June 12, 2009
'Basquash!' anime has French pedigree
Shinji Inoue / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
TBS' animated series Basquash! comes from the minds of a team of Japanese and French animators. Though strongly influenced by Japan's animation, the French artists bring with them French artistic traditions, helping to bring new life to a firmly established style of animation.
The French animators in charge of Basquash!, which has been airing on the network since April, occupy a corner of the office at Satelight Inc., an animation house in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. They are split into two groups: art and design, and key-frame illustration. Working entirely on computers, the teams design backgrounds and characters.
"We then upload the files off to companies in China and South Korea for coloring," art director Romain Thomas, 31, says.
The story of Basquash! is set on a planet called "Earth Dash." A popular sport for boys and girls of various backgrounds is BFB (big foot basketball). Although the game is based on real-world basketball, each player rides in a giant mecha--a walking vehicle that resembles a robot--called a "Big Foot."
The production combines Thomas' own experience of playing street basketball with ideas from Shoji Kawamori, who is known for such productions as the Super Dimensional Fortress Macross series (which was released abroad as part of the Robotech series). Together, they aimed to create a noncombat mecha story.
The strong visuals created by the French artists are almost overwhelming. They create streets that look like a mixture of scenery from the near future and medieval times. Their mecha move around with a sense of speed. These are all depicted in an elaborate manner with rich colors.
Thomas graduated in 2002 from Gobelins l'Ecole de l'Image, a highly competitive school of visual communication and design in Paris that attracts 40 times more applicants than it has places.
He came to Japan the following year as part a group planning to make Japanese-French animation, and he now works as the chief designer at the company.
"He is a tremendously talented illustrator. He has an innovative sense of color and how to depict streets. He is very creative," Kawamori said.
Thomas, who enjoyed Japanese anime such as Dragon Ball when he was younger and was influenced by mangaka such as Koji Morimoto and French comics artist Enki Bilal, said Japan is more advanced than France in terms of anime production. "There are language problems, but there are many animators in France hoping to work in Japan."
Kyoto Seika University, the only university in the nation with a manga department, had 177 foreign students as of May 1. Fifty-six of those were in the manga department, the largest number among all departments. Most of those were from South Korea, a country focusing on its own anime industry, but the university said it receives inquiries from around the world thanks to the popularity of manga and anime.
There are a few people like Thomas who work in the Japanese anime industry after completing advanced education in their home country. But Yasuo Yamaguchi, the executive director of the Association of Japanese Animations, said: "Because of the increasing borderlessness of digital anime production, we are faced with an urgent need to train specialists for works of higher quality."
Yamaguchi said, to that end, that national and public universities need to introduce professional education programs in the field.
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