they still charged the same price for the last disc as the previous ones.  I think it’s unprecedented for a show to release a disc with 3 episodes and a disc with only 1 episode at the same price.  The Japanese anime industry is usually very sensitive to price, and will lower the price on a disc that contains less episodes.  The release schedule – 2 episodes on the first disc, followed by 3 episodes on subsequent discs – is also almost always associated with a 26-episode release.  24-episode shows are generally released as 8 discs of 3 episodes, or 12 discs of 2 episodes.  I have never before seen a release of a 24-episode show on 9 discs.  Therefore I considered the release price and schedule to be obvious proof that they had planned something for the last disc, when in fact it seems it was just Avex being greedy.  I apologize for the error.

My “final” review for the series got really long and rambling, so I’ve decided it might be better to actually split them out by topic.  And by the time I decided that, it was so close to the release of the game that I just got lazy and decided to do it after I played the game.  So I’ve finished the game now (short review: I really liked it), and it really got me in the mood to talk about Total Eclipse, so I’ll be posting those review essays shortly.  I may post a review of the game – I kind of intended this blog to be a spoiler-free blog for viewers of the anime, and a review of the game would definitely include spoilers, but on the other hand, there’s a lot about the game I want to say too.  I’m mulling it over.