Brand New Animal – Episode 1

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’re embarking on a fresh journey, through one of 2020’s most high-profile releases: Brand New Animal, a Trigger production helmed by the distinguished Yoh Yoshinari, and written by Kazuki Nakashima. Given my experience with both those artists, I’m fully expecting the contrast between them to more or less define my impression of Brand New Animal – an expectation that I must admit has been solidified by having watched the show’s first two episodes.

So the deal is, Yoh Yoshinari is one of anime’s greatest working talents. He contributed beautiful, remarkably weighted animation for Gainax classics like Evangelion, and since following Imaishi to Trigger, he’s directed the charming Little Witch Academia, which grapples with SSSS.Gridman for the position as my favorite Trigger show. The man is a genuine treasure, and regardless of how Brand New Animal shakes out, my love for Yoshinari will hold firm.

Meanwhile, my impression of Kazuki Nakashima is that he basically can’t write at all. He’s gotten by so far by partnering with Hiroyuki Imaishi, whose stories don’t actually benefit from scripts, but his scripts and stories have themselves been uniformly unimpressive – Gurren Lagann had bad writing, Kill la Kill had bad writing, and Promare had bad writing. His stories are defined by simplistic characters, conflicts and worlds with too little grounding to evoke dramatic tension, and perpetual veering towards new conflicts, in order to mask his inability to construct any coherent long-term dramatic structure. I know that’s not exactly a universally agreed opinion, but it’s certainly mine; I have never been impressed by any element of Nakashima’s scripts, and feel you could replace him with a monkey who’s been taught to type “EXPLOSIONS!” without any significant impact on the quality of his work.

So that’s basically where I’m at: Yoshinari’s a genius, Nakashima’s a hack, and I’m warily intrigued to see how those flavors mix. Let’s get to it!

Episode 1

Looks like we’re opening directly into the OP, which proudly demonstrates Brand New Animal’s distinct vaporwave aesthetic. I’m not sure “vaporwave” is specifically how they described the look they were going for, but this specific mix of neon pinks, blues, and greens feels undeniably reminiscent of the genre’s visual aesthetic. Looking back a little further, you might also associate this look with something like Miami Vice – lots of neon and violet hues, and an overall aesthetic that implies a veneer of glamour over an underbelly of grime

Even in these theoretically non-stylized shots around the city, the color palette is defined by deep blues and purples. Shadows don’t fade to black – they fade to a dark shade of cyan, maintaining the overall color scheme

“Keep on painting everything in your colors,” says the OP, implying a greater thematic point to the color scheme. Are these neon colors associated with their status as outsiders? We’ll see if the show follows through on that

Ooh, I really like this cut at the end, when their forms are reduced to ragged ink blots reaching for the sun. That feels like a summation of what Trigger is best at: translating raw human striving into a visceral animated form

Hah, and the final shot reduces their shadows to the two principle colors: magenta for the girl, cyan for the wolf guy

A poster saying “Let’s Hold Hands” featuring a human hand and paw. Yeah, that’s about the degree of subtlety I was expecting

Some humans stop by and spray paint over it. Let’s NOT Hold Hands, amiright?

I like the use of negative space here; the big color splashes of the OP seem to carry through, along with lots of full black shadows

Ah, they actually wrote “Death to Beastmen”

Our heroine sneaks on top of a bus. These outdoor shots show off the show’s aesthetic quite well; I think the choice to keep outlines to a minimum for the background shots works really well with the show’s limited palette and dynamic color contrasts

Ooh, lovely cut pulling back with the bus, as trees dance in the breeze. Ambitious and atmospheric

Our heroine has a fluffy tanuki tail. This is good

It always feels somewhat nostalgic to watch a mainline Trigger show; they still feature many of the defining animators of the classic Gainax era, and nothing evokes my adolescence more succinctly than Eva and FLCL

They’re approaching Anima City, a place where “beastmen can live true to themselves.” Online tutorials make for pretty convenient exposition

The distinction between the natural blues and greens of the video and the magenta tint of the heroine’s experience seems to once again imply the color work is coded into the show’s themes

Oh no, the thugs from earlier are chasing her… with a crossbow!?

As expected from Trigger, this girl’s escape is a smorgasbord of dynamic pose-to-pose animation. As a super-brief refresher, “pose-to-pose animation” is animation based in emphasizing specific key frames of character posing, rather than full, even fluidity of motion. Anime that embraces this style tends to be full of dynamic single frames, where characters pause for effect, before flinging themselves into the next dramatic pose. In anime, the pose-to-pose style is frequently associated with the famous Yoshinori Kanada, who combined exaggerated poses, warped perspective, and a unique approach to timing to create what’s referred to as the “Kanada school” of animation. Hiroyuki Imaishi is a loyal devotee of the Kanada school, and nearly every Studio Trigger work favors pose-to-pose animation over more fluid movement

Hah, and just after I explain that, the scene shifts into a series of gorgeous, fluidly animated panning cuts, as the camera spins around the girl being attacked by the bikers. These shots look so effortless it’s almost a shame; it’d be hard for casual animation enthusiasts to appreciate just how tough this sort of camera movement is

The color scheme is even more distinct here; basically every object is some shade of blue or magenta

“Seeing abominations like you spread makes me sick to my stomach!” I guess we’ll see if human animosity towards beastmen is related to anything more than general distrust of the Other. It’s not like humans generally need any more than that!

Scientist girl from the OP shows up. Her beastman transformation is really nice; they use a near-profile shot for her arm transforming, making it look like she’s briefly consumed by black fire

Her voice actress is Michiyo Murase, who’s been making a name for herself doing precisely the kind of part-sultry, part-gravely voices that Mayumi Shintani (FLCL’s Haruko Haruhara) used to excel at. She also played the part of Sucy in Yoshinari’s earlier LWA, so it seems he’s caught on to her distinct talents

Her name is Mary Itami. Lots of nice expression work through their exchange

Sneaking this girl into the city via boat carries some heavy undertones in the midst of our global refugee crisis

I like this background gag of the hyena-man sternly driving the boat

“Once you step ashore, we’re back to being total strangers.” Apparently not much solidarity here

Everything is blue in the city at night. This show is leaning hard into its binary color scheme, and while it’s certainly a unique effect, I’m not sure it’s worth what they’re sacrificing

The city square is totally empty. Up on a rooftop, a white wolf looks down

Now a million beastmen are all ominously walking up to her in the darkness… but then we see it’s actually a big festival! Everyone’s having fun!

This jumpy transition is a small issue, but it feels pretty characteristically Nakashima. There’s rarely much connective tissue between the things that happen – it’s always “I want to have this happen” and then “I want to have this happen,” which frequently fails to create the sense of continuity or consequence that might result in audiences investing in his worlds as lived-in places, full of people with coherent, sympathetic feelings. His shows are high on spectacle, but weak in terms of fundamental narrative bones

Mayor Rose is a naked mole rat, I think? Tough luck with that one – “my beast form looks like my human form, except wrinkly and pinker”

All of the beastmen except for our heroine have actual animal heads, rather than furry human heads

The heroine enjoying her sense of liberation here is wonderful. Some great stills across the festival

She bumps into the other protagonist, who’s so happy at this celebration of beastman freedom that it’s brought him to tears. I like the incidental reflection on prejudice baked into their differing reactions here; their generations have experienced discrimination very differently

The mayor has a call from Prime Minister Shiramizu, who informs us Rose has been the mayor for ten years. He essentially just warns her not to step out of line

I like her extremely wide assistant

Yesss, they included a classic Misato Big Gulp. All the best anime feature Misato Big Gulps

Welp, now she’s gotten her wallet stolen

Then she’s nearly crushed by a falling display monitor, and saved by crying wolf man

Ooh, cool effect for this wolf guy’s sense of smell. It leans into this show’s general use of full color profiles, as well as the sort of “burning” effect of their transformations

After a full episode of blues, the red of these explosions and fire makes for an intense contrast with the show’s backgrounds and character art

More dramatic pose-to-pose movement for the big fight. The opening frames of their movements are carefully animated, but then their bodies fling towards their next pose in a sudden rush, creating a sense of both great weight and great power – “look how quickly we can move these heavy bodies”

Apparently these terrorists are being funded by humans

Wolf dude seems generally furious at humans, but these terrorists just see it as a job

“You have sold your beastman souls and become pets of the humans.” I don’t really have the context yet to see what he means by this; all we know at the moment is both beastmen and humans exist, but we don’t really know anything about the origins of beastmen, or their relationship with humanity over time

There’s not really any tension in this fight; it’s mostly just showing off how badass wolf man is

Dang, our heroine’s tanuki tail has some unique powers!

“Not all humans are like that… because I was a human too!”

And Done

Welp, my second time through basically just reinforced my impression of that being an exceedingly Alright premise. As I expected, there was plenty of interesting stuff going on visually, but the story feels a bit too thinly written to carry the weight of the themes it’s grappling with, and there wasn’t anything to grab onto character-wise, either. Racial and cultural discrimination, forced immigration, how we construct our cultural identities – these are all rich and difficult topics, but if Brand New Animal is going to have anything to say about them, it’ll need to find a stronger fulcrum of disagreement than “all humans are bad” versus “some humans aren’t bad.” The episode was quite pretty though, with a variety of neat animation styles represented, and some clever uses of its distinct color palette. Not a stellar premiere, but it was certainly interesting, and I’m always game for a unique artistic experience. We’ll have to see how episode two goes!

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *