Obsessive Art of Trapeze

January 15, 2010

I’ve been pretty busy recently (staying up late with my design team and checking out wonderful places in Seoul and all) but still managed to find some time to catch up on anime. In a desperate attempt to keep this blog alive, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about a particularly interesting design element in Trapeze.

One could say that the world of Trapeze is covered all over with polka dots just as Bakemonogatari is constructed by lightly framed units. Ever questioned why, or even where the animators got the inspiration from? If I have to speculate, much of the show’s visual design owes to the obsessive and bizarre works of a Japanese artist named Yayoi Kusama.

Above you can see her works of her trademark polka dots. Below are screenshots taken from Trapeze.

Wikipedia will tell you some very interesting things about her character, which you may find relevant:

Her paintings, collages, soft sculptures, performance art and environmental installations all share an obsession with repetition, pattern, and accumulation. Her work[…]is infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. She describes herself as an “obsessive artist”. Kusama has experienced hallucinations and severe obsessive thoughts since childhood, often of a suicidal nature. The vast fields of polka dots, or “infinity nets,” as she called them, were taken directly from her hallucinations.

And I think Kenji (director of Trapeze, Mononoke) used polka dots to a great effect. What’s essential here are repetitions to an obsessive degree, effective combination of vibrant colours, and intelligent use of ‘lighting’. One of the reasons why Yayoi Kusama’s art feels so surreal is because of the way those coloured dots are being reflected off certain materials, and I certainly feel that Kenji’s efforts to emulate that effect paid off. In above screenshot of a guy’s room for example, the way the lights reflect off the polished floors, walls, ceilings, and even window frames, all make the room feel more bizarre. Like Shinbo’s light frames, I found this design element refreshing, unique and most of the time effective (certainly paints vivid psychological landscapes in key scenes). The style eventually lost is original charm though, it didn’t really grow on me as I watched more episodes.

Speaking of capturing psychological states, rotoscoping was another very interesting and refreshing element. We all know animated medium are well capable of capturing realistic emotions without the help of real actors, but it was still nice to see such a technique, I haven't seen it being used in anime since Yuasa's Mind Game and Kemonozume. Not just for characters, but also to trace real life backgrounds to be set behind cartoony characters.

Trapeze delights in a number of more innovative techniques (I greatly enjoyed Trapeze for its creativity) but like animekritik, I found the show far from reaching any sublime heights. I loved episode 2 and episode 11 but majority of the show wasn’t quite as excellent. I could go on and on about its potentials and how the show remained too tame and not so ambitious but you don’t want to read that do you. Instead, I will recommend Kenji’s previous work, a brilliant masterpiece called Mononoke. You will actually find those two sharing lot of similarities (being the product of same creative staff after all).

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9 Responses to “Obsessive Art of Trapeze”

  1. Martin Says:

    The only other use I’ve so far seen of rotoscoping outside of Masaaki Yuasa is by Richard Linklater but it works wonderfully in Trapeze.

    What I appreciated most of all about the visual style is how it carried the show when the plot or characters didn’t hold my attention. Some story arcs worked better than others so it was welcome to have a visual style that always held my interest.

    I was racking my brains as to where the director got his inspiration from (Yuasa was the only name who sprung to mind really) and although I’ve never heard of Kusuma your explanation makes sense. I should’ve counted on you of all people to point it out!

  2. animekritik Says:

    Yeah, this was something I didn’t consciously realize but it was all over the place: polka dots. The fact that Kusuma is obsessive of course establishes a strong link with the show!

    I must say, the fourth pic looks like a place I’d like to hang out at.

  3. redmaigo Says:

    @Martin

    Ralph Bakshi use to do a lot of rotoscoping of his animated films back in the day.

    Not so much in Wizards but he did use too much of it in his version of The Lord of the Rings.

  4. chii Says:

    i actually loved the visuals of this show… but i didn’t overly enjoy the show as a whole… the whole Dr. patient thing freaks me out still (personal issues) and the close up of a needle injection taking blood every episode didn’t help any 😐
    Mononoke is far superior imo

  5. Canne Says:

    I like how you describe the visual style as obsessive. The anime has a very personal feel to it. It almost makes me wonder if I and the artist are looking at the same world.

  6. 2DT Says:

    I only know of Yayoi Kusama through her association with Georgia O’Keefe and the artists of that time. But now that you point it out, it all looks so obvious, I wish I’d thought of it… As usual with your posts. 🙂

    As for rotoscoping, I saw it making a brief comeback in American film with Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Didn’t really care for it, though– it hits the wrong Uncanny Valley buttons for me.

  7. gaguri Says:

    @Martin

    Yea I’ve seen a number of other animations with rotoscoping but it’s not so much used in anime. And its visual style sure was interesting enough to hold most people’s interest.

    @animekritik

    I guess these sort of things are intended to work at subconscious level, just that my line of work requires me to look at and think about them more. And of course, who wouldn’t want to hang out in um, a white room full of psychedelic dots…

    @chii

    Mononoke is indeed far superior!

    @Canne

    We all wear different shoes, wear different lenses~

    @2DT

    Yea I’m one of those people who don’t exactly fancy the marriage between animation and live action. Very hard to make me like the crossing.

  8. Shadowmage Says:

    Oh yeah… Trapeze.

    I need to go finish that.

    Around four episodes in I realized I just had enough of what the series had to offer me to last a lifetime.

  9. gaguri Says:

    If you really, really, really don’t feel like watch all episodes, I would personally recommend watching episode 6 and 11 (since 11 will be more powerful with that). At very least watch last episode, it has ‘final words’ to nicely summarise the show like Mononoke did.


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