Legendary wrestler Tiger Mask is back, in his first Heisei-era incarnation: Tiger Mask W.
The mysterious dirty-player-turned-hero made his first appearance in the 1968 manga by Ikki Kajiwara, spawning his first TV anime series in the following year.
One glance at the new show introduces a new twist: the W in the title refers to “double” and represents the second, blood-red variant of the eponymous wrestler, known as “Tiger the Dark.” It is too early to tell how this new, original story will play out, but already there are some intriguing visual nods of respect to the source material that are worth pointing out.
The 1960/70s Tiger Mask had a visual characteristic quite unlike most anime shows from the time, through implementation of the “trace machine.”
The trace machine is essentially like a photocopier, which uses carbon sheets to make duplicates of the keyframe sketches onto the cels, upon which the color would be painted and then laid over a background on a multi-plane stand for it to be photographed, making up one frame of animation. The machine was implemented to allow for cheaper and easier duplication of the lines on the animation frames which were–and still mostly are–drawn with pencil on stock paper. Animation is a time-consuming process and manpower is the most expensive aspect of production, so any way to cut back on costs would yield substantial results.
However, close observers can tell that the lines produced by the trace machine actually had a different feel to the hand-traced inking. If you think about it, you don’t have to be an artist to spot the difference between a pencil line and an ink pen line.
What this meant was that now animators could mass-produce dark pencil lines, with varying degrees of “roughness,” instead of the varying degrees of thickness which the flow of ink through pressure application would bring. So, what is the effect of this? Well, take a look at the original Tiger Mask, and just one glance at the art style would make you believe that it was all drawn with a thick 4B or 6B pencil.
Keiichiro Kimura, character designer and animation director on the original anime from 1969, recalls in a 2012 interview that he purposefully intended to give a rough texture to the visuals in order to invoke the feel of a “gekiga” (graphic novel), which was still rather fresh at the time. However, this style was different still to that seen in the actual pages of the manga, and Kimura explains that this is to make the movement more dynamic, and the overall feel much grittier.
— アニメ「タイガーマスクW」公式 (@TigerMaskW) September 29, 2016
So while one might think that this “rough” style may be due to anime technology and/or techniques still being in their infancy, the look was very much intentional.
Tiger Mask W takes this look very much to heart and re-acknowledges it as part of the essence of the title. A recent Tweet by the official Tiger Mask W Twitter account a few days prior to the episode made a point of highlighting a major step in the production of the animation frames, that the keyframes are drawn with uniform, smooth edges, but a special filter is added to make the lines appear rougher and more uneven.
Look closely at what Studio Pierrot was doing with the characters in Mr. Osomatsu–another sequel whose roots lie in Showa period edginess–and you find that similar effects are applied.
What I personally find fascinating is that we are now witnessing a simulation of the old techniques; whereas they once stemmed from cost-cutting procedures, now we actually spend time and effort to make them look less clean and less refined. But then again, that is what the look and feel of Tiger Mask was all about. In fact, Kimura recalls that he photocopied the pencil lines first to get a cruder, lower quality drawing, and then ran those through the trace machine so that the final cels would look extra messy – again, adding artificial texture!
While the color palette in Tiger Mask W is certainly much more vibrant than the washed-out drab tones of the original, the staff appears to be paying their respects in several ways. The twist of introducing “Tiger the Dark,” seemingly a red version of Tiger Mask, right from the outset, gives us a setup that guarantees W will be more than just a simple nod to the days of old and have some original substance of its own, without ever forgetting its roots through various homages.
Tiger Mask W can be viewed with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.