Wherein I try to make my username and the title of this anime blog a bit more fashionable or design relevant than they usually are.
Fantasista Utamaro is a name that, even for folks who follow a lot of animation comings and goings, may not immediately recall a production to associate them with. Indeed, for many anime fans the staff position they may best know him for if they can recall his name at all is the Color Design credit of all things for the recently concluded Hamatora The Animation.
However, as an artist he has embarked on a wide variety of initiatives, from live painting shows to physical exhibitions where visitors can cover the walls in time released colored stickers to create a kind of organic yet fabric pattern like look. Which is fully appropriate, as by educational trade Utamaro comes from a textile studies background, and has worked in fashion beyond that. Fashion Headline Japan actually was able to provide an English language interview they held with him just this past October, and it presents an interesting read in its own right. It takes a particular kind of mind to swerve from talking about fashion and art design concepts to Mobile Suit Gundam in the span of the same answer.
All of this is to say that I think Fantasista Utamaro is a pretty nifty guy, and every now and again he gets to work in animation. Indeed, he has actually directed several anime music videos as his career has grown. Coming from a fabric and fashion background as he has, as opposed to a more traditional animation schooling, I think examining these directorial works can provide a unique perspective to consider when it comes to how he approaches visual form and function in an anime space. And at the absolute very least, I think some of these works look pretty cool, and would like to share them for those have not had the opportunity to watch.
Please note: In an effort to keep this post tidy and trim in animation focus, Fantasista Utamaro’s music videos that have included live action people (a few from Dorian, for instance) will not be included. I would rather this list be akin to a nice little EP, as opposed to a more bloated box set containing every little conceivable thing (and to be honest, I do not think the music videos where the live action mixes with animation are very best foot forward examples of his video work anyway). In addition, these efforts often have co-director credits with Fantasista Utamaro as well, and I do not seek to diminish their efforts by not calling them out by name. But I think if one were to watch them all, they would certainly see definitive common threads throughout indicative of his creative presence and high level of influential vision in guiding each one of these works to completion.
These anime music videos that follow are not being presented in any kind of ranking, aside from the last one I want to leave you with being what I consider to be the strongest of the bunch. So if you are pressed for time and just want to skip ahead, scroll down to the bottom!
Take Your Way, by livetune adding Satoshi Fukase
This song pulls extra duty outside of this music video and features as the introduction theme for Devil Survivor 2 The Animation, and I hold no qualms about saying I did not particularly fancy that series. I found it to be a droll video game adaptation with rushed pacing and a bloated cast, despite liking the Shin Megami Tensei games on the whole. That anime series is also my lone musical familiarity with the lead singer of this audio collaboration, who features as the lead vocalist and guitarist for Sekai no Owari (known also as End of the World on international tours at points). As a result, I am definitely someone would be inclined to be harsher to whatever Fantasista Utamaro could have put together when hired for the standalone music video.
That being said, I think he managed to do a pretty swell job of taking the tools he has from elsewhere in his artistic career and gelling them with light visual elements which could be evocative of the series without dealing with the material directly. An immediately striking element I feel comes from the use of things like instances of paper grid sheets being revealed time and again, as well as much of the video possessing a faint fabric pattern indicative of the likes of houndstooth woven throughout. Really, either play the video in high definition and put your face up to the (hopefully clean) screen, or blow up the associated screenshot I am using. The finer of the patterns tends to be most prominent in the scenes featuring the young lady, as the camera is usually less mobile in those moments of the video, while the grids should be easier to catch to the naked eye.
Something else the video is excellent at establishing regarding Utamaro as a presence is his use of manga style onomatopoeia, the visual sound effects. They pop up often in his artistic work on the whole, from painting to fabrics, and in a music video it is a keen way for him to apply different feelings visually without disrupting the sound. During the Macross Missile Barrage / Itano Circus moments here for instance (say, around the one minute mark, for the initial sequence), as the hero attempts to swerve through the onslaught there are both the armed explosives he is dodging and the visual sound of them whizzing by. Meanwhile, due to the eye popping color palette choices that are the personal hallmark of the director, in the heat of the moment it can be difficult to tell the onomatopoeia apart from the actual missiles. There can seem to be far more than there really are, and indeed I think that is quite appropriate for the situation of the characters at the time and what they may be feeling regarding fear or their odds, as a failure state occurs more than once before the end.
What it comes down to then, is while the direct storyline of this music video really does not have much of anything to do with that of Devil Survivor 2 The Animation, I easily feel it is a superior work. It is very focused on only a few individuals, and even in its moments of repetition (which I will touch on again before we are through regarding that notion and textile design) I think it wastes little with the simple and direct visual plot it aims to get across.
Hanabeam, by Hifana
Unlike every other music video in this lineup, this is the only one where the song is without lyrics.
So right away then, a more direct language barrier is lessened in terms of tying the music to the visuals. The song sounds very much like that of a big street party or festival parade, and that is exactly what we get interpreted on screen in all kinds of ways. Which does not stop Utamaro from sneaking in various kinds of visual onomatopoeia, at times worked more into elements like the set design as so much bounces and shifts with the rhythm.
With less of a narrative to try and tell with the piece, and coupled with the celebratory nature of the audio, it is free to wander around and just sort of play. This can of course make it feel more unfocused as a result (at least for me, this would probably rank at the bottom of the selections available in this post), but there some nice visual aspects in play here nonetheless.
For instance, there is a consistent on screen reminder of cloud cover, especially as an organized group acting in unison.
Likewise, the people on the ground of the parade event are various shades of grey swarming through fields of color just as the clouds are. They too are acting in a swarm functionality, and as the lighting from the cartoon clouds indicates their capacity to produce something colorful and full of electricity so too do those individuals on the ground manage to build up the capacity to finally let loose themselves.
Meanwhile, everything from the populace and clouds to landscape elements like gravestones in the cemetery do also themselves play into the idea of seeking to use the power of repetition from a fabric skillset.
This concept of the sameness which is felt by the people in the video is visually reinforced by how many additional aspects of the video also look similar to each other, which then the action of the performers attempts to shake them out of. In terms of visual flow, starting as foggy and blander and aiming to work its way out, it is conceptually like how a dress may be more solidly colored and mutely anchored at the top to establish an initial tone. Then, in turn, slowly unfold in an attempt to ease into something more flashy at the bottom as we make our way towards the fireworks display at the end of the video where everyone has been overcome with color.
I Want Nothing, by The Black Ghosts
I hesitated a bit regarding placing this one on the list, as I know various folks can get prickly when it comes to classifying animation that was made by Japanese creative teams but intended for consumption overseas rather than domestically as “anime.” But, the term means different things domestically and abroad anyway, and with Fantasista Utamaro as Director with Satoru Ohno as Animation Director, I do not think it should be left out of a discussion of his animated music video output.
The Black Ghosts are an Electro band duo out of the United Kingdom, and they present their own brand of challenges to Utamaro. Certainly, even the name of the band itself seems almost the antithesis of the retina scorching and visually lively works of the artist.
While by far the shortest of these music videos, even here in largely black and white the director finds a means by which to make things have a personality.
With elements like the skeleton character designs straight out of a Día de Muertos event, they are also made to possess a paper doll puppet style in their limb movements. This makes the repetitive actions of things like the walk cycle of the lead figuring pushing their vacuum through all forms of opposition have a variety of quirky charm in their own right, flailing about as they are, then amplified with the limited attempts at emotional expression. At the same time, everything always stays rock solid on model by using this puppet approach, which fits the consistent mechanical beat of the musical piece it is complimenting without jumping for more onerous CG elements or a number of expensive hand drawn frames. These combinations of limitations and strengths allows things like synchronized dancing skeletons to easily slide into the work without seeming like it is reaching for a level of animated exaggeration that is beyond that of the actual music it is there to be supporting rather than dominating.
As unrestrained as Utamaro’s works may seem on the surface in other places, or indeed perhaps even by the end of this video, there is a great amount of thought applied in making his color chaos spectacles function without turning to sludge. One has to know the values of restraint and all manner of core fundamental artistic rules, as it were, before they can generally go about breaking them in a pleasing manner on a regular basis. Here, as far as animation music videos alone go, he was able to showcase that appreciation as it pertained to this format, as the oldest of all the works being shown and discussed here now.
Tell Your World, by livetune featuring Hatsune Miku
Without question, Fantasista Utamaro has a good relationship with kz of livetune, as this is the second music video of three songs by him that are in this lineup. With just shy of nine million views on YouTube at the time of this writing, it is also the widest success when it comes to these music videos. This is certainly helped in no small part to the massive popularity of Hatsune Miku, the standard bearer of the Vocaloid digital idol fleet. As things work out though, kz also happens to be the first artist to release a Hatsune Miku album on a major recording label, after Victor Entertainment acquired Re:package after a successful independent release during Comic Market 73. So he has a longer history than most when it comes to making her sing, while it is up to Utamaro for giving her form.
This sentiment, knowingly or not, carries directly into the introductory bits of the piece itself as it assembles Miku from primordial wireframes and polygon sheets.
As a virtual idol singer being rendered in a three dimensional environment, opportunities for all manner of visual shenanigans that would be a right royal pain in the butt in real life music video recording are plentiful. Among these, one of the most directly noticeable is the director goes with a rapidly changing wardrobe revolver while the visual focal point of the singer is rarely broken. This itself also means that these outfit changes are either met with appropriate background alterations to fit the palate of the articles currently being worn, or the surface level color cacophony around her at a given moment has been engineered so that all of the outfits being worn in front of it would synergize with with it visually.
In addition, the manga style onomatopoeia is here in force again, showing up in the backdrops or otherwise forming around bits like Miku flapping her hand around. Their colors too have been engineered for both maximum or minimal impact, depending on their priority and layer, especially given the general speed of the camera zipping around once things get going.
Another element taken on as a color challenge for this music video was that of glitches and distortion. This is a video that revels very much in reminding the viewer of Hatsune Miku as a digital image, even outside of the initial construction phase or costume changes, as aspects of her character go in and out of form and otherwise become temporally scrambled throughout. This carries on even to the last frames, as the music video section proper concludes as if it was in the process of crashing.
The uneven rainbows and frenetic energy of visual glitches makes for a difficult effect to pleasantly work into a wall to wall color design space that would seem not only crowded but downright sardine can like to many other professionals. I do not think many other directors would have taken the opportunity or chance to push that level of extra complimentary color decisions, especially for a video that is already so fast moving for the majority of its duration.
Transfer, by livetune adding Megumi Nakajima
As the final anime music video on this list, I would like to thank you if you read along this far, and if you are one of the ones who skipped ahead then welcome. In a turn of events from the previous video, we have kz / livetune here again for instrumentation, but instead of another Vocaloid on lyrics we have Megumi Nakajima. While she is the voice provider for the Gumi / Megpoid line of voicebanks in that product line, as a previously widely successful idol singer in her own right, here she sings as herself. And so again, Fantasista Utamaro has upon themselves a task.
As I consider this to be his strongest work as an anime music video director, I would recommend watching it if you have not been doing so with the others.
What the video for “Transfer” is, if one breaks it down, is a character animation running cycle.
The girl in the video enters a scene, navigates it, then is sent flying only to land and run towards us. Then the running animation cycle repeats in full. And continues to do so more than two dozen times. The only differences lie in everything surrounding her in the environment and what may make her cycle work appropriately across numerous locations and art styles (running around a corner or through a door as a scene entrance, stepping on a landmine to send her flying, etc). And through these locations and styles, there is always a part of the ever shifting backdrop that gets extra attention at the same moment, so that at the very end it can pull back the camera while playing all of the cycle animations at the same time and reveal the name of the video patched together like it was a quilt.
The video, in concept, may even seem like the kind of thing where one thinks just of that final shot of first and then works backwards.
Again, the director comes from a textile educational background and still does work in fashion at points, so in this case the eye towards the valuable use of repetition and patterns forms the entire core of the video. Remove the repetition aspect as a familiar vector across the images, and it likely collapses.
That these sections are not weighed down by their identical running cycle animation, but can instead form something complete that is merely using that aspect as a central anchoring pattern for the design work surrounding it. And to be able to have that final something cut a visually distinct look in the eye of the beholder when the entire thing is gazed upon all at once at the end. That as nice as they may be in parts, none of these individual patches mean as much as they do when assembled together. To have such repetition without audience exhaustion, even for a video so small, or to be able to tie such disparate visual parts together in a way that makes sense for said repetition to react how it is on the screen. It is very much akin to a piece of patterned fabric assembled to make something greater than itself.
And that is all of them as far as this post is concerned!
I know this write-up was quite different than a lot of what I usually tackle around here concerning other anime topics, so again thanks for sticking around. Hopefully it shed at least a little bit of a light on someone who does not often get a whole lot of anime community attention. But he is definitely out there, and there is always the possibility he may well be coming to a series near you again someday soon.