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:
Did I say photoshop? I meant MS Paint.
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:
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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