Laid-Back Camp Season 3 Episode 1: Where Should We Go Next?



I’m sure many fans of the series have been dreading this first episode, and in a sense rightfully so. Having watched Laid-Back Camp season 3 episode 1, it’s clear that 8-Bit has on major obstacle in the road: the environment art. Though, don’t get your pitchforks and torches out just yet, as there’s quite a bit of good to the episode as well. Decidedly not the love child of C-Station, this new season of Laid-Back Camp still has potential in its own right. Allow me to explain.

Well, it might not be potential in the heuristic sense, but it’s absolutely potential here in the present, with color designer Miho Hasegawa. In a sense, the flatter a scene, the more it struggles as a visual product (since there’s not much for Hasegawa to work with), but if you give Hasegawa even the slightest bit of wiggle room, it’s obvious that they’re able to pull a great deal of creativity and value out of thin air with the work. In particular, they really love yellows through this first episode, and I think it’s a very good choice. It’s a lot brighter and happier than the heavier sunset oranges you might see that tend to draw out dramatic appeal, so having that lighter connotation works quite well. Similarly, I think their work with blues is really great, but truly excels thanks to Hasegawa’s inclusion of those very rosy pinks that tend to arrive in the morning scenes. Though there might be gripes with the environment art, it’s impossible to deny its beauty when shaped in the hands of Hasegawa’s colors.

Though by the same token, Hasegawa is not the sole deciding factor in saving the environment art, it’s just that their work has shown their consistency and refinement. Though Hasegawa’s color design is a very clear force for Laid-Back Camp season 3 episode 1, it’s ultimately in the hands of director of photography Katsuto Ogawa. And it’s here that you really get a sense of the struggle. Ogawa has pulled out some really great pieces in terms of composition in this first episode, but it’s largely relegated to how characters are seen. Their integration with Hasegawa’s design has really made those sunset and sunrise moments incredible, but on the flip side, the flatter sequences fall incredibly short.

I do think that Ogawa isn’t perhaps the greatest director of photography, and I won’t hesitate to criticize their work, but I think a lot of the issues also lay with the environment art, which I’ll talk about later. Either way, Ogawa can’t seem to find a way to consistently build a scene for the episode, and honestly it could very well be attributed to their freshness in the role. I think it’s very easy to generalize roles like color design and photographic direction to their highest level, as most times it does end up there, but in this case I think there’s a different explanation. Not every scene is poorly composited in the episode, and judging by Ogawa’s prior credits, I think it’s easy enough to explain as the disparity in work from episode-level staff. It’s the sort of thing that appears when you have a character designer that can’t seem to do animation direction (cough cough Iijima on The Witch and The Beast), and while it’s no defense for the chief of that role, it does help explain the issues of consistency and quality. After all, these two scenes look vastly different. Rin’s grandfather looks painfully out of place in the first image, but there’s really nothing to write home about with Rin in the second image.

When you put the two side by side, you can notice quite a few things that make the first image so awkward. First of all, Rin’s grandfather doesn’t have any of the highlights visible in his hair like Rin does (which Blue pointed out to me). Secondly, you can’t see the shadows of the pair at all, which is an extremely important aspect of grounding in super realistic scenes like this. And lastly, there’s no 2D elements or objects to contextualize the characters. It’s a three point failure, but evidently is not necessarily the sole fault of Ogawa. Highlights is absolutely a composition issue, shadows is a bit of a toss up, but 2D objects is ultimately out of their hands and in the care of the storyboarder for the episode. Which actually makes for a great segue!

Though the segue itself was actually the segue, because I wanted to talk about Rin’s scooter/moped. Laid-Back Camp fans are no stranger to a three dimensional Rin, but with the studio change comes a new version of her. Laid-Back Camp season 3 episode 1 shows off the new and improved Rin, and it works impressively well- thanks to the new environments. Their photorealism blends very well with Rin’s 3D self, and it seems that the team behind the series understand that quite well.

Alright, now onto storyboarders. Yes, there’s two for this episode which I found interesting. Series director Shin Tosaka was placed alongside Masao Kojima, interestingly enough. Though, their history as a duo at 8-Bit backs them up, having most recently shared the load for the Tensura movie. Either way, I wouldn’t hasten to say that either is a fantastic storyboarder, but I think they at the minimum have grasped the air of Laid-Back Camp, and understand the opportunities that are afforded by the (deeply challenging to work with) environment art.

Close ups are thoughtfully placed against wider environment art, saving the viewer from detail exhaustion while also ensuring that the art itself is well appreciated. One of the most interesting aspects of these boards however is how they contextualize the progression of a scene. Everything tends to start with a wide shot that establishes setting, before moving on to a closer sequence to sort of finalize the intent and provide a chance for some good character acting. It’s solid, well-placed work, and about what I’d expect from the series director and their boarding buddy. I wouldn’t say it’s an indication of how the season at large will go, but I think it provides a very comfortable “minimum” for what to expect with this season.

I’m most hopeful that Tosaka’s connections with 8-Bit and Encouragement of Climb will come to fruition to that end. Though they’ve not spent too long on the series, they’ve certainly got some connections with it, so I’d say there’s a chance to see some of 8-Bit’s finest CGDCT staff appear here (they may even be here already, I just haven’t checked the KA list).

And finally, to the elephant in the room- the character designs. I’ll be truthful, though they’ve clearly and irreversibly changed now with Laid-Back Camp season 3 episode 1, they preserve a great deal of the personality and charm of prior seasons. It will never be the same, but all the same, they remain fun and expressive designs. They also move incredibly well, and are always on model thanks to some great animation directors (which doesn’t feature character designer Takamori Hashimoto).

All in all, Laid-Back Camp season 3 episode 1 does a lot to assuage the concerns of the studio change… but it also very much points the blame to two areas- art direction and character design. The two are the largest departures by a mile, and while the character designs are more of a stylistic issue, the environment art has proven to be unruly and difficult to work with in the hands of Katsuo Ogawa. That said, I have faith that we’ll see noticeable improvement as we go on. Ogawa has shown that they can put out some great work when the conditions are right, so I believe that they’ll learn a great deal on the job, and be able to bring the art under control and really help improve those flatter scenes. Other than that, there’s not much to worry about- this is still the Laid-Back Camp that fans know and love, so of course I’m looking forward to next week’s episode.

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