A Decade’s Worth of Animation Entry #09 – Boruto & Into the Spider-Verse – Franchises Reinvigorated

Greetings and salutations once again my fellow readers, and here we are at the second to last post of A Decade’s Worth of Animation blog series.

For this post, I had a bit of trouble in deciding which of these entries was more deserving of getting their post but I was so torn at the idea that I decided that I would just fudge the rules I made for myself when I first started this project. The entries that I’ll be covering while different in origin and nature do share some distinct similarities, for one, they are both part of long-running franchises that have managed to maintain a presence in the greater scope of our mainstream media and pop culture, so let’s dive in as I cover the most notable pieces of animation with the sequel spin-off to the Naruto series, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, and the 2018 smash it, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The 2010s have treated everyone’s favorite Unpredictable Knuckled-headed Ninja fairly well, all things considered; for those that have come to watch and even grow up with Naruto, it should come to no surprise that one of the most notable things that have become synonymous with the franchise name is an overabundance of filler arcs and iffy productions schedules. Granted some of these problems can be excused as Studio Pierrot needed to distance the chapter gap for the manga that didn’t finish until late 2015, these criticisms were still part of the Naruto franchise’s identify.

When Masashi Kishimoto ended his manga after 15 years of serialization, things started taking a shift for the better for the Naruto franchise, because even though the titular ninja’s story had concluded, there was still more Kishimoto wanted to bring to the universe of Naruto, in which fans got more or less a teaser for in the sequel films and series that followed soon after the manga’s ending. There was Kishimoto’s first attempt at writing a romance in The Last: Naruto the Movie, which followed Naruto realizing his feelings for longtime supporting character Hinata, and there were the Boruto movie and its subsequent series that told the story of Naruto’s son and their interesting family dynamic.

While reception towards each film varied, the one undisputed thing was their level of animation and how that level of production would later carry on to the TV series. This noticeable change can be attributed to a change in art and animation directors as well as the inclusion of new talents, which brings me to Chengxi Huang. I’ve gone on record on calling Chengxi Huang as one of my favorite current animators, but I have never gone into detail of how this rising super-star in the animation industry came to be, so allow me to rectify that.

Chengxi Huang is a Chinese animator that started working back in 2013 as an animator at Studio Candybox, a subcontracting company that mostly assisted in in-between and 2nd key animations, while at the same time assisting notable Chinese artists in adjusting to the Japanese environment. It was through Candybox’s connections that landed him the opportunity to work on a team at Studio Pierrot; and knowing that he would finally be working at the studio that inspired to pursue animation, it’s no understatement in saying that he’s greatly indebted to the people of Candybox. Soon after joining Pierrot he was placed under the mentorship of Pierrot all-star, Hiroyuki Yamashita, suffice to say Yamashita’s mentality and teachings ended rubbing off Huang for the better.

Yamashita’s piece from Ep. 143 of Shippuden.

Initially, he had a rough-time standing out as fans would often mistake his works for Yamashita’s but around the time the Boruto anime series started making rounds he had fully developed his style of animation, thanks to Yamashita moving on as the series director for Boruto. While an animator at first, he certainly displays the skills in being a director, which brings me to the first part of this article, his standout piece and thumbprint as a member of the anime industry, Boruto Ep. 65 – Father and Child.

Huang’s piece from Boruto Ep. 39

Aside from working on the show that inspired him, Huang also wished to be an episode director and suffice to say he achieved this dream in the most spectacular way, treating viewers to arguably some of the best animation seen in an action show in years; and what makes this episode an achievement on a purely technical standpoint is that it’s a retelling of a fight scene from the Boruto redone from scratch! Huang has gone on recording in saying that he composed roughly 510 cuts of animation alone, and yet that’s isn’t where the true quality of this episode shines, it’s not even the fact the relationship with Naruto and Boruto serves as an analogous baton pan in Huang and Yamashita’s relationship, nor was it his implementation of his passion for martial arts into the fight scenes, this episode in particular truly shines because of the efforts made by Huang in assembling a team filled with animators from all over the globe.

This production featured several international talents, including and not limited to Spencer Wan (from Castlevania fame), Weilin Zhang, Hartova Maverick, guzzu, David Bradshaw, hero, tilfinning, killocrescent and many more. I could watch this episode multiple times and still find a detail that I’ve missed previously.

guzzu and kilocrescent’s piece for Naruto and Sasuke’s combo against Momoshiki

I should give special notice that Huang has a habit of integrating his passion for martial arts (specifically Wing Chun) into his fight scenes. Huang cites Wing Chun as a source in helping him understand how a character should move and in turn making that movement in combat seem more reasonable; during his time on the production Naruto Shippuden Ep. 477, he refers back on using Wing Chun of giving Naruto and Sasuke’s fight a bit of a historical element to it, as the storyboarding had no restriction he was free to do whatever suited the fight’s entertainment value and choreography.

Boruto Ep. 65 features some glimpses of his appreciation for Wing Chun and that level of respect even transfers to Weilin Zhang and tilfinning in an action scene so delightful that I have difficulty maintaining my composure.

Huang, Zhang, and tilfinning bring out their best in one of the best fights in Naruto history.

And it’s everything about this level of effort and cooperation on what I love about this episode and even Naruto’s production as a whole. It’s not just that it gave viewers some of the best action animation of the decade but its the fact that the production goes hand in hand with the series’s themes of teamwork and fostering the next generation.

The climax featuring a slow-build up by Eri Taguchi capped off with an explosive finale by Huang and Naoki Kobayashi

However, I think I’ve spoken more than enough about Boruto and I would like to talk much about the production of Into the Spider-Verse and how it cemented itself as a new standard for animated films.

When it comes to discussing Western animated films of 2018, it would be fair to say that they were…experimental to put it lightly. In all honesty, 2018 was not a good year in terms of animated films in both the eastern and western hemispheres. Films like Isle of Dogs, Incredibles 2, and DBS: Broly while entertaining in their own right never struck me as something truly memorable of that year, luckily there was a film that caught everyone off-guard upon its release; from the Sony Pictures Animation, the same studio that produced the critically and commercially panned Emoji Movie, now comes the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, without a doubt one of the best-animated movies of this decade!

Spider-Verse is without a doubt one of my favorite animated films of all time since ‘The Prince of Egypt’ and ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm‘. When I first heard news of Sony making an animated Spider-Man film starring Miles Morales I was intrigued but skeptic of the idea, but as months passed and more promotional material made its way to the public I grew more and more excited, I even managed to catch a special premiere screening before the actual release day and I immediately fell in love with every single aspect of the movie; I loved it so much I saw it 5 more times in theaters.

As a film concept, Spider-Verse had a lot stacked against it to truly stand out amongst its contemporaries, with 2018 being a year of not so remarkable films, Spider-Verse asserts visual dominance with an art-style that has never been seen or used in animated film coupled with a storyline that sounds almost too crazy to work for a film. My goal of this retrospective series was to highlight pieces of animation that best represent the decade, and Spider-Verse has earned its spot with a message that tells us to appreciate the various interpretations of the things we love.

Much like the team behind Boruto Ep. 65, Spider-Verse is another noticeable piece in the visual sense and not only the aesthetic department but in that it features multiple animators from around the globe, including Japan, who managed to bring their influence into the film overall. For some of these animators, animating a sequence for a film wasn’t so clear cut as one’s understanding on a certain culture plays part in animating characters, this was the case with Yuko Ikeda who cites drawing the facial expressions on Miles’ father difficult due to her have never drawn black characters before.

Emma Shin’s reference shots

This led to her to have to research how people of various cultures move and along with learning the way characters of different nationalities came also the daunting truth that these animators would have to draw on ones, but rather it was the opposite in which they drawing on twos, just like an anime. Animation is typically drawn at 12 frames per second and the number of frames one can typically anime is inconsistent because one animator can only manage so many frames at a time.

As such, Into the Spider-Verse is animated in the twos, which you can see when you pause at any moment of the film and analyze it frame by frame and you’ll see how the background moves by frame when characters don’t. While drawing on the twos was seemed like a comfortable manner of work for Japanese animators, Spider-Verse’s visual style makes it so that there is more time put into drawing the cuts than one would normally do in a Japanese production. A Japanese animator is usually able to create one to three shots of animation in a single day, but for a film like Spider-Verse, it took the animators almost a week to create a short scene on average. However, even with these challenges glimpses of Japanese influence can be seen throughout the film (and no, not just because Peni Parker’s design is really anime-esque).

For example, during the “What’s Up Danger” scene, the location, position, and lighting that are seen as Miles prepares to take the leap of faith is heavily reminiscent of the opening action scene of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Ghost in the Shell film.

Getting back to the way the film is animated if you have an eye for animation something that mentioned about it is used the frames are used to interplay with the story. What do I mean by this? Well, seeing as how the film centers around Miles learning how to become a Spider-Man there are scenes that involve him learning the ropes from far more experienced Spider-People, a notable scene is when he and Peter B. Parker are escaping from bad guys in the Hudson Valley. During this scene Miles is seen as being animated at 12 frames per seconds, while Peter B. Parker is animated at 24 frames per second, the Corridor Crew highlight this scene to emphasize the level of skill between the two Spider-Men and it serves as a checkpoint as we see Miles full transformation as a hero at the end of the film when he’s animated at 24 frames per second.

I wish I could go on even more in describing my thoughts on this film but I I wish I could go on even more in describing my thoughts on this film but I believed I’ve said more than enough on these two pieces of animation. Chengxi Huang’s inclusion to the Naruto franchise relighted a new interest of the world of Masashi Kishimoto’s lovable ninja, as his own techniques and learnings from veterans brought in a new level of depth and nuance to Naruto. And much like the son of Naruto, he’s also making his mark on the world while paying respects to his seniors; and as for Spider-Verse’s bizarre conception and creative handling, I see it as a giant mark in new industry standards and practices for experimental animation and story-telling.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading this and I hope you’ll join me tomorrow as I talk about the best piece of animation that serves as a perfect cap off for this decade in animation. Ciao for now.

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