Archive for the ‘Just Thinking’ Category
A guilty pleasure is defined in this thread as ”a particular series, [even though you know] it´s considered bad or sub-par by the vast majority of the community.” That’s a helpful starting point.
This starts with my mystification with terms like “bad” and ”good” when they’re applied to a work of art. The larger artistic world has long since abandoned those terms as subjective at best and meaningless at worst. Who decides what’s “good?” The community? The community’s been wrong before.
“Sub-par” means that most people think that the work is unworthy of the effort. It’s below expectations. Well, many great works of art have been under-appreciated by most people at different times. Citizen Kane languished in relative obscurity for years.
Why don’t we just take pleasure in anime? Whatever it is, we can enjoy it. We can enjoy it for what it is. We should certainly be aware of how much time we’re spending on anime, and seek balance. But if you’re going to watch anime, watch it with joy.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Space is Sunrise’s parody of pretty much everything: Gundam, Tenchi Muyo!, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Nanoha, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Gunbuster, even Code Geass. One of the main characters is a talking, neurotic colony laser.
As such, it should be goofy, sugary fun. But Sunrise didn’t do that, for two reasons:
1) To accurately parody franchises like Gundam and Code Geass, you have to parody their sprawling plots. The Girl Who Leapt quickly introduces a large cast, a big back story, and an oft-confusing plot.
2) Sunrise is almost incapable of making a sugary, plot-less show. The only ones I can think of are Gintama and Sgt. Frog, which (from what I’ve seen) spends most of its time on parody. Even their version of Idolm@ster introduced giant robots and a big back story.
Look at Sunrise’s output: Gundam, Votoms, Aura Battler Dunbine, Cowboy Bebop, City Hunter, Heavy Metal L-Gaim, Infinite Ryvius, Ronin Warriors, Escaflowne; all serious shows. Even Cowboy Bebop, Tiger & Bunny, and My-HiME have their serious story sides.
What is it about Sunrise’s staff that pushes them to tell a serious story in almost every one of their works? I’m not complaining; I’m just wondering if this is intentional.
What makes anime different than, say, Western animation? There are a number of differences–and it’s dangerous to assume that a simple list explains the differences between two artistic mediums–but here are the five major differences I’ve seen.
This is born of the first anime series, Astro Boy, which was produced on an extremely short schedule. It had to limit its animation.
To understand limited animation, imagine a movie as comprised of 30 still images every second (which, of course, is exactly what a movie is). Imagine a drawn character standing still in the first frame. In each subsequent frame, how much of the character must be re-drawn, and how much can be re-used?
In full animation, a character’s entire body is re-drawn every time the character moves. Imagine a character talking: In full animation, the character will also duck her head, make hand gestures, and otherwise move her entire body. In limited animation, only the lips need to move. Other parts of the body may move as well, but the animation is localized to the necessary movements. In fact, localized animation is a more accurate term for limited animation.
This allowed Astro Boy and the anime that followed it to be made cheaply, which led to the proliferation of anime series produced in the past few generations. The scale of anime production staggers the mind: For the past decade, over 100 new anime series were released on TV in Japan every year. Scale Japan’s population to the size of America’s, then scale the anime industry proportionally, and they’d be launching a new anime TV series every day.
The benefits of a large ecosystem are well-documented, but this approach also opens the door for experimental works, since studios can risk a little money on unusual, sophisticated concepts.
Focus on Individual Drawings
Astro Boy‘s low animation budget combined with the high standards of its director, to push the animators into making each drawing memorable. Since some shots contained only a single, immobile drawing, the artists worked hard to make individual expressions dramatic and dynamic.
It can be a subtle difference, but American cartoon faces stick to normal, tried-and-true camera angles and facial expressions. Anime tends towards a much more dynamic visual range, even in non-experimental series like Dragon Ball Z and K-ON!
Building off the previous point: according to Rintaro, at one point during the production of Astro Boy, the animation team blew off steam by going to see a kabuki play. Actors move and pose in overly-dramatic ways in kabuki, and Tezuka saw in this a set of useful physical poses for his animation work. The artists went back and incorporated those poses into Astro Boy, and many of those dramatic poses exist in anime today.
But this didn’t lead just to a use of kabuki poses; it led to the use of dramatic poses in general. It became normal for characters to strike dramatic poses, and for the camera to use exaggerated “lenses” (particularly after the success of Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s hyper-cinematic style in 1995).
Large, expressive eyes
People used to make fun of anime’s big eyes, until Pokémon took over the world.
Why are anime eyes so big? Imagine you’re a shoujo manga artist (in other words, you draw girls’ comics). You have to portray all the emotions of adolescent girls. How do you draw the expression on a girl’s face when she sees the boy for which she has a crush–but that she’s never worked up the courage to approach–speaking quietly to her best friend?
To over-simplify: shoujo manga artists discovered that large eyes portray subtle emotion better than smaller eyes.
So, yes, the eyes are big…and this is allows for a broader range of facial expression than you’ll see in a typical Western cartoon. Heck, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny have far larger eyes than any human (or mouse or rabbit), partly for that reason.
Look at these characters. I’ve seen an impressive range of expression in Warner Bros superhero cartoons, but which do you think can portray the most subtle gradations of emotion?
This is one element we can’t lay at the feet of Astro Boy. While Astro has the glimmer of a story arc in the rogue personality of Dr. Tenma, the sports and sci-fi anime of the 1970′s introduced long-form plots.
This became one of the most unusual elements of anime works. While Western TV cartoons stuck doggedly to the episodic format, anime series developed long, complicated plots that built to conclusive finales. Main characters died. I saw a sci-fi anime series aimed at preteens that involved suicide bombers and the death of nearly every human being, including several preteen main characters who deliberately sacrificed themselves so the hero could live. This was released in 1978.
Even American live-action television wouldn’t see this approach until Babylon 5 legitimized it in the mid-1990′s.
Those are the five big traits common to anime that I can think of. Do you think I’ve missed anything? Let me know in the comments.
I feel uncomfortable watching Gundam AGE. Seven episodes in, and I feel caught in a world of conflicting contrasts.
On the one hand, AGE begins by killing the protagonist’s mother in front of him, in a dark sequence similar to a key scene in Barefoot Gen. Referencing Hiroshima makes a strong statement about the writers’ intention for drama. And even this early in the show’s plot, one “good guy” has already suffered a tragic death.
The retro character designs seem to be a point of confusion. The characters are not young children; Flit is 14 years old. They are quickly thrust into conflict and lose everything except each other.
On the other hand, AGE is a
Meanwhile, the show has already introduced many familiar Gundam elements: the arrogant pilot, the awesome old commander, and the battleship that takes the Gundam everywhere. We’ve even seen several characters that seem plucked straight out of other series: the
All of this is told in a completely unfamiliar story. Never before have Gundam heroes tried to save a colony by removing part of it; they’ve never tried to save colonies besides preventing their destruction. Never before was the protagonist also the Gundam’s chief engineer. Indeed, never before has the protagonist wanted to pilot the Gundam this badly (except, perhaps, Seed Destiny’s Shinn).
Speaking of whom, Flit is the most normal,
While I’m at it: thank you, writers of AGE, for Emily’s fire. She acts. She lacks resources and skills, so her attempts to act haven’t shown results yet, but she’s a clear contrast to ”good Japanese girls” like Frau Bow and Tifa. Granted, most modern Gundam hero’s girlfriends have been active, from Relena Peacecraft and Lacus Clyne to Sochie Heim and Diana Soreil.
Which reminds me: I felt the same disconnect when I first watched
Interesting. My love for
Pardon me while I rant for a moment.
I’m tired of people replying to negative feedback with the ”Well, everything is just my opinion” defense.
To illustrate my point, let’s look at three variations of opinion:
- “I don’t like element Z of show X, for the following reasons.”
- “Show X doesn’t work for me, for the following reasons.”
- “Show X doesn’t work, for the following reasons.”
The closer a writer’s comments veer towards #3, the shakier that writer’s argument, and the more evidence is needed to support it. Argument #3 states an opinion about the show’s ability to work for its audience. Now, that is a personal opinion, but it’s a very different opinion than a statement about how well the show works for the writer.
Does that make sense? I can state that Manos: The Hands of Fate doesn’t work as a movie, because there are dozens of reviews to back that up, and I could apply plenty of
Moreover, reality isn’t completely subjective. The name of a manga’s author is a fact. When a review states that a series is “hugely popular,” I should hope that’s based on some kind of evidence. Similarly, a description of the show’s premise (“a girl falls out of the sky into a boy’s arms”) is not opinion.
So, reviews contain quite a lot of
Warning: The following is about blogging, not anime or manga.
To quote from the post:
…how can one describe such slippery ideas as melody, rhythm, timbre and such, which provoke such strong emotions but defy easy linguistic pigeonholing
Even when I love the look of a series, I find it very hard to string together the right words to explain why, or to at least describe it to a somewhat accurate degree.
The key to the difficulty lies in the adjectives:
…defy easy linguistic pigeonholing…
…I find it very hard to string together the right words…
Sure, it’s hard.
I wanted to be one of those bloggers I read about in magazines, the bloggers who launched a blog and, after 3 months or 6 months, had 10,000 readers and a growing pile of Google ad revenue.
The reality: It’s really hard. There’s no easy pigeonholing, and it is very very hard to string together the words properly. I’ve had to push myself to do it anyway, to keep up with topics I don’t care about (I can’t believe how often I read ANN these days), to analyze a frame or a concept I wouldn’t normally think about, to generally work harder than I want to.
And I’m still working. I’m still challenging myself. This is not to say I’m awesome; it’s to say that this is my path.
If you’re struggling, I think the best advice comes from Robert Frost: The best way out is always through.
I’m pulling for you.
I don’t really have anywhere to go with this; just want to register my frustration:
Anime is a visual medium. Yes, there are voice actors and sound effects and such. But the art is central to the experience.
And yet reviewers rarely talk about the art itself. What do the characters look like? How big are the eyes compared to other, similar works? How are the bodies drawn? How is hair rendered? What’s the color scheme?
On that last front, I’m amazed at the conservation of color in Akira. Considering the size of the film’s budget–US $11 million, many times that of most films–look at how many colors are used here on Tetsuo:
Three skin colors, two red cape colors, two shirt colors (white and gray), and two pant colors. That’s it. That’s not a complaint; the film remains beautiful. It’s smart economy.
I’m frustrated about mostly because I don’t talk about the art much either. I’ve almost completely missed this element of analysis and review.
Time to get better.
I’ve recently been playing a very simple visual novel, and the linear plot got me thinking about story in anime, particularly those anime based on visual novels.
Some adaptations focus on a single girl’s plot, essentially following only one of the game’s plot lines to the exclusion of the others. Others divide their time between multiple different plot lines. ef — a tale of memories switches back and forth between two of the game’s plot lines. Amagami SS reboots itself every four episodes, telling each girl’s story sequentially.
What happens when you try to tell just one coherent story? Well, of course, that depends on the source material. From what I’ve learned, Fate/stay night‘s plot is quite linear, so the adaptation to anime is relatively straightforward. But a game like Air or Clannad splits into multiple different stories.
The obvious solution is to delve into each plot line all the way up to–but not including–its resolution. The boy can’t pick each girl (though that would be a funny adaptation).
This is actually helped by the ”Crying Girl” formula invented by Key. Each plot focuses mostly on getting to know each girl and learning the secret of her past that explains her current personality. In the game, this leads the protagonist to fall in love with her and choose her as his girlfriend. In an anime adaptation, his reaction can be pulled back into sympathy rather than love.
And this explains why the protagonists of these anime are so often accused of being
It’s an awkward arrangement, but it’s the only way to satisfy as many fans as possible.