April 15, 2021

The Best Anime of 2020…Was a Pokémon Music Video?!?

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Rie Matsumoto can’t keep getting away with this, I keep giving her Anime of the Year on these Bump of Chicken projects while desperately waiting for her to sit in the director’s chair on a movie or a tv show and it feels like it’s never going to happen. Almost 2 years ago we metaphorically sat here and talked about the best anime of 2018, Rie’s Lotte chocolate ad w/ Bump of Chicken’s Shinsekai – and between now and then Rie’s new anime production total is nothing. So when my favorite living anime director busts out a new project with my favorite JRock Group, and it’s in collaboration with the video game franchise that defined my childhood…yeah of course it’s anime of the year.

Kakushigoto, Great Pretender, Oregairu S3 & Haikyuu S4 can take a backseat; it’s already over. And honestly I’d feel pretty comfortable ending the video just by linking to you the video yourself so you can appreciate it and bask in its greatness…but I’m not really gonna pass up an opportunity to talk about it either. So in this video I’d like to talk about what exactly makes Gotcha so good from a visual perspective in terms of its direction, and talk about why Rie Matsumoto’s style of storytelling gives all of her works incredibly high Replay Value. 

A lot of the points I made in the Lotte Ad video are applicable here thanks to the similar structure. In fact you could chart these two projects side by side and they’re nearly identical in terms of the beats – two high paced sections that are highly referential to the brand, flanked on both sides by slower sections that expound on the “storyline” – that storyline being about two people finding each other over a shared relation to the brand – love of chocolate and their respective partners. And a lot of people will point to certain aspects of Rie Matsumoto’s directorial choices  between the hyper focus on eyes, the screens coming to life and looking over the “real world”, the prismatic rainbow confetti ripped straight from Kyousougiga’s ending.

It all screams Rie and that’s even without jumping into her Kekkai Sensen proclivities – just watch Beyond’s ED and tell me there’s not a trend here. The main thing I would like to highlight about her style here is the absolute focus on the affinity of continuum of movement which is something that we should credit to the storyboards. Continuum of movement is the transition of the audience’s visual attention between shots – so you can think of it like where the audience’s eyes should be on screen before and after a cut happens. Affinity of continuum of movement is when the point of attention is similar or the same between cuts – you’re already looking there, so you can follow what’s happening easier.

Contrast of continuum of movement is the opposite – it’ll take a moment for the audience to locate the new attention-point which isn’t a problem in long takes. For instance, the first two shots in this project which are a pretty clear reference to Stand By Me, the movie that’s on the television in the original Gen 1 titles. They’re about 10 and 6 seconds in length respectively, and there is plenty of time for your eyes to examine all of the details of the shot because of that. Other parts of the animation don’t have that luxury, in some of these incredibly quick sequences, a character might be on screen for all of 16 frames. 

 There are some tricks that this project uses when transitioning from those slow pace sequences to the fast ones – the main things that help to grab attention from a physiological perspective are human faces, bright light, and movement. The cut from that second shot where theoretically you could be looking anywhere, gets an assist by a large human face that is brighter than anything else on screen. From there you’ll see pikachu on the cut but your eyes should move to the boy again because he’s brighter & familiar, and from there on we’re on the right side of the screen where the boy and Pikachu are always the most luminescent things.

At that point it’s more or less the same pattern with the girl – except Pikachu’s movement has us on the left side at the start. The reason why this matters even early on is because so much of this storyline’s emotional weight is predicated on our knowledge that these characters have had their Pokémon partners in their lives since their earliest days and to share one major physical trait – head-resting / kissing respectively. Flipping the script entirely we have the shadow legendaries shot, which is a great example of Contrast of Continuum of movement. There’s a huge wipe over the screen and the following instance is blurred as though the camera is attempting to regain focus.

Your eyes can really go anywhere here – there’s nothing calling out for your attention and the opening bits of this moment are intentionally hard to follow, with the swirling shadows, the small main characters, and the jumps in the rotation. If you’re like me on your first watch you’ll notice Raikou and Entei and Gen 1’s legendary birds, but anywhere your attention is, is well spent because there’s something there to pick-up on, and the same is true when the antagonists show up. That contrast of continuum of movement – the lack of clear signposting the attention point – is a strength of this shot because it makes that first recognition somewhat random and because you were almost certainly unable to pick up the first few shapes, that later realization is a fun “click” moment where the viewer suddenly understands what’s happening. 

I’d love to go beat by beat through this whole project but I feel like that’d take too long and I’m gonna be hitting most of them throughout this discussion anyway – but the major affinity of continuum of movement sequence I want to highlight is this one. We’re brought to the center of the screen by the protags running across the screen and then a pinpoint of light. Your eye for the entirety of the following sequence never has to leave that small area, because everything is naturally flowing into or out of that circle. There are movements your eye will make outside of the circle, you’ll likely go to Diantha’s eye because that should draw your attention – you’ll probably follow Wallace’s leg kick up which is cleverly followed by Cynthia’s descent – but the point is that you’re never leaving that center for long.

You might track Hugh here for example, but come the next shot you’ll be brought back to the center thanks to Barry and Lucas – and even if you stick on them, the trio of Trevor, Shauna and Tierno are all there to catch you and redirect your focus back inwards – Shauna has the most movement in this shot after all. The same idea can also be found in the second “high pace” section where we see the Sword  and Shield cast cycle through, and some of those characters are only around for 13 frames they take up opposite sides but they’ll always touch that center mark, and even if you track them while they leave, you’ll meet the new character back in the center because that’s the direction they’re traveling – and spend most of their time there. 

The last thing I’d like to bring up about the centering is how basing it around faces was perfect for conveying emotions. Silver is on screen for 12 frames, he recognizes Lyra (and the viewer) and smiles in the remaining 6 frames – and yet you’ll almost certainly finish that sequene, at least subconsciously, knowing that it’s the post-game Silver who’s happy and found meaning in his journey. It’s also cool that this is placed after the serious Hilbert, Hilda & N moment, which empowers the reading that once their journeys are over they too will find happiness. 

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You don’t need me telling you that the ending shots fade from Sword and Shield to Stand by Me effectively combines both past and present into a look towards the future, which is all to say that you can see how using human faces and our natural physiology to detect emotional changes also helps to keep our eyes centered, even without huge displays like Lillie and Selene – though honestly I can’t help but smile massively whenever I watch that part. And I have watched this thing at least a hundred times and that is in no small part thanks to how beautiful the animation is and how easy of a viewing experience it is to follow thanks to that affinity of continuum of movement – but also because Rie Matsumoto’s style of direction when it comes to these kinds of things basically asks to be replayed over and over again so that – in regard to those small details – you can catch ‘em all. 

If there’s one thing I can generalize about all of Rie’s work it’s that they are all dense in terms of visual information. I mean just look at this absolute insanity – how is anyone supposed to parse everything in one watch? Well, you’re not. Step Up Love is an ED that plays at the end of every episode, and everything on screen ties into one of the storylines so that when you finally meet the werewolves in the show you’re like ‘OHHHHHHH’ and same with the brain in the jar – and literally everyone other moment in this ED and slowly the foreshadowing aspects of these clips start to make sense.

Every time you watch through you pick up on something new, and you want to rewatch because there’s so much stuff you felt like you missed. In Gotcha! the major causes for me to want to rewatch were the legendaries shadows and  the gym leader crawl. The shadow legendaries we talked a bit about earlier – you’re unlikely to pick up the first few that pass-by and it’s physically impossible to catch all of them, so you’ll have a desire to replay it to try and see all of them. But without a doubt my favorite aspect of the entire production is the gym leaders and elite four members part. 

There’s so much happening here that I frankly don’t even know where to start and that’s kind of indicative of what’s awesome about it. Like sure we could talk about how you’re going to follow the female lead at the start because she’s aligned on the side where your eyes left off and has the most motion but your eye will almost certainly wander to the background once she heads off to the left, where you’ll either pick up on the trainers by type or maybe catch Eevee getting bodied by Infernape and Froslass. Effectively there are three visual threads – one based on the mains, one based on their Pokémon and one based on the background – and it is impossible to watch all three of those threads simultaneously – your eye will almost certainly pick up on aspects of all three but you cannot get the full visual narrative of all three storylines on one go – hell I don’t even think it’s possible to catch all of the background elements playing at normal speed in one go.

But Gotcha! Makes going back to watch worth it – Jasmine reacting when the male lead gets hit with the trash lid was such a cute addition, the rock trainers tracking the boulder stoically, the dark type trainers being outside the frame was awesome, Crobat running away from its type weakness in Psychic, and that’s maybe 1/10th of all the fun details. Also this sequence is so close to be in type weakness order – Water/Electricity/Ground for example, it falls apart at Fairy/Dragon/Steel but it had an incredibly strong streak going. 

Going through frame by frame and combing out all of the details was a blast, trying to find my favorite leaders and legendaries, seeing Selene pop-up before she crashes into lillie, Ampharos getting the respect it deserves, the posters for the Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra, realizing that the hats got flipped at some point during production since they walk away with the opposite ones in hand that they wear in the ending. I just love projects that make me want to stay true to the channel name and replay them over and over again. And Gotcha! has that in spades. Some closing thoughts and I’ll keep this brief. I appreciate that this project leaves some stuff up for interpretation – like we never see Rayquaza, but who else is going to clear the sky after Kyogre and Groudon, I’m convinced that Rie has an obsession with ferris wheels and I woulda sworn the pyramid and that entire setting was a Battle Frontier reference had it actually completed at the top. 

Honestly Gotcha! reminded me why Pokémon was so important to me – and to some degree still is, and in capturing those iconic moments of fighting Champion Blue and Red at Mount Silver almost brought me to tears. Rie you deserve to sleep after this amazing production on the best anime of 2020, much like your author stand-in does during the credits, but I will not give you best anime of 2022 to you in 2 years when this happens again unless you get a movie or tv series in between then. Unless it’s for Zelda or Smash Bros in which case I’ll reconsider.