Reflections on 2016: Getting into Sakuga… Sort of
2016 was the year the sakuga cartel enacted their sinister plan of world domination. For years, they had been lying in wait, angrily debating the best Megumi Kouno cut behind closed doors. But now, they have moved out into the open. You can find these diabolical nerds in the streets, dancing around the statues of Naoko Yamada they have erected using Precure and Doremi storyboards and genga sheets. But worst of all, you can find them wherever you can find anime fans, crying over their favourite anime and arguing about pointless shit on twitter.
That’s right, any of us could be an agent for the sakuga cartel… even you or me.
12 Days of Anime
#2 — Getting into Sakuga… Sort of
All jokes aside, sakuga (“animation”) fandom has never been more accessible. Earlier this year, Kevin Cirugeda (otherwise known as kViN on twitter) wrote a series of articles on Anime News Network explaining the basics of the anime production process (1, 2, 3, 4). And in July, he and a small team of fellow animation enthusiasts launched the Sakuga Blog, a blog dedicated to spreading information about anime production and analysing the visual side of anime in an approachable way.
Calling it “sakuga” makes the fandom seem more specialised than it actually is. Once you start reading the posts, it quickly becomes clear that pretty much anything goes when it comes to appreciating animation. Some posts focus on specific animators and directors, recounting their careers and analysing their styles. Others focus on the industry itself, detailing their tools and working conditions. And some posts (my favourite ones) remind us that the anime industry is full of interesting and quirky individuals. Putting a human face next to the anime I consume has been my favourite thing about getting into sakuga fandom.
— ah, satan (@illegenes) November 7, 2016
Some of my posts from this year show my growing interest in animation as an art form. There’s this Clannad post where I noted that “The more I delve into the animation medium, the more I find that ‘good writing’ can’t be easily separated from ‘good animation’. Cool-looking special effects can’t drown out the effect of a poorly-scripted scene, but visual framing does shape how we respond to the scripting.” I also read some books and articles about animation theory and produced this post based on my notes.
My interest didn’t come out of nowhere, however. I was advocating for anime critics to put more emphasis on animation back in 2013, and even some of my posts in 2014 showed awareness of individual creators, like this Inou Battle post:
Inou Battle is Masanori Takahashi’s first time directing a full-length TV series, but he’s working alongside chief director Masahiko Ootsuka, an industry veteran from Old Gainax. It’s Ootsuka’s experience that comes through most strongly in the animation work here – he constantly makes use of quick transitions and smears, knowing exactly how long to hold each shot before shifting the camera’s attention elsewhere.
In other words, I’ve been interested in the things that sakuga fans talk about for a while now. What sparked my initial interest was reading Thomas Lamarre’s The Anime Machine, where he points out the lack of focus on animation in academia as well. However, it was hard to follow Lamarre’s advice, given that I never had formal education in animation or film, and that misinformation about the anime industry abounds on the internet. I liked reading AniPages, but since it mostly discussed old and/or obscure anime, it never quite scratched my itch.
My interest in anime production intensified in 2016, as more and more information was starting to become available in English. At times, I was commissioned to translate interviews and articles, but most of the time, I did my own research whenever I came across a topic that interested me. Because I was reading Japanese sources, I learned how to distinguish the facts about the industry from the misinformation. From there, I decided that my top priority as a writer was to spread information based on accurate sources. Because a lot of the sakuga fans were doing similar things in their spare time, I ended up becoming friends with many of them. You could say we were united by a common enemy: bullshit memes. In general, I hate memes that aren’t fantastic.
There’s one thing I should emphasise: the barrier for entry into this fandom is actually really low. You can start anywhere you like after you get a general sense of how the anime production line works. Everyone’s interested in different things, so we’re all teaching each other new things by sharing what we’ve been getting into. There’s simply no such thing as an “anime expert”, and anyone who claims to be one is probably talking out of their ass. While it can be exhausting to keep up with all the latest news, I’ve been learning new things every day. It’s been a lot of fun!
There has been one big downside to this, however. When it comes to animation, I’m a dilettante. It’s just one of many interests of mine when it comes to Japanese pop culture. I enjoy good animation as much as anyone, but I’ve never cared much for identifying individual animators, nor am I in the habit of watching shows solely on the basis of their animation staff. In other words, I didn’t watch Mob Psycho 100, and nor am I watching this season’s Flip Flappers or the new Pokemon anime. The problem is that I’m interested in too many things at once, so I don’t have time to actually watch much anime! Fuck this life.
But thanks for the cool articles, kViN and co.