This Week: Taiko Drum Master (Taiko no Tatsujin)
A little claymation children’s series based on the popular arcade rhythm game, and the silly faces that allows for.
As an instrument, drums make quite a visual statement along with their percussive beats.
While they come in all shapes and sizes, their universal trait is they are hit with great force to create (ideally) pleasing sounds and instrumental accompaniment. Sometimes loud and crashing, at other points low and rumbling like a far off storm. They are devices of great texture, tactile qualities and a wide range provided as a matter of course through but minor adjustments in where one hits them and with what.
In this way, Taiko Drum Master going with a clay animation approach is a very natural extension to the instrument themselves. Blobs smashed, stricken, slammed around by hand. Yet at the same time with a lot of attention and care so as to make any of it feel right when acting in concert. It is the kind of approach that, having now seen the series, makes rather difficult to imagine a different form or approach it could have taken. If the same scripts were applied to traditional two dimensional drawn animation, I do not feel the series would have the same impact. There is a connection of visual form by using something as hand formed and bashed around as clay to portray the subject characters, drums and other entities pulled from the rhythm game series of the same name.
It would be difficult to make up the difference for this connection had the series gone another route.
To be sure, the use of the word impact is rather relative.
Taiko Drum Master as a series is a collection of short episodes each around five minutes or so in length. Our leads are two drums, the red body and blue faced Wadakatsu and the blue body and red faced Wadadon, brought to life by the Great Soul to do nice things in their earthly existence. Sometimes they gain musical notes for these, and should they gain enough and train hard they may one day get to be grand golden drums. Also along for the ride are folks like Mechadon, a drum machine with aspirations to one day conquer the world, and Donko, a lady drum with crushes and aspirations for love, among others. Antics range from short little sketches about imagined fantasy days, building a snowman, and all the way up to the occasional song and dance number.
Very episodic, some nice puns here and there and the language is very easy for young audiences to follow along with. And there is nothing wrong with that, as everything ends before it wears out its welcome trying to drag out a Happy Birthday routine for a thirty or even fifteen minute duration.
The episodes do not particularly reach for much, acting more as a stabilizing agent for the rest of the series to hang on to as it spews colored minerals all about.
It is a series driven in content notability entirely through its visual format.
The claymation effects, as characters mouths move and objects swirl, mash, and reform, do provide a different experience than just watching bit animations or larger cut scenes from the source material game. It is not as though it has never been used before in Japanese animation either, of course, so do not misunderstand me as taking it as some one of a kind novelty. Independent artists have used it in their own short projects for years. Heck, even something as notorious and widely distributed in the west as Genocyber used aspects of wet clay to amp up some gore effects in its bloodbaths, but this is a very different ball entirely. For this kind of production, I can see how the clay animation would definitely set itself apart in a larger children’s entertainment programming block. Its distinct look compared to its airing peers giving it very crunchy and snappy memory association, both for the show itself and then further to act as a link to remember the arcade game with their pocket change.
It works on an advertising level, trying to maintain an audience and have them remember to tune in or recall the product where there are a lot of competing entertainment materials for a potentially rapidly changing attention.
On the production front, Taiko Drum Master is a difficult thing to track the credits and career department from an English language resources perspective.
Many of the artists involved in this project, while it ran for twenty six episodes, do not have a whole lot of professional crossover with the two dimensional hand drawn animation industry. As such, given that this specific area is the focus for what a lot of folks consider as “anime” in the west and even the various sakuga resources have been built around 2D, there is barely even enough information in a lot of areas to even mention the series exists.
The single most notable animator in the credits to would likely go to Takuya Ishida, a clay animation artist who has worked on numerous Crayon Shin-Chan productions. Prior to Taiko Drum Master, which started airing in 2005, he was even recognized enough by stop motion doll animator Kihachirō Kawamoto to be included in his 2003 Winter Days (Fuyu no Hi) animation anthology film, which recruited a wide array of skilled animators (one even being Isao Takahata from Studio Ghibli) from a variety of artistic backgrounds. It is a film I have wanted to talk about at length for some time, but so wide does it reach in styles I still feel I need to shore up various animation background shortcomings in to really wrap my head around, let alone appreciate, what it is aiming to do.
The writing room, with the skill sets they have, would be expected to have more direct transferability and familiarity to the anime industry at large, and at that one would be correct.
Mitsutaka Hirota for instance would go on to do Series Composition duties for the likes of the X-Men anime, and even was responsible for the screenplay of BUTA, Telecom Animation Film’s submission for the Anime Mirai 2012 short film collection. The largest success story here would go to Touko Machida, who has now handled Series Composition roles for various later big transmedia properties at one time or another, like Lucky☆Star and THE iDOLM@STER.
I think it is noteworthy such a curious little claymation television production, greenlit as it was by big video game Namco for what was at the time mostly known as an arcade game, did in its own ways likely lead to the writing staff being able to take on ever larger properties and to be considered trusted hands.
Ideally every animator is having a fulfilling career as well, but again it is hard to track most of their achievements or find English resources that point our their developments and craft over the years,
The oldest movie studio in Japan, they at one point even had over two-thirds of the theater market locked up until the 1970’s and a massive financial downfall. Namco sold shares of Nikkatsu in 2005 to Index Corporation, which itself within the span of the same year offloaded its stakes on to SKY Perfect Communications Inc. Bandai Namco Holdings Inc., the effective merger of the primarily video game based Namco with major anime and toy partner Bandai, also occurred in 2005. The same year Taiko Drum Master began to air, and would continue to do so throughout it all for over a year.
So, indeed, it really is a wonder something like it managed to get out the door at all, even if it may not blow them away. I especially could not imagine a publisher in the modern gaming industry giving the go ahead to something like this, or it managing to hold on so long with that many transitions of corporate power.
A tenacious, if inoffensive and not really in the way little piece of clay, stuck up in crevices it refused to be broken loose from.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.