ANN Masaaki Yuasa page

My average ranking: 7.33

Director Pantheon: Masaaki Yuasa Rating
Happy Machine (movie) Decent

Mildy interesting segment from the Genius Party anthology about a baby that is prised away from its support and must fend for itself.
Kaiba (TV) Very good

In the Kaiba world memories can be extracted from bodies and reinserted into new bodies, making them effectively immortal. With the population of memories exceeding available hosts, there is a desperate struggle for good bodies. Amidst these struggles two separated lovers, Neyro and Kaiba (aka Warp), in unfamiliar bodies and missing memories, try to find each other, to understand the nature of their world, and to bring about some sort of justice.

The achingly sad, yearning opening theme sets the tone beautifully for this tale of memory and love and how each nourishes the other. Indeed I haven't seen another anime where the OP so powerfully dictates the mood of story. It's nicely complemented by the various renditions of The Tree Song that accompanies the more poignant moments. While the music is exceptional the artwork is more dubious. It seems director Masaaki Yuasa didn't have a huge budget to play with and it shows. Ever resourceful, however, he has adopted a bubbly, seemingly sloppy style that complements the emotive themes while softening the emotional and physical violence. Nevertheless the artwork can be annoying, especially in episode 5.

Despite its eccentric visual style, the story of Kaiba is most akin to cyberpunk science fiction in the tradition of Serial Experiments Lain, Ghost in the Shell or even Dennou Coil. Like them it relies on the Cartesian conceit of the separation of mind and body. That's fine - like much of anime, if you accept the premise the development is often exceptional, as it is here.

The series does have some structural issues, though. It begins immediately after some unexplained catastrophic event that has left Kaiba character with amnesia. Thereafter you get eight episodes of languid development as Masaaki Yuasa explores the implications of body and memory swapping followed by three episodes of rushed resolution.

But it's kind of understandable why things turned out this way. At their best the early episodes are more interesting than the final two. Episode 3 - Cronico's Boots - is quite simply one of the most magnificent episodes you may ever see in anime, approaching the field of flowers episode of Clannad After Story in its emotional impact but exceeding it in its savage irony. The episode heaps irony upon irony on top of its wrenching sadness. If you don't feel inclined to watch the entire series at least check out this particular episode. Another problem with the back to front plot structure is that numerous significant things happen in the first half of the series with the viewer having no inkling of their import. Two characters - Pal, the bubble-headed bird, and Kichi, the wheelchair-bound and button-eyed memory merchant - keep popping up unexpectedly with their seeming deus ex machina interventions. Their connection to Kaiba / Warp will become apparent late in the series. What all this does mean is that a second viewing is highly rewarding. Not only is the story much clearer but there is much pleasure to be found in the many things that seemed inconsequential or confusing first time around.

Extended review

Kemonozume (TV) Good

Describing this as an action series depicting the battles between shape changing flesh eaters (the Shokujinki) and brave martial artists (the Kifuuken) is to gloss over its notable stylistic features. Kemonozume is directed by Masaaki Yuasa and that means the viewer is in for one hell of an unconventional anime, in both story and imagery. Indeed, Yuasa seems to be deliberately contrary in every aspect of the medium. Whatever directions the plot could have gone, Yuasa tries to pursue the most unexpected course, and in doing so uncovers characters' hidden secrets, or wanders off in odd digressions, but mostly spirals further and further into absurdity. Absurdity is fine, if it serves another purpose. For sure, it's witty and, occasionally, very funny but it lacks the satirical posture and hilarity of Tatami Galaxy or the emotional impact of Kaiba. It just seems to be absurd for its own sake.

The visual style not only emphasises the absurdities but it also, paradoxically, compensates for them by being so refreshing and so entertaining. Yuasa's style is changeable, grotesque and very, very fluid. All outlines are highly unstable: solid objects take on a life of their own; faces are constantly mutating; and actions are always highly kinetic. I'd just about say that Yuasa has the best eye for motion of any anime director I know yet his means are always economical.

The downside of his stylistic contortions is that the viewer never forgets they are viewing artifice. This distancing meant that, by the final episode I wasn't really emotionally engaged by main characters. I mean, I wanted to know what would happen, but there was no sense of dread or grief or loss or victory or resolution. Add this to the abovementioned descent into absurdity and, to be honest, I didn't really care how it all turned out.

That said, another of the very refreshing things about Kemonozume is the adult cast of characters and, mostly, adult behaviour of those characters, notwithstanding Yuasa's almost juvenile glee in violence, gore and eroticism.

Extended review

Kick-Heart (movie) Good

If you're familiar with Masaaki Yuasa you will quickly recognise his fluid, messy, irreverent, rumbustious style. Despite his seemingly primitive animation, Yuasa has an absolute sure touch when it comes to timing and motion: Kick-Heart moves at a cracking pace. Yet, like so much of his work, there's more happening on the surface than there is underneath. There's an uncouth grace to Yuasa that overlays a sentimental core that never amounts to all that much. What matters is what's being done to your senses, not your intellect. And that's a good thing in its own way.

Kick-Heart has created something of a buzz, being the first successful Kickstarter anime project. It's hard not to approach it hoping that it will be better than it ends up being. What's more, at only thirteen minutes long there's not a lot to consider - about half a dozen scenes, including two extended, visceral wrestling matches. It's place in the history of anime will probably outweigh its significance as animation but I'm chuffed something as eccentric as this got its moment in the limelight.

Mind Game (movie) Good

Mind Game is an anarchic movie in a hotch potch of visual styles that work together surprisingly well. It's about a young man who is murdered and is granted a second chance at life by a god of bewildering, multiple personalities. A car chase that beggars description results in Nishi trapped inside a gigantic whale with the love of his life, her sister and an old man who is more closely related to them than any of them ever know. After several amusing episodes, Nishi finally gets the picture and the four escape into a world that is subtly different to the one from before their incarceration.

One of the things I love about director Masaaki Yuasa is his wild sense of motion. At his crazy best, the camera point of view moves as radically as the camera's subject. During the aforementioned car chase the camera point of view rotates around the characters inside an open convertible as people and cars fly in all directions. Add to that the arresting and varying styles being deployed and the result is a film that, visually at least, is never less than fascinating.

What Yuasa's style also does is distance the viewer from the characters, thereby reducing any emotional impact the film may otherwise have. He makes up for this shortcoming with his deliciously wicked wit. The extended sequence within the whale could have dragged but for its cleverness. The car chase is not only exciting to watch, it's hilarious. Perhaps only Yuasa could get a laugh out of a yakuza remembering his childhood pet canary in the microseconds before slamming into the side of a truck at high speed.

In the end, though, Mind Game doesn't say much beyond "give life your best shot".

Ping Pong (TV)

(The) Tatami Galaxy (TV) Excellent

Just about the funniest anime I've seen to date. The episode where Hanuki takes the main character home to her apartment had me in hysterics, what with her hyper-active tongue and his debate with "Johnny". These are just two of many priceless moments in the series. The set up is great and the cast of eccentric characters is memorable. The un-named lead isn't just another brainless weed, although he may be clueless when it comes to seeing what is right in front of his nose. Even though he's smart and ironic, neither quality seems to help him much. As well, his motormouth delivery frequently requires use of the pause button (the release is sub only). His best friend Ozu is ghastly and wonderful all at once and his love interest (if only he knew it), Akashi, is beautiful through sheer strenth of personality. The art style is eccentric but it fits the tone nicely.