Wakfu: Noximillien l’Horloger

by tigermanifesto

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After doing a brief overview of the French animated series Wakfu in the last post, I wanted to investigate a spinoff episode called “Noximillien l’Horloger,” or “Noximillien the Watchmaker.” Necessity dictates a separate post for this episode because it has little to do with the series proper except in a plot sense. Though it was overseen by the same show runner as the main body of the show, it lies outside the timeframe of the main series as far as I can tell, dramatizing the backstory of one of the major antagonists in the show, Nox.

Though it’s founded on a script by main show writers Eric Herenguel and Anthony Roux, this episode’s production is otherwise entirely different than the main show. Where the main show is animated entirely in France using Adobe Flash, “Noximillien” was birthed from Madhouse, the famed Japanese animation studio responsible for giving motion to Satoshi Kon’s feature films and numerous famous anime programs. Moreover, the style of the animation bears almost no resemblance to the main show, largely because the character design for this episode flowed from the pen of wildcat animator Masaaki Yuasa, whom regular readers will recognize as the force behind the truly magnificent Adventure Time episode “Food Chain.”

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The episode’s animation and writing are both terrific, serving a story that sets up a tragic fall from grace––I did warn you this was the backstory of an antagonist. Founded in the science fiction trope of the mad scientist, Nox here fulfills the predestined arc of such characters, tampering with otherworldly forces beyond rightful human control and falling into an obsession with his own power that alienates him from society and provides him with some character complexity and motivation. Madhouse, under the direction of master Eunyoung Choi, brings out the terror inherent in Nox through motion and facial expressions. Early Nox is clean-cut and, while blessed with a questionable hairstyle, generally handsome and animated with a spring in his step. Once he stumbles on the mysterious artifact that leads him to his downfall, however, his liveliness becomes a paranoid jitter, and part of the genius of the episode is how it draws out his downward transformation, maintaining him as a recognizable character throughout by extrapolating the negative sides of the character they already established in the first act. His ingenuity and devotion metastasize into single-minded fixation and the idolization of machines over flesh and blood. Gradually he takes on the appearance of death itself, seemingly undead and detached from his previous life.

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Most of the drawbacks of the story’s approach are found in plot details I don’t want to get into specifically. They specifically involve the off-screen deaths of some central characters that, though they lead to a poignant moment, might have been better handled. I would be willing to engage in discussion over the finer points of that development, particularly since its meaning to the character is rather ambiguous at the point when it arrives.

As with their contributions to Adventure Time, Yuasa and Choi here work in collaboration with Western producers in creating a product designed for Western television but with Japanese oversight and, in this case, animation. Despite the fact that Western producers have for two decades been using anime as an influence in their own visual styles, this is still a notably rare occurrence. What it goes to show is that, despite the flow of ideas and influences, not to mention dubbed broadcasts, being fast and consistent in recent past, the Japanese and Western industries and, to some extent, fanbases, still have little direct creative contact with each other. Language barriers and cultural differences partly explain this situation, but another reason behind this reality is the fact that each industry produces its work primarily for a domestic audience, with any international exposure being a bonus.

Wakfu might have been ideal for this kind of collaboration precisely because it was a French production, and European shows tend to need much more international backing and access to international markets to get exposure, while the animation markets in the United States and Japan are so large that they can target only a domestic audience (or, in the case of the USA, assume that their immense resources can simply “force” their flagship programming into international markets).

In fact, part of the reason Wakfu might have adopted an anime style is that it’s internationally recognizable. Whereas French animation, despite its storied and influential history, does not have a defining look to it, Japanese animation is readily identifiable. Of course, the game adopted the style first, but its style probably made it more attractive as a candidate for an animation production in the first place.

With all that said, I would recommend everyone track down a copy of this episode. It’s not on Netflix as of yet, but there are subtitled copies of it floating around the Internet in fairly obvious places. It’s worth your time to be sure.

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