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A Look at an Exhibit of Gonzo's Animated Classics

posted on by Kim Morrissy

Animation studio Gonzo is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a production materials exhibit in the Yurakucho Marui department store. The focus is on four hit titles from the high point in Gonzo's history: Last Exile -Fam, The Silver Wing-, Gankutsuou, Samurai 7, and Romeo X Juliet.

I went into this exhibit with fond memories of the classic Gonzo shows, but also with slight bemusement. I was curious what kind of merchandise would be sold at the exhibit, especially considering that some of these shows that hadn't received any new merchandise in years. The Gonzo of the mid ‘00s is known primarily for three things: their ambitious sci-fi concepts, their eagerness to appeal to an international audience, and as a pioneer of digital and 3D animation within 2D anime. Their shows aren't really known for selling their characters; in fact, they seem downright out of place in today's anime landscape, where character goods dominate over any other kind of merchandise.

It turns out that the exhibit mostly sold concept art in the form of clear files or just simple sheets of paper. There was also a smattering of key chains and other character goods, but these were for shows that weren't part of the exhibit itself, such as Rosario + Vampire. This reinforced the idea that Gonzo's most beloved classics are more renowned for their concept art than anything else, which the exhibit itself definitely emphasizes.

The exhibit begins with Samurai 7, Gonzo's reimagining of Akira Kurosawa's classic film The Seven Samurai. Samurai 7's most notable innovation is bringing mecha to the world of samurai. The mechanical designs were shown off in the exhibit, looking even cooler in hand-drawn form than they did in animation.

The art boards and concept art were also breathtaking. It makes me wonder what the series could have looked like if the designs were brought to life with modern graphics.

Finally, there was concept art of all the seven samurai, plus some of the side characters. Care was shown in designing the weapons and how they work.

Looking back, although it was never an outright plot point, it was nice to see a Hispanic man as the lead character in Samurai 7. The character designs in general were quite varied and colorful, all challenging one's stereotypical image of “samurai” in their own way - one of them doesn't even use a sword, and another one is a machine.

Next up was Gankutsuou. This part of the exhibit was defined mostly by the key visuals, which were first published in various anime magazines.

On the table with the storyboards were chibi cutouts of Alfred, the Count, and Franz. This was the only example I could find of new Gankutsuou art in the exhibit.

The mecha aspects of Gankutsuou were polarizing among viewers, with some people criticizing it for being a tacked-on element, but the design sheets indicate a lot of care and thought about the robots themselves.

Finally, the character and prop designs were a part of the exhibit, too. The character designs themselves are relatively simple. Note the lack of shading indicated in the character models, as the coloring in the anime involved overlaying the background and foreground layers to create texture.

Up next was Romeo X Juliet, which showed off animators’ rough drawings of key visuals, like this shot of Romeo and Juliet on a pegasus.

The prop designs showed off some cute drawings of Juliet while they're at it - she seems to have been loved by the animators.

I also liked the cutouts of Romeo and Juliet in front of all the background art boards.

Series director Fumitoshi Oizaki's storyboards for the final episode of the anime were pretty noticeably vague compared to a lot of other anime storyboards I've seen, focusing more on how the characters would move rather than specific poses.

Finally, the spotlight turned to Last Exile -Fam, The Silver Wing-. (Curiously enough, the original 2003 series was excluded.) This area had more key animation than the rest of the exhibit, focusing on key scenes in the series. The key animation sheets were kept in a glass cage which had chibi cutouts of the characters on top of it.

The characters in this anime are pretty cute.

But the biggest focus of the exhibit was on the mechanical designs, which were inspired by the technology of 1920s Germany. Both the interior and exterior of the vehicles are depicted with a remarkable level of detail. Additionally, you can see both the hand-drawn designs and the 3D models.

Last Exile -Fam, The Silver Wing- is still a fairly popular series. This figure of Dio was showcased at the exhibit and will go on sale in November this year.

The exhibit wrapped up with some art from Space Battleship Tiramisu and Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits-, two of Gonzo's most recent offerings. This part of the exhibit was noticeably sparse, however, limited only to cutouts of the main characters and some still frames from the shows.

Overall, the Gonzo exhibit was a pleasant trip down memory lane, which gave me new respect for the 3D designs in their shows. Even when the 2D and 3D animation didn't always blend well, this aspect of their productions has aged better than I thought it would, not least because of the sheer uniqueness of the designs. You can still see the team's handiwork in modern anime through Graphinica, which is the name of Gonzo's rebranded 3D/VFX division that was sold off to another company in 2009.

The exhibit will run between June 8 and July 8 at the Yurakucho Marui department store, and will cost 800 yen to enter. Every visitor will get a free postcard with art from one of the four showcased series. You can also purchase a special ticket with two clear files for 1,500 yen. If you make over 3,000 yen worth of purchases at the store, you can enter a lottery to win acrylic stands or signatures from the voice cast.

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