Anime Musings

Apr 14 2006

Been watching a lot of anime recently, and it’s been instructive in its own way about the state of the anime industry and how folks in the anime industry have changed lately.

A good example is The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, the story of an extremely odd, extremely energetic high school girl who starts her own club. The entire first episode consists of the terrible video project that they put together as a project; there are tons of continuity errors, bad camera work, and incomprehensible plotting and dialogue. Everything’s bad.

But the amount of work that’s put in to making it look bad is amazing. In one shot, the “camera” is zoomed in very close on a character, so that as she talks she’s constantly shifting in and out of focus. But this is all animated, so they had to explicitly shift the focus in and out on that shot. What is done automatically in real life had to be painstakingly created in animation to make it look like a mistake.

Then there’s Zegapain, a “high school boy is chosen to pilot giant robot” series. It begins with him seeing visions of a woman (who you later discover is still “synching” with this dimension of reality). Much of the episode is spent with him just fascinated by this woman and following her around.

The last part of the episode involves him teleported into a giant robot and piloting it, and here’s where things get interesting: as the woman explains it, she tries to use an anime cliche (“Just pretend this is a game.”) And he doesn’t fall for it; he immediately jerks his head at oncoming enemies and says, “The way things are, it’s a little hard for me to believe that.” She smirks and murmurs to herself, “He’s faster” (than the previous pilot, presumably). But he goes ahead and fights them. The series is generic conceptually, but almost cannot step into typical anime cliches.

And there’s High School Girls, a slice-of-life comedy/drama about a group of girls just entering high school, and their various dreams and adventures. It’s clearly aimed at guys; there are lots of unnecessary panty shots (not that panty shots are usually necessary). So, yeah, it has a sexy element to it. But it manages to combine that with a charming slice-of-life aspect and downright well-written comedy that transcends the panty flashes.

What does this have to do with the anime industry? Anime wasn’t like this fifteen years ago. When the anime industry was flush with money, folks either crafted beautiful pieces of animation, or pumped out junk. Now, since anime is a smaller world, the junk is much more readily apparent. You can’t get away with junk as easily. Even the junk has redeeming qualities now.

It’s like any form of art, really: imposition of non-arbitrary restrictions usually results in better art.

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