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Meta-criticism: Where I Think Anime Criticism Could Improve

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This post is unabashedly aimed at people who are in the habit of reviewing and overanalysing their Japanese cartoons.

Reviewing is a tricky business, and coming up with something interesting and intelligent to say about an anime is just as much of an art as creating anime. That being said, I’m not interested in singling out people whom I think are poor reviewers or in commenting on the standards of reviewing practices on the Internet. That’s boring, non-specific criticism. (If you are interested in that kind of thing, though, nil has an up-to-date list of good MAL reviewers on his blog.)

I’m more interested in exploring the theoretical framework most critics use when writing about anime. What kind of anime is commonly seen as “good” and for what reasons.

The thing about anime criticism is that the divide between the “fan” and “critic” is somewhat blurrier than with other media. We tend to think of the critic as a professional who is paid for his job, but in truth anyone who thinks critically is a critic. All it takes to be a good critic is to have easily defined priorities for what makes good media and to spell out one’s logic clearly, which is pretty much what Bobduh does here.

This is all well and good, but because anime is such a relatively young medium and anime-specific criticism isn’t as established as, say, literature or film, we tend to work with gaps in our critical theory. There are two significant areas where I think a lack of knowledge really compromises our ability to compose insightful criticism. It is in these areas where we get caught up in circular discussion that doesn’t help us understand anime any better, which kind of defeats the purpose of criticism in the first place.

#1 Reading Anime As Text Rather Than Animation

It’s a common tendency among anime fans to regard the story as more important than the artwork. Unless the anime boasts an immediately unique art style, if animation is mentioned, it’s usually relegated to a mere component of the story.

Kill la Kill's unusually loose animation style warrants attention

Kill la Kill’s loose animation style warrants special attention – but so should every other anime!

There are a number of obvious problems with this. First of all, anime isn’t made on the level of the story first. The animators think in terms of animation; thus the story thinks in terms of animation. 

Secondly, reducing an anime to a narrative limits analysis to focusing on elements of the plot. Reviews become plot summaries, and the basic form and essence of the anime experience is ignored.

Animation is often referred to as a “visual medium”, but for all that, the visual side of anime is only ever discussed on a superficial level. By this, I mean that the basis for critical evaluation lies in frame rates, character designs and overall art style. If CG is mentioned, it is usually not in a flattering light. Animation is thus reduced to the level of static artwork rather than as an art of conveying movement.

Yes, it’s true that anime tends not to fully animate movement, i.e. it uses limited animation rather than full animation. But this does not downplay the artistry in anime. Restricting commentary to the level of how fluid the animation looks entirely misses the point of what animation sets out to achieve.

Consider the criticism on animation by Kyoto Animation. The commentary is usually limited to “It looks good” or “KyoAni has a big budget”. But what are KyoAni animators really doing on the level of camerawork and direction? KyoAni works tend to replicate the cinematic experience by drawing out movement, emphasising the depth in the drawings, but combines this with typically “anime” designs. The iconic moe feel is drawn in equal parts from the realistic motion of the characters and their cute designs.

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Notice how in the above gif, the moe aesthetic is generated through the movements of the characters.

Another example where critics often miss the point in animation is with Studio Ghibli films. The heavy-handed environmental themes in the narratives become much more interesting and nuanced when viewed through the lens of the animation. In Ghibli films, advanced technology is often the cause of conflict, but the fact remains that the films themselves could not exist without such technology, and more importantly, the animation itself is aware of this contradiction.

Unlike Kyoto Animation, Studio Ghibli avoids trying to look cinematic; instead of emphasising movement into depth, it emphasises movement across depth. In other words, the animation is gloriously 2D. Wherever possible, the animation throws back to its hand-drawn roots. Thus, the animation shows artistry maintained through the power of technology. In that sense, it’s very eco-friendly animation and deliberately drawn not to resemble Hollywood.

This is why the scenery porn stands out so much

Hence, the scenery porn stands out so much

I could go on with this, but I think you get the picture. Anime criticism doesn’t seem to link the narrative themes and animation very well, possibly because critics don’t feel as if they have the right credentials to speak about animation on a technical level. That’s okay, neither do I. You don’t need to study animation to think about how the visual narrative informs the verbal narrative.

The tendency among viewers is to strip the animation from anime and to focus on its literary merit or on what it says about Japan, and while such criticisms are often insightful, it leads to problem #2:

#2 Misappropriating the Culture

All too often, fans tend to be blinded by the “uniqueness” of anime, a pitfall which Guy addresses on his blog. At its worst, this kind of attitude can lead to perpetuating the nihonjinron idea – that the Japanese race is somehow “special”. While I can understand that the Japanese culture and values system is complex and that this bleeds over into Japanese anime, it doesn’t necessarily excuse bad writing or problematic morals. Revelling in the uniqueness of anime is not going to give you a working understanding of what it is and how it actually works from the ground up.

This is where critics tend to be pretty good, though, and relate Japanese anime to Western media. It’s as if they’re saying “We’re not Japanese and we never will be, so we have no obligation to look at it from their point of view”.

On the other hand, this leads to (for the most part) a complete kneejerk rejection of otaku culture.

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It’s difficult to write balanced commentary about such an openly misogynistic and consumerist culture. If you read my blog regularly, you might know that I identify as otaku, but that doesn’t make mean I magically “get” this kind of anime or that it instantly negates all criticism in my eyes. That would deny the critic’s right to evaluate something that is not aimed at them as the target audience.

Nevertheless, to read otaku anime as some kind of monolithic force worth analysis only on the level of what they reveal about the culture denies their existence as art. Otaku anime is art. Fanservice is art.

It is important to at least make an attempt to understand modern light novel anime adaptations on the level of their animation. By that, I’m talking about how their animated forms breathe life into the otaku cliches. Starting with the conclusion in one’s critique – that all otaku anime is bad, for instance – diverts your attention away from how the process of anime itself works or how the culture came to be so influential.

outbreak-company-2

I’m happy that Outbreak Company has gained a critical following, since it deals with these very questions

Conclusion

Basically, what I’m getting at here is that we should approach anime on its own terms, and even if we are not experts on animation and Japanese culture, it does not mean we should not make an effort to understand these things.

Criticism is an ongoing process and there is no correct way of doing things. I have simply proposed more angles through which you can look at anime at. I repeat: I am not telling critics to be more “objective” about anime.

Hopefully, as we engage with anime and with criticism more and more deeply, we can develop more insight on anime and we can get closer to answering some of the most fundamental questions about the medium, like: What is the appeal in anime? How is it different from film or western animation? What is anime, even?

(And then maybe finally, you’ll stop having shit taste in anime.)

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Posted on November 27, 2013, in Editorials and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 44 Comments.

  1. Or you could be like me: throw away (almost) all notions of objectivity and live in your own little world where you make your own rules regarding how entertainment should be. Because being objective is for nerds (and I suck at it, as shown by my awful early stuff).

    Also, don’t think I don’t notice that crossed-out line dude.

    • Heh, try not to linger too much on the “objectivity” comment since it’s not central to my argument. I’m not preaching about basic reviewing concepts or talking down to people whose approaches I don’t agree with. Hope it didn’t come across as such.

  2. In a way, I am sort of like Flawfinder, and in others not. Bobduh and me have gone at this a number of times – it’s not that I reject objectivity, but that I think objectivity as such is impossible, or impossible to explicate properly. The “feeling” and quest for objectivity are often where one should focus, once one realizes that is what is possible.

    Also, in the end, what we choose to focus on is exactly that, a choice. Regardless, I’m not sure if it’ll go up tonight or tomorrow, but I think you’ll like my next blog-post, where I’ll discuss “flashbacks” – in anime, books, soap operas.

    • I like to replace “objectivity” with “empathy”. If I take an empathetic approach to my criticism, it means I’m trying to understand where that piece of work is coming from, much like we take the time to understand people. That, for me, is where the quest for objectivity comes from.

      I’m looking forward to your next post!

  3. As far as formality goes, I also see a tendency for reviewers to discretely approach elements of a work without ever making the holistic analysis. This is also why a lot of art/animation/sound criticisms are given so little justice: oftentimes they seem like a throwaway at the end of a review, as an obligatory 1-2 paragraphs. This remains problematic whenever you have suggestions toward breaking up components of the work but you never make the effort for the next step (bringing it all together). I’m also not a fan of the whole component-by-component thing anyways, but that’s a weird MAL niche that I’m thankful doesn’t appear so often in blog posts.

    This brings me to my problems with bloggers. As far as most blog criticisms go, there is often some peculiar nitpick that becomes far far too bloated with respect to the whole work’s merit. That, or the review is simply so opinionated that the reasons the blogger claims to like it is because of some very whimsical element that gets lauded in one work while bashed in twenty others. Kill la Kill is an astounding example of this.

    • Like you said every aspect of a work should be considered or at leats mentionned. Funny you mention Kill la Kill though has I found this anime to combine many well executed elements in a thoughfull way. The art and the crazyness of the whole thing all goes in some ways toward complementing the whole thematic of it. The fact that it has elements that are sometimes bashed in other anime goes to show how important a good presentation is.

      • Oh I think Kill la Kill is pretty creative at times with its presentation, no doubt about that. I as well as Mr. Froggykun are noting that many anime don’t receive similar compliments or criticisms unless they’re quite literally as outlandish as KlK’s. Landscapes, character artwork, expressions/gestures, motion–pretty much anything sketching the atmosphere–is a pretty big part of all visual works, and even ones with nothing praiseworthy about these parts deserve mention that there’s, well, nothing praiseworthy about these parts.

  4. Our filters get in the way regardless of what they are or where they come from. Understanding cultural nuances can be important for following a story, but more often than not it’s thinking we understand something we really don’t that causes issues. Relying on “standards” or in this case our own filters is a shortcut I think we take that replaces genuine critical thinking. It’s ignorant to emphasize our own filters as a meter for quality and often mostly transparent to anyone who knows what to look for. Even if we had better standards for anime critics in the west this would still be true I think.

    • Ideally, it should never be about the “standards” first when it comes to criticism. The why should always be more important than the what. Of course we have our filters, but we shouldn’t let that defeat us in our quest for understanding, right?

      • Yeah, well said.

        I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the whole “I know that I know nothing” is a good approach for a critic. I think there is a certain level of a self awareness that becomes important. Sure our filters are always there, but that doesn’t mean we can’t see past them or cast them aside in order to gain understanding. In many ways acknowledging what you don’t know is the first step of critical thinking.

        All this thinking has me tempted to write my own blog post. I envy your ability to do this kind of writing in a positive, non inflammatory way.

  5. I feel that I fall more into the first camp, since I’ve been studying writing for so long that I feel more qualified to talk about characters and plot arcs than about how the animation is actually presented. I’ll mention it if it does something particularly unique to underscore those points (or alternatively, accidentally take away from them) but I have felt that since I don’t have an animation “education” I should keep those parts to a minimum. I also tend to focus on characters/plot more since it’s a personal interest of mine, not just a range of study. After reading this though, I think I’ll try to mention more how the animation conveys the characters/plots that I latch on to.

    • We all have our preferences when it comes to writing, but it’s always nice to try another approach every once in a while, if only to broaden one’s perspective. My default approach is to focus on story and characters too and it’s only been very recently that I’ve started consciously thinking about animation. Even if I’ll always be a “story” person, thinking about animation has really evolved how I’ve thought of the medium up until now. Give it a shot and see how it works out!

  6. Great post. I definitely have problem #1 myself. Part of the problem, I think, is that I don’t even have the language to talk about the visual components. Stories I can talk about. Everyone knows stories. But art? It’s much harder to critically discuss or even to think about for me.

    I’m not sure I agree that anime isn’t made on the level of the story first though. Sure, the animators think in terms of animation, and the story is conveyed in terms of animation. But the animation is created to convey the story, the story created to convey the animation. (Except for stuff like Kyousougiga)

    • If I overemphasised animation here, it’s because it’s usually underemphasised everywhere else. I do agree that the visuals and narrative inform each other, and ideally a good analysis should give equal weight to both.

      Glad this could be helpful to you!

  7. Very helpful, and you actually managed to avoid all the usual pitfalls of meta-criticism.

    Good stuff

  8. This is awesome stuff, I pretty much understand where you’re coming from and agree with most of your points. I do have some stuff to point out, though.

    Firstly, about the narrative construction of anime. While it is true that anime, as a visual medium, should be evaluated based on both its animation and the story it presents (more often than not the cinematic direction, animation and presentation is supposed to help bring the themes out and aid the narrative, the reason why narrative is frequently the more popular topic to focus on is because it is the main focus, I guess. If you’re going to introduce or recommend an anime to someone who hasn’t watched it, you usually start with the story, or the synopsis of the story. Art and animation come secondary. There are exceptions, of course, but most anime art is similar enough that a lot of viewers can’t differentiate them at first glance. I mean, Shounen anime, like Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, etc have almost identical animations, their focus is on the fight scenes and stuff. For such anime, fans are more interested in the characters and story rather than the animation (unless they are worried the animation of the fight scenes are terrible).

    Narratives are usually the most important but that doesn’t excuse people from forgetting them, I guess. Another point I would like to point out is that some of these anime (or many, actually), are adapted from light novels or novels (like Another, Shin Sekai Yori). These anime would need to focus more on the narrative because they borrow heavily from the textual sources that don’t have an art style or unique animation to begin with. For people who are fans of the novels/light novels, they would probably be more interested to see if their favorite stories are animated faithfully than in the manner they are animated.

    That is not to say the animation style and direction of these adaptations are not important. They remain very important – as in the case of Bakemonogatari, what made the series so popular wasn’t just the story but also the animation and direction which brought across how unique the narrative presentation was. So it is important, but for reasons I’ve already stated, they are usually relegated to secondary territory because the narrative and plot take precedence over everything else.

    Secondly, to your point of otaku and Japanese culture, that’s a pretty dangerous line of misappropriating. For one thing, otaku isn’t even “Japanese” culture. It’s subsumed within a subculture, and still belongs to a niche community. For fans (I’m not including you because you clearly know the difference) to identify otaku with Japanese, or think this whole anime uniqueness equates to Japanese uniqueness is erroroneous because they don’t even represent the whole Japanese culture to begin with. Just a tiny part. Rather, otaku are frequently ostracized from the main Japanese community, so they are more a culture of “Others” rather than Japanese. To equate otaku with Japanese uniqueness is like saying DC/Marvel comic book geeks represents American culture/uniqueness. I don’t belive all Americans indulge in comic books the way some people seem to think all Japanese watch anime like otaku.

    One last thing – even among otaku there exist different perspectives and interpretations concerning the same anime. The whole “magically getting it” or “magically understanding it” is a myth because otaku will have different understandings and interpretations of a particular series. And you’ll see heated discussions and arguments over such topics in 2chan or various forums/discussion boards.

    • Interestingly enough, I agree with pretty much everything you said, but when I read back over what I wrote in the post, I realised that my arguments made it sound as if I was missing the point! This is probably what I deserve for publishing this post at 2am. Thanks for catching me out there.

      As for what you’re saying about narratives, I do agree that for the consumer it’s the narrative that sticks out the most, but the reason a good narrative succeeds is because the anime presents it well. So when we get novel adaptations, I think the creators have to put a lot of work in bringing those stories to life. That’s why it’s so easy to tell the difference between a good adaptation and a poor one – the visuals matter.

      • Yeah, that’s what I said, and to re-emphasize the point, visuals matter. Animation matter. However, the primary concern viewers have is usually the narrative, I suppose, particularly when it’s a light novel/novel adaptation. The one thing the adaptation has with its source material is the narrative and story, so fans would be more concerned with that being successfully brought over. However, that’s not complete. As you say, the next step would be the visuals. It’s good and all to be completely faithful to the source material, but when the art and cinematic direction, animation and visuals fail badly, the entire adaptation will fail as a result.

        As I said, when you introduce a particular anime to someone, the first thing you talk about is the story, followed by the visuals. For example, Kaji has a good story, and I was interested in it at first until I saw the art. However, something like, um, I can’t remember, a series that hasn’t gotten a good story I might not even take a look at it no matter how beautifully animated it is. Both matters, but usually it’s the story that draws me in before I look at the visuals.

  9. Very interesting post, as always =)

    I guess I’m someone who doesn’t really talk about the art/animation aspect of anime so much as focusing on its writing quality in my reviews. I might say the animation was notably “fluid” or the background settings were gorgeous, or I liked the designs of the characters, but typically nothing more than that. Maybe it’s because I can cite examples for why I felt something in the story was good/bad or why I liked/didn’t like a particular character, but it’s hard to say why you liked or didn’t like an anime’s art/animation quality; it’s like trying to explain why you like or don’t like the taste of a certain food. While there’s definitely some anime where a lot can be said about how the animation style works with conveying the story/mood, like in KyoAni or Shaft series, but for most anime I can’t find much to say about it, at least not more than I have to say about premise, characters, setting, etc,.

    Heh, I used to have the kind of mentality you discussed in #2 in my very early years as a fan – that anime is just so unique and Japan is so special – but I’ve long since grown out of it XD

    • Yeah, I’ve noticed a number of people saying they have trouble writing about visuals and honestly speaking, I’m the same. I’ll always have difficulty finding interesting things to say about animation.

      As for #2… I think everyone goes through that phase at some point, eh?

  10. I don’t disagree with anything written here – in fact (and I hope I don’t sound too much like a sheep here), I’ve found that I tend to agree with pretty much everything I see on your blog when it comes to general posts like these. One thing you said did make me curious though: “I am not telling critics to be more ‘objective’ about anime.” I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that – do you think that objectivity is overrated, or that anime fans are already objective enough as it is, or are you just pointing out that this isn’t the purpose of this particular post?

  11. That contrast between KyoAni and Ghibli isn’t really working.

    If anything, the way Ghibli animates its female protagonists is the foundation upon which KyoAni and other studios base their moe ticks. Looking at something like Kiki’s Delivery Service, there’s a fetish-like attention to detail when it comes to things like her hair standing up on end when she tries to fly and stuff like that. There’s a real emphasis on the feminine there that’s pretty much the precursor to stuff you see from the likes of KyoAni.

    And I wouldn’t call hand drawn cel animation eco-friendly. Way more waste gets produced. If anything, Miyazaki’s luddite tendencies kinda make him a bit of a hypocrite. He harps about nature and the like, but then he clings to a style of animation that relies on sheets and sheets of plastic and paper. And all of that has to be scanned into a computer eventually for digital distribution and the like.

    Yeah, I’m not seeing it.

    To get at the broader picture: the main reason why you don’t see much talk about the visual side of anime is the fact that most people get very little in the way of education on visual language. Not just animation, but visual media in general. Unless you’re going out of your way to study Art or Film or something like that, you just don’t get this sort of stuff at any level of education. Your typical art class in high school doesn’t go much further than “sit down and paint something,” The college-level film classes I took focused more on film-as-literature rather than the visual language in said films.

    This stuff simply doesn’t get taught.

    • As soon as I read through my post again, I saw what you meant. “Eco-friendly” was a terrible word to use. It would be more accurate to say that Ghibli works give off the illusion of being eco-friendly. Like you said, the emphasis on being low-tech hypocritically causes more resources to be used. Still, this does give a more interesting dimension to Ghibli narratives, so I guess my original point there still stands.

      This stuff simply doesn’t get taught.

      Just because something doesn’t get taught doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be learned, right?

      • Eco-friendly is a phrase I’d use – it’s not about what it truly is, but an intention. Ghibli is definitely in love with nature. It’s romanticism, and as such, it’s not surprising that it’s actually not entirely in touch with facts.

        I think it’s part of a post-war movement, the yearning to return to balance with nature, which is even more prevalent in today’s eastern architecture where in places buildings are designed to flow into the surrounding environment.

      • Just pointing out the fact that there’s a severe lack of exposure to visual literacy in standard curriculum. If peeps aren’t exposed, they aren’t gonna have the familiarity and comfort that leads to the sort of casual writing you get out of bloggers. Write what you know about and all that.

        • Of course. Although when I talk about critics, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m talking about bloggers in particular. If I am addressing bloggers, it would only be towards the niche that actually cares about critical theory. No need to push standards where they don’t belong.

    • I beg to differ. The film classes I took (as part of my major, I studied Japanese films and anime) also placed an emphasis on art, cinematic direction and visuals. It simply isn’t enough to analyze films as a narrative, the way it is presented, directed and drawn in the case of anime is also important to understanding the film/anime as the story. Of course, the story deserves the most importance but you simply cannot analyze a film based on narratives alone. Visual presentation helps bring that narrative across to the viewer.

      There is an entire literature of research on the difference between films and text as narrative mediums, renowned scholars in the field include Robert Stam for example. The way film is analyzed is very different from the way a written text or novel is, and if students focus more on film as “literature” while neglecting the visual presentation, they are analyzing it wrong. They need to be aware of the differences between the two mediums and analyzing films like novels by focusing on the narrative and themes just doesn’t work.

      For example, how a novel presents its themes will differ from a film. The diction, the language, the tone, the perspective (first person or third person) – these are tools a writer uses to convey his or her messages and themes. On the other hand, a film lacks those words, those tones and the use of written language. To carry across their themes, they make use of visuals, of movements, bringing the screen to life, sounds, music, overwhelming the senses with color and everything. The film and novel might be talking about the same theme or story, but how they present such themes and narratives are remarkably different. As such, it would not be good to just analyze films based on narratives (I assumed that’s what you mean when you said “literature”) while relegating the visual presentation as secondary.

      For example, the way Studio Ghibli presents their environmental themes (hypocrisy and traditional styles aside) can be clearly seen through the background, the setting, the visuals. Can you express all of that in a novel? The scenery? The background? The greenery? The vastness of it all? Maybe, but definitely not in the same way an animated film can. No matter how you describe it, no matter how much you write about it (which is not advisable because you’ll bore the readers), you will not be able to match the visual feast a film/anime offers. Each medium has its advantages and disadvantages, so they ought to be analyzed based on what they are and not when compared against each other.

      • You pretty much proved my point. You had to go out of your way to learn the language of cinema and animation. That sort of literacy isn’t in basic education the way students get some rudimentary literary criticism out of their language and reading courses.

        Your average blogger simply hasn’t been exposed to this stuff the way they’ve been exposed to literary analysis, hence why such criticism is prevalent.

        • I wasn’t talking about the average blogger or basic education but the “college-level” film classes and “any level of education” you were talking about. I wasn’t even talking about high school classes. Rather, I was surprised that the college-level film classes you took didn’t teach you about this.

          If a student takes a college-level film class, he or she should have learned about this, but you said it wasn’t present in the ones you took. I was referring to that. It should be available in college level of education, at the very least. If you have college classes teaching film and they don’t cover this much depth, then they are to be blunt, teaching it wrong.

          Plus my major isn’t so much Japanese film and animation but Japanese Studies, but I guess you could still say it’s a specialization and I “went out of my way” to learn them, but to be honest these classes were available to all majors, be it science, arts, engineering, law or whatever.

  12. Speaking of animation as a narrative, we tend to forget that animation is used as a narrative. On that respect, when criticizing the animation, we should be able to determine if the animation matches with the intended narrative, both literally and figuratively. This is the reason why I like mechanical toy anime because the battle animation provides two-fold narrative: the narration of the toys and the characters controlling them.

    When I try to look upon the morals of anime, I always consider the in-universe plausibility first because a good work must be sensible in-universe. Of course, out-universe plausibility is important too because we viewers would always read messages from what we watch regardless of what the creators intended. As someone who is surrounded by multiple cultures, I tend to think in terms of “do I understand what the characters do and what I will do if I am in their shoes?”. With that, I can reconcile between the in-universe, Japanese and my own values without favoring any of them.

    Speaking of anime criticism, there’s no such a thing as objectivity. The so called objectivity/subjectivity scale is actually being biased/unbiased. Also, the angles of criticism should be diverse, but I have yet to see signs of this happening.

    Another excellent post from you, I must say. :-)

    • As someone who is surrounded by multiple cultures, I tend to think in terms of “do I understand what the characters do and what I will do if I am in their shoes?”. With that, I can reconcile between the in-universe, Japanese and my own values without favoring any of them.

      That’s a really good way of thinking about it! The best way to understand another culture is through empathy, just as the best way to understand another person is also through empathy. It doesn’t negate the fundamental differences between yourself and another person – or character in this case – but it sure helps you bridge the gaps when they come up.

      Glad you liked the post!

  13. My two cents on it: I’m no animator and I don’t claim to be an expert in such things, but aren’t animation and story suppose to blend together? These two are two sides of the same coin. Now I grew up with cartoons and I’m certainly bias in favor of them. What I see is while cartoons do take shortcuts, they aren’t noticeable. In anime like SNK, you totally see the shortcuts. How some frames are prettied up and put on, Idk, a sepia/lens flare tone or something.

    While cartoons have consistent animation, anime save their budget for the super awesome parts. I don’t know if the mentality of the teams are different, or the process of creating such animations require careful budget spending, but I can say that most cartoons have good animation while anime super awesome animation (in vital parts) but lower quality animations.

    On a side note: Does anyone notice how SNK’s animation is super similar to the Berserk film trilogy? Especially when both ride horses in open fields. I expected the same company to make them but nope. What do you think Froggy? Why was Berserk’s animation hated while SNK’s was considered good?

    • Yep, I think you’re right in saying that animation and story blend together. In fact, in a particularly good anime/cartoon, it’s hard to differentiate the two.

      As for the animation for the Berserk films… I can’t actually speak with authority because I haven’t seen the films, but iirc the main complaints seemed to be about the overly conspicuous CG, whereas SnK’s only obvious fault was overusing still frames. The latter also had more “sakuga” moments where the frame rates and battle choreography became abruptly and spasmastically good. Those moments tend to be what sticks out the most to most viewers, me included.

  14. While I haven’t written a post about this subject later with my own thoughts , I think it can apply to any foreign media as we tend to shove the production values aside and just focus on the story, which of course goes into the whole Anime is not catering to an American audience, the whole debate over fanservice, etc and ignoring the fact that it’s made for a Japanese audience. The same goes for Japanese RPGs as most of these games usually have cute characters and have a lot of influence from Japanese culture, just like Anime. Western video game reviewers tend to be biased against Japanese RPGS not for the fact that it’s not akin to western tastes, but for the fact that they don’t fully understand the culture. Sure, people have been pushing for realistic looking graphics, but I think the art direction is what sets the feeling of the story. To me, I would rather play an rpg with Anime-styled characters since it looks more cheerful compared to a more realistic as most of these stories are fantasy and also have creative settings opposed to western games which are more realistic and usually take place in a certain time period or even in space.

    To close my point, it’s hard to make criticism, especially for a medium we don’t know much of the culture. To me, I think it’s very difficult to impossible to make an objective criticism as people will have different feelings and experiences with other cultures, thus it’s merely an option. Because I don’t know everything about the Japanese culture, I tend to be more lenient opposed to being strict and giving out Fs. After all, scores are meaningless at the end, the criticism and how one goes about it will be more important in how it leaves an impression on the reader.

  15. I know this is an old post, but have you seen Tony Zhou’s Every Frame A Painting Series? He mainly focuses on live-action film but he makes a lot of good points on how to utilize film to be more visually innovative.

    I think number 1 has been more and more interesting to me as I delve more and more into animation as an art form. Are you referring to how anime utilizes various animation principles in the service of its story? I think aspects like staging and exaggeration are good to focus on across various artistic and visual mediums. Specific acting is often a discussion covered in animation; are the expressions unique, how much information do they carry?

  16. I am in love with this article. I recently became interested in finding literary criticism of anime, but there doesn’t seem to be very much around, mostly just reviews, and usually they don’t go deep enough into the text to satisfy my cravings. While this is meta-criticism and not on any specific series or movie, it’s still a great article.

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