Thoughts: How is anime doing?
It’s hard not to think about the state of the anime industry after just having watched the first episode of Eureka Seven: AO and reading a bit of ANN’s spring anime guide, as well as remembering some of the discussion on their forums when the Otomo Katsuhiro, creator of Akira said that that the anime industry wasn’t doing well and that there wasn’t enough money for the kind of big movie productions he would like to see.
Whenever the state of the anime industry is the subject of discussion, there’s always two opposite opinions that quickly shows up and starts clashing with each other.
The first one is that the industry is dying, having lost a lot of it’s past creativity and constantly pamper to otaku by serving one fan service-filled moe*-checklist anime after the other, in the hopes of earning money on merchandise and sales of DVDs & Blu-Rays which, in addition to slightly improved artwork, often contain less censoring.
The other one is that the industry actually doing pretty good (some parts of it, anyway) and that the ones who constantly complain about moe-anime need to accept that anime isn’t going to be the “their anime” forever and it now has new fans to cater to. It’s easier then ever to create anime, thanks to the digitalisation of the tools involved and we can now legally enjoy a new show in high definition through streams, pretty much the same time it airs in Japan. Complaints about an high amount of fanservice is often countered with that many old shows the old timers like, just like new anime, contains fan service, so it’s a weird point to get all worked up about.
I would say both of these opinions are, to a certain extent, correct. I don’t think the anime industry is thriving and I too have a harder time with each passing anime season to find shows I really like & care about. But at the same time, I know that franchises such as K-ON!, Madoka & Strike Witches are wildly popular and does great damage to the idea that there’s just too little money to be had in the industry. In some cases, a show like K-ON! might actually help another seemingly unrelated market, like, for example the market for musical instruments – since Yui & the others uses real brand instruments. Heck, it’s not only instruments, I want to remember there being a bit of a hunt for the particular pair of headphones Mio used. Clearly, there’s still money to be had here, maybe especially now when it seems companies and studios are quite sure what the fans like. So they make more of it, as is a usual and well proven business practice I’m having a hard time faulting them for, in a business sort of view anyway.
No, the industry is still alive. It has certainly changed, but I don’t see it go away any time soon.
What is at stake on the other hand, is it’s skill. The old guard of well known animators and directors have aged, some have even passed away and others are just not very active. Also, quite a bit of animation work is being outsourced to studios in other countries and the use of computer generated graphics seems to have become standard practice. It’s true that it saves time when creating complex scenes & special effects, but it also removes precious practice opportunities for the animators themselves.
I remember reading that they used CG for soldiers and horses in one of the upcoming Berserk movies because they didn’t have anyone that could animate that sort of thing well enough.
The fact that the tools of the trade has almost gone completely digital is probably the saddest part of all for me. Even though it makes the work easier and probably less expensive. I know we commonly get some pretty sweet animation in TV-anime now that a couple of years back would’ve showed up in an OVA instead. I remember when I watched You’re Under Arrest and how bad the TV-series looked compared to the OVA, even though it was a newer production. There is no lack of evidence that the quality of TV animation has improved. But here’s the sad part. Digital anime have a tendency to look too clean, sterile even, and sometimes the colors feel washed out as well. It feels like the human touch has disappeared in the end result. As for the colors, I think the problem lies with that you’re able to pick any color you want. That might sound a bit odd but let me explain: cells in older anime was painted by hand with special cell colors. These were strictly defined and even colors close to each other had a certain “gap” in tone. When picking a color digitally, and this is something I’ve experienced myself all to often, it can be hard to choose fitting colors that are not too bright or too dark, especially when it comes to add shading to another already colored area. Also, the way anime is colored have changed during the years, currently, it seems to be popular to use a quite minimalistic kind of coloring. At least when compared to the colorful explosion that was the 80s.
The digital workspace has another, very special drawback as well. The amount of leftover material from the production has diminished greatly. This might sound as a weird thing to nag about but, remember all those people that collected anime cells? Well, there is no such thing to collect any more.
To be honest, not every cell is something you’d want in your collection and the ones I see for sale online from time to time are mostly stuff that no one wanted to buy, for a good reason. But overall, it is my personal understanding that those whose appreciate the art of creating an anime, those interested in the actual production and the people behind it, are not a group you see too many of in anime fandom today. People gush over voice actors, idols & illustrators, sure, to a certain extent also character creators & directors, but not that many talk about their favorite animators and the like.
Therefore it is very refreshing to find a blog like Anipages and it’s forum community. I’m not well educated enough to be able to participate in such discussions, but I enjoy their existence. Probably even more now that my Laser Disc collection is growing and I find myself watching those older shows again. I love it because I appreciate the handiwork.
Does anyone remember those DAICON openings GAINAX did, by the way? Those are still pretty famous and gets thrown around a bit, but there are also other similar pieces of animation done by other grups, such as the opening for URACON III and maybe even more curiously, an opening animation for Anime Expo 1993. You read that right, even an American con had it’s own hand-animated opening sequence. That pretty much blew my mind when I found out.
DAICON IV opening animation. You can skip to 2:00 if you are impatient.
URACON III opening animation.
Anime Expo 1993 opening animation.
When trying to dig out gems like these, I’ve found a whole slew of newer, modern independent anime and they pretty much follow the same trends as their commercial counterparts. Many are experimental, but instead of experimenting with animation, they experiment with themes & storytelling.
This is turning out to be a little long winded and it feels I’m starting to go off-track, so I should probably stop spewing words now but, to sum it up, I think that the animation industry is doing okay. I’m not a fan of everything it produces and in the digital transition it lost some part of it’s soul, but we gained HD-resolution anime and streaming (which I’m not really interested in, weirdly enough). For those that prefer productions that still have a bit of the old feel left, movie-anime seems like a better bet, rather than TV-anime. Still, I guess things could be worse. As far as I understand, the manga industry probably have more of a problem.
But that’s for another day.
Geesh, this post makes me seem much older than I am. I didn’t even get into anime until the 2000s.
* It is a japanese slang word, that has become quite common nowadays.
It’s originally intended meaning is referring to a love for a certain character or a fetish however it can also now describe a non-sexual love for something, like a hobby.