Learning the Basics of Sakuga
My buddy Mystlord went to ACen recently, and attended an interesting panel on sakuga animation. When the folks who ran the panel put it up on YouTube, Mystlord was good enough to link it on Twitter, and I finally got around to watching it last night. As someone who is embarrassingly ignorant about the evolution of Japanese animation, I think it is an interesting look at the basics of sakuga and a solid primer on its evolution from the origins of Japanese animation to today. It’s a very newbie-friendly series of videos, and at a relatively short running length (I didn’t add up the times of the videos, but it can’t be more than an hour or so).
I think many of us — especially those of us who don’t draw or have backgrounds in art — tend to (perhaps unintentionally) de-emphasize the importance of animation in anime in favor of writing and characterization, perhaps because we know (or like to think we know) the latter, and the former has an entirely different set of mechanics and a language all its own that may be daunting to people, so we just do not think about it as strongly. But it does seem absurd that so many anime fans (myself included) so willingly gloss over the importance of animation. It’s not there simply to provide a nice background or to look pretty — it literally is the medium by which we receive the story of whatever show, movie or OVA we are watching.
The panel runners put it well and succinctly: We have the story at point A and the audience at point B, with a gap between them. Animation is what bridges the gap between them; what makes the story come to life. Bad animation (or even average animation like much of what you see with TV anime) might hold back a good story, or make a bad story that much worse. Good animation should amplify the effects of a good story, much like good filmmaking amplifies the effects of a good script — they take the mechanics and foundation of writing and add a spark of emotion.
That’s what the best of sakuga animation does. Would End of Evangelion be the same without Mitsuo Iso animating Asuka’s battles with such heft and gravity? He takes the idea of Asuka’s passion and struggle, and makes it real. How could it not be good to actually see and appreciate that? After all, we’re not seeing the writing onscreen (ignoring subtitles); we’re seeing the animation. Doesn’t mean you have to shit on everything with bad and/or limited animation (Berserk is highlighted as a good show that doesn’t have the best animation in the world), or blindly worship something that has good animation (Sword of the Stranger has amazing fights, but a rather meh story for me), but the more you know and can see about anime, the more you can love and appreciate, right? That can’t be a bad thing.