The sorry state of animation (Originally Posted 6/28/05)

While I’m on the subject of entertainment gone pathetic.  Many people who know me know that I despise Anime.  I consider it the laziest form of animation.  I feel it grew out of a need to shovel crap onto our televisions as quickly as possible in the 70’s.  Think "Battle of the Planets" and you’ll know what I mean.  If you want a more extreme example, think "Speed Racer".  At least that had the added hilarity of trying to cram half an hour’s worth of Japanese dialog into half an hour of spoken English.  In both of these cartoons, entire conversations between characters could be animated with as little as four frames of animation because the characters only had two poses, one with the mouth open, one with the mouth closed, and if the budget was really extravagant you might have an occasional "blink" frame.

To some extent, you see the same thing in old Hanna Barbara cartoons of the same era, such as Scooby Doo.  Whenever anyone’s talking everyone has to hold very very still, and even then only the mouth of the person talking was animated.  But HEY, at least HB made up three or four frames worth of mouth poses.  The Japanese cartoons of the 70’s were far more basic by comparison.

Fast forward a few decades, and now Anime has become a "style", and "art form" of its own.  It’s been elevated to some lofty idealized sub-genre of animation to be revered and respected on its own merits.  I fail to SEE any merits.  If you were to perform a frame-by-frame analysis of a typical half hour Anime cartoon, and then put that next to anything produced by the cartoon network (Yes, including Samurai Jack… resolve THAT) I think you’d probably find that the Anime contains less than 50% of the actual animation of the domestic product.  And it’s that the point of animation… that it’s animated!  (By the way, I realize most of the "domestic product" is also produced in Japan, but we’re discussing style here, not production houses)

I mentioned Samurai Jack a moment ago.  Many people consider it to be Anime.  I disagree.  I beleive it’s what Anime should have evolved into.  Samurai Jack is Anime inspired, but it’s far beyond Anime quality.  With the advances in cell animation on computers the quality of all animation should be increasing, not decreasing as time goes on.  Using computers to do the traditional ink & paint operations means that a studio can build up an enormous library of character poses, walk cycles, and mouth positions, and then mix and match those with far more flexibility than was possible using traditional cels.  Say you have a right-to-left walk cycle, but you need a left-to-right… just mirror it.  It’s far easier than the equivalent photographic process would have been.  You can’t just flip a hand painted cell over and expect it to look right.  Also, you can scale, stretch, squash, rotate… pretty much anything you want using a computer.  Fred and Daphne wouldn’t have to spend their whole lives wearing the same clothes because re-coloring their line drawings would be a much faster process on computer.

So why is animation getting worse?  Case in point: Ghost in the Shell (Anime fans gasp.  "Did he just say that?")  Yes I did.  I tried to watch this crap over the weekend.  I really tried.  The stories weren’t that bad, but my God, they’ve dispensed with 90% of the talking now because the "Section 9" people communicate telepathically.  This now means that entire conversations were animated using TWO still frames of the characters involved.  What the?  This is the 21st century, people!  I want BETTER product than the 70’s, not worse.  The opening sequence promises animation of a quality that the show simply does not deliver.  It’s like the difference between the FMV sections of a Final Fantasy game and the actual gameplay.  The difference is simply staggering.  And what’s with the stupid blue robots?  Are you going to tell me that someone would invent killer military robots and then give them giggly 14-year-old mall-rat personalities?  And who decided to animate the most annoying characters in the whole series better than the rest of the characters combined?  It just doesn’t make any sense, people.

Several people have recently recommended that I see "Appleseed".  It’s supposed to be CGI that’s been rendered as cel-shading.  I could probably stand that.  It would have the look of traditional hand animation without the perpetually declining quality of hand animation.  And it’s not like hand-animation can’t be done well.  Look at any of the decades of hand animated features that Disney put out.  I’m not talking about script quality, fidelity to the original stories they appropriate, or the straight-to-video sequels they generate at roughly half the quality of the originals.  I’m simply talking about the animation of the features themselves.  It’s fluid, it moves, and people actually talk and sometimes sing without holding still.  This is big-budget stuff, I don’t expect Shaggy to hold a conversation while doing cartwheels, although that should be possible by this point too.

So call me a heretic.  I thought Akira was stupid.  I hated Lensmen.  I loathe Ghost in the Shell.  I gave them all a chance, I really did.  I gave them all a chance, and they all disappointed me.

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