“The color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline.”
-The Tale of the Heike
During her time at Kyoto Animation it was a truth universally acknowledged that any Naoko Yamada work must use flower language in some capacity. This remains true in her first work with Science Saru, an anime adaptation of the Japanese epic, Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike).
The opening sequence to the original Love Live! School Idol Project still charms me to this day. It was made back when Love Live! was a budding multimedia adventure and not the successful franchise it is today, the time period of its latest iteration, Love Live! Superstar!!. It features a shot that’s actually rotated in a spinning motion like you would rotate a photograph in photoshop. It comparatively janky, clunky, and sets an odd tone of fourth-wall-breaking stage musical style that the series continues for the entire season, despite the fact that it never returns to this Episode 1 moment where protagonist Honoka Kousaka breaks out into song like a musical.
It’s perfect. Director Takahiko Kyougoku knows how staging works, which isn’t something every idol show gets. He’s aware not only of how to use the figurative camera to give idols a better stage that even the most competent music show wouldn’t be able to do. And most importantly, he intimately knows the liminal space between the reality of a stage show and what it’s trying to project onto an audience, something that myriad accomplished movie directors have failed at miserably when turning musicals into movies. The first episode of the original Love Live! not only features Honoka’s movie musical moment, but a fantastic sequence featuring established idol group A-Rise as they perform on a dark stage that quickly becomes a pocket space that they own before cutting back to a stunned audience, watching them on a large screen.
In the first episode of Love Live! Superstar!! we see this same exact understanding of staging. Kyougoku revisits his own franchise and uses similar staging to give Kanon Shibuya her own movie musical moment, all while presenting a world that’s both completely different from Love Live! School Idol Project and wholly familiar.
With that visual language brought over from Gridman, Dynazenon and director Akira Amemiya and staff are moving beyond an homage to kaiju and tokusatsu series past and looping in their own universe and visual language established in Gridman.
The opening sequence of Horimiya, a combined effort from series director Masashi Ishihama and Haruka Iizuka, is stylish and purposeful. It has a similar stylishness that the opening of the Ishihama-helmed Persona 5 anime adaptation had without a similar burden of the original source material. Characters are placed into boxes that don’t quite match up, or placed next to boxes and panels of things we don’t yet understand as an audience, but likely mean a lot to the person they’re placed beside.
Even when characters are in the same room, like the shot above of the two main characters (Kyouko Hori and Izumi Miyamura) with two side characters (Toru Ishikawa and Yuki Yoshikawa), none of the backgrounds, lighting, colors, or physical presence add up. They’re all in the same classroom, and same class, but don’t exist in the same space.
For a series that is all about the gap between one’s private and public life, this opening sequence is the perfect visual introduction.
Naoko Yamada’s influence throughout the anime industry, particularly with various directors’ use of flower language, continues to impress me. In Shin Wakabayashi’s Wonder Egg Priority, flower language is front and center throughout the entirety of the first episode as running visual commentary alongside Ai Outo’s journey to save her friend, Koito Nanase.