Computer generated polygon anime has an escape hatch, and that involves a trip to a fantasy fairy forest.
(This article is part two of an eventual six part series featuring my favorite anime productions of 2013; consider reading the others!)
I was originally led to this program by an Anime World Order episode, so I would be remiss not to link that before things really get underway.
It is not a controversial statement to consider that a lot of the 3D CGI model attempts at producing television anime have some serious problems associated with them. Many of them try really hard to ape the design sensibilities of “regular” anime, and look all the more janky, fake, and otherwise uncompelling as a result of this uncanny valley territory.
At the same time, due to normal production requirements, many anime comedies do not allow for a whole lot of adlibbing. The precise schedules that need to be planned in advance tend to squash a lot of this, as one does not want to muck around scene timing too much or render too much animation as waste material should b-roll scenes already in the pipeline have to be bumped off for trying to fit in a more elaborate joke earlier. That is one of the tricky things about animation, as ideally one wishes to waste as little studio effort as possible.
What gdgd Fairies does then, and the sequel this year continued to carry the banner of, is to shine a light on how one could very successfully approach both issues. In the process, it provides likely the closest modern approximation I can think of to something like the classic Space Ghost Coast To Coast American animated series: in this case, a bonafide anime – as – talk show in almost every sense of the word.
Gdgd Fairies looks like a budget video game of the Dreamcast or Playstation 2 era, of that there is no question. It uses flat textures and the most basic or royalty free models one can get their hands on. Outside of the actual fairies themselves, who have clean and simple chibi designs that ring out through it all (as raw art design always trumps technical horsepower) and define them against everything else, any other three dimensional character or environment pretty much looks like various aspects of someone’s high school computer image modeling course homework.
And it works.
It works because it is highly self aware of what it is and what it can do, but not in the incredibly frustrating sense where it then thinks it could just skate by on being ironically stupid. Rather, it embraces its visual capacities and synergistic links to the functioning of the other two primary elements: the talk show / variety program format, and the voice actresses themselves.
On the former end, gdgd Fairies is structured with many different recurring segments that make up each episode week to week. On the whole, one can usually expect an episode to be comprised of three parts. First, an initial outdoor roundtable teatime chat between the three starring fairies (appropriately named pkpk, shrshr, and krkr) about some daily concern that often quickly spirals into existential crisis territory.
A mid episode trip often involves heading to The Room Of Spirit And Time (a hyperbolic time chamber sandbox inside the fairies tree where they can experiment with their magic at highly amplified capacity). Finally, a conclusion segment at either The Magic Spring Dubbing Lake or The Magic Speaker, where the fairies either see a ridiculous few seconds of a silent animated clip or a sound recording and make up dialogue or ideas about what may be going on in the scene.
That would be a standard episode of roughly fifteen minutes, but there are often more aspects jiggered about here and there. Transitions are often made of little five second games like I Spy or Rock Paper Scissors, or a usual segment may be swapped out for something like an Advice Hotline piece. These aspects both keep the show consistently moving creatively and yet still reliable, so that even if a joke or a sketch is bombing, the viewer will know it will be over soon and the program will be doing something else.
It is an important part of sketch comedy, and improvisational comedy in particular. It is an age old psychological trap door that allows someone to keep themselves invested in watching a comedy talk show or improve production even if they may not like the current bit they are doing for whatever reason, because there is that clockwork consistency of segments having certain lengths and endings with the next engagement being something entirely different. It has that sense of constant momentum, like flipping chapters in a book, so one is never left in a stretch bemoaning to themselves and any nearby deities to just end it all. A terrible comedy of unknown duration is a rather insufferable experience to many folks.
So we have our graphical engine and design sensibilities, and we have our standardization of format. The final part of the puzzle then, are our voice talents. Together, Suzuko Mimori (pkpk, the kind of unsure of herself archetype, pronounced Pikupiku), Kaoru Mizuhara (shrshr, the sporty one, pronounced Shirushiru) and Satomi Akesaka (krkr, the even toned Rei Ayanami expy with a flair for existential crisis, pronounced Korokoro) are given an ample amount for birth to flesh their characters out, as well as to break character themselves.
Lines such as “Is your agency ok with this?” are not an uncommon thing to come across, particularly during the heights of the most improvised sections of the show as they banter and react to each of what they are up to. It is the kind of production where it is virtually impossible to figure what was an “outtake” in the traditional sense, because given the ease of the defined but processing light graphics technology that handles the actual animation, it can be modeled to best fit the whatever dialogue that was recorded for the scene easily and proficiently. Likewise, sections like The Magic Spring Dubbing Lake or The Room Of Spirit And Time allow for the animation team to make the most of their limited raw polygons to extremely exaggerated heights as they either goad out reactions or to play off and better heighten a scene that went better than expected. Certainly some parts of the show have a rough script, or at least an outline, but it consistently, absurdly, and joyously blurs where one begins and other ends.
The whole thing has the air and palpable feel of a program that was extraordinarily fun for people to work on and be involved in creating at every step of the way, and a lot of that comes through. It does such a swell job at being dealt a pretty rough hand (CG anime, improv comedy, etc) and being able to totally get away with it by embracing what that kind of approach and format can actually be in the medium. It all works surprisingly well because it is not ashamed of what it is, but indeed very proud of the creative freedom and drive it has to take advantage of.
The second season of gdgd Fairies begins with a press conference as they apologize to everyone for how they behaved the previous season. In reality they have nothing to be sorry about.