Gift Ideas for the Animation Inclined
Plus: global animation news and a scary ghost story.
Welcome back! Another Sunday, another issue of the Animation Obsessive newsletter. Thanks for joining us. Here’s our agenda for today:
One — our tips for animation gift shoppers.
Two — animation news, worldwide.
Three — spotlighting a piece of animated Japanese horror.
Four — the last word.
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With that, here we go!
1. Animation for Christmas
We’ve been looking forward to making this list. In lieu of our usual cover story, we’ve compiled our animation gift ideas for the holidays. From anime to classic cartoons and beyond, we’ve tried to cast a broad enough net that at least one thing will jump out at you.
Although many of these link to Amazon product pages, they are not affiliate links — they’re just for convenience. If you prefer to support other storefronts when possible, like we do, we fully endorse your decision.
Our usual news and recommendations continue after the guide. Feel free to scroll down if you’re not shopping for Christmas — unless you’re curious to see what we’ve picked!
For anime fans
Future Boy Conan: The Complete Series (Amazon, GKIDS) — This new Blu-ray set has finally made Hayao Miyazaki’s classic series available in English. A pivotal moment for his career, and for Japanese animation as a whole.
Starting Point 1979–1996 (Amazon) — For anyone who’s ever wanted to peek inside Miyazaki’s head, this collection of his writings and interviews from 1979 through 1996 remains basically unmatched.
Turning Point 1997–2008 (Amazon) — The sequel to Starting Point, and just as good. Turning Point covers the Spirited Away era, too.
Satoshi Kon Storyboard Book: Tokyo Godfathers (Amazon) — The truly unbelievable storyboards that built one of the best Christmas movies. Not officially available in America, but import copies are relatively cheap.
Gauche the Cellist Archive (Apple Books) — E-SAKUGA’s books are amazing. This is the authoritative guide to one of Isao Takahata’s best films. It even has interactive animation breakdowns alongside the art and information.
VIZ Media’s Ghibli Artbooks — Almost all still in print, the artbooks that VIZ Media has put out for everything from My Neighbor Totoro (Amazon) to Ponyo (Amazon) are gorgeous looks behind the scenes, filled with Miyazaki’s own art.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Art of the Animated Series (Amazon) — Back in print with a second edition, this book is a thorough and fascinating trip through the art of Avatar. Is it anime? Maybe not, but anime fans love it.
For classic animation fans
UPA: The Jolly Frolics Collection (Amazon) — TCM’s excellent anthology of the non-Magoo UPA cartoons. Despite being on DVD, the films have impeccable image and audio quality.
The Art and Flair of Mary Blair (Amazon) — A classic at this point. John Canemaker’s book does a phenomenal job of showcasing Mary Blair’s one-of-a-kind eye for color and design.
The Art of Jay Ward Productions (Amazon) — Author Darrell Van Citters has brought back his definitive look at Jay Ward Productions’ artwork and artists, after years out of print. A must for the Rocky and Bullwinkle obsessed.
The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation (Amazon) — An excellent guide to the Peanuts cartoons, from A Charlie Brown Christmas to the ones you likely don’t know. Out of print, but there’s an eBook, and hardcover copies aren’t super expensive yet.
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special (Amazon) — Another Van Citters classic, recently back in print. The topic may be niche, but this book is packed with rare art and information.
For budding animators
The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation (Amazon) — The old standby for a reason. A beautiful and essential book. We would recommend this over Richard Williams’ Animator’s Survival Kit, as his attitude can discourage some young artists.
They Drew as They Pleased — The best recent series of books about Disney. From the first volume on the early films (Amazon), to the sixth volume that goes up through Frozen (Amazon), Didier Ghez offers an incredible look into the art and making of Disney animation.
The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design (Amazon) — An in-depth guide to Maurice Noble’s design method, full of technical breakdowns. The book for anyone who’s ever wanted to know the secrets of What’s Opera, Doc?
For eclectic viewers
Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore Trilogy (Amazon, GKIDS) — This massive Blu-ray set, due out December 14, is one of our most anticipated launches of the year. Alongside its other bonuses, it’s planned to be Wolfwalkers’ only physical release.
The Art of Wolfwalkers (Amazon) — Indispensable for anyone wowed by Cartoon Saloon’s latest film and eager to look behind the scenes.
Hilda and the Black Hound (Amazon) — A bit out of left field, but we absolutely recommend Luke Pearson’s original Hilda comics to anyone who enjoys the Netflix series. For us, they’re even better, and Black Hound is one of the best.
A Year of Animation Obsessive — Last and hopefully not least, we’re running our first limited-time discount ever. Until December 25, the founding member tier is $40 off. This gets you two annual subscriptions (one for yourself, one for a friend of your choice) for nearly the price of one.
2. News around the world
The winners at GIRAF
Calgary’s 17th GIRAF animation festival has just about wrapped up. It announced the winners earlier today. The top prize among Canadian films went to My Head Aches When I Look Too Long by Callahan Bracken, while the Russian animator Anton Dyakov won the international award for BoxBallet.
Emily Pelstring’s Petal to the Metal (Canada) and the stunning Fall of the Ibis King (Ireland) took home honorable mentions. Other prizes went to beautiful films like Fledge (Israel), A Bite of Bone (Japan) and Camille (France).
Regular readers know that we were on GIRAF’s jury this year. It was fun to work with filmmakers Siloën Daley and Greg Doble to pick these winners. Each juror spent a few weeks watching everything and gathering favorites — then we deliberated over Zoom this past Friday evening. We realize that’s a short time to judge projects that take months and sometimes years to make.
BoxBallet won the international prize for a simple reason: every member of the jury had it as a top pick before deliberations began. For our part, we loved it at Annecy, and we loved it no less at GIRAF. As we wrote in June, it’s a romance between a boxer and a ballerina that’s something like “an ultra-Russian take on the anime series My Love Story.” There’s also a lot of Martynko in it, and more than a little Punch-Out.
The jury as a whole settled on the haunting, moving My Head Aches after some debate. Going in, the Animation Obsessive team favored Petal to the Metal and What the Walls Feel as They Stare at Rob Ford Sitting in His Office — two abstract pieces that visualize music, not unlike the work of Canadian animator Norman McLaren. But the quality of My Head Aches is obvious, and we’re happy to give Bracken this win.
Thanks again to GIRAF for allowing us the honor of judging these films. It’s not something we take lightly. To the creators of The Bones, Sororal, White Horse, Push This Button If You Begin To Panic, Dogs Smell Like The Sea, Horacio and many more — your work truly impressed us, even if it didn’t take home a prize this time.
BUSINESS: Bilibili loses money and grows
The streaming service Bilibili, known as “China’s YouTube,” is one of the prime backers of animation in Asia. Just this week, it revealed another 51 animated projects coming soon, including a second season of the global hit Heaven Official’s Blessing.
With this much investment, you might think that Bilibili’s booming. That’s almost true. The Japanese publication Animation Business Journal explains that revenue at Bilibili has exploded since last year — the third quarter was “up 51% from the same period of 2020,” Bilibili says. But the company’s latest earnings call also revealed that its operating losses nearly doubled over the same period.
Animation Business Journal’s take is that Bilibili is focusing on growth over short-term profitability, which seems plausible. Bilibili knows that it’s losing money and isn’t making excuses about it. Last year, the company reported that most Chinese animation doesn’t break even, but that it planned to continue funding it anyway.
In recent years, animation production has been heavily subsidized by the Chinese government. The logic may be that, if the industry powers ahead long enough, profitability will eventually follow. It remains to be seen whether that gamble pays off.
Best of the rest
T Magazine’s feature story on Hayao Miyazaki went viral this week. We’ll add that Miyazaki hasn’t really been gone — How Do You Live? began in 2016 and was revealed in 2017. He released the 14-minute Boro the Caterpillar in 2018.
On the subject of Miyazaki, the Totoro Fund foundation just recapped its huge success in preserving Japan’s Sayama Hills, which inspired My Neighbor Totoro. The foundation said that Miyazaki, an advisor, has had a significant impact.
In Russia, the first trailer for the rebooted Well, Just You Wait! is out, and fans are not happy. Soyuzmultfilm says that it expected this — arguing that Russia will come to appreciate the new series in time.
Meanwhile, the legendary director Garri Bardin is now an honorary citizen of Orenburg, Russia. He was born there during World War II — when his mother was evacuating from Kiev to Magnitogorsk.
Robin Robin, the new stop-motion Christmas special from Aardman in Britain, is out now on Netflix.
In America, Cartoon Network revealed the first nine shorts from its Cartoon Cartoons initiative.
Three theaters in Japan hope to screen Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers on Christmas Eve. In a sign of how obscure he remains in his home country, the theaters won’t commit unless moviegoers purchase 55 tickets by December 10.
There’s more of the Franco-Belgian series Ernest and Celestine on the way in April 2022. Networks across Europe are already jumping on board.
If you’ve ever wondered what kind of animation the average TV viewer in Japan actually watches, we recommend this new ranking. You might be surprised.
Lastly, Disney’s Encanto has earned $40 million in North America and $29 million abroad since its debut on Wednesday. The pandemic is still being felt — Moana pulled in almost $100 million over the same period in 2016.
3. Indie spotlight — Mekakure
Speaking of great films at GIRAF, we wanted to take a moment to single out Mekakure, one of the best pieces of horror animation at the show. It’s far from a Christmas film, but we aren’t quite in December yet — let’s call it a late pick for Halloween.
Mekakure comes from Japan, and its title roughly translates to Hidden Eyes. In it, a group of children play the Japanese equivalent to Red Light, Green Light. Something is off, though. The boy who’s “it,” Shun, quickly begins to suspect that the others coming toward him are demons who plan to devour him.
If the premise sounds a little like Squid Game, it’s worth noting that this film premiered in 2019 — and what’s happening here is less about shock and more about fear. The suspense is tangible each time Shun turns away from the others. As he covers his eyes, we see wild, nightmarish visions of what might be happening behind him, animated with real technical flair.
Mekakure’s execution is tight and its core concept is smart. (In real life, it’s actually the player who’s “it” in this Japanese game who’s called a demon.) The film does a lot with its five-minute runtime. It’s reminiscent of an early Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories episode, only more ambitious.
Director and animator Akifumi Nonaka might not have won at GIRAF, but Mekakure was still a highlight for us. If you’re in the mood to be spooked, he’s put his film on Vimeo for free — and we recommend it:
4. Last word
That’s the end of our issue this week! Thanks for sticking around. We’ll be back to our usual cover story format next Sunday. Like usual, members can catch us on Thursday as well.
This week’s Thursday issue looked at a classic piece of Chinese animation, Shirley Silvey’s design and storyboards for Rocky and Bullwinkle — and more. If you’re a student with a .edu address, you can grab a 40% discount on membership right here.
One last thing. On Friday, we had a surprise hit on Twitter with the short animation Expectations by Elena Rogova and Zhenia Pavlenko, two filmmakers based in Hungary. It’s a lovely little piece they released on Vimeo some time ago. Rogova is an exceedingly talented artist — one of those 2D animators in Europe who’s as good as the American greats, yet somehow flies under the radar.
As with Combustible last week, it’s been fantastic to see Expectations strike a chord with so many people. We think you’ll like it, too.
Hope to see you again soon!