Why I love Anime, Part 2

By Shamus
on Jun 20, 2006
Filed under:
Anime

Exhibit A: Take a gander at some of these screencaps that Alex has from a series called “Black Lagoon”.

Exhibit B: Some pics of my own from Last Exile.

In the west, you don’t see visuals like that outside of a major motion picture. In Japan, this is fairly common on regular television. What do we get from animators on American TV? Spongebob Squarepants. South Park. Beevis & Butthead. Rugrats. Images are flat, dull, and often a little out of perspective. The lack of shading and shadowing makes the world seem either washed-out or oversaturated. When they get tired of making new sucky images, they recycle sucky images from decades past and we end up with reheated Space Ghost. My kids get American shows through Netflix from time to time, and the more anime I see the more I’m horrified at how needlessly ugly the American stuff is. The Simpsons might be a funny and award-winning show, but people are not watching it for the visuals. That goes double for Family Guy.

The idea of animated shows for adults is enjoying a sort of revival after being out of vogue for several decades, and the number of animated shows has multiplied. However, the visual quality seems to be going down. It almost seems like a race to the bottom for a lot of these shows. Part of the joke seems to be, “Let’s see how crudely we can animate this and still get people to watch it.” I expect in a few years we’ll have a show that’s just a couple of crude fingerpaint smudges shouting fart and booger jokes at each other.

Consider Aqua Teen Hunger Force, an amusing show that nevertheless looks like a clumsy entry in your average FARK Photoshop:

Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Travis
Did I say photoshop? I meant MS Paint.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Meatwad, Frylock, and Master Shake

Okay, am I being unfair? I’m picking at the stuff at the bottom of the barrel? Fine. Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum:

Batman

I don’t pretend to be an expert on American TV, but to my knowledge Batman is the zenith of our televised animation. I remember when it came out it was a big deal. People went on about how slick and stylized the show was. They weren’t wrong – the show does indeed look good – but an honest comparison against anime reveals that at best Batman would rate – at best – as a mid-range quality show in Japan. Keep in mind this is best we have to offer, and there aren’t many other shows like it.

I don’t know why American shows are like this. Some of it is probably economic. Otaku lore has it that Japanese animators work incredible hours for little pay. Much like the games industry here in the states, there are more people who want in than there are jobs to fill, which has the effect of driving the pay way down. This means that you can make shows much cheaper in Japan. It may also be apathy: maybe the people who make these shows just don’t care. (I would say this is without a doubt the case in regards to ATHF.) Maybe viewers don’t care. I didn’t know how bad we sucked until I got ahold of anime and found out how good it can be. Now I’m spoiled to the point where the sight of domestic animation sickens me.

UPDATE: Pete has another good example of what I’m talking about here.

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17Just 17 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Evil Otto says:

    I think part of it is that animation is still considered to be a kid’s format in the US no matter how well done it is. Batman was a great show, but it was considered a KID’S show, and kids shows don’t get large budgets in the US. Think what the producers could have done with more money and fewer controls on what they write. (And remember with Batman, the earlier seasons were actually animated better… when the “New Adventures” came out the budget was cut and the characters were stylized to match the Superman series.)

    As an aside, I’m enjoying Avatar: the Last Airbender in Nick. A good storyline, plenty of humor (without it dominating), interesting characters, well-done and often lush visuals and great fight scenes. Definitely anime-inspired, while not being an anime clone like Teen Titans was.

  2. Ethan says:

    Listen to Otto. You have to go waaay back to when the Batman series first aired to get the zenith of which you speak. Check out the few early movies as well (ie Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Beyond’s return of the joker).

    Also one should mention Gargoyles when mentioning quality American animation.

    My problem with anime as opposed to domestic stuff is that it comes prepackaged with a culture buffer. The Japanese think differently about most things than I do. It is made apparent in most if not all of their films subject matters, genre staples and innuendos. Batman and Gargoyles have none of that. Thats why I’d choose either of those over most anime any day.

  3. Evil Otto says:

    I think you just have to pick and choose. Face it, most anime is crap, just like most American animation is crap. We’re pretty much following Sturgeon’s Law here.

    I wish animation was taken more seriously here as an art form, but the people with the money have never changed their minds. They still think of shows like the Simpsons and Family Guy as the only kind of animation adults (that is, non-geek adults) will watch. God forbid we ever see an animated series here that dealt with issues on an adult level…. but I’m probably asking too much, since most LIVE-ACTION shows here don’t deal with issues on an adult level.

  4. Ethan says:

    Umm, yeah. What he said.

  5. Acksiom says:

    Funny; that exact cultural difference is one of the primary reasons why I greatly prefer anime in comparison to the usa’s usual lowest-common-denominator political-correctness-bowdlerized crap.

  6. I agree with Acksiom, I hate watching American tv because usually it flies right in the face of what I believe and think is right. In fact, usually it deliberately makes fun of the very things that I do and believe, assuming that everyone else watching is also doing so. I had enough of that in high school and college. I would much prefer figuring out the assumptions, the humor, the ins and outs of another culture than deal with the nastiness I see in my own, especially when it comes to entertainment. At least when you see something you dislike or disagree with in anime (i.e. random shots of teenage girl’s underpants) you can just chalk it up to cultural differences. Of course in both cultures there is plenty of drek but at least anime tries occasionally to deal with new and different themes in a thought provoking manner (i.e. Ghost in the Shell) and does a lot more with a coherent story arc, more like American movies (which we watched a lot of prior to discovering anime) than American tv.

    In fact that’s how our whole relationship with anime started (after a brief run in with Akira) we ran out of movies to watch and ended up trying Cowboy Bebop. Once we did we were hooked.

  7. Ethan says:

    Note: I was speaking about choosing between the original Batman TAS, Gargoyles and anime. Regular USA TV is absolute crap.

  8. Ah, yes. Point taken. I loved “Batman, the Dark Night” and I forgot about Gargoyles. That was a good show. Still, I prefer anime, probably just because to me the themes are new and although I love superhero themed shows, I prefer mixed genres which is something else anime does well.

  9. Ethan says:

    Point to you, then. Anime does have a lot more variety than the two lonely american examples I’ve stated.

  10. Dan says:

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tops all those other shows and makes them look like a steamy spray of 21st birthday vomit.

  11. Daniel Albert says:

    I agree with what you say about the mid-range quality of american cartoons compared to asian animes. And the exemple of the Batman show is a good one, but let’s wait in july 2008 when the new cartoon featuring the Dark Knight will hit the video store, ” Batman Gotham Knight “. From what I saw in the trailers, it reminds me a lot of what I saw a couple of years ago with the anime Spawn by Todd McFarlane. And I remember when I saw that show, I thought Wow, this is something else… It is different from anything else made here, so I hope that this new Batman anime will change the way americans do cartoons and that we will be able to see great quality shows in the near future, what do you think about that?

  12. Wombat says:

    You’re right Shamus, Anime is quite beautiful but it does have a serious flaw.

    They don’t animate.

    In Western cartoons, characters move. Often. Even if it’s just in conversation they’ll move their hands or do someother expressive action.
    In Anime, character don’t. Look at gundam. Whenever a character is speaking they’ll be stiff as a statute and speak until the conversation is over. And they almost NEVER have physical expressions.

    Yeah Western cartoons don’t look as good, but they’re trading the budget for more lively characters.
    The Anime cartoons look better, but they’re trading the budget for better LOOKING characters.

    Neither is superior.

  13. Katrani Merack says:

    To me, it seems like, even if they start out as a ‘kid’ show, the darker ones are the ones that look better in the US. Gargoyles and Batman, for the named examples. I can’t think of any others, though, because those are the darkest I’ve watched, seriously. At least in animation-land. Avatar is SUPPOSED to be like that, though, since they wanted to make a “non-anime anime” (my friend paraphrasing what one of the creators said.) Teen Titans was just a joke.

    South Park is meant to be low-grade, though I forget why and I’m too lazy to double-check it. I just remember my friend showing me a couple of interviews where Parker and Stone said they WANTED to make a show that looked crappy and was low-budget.

    And fo rthe liveliness thing, I’d rather have scenery I can look at and be amazed at, as well as outfits to note and music I’ll remember than movements. When I talk, unless I’m REALLY hyper, I’m normally stationary. I’ll MAYBE curl my hair around, or twitch my hand a bit. But that’s all.

  14. William says:

    Actually, Wombat touches on an interesting point about anime. I’m going to ask you to do something. Look at the chin of somebody who’s speaking. No human being has a stationary chin while moving. Anime does that as a budget trick, the sort of thing you only notice when you look for it(especially when watching subbed anime).

    Of course, if you want to know why anime looks that way, go to the source–manga. There are actually stores in Japan that sell character stickers you can paste onto manga sheets and make your own manga. Now, of course, not everybody does this, but it’s still notable how good the Japanese are at corner-cutting. (As long as you don’t look too closely.)

    Read this: it’s about manga and not animation, but it’s still notable, and also goes into the economics of this sort of thing: http://bellsouthpwp.net/t/e/tekcop/notjapanese.txt

  15. A. says:

    Nitpicky comment, but Aqua Teen is deliberately crappy. A good portion of the humor involved comes from the clumsiness of the animations.

    I agree that anime tends to be better, but I think the place anime truly bests Western animation is in the stills themselves; animation quality itself to me is more a function of budget on either side (compare Sleeping Beauty and Astro Boy, for example…). But the still images (many direct, or improved from the manga) are amazing – original, labored over, thought out, and working on the level of pure image. Regardless of whether chins are moving. :)

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