Anime & Manga

Two Different Faces of Japanese Animation: Part 2

Photo from Production I.G.’s Ghost in the Shell, 1995
Photo from Production I.G.’s Ghost in the Shell, 1995.
Photo from ufotable’s Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, 2014.
Photo from ufotable’s Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, 2014.

Observe the two images above. They are radically different but are both definitely anime.  In their times, both were considered to have top of the line visuals.

In Part 1, we discussed how different methods of animation production result in different looks for anime from eras roughly categorized as pre and post-2000.  In the screenshots above, the effects the age of computers had on anime are clearly visible.

In Part 2, we will take a look at the final product by breaking down the visual components that are a result of production methods.

Pre-2000 anime tend to have more imperfections in their linework than post-2000 anime.  In older anime, the positions of characters and objects might slightly shift.  The lighting is frequently more muted and the colors, while possibly bright and vibrant, feel more organic.  

The nonexistent to minimal influence of computers on older anime accounts for these differences.  Hand-drawn visuals, from lineart to shading, just have a slightly messier, slightly less crisp appearance than ones edited by software.  It is worth noting that some of the differences between old and new anime could also be chocked up to changing industry practices.

Photo from Noriko Takaya’s design in all of its 1980s glory. From Gainax’s “Gunbuster,” 1989
Photo from Noriko Takaya’s design in all of its 1980s glory. From Gainax’s “Gunbuster,” 1989

Market trends and artist’s taste have dictated the characteristics of designs for characters, weapons, mechs, and more.  Things like the little black lines used to add some shading and variation on Noriko’s face in “Gunbuster” are harder and harder to come by these days, while little dot noses and two lines that vaguely resemble a mouth are pretty ubiquitous in modern anime.  

One final factor that divides the aesthetic of older and newer anime is CGI.  As discussed in Part 1, CGI models are increasingly used in modern animation.  However, there is a certain limitation that makes CGI in anime restricted: budget.

A lot of modern anime began using CGI to render parts of a shot that don’t need to move or change appearance much, such as hallway walls or car tires.  In this way, studios are meeting modern technology with frugality.  Yet rendering only parts of a show in CGI means extra care must be taken to ensure that the CGI portions of a show match the rest of the art.

Budget constraints on the average anime studio mean that the final CGI is often less fluid and not as smooth as hand drawn animation would be.  That’s why many anime watchers approach all-CGI anime with caution: rendering complex moving parts at a TV budget means that visuals often aren’t as smooth or appealing as hand-drawn anime on a TV budget.

Increased use of CGI in recent years has made many fans appreciate the frequently smoother craftsmanship of handdrawn visuals, which of course leads to a respect for the 100% manual production of older anime. There are also those who are optimistic for the future of CGI or simply prefer cleaner lines and digital processing, which of course leads them to favor the appearance of newer anime.

There are plenty of other reasons fans favor one era.  Other arguments include that use of computers is limiting artistic expression of animators, or that the less “crisp” appearance of older anime is downright ugly. 

Personally, I believe that it’s important to respect both eras of anime for what they offer.  I’m always down for some classic keyframe work or character designs, but I’m also always excited to see CGI integrated with hand drawn visuals seamlessly or to see digital processing make something truly beautiful.

Pre-2000 era “older” anime and post-2000 “newer” anime certainly have highly distinctive qualities from one another.  But both are just two forms of the wildly creative and expressive medium of anime, and I think part of loving anime is understanding and appreciating the ways in which anime production has changed while maintaining that creative soul.

Even with such lofty ambition, I’m not without my personal preferences. But then again, who isn’t?

About Riley

 Storyteller, student, and in the eyes of my cat, a legend, I’ve wondered through many an exotic land and treaded countless unbeaten paths to find myself in a swivel chair at my keyboard, spinning my own tales or engaging with and responding to anime and manga with my own words and thoughts. Someday, I hope to turn my love of writing into my profession. You can visit Riley’s blog here.

Be sure to follow Shuffle Online on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat on @ShuffleOnline for more anime and manga.  

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