Purposefully Pretentious: Masaaki Yuasa
An uncommon thing has occurred. I am actively excited for a program to come out. Last month, Netflix released a trailer for Masaaki Yuasa’s newest show, Devilman Crybaby. And this has made me quite excited.
Unfortunately, as I scrolled through the comments – I know, I know, a big mistake – but, while scrolling I found its reception extremely polarized. Either people exclaimed with delight over a new Masaaki Yuasa project, or they objected to the style. Such a divide is a staple of Yuasa’s work that even reaches his Adventure Time episode.
Now, while Devilman itself deserves hype, I am part of the party cooing over the fact that Netflix has funded a series for Yuasa’s new studio, Science Saru. In fact, I have wanted to write about Masaaki Yuasa for a while. The issue I have repeatedly failed to overcome is that his work is so different from most anime. Combining an introduction and a proper explanation would take too long. Each show could be it’s own article. It’s the same with David Bowie, but worse, because most readers are probably more aware of Bowie than Yuasa.
So what to do? Obviously, I can’t convince anyone to change their visceral aesthetic reaction, nor can I say how great Devilman Crybaby is, because all we have are a couple of trailers. But what I can do is this: suggest that Masaaki Yuasa does not indulge in weirdness for weirdness’s sake, suggest some of his shows, and show why we should trust him to produce something interesting.
So we start with this scene in Ping Pong, released in 2014. Here we get at one of the core strengths of Yuasa’s style: abstraction to emphasize kinesthesia. In other words, by making the design seem wrong of “janky,” he captures the movement of the game perfectly. That statement probably sounds pretentious – because it is? – but if so, it mirrors a common critique people have of Yuasa. People call it pretentious, because it is a bit pretentious. But if they’re pretentious, they’re pretensions with a purpose. In Ping Pong, the purpose is to see the physical feelings and sensations of the match. In the still from Kaiba below, the lurid bodies are integral to the nature of the story told, as they are an attempt of revenge against a mindlessly consuming society – trust me.
And in his most acclaimed show, The Tatami Galaxy, Yuasa goes all out to play with it’s nature as an adaptation. Since it’s source material is a novel, swaths of The Tatami Galaxy consist of narration. While these scenes only last a few seconds, the viewer receives a blob of information. In turn, his animation becomes even more unrealistic and apparently simplistic than usual. The simplification succeeds in more accurately and quickly conveying the humor and action of the scene. If Yuasa has become at all enticing to you by the point, this is the show to watch.
But what about Devilman Crybaby? Aren’t you just a fanboy who’s excited because of your fanboy nature? That’s probably part of it, but what I hope you’ve picked up is that Yuasa’s styles are intentional. A lot of shows, like Castlevania, look constructed for popularity. These shows, like Castlevania, are inoffensive, if somewhat boring in terms of their animation and story. By this standard, Masaaki Yuasa is very, very offensive. Thank goodness for that.